Saturday, June 16, 2012

Desert willows

When our brother was fixing up his old house to sell, he described part of the work this way:

Let me learn y'all all about foundation repair.
First: Get a work crew out to your house.
Second: Take a bunch of pictures.
Third: Hand the foreman your credit card.

Curiously, that's also how you plant new trees! Isn't it a small world?!

Sister A. was on hand with her trusty camera when the tree guys arrived Thursday, despite her awful cold (which she has since generously shared with me--yay).

The tree guys arrive.

A big-a$$ augur starts drilling the first hole.

The tree guys fine-tune the first hole while the augur gets to work on the second. They ran into some pretty tough roots in the first hole from the old sycamore we had cut down in that spot, but they got through 'em.

Digging the perfect hole.

The tree guys start unloading our new desert willows.

This old sycamore hole needs a little more fine-tuning...with a big ol' pick.

The white-flowering desert willow waits by its new home.

(Left) Planting the first willow, then (right) covering up its feet. The tree isn't as tall as it looks here; there's a large tree across the street that happened to land right behind our desert willow when the photo was taken. The desert willow has lighter green leaves, so you can sorta separate them that way.

Planting the second desert willow. This one has purple flowers, although they mostly got knocked off during the planting process. A. says they bloom all summer, so there will be more.

Two happy trees! That little white blob in the front door is Annabelle, who snoopervised the entire operation.

The head tree guy we spoke with the previous Monday says desert willows will eventually have a canopy that covers most of the yard, but it won't kill our grass because the leaves are more sparse. And we've had good rains the past two nights--a real rarity here and a great welcome-home for our new trees!

Sister A. loves them--she said it's like being back at Girl Scout camp!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New landscaping plan

Yep, we've been fooling around with the house again--or, rather, with the yard around it. Ever since we decided to take down the sick old sycamore in the front yard, we've been tossing around ideas about what kind of tree should replace it. Something that would shade my bedroom window, but not prevent grass from growing; something that won't drop nuts, seed balls, or other hard objects to be shot out from under the mower and knock somebody in the head; something tough, that could withstand the low-water conditions here, yet bear up through the little bit of sub-freezing weather and ice storms we get every winter. There aren't a lot of choices for our zone (7) that match those criteria.

Sister A. has also bemoaned the giant lack of grass in the areas of our yard that lie around the neighbor's two fruitless mulberry trees. Some idiot way back in the history of that home's ownership planted these two trees right next to the driveway, just inside the property line. I'm sure he or she wanted shade there, and that wouldn't be a problem, except that fruitless mulberries grow to be really big. Like, this big:

Examples of mature fruitless mulberry trees.
Check out the size of the tree in relation to that truck. There's one down the street from us that must be 40 feet tall and two feet across the trunk! Imagine two trees that size eating up your driveway and destroying the foundation of your house! Sometimes, people have no brains when choosing trees.

Fortunately, our neighbor agreed to go halvsies on the cost of cutting down her two trees, so A. asked our neighborhood lawn man if he knew a tree guy (which he did), then arranged for said tree guy to not only cut down those trees, but also grind up all the stumps in the front yard. He ground up the mulberry tree stumps, our sycamore stump, and all the remaining pyracantha shrub stumps. So now we have a clean slate to start with.

Our house and the neighbor's, currently treeless.
Last Saturday, in anticipation of all this prep work, we donned long-sleeve shirts, hats, closed shoes, grabbed a big bottle of water, and set out for our favorite nursery to look at every single one of their trees. We were completely dead afterward--they have a LOT of trees, we had to slog through miles of sand, and it was freakin' hot out--but we'd whittled the possibilities down to two: cedar elm and frontier elm (we'd never heard of the latter; it's a hybrid, sez my Googling). Either would be OK, but neither really tripped our triggers.

What Sister A. really likes are desert willows. Here are some samples, with a car for comparison and a close-up of the flowers:

Examples of desert willow trees.
But, said A., desert willows don't go with our "ranch-type-style tract house" (tip o' the hat to Jerry Lewis for that fun phrase).

Well, I thought about that for a week and, at breakfast the next Saturday, asked why it mattered. Turns out there was no good reason. There are plenty of xeriscaped ranch houses in Arizona with desert willows in front of them. They're pretty, the canopy isn't dense enough to kill the grass, the bean pods are small, they don't need huge amounts of water, and since they're lighter than yer regulation deciduous tree, we can get two for the same price as a single cedar elm. They won't throw the same amount of shade on my window as a big tree would, but it'll be enough. And we like them. So why not?

And, hey, said A., if we're going with desert willows, why not replace the struggling euonymus in the front of our house with drought-friendly pampas grass, which we also both like?

So that's what we're doing. We zipped back home for our hats and long-sleeve shirts, went back out to the nursery, and looked at all their desert willows. They had one with white flowers--A. hadn't seen those before and really liked them--plus one with maroony/purplish flowers that had a nice shape. We hailed a passing employee, stuck our names on those trees, and got the name of their tree guy. He's coming out Monday to look at the layout and determine where the trees ought to go (we've staked our suggested spots).

Having arranged that, we went to Home Depot for pampas grass, topsoil, and a few other supplies. Then home to plant. The euonymous in front got moved to a spot with partial shade in back, where they should be much happier.

Sister A. in her slat-bonnet, digging new holes.
The euonymus in their new home. That little stone cairn marks the spot
where caladium bulbs were planted last week, five on each side.
Then we planted the pampas grass in front, moving the holes a little to space them out better around the hose stand.

The new pampas grasses will grow much bigger--we'll have to keep them tamed!
And because it was already on our list of Home Depot-related things to do, we also got five rubber tiles to place over our poured-concrete stepping stones in back. Three of these "stones" were poured too low, so they get flooded whenever it rains, which rather negates their usefulness. These tiles are made of recycled tires, which is very cool.

Rubber tiles cover the poured-concrete stepping stones.
I weed-ate around the concrete squares while Sister A. tackled the fun chore of transplanting and planting stuff (although I did manage to dig up and place one euonymous, which hopefully won't die from contact with my black thumb). And, yes, were were totally dead again after all that. But we're very excited about our new landscaping plan. We think we've hit the nail on the head this time.

Annabelle's 90-day evaluation

So, our refugee has been with us for three months now, and we think she has decided that it was a good move.

We've found out a lot about her in the past 90 days. She has terrible sinus drip-type allergies. Her eyes run 90 percent of the time and they spill over whenever she is moving--which is most of the time! The phlegm that collects in her throat while she sleeps frequently causes problems when she wakes up. She won't blow her nose properly and doesn't want to hawk and spit as that is too unladylike. So she just coughs and coughs and it frequently makes her throw up. Once that nasty old phlegm is out, she's ready to conquer the world. So we have to keep our eyes open for thrown-up kibble, and clean tear-stains off the walls, windows sills, windows, and lots of other stuff where they land when she's flying around the house.

A rare inactive moment, keeping Mom company at breakfast.
She also pees little teeny-weeny ladylike amounts--often. That's okay, but she appears to think that she needs a backhoe, or its equivalent, to cover up all excreta. She flings litter all over the floor and you have to keep a small hand broom at the ready to sweep it out of your way before you can approach the litter box to empty it. Otherwise, you track it all over the house on the bottom of your shoes. The kitties all do enough of this tracking already.

Annabelle likes to scratch on the walls, woodwork, and the slats underneath Sister A's mattress. This last usually happens at Oh, Lord! o'clock in the morning. Her little claws don't make a dent in the walls or woodwork. They're just too tiny and she's not powerful enough to make marks. Luckily, she has learned to scratch her claws on the treadmill deck or on the braid rug in the dining room. Both work for her and we can handle that, since she never does any damage.

Annabelle has chosen A. for her "mom", probably because A. is home all day most every day. Also, she likes to sleep in A's bed on her feet. Sammi sleeps in the tree or next to the pillow on A's bed.

Sammi and Annabelle are trying to become friends. Annabelle wants Sammi to play chase with her, but so far, it hasn't happened. They spend most of their "together" time just sitting and staring at each other.

All of this just describes her physical nature. None of it gives the tiniest clue to her ultra-sweet personality and lovableness. This is one kitty who is a top-notch ankle-winder! And if you are gone from the house for more than five minutes, she will rub all over your feet again and again as if you'd been gone for weeks! She works herself up into such a frenzy that she'll try to give you love bites.

There has been no progress in relations between Annabelle and Minnie--Minnie still hisses at her in passing and sometimes tries to whap her if they happen to get too close together. But Annabelle has decided that she's just going to do her own thing and if the other kitties get bent out of shape, she'll lie down and act submissive until her opponent cools off.

Annabelle does the funniest mid-air "pirouette" when startled--A. had told me about it, and I finally got to see it yesterday. It's like, instead of turning around at ground level, she leaps a foot in the air and lands facing the opposite direction, then scrambles off like her tail's on fire! And her silly play with mice, string, twists of fabric, and her own tail and feet make us think she's reliving her kittenhood. The only thing kittenish thing she doesn't do is climb the drapes--thank goodness!

And it turns out she's not necessarily scared of men, after all. She stayed for a sniff of the tree man when he came inside last Monday, although she didn't let him pet her. Well, that would be rather forward for a ladycat of such delicate sensibilities, now wouldn't it?

We are so glad we took this little mite into our lives. She adds so much more love than her tiny size would predict.