Two Years of Hummingbird Hill Part 1

Hummingbird Hill was officially named two years old this October. It's appropriate that it's anniversary falls in October because this is my favorite month of the whole year in Texas. The weather is wonderful, the fall flowers come into bloom in abundance, the clouds run against a sapphire blue sky, sometimes shading the sun, sometimes not, causing shadows to race along the ground. I find it perfectly exhilarating, especially after being liberated from the Texas heat of late summer. If you call and can't get me to answer the phone it's most likely because I'm out working in the garden. Well, more like playing actually, or better yet, getting drunk on fresh air, blue sky with backlit thunderheads, and graceful seed heads on the green, green knee-high grass rippling across the meadow like water. Leave me a message. I'll give you a call back later.

When we first moved here on our little 10 acres, it looked so barren and bald. The grass, kept mowed to a few inches above the dirt, was crispy brown in the drought of late summer. I told my husband, Jerry, let's not mow it, but let the prairie take over. At first he was doubtful, as his ranching childhood kicked in with visions of tall weeds, mesquite, cactus, and Johnson grass. Ranchers have a constant battle with those problems. But then, I explained my idea. Maintain the meadows by controlling invasive weeds and Johnson grass with round-up, and invasive shrubs like poverty bush and mesquite by shredding them off in January, but allow the native grasses to spread and go to seed so that it gets thick and beautiful. Then the wildflowers will come back which will encourage birds to stay, including doves. Well, that did it. Suddenly Jerry saw himself unchained from the lawnmower and weed-eater, and envisioned a future dove haven with himself decked out in camouflage, filling his game bag with fat birds fed on sunflowers. He even bought wildflower seeds to sow.

Then, inspired by the charming rampant English gardens I had visited years ago, I started to mow paths through the meadow in front of the house and began flower beds designed to become islands of flowers and native plants all mixed together. At first, it took Jerry a while to adjust. He couldn't keep the mowing instinct down, and when people kept asking him if his lawnmower was broken, he felt rather ashamed. But after the grasses grew back, and he found out how much easier maintenance was the new way, he became a believer, and now he brags that he only mows paths once a month, while everybody else is hog tied to their edger, shearers, and lawn mowers all summer.

It has been so easy. I simply picked out areas to make the beds and sprayed Round-up in large roundish sort of shapes. The tall grass left a wonderful, thick mulch when it died, ready to plant directly in it. My mowed paths were fun to walk through, easy to maintain, and gave you the ability to see if there were any snakes you might step upon unaware. I also used Round-up to edge the beds to keep out creeping grass, and put down deep layers of old hay as a mulch, to keep out weed seeds. It has worked beautifully. As long as I am diligent to pull out little trees when they are very small, I really don't have much weeding to do. The mulch has improved the soil, kept in moisture, and helped cool the soil so that the plants looked bushy and green through the recent bad droughts we've had in Central Texas. You have to replace old hay mulch more often than wood chips because it rots quickly, but that is a good thing if you are trying to improve the soil. Also, old hay is readily available, cheaper than wood chips, and quicker to put down around the plants. I planted all sorts of adapted and native shrubs and flowers in the flowerbeds, to have plants that would successfully survive a Texas summer, and keep watering to a minimum.

Then I discovered that heirloom and old garden roses are very adapted to Texas. They bloom heavily in the spring, rest during the summer with sporadic flushes, and then most bloom heavily again in the fall. When I saw how well they were adapted to Texas I couldn't get enough of them, seeking out the most beautiful, fragrant, disease resistant roses I could find. People are used to the spindly long legged hybrid tea roses that nurseries grow in greenhouses on a strict spraying regimen, and say they haven't time to take care of roses. I just look at them in pity, and say, "Not, mine!" My roses grown on their own roots are not grafted, and most grow into huge shrubs, although some are only waist high, but I never spray them for foliar diseases. I might clip out some dead canes, but I don't prune them either. I don't pick off hips, I just pick armloads of flowers dripping with old garden rose fragrance. I water the mature bushes once a month if it doesn't rain, just like I do the fruit trees; otherwise, they do beautifully on their own, and songbirds love to make nests amongst the thorns. Many roses such as our beloved Lady Banks rose and musk roses are too tender to grow up north, so people can grow more kinds of old garden roses here in the south than elsewhere. Texas also has a dryer climate, which is kinder to many heirloom roses like Souvenir de la Petit Malmaison because they have so many petals it is difficult for them to fully open where it is wet and humid all the time.

A dryer climate is also better than a cool wet climate because it helps prevent a problem with mildew that so many roses have. A mild dry climate, with adequate spring through winter rainfall, and lots of breeze is a wonderful climate for roses, actually, so Central Texas is just about the perfect place to grow roses, as long as you don't mind helping them through long periods of drought with a little water now and again. My garden is dripping with the fragrance of roses when they are in full bloom, and I can pick all I want as it only helps the plants to bloom some more. Now I can fill vases with large, full petaled roses like in French still life pictures, and mix in some Texas wildflowers.

That my friends, is a wonderful satisfaction for a lazy gardener like me right here in Central Texas. Jerry made me garden benches, and now we especially like to sit amongst the flowers and hummingbirds in the cool of the evening with a nice glass of wine, and watch the sun backlight the grasses blowing in the wind as the sun goes down over the hill. The former crispy mowed field has become our Hummingbird Hill filled with songs of birds, humming of wings, and the fragrance of old roses on the evening breeze.