Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My carrion hound

Iris is shy, and normally does not care to have her picture taken.
I’ve mentioned before that we have a wonderful dog. Her name is Iris – named by my daughter for the iris-shaped white mark on her chest. She is beautiful to look at, sweet-tempered, very loyal and loving (she gives hugs with her legs!), not too large or too small. She rarely barks, except when she spots a pesky squirrel during the day or a terrifying hog in the night. She doesn’t kill chickens. She doesn’t roam.  She runs astonishingly fast, which could conceivably be an issue, except that she is very obedient. People stop cars to issue compliments when my husband takes her for walks. I could go on.

But no dog is perfect. Our Iris has one very large and glaring flaw:  She adores rotting carcasses, the more fragrant the better. Most of the year this is a manageable problem. Frequently animal bones appear on the porch. Occasionally a chicken is killed by marauding bands of slobbering, wild, red-eyed . . . well, neighbor dogs. Iris won’t kill a live chicken, but she does enjoy gnawing on a tasty dead one. Yum.

At this time of year, however, the issue looms large. My husband hunts deer on our property; when he’s successful (two white-tailed bucks so far this year), he cleans them and then discards the carcasses here. It does not matter how far away or how high in a tree he chucks these savory remains; Iris will find them and drag them back to the house.

There they languish - sometimes actually on the porch, or perhaps decorating the front yard. Frequently, they are left beside a path, for maximum olfactory and visual enjoyment of human passersby. We recently hosted a large party, and my 18-year-old son insisted that these piles of disgusting carrion be removed before guests arrived. Removed by someone else.

Herein lies the next problem. Ugghhh! No one wants to touch these nasty treasures, so they lurk around our yard and porch for an obscene length of time. I will sometimes take the initiative and kick things off the porch, where they are likely to land in my flowerbeds. Is that better?  Yes, I’ve decided. They are out of my immediate line of sight, and surely they provide some sort of organic fertilizer. That is, until Iris retrieves them.

Favorite spot in the garden today:

Bachelor’s buttons (Gomphrena globosa)! I had one big plant this year.  They are so lovely, tough and long lasting, that I plan on harvesting the bloom heads soon so I can sow seeds next spring and have a more bountiful crop.  I’ve just read that these are native to Central America, and are also grown in British gardens. What a versatile little plant!

My mother-in-law (known as Mother Nature in some parts) dries these and places them in small vases for cheerful winter color. Maybe one day I’ll plan that far ahead.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Above:  Flame-leaf sumac
Below:  Yaupon holly

Yes, we do have fall in Texas! You might have to look closely to find it, but it is definitely there.

A few weeks ago I decided to capture some photos of fall-tinted vegetation - only nature would not cooperate. Multiple times I looked out the window and saw the sun shining brightly, grabbed the camera and hustled out to a vantage point I had in mind, only to have clouds obscure the light I was seeking. After about the eighth time, I felt like one of Pavlov’s dogs, so I quit.

However, I shall not let a small detail like THE SUN deter me. Fall has progressed since then; red oak has moved to the fore color-wise as flame-leaf sumacs have dropped many of their colorful leaves. Cedar elms’ small yellow leaves brighten the understory down the street. We have a few yaupons (Ilex vomitoria) with bright red berries, and the Ashe juniper trees are sporting blue berries now. The copper canyon daisy continues to bloom, although the lantanas have succumbed to a light freeze. (Is black considered a fall color? Hmm.)

Little bluestem and Ashe juniper
along the road in my neighborhood.
Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) provides the most visible fall color in my neck of the woods. In the fall it shoots up many rust-hued seed stalks. With backlight, fuzzy white seeds glow up and down the stalk. This grass is beautiful over winter, when covered with a layer of frost. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website, the stem bases have a bluish color in the spring, hence the name.

I have some guilty fall pleasures, too. Pyracantha, invasive here, is striking along the roadsides at this time of year. And then there is King Ranch bluestem – beautiful as it ripples in a breeze in a field or roadside, but very bad stuff as it crowds out native species. (My father-in-law may disown me for that last sentence.)

Favorite spot in the garden today:

My favorite today is another grass – Lindheimer’s muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri). I planted clumps on either side of my front doorstep. One has not thrived, but the other (on the less hospitable side) has, and has multiplied. The clumps have 5-foot golden seed stalks, which sway gracefully in the wind. Lady Bird's site says this plant is native only to the Edwards Plateau of central Texas. Hey, that's me!

This area is looking rather messy, but I’m enjoying this grass and it seems happy, so I think I will leave the volunteers and clean out something else, instead.