Thursday, June 22, 2017

Outdoor Spaces

When we began planning this house, which was immediately after purchasing the land, accessing the outdoors was a priority.  We wanted social places in the front (50-foot by 10-foot front porch -- 3 m X 15 m) and the back with our roughly 20-foot (6 m) square covered lanai.  The porch on the apartment in which my father-in-law lives also has a 10-foot (3 m) porch.  The porches and lanai have fans and recessed lighting so the areas can be used comfortably in the day and the evening.  We integrated such ideas into our house plans because we wanted to enjoy the land as much as the house.

The access of our four remaining acres of woods (of our five total acres, ~ 2.0 ha) was always in our discussions.  We knew we wanted to access the woods -- why have them if we cannot enjoy them?  A trail loop in the woods was a minimum requirement.  As there was no timeline for finalizing the plan for our outdoor spaces, ideas came and went, and some had staying power.  We knew we wanted to keep our property as wildlife-friendly as possible, so whatever we did could not destroy significant habitat and shelter.

The first area to make "people-friendly" was the anterior of the woods.  This area had naturally very low ground cover, bare in many places, due to the grove of American Holly trees which occupied the area.  It was this grove which we used to set the limits on how far back from the road our campus would sit.   We wanted to make sure that the construction of the house and its disruption of the surface soil would not impact this native space.  The anterior of the woods extends approximately 71 feet (21.64 m) from the graded yard area, which itself extends 112 feet (34.15 m) from the back of the main house.

The first improvement to the anterior was to mow the grasses and flora to improve human access:

The picture on the left is "before" and the one on the right -- though a different zoom -- is "after".  The log on the right side of the right-hand picture is the same as the log in the "before" picture.  Note the arched holly tree near the left-center of the "after" picture -- it comes into play in our outdoor spaces design.

The first element or "people space" which was added was that of a fire pit.  We will always have debris to burn, and the opportunity to share memorable times with family and friends around a fire.  The fire pit is a good solution for both.  Ours is three feet (0.915 m) in diameter:

Fire pit in the anterior of the woods.  Border Collie is optional, but usually required.

The logs are re-purposed from a 90+ year-old Loblolly pine (pinus taeda) which we lost to the home construction.  Its remnants are used throughout our outdoor spaces.  I used pavers resting upon landscape fabric to give the pavers a unified platform, and then used pea gravel to further level the pavers with respect to one another.

The next space of the anterior woods to enhance was beneath the arched holly.  The holly was naturally arched, no doubt its attempt to get more sunshine in heavy woods.  As a result, we have a natural arbor.  I used a pole-trimmer to clear the branches below the trunk, allowing people to sit comfortably beneath its beauty.

Beneath the holly: at first I made it for the only two Adirondack chairs we
had, but it was so pleasant that Pam purchased two more chairs (next photo).

With the addition of two more chairs, the number of pavers expanded from
15 to 36.  It was the right thing to do, and the photo shows the midday shadows.

The fire pit area and the holly arbor area are the only places added to the anterior.  A swing, which was first hung shortly after we bought the property for our then-one-year-old grandson (he's almost nine years old, now), was replaced last spring with a round horizontal mesh swing, to the delight of all the children who visit.

Tackling the interior of the woods would require more effort -- it would require machines.  I hired a contractor to use a forestry mulcher (here is a LINK to one at work in our area of Texas), like the one we used when we first cleared our property, to create a path in the woods.  I gave him an idea of the path I wanted, and then turned him loose.  His experience gave us a nice "boulevard" in the woods.  He did pause and contact me from time to time to discuss ideas or questions which came to mind while he was mulching the path, just to make sure we were on the same page and that I got what I wanted.  It is always good to work with professionals who understand service.

Photo of our dogs and grand-dog (the cream-colored retriever) running fast
and free on our newly-cleared trail.  The width will make the path both comfortable
and easy to maintain in the years to come.
In addition to the trail, I guided the contractor to create some "social spaces" in the woods -- places where people could sit, visit, read, meditate, reflect -- whatever a person or persons might want to do while enjoying the woods.  Most of the log sections for creating these spaces came from the 90 year-old pine which we had to cut down, and these sections were pulled into the spaces with our UTV.  Further cutting was required and placement was done by hand.

This is the first area when one takes the right-hand side of the trail (facing
away from the house).  It has four seats, a "table", and a log for more than
one person (in case you like to sit close to someone).

This space is called "Fern Overlook" and is on the bank above the creek which
runs through the back of our property at roughly the boundary.

Just for fun, I call this "Adirondack Point", so named for the green resin
Adirondack chair which I found in the bushes -- a victim of the record
April 2016 rains when it rained 17 inches (43.2 cm) in 20 hours.  The bushes
in the background are at least eight feet (2.44 m) above the creek in normal
conditions.  Last spring was not normal.

Fern Overlook (wild native ferns growing on the bank of the creek):

We just planted wood ferns which are native to Texas behind the seating area of the first social space cited above.  This place gets very soggy after heavy rains, and I am hoping the combination of grass which I have sown and the ferns (wood ferns spread as they grow) will prevent the area from becoming a mosquito breeding ground after heavy rains.

Last, but not least, the fountain we ordered finally arrived, and with help from my son-in-law, we installed it among the potted bougainvilleas.  The fountain is the last landscape element on the campus.  While the replanting of failed plants, nurturing the lawn areas, and general outdoor maintenance will continue, the landscape design implementation for Leaning Oak is now complete.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Spring (official) is fast approaching...

People "up North" might argue that deep in coastal Texas we do not have winter, but various stages of their fall and spring.  That might be true, in a general sense, but I would counter and argue that it only gets 18 F (-8 C) in WINTER, which is what we experienced in January.  We lost some plants, but that is all behind us now.  We are rapidly approaching the first day of Spring, and with it comes preparations for green and growth.

Just for the record, any link I post here is for informational purposes only: I do not profit in any way, and have included the 'nofollow' tag as well.

I have already cleared the beds of the fallen leaves of autumn, and the pre-emergent is down to thwart wild grasses and other unwanted annoyances from taking over the beds.  I have walked around with Grampa's Weeder and plucked scores (if not hundreds) of crabgrass remnants, dandelion, and other center-tap weeds and grasses out by the roots.  This is one of the best and most useful tools in my garage.  I have sharpened my reel mower, guided by the video found here (I have the same mower).  I have re-worked/repaired some of the bullrock in our high-water drain areas, and made adjustments adjacent to to the house.  All of the lantana, irises, and muhly have been cut back and fed to facilitate new growth.  There remains the trimming of the boxwood and dwarf yaupon, which will happen over the next couple of days.

The Texoka buffalograss seed has been ordered, along with some blue grama.  I have a couple of pounds of wildflower seeds arriving in the same order.  I have begun monitoring soil temperature to make sure I do not plant the grass seeds too early.  Warm-weather grass seeds need to be sown when ground temperatures are staying above 60 F (15.5 C).  I am in the process of leveling the ground in our "turf" areas next to the house.  These are the areas of which we want a manicured lawn look as opposed to functional lawn areas or areas simply left native.  In the functional lawn areas, there is a lot of clay and therefore bare spots.  I have ordered (and expect this week) a lawn plug aerator so that I can get soil conditioning treatments and grass seed into the ground.

We have planted eight Pink Muhly plants and one White Cloud Muhly.  The Pink Muhly is planted in a bed adjacent to the garage and lanai; a bed which is still in the design fulfillment stage.  It presently contains the eight Pink Muhly and a large urn containing bougainvillea.  We will add another urn and bougainvillea, and as finances permit, a two-tier fountain.

Our most anticipated project of the spring is putting trails in our forest.  It is still too wet -- about the time we are almost dry enough, it rains again.  But we have a contractor and a bid in-hand.  In addition to making the trails, they will remove some fallen trees and clear a couple of areas we want to use for fire pits.  Our goal is to have our entire property (five acres/two hectares) accessible (while leaving it as natural as possible).  We do have a couple of low areas in the forest which will likely require bridges to maintain ready access.

By the end of this summer, I hope to have the fountain, trails, and bridges in-place, and all the bare areas of the functional lawn covered in grass.  Achieving that end starts now, before official Spring arrives, because it is Spring-enough here in Hockley, Texas.  If I can accomplish these goals, it would imply that year three will be devoted to maintenance and selective adding of ornamentals.  That will be a very good feeling.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A big rain and a new year about to begin...

Our first year in this house, so far as move-in is concerned, is January 15, 2017.  As you can tell from the blog posts, a lot of work has gone into making our home and the property more finished and functional.  To be sure, there is more to do: finishing the bougainvillea bed and fountain, adding more pegboard in the garages, overseeding the grass in our "turf" areas, and creating trails and social spaces in our woods.

Yesterday morning we had very intense rain.  It rained at a rate of one inch (2.54 cm) per hour for two hours.  This was approximately the same rate as we experienced last spring, but it only lasted a couple of hours instead of 20 hours.  This was by far the biggest test for our landscape engineering, and I was curious to see how well our combination of bullrock-work and French drains worked.  The pictures which follow are shown in time-lapse order.  Note that we would have standing water for at least two or three days prior to doing our hardscape work.

One can see that the "dry creek bed" is flowing water which is draining from
the culvert (upper center) and our property area to the left.  The flow is slowed
which causes pooling as the bed turns into the drain channel (center right). The
water coming from the driveway to the left and through the front grove is
pooling as the drains and the pipe are completely in overflow condition.

The picture was taken just a few minutes after the rain subsided to a
very light drizzle.  The culvert area is clearing and water levels are receding.

This picture was taken about five minutes after the previous photo..While the
drain channel (center right) is still full, the water is receding rapidly.

Another five minutes, and the standing water in the lower left is almost gone,
and pooling in the dry creek bed is more isolated.  The purpose of the dry creek
bed is to slow the water passing through it, which reduces the impact of erosion.
The French drains are capturing the water which would build up in the area
between the front grove of trees, the grass, and the driveway.  It is draining so
well because we used six-inch diameter pipe instead of the standard four-inch
pipe.  This gives us a little over twice the volume over a standard install and
is highly effective for us.

Ten more minutes have passed, and the standing water is all but gone.  The
drain channel is significantly lower, also.  Prior to this effort, we would have had
standing water for two or three days after the rains stopped, and it would be
soggy for a couple of days thereafter.  We are at the above state 30 minutes after
the rain relented.  Today, I was walking in the area and not getting muddy.