Friday, March 9, 2012

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranchette....

....Normal Life goes on for the authorette at Pecan Corner. 

Our tiny rural town has never had a sewer system - everyone used septic tanks. Until now, when we are all being connected to the new waste water treatment facility. YAY!!!  We had been told when we bought our house that we'd have sewer "by next summer". Although we weren't having any problems, the two septic tanks have been inconvenient in that there are things we wanted to do with our yard that had to wait for this municiple project to be completed first.

We are nearly there. Our house has been connected to the sewer system and soon they will return to remediate the old septic tanks. A wooden deck (that existed to protect the top of one septic tank) and a large unusable rock patio have been removed. Couple those with the loss of most of our lawn last summer to "Saint Augustine Decline (SAD)" disease, the loss of other plants to the drought, and we have an opportunity to remake our backyard landscape.

Our yard is already wildlife friendly, and we have a lot of native plants (the photo of the butterfly on a wild coreopsis is from 2009). Many birds of various species come here: cardinals nest here every year, and
woodpeckers, wrens, mockingbirds, dove, hummingbirds, swallows, jays, and others come to visit, get a drink, or have a bite to eat. Squirrels chase each other around, lizards and geckos dart here and there, butterflies and other beneficial insects do their thing.

We also have vegetable garden plots in our back yard, and these need to be maintained because the fencing keeps the deer from coming in and eating up all the Swiss Chard. Paul has gotten more excited about growing our own food, and made the wise recommendation that we put our limited space and energy into raising things that either are not available in the stores (like Swiss Chard or Delicata squash), or are too expensive to buy fresh when out of season (like bell peppers at a dollar apiece!).

Fresh flowers in the house are one of my joys in life, and I am eager to create a cutting garden as well as plant more things that bloom at various times of year. A four-season garden in Texas is not only possible, but, as we have seen in the difference between this lovely temperate winter and last winter's frigid cold, almost a necessity.

Texas has some great resources to help with planning urban and rural landscapes for the animals around us, and one such is the Texas Wildscapes Interactive Habitat Planning DVD. Produced by Texas Parks and Wildlife, the full title is actually "Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife, An Interactive Guide to Creating Vibrant and Beautiful Wildlife Habitat". It is well worth the $5.00 to order it (the $5.00 covers costs of copying and mailing) and you can share it or make copies freely so long as it's not sold. While it is designed mostly for people with acreage, there's a lot that is useful to homeowners in town.

For great native landscaping ideas, next time you are in Austin (isn't everyone in Austin once in a while?), by all means, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It's in South Austin, easy to get to, and a nice way to spend a free afternoon or a couple of hours between meetings (or have a walking meeting - what better way to get to know your coworkers?).  From micro habitats to birdseye views, from stately trees to bonsai, the grounds are beautiful, the sculpture is whimsical, and there's nearly always something blooming.

The center also hosts internet resources, such as the Native Plant Database. The How-To articles are full of good ideas, and step-by-step guides even include craft projects such as homemade paper and seed balls, as well as how to prune a tree and propagate cactus.

The National Wilflife Federation also has a certified habitat program that can provide lots of help and encouragement to enhance wildlife opportunities through food, water and shelter. Even a tiny yard or a balcony can become an oasis.

I don't know that we will want to "certify" our yard - this is our home. We will put our own happiness first, and local conditions in nature are never the same from one place to the next. If I want to let the little seedling  mimosa tree on the south side of the house continue to grow, I won't worry about whether it is native, naturalized or "invasive": it's here already, it came up by itself, mimosas are true to the history of my house, and it won't hurt anything.

New landscaping will be a lot of work, but we are excited to be starting on the project so that we can enjoy the outdoors more right outside our own door.

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