My Folly

folly |ˈfälē|
noun ( pl. -lies)
1 lack of good sense; foolishness : an act of sheer folly.
2 a costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, esp. a tower or mock-Gothic ruin built in a large garden or park.

A new visitor to Zanthan Gardens last week openly admired my failed garden house project. Seeing it through someone else’s eyes, someone who did not know the history of the project and thus did not have any of the negative associations was refreshing. Yes, it was time I got over it and got on with it, I who do not get over things easily, if at all.

I spent the day moving the potted plants out from under the protection of the back porch (where they can’t be seared by summer’s pitiless sun) to the deck. I took down the raccoon barrier. I suspect that I will have a lot of broken pots and shredded plants in the pond tomorrow. But I’m working on developing a devil-may-care attitude.

On seeing the gray wall, many people have suggested that I paint it pink or purple in keeping with a Mexican-inspired folk theme that is common in my South Austin neighborhood. I often wonder if I give off the aura of an old South Austin hippie. Although I have lived here since the mid-1970s, I never was a hippie…not even in the day. (Not that I have anything against hippies; it’s just that I’ve never been in with the cool crowd, not even then.)

You see, I like the gray wall. We planned it that way. And it was the only part of the project that turned out even vaguely like we wanted. I like the way the bright green of the leaves and the yellow of the chairs (and the cannas when they’re in bloom) are intensified by the contrast against the gray.


And if the wall were pink, it would really clash with the reds of the oxblood lilies nearby. And the orange dragonfly.


Bog Garden Comes to Life

Imagining the bog garden is a much easier when we get a month’s worth of rain in about 15 minutes. Even without any roof runoff the holes I’ve been digging to collect water fill quickly. The water overflows into the lawn and is slowed temporarily by the berm before rushing around it and flooding the garage.

Note to self: dig deeper holes.

This morning’s downpour was intense. I cringe to see all that precious water running off. My rainbarrels were already full from the rain the other day.

Note to self: get bigger rainbarrels.

My rain-catching terraces are having some effect in slowing down the runoff. The amount of rain pouring off the place where the roof forms a valley by the front door looked like someone had opened a fire hydrant. I think it would have overwhelmed any guttering system. Must check to see how VBDB’s new rainwater collection system handled this storm.

Razing the Roof

Saturday (9/8) scores of oxblood lilies were in full bloom in the stump garden and along the south border. Last April when we started this project, I envisioned having the Austin Garden Bloggers over for an oxblood lily fest, us sitting in the garden house, sipping wine and nibbling dainties as the garden talk flowed.

Rhodophiala bifida

At the very least, I would like to have a langorous Alicia Paulson weekend, where I could soak up the end-of-summer vibe in beautiful surroundings with congenial companions.

Instead, my lot in life seems to be to spend the rest of my days in the throes of one construction project or another. Will I ever live in a house that doesn’t look like a construction zone? I think not.

AJM spent Saturday unscrewing the panels off the back roof while I carted loads of chipped bark from last week’s tree-trimming from the driveway to the back yard. Slipping the panels off the roof was a bit unwieldy but not too difficult for the two of us. It felt good to be getting on with it after spending a month mulling over what we should do. The more we uncover, the more we discover. So we have to take garden house apart somewhat to figure out how to put it back together.

Someday, someday, though, I am going to sit back an enjoy my garden. Until I see a bed that needs weeding. Or some plants drooping from the heat and crying out for water. Or the compost pile which needs turning. Or leaves that need to be skimmed off the pond. Or some seeds I bought last month that should be started in the vegetable garden. Or that plant that Pam (Annie, Julie) gave me that I haven’t transplanted yet. Or those roses that should be pruned back. Or those tomatoes that should be tied up. Or that interesting wolf spider I saw that should be photographed and blogged.

No, really. Someday I’m going to sit back and enjoy it all.

wolf spider, I think
I’m painting the front bedroom and bathroom in anticipation of Margaret’s visit in late October and this is what I found behind the CD cabinets. I think it is a wolf spider. Maybe it’s one reason we’ve hardly had any cockroaches this year. After some shrieking, I captured it and released it in the mini-woodland.

The $24,670 Debacle

“I was hired to create a quality, well built product that was my original design and my original build, not yours. You are not a builder nor are you an architect. I was not hired to build a design you concocted, I do not work that way, nor did I ever agree. You had some suggestions that we granted, but for you to claim ‘that you would not have done it that way’ or ‘why did you do it that way’ is preposterous.” — Ivan Spaller, Floribunda August 3, 2007

building inspection
2007-08-14. Building Inspection Correction Notice

building inspection

The framing of the garden house failed on four counts; the most disturbing news is that the back roof is not attached to the concrete wall. I can lift the roof off the wall with one hand. The inspector said that in the next big storm (and this is hurricane season) it could blow off like a giant kite. Not only could this destroy the garden house but it has the potential to cause harm to the lives or property of our neighbors.

The roof must come off. Whenever I tried to come up with solutions to the screen framing problem, I always came to the conclusion that the roof was on wrong and caused other problems. But I couldn’t begin to consider the time and expense of taking it off and solving the problems at the cause. Like everyone else, I wanted to see what we could do to band-aid the problem. Now that the building inspector has made the decision for me, my initial response is relief. There isn’t a choice now. No more torturing myself with what should be done. The roof must come off and the garden house can be fixed the right way, not just patched up.

Smarter Than a Fourth Grader

In fourth grade, Sister Florence introduced me to the wonders of multiplication and division–concepts that thrill any gardener when it comes to bulbs and perennials. Even as a child I found these concepts interesting in the abstract, despite being forced us to recite the times table up to 12 in front of the class. Arithmetic is pleasingly exact. And unlike Peggy Sue’s algebra, simple arithmetic is useful in all the practical sciences: cooking, sewing, building.

The man who came last month to measure the garden house for the screens was a confused when he looked at the framing. The strips for the rectangular wall screens are indented so that the screens will be flush in line with the columns. But the strips for the triangular gable screens are nailed to the outside of the beams. And so, they are not flush; they hang out over the edge.

garden house project

After examining this anomaly, I decided that it must have been done because the rafters were also doubling as the top edge of the frame for the gables. Unfortunately, the rafters did not line up with the beams and supporting columns. So now the only way to screen the mosquitoes out was to nail wood on the outside of the wall, to line up with the rafters.

When I asked why the rafters hadn’t been spaced to line up with the walls, I received this reply:

I was going to run wood on top of the screen and the frame would not be showing. Otherwise the frame would stick out much further than the others. An error that was revealed after framing as 18″ on center did not work out all the way down the line, as we have an overhand [sic] of 2 ft, and so forth..small 1 inch fudge.

So here’s the story problem. The house is 20 feet wide. If you want the rafters to line up with the walls, is there any way that 18 inches on center will work? If not, how far apart should you space the rafters? What is the standard spacing for rafters anyway?

Read the rest of this entry »

Reclaiming the Garden

With the garden house project at a standstill this week, I decided to clean up the meadow garden which, thanks to Austin’s unusually heavy rains this year, is mostly weeds and rotted bearded iris. Even the paths are overgrown and covered in cement dust and other construction detritus.

The area around the garden house is the most dispiriting.

Zanthan Gardens: Bog Garden

This is where I laid down most of the Christmas tree mulch last January. And where I plan to put all my tropical plants. During excavation for the garden house foundation, mounds of caliche were piled up there and, with workmen walking over it constantly, has been packed down anywhere from six inches to a foot deep.


Caliche, as I’ve said, is almost as impervious as concrete. The rain runs right off it, exacerbating our drainage problems. (Since my return from England, our garage has flooded in every heavy rain.) Luckily it come up in big chunks.

As you might suspect, caliche is a poor planting medium. All of it will have to be removed before I can plant the terraced bog garden.

My day’s work.

If you are planning any project which requires excavation, be certain to specify who is responsible for hauling away the dirt!

Rain Delay

The rain’s continued off and on all week and the work as been just as intermittent. Yesterday was a pretty good day and the framing was completed and part of the metal roof panels installed. In contrast, today it began raining at 6:15 am and then at 10:15 it began raining hard!

When the building part of this project is done, I’ll be able to put in the french drains, a retaining wall, a rainwater collection system, and finally some plants. These are all things I wish were done before all this rain but it just didn’t work out that way. I feel miserable seeing all the rain wasted.

I know that this excess rain been bad for some people but I love it. I always wanted to live somewhere where the summer temperatures top out in the 80s instead of the 100s. Tonight we had to turn off the whole-house fan because the inside temperature had dropped to 75 and I was getting goose bumps.

Tired of the rain? Not when I look at photos from last year’s drought.

Zanthan Gardens Texas Flood
2006-08-26. Drought or flood–that’s Texas. I’ll take the flood.


During my three weeks in England, I was just as anxious as some of you to know what progress was being made on the garden house. We had expected it to be finished before we went on vacation. When it wasn’t, we were assured that it would be finished before our return. However, rain delays have slowed progress; it’s been raining since we began the project. It rained the whole time we were gone. And it’s forecast to rain this week.

We had a bit of a snafu the week before we left so I left house and garden with an uneasy mind made more anxious. The framing for the screened walls turned out differently than we expected and we had to stop work and come up with an alternate solution. All worked out in the end but the misdirection left me with the apprehension that I wouldn’t be able to catch any last minute design changes if I was thousands of miles away. Ivan is a bit less forthcoming in communicating changes in his implementation strategy than I’m comfortable with.

As it turns out it rained quite a bit while I was away and very little was done in my absence. Before JQS went off on his road trip, he reported nothing had changed that he could see. On the day before AJM was to return, I got an email from Ivan saying that they had tripped the circuit breaker doing the welding and since the subpanel is inside, work had stopped.

AJM sorted that out on his return. So during my last week in England, most of the roof got framed. I was only slightly disappointed not to have the house all finished when I returned. I much prefer to keep an eye on the progress. You can call me a control freak (many have). But this is a damn expensive project (for the likes of us) and I want it to turn out the way I want it to turn out.


The concrete foundation was poured on May 22 and for almost three weeks nothing much has happened onsite while the concrete was setting up. Offsite the special joints were being welded. There was a flurry of activity last Saturday when the concrete block wall was erected. Then on Monday after they’d put a coat of stucco on it, the workmen had to cover it with tarps and leave in a hurry because a big storm hit north Austin. Apparently it poured and hailed up north, but down here south of the river it remained sunny and we didn’t get a drop of rain. However, the pond still has a lot of water in it from the rain the night before and on Memorial Day.

Today work recommenced. More stucco was applied. And the support columns are going up. From the kitchen it looks like some Greek ruin…well, a modern rendition of a Greek ruin.

I find it a bit wearing to try to garden around the piles of boards and wire and rebar and lumps of cement and cinder blocks. It’s hard to be very enthusiastic about gardening this week anyway as summer is really weighing on us. We decided it was finally time to turn on the AC last night and…it’s broken. It was 80 in the house this morning before 8AM. So my enthusiasm for everything right now is rather low.

When the garden house is finished I’ll just lie out in the screened porch on days like this. Really! That’s my plan. Lay about and drink iced drinks. Austin is the slacker capital of the world and it’s time I participated in maintaining our reputation a bit.

Set in Concrete

At 6:45 we were awakened by a screeching truck. I thought we’d missed the garbage collectors again but it turned out to be the pump truck for the concrete pourers. The cement mixer arrived shortly afterward. Then Ivan and crew came rushing on the scene.

Concrete begins pouring into the forms.

By 8:35 the concrete was pouring out into the mold, all wet and sloshy. The noise was extraordinary but it was all over in about an hour and a half.

Then Ivan and crew had the task of meticulously tamping and smoothing the cement flat. This took them the rest of the day.

Ivan doesn’t just sit at his design table and leave the hard work to others. He’s, obviously a kindred spirit, one of those people who isn’t afraid to jump right in and get his hands dirty.