Dipping my toe into the stock tank gardening craze…

The last few years stock tanks, traditionally used to water livestock, have been popping up in gardening magazine and websites repurposed in all kinds of creative ways. Even the largest sizes are relatively inexpensive in light of of the visual bang for your buck in the garden and they fit right into the upscale farmhouse home and garden vibe so popular now. On my trip to Austin last May I saw great examples of stock tanks used as both raised planters and water features. If you missed the Austin posts or just want a refresher check out both Howdy from Austin…digging under the Death Star and Howdy from Austin…Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for stock tanks used in both residential and public garden environs.

It was just a stretch for my ranch raised husband to understand why I would would even want a pond made from a stock tank in our emerging lawn free front garden so I am starting small(er), easing into the idea by using an oval tank as a problem solver in our back garden. An inexpensive, non-construction dependent solution to an existing garden challenge is a lot easier sell than any type of pond which just looks like more maintenance to him.

Stock tank 1

When we built our outdoor pavilion in the back garden in 2011 city code required the structure to be set in 15′ from our fence line. In our part of the city the fence line is considered to be our property line–hard to understand why we spend so much time and money trying to maintain that long strip between the fence and the street…but, oh well. Behind the newly built pavilion we added a second 10′ deep concrete slab to increase our outdoor dining options for large groups. The remaining 5′ deep border was home to a number of mature cherry laurel trees whose roots, along with the in-ground irrigation system was inextricably intertwined with the roots of the very large Bradford pear planted on the other side of the fence as part of the home original landscape. We laboriously removed those cherry laurels last summer, leaving the area bare. The effect of that root system on the fence is easy to see but the value of the shade tree in summer far outweighs the lifted fence. I am sure that when this fence eventually falls down we will have to install the new one with a ‘bridge’ over the root system to safeguard the tree.

The stock tank will allow me to replant this area with the least tree root disturbance as possible. It is pushed forward to the edge of the patio to allow about two feet of clearance behind it to accommodate the worst of the root raised surface and still be level and plumb. An added bonus will be that the off the ground plant material will somewhat remove visual focus from the wonky fence. The two sprinkler risers which once watered the cherry laurels remain intact (I’m pretty sure we could never get them out without doing damage to the buried PVC) and they will be fitted with drip tubing and mini emitters on stakes to water the trough.


We call the area behind the pavilion the Secret Garden as it is not really visible from the house and only fully reveals itself as you approach this shady outpost in a very sunny back garden. In addition to just walking through the pavilion, stone paths on either side offer access to the Secret Garden.  Above you can see the tank’s location as viewed from both ends of the paths.

Stock tank 5

The stock tank is centered on the pavilion’s columns and, when planted, will be a focal point drawing the eye through the structure when viewed from the pool. We typically have two 4 person wrought iron tables with chairs sited either side of center but I have been greedily gazing at websites with swinging beds…when the pavilion was built the cross beams were engineered for significant weight specifically for the addition of such a ‘lowcountry’ bed.

Since the full 3′ depth of the stock tank is not necessarily needed for successful planting and as a way of reducing the monumental amount of lightweight planting mix I’ll need to purchase to fill the 8′ long container I have been looking at alternatives to take up a little space in the bottom.

Stock tank 4

This is my current scheme but to fill out this layer and add a second one we will have to drink a whole lot of bubbly stuff! I plan to pull the tank’s drain plug out and affix a piece of screen over the drain hole. The bottles will hopefully provide little air space to prevent dirt from clogging the screen. May a layer of burlap over the bottles? I’m open to any suggestions y’all may offer, including an eco friendly alternative to the bottles.

I’m heading to the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show (bizarrely being held in Sacramento this year–going to have to get the back story on that while I’m there) and I hope to get some inspiration for plantings. The Sacramento location takes me right by a couple of my favorite Sacto area garden centers so hopefully next time you see this stock tank it will be fully planted!


‘Bill Wallis’ welcomes me home…

Bill Wallis 2

Preparations for my youngest son’s marriage to his darling Laura have kept me out of the garden, both in focus and physically, for the last couple of months. In addition, we have had an incredibly wet winter here in the Central Valley of California–strictly an observation–not a complaint as anyone gardening here will never complain about rain, even when it comes day after day in torrents. A soggy winter can carry us quite far into spring before needing to think about supplemental irrigation!

The one project that has carried on, as the skies have allowed, is the front garden renovation started in earnest in the fall. Only a small area still remains to be double dug and amended and as much as I have had plants in reserve to work with I have marched right along behind the digging putting in perennials and small shrubs conducive to our goal of reducing the need for summer water.

Many plants which have performed well for me have been dug and divided from other parts of the garden to incorporate into the new area. A few things which had languished unenthusiastically in their current homes have gotten new addresses also. One of those ‘unhappy in its starter home’ specimens is Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ whose blooms are pictured above.

I have been a collector of hardy geraniums for several years–I never leave a nursery or garden center without first checking their offerings for species and hybrids to add to my booty. Check out my post A tiny monster any girl can love… for a little info on the geranium vs pelargonium confusion. My zone is not terribly friendly to most of the hardy Gs although many of them thrive naturally in challenging climates all over the world–even with irrigation the air is simply too dry here in the summer months. Think the UK and much of Eastern Europe where they scramble and ramble to the point they are sometimes considered invasive! I consider them a challenge with rewards worth a little extra tending.

‘Bill Wallis’ has had a spot under a crepe myrtle tree in my front garden for more than two years, having been purchased on a now not distinctly remembered garden center ramble out of town. When I dug it up just after Christmas and moved it about three feet from its original home I swear it had only the same three leaves on it as when I purchased it and it had NEVER flowered. It’s new abode, in freshly double dug and very well amended earth was apparently the shot of adrenaline ‘Bill’ needed and the sad little clump, whose root mass had fit in the palm of my hand, sprung to life.

Bill Wallis 1

This is ‘Bill Wallis’ as seen on my first garden walk-around upon returning from Joshua and Laura’s North Georgia mountain wedding. My initial research after purchasing the little guy was that it would eventually form a large mound  and, as it reseeds readily, could naturalize in ground that has been disturbed–not at all what my experience with the plant had been. Perhaps it was the ‘disturbed ground’ or the more fertile soil provided by copious amendment that was missing from the necessary cultural conditions needed to make Geranium pyrenaicum shine. Clearly February is not its natural blooming peak so only time will tell how it fairs through spring and summer. I especially love its sprawling red stems–cutting them back when the 1″ blooms are spent should produce new stems=new flowers. Fingers crossed on that! If I get so lucky as to have too many seedlings there will be plenty to pot up for gardening friends–how’s that for starting 2019 with a positive attitude?

I have a lot of garden travel on my calendar in late spring and summer, including this year’s Garden Bloggers Fling in Denver. Also have a dear friend moving to Arizona this year and that could require a new garden consultation–going to have to read up on all those spiky things! You won’t even have to pack a bag to join me as I see new places and new gardens throughout the year.

Bill Wallis 3