New Cedar Log Path Creates Woodland Zen


Meet the wood path that cost us nothing but time and the purchase
of a $50 electric chainsaw.

Our side yard has long been a wild mix of large trees, understory trees and shrubs, brambles, and a set of plants I’ll just refer to as “miscellaneous.” I consider it woodland despite the fact that it sits between two houses, and in fact it serves as a small habitat corridor that is very popular with the wildlife. I’m quite fond of this area, and I intend to fill it in with many more wildlife-friendly native plants to serve as a habitat, visual screen, and sound barrier (we live near a highway).


We’ve attempted planting a bit here and there. However, the Oak sprouts mixed with the prickly vines of Dewberry and Greenbrier have been, if you’ll pardon the pun, a thorn in my side. I don’t actually want to get rid of them, but I do want to control them so that I can increase other plant diversity. It was clear that I needed a better plan of attack so that I could successfully manage the area. A pathway was in order. But I wanted it to be natural, cheap, and nature-friendly.

I thought about just using cedar mulch. But I wanted something that would be clearly defined and easy to maintain — mulch can spread beyond its original boundaries and will sometimes still let weeds through. Decomposed granite has its own issues. But thanks to a few cedar logs I had around from a previous project, I became inspired to slice them up to create mock flagstones. Of course, I needed a lot more logs, so I looked for free wood of various diameters on Craigslist. I think we used about three mini-van loads worth for this project (I’m so technical).


We realized pretty quick that it takes time to slice up a lot of logs. To make it easier, my husband built a little stand to hold the logs — what a difference that made. While he cut the logs into roughly 1.25″ slices, the rest of us cleared brambles and miscellaneous plants to create a pathway through the trees.

I had fun laying the path — it was like working on a giant jigsaw puzzle. Of course, it was pretty easy to fit the pieces together on this one. You can see the red color of the freshly cut logs mixed with older slices that had already turned brown.


And rather than lay them in sand, which I never like mixing with clay soil if I can help it, I just laid them directly on the dirt.

cedarpathj08-29-11.jpgThe log slices follow the natural ups and downs of the soil — I made no attempt to level the ground anywhere.  

cedarpathf08-29-11.jpgAfter laying the path, I spread leftover sawdust to fill the gaps between the slices, like mortar — except not like mortar.


A view of a longer portion of the path, still covered in a cushion of sawdust

I also added a few small limestone rocks gathered from around the yard to give a casual border to the path. The path defines the future planting areas for the tree-covered area. I envision an assortment of understory trees, shrubs, and perennials adding pleasant greenery to the already scenic wood path. 

To show off the cedar, I swept the wood path with a broom. The sawdust between the slices created a finished look. Here’s where I’ll admit that I actually like the path still fully covered in sawdust equally as well — the sawdust gives an extra cushion that lets you bounce a little along the path. But then you miss getting to see the log slices underneath, and they are just plain cool.



Cedar log slices with saw dust used to fill the gaps

I am obsessed with our new path. Everytime I look at it, I just sigh a peaceful sigh. Of course, it’s still too hot and dry to plant anything around the path right now, but the path is so pleasant in appearance that while inside I repeatedly walk over to the kitchen window to see it again. 

The advantages to this wood path are many, as I have discovered:

  • It’s natural and organic
  • It’s free (except the electric chainsaw, a small one that we spent $50 on)
  • The wood is locally obtained and grows readily in Central Texas
  • The space between the slices easily lets moisture penetrate the soil below
  • Ashe Juniper is naturally rot resistant
  • It’s comfortable to walk on
  • You can walk barefoot on it, too
  • Log slices can be easily moved around or replaced, not that we’ve had to
  • The path stays in place without shifting
  • The path can be swept with a broom or raked
  • It’s easy to create
  • I can use leftover wood bits in my closet to keep moths out. And the cedar smells great.


cedarpath08-29-11.jpgThe logs are staying nicely in place, human- and wildlife-tested. Were this path in our backyard, I’m certain that our big, rambunctious dogs might test it to its limits, though.

Is this a weekend project? Yes. Did it take us months because we are lazy slowpokes? Yes. But do we love it? YES!

Stump Planters Incoming

Goodness, I’m behind on my blog — I’ve been swamped, but in a good way (I can say that because I’m not excessively stressed at this very moment, but give me a few minutes and it will come back, I’m sure).

I just walked through the full-sun backyard, trying not to immediately turn around and seek cool shelter back indoors. The natives are hanging in there as best they can. The lawn is fried from the heat and drought. Note that once again I’m not taking pictures. (A) It depresses me, and (B) I don’t want my camera to melt in my hands. But patches of dirt where once there was Bermuda gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, the Bermuda will die out and I’ll have an easier time replacing the lawn. Must find the positive in an extended drought! Here’s another — guess what’s happening in the neighborhood invasive forest?

My gardening is practically nil, but even so we’ve managed to tackle a few related projects. I’ll start with the simplest — a new stump planter made from an old tree my brother-in-law wanted off his property.

stumpplanter08-26-11.jpgI put old trees to good use — left whole and intact, they are excellent for wildlife, providing nesting and cover sites, as well as insect sources for birds and other wildlife. But stumps and sections like these make excellent natural pedestals for birdbaths, birdfeeders, and other nifty garden stuff, as well. Having one as a planter has been on my to-do list for a long time.

And so my husband drilled and chiseled one out for me. It sounds easier than it was, but since I wasn’t the one doing it, it was easy — for me. In any case, he’s the best, and I love it.

stumpplanterb08-26-11.jpgFor this planter, I wanted a sedum, so we kept the depth of the planter fairly shallow. There’s not much room for more than one plant, either, but I’m not complaining. With a little deeper hole in the next planter, perhaps I could add a native grass, vine, or blooming perennial — I’ll work on that! Wouldn’t Blackfoot Daisy look great? Ooh, or Chocolate Daisy — then I wouldn’t have to bend so far to take a sniff of the delicious hot-chocolate aroma!


So when I can convince my husband that he should make another stump planter, I’ll report back with new pictures. In the meantime, the picture above gives a little glimpse of another outdoor project — it’s a favorite!

One Soggy Pizza Box

I must confess — that’s not the original title of this post. My first title was “Take a Shower With Your Pizza Box,” but I got awfully weird looks from my oldest son and a visiting friend when I tried that one. Then on advice of my son, I changed it to “I’ll Take One Shower, Hold the Anchovies.” But I really thought perhaps that one went further downhill, because it kept bringing borderline disgusting images to mind and if I really tried hard, they got really, really bad. Finally, I chickened out and went with simple, as seen above. But seriously, I do mean to say that you should take a shower with your pizza box. A bath with a pizza box might be a little weird, though. Wait a minute, SAY WHAT? Take a guess as to what I mean, and meanwhile I’ll explain.


See, taking a shower with your pizza box (the corrugated kind) softens it up and makes it easy to tear (of course, you don’t have to shower WITH it if you are shy about sharing private bathing moments with cardboard — just save some of the leftover water to soak the box in later).

And then if you tear your soggy pizza box into small bits — guess what?

pizzaboxb08-15-11.jpgYou can add it to your compost! It serves as a fantastic brown material, just like dried leaves (the compost recipe is 1 part green to 3 parts brown). It’s a tip from Austin’s recycling program, which also teaches people about composting. And it being a college town, Austin folks eat a lot of pizza. That means a lot of pizza boxes. And we don’t want all those boxes going to the landfill.

But they can’t be recycled either, not even with our wonderful single-stream recycling. Pizza boxes usually have a little grease in them, and in the recycling process, even a small amount of grease can be a contaminant — it can ruin a whole batch of potential paper product. But that small amount of grease won’t hurt your compost, and if you have any concern at all about it attracting pests, just dig it a foot or more down when you add it to the bin. We have a Tumbler composter, so we just toss the wet bits in there and give it a spin.


So compost your pizza box, adding a little water to make it easy to tear. But don’t moisten the box with straight tap water — that’s wasteful (and our severe drought means that every drop is even more precious than usual). Use that gray water from your shower or bath to soften up the box. If you are incredibly lucky enough live in an area that actually gets rain, then rain seems a fine box-watering choice if you care to hold out for it. But as another alternative, you can also use pizza boxes as a barrier for weeds when you are creating a new garden bed. We did this when we created the new bed around our pond, and it worked great.

Pizza boxes and compost. Who knew?



Help Keep Austin Wild As a Habitat Steward

hummerflameacanthusc2010.jpgIf you love nature as much as I do, and you live in the Austin area, I cordially invite you to register for the 2011 Wildlife Austin Habitat Stewards Training. This program is a co-project of Willdlife Austin and National Wildlife Federation, and through the program you will become part of a great team of volunteers who are really making a difference in Austin’s environment. l can tell you from experience that the class is fun and the training is outstanding. You’ll learn about some of the most wildlife-friendly native plants, go in-depth with soil and compost knowledge, take on invasive plants, learn multiple aspects of wildscaping design principles, planting, and maintenance, and so much more. Our wonderful Habitat Stewards then educate and assist others in creating and restoring habitat in neighborhoods, parks, schoolyards, and other community places to help Keep Austin Wild!

My experience as a Habitat Steward has been incredibly rewarding, and I continue to strive for more ways to help protect our natural habitat and keep Austin green and wildlife-friendly. My fellow Stewards are an inspiration, and I love seeing all their habitat efforts across the city!

The training is only $40, and classes are held on Thursday evenings and Saturdays from September 8 to October 6, 2011. Details and registration information can be found at the Wildlife Austin site. I hope you will join us!

Color Me Wild in Arkansas

I love bright colors that appear on the least likely creatures. Our trip to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas introduced us to several such animals, if not colorful then otherwise very cool, and include with that some very beautiful nature spots!

Hiking at the forested Devil’s Den State Park, for example, proved to be both gorgeous in the grand scheme of things and scientifically fascinating right down to the tiniest little creatures. This young Five-Lined Skink had no interest in stopping for a picture, but I did my best to get one anyway. The blue coloration of the tail is just remarkable!


As the skink ages, however, it will lose the bright blue color on its tail, and instead its head will possibly turn red. Now, explain to me the purpose of either occurrence, would you please?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of spiders, so of course I have some to share.

arrowshapedmic07-11.jpgThis unusual but common spider is an Arrow-Shaped Micrathena. Specifically, she’s a female Arrow-Shaped Micrathena. The males don’t have those pointy spines.

spinedmic07-11.jpgUpping the ante to ten spines, this Spined Micrathena built her web just a couple of trees over.

spinedmicb07-11.jpgInstead of white, her underside is covered in thin stripes of yellow and black.

Spiders are cool and all, but so are their webs.


I don’t know what kind of spider is responsible for this web, but ooh, how I love me a good creepy web. This one qualifies.

Down the hill, this little ant was working hard to take this giant insect wing somewhere.

antpull07-11.jpgI carefullly lifted the wing to reposition it on the rock so that I could get a picture, and the ant never let go — as soon as its little legs touched the rock again, it went right back to work moving the wing, as if nothing had ever happened. 

armadillo07-28-11.jpgThe boys were delighted to find an armadillo searching for grubs — it completely ignored them and went about its food-finding mission, even right at their feet. I wrote more about this cute armored mammal, also known as the Turtle Rabbit, over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. I also wrote about black vultures, in case you are interested! I always am interested in vultures, ’cause vultures rock.

Not into oddly-named turtle rabbits or carcass-eating vultures? How about staring beavers?


I have about 20 images of this beaver, and they all turned out exactly the same, despite the fact that he walked about 10 feet during the process. By the way, we saw him at, amazingly enough, Beaver Lake. Think the lake belongs to him?

whiteLepid07-11.jpgOops I skipped ahead — back to Devil’s Den. This dainty little thing found an odd but comfortable resting spot on my youngest son’s leg, which the picture will show is far more hairy than my son ever realized.

whitebrnuthatch07-11.jpgA White-Breasted Nuthatch tried to fool us into thinking it was a woodpecker. It and its friends might have been responsible for several nuts that nearly hit us on the head from the trees above.

butterflypuddling07-11.jpgButterfly puddling can occur in the strangest places. This is the first time I’ve seen it on a trash can. I really don’t care to know what people have spilled there.

With so many insects missing from Texas thanks to our record drought, it was with pure relief that I watched so many butterflies and bees busy at work on the flowers we saw in Arkansas. These were up near Eureka Springs.


Down at Petit Jean, an insect of a different sort came over to inspect the humans.

stickinsect07-11.jpgEither that or the stick insect found my ever-reliable and well-used Keens a potentially good camouflage spot. It couldn’t have been expecting my pink feet to be so shockingly visible from inside the sandal.

egrettree07-11.jpgEver seen an egret tree? I’m so glad no one hit my car while I pulled over to snag this picture near a pond.

Arkansas, known as the Natural State, was just what we needed to have a break from the drought that’s been drying up our home state of Texas. Arkansas has lovely green forests and beautiful lakes, rivers, creeks, and waterfalls…


Creek at Blanchard Springs


Blanchard Springs at the cavern exit

Mirror Lake


Heron at Beaver Lake

to unique geological features, like the Turtle Rocks and caves at Petit Jean State Park.


I love exploring nature with my boys. Together we find all sorts of interesting things. How fascinating, for example, an old leaf on the ground can be!

Arkansas, you’ll be seeing us again. Until next time!