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Location: San Antonio, Texas
Gardener: Ragna Olsen
HOME PAGE - Review: August 2004

Rose Lee


My San Antonio, Texas garden is on the Northwest side of the city where the rocky Texas Hill Country begins its ascent. Fifteen years ago when my husband Bob and I moved into our home I had a clean slate on which to start my first "serious garden". The only vegetation on the place was a couple of stunted pecan trees and a sad lawn of St. Augustine grass struggling on the native soil of black alkaline clay liberally interspersed with limestone rocks of all sizes.

Rose Tower

If I had it do over again I would have brought in a foot of good soil on which to built the garden, but like a lot of others who attempt to garden in difficult soils I discovered the value of raised beds. Initially, stones and small boulders were collected from a near by dry creek bed and used for edging, but in recent years Bob was pressed into service and added railroad ties and landscape timbers for bed support. I keep many of the roses in pots so that I can provide especially rich soil and extra water.

David with roses

I had no plan when I started, the garden just seemed evolve and take on a life of it's own. My special interests are roses and unusual foliage plants. Two favorite nurseries in the San Antonio area are Schumacher's Hill Country Gardens and the San Antonio location of The Antique Rose Emporium, which is conveniently located right next door to the Evans Road Gardenville Garden-Ville Locations where dozens of soil mixes are available. They also carry many natural pest deterrents which I use rather than chemical insecticides.

Ornate Box Turtle

My desire is to keep the garden a safe haven for the wild birds and lizards and also for pets; my dogs, Indian fantail pigeons who are released everyday, but never leave the area; and Ornate box turtles who prowl the garden looking for bugs. Besides that I find that when pesticides are kept to a minimum natural insect predators flourish keeping insect damage low.

Tiger Swallowtail

Variegated Tapioca

Perennials, many of which are on the Texas SuperStar Plants list keep the garden colorful all season and a few evergreens provide the bones of the garden in winter as well as a backdrop. If I have a hidden talent it is to keep moving plants around like furniture in the garden until, hopefully; every plant finds its own perfect spot; perhaps that is the key to good design--keep trying and tinkering.

Beds and Driplines

One of the best things I did for the garden was to lay meandering drip lines in all the beds. Nothing fancy, the hose is moved from bed to bed and connected as needed. The lines are covered with mulch and repair parts are kept handy in case a shovel severs a line. The pots still require hand watering and the automatic sprinkler system is rarely used except when we go on vacation.

Indian Fantail Piegons

Bob is always happy to build new flower beds because that means there is less lawn to mow, but we will always keep some green areas for family gatherings such as the annual Easter egg hunt, or just as walkways. The Easter Bunny hides 100 eggs each with a dollar bill inside (candy lost its appeal years ago, if it rattles -- forget it). The egg hunters (smarter each year) cover the whole garden in search of the eggs and need the lawn areas in order to access the far corners. Also the lawn helps to keep the garden cool; thus, I'll always have some grass for Bob to mow.

Rose - Jude the obscure

Bob has used his talents to build garden structures including the rose tower built from plans spotted in Birds & Blooms - Pyramid Trellis , the arch of his own design, and an over-wintering shelter which opens up in summer to double as a potting shed and storage area for garden products. Other than that (and mowing) he's pretty much hands off and I'm "the gardener."

Secrets of Success

Gardeners have many recipes for success, and I feel my garden especially benefits from the raised beds and the drip irrigation. An equally important contribution is the yearly top dressing with compost and oak leaves. Every February compost is delivered from Gardenville to build up the soil. The compost is spread on the lawn and added to the beds and pots an inch or two deep. Then in March my evening ritual is to go "leaf rustling". I collect scores of bagged live oak leaves from neighbor's curbs and put 3-6 inches of oak leaves over the Gardenville mulch.

Spiny Lizard

Most plants start off the year with a one year fertilizer tablet placed a few inches under the soil. They are additionally fertilized in spring and fall with applications of my homemade blend prepared by mixing 50 lb bags of fish meal, alfalfa meal, cotton seed meal, Epson salts and a 40 lb bag of Ironite. Several times a year the plants get doses of alfalfa tea Peninsular Rose Club - Alfalfa Tea mixed in 32 gal. trash cans and fortified with 2 to 4 cups of fish emulsion, 2 T. of Super Thrive, 1 1/2 cups of Sprint 330, a chelated iron and a couple of cups of Miracle Grow for each can.

Garden Archway

All this may sound like a lot of work and at certain times of the year it is. But overall I take an easy going attitude toward the garden. My slogan is; "Grace without perfection is more to be desired than perfection without grace." Another plaque on the front door happily announces: "Gardening forever, housework whenever." How about it ladies, don't you agree?


Text & Photos © 2004-  Ragna Olsen. All rights reserved.