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Clay Family


This winter, the family decided to have fun with clay.

claybatpullsa01-15-12.jpgHere are my bat fan pulls. They are Mexican Free-tailed bats, of course, in honor of Austin's giant colony at the Congress bridge.


I also tried my hand at making a Carolina chickadee. I kept looking out the window at the real birds for models.


It's hard not to adore Nolan's bluebirds. They are kind of like blue ducks, but we're all okay with that.


He also made a great and most vibrant Painted Bunting.


Logan made this Ruby-Throated Hummingbird for his great-grandmother. He also made other birds and even little itty bitty bats.

  claybirdse12-11.jpgMichael played with brown clay for a long time, and we made all sorts of jokes about chocolate poo. And then all of a sudden out of his hand appeared a hawk!

We're not clay experts, but we had a great time. Many of our clay items became holiday gifts for family, and we also made homemade wooden block puzzles this year. We're just big fans of making gifts from the heart. I'm already thinking about next year's homemade gifts. What shall they be, what shall they be?

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.

cedarpathg08-29-11.jpg 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!

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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