Garden Party: Part 1

Welcome to my Garden Party!

About 3 months ago, we started our first official vegetable garden here in Texas. The dudes built me a vegetable bed and used some old wood for an herb box. And voilà. Instant Garden! Okay, it wasn’t that simple - garden building is sweat, and hard work. Heat is a part of the Texas garden adventure, so is having a hose to play in. All of this hard work is worth the price, providing year round goods for my Zesty Kitchen and The Herb Room. It is also providing this garden slice of fun. Stop in and see what is thriving, what doesn’t survive and how our garden progresses over time. Come on over, stay a while and share in the party, from start to finish.

Look. Grandpa Solbakken lives in here. These are his garden books; a precious inheritance.

When I think of gardens, and my love affair with plants, I think of the people that cultivated me, helping me become the zesty woman I am today. Time spent tending to love, sprinkled with water and sun, was time spent with my Grandparents. I was blessed to grow up sharing a loving and close relationship with two Grandmother’s and one very special Grandpa. My garden inspirations always flow back to special memories spent in their gardens. One place I could always find my Grandpa Solbakken (Nordic for Sunnyhill) was in his garden. He was such a character, always made me smile, could magically pull off the tip of his thumb and put it back on (I was easily fooled), was an avid ‘backyard gardener’, and tomato growin’ extraordinaire. He sure knew how to grow the most amazing, and delicious homegrown tomatoes!

Grandpa Solbakken was very innovative for his time. He practiced Organic gardening, gardening for small spaces and he made my heart fill with love. He also made me laugh and would trick us kids with silliness. Check out the book,  Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It serves as a good starting point when planning a garden, and was what my Grandpa used to get a super high yield of the world’s best juicy organic tomatoes. Square Foot Gardening, is based on basic garden principles and practice, providing sustainable, cost effective ways to build and grow a productive garden in any space. These ideas have once again resurfaced into the main stream, as more and more people become involved in growing their own vegetables. Grandpa Solbakken practiced, not only what I find in these books, but what I tasted in every tomato. This foundation is what serves me in all my gardening adventures -organic growing methods, rotating crops, maximizing space and my favorite, companion planting.

I reference these garden books A LOT, especially when planning a garden. Which means frequent visits with my Grandpa.

Look. His original handwritten name. Sniffle. I sure miss him.

Grandpa Solbakken’s garden was his personal refuge where he found great joy and peace. This is why we garden huh? That and for yummy homegrown goodness. Though he is no longer with us, I am still dreaming of his tomatoes. To this day, I have never tasted a tomato that even come close to the taste of his.

A few other faves that really bring me inspiration.

Pretty soon everything will be coming up roses. Figuratively at least.

This book however reminds me of my Dad’s mom, Grandma Taylor.

She sure had a beautiful rose and herb garden. I have fond memories of watching her water, and prune her lovely roses. She also talked a lot. Hmm. Obviously not a trait I inherited form her. Hee  hee. She was wonderfully vivacious, a mother of 10 (WOW!), liked to dance, and also gives good Tamale Pie. She was good friend to me and always told me things straight up.

Whether, I wanted to hear it or not.

She helped me plant my very first herb garden and

taught me to stop and smell the roses.  Thank you Grandma Taylor. We will now stop and smell the roses.

See?                         These are scratch-n-sniff.                                                                                                             I wish.

I am dreaming about these ethereal roses

and think that this Sterling Silver is heavenly. Next year some roses are going in Grandma. Until then it’s unladylike to keep the guests waiting… it’s Garden Party time!

Check out my professional garden design. I made it on AutoCAD. Okay, I made it on auto BAD. But hey, it’s zesty, homemade and this is where it all began.

You are looking at the general garden design. The initial plans and process were based on the Central Texas climate, space, soil and sun.

Let me share a little secret with you. Ready?
Texas is HOT and very humid in the summer. Really? Really. It also downpours -and I mean buckets. You would think with all the rain and sun that planting would be no problem, and it usually isn’t if you have great soil. The soil in my yard is heavy clay and limestone, mixed with soil that is nutrient poor due to the prevalent crab grass. The combined heat, humidity, sudden downpours, and poor soil conditions threw some immediate challenges my way. Since plans included a year round garden, I also had winter to contend with. Winter in Texas? Yep, to all of you that think that Texas produces year round heat, and humidity. Wrong. We have a thing called seasons, that Northern Californian folks know nothin’ about. Think SNOW. It snowed in February and I have the picture to prove it! We also get golf ball sized hail. Yikes! It gets damn cold here; bone chilling in fact, which means freezing, frost and potential loss of plants. All in all, the Texas climate and weather can be very extreme and unpredictable.  The saying here in Texas, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.“  The other saying, “Don’t mess with Texas!”  I ain’t messin’ around when I tell you, that Texas gardening is challenging. And lucky for you I’m a gal that likes a challenge. And Garden Parties.

Here are some of the general challenges that I faced. Drainage, mold, and water (too little/too much.) Plus, I’m not from around these parts, so this was a whole new ballgame and learning experience. The Texas Botanist is in the house – who hoo. Holla. The late start was my immediate challenge; most people had already planted and were enjoying their first crop. Drainage was my other. Sudden and heavy rains just run off the soil here and I was a witness to my backyard flowing river. Our garden plans did not include bog plants, so we sat down and decided on the box size, the vegetables, and placement in the yard.

Here is what we came up with. Our first ever Tejas garden in the making, for your viewing pleasure.

The dudes built me this fantastic spruce raised garden box. It measures 6X6 box and is plenty big, for the space.

We placed it in the only full sun spot that we have. The rest of our yard is full of big trees, so very nice to the non-vegetable varieties. Like me.

Blue worked the soil with drainage rocks and pulled out crabgrass. It was then covered with black heavy plastic. After 3 weeks, it was uncovered and ready for good local organic soil.

The dudes wheeled in barrel fulls,

hoeing down layers,  and piling it on top of the drainage rocks.

Blue hard at work – it’s almost full babe!

After all the soil was in, the dirt was hoed, spread out and the surface flattened. We gave the bed a good soaking, and watered on and off for a week. We had some rain, which kept the soil moist, and then topped it off with more soil. It’s important to water, watch, and water. This ensures that the soil settles and drainage is good before planting.

Here is where my herb bed ended up, and is not placed where I originally planned. Herbs are not picky, and easy to grow. They are also very likable and tasty. This part of the yard is mainly sunny with afternoon tree shade AND is closer to my Zesty Kitchen. Big grin.

The final garden overview layout. Thirsty yet? Let’s take a beer break on the lawn chairs, ’cause the party ain’t over yet!  Join me for another cold one and kick up your feet. In Part 2,  I reveal our summer garden theme, and will show you what’s growing in the garden today.