When I look at our garden today, two years in progress, it's almost hard to believe how much things have changed since we planted our first little 4-inch plants in 2008. We've proven to ourselves that creating a thriving wildlife garden was in the "realm of all things possible." And what our previously neglected yard offered us was a clean slate to start with. Empty of just about anything except weeds and some wild trees, our yard, despite its awful soil and the scorching sun above it, had the potential for beauty and life.
We take a simple approach to gardening. I like to think of us as lazy gardeners, but I'm not sure that the words "gardeners" and "lazy" ever really belong together. We used organic compost to revive our depleted soil -- the biggest challenge was getting a shovel to penetrate the dry, hard, compacted dirt. And because plants native to central Texas are the plants that grow best in our clay- and limestone-filled, high pH soil, those are the plants you'll primarily find around our property. If a plant requires too much maintenance or water, it will not be a survivor in our garden.
And shortly into our gardening experience, we realized that what we truly wanted was to create a habitat for wildlife. So we plant not just primarily native plants, but ones that serve as larval hosts for butterflies, offer berries and seeds for birds, and create areas of cover for all sorts of creatures. The influx of wonderful and beautiful creatures has kept us motivated to keep gardening, and it's also led to me becoming a Habitat Steward for the National Wildlife Federation. Not all our plants are native, but the variants we do have are all chosen because they are particularly well adapted or very good nectar providers. And we set out birdfeeders, too. We have multiple water sources, as well, including two ponds (three ponds if you count the dogs' pool above).
It's amazing how quickly butterflies and birds and other creatures come when you provide food and other necessities for them. The first year, when our plants were still mostly small, every new animal we found brought us pure delight and incredible satisfaction that we were succeeding in changing our world. The second year, we've found that our yard is always bustling with activity, and we still get excited over all the wildlife. Our resident birds charm us with beautiful songs throughout the day. Dragonflies and native bees and butterflies are constantly abuzz. And we get lots of seasonal passersby, such as cedar waxwings.
Our hot-tub pond is now well established, and it's become a haven for toads, frogs, dragonflies and damselflies, and of course our goldfish. The hair algae I dealt with all last year was hardly around this year, so maintenance was a breeze. And it's such a delight to see birds rest on the waterfall stones to take a drink and a little bath.
Perhaps our biggest accomplishment at home during 2010 was the creation of our new garden path in the backyard. It has made our garden a true pleasure to visit, and it limits our weeding primarily to the garden beds themselves, if we can ever find time to actually weed. Prior to putting in the decomposed granite path, the ever-spreading Bermuda Grass and Nutsedge threatened our very willingness to continue gardening. Now, it's easy to remember how much we love our garden and gardening. We still have weeds in the beds, but we're tackling them a little by little when we have a spare moment. And as more plants get in the ground and growing, they help push out the unwanted plants.
Veggie gardening scared me for a long time, but as is often the case for us, a spur of the moment purchase of some seeds led to the creation of not just one veggie bed, but several. We've now grown (or are currently growing) everything from pumpkins and cantaloupes to kohlrabi, broccoli, garlic, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, pomegranates, peas and green beans, carrots, many herbs, and more.
We've made some progress in the front yard, but we continue to be limited by our need for retaining walls to level the yard and our unwillingness to cut down the thriving Arizona Ash trees that still provide tremendous shade. When they start to drop branches, we'll do something about them, but the best we can do right now is get some young trees in place that will one day provide new shade for our front yard.
At least the front bed near the house has gotten a new look, and hopefully in a year or two will look very different, once the plants are bigger.
Our entryway has been transformed with a new pond, new plants, a new flagstone porch, and new light fixtures.
On the side of the house, we've begun a woodland pathway. Once it's completed, it's going to be a lovely, albeit short, little trail.
Around the property, we created a container garden here, some art there. Mostly we just aimed for "forward progress."
One of my favorite things about having a native wildlife habitat is that I find surprises in the areas I let grow wild. Just today, as I walked around taking pictures, I discovered that I've got Golden-Eye (Virguiera dentata) growing in my yard now. I can't tell you how fun it is for me to find a new native plant that has appeared on its own (or at least with a little help from the birdies). This past year I realized that I had Mexican Silktassel, Yellow Passionflower, Virginia Creeper, and many other wonderful plants growing right here on our property. Why didn't I find them sooner? Because some of them are growing in the overgrown woodland areas on our land, and others can be found in areas frequented daily by our dogs, if you know what I mean. I spend less time in these areas, I admit, but I do very appreciate that we're lucky to have them.
The truth is, though clearly we had a productive year, I really didn't work in the yard as much as I would have liked. In general my poor garden was left to its own devices for the better part of the year. Besides all of our many projects at home, I was actively leading a habitat project at my son's school, and the expansion of the project continues to occupy most of my spare time. We have a bit more exterior painting to finish up, and we're only 1/3 with finishing the flagstone patio in the back. Happily, though, we did manage to get some new plants in the ground, and thanks to a few regular rainshowers this year, they actually got some water. I can count on two fingers (ok, maybe four) the numbers of times I actually watered my garden.
Here are a couple of other before and after shots. You can see how far we've gotten on the back patio flagstone.
I'm really pleased with the progress on our A/C bed. My goal was to get deciduous trees established along the southern side of the house while at the same time hiding the A/C unit with a little cover. Mission accomplished this year. Next year, I'll hopefully get more groundcover and smaller plants established. By the way, replacing our A/C unit was another thing we had to do this year. The one on the left served us for 15 years, may it rest in peace.
Looking back on the year and all these photos, I guess we actually accomplished quite a lot, even though we gardened a lot more the previous year. Perhaps that's because we completely started from scratch in 2008 and had to work a lot of soil in order to get plants in the ground, and this past year we were able to get other things off our to-do list because our garden beds were already fairly established.
Goals for the next year? Officially finish the painting and the flagstone patio, get the side yard beds and woodland path finished, get our new pocket wildflower meadow finished, conquer the nutsedge in the butterfly and A/C beds, and make some more progress on the front yard. That's the plan, anyway. You never know what we'll come up with!
Happy gardening, everyone.

-- Meredith