“Walking on Thin Ice”

by ESP on January 25, 2011 · 15 comments

Sitting on her wizened cedar stump (thanks Bob) the local “Patch” seer predicted a hard freeze this week in her crystal ball…

…as night fell she swirled around her fire, occasionally devouring a marshmallow, and a few

blackened shrimps? (Okay that was really bad).

Naturally she was right about the freezes.

A lone canna leaf, frozen to the spot.  The temperatures swing wildly at this time of year in Central Texas, freezing nights contrasting with clear warmer days.

This canna doesn’t seem to know what to do.

Pinecone cactus have decided there is safety in numbers and huddle up close in the cold, check out the face on the winking Mayan-looking character lurking behind the ice plant on the right.

Tephrocactus articulatus

The rather fearful, grimacing expressions on these cacti indicate exactly how they feel about the cold.  The extremities on the “cones” have caved inward in response to the cold night temperatures, though it will totally recover come the spring, with some heat and a few Botox injections here and there.

Botox Lady

“Ya ya! Give it to er now ESP, make sure ze has enough left for me esp? ESP? EESSSPPPP?!”

A few plants respond to the cold a little more elegantly, like this very regal Queen Elizabeth Stonecrop,

Sedum spurium  ‘Queen Elizabeth’

This little plant just keeps getting better and better, the colder and colder it gets.

It’s leaves now resemble miniature roses.

This royal succulent can live up to ten years!

“I am not impressed”.

This dwarf miscanthus also looks better as the temperatures dip, its once green leaves now a pin-striped white and purple maroon. I cut these ornamental grasses back to a few inches from the ground in the spring as soon as I see new green growth re-emerging. I see these all around town cut back prematurely, completely missing this purple phase.

Moving on…

The Patch has been hard at work on a residential installation in south Austin, removing a bit of this,

and a lot of that. I detest unnecessary steel edging almost as much as the Bermuda grass that it invariably attempts to contain, and it is the first thing I usually remove on an install. It really is horrible stuff, overused and invariably badly implemented as a sort of short garden “hurdle” to trip up any unsuspecting person walking in the vicinity.  Should you have to remove it? Expect some, or all of the following:

You can count on being finger-nipped or worse, impaled on one of “Vlad, the Impaler’s” metal spikes, (Vlad reportedly invented steel landscape edging back in the 13th century).  I will not mention the language that you will adopt as you work your way down a wobbling unruly line of removed edging, trying desperately to pry and wiggle one rusted or earth-clogged section from another in the most contorted positions imaginable (feet have to be used). It is harder work then shoveling!  Oh and if the end of a metal spike has hit a stone or tree root as it was driven into the ground? Forget about it and just resort to bending the two sections together (I have found three sections start to get heavy), though be warned, in a final ditch attempt, this demonic barrier will try to spring up to slap the side of your head with the back of it’s aggressive metal hand. Give me bricks or boulders any day for a less annoying (physically and visually) and infinitely more flexible and naturalistic edging solution.

Under copious amounts of mulch, I found these ghostly roots tightly interwoven to the underside of the weed suppressant material that we were removing, desperately searching and scouring for a way out from under the smothering black blanket.  These roots had traveled staggering distances.

Amazing…Bermuda grass IS the Borg.


“Oh, but I know your weaknesses Bermuda Queen”.

Oh come on, it is Bermuda grass! Do not talk to me about vinegar and this and that!


Cast Iron plant is once again living up to it’s name.

Soft leaf yucca catching some winter rays.

Ghost plants look their best this time of year.

leavesOne of my favorite clean up jobs!

I love picking up leaves at the best of times as you know, but when they are embedded into the heart of a sago palm?

Well, enough said!

Stay Tuned  for:

“Reflections and Double Agents”

All material © 2011 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and punishable by late  (and extremely unpleasant) 14th century planet Earth techniques.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!
1 Gail January 25, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Darling picture of the munchkins on the ESP bamboo log!

Thought surely you would show a picture of the “burning bush” Sago.

2 ESP January 25, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Hi Gail.

Yes, the halflings did a good balancing job on top of the bamboo culm for this shot, I was concerned for their safety, and it was a long drop :-)

I should have taken an image of the sago on fire…if only I had! My primary concern was to stomp out the fire when I noticed it in a complete panic for fear of it spreading to the adjacent and post-featured dwarf miscanthus. There was also no visible damage at all to this plant, it appears it was just the leaves in the center that ignited…a technique I may now have to employ with all of my other leaf-embedded sago palms, much easier and a lot less painful then picking them out of the heart by hand after all.

A match in hand and pyrotechnic smile on face,


3 Toni - Signature Gardens January 25, 2011 at 9:42 pm

The only time I like that green metal edging is when you can’t see it :-) I have worn out my arm installing 600 feet of it last year — yes, that is 6 hundred. I can hear you gasping now! I install it so low that when the Bermuda grass grows beside it you can’t see it (I know, another gasp over the Bermuda). Boulders and DG just don’t work in every application. Love ’em, but sometimes grass is needed. What I do hate is that landscape fabric, though. Talk about a useless product — just my opinion. Has anyone actually seen it do its job of stopping weed or grass growth? I had a client one time put industrial plastic down in all of the bed areas and instructed me to plant the shrubs with the plastic in place — I had to cut holes through the plastic n order to plant. After all of my begging and pleading, he eventually removed the plastic. All in a day’s work :-)

4 ESP January 25, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Hi Toni.

600 feet ?…I love that you are tracking the length of “Vlad’s” 13th century material you installed last year :-)

So funny, and yes there was a few gasps from the ESP:-) I am interested? Do the grass tendrils ever “go over the top” (in a WW1 fashion) when you install the medium so low to the demon grass? I have seen four or five foot “loose” rhizomes from this grass searching it’s environment for a William Wallace patch of “FREEDOM” soil. It is tenacious as a running bamboo grass after all.

I use weed suppressant material in areas that I know will only be hardscaped pathways, usually on top of some form of grass that I make sure and kill first (to the roots). Weeds may blow in topically over time but I have found the material very effective in these areas, though I use it in as much moderation as I possibly can, planting beds are a no-go area, naturally.

I agree that grass is sometimes needed, only here in Central Texas, in my opinion it should be limited. You can have a great and full looking native planting scheme that looks better then a swath of sprinkler guzzling green lawn, and I can prove it to anyone who is not governed by the HOA’s…who do seem to like their water guzzling lawns. Deep breath…and relax!

Great to hear your comments on these topics Toni.


PS: Really like your GGW entry – very sci-fi! Great work!

5 Bob Pool January 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm

I thought that was just an old cedar stump. Who knew, it was actually a garden bench.

I actually have about 6′ of that metal edging in my gardens. It’s to keep the gravel in the walkways in my vegetable beds and it is screwed to the beds. I got it free to remove it from some ones yard. Just like you say, when I pulled it up it curled around and hit me in the head, knocking me to my knees. I still used a little bit of it. I’m just stubborn like that.

Man that weed mat looks like one hell of a hard job. It’s a good thing you got some beefy, burly help to pull it up. Leah just looks pretty and feminine like, she’s really a work horse at heart. She darn sure ain’t no sissy.

I’ll see you at the you know what, you know when, you know where.

6 ESP January 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Hi Bob.

Yes this cedar stump, as you know, is large enough to house both halflings very comfortably, perhaps I should go with a couple of outdoor cushions rather then Mexican gazing balls? Or perhaps hang it up on my deck as a one-of-a-kind swing seat? Now there is a new market!

The metal edging is dangerous I tell you, especially on removal…it always goes for the side of the head, usually brandishing one of it’s stakes in a true “psycho” fashion! I am considering constructing a reinforced “turban” helmet (magnesium lined to reduce weight) the next time I remove some of the demonic barrier just to be on the safer side.

Oh yes, Leah gets stuck in, be it with a shovel, pick axe, or mulch rolling with weed suppressant material, she is fighting the cause with vigor on the landscaping battlefield, and she ALWAYS has Epsom salts and Aleve on hand when we get home! She had a good laugh when I pulled a little too hard on the roll, it slid out from under the mulch sending me completely airborne, landing my back. I decided she was better at this activity then me and stepped aside, grumbling.

See you then, at the…over there.


7 Toni - Signature Gardens January 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm

A weekly weed whacking session will take care of any Bermuda heading for unclaimed soil. I know Bermuda grows fast, but for a tendril to get four or five feet means that that section of garden had not been seen in over a week. I think just a weekly — or even once a month — will keep the evil grass at bay. I would prefer it trying to creep over the top where I can see it and put a stop to it, rather than having the edging too high and allowing the Bermuda to ever so stealthily sneak underneath it only to have taken root 3 feet into the bed and underneath your prized plants before you notice it. Hey I’m with you; it’s bad stuff, but we don’t have quite the soil conditions y’all have down that way, so we can get away with a little more grass up this way. Central Texas does lend itself to the native look. When you’ve got a 10+ acre church property, though, and fields of grass, what can you do? I punctuated the grass with as many beds as I could handle, but I just don’t think they’d go for acres of DG and natives. And yes, I can concede the use of the landscape fabric under pathways;makes sense. I was just referring to beds. Oh, and thanks for your comment on the GGW photo entry. It was an unexpected cool result.

8 ESP January 26, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Hi Toni.

Over or under, this grass will try…it is a better survivor then Bear Grylls!

I always think about it like “The Great Escape” or the “Escape from Alcatraz” movie…If there is a will, this grass will most certainly find a way. And yes, a 10+ acre site would be a “little much” covered in DG, no matter how many planting beds were integrated! Although can you imagine…:-)

I work mostly with smaller urban gardens, but even then it is a struggle to stop this grass invading (especially if well established) a new scheme…(and I pride myself on my Bermuda dictatorship abilities). I usually buy my clients a bottle of Super Concentrated Roundup, and educate them into the killing mindset should they see any sprouts re-emerge…you just can never tell if you got it all, after all!

Good luck in the GGW competition Toni.


9 jenny January 27, 2011 at 6:59 am

I am amazed by the sheets of ice you had over at the patch. I bet the kiddies were thrilled to have a skating rink in their garden. It was so rare to have a freeze by the coast when I was growing up that I was fascinated, poking away with a stick. Soon got over that when we moved to Canada. I thought east Austin was immune to those kind of freezes. There have been too many of them this year. I have totally given up on trying to protect anything.
You guys take on some pretty daunting tasks. Look forward to seeing the project develop.
Do you have the name of the dwarf miscanthus? I really like it and I didn’t know there was a purple leaved one. Must look out for it as I know that the purple fountain grass is not hardy here. I just hope isn’t as invasive as the other miscanthus which I have fought for years in my garden.
I came across a leaf footed bug the other day and thought ‘tough little blighters’ and promptly squished it.

10 ESP January 27, 2011 at 10:15 am

Hi Jenny.

Quite a few freezes so far this year, and yes the kids were prodding it and messing with the sheets of ice for hours. I wish we were immune! I stopped covering anything after my Mexican lime “Carnival” fiasco last year, way too much hassle.

This design scheme is quite different then I have ever done, I will post more about it next week as it develops.

I do not know the name of the dwarf miscanthus, sorry, I believe it just had a generic “dwarf miscanthus” written on it’s label. I thought all miscanthus turned purple in the winter…if you leave them long enough? I will look into this and see if I can ID the grass, I have had no invasive issues.

Purple fountain grass is one of my favorites, and yes nearly always an annual in the Patch as well. If it does survive it is usually a “puny” version of its former self.

You are ruthless Jenny!

See you at the GG.


11 Jenn January 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm

The first picture is stunning! Definitly worth putting in a frame. And I love the pics of the Queen Elizabeth Stonecrop. I have a necklace that looks exactly like the first pic of it. Beautiful!

12 ESP January 27, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Hi Jenn, I just kept blurring the edges and sharpening the center on that first shot…gives it a sort of “periscope” feel? The whole image looks like a lizards eye.

Yes, Queenie is looking mighty fine at this time of the year, can you believe that color.
Thanks for dropping in Jenn, I added you to my blogroll and now I am off to take a deeper look at your website.


13 Pam/Digging January 28, 2011 at 11:30 am

I think I’ve seen ‘Adagio’ miscanthus labeled as “dwarf.” It gets to 3-4 feet tall and wide in my garden, which is not exactly small but smaller than the giant miscanthus grasses out there. Yes, ESP, I’ve seen this grass cut back around town as early as October, which is totally missing the point of even having an ornamental grass in your garden. Mine are in the pretty purple and burgundy stage too.

I cracked up over your Roundup picture and the comment about the vinegar. It is indeed hard to be organic when attempting to control Bermuda grass, even though it increasingly seems one might be burned at the stake for saying so.

14 ESP January 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Hi Pam…I am sure ‘Adagio’ it is then, and yes a lot smaller then the full size monsters…if only I had more room in the Patch! Or perhaps I will replace my pampas? Hmmm. It really is a shame the landscape crews whack the dwarfs back so early around town, followed (naturally) by the obligatory leaf-blowing that kills another hour (and some more ozone). More deep breathing exercises! This grass is stunning right now.

Yes, well you know how I feel about Bermu…Ber…Ber…that grass! :-)
Just one solution in my black book, I tried the organic approaches in my early naive days, I really did.


{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: