>GOING GREEN THROUGH GARDENING

>Since receiving Award Winning Green Garden recognition from the City of Austin, several people have asked us what that means. First of all, it means being good environmental stewards of the land, air and water we all share. The City of Austin’s Grow Green program is a leader among cities in this country in encouraging us to join that bandwagon. We were honored to be one of approximately 60 locations in Austin to receive such recognition, were given our own web page showing and describing our yard, proudly displaying an Award Winning Green Garden sign for all to note, and of course, receiving the obligatory T-shirt given to anyone who wins anything! You can learn more about this program at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/greengarden , how to qualify, view examples of green gardens around Austin, plus see our yard at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/greengarden/award_whistlingstraits.htm .


The main recommendations for Green Gardening as provided by this program are as follows. I couldn’t do a better job of expressing these, so I’ll primarily quote them for your benefit.

CONSERVING WATER:

Mulch: Mulch helps prevent water from evaporating, ensuring more water remains in the soil for your plants. It also smothers our many weeds before they gain a foothold.

Watering: In the summer, half of our water goes into our landscapes. It takes five days for the waterin your soil to evaporate, so there’s no reason to water more than every five days. Green gardens require less water and help ensure there’s enough water for everyone.

Rain barrels: Rain water reduces the demand on Austin’s water supply; it’s better for your plants than treated water, and it’s free!

Pathways: Using products like decomposed granite, mulch, or stepping stones for paths helps prevent runoff. Your soil will be able to absorb more water when it rains, to the benefit of your plants.

Rain garden: Create a drainage pattern to collect rainwater in a certain area to prevent eroding runoff and plant appropriate plants that can endure both wet and dry conditions.

HEALTHY SOIL FOR HEALTHY PLANTS:

Grass Clippings: Grass clippings will return nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to your lawn. They may completely eliminate the need to fertilize.

Compost: Compost improves the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers weed killers and extra watering.

Organic Fertilizers: Organic and labeled natural fertilizers out-performed synthetic fertilizers in recent studies by the City of Austin and Texas A&M.

When to Fertilize: You should apply at most ½ lb of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. each year. Over fertilizing plants weakens their roots and makes them more vulnerable to drought. Never fertilize before a rain. The rain will wash freshly applied fertilizer in to creeks.

Backyard Composting: You can easily make your own compost with leaves, green yard wastes and some food scraps. By providing your green clippings and leaves for City trash pickup in approved yard bags, the City will do the composting and make it available as Dillo Dirt for soil enhancement.

THE RIGHT PLANT FOR THE RIGHT PLACE

Native and Adapted Plants: Give your garden a unique, Austin look by choosing plants that will naturally do well in our hot, dry climate and alkaline soils

Less grass: Grass needs to be babied. It requires more water, fertilizer, pesticides, and care than most other ground cover plants.

Attracting wildlife: As our city grows, many birds, butterflies, and other wildlife are losing habitat. You can help these species survive by choosing plants that provide food and shelter for them.

Create shade: Shade trees help cool your house, reducing your electric bill, and a shady yard may need less water in the summer.

MAINTAINING A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT

Weeds and bugs: Pesticides not only harm the unwanted pests, they can also poison many beneficial bugs and aquatic life. There are many effective and less toxic alternatives. Try them first and use pesticides only as a last resort.

So, if you want to create and sustain a GREEN GARDEN, ask yourself the following questions. See how you rate by simply divided the yes responses by the total.

1. Is my landscape aesthetically pleasing?
2. Do I use mulch to conserve water and discourage weeds?
3. Do I obey the City’s mandatory water restrictions and schedule?
4. Do I collect rainwater for use on my plants?
5. Do I compost to improve my soil or recycle compost-able materials for production of compost?
6. Do I leave grass clippings on the lawn?
7. Do I use fertilizer sparingly if at all and never fertilize before a rail?
8. Do I use fertilizers that are organic or labeled natural?
9. Do I compost some of my yard trimmings and vegetable scraps?
10. Do I have trees shading my house and garden?
11. Do I plant mostly native or adaptive species?
12. Is less than half of my front yard grass?
13. Do I plant species that will provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies or other wildlife?
14. Do I not use pesticides/herbicides or use them ONLY as a last resort?
15. Are my pathways made from permeable materials?
16. Do I have a rain garden?
17. Can I identify other measures have I taken to help protect our environmental resources?

The more “Yes” responses, the more “GREEN” your garden and yard is. We rated 15 out of 17 or 88%. The Green Garden program guidelines say you only need 11 or 65% to qualify for their award and recognition.

Not there yet? What are you waiting for? The hardest part is retraining our minds to think “Green” in not only our gardening practices, but in our overall lifestyles. Setting a good example will encourage others to follow. That’s what the Green Garden Program is out to do – show by example how each resident can make a difference. Join the new revolution to improve our only sustainable environment.

>ADD FUN TO YOUR GARDEN – aka "WHIMSY"

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A garden should be more than just a cultivated area with plants in it. It should show creativity, have something to draw the eye to it, and I submit, should be FUN for all. To add that last element, try a little “whimsy”. This adds real character and individual art, or your own creativity. A warning here, however. You can easily get carried away and detract from the beauty of your plantings by overindulging in whimsy or getting too tacky, but here are a few items I have seen in other gardens that have made me smile and enjoy the garden they adorned more than I otherwise would have.  Some of those whimsical ideas include:

• A real metal post bed – “A garden bed” – Get it!
• Broken pots with a sign “Rest in Pieces”
• An entire flower pot cemetery with grave sites and humorous signage for each, e.g.”Died Broke” or “Busted”, or “Cracked Up”.
• Flower pot statues, often adorned as characters
• Scrap metal welded animals (given a humorous name like a dog named “Rusty”)

• Old watering cans, old tools, and garden instruments hanging on a fence
• A steer skull hanging on a wall (lit at night for additional effect)
• Old wagon wheels, plows, milk cans, and items of a bygone era
• Humorous signage, e.g. “This yard protected by fire ants!” or “Beware of Geckos” or “We’re so excited about gardening, we wet our plants”!
• Artificial fruit hanging from a tree in which they obviously don’t belong
• An old bathtub or water trough used as a planter
• Cute statuary pieces , and humorous yard art pieces
• A phony water faucet with a crystal bead for a water droplet coming from it
• An old bicycle or other unusual object against a fence with vines crawling over it
• A colored glass bottle tree
• Animal skulls or bones laying in a cactus bed
• A yellow brick road for a garden path or dry river bed with fish painted stepping stones in it
• Unusual containers, e.g. a ceramic boot with succulents, or galvanized pails for flower pots
• Stumps with tractor seats on top for garden chairs
• Anything else that will add levity to your garden. The depths of your imagination are the limit. I’ve even seen an old chandelier hanging in an old oak tree above a garden or mirrors along fences to make the garden look larger.

When it comes to garden whimsy and decor, anything goes (as long as you yourself can live with it)! I have visited many other gardens full of whimsy and artistic touches and left with the thought that I loved seeing it, but  – IN SOMEONE ELSES YARD! So your own yard has to reflect your personal tastes and that’s what makes gardening so diverse and interesting – no two resemble each other but reflect the personality of each and every gardener. Going on garden tours offers the opportunity to see what creative touches others have given to their garden spaces from which we get many ideas that will work in our own space. So, the next time you visit another garden, do admire the plant selection, placement and garden design, different textures and colors, etc, but also keep an eye out for a little whimsy thrown in – sometimes very subtle, sometimes glaring, but always eye catching and interesting. A little laughter with the lavender is OK!