Sunday, August 30, 2009

How I spent the summer from Hell

I’m the first to admit that the subject of climate change is interesting, but I would rather read about what’s happening somewhere else than live through it here. We’ve had an entire summer of over 100 degree days. If you’re not familiar with Austin, TX, that’s hot even for here. Yes, it hits a 100 a few times in a typical summer, but this year has been brutal. I had so many summer landscaping plans that were dashed. I lived in denial the entire month of June, thinking, “Any day now, the mornings will be cool and I can get out and work.” By the end of June I was depressed. Yard work is therapy for me. I might not have the best looking yard in the world but I love puttering in it after a long day at the computer. In addition to the heat, the city is improving the street that runs behind my house. I’ve never lived so close to street work. The noise, the noxious fumes, the dust all over everything on the patio as they scooped up the old street and threw it into dump trucks - one after another, all the while beeping as they backed up –made for an unpleasant time. On the mornings it was cool enough to sit outside with the dogs and have my coffee, I couldn’t enjoy it because of the noise, smell, and dust. Late in June, I pulled myself together and turned my attention to indoor tasks – no big projects, mostly just keeping my house cleaner than usual.

I did manage to create this little flower bed out front

I did as much Capital Area Master Naturalist (CAMN) volunteering as I could. We got our new assignment in the Balcones Canyonland preserve . Walking through dense brush, falling on my bum, scrambling up hills by grabbing hold of any kind of plant available, really makes you feel alive. I volunteered for two of the Nature Smart Family events and had fun at both of them. My favorite moment was watching a 3 y/o observe a dragonfly larvae. He called him mom over and said, “Mom, look, a cinnamon-pede.” I enjoyed working with the kids and seeing them light up when they saw the creatures we found in the pond. Getting a fake insect tattoo with Cheryl was fun too. As was the beer and garden burger at Waterloo Ice House after a few hours in the heat with the kids.

CAMNers stalking invasive plants

Back on the home front, I learned to get up early and work in the yard for almost an hour before getting ready for work – at least a couple of days a week. I bought an ugly blue doggie pool. My dogs of course wouldn’t go near it but the birds used it to cool down, in addition to the regular birdbath and the small ones on the ground that the cardinals and the wrens like. I also discovered that the bees and wasps like the shallow water for their fill-ups. The mud daubers were able to make their little mud shelters for their offspring because there was ample water in the yard.
I was able to get a few yard-related things done, mostly hardscaping. Will pulled up 30 of the 2x2 pebble/cement pavers that were in the front yard. We replaced that with a nicer, more natural path from the sidewalk to the front porch by using flagstones and French drain gravel. We scooped up dirt and made a berm in the backyard for the rain garden. The berm is topped with Gulf Coast Muhley. The side near the fence has native cannas that Marie and Jerry gave me and I bought some Greg’s blue mistflower for the base of the rain garden. I’m sprouting some inland sea oats that will also go in the bottom. I got to test it out when we had a nice rain last week. Instead of running out under the gate, the water stays in the yard now, thanks to that project.

Here's the new path that replaced the pebble 2x2 pavers:

And then there’s the pond. I set it up in the early spring just to have some gurgling water on the patio. I used a washtub and plunked it on the patio. No liner, no frills, just gurgling water and 9 cent goldfish. Then came the baking afternoon sun and the algal bloom. Add in some snails and a plecostomus. After trying some unattractive methods of shading the pond from the afternoon sun, I put up a reed screen. That helped. Then the pond started to leak. So I went to Callahan’s General Store and got a 2x1x4 livestock tank. I lined it with pond liner, put in the rocks, set up the pump and filter, then added back in the living things. The big plant was a gift from my son who got it for me one afternoon while running around with my nephew. It still doesn’t look that great but I can see the fish better and everyone survived the move. I think the fish are actually getting bigger.

Original pond

New pond from beginning to end

The new tank

Up on blocks to elevate it

In go the rocks

Add the water, fish, pump, and plant

Put a reed border around it

Cool, clear water

And it wasn’t a total wash for the plant life. Yes, my tomatoes croaked but the prickly pear, the agaves, the yuccas, the flame acanthus, and the standing cypress all thought the hot weather was just fine. As did the avocado that sprang up in the world’s most neglected compost heap. I transplanted the avocado plant and it is putting on new leaves.

So most of us survived the summer, but I for one, am glad to see it come to an end. This morning, as I did my morning yard chores, a cool breeze whipped past me. The road construction crew was off for the day and, for the first time in months I thought “This summer might actually end.”


  1. I think maybe you mean "the summer IN hell" don't you? I've watched your weather, on weather underground, in daily horror through the summer months. Congratulations on surviving.
    I do wish we had a Callahan's General Store here in ABQ - these oval stock tanks are what I intend to use to grow veggies in next year, and am having a hard time finding any. Gotta get out into the ranching countryside, I guess.

  2. Julia, your pond project is fantastic! How creative...and I love the papyrus plant, I just added some to my fountain out back as well! Nice job, and the walk/pavers look mucho better!'s time for another beer and a real tattoooooo!

  3. I stumbled across your blog and am glad to see someone else who also gardens in south Austin. There are very few south Austin gardening blogs that I've found...Zanthan and maybe one other.

    Like your stock tank! And you're right, the weather has been brutal. I've never been so happy to see gray rainy weather in my life.

    I'll be checking in again.
    Laura @