I love to garden and I love to see plantings that are well nurtured, well taken care of. These photos, taken today in Cedar Park, Texas are the opposite of what I like to see. I, like so many others call this ”Crepe Murder”. The butchering of Crepe Myrtles is also called topping and is not the correct way to prune and nurture this beautiful botanical species. Crepe Myrtles bloom all summer long, providing shade and beauty to our Central Texas landscapes. Crepe Myrtle varieties are available with many different colors of flowers. White, pink, lavender and red are some of the most popular bloom colors. In the winter, their deciduous leaves fall and they allow the sun to shine in. The least we can do is provide them the minimal care they need to live long and healthy lives. Committing Crepe Murder leaves the poor plants in a weakened state, more susceptible to disease, drought and other life threatening and life shortening events. This bad practice not only makes them look like an ugly stump but also makes them bloom less. There are dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties if you want them to stay small. I like to allow the big ones to stretch out their limbs an provide abundant shade for my yard and home. Let’s reward Crepe Myrtles for their hard work and not make them ugly, heart broken and forlorn.
Christmas traditions and customs vary from family to family and land to land. I enjoy reading about many different traditions in Texas by reading the book “Christmas in Texas” by Elizabeth Silverthorne. My Austin, Texas forefathers came to east Travis County from the Småland, Sweden area about 1870 or 71. Småland is the land of IKEA, which we now have in the Austin area at 1431 and IH 35 in Round Rock, Texas. Growing up, I became familiar with dishes like Ostakaka, a Swedish cheesecake type dish served with Lingonberries. Lutefiskis another Swedish dish that I made for my grandmother and we ate at Christmas gatherings. I remember buying the fish for the dish somewhere around my grandmother’s house at 608 Texas Avenue in Austin, Texas at a neighborhood grocer that is no longer there. Now the only local place I know to buy Lutefisk is Quality Seafood Market on Airport Blvd. We also had my grandmother’s homemade rolls and bread. I miss those days with my parents, grandmother and other Swedish Austin area relatives. Pictured are my mother’s handpainted Swedish candleholder set that I set out at Christmas. The book “The Swedish Texans” by Larry E. Scott is a great book about the immigration to Texas from Sweden that began in 1848.
New Sweden Church at 12809 New Sweden Church Road, was organized in 1876 and is is steeped in Swedish tradition. The church’s copper spire is 104 feet high and has been an Central Texas Austin area landmark close to Manor, Pflugerville, Elgin and Taylor, Texas since the 1800′s. December 24th at 7:00pm they are holding the Christmas Eve Candlelight service and Christmas Dawn at 7:00am they hold the Julotta candlelight program. I love history and geneology as well as old historic buildings and homes. I hope to attend one or both of these services to touch my ancestry as well as enjoy a local historic landmark. Turns out that my great, great grandfather Gustaf Ax aka Corporal Ax and his wife Johanna Swenson Ax were the first to be listed in the New Sweden church book. I find it interesting to research local history about relatives from so long ago that I never knew. New Sweden, Texas back in those years was a thriving community full of local businesses. Now it is more desolate farmland and the site of the Pflugerville Solar Farm.
The United States is a wonderfully diverse land full of many wonderful cultural traditions and foods. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanza, or none of the above, I’d love to hear what special traditions, dishes and buildings are part of your family’s celebrations. I’d also love to hear about other cultural events in the Austin area that you enjoy. Please comment using the form below.
I am a National Wildlife Federation certified backyard habitat steward as well as a REALTOR® who specializes in green homes. I proudly display my TOFGA (Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) as well as NWF Habitat signs on my yard’s gate as well as display the signs on my table at green events where I serve as an environmental educator. I feel good about this as well as my recycling and other volunteer work for our Earth. I also drive a hybrid Prius near zero emissions vehicle in my Real Estate work in and around Austin, Texas. I do this because I feel it is the “right” thing to do, but are there economic benefits of sustainable gardens and wildlife habitat?
Nativescapes are Sustainable, Beautiful
and Provide Habitat
The works of conservation planner Randall Arendt are particularly appropriate here as well as other observations I have had over the years. Randall Arendt says money grows on trees and that conservation developments that include sustainable greenspaces and wildlife habitat are “twice green”. What he means is that money grows on trees in the sense that trees add value. Even the common production builders know that trees add value so builders can charge lot premiums for treed lots as well as for lots that overlook greenbelt or “wildlife habitat”. By “twice green” Randall Arendt is referring to the fact that green developments are green in an environmental way but also in a monetary way, the properties simply sell for more money AND there are less costs in developing this way. Less grading, less roads and less concrete mean less construction costs while adding more beauty, sustainability and value. Consumers value and therefore pay more for homes in these types of developments.
Native landscapes will only become more and more valuable and desirable as people realize the scarcity of water and the value of wildlife including pollinators like butterflies and bees. I myself once thought Saint Augustine lawns were beautiful. Now, I treasure the “nativescaped” yards that provide food and shelter for wildlife, are beautiful to look at and need little or no watering. Backyard wildlife habitat homes appeal to buyers that love and appreciate nature. If a native landscape or wildlife habitat is done correctly, it definitely adds value by being both beautiful and sustainable. Native trees and other plants will outperform hybrid trees and plants in being able to survive local weather extremes such as drought or floods and not needing replacement.
Non native plants and trees may have a limited lifespan or require lots of extra care such as pruning and excess water. One example is the popular Red Tip Photinia (Photinia fraseri). While it makes a pretty plant it requires frequent pruning or it will grow to a monstrously huge size. Red Tip Photinia provides no food for wildlife and is susceptible to fungus diseases. Wildlife habitat by its very nature is not a well manicured look. In fact, quite the opposite is needed to provide the hiding and nesting places that wildlife need. However, a wildlife habitat can provide both the dense areas wildlife need and still be beautiful when tastefully and artfully designed. Let the plantings get bushy and dens but manicured along the edges, replete with smooth walkways that people of all ages can enjoy. I had one seller who even had a camera installed in a birdhouse in his newly wildscaped acreage lot. The camera was wired into the house so that you could see the bird inhabitants’ behaviors such as egg laying and hatching all from the indoor comfort of their home.
Environmental Education Needed
There are many people who need to be educated as to the value of a native landscape. These are the same people too who need education as to the benefits and quality of a greenbuilt home as well. To the uneducated, a native, sustainable landscape may just look like “weeds” but to the aware eye, native landscapes are exquisitely beautiful because they conserve water and other resources as well as provide habitat and food for wildlife and they add monetary value. There is a segment of the population that fully appreciates the value of greenbuilding as well as natural landscapes that are sustainable and provide habitat for wildlife. The general populace must be educated to fully realize the benefit of both greenbuilt homes as well as the facts about water, wildlife and native landscapes. I am thankful for the education resources we have in the National Wildlife Federation, TOFGA (Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association), the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT), Texas Parks and Wildlife’s “Texas Wildscapes” program, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Randall Arendt, conservation planner, lecturer, author of Growing Greener: Putting Conservation into Local Plans and Ordinances, Envisioning Better Communities: Seeing More Options, Making Wiser Choices and others. If you too want to learn more about the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable gardening practices and wildlife habitats, you might do well to start with these resources.
Some people say we have no Fall in Central Texas. Now I know we don’t have the Fall that exists up in the northeast, however, we do have some Fall color here. I took this photo this morning of my beautiful Red Oak tree in my front yard in Leander, Texas. The colors are vibrant shades of red and orange with a hint of green that won’t linger much longer. Every day the colors get more vibrant and beautiful. I planted this Red Oak tree just a couple of years ago to provide Summer shade for my driveway and in Fall it looks its absolute showiest. There are other plant species in the Austin, Texas area that have Fall color. The invasive species Chinese Tallow and Nandina that have taken over many local parks turn color for Fall. Unfortunately, these are not good plants since they are non-native and invasive. Another tree a lot of builders install in new subdivisions is the Bradford Pear. These turn purplish red in the Fall and bloom white in the Spring. We do have many native Texas species that turn color as well. The Pink Muhly or Gulf Muhly grass Muhlenbergia capillaris looks glorious in the Fall with billowing, feathery purple pink plumes. I have that in my front yard as well. Lost Maples in Vanderpool, Texas is a great park to go explore to see the Uvalde Bigtooth Maple trees but local areas have some color too. I invite you to go explore some parks and natural areas and see some Texas Fall color.
Did you know that if you want to, you can drive an all electric vehicle now? Why wait for automakers to manufacture new cars that are all electric? Why wait to do your part for cleaner air and to help stop Global Warming? I first met some brilliant people doing this at the 2009 Renewable Energy Fair in Fredericksburg, Texas – Revolt Custom Electric Vehicles. Revolt Custom Electric Vehicles can take an ordinary car and turn it into a clean, all electric vehicle capable of running at highway speeds and needing no dirty oil changes. I drive a Prius Hybrid, and, although it is close, I’d rather drive an all electric. Most electric utility companies have a clean energy option where the electricity you purchase was generated through clean, renewable sources like wind or solar. PEC or Perdernales Electric Co-op does as well as Austin Energy.
On this year’s 2010 Texas Solar Energy Society and Austin Energy Green Building produced Cool House Tour in Austin, Texas my favorite 2 homes were a Habitat For Humanity house in Devonshire Village because it was affordable and another at 11402-B Ptarmigan Cove in North Austin. The Ptarmigan home not only had a full rooftop solar array for electricity, solar thermal for hot water that makes their home a net zero home but they also generate enough solar energy to run their electric car, a 2002 Saturn SL that has been converted from gasoline to electric by Austin’s Revolt Custom Electric Vehicles. Net zero means the home generates as much or more energy than it uses- the epitome of energy efficiency! There are also many plug in sites besides the plug in you would create at your own home for your electric vehicle or EV. The new La Quinta Inn at 1010 E. Whitestone Blvd. in Cedar Park has many plug in parking spaces among other green features.
Revolt serves the EV or Electric Vehicle community or anyone wanting to explore electric vehicles. Revolt Custom Electric Vehicles is located here in Austin, Texas. Call them at (512) 366-8196 or visit their website at RevoltCustomElectric.com
The old first-generation Honda Insight Hybrids were very aerodynamic, lightweight and had an EPA fuel efficiency rating of 70 mpg and was rated ultra low emissions or super low emissions. All electric is 0 mpg and no emissions because it does not even use gasoline but is all electric. The First Generation Honda Insight below that I photographed in Cedar Park, Texas bears a Peak Oil sticker. The Peak Oil movement helps Americans think about the peak and then decline of oil that may be on the horizon. Wouldn’t it be nice to be emission free and never have to buy gasoline or oil?
I think it is easier for one to learn a lesson by actually feeling it, experiencing it with their own body and mind. Such is the case with thermal mass. I first learned about thermal mass in the Texas Hill Country near Austin, Texas. I believe it was at Lyndon Baines Johnson’s boyhood home in Johnson City, Texas. It was a very hot Texas Summer day, temperatures were maybe in the high 90′s or so. The old historic home was made of hand hewn large rectangular native stone. I entered the home and felt pleasantly cool. It was amazing! It must have been in the 70′s in there on this hot Summer day. Those massive natural stones did the job! They created thermal mass to even out the temperature extremes.
Now, in 2010, my husband does not understand the benefits of thermal mass or excellent insulation. No matter how much I talked to him he just did not get it. Words just don’t mean as much as experiencing it. So one weekend, when we were out in Buda, Texas previewing a community, I took him to see a home built with foam insulation. This particular builder always leaves the large HVAC closet open at the top to the attic. You can walk in the closet and look up to see the foam insulation under the roof decking in the attic, so hence, you are in the attic. My husband has been in our typical Texas home’s attic and felt the extreme temperature difference. In the Summer, going up in your typical Texas attic is like walking into a sauna set on highest heat. You start perspiring profusely immediately upon entry. Your air-conditioning duct work has to struggle to deliver cold air through that heat! My husband was totally amazed at the coolness of this attic space. Here it was, a hot summer day in the afternoon and that closet and hence the attic was in the 70 degree range. This is why in homes built like this, the attic is considered conditioned space.
Do you have similar experiences? If not, I’d love to help you in your GREEN education. Sometimes it is better to experience it than just read about it. I’d love to show you some homes with thermal mass and or great insulation. I know of homes we can see that are of Passive Solar design and made of SIP construction – Structurally Insulated Panels. This building design concept of thermal mass protects against the huge temperature swings. Thermal mass is part of Passive Solar design. I also know homes in the Austin area made of ICF construction - Insulated Concrete Forms. ICF combines thermal mass with insulation. It is concrete mixed with recycled polystyrene. I even know of an old historic Texas German settler home currently for sale made of the old fashioned but well working native stone blocks or high-mass masonry walls. I’d love to help you buy your own energy efficient home. Call me, Betty Saenz GREEN REALTOR at (512) 785-5050 or e-mail Betty Saenz
Our beloved annual Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair is coming up soon. Put on by the Texas Solar Energy Society, the Fair is now in it’s 11th year and coming to historic and fun Fredericksburg, Texas September 24th through September 26th, 2010. I go every year and am never there enough time. There is always so much to see, do and learn for people of all ages. Children 12 and under are FREE. Tickets are $10.00 to $12.00 and available at the gate. There are so many booths set up to learn about so much. There are food vendors, talks about any green living topic you can imagine and all at a very reasonable entry fee.
This years talks include information on small wind systems, saving water, rainwater collection, city gardening, aquaponics, wild plants, compressed earth block building, Net Zero homes, Geothermal Systems, organic farming and ranching, solar cars, solar cooking, photovoltaic systems, greenwashing and more!! There are natural cooking demos and I guarantee you will learn a lot about many topics. I hope to see you there!! I’ll probably wear my TOFGA, Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners t shirt I got at the fair last year when I joined that great organization. There is usually a ride share set up to share rides to the fair from the Austin Texas Metro Area. I am looking at all the talks now and having a hard time deciding which day to go, I think I will go to all three!!!
I just love my front yard organic grocery store. I enjoy picking my own fruits of my own labor knowing they were produced without being sprayed by some harmful chemical and my fruit is not waxed or picked green to gas ripen after shipping in some cold gas chamber. Geez! What has happened to our food supply?! One has to only watch “Super Size Me” and “Food Inc” to understand our dilemma in the United States. That is why I am so happy to grow some of my own. Gardening in Central Texas is not hard. I am no rocket scientist and I manage easily enough. It’s easy to grow some of your own food.
I started my 2010 year with the sweetest, tastiest most melt in your mouth apricots!!! Picking fruit is easy! Next it was the reddest, juiciest, sweetest large red-skinned freestone peaches and also blackberries. For 4th of July we had homemade peach ice cream out of our old White Mountain ice cream freezer. Then on to sweet little figs! Getting a second fig crop now. Yum! I always share some fruit with the birds who visit my National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat yard. Currently it is a great apple harvest. Delightful juicy sweet and slightly tart green apples. The tree was bowing down it is so laden with fruit!! Fresh apple pies baked from scratch this weekend!! Next will be pomegranites. And I always have plenty of herbs – two kinds of oregano, mint, parsley, rosemary, thyme, lemon grass, dill, basil and more…
Next year I bet my nectarine and plums will come into full bloom and subsequent production!! I have some papaya and citrus trees too. And guess what?? I am raising catfish and crappie in my backyard pond. All this organic produce and food on a 60′ cty lot in Leander, Texas, Williamson County. Yippee!!!
Contact the organic gardening REALTOR Betty Saenz to buy or sell a home, farm or ranch. I’ll help you get your own organic garden growing on your own piece of Real Estate!!
You see a lot of hybrid cars around the Austin, Texas and Leander, Texas area. I myself drive a recycled Toyota Prius. Occasionally you see an old Honda Insight which rendered significantly better gas mileage than the new Insights. The Union of Concerned Scientists or UCS has a Hybrid Scorecard in which the Toyota Prius is a top performer at a 9.8 Environmental Score. This score is based on the measure of improvement in smog forming emissions as well as improvement in global warming pollution. I am proud that my Prius is a Near Zero Emissions vehicle.
My current vehicle, this Prius, pictured to right, is my third Toyota automobile. I have loved and had confidence in them all. The first was a recycled Toyota Camry with the TRD package. The second, my 2003 Camry SE, saved my life when it was totaled August 19, 2009 in an accident by an Austin, TX morning rush hour crazed driver. I hated to see my car go. My Toyota Camry had taken me so many miles with no trouble at all. Among those places were to Denver, Colorado for the Green Real Estate Convention, camping in the beautiful Colorado and New Mexico countryside on the way back. It was so emotional to say good-bye in the wrecker yard when I got my belongings out and surrendered it : (. I was able to replace my Toyota Camry with a recycled Prius. My Prius has great safety ratings, side curtain air bags as well as front air bags. The seat feels good on my now injured back- it gives great support, so much so that I feel I could drive it all day. I get about 47-48 miles per gallon and did not give up a lot of space from going to a Prius from my Camry. If we need a bigger car for my 6′ son and 6′ husband to go on a long road trip with lots of luggage we’ll just rent one with all the money I save everyday PLUS saving the Earth. When I look at the BP oil spill, all the poor animals covered in oil, not only does it hurt my heart and turn my stomach but I am so thankful I drive my Prius. When I look at 9/11 and our dependence on foreign oil and terrorism- I love my Prius. When I have money in my wallet- I am so glad I drive my Prius! I don’t want to support big oil’s deep and dirty pockets. We’re America- we need to be FREE from that! My Toyota Prius is a step and a statement beyond that.
Georgetown Texas Pickett Trail
I led a MeetUp group hike yesterday in an area that feels very sacred to me. I love the area because it feels to me like a sanctuary, private, pristine and peaceful. Georgetown Texas’ Pickett Trail is a small trail both in width and length compared to many, with beautiful vistas from rock cliffs overlooking the South San Gabriel River. According to the Georgetown, Texas Parks and Recreation Department, it was named after a rodeo cowboy who was of American Indian and black heritage named Bill Pickett. Pickett was from Taylor, Texas, in Williamson County. Bill Pickett was born December 5, 1870 and passed away in 1932 from injuries sustained from a stallion in Oklahoma. Pickett Elementary School in Georgetown is named after him. Bill Pickett was the very first black cowboy ever to be inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame and was the inventor of bulldogging, also known as steer wrestling.
A Great Hike and Enjoyable Evening
Pickett Trail is an unmarked trail that many people may not know about. We met up at 6:00 pm at the Blue Hole parking lot. We started our hike walking beside Blue Hole and then went into the Pickett Trail. It was so fun. It’s a short trail compared to many and I have hiked it so many times in my life that I hardly have to look down at the path except for those steep stair steps. After our hike three of us swam at Blue Hole and visited. Among our trio was a lady who moved here two years ago from CA.
Georgetown and Central Texas Consequences of Growth
We have so many people moving here to Texas and the Austin, Texas as well as Georgetown, Texas area. I welcome all to our state as a Native Texan. I just worry about the population growth’s effect on the environment, both from people migrating here as well as our native Texas population’s growth. I saw trash on the trail at a few spots and this horrifies and saddens me. Normally it is so pristine and that is part of what I love.
Pickett Trail Signs
There is no sign making the trail, nor any signage along the trail. I would hate to have to put signs that read “No Littering $500. Fine”. What can one do? So I blog, hoping somehow, someway consciousness will be raised. Besides the no littering signs that I hope never need to be posted, I want a sign showing that the trail is named after Bill Pickett, to honor the memory of him. After all, it is named after him and he was a famous rodeo cowboy and Texan.
Pickett Trail Invasive Species
There are some areas of the Pickett Trail almost totally taken over by invasive plant species. Among the worst there is ligustrum but there is also a lot of nandina. Invasive species gradually take over the landscape and may choke out existing species. The existing native species belong in the natural ecosystem which provides food and habitat for native animal life. The City of Georgetown, and or volunteers need to clean the invasive species out of Pickett Trail and Blue Hole Park. Perhaps the Williamson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society, Texas Master Gardeners or Texas Master Naturalists will take interest in this area.
Land of Good Water: A Williamson County Texas History by Clara Stearns Scarbrough
Guts: Legendary Black Rodeo Cowboy Bill Pickett by Cecil Johnson
Williamson County Chapter of the Native Plant Society The Williamson County NPSOT is very active. I have been to some meetings and events. NPSOT does research and works in conservation of native plants and their habitats. The group meets on the second Thursday of every month at 7:00pm at the Georgetown, TX Public Library second floor meeting room.
Texas Master GardenersThere is a Williamson County Texas Master Gardener program that meets monthly at 6:30pm at the Williamson County Extension Service Office, 3151 SE Innerloop Road, Ste. A in Georgetown, Texas. The meetings are open to the public.
Texas Master Naturalists learn about natural resource conservation and provide leadership in management of natural resources and natural areas. Texas Master Naturalists volunteer teaching the public, removing invasive species and other activities.
Keep Austin Beautiful is a very active non-profit in the Austin, TX area. (512) 391-0621
Keep Texas Beautiful is the statewide organization
Keep America Beautiful is the nation wide non-profit program that ran the television ad campaign above.
Contact Betty Saenz REALTOR SRES, GRI, EcoBroker to see homes or other real estate in the Georgetown, TX area or anywhere in the Austin Metro Area. (512) 785-5050