Friday, October 28, 2011

An autumn walk

Earlier this week my daughter (home sick from school - but not too sick!) and I set off to explore a dirt road that runs along our property, as part of This Grandmother's Garden's Autumn Walk Challenge. I've been wanting to traipse this road, and now I have a good excuse. 

Technically, we are trespassing, which makes my daughter very nervous. The road is an easement  to which we do not have access. But it washed out from flooding a year ago, and we very rarely see a vehicle navigating it. I'm sure the owners would not notice or mind two intrepid explorers.

We crawl through our rickety bobwire fence to embark on our expedition. My daughter immediately spies these copper-colored rocks amid the usual limestone. The nice thing about walking with a child is that she has sharp eyes for things on the ground . . . 
We head down the hill, where water drains across a low in big storms. I promptly slip on loose dirt and land - oh, so gracefully - on my rump. Only my pride injured, we continue on.

The ravages of drought (summer of 2009 and current) are quite evident. Up on top of the hill, live oak skeletons jut above dead or stressed Ashe junipers. I'm betting if the junipers are this color, they are goners. Fall color, Texas-style!

We spy this field of rocks to our left. I'd like to come up with some clever play on "Field of Dreams" but I just don't have it in me today. I will say that we grow great rocks here in Hays County. It's our best crop.

All too soon we arrive at this locked gate. I figure two locks are a pretty strong indicator that the owner is not interested in receiving visitors. We turn around.

My daughter points out the Ashe juniper berries, which are a lovely shade of blue. I in turn admire the interesting texture and color of some live oak deadfall.

Iris the dog leads the way. The road is dotted with cowpies left by Henrietta (do you remember her? She has been wandering loose on this road recently).

We pass by our property heading south toward Henrietta's home pasture, admiring our next door neighbors' well-tended, cross-fenced property - a sharp contrast to our place where nature reigns supreme. Down the way, we note the broken fence Henrietta has repurposed as a gate. 

Some might consider our next discovery gruesome, but we think it is our most interesting find: a coyote carcass. We hear coyotes frequently, but see them never. This carcass is quite desiccated and not too stinky. I suspect it may have been shot by Henrietta's owners and hung on the fence as a warning to its pack mates. "Keep out!!"
A short way past this treasure, some cattle panels have been rigged to block the road. My guess is that this was done to keep Henrietta from reaching the county road (in lieu of fixing the fence!). We turn around again.

At the corner of our property and the well-tended neighbors' is a small gap that we decide to use to get back home, just for fun. My daughter is convinced that I won't be able to squeeze through, but I do. She, of course, has no trouble.

The original purpose of this walk was to find fall color, so we track down one fall-blooming wildflower we both adore:  wood-sorrel (Oxalis Drummondii). Nearby, we spy what we think are Texas bluebonnet seedlings, germinated after our recent rains. 

Home again, two happy girls after a lovely autumn walk.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On hanging laundry.

The only color in my yard this summer came from clean laundry 
flapping in the breeze and backlit by the sun.

When our children were very young, we lived on 10 acres of Blackland Prairie east of Austin, home to Johnson grass, bluebonnets, two trees and scads of fire ants. We were poor as church mice. When our second-hand dryer broke down, I was forced to engage in the vintage activity of hanging laundry out to dry. My husband built an iconic clothesline behind our rent house, with two galvanized iron T posts and four lines strung between.

I hated it.  I hated it as much for its symbolism of our status in the world as for its inconveniences. In summer, the clothes were stiff as boards, and about as comfortable to wear. Our underwear dangled for the world to ogle. Yellow jackets crawled over the clothes, pins and lines, waiting to zap the laundress. In winter, clothes wouldn’t dry, and so we draped them all about our very small house. But more pressingly in my young mind, CIVILIZED PEOPLE SHOULD OWN A CLOTHES DRYER!

When our fortunes improved, I bought a dryer and never looked back.

That is, until we faced the same situation here on the hill. Broken dryer, not enough scratch to purchase another. This time Dan strung clothesline between oaks in a small motte outside the laundry room. It was winter, and we frequently resorted to drying clothes over the stair rail and on hangers in doorways.

My in-laws saw our plight, and very generously gave us a dryer for Christmas.

But something had changed in me since those early years. Perhaps it was a deeper appreciation of nature, or a diminished concern for what others think, or a greater interest in the wellbeing of the planet (sounds lofty).

I now enjoy hanging laundry. Saving electricity - for my pocketbook and the planet - is how I justify the extra time it requires.  But really, I just love it.

I love the small break from inside work. Standing outside with clean, fragrant laundry in my hands, I feel the breeze and the warm, healing sunshine on my face; listen to birds singing, insects whirring, and maybe far overhead an airplane droning; look around at the trees, grass, flowers, and a vulture soaring overhead in the blue, blue sky.  These are stolen moments of peace in a cacophonous world.

Did my great-grandmothers feel this way about laundry? Their world was simpler. Perhaps this was just another household chore among many, without the luxury of a stand-by dryer. I hope that they stopped occasionally to enjoy their natural surroundings, took a deep breath of clean air as I do, and returned to their other chores rejuvenated.

Now, it’s time to bring in the laundry.

Favorite spot in the garden:

This may not look like much to you, but – hallelujah! - green stuff is growing in my yard! It seems like eons since we had a green lawn, but probably it’s been about four months. (I use the term “lawn” very loosely. These green seedlings are probably grass, wildflowers and  . . .  well, weeds.) Whenever I glance out, I must smile.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Better late than never - GBBD!

 Two days late, two dollars short?

I did take pictures on Oct. 15 of things blooming in my yard for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (hosted by May Dreams Gardens), but did not get them posted that day.

But, better late than never, here they are. Thanks to near 3" of rain a week and a half ago and more moderate temperatures, some of my garden residents have begun blooming. This is the most things I've seen blooming at once in four months or so. Hurrah!

Flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii)
Copper rain lily. I bought
one of these, but this
is an offspring. Yay!

Autumn sage (Salvia greggii)

Pink and cream lantana
(Lantana camara?)
Trailing lantana, white variety (Lantana montevidensis)

Fall aster (Symphotrichum oblongifolium) is blooming a little,
much to my surprise. It suffered this summer.
Pigeonberry (Rivina
)  - one survived
and one did not.

I thought this purple oxalis died
earlier this summer,
but it was hybernating
until cooler weather!
These tropical sages (Salvia coccinea)
were pesky in my garden, and I've pulled
them all. Now they volunteer in
unmanaged areas. When it rains they
perk up; when it doesn't, they die back. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Summer survivors

As we all know, it was a tough year for gardens in the southwest. Garden bloggers wrote repeatedly about the need to rethink the garden. In that vein, this post is dedicated to noting the plants in my garden that did pretty well this summer, despite the record-breaking heat and drought.

Spineless prickly pear (Opuntia ellisiana),
 Lindheimer's muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri
and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea).
These were watered occasionally late in the summer.

I had originally thought to do a post on the casualties of the drought, complete with teenage moaning and woe-is-me-ing. I have actually spent a good bit of the summer in this mode, despite the fact that I haven’t been a teenager in many years. Many, many years.

But as a mom, I have learned to embrace the power of a positive attitude. I can carry that into the garden, I can. Even though I lost so many plants, so many . . . little . . . plants . . .  No, stop.

Onward with positivity.

Meteorologists say this drought could continue for years, so rethinking the garden is not just an idle exercise. Frankly, I wasted quite a bit of money this year on new plants that did not survive. I also wasted quite a lot of well water trying to keep said plants alive.

Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides).
This did receive some supplemental water late
in the summer, but I think it might have survived
I need to be smarter and more disciplined about plant choices.  To me, gardening in its highest, most successful form involves choosing plants appropriate for the site and climate. I thought I was doing that, but as Dylan sings, “for the times they are a-changin'.”

P.S. I would really love to see other Texas gardeners’ survivor lists, so that we could compare notes and maybe come up with new plant options. If you have such a list, add your list or post a link in my comments. Thanks!

No supplemental water at all! On the left, purple sage (Leucophyllum frutescens), 
and on the right, the indomitable century plant (Agave americana - I think - it was a pass-along plant).

Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) in the back. In front is a black dalea (Dalea frutescens) -
a native wildflower. The sages show heat stress, but bounce right back with water.
The dalea just got a little thin. 

Newly planted, regularly watered, but showed little sign 
of heat stress. This is yellow bells or esperanza 
(Tecoma stans).  It will get much larger and have showy 
yellow blooms - I can't wait!
That's right - Texas lantana 
(Lantana urticoides). 
It did receive occasional water 
late in the summer.
This trailing lantana (Lantana motevidensis 'Alba') was transplanted at the beginning of this horrendous summer, and soldiered through.
(Yes, I watered it - but plenty of things I watered did not survive!)

This is not prepossessing, I realize. This Mexican bird of paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana) was purchased this spring at Peckerwood Gardens and planted upon my return home. It sat all summer with occasional watering and did fine. I was so proud! But when I went out to take a picture for this post, after 2.8" of rain last weekend - wahh! The top appears to be gone, but it has new growth at the bottom. I read that it requires good drainage - perhaps it got too much water.

Oh yes, my friends, the flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii)  is a keeper . . .
The Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens)
is not blooming now (old picture),
but it did survive all summer
with only roof run-off.  The new one planted
 out front did not survive.
. . . as is the pavonia (Pavonia 
lasiopetala) a.k.a. rock rose.
This was the only plant that
bloomed all summer, 
off and on.

Friday, October 7, 2011

For the birds

Through the window - Northern cardinals, 
lesser goldfinch and house finch.

I spent a very entertaining 15 minutes outside yesterday. As I returned from walking, I heard a rustling noise. Rain? Of course, that would be exciting – but no drops dotted the rock sidewalk. I stepped out from under a tree to see if I felt drops . . .

. . . and realized that birds were making the rustling sounds.

I paused about 10 feet from a bird feeder, arms akimbo, and just listened. The birds were everywhere, wings flapping as they flew from tree to tree, chirping, singing, pecking at branches. So cool!

After a few minutes, a few birds bravely ventured onto the feeder, followed by some of their more timid brethren. I watched as goldfinches, cardinals, chickadees, tufted titmouse and a house finch picked up some breakfast sunflower seeds.

When I slowly crossed my arms, they abandoned the feeder, but continued flying about the yard, along with white-winged doves and wrens.

My in-laws have a friend who is a nut for birds. He told them they were “birdwatchers” and not “birders;” a birder is someone who travels specifically to see a bird. Last year they traveled to New England and saw puffins; they informed him they were indeed “birders.”

Carolina chickadee.
We, on the other hand, are birdwatchers.  My husband has actually studied our bird book and knows quite a lot; my interest is more – observational, I guess. They are a beautiful addition to my yard. I like to watch them, but I don’t spend a lot of time learning about them.

Earlier this year, marauding house sparrows were gorging themselves on the mixed birdseed we put in our three feeders. They emptied those feeders in a matter of hours. These sparrows are not lovely. Like Wal-mart shoppers on Black Friday, they are rowdy, greedy and pushy.

One day it dawned on me that serious birders (like my in-laws) use specific kinds of seeds to attract more desirable birds. I did some online research, and then went shopping for black oil sunflower seeds and thistle.

To my amazement, it worked! The sparrows skedaddled. Even better, the bird population on the hill has diversified. We have seen a few new species, perhaps also due to drought conditions. Because of this, my interest in them is keener.

Carolina wren.
Here’s our bird list:

Regular visitors (to our property):  Northern cardinal, white-winged and mourning doves, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, lesser goldfinch, house finch, Bewick’s and Carolina wrens, black-chinned hummingbird, greater roadrunner, scrub jay, black and turkey vultures, red-shouldered hawk, Eastern screech owl, chuck-will’s-widow, painted bunting,

Occasional visitors: golden-fronted and ladder-backed woodpeckers, oriole, summer tanager, mockingbird, golden-cheeked warbler, yellow-billed cuckoo, American crow, common ground-dove, blue-gray gnatcatcher, American goldflinch, cedar waxwing, Nashville warbler, dark-eyed junko, tree sparrow, great-tailed grackle, brown-headed cowbird, Eastern starling, Eastern phoebe.

Flyovers:  snow geese, sandhill cranes, Mississippi kites, white pelicans, crested caracara.

Now if I could just find my binoculars, I could go see if something new has stopped by.

Favorite spot in the garden:

When we moved to this place, I transplanted very few things, as I knew it would be awhile before I could plant. This shrub, however, made the cut. I think this is a shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora), native to my part of the state. 

At our old place it was out by the fence line. Its bloom is so very discreet, you must be standing right beside it to enjoy its loveliness. Here, I planted it at the edge of the porch, so I can enjoy its quiet beauty.

It stressed this summer, but with the recent ½” rain and resultant roof run-off, it has begun blooming. Love it!