Monday, December 31, 2012

Rounding up the year - garden projects completed.

Can't wait to see if cleaning and amending
the iris bed pays off with spring blooms!

It is gray, foggy and drizzly outside, and a cool 58 degrees: perfect weather for reflecting on garden accomplishments of the past year. 

Nearly a year ago, I posted about my garden plans for the year 2012. Four projects were on my list, some in varying states of completion.

You know how these New Year’s Resolution lists are. Generally they end up making one feeling inadequate, lazy or incompetent. Take your pick.

I blogged about the completion of this project in September, You just can't rush these things.
I am pleased to post, however, that I actually completed every project on my list.

This is probably the first time in my entire life that a New Year’s Resolution list has been fulfilled completely. If I had known this would be such a successful list, I could have added additional, important items to it:  GET A JOB  (oops, sorry, did not mean to shout that), finish a cross-stitch project (underway since at least 2010), write a novel.

Completed rock garden out front;
apparently I never blogged about this!

More of the rock garden, which extends
across the front yard and parking area.

Bed populated with blue mistflower. If you are familiar with this plant,
you know that it will fill in the bare spaces very quickly!

Perhaps it is best to keep the list small and manageable.

I hope you were equally productive with your projects. Even if you weren’t, I hope you had a wonderful time dreaming about your projects and spending time in your garden. After all, that is the most rewarding part of gardening, is it not?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ode to the modern Santa.

‘Twas a few days before Christmas, and all through the house,
all the creatures were stirring (though we don’t have a mouse).

The stockings were hung on the staircase with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas would soon be there.

The children were rushing hither and yon,
Visiting friends, buying presents, and eating bon-bons.

And Dad in his flannel shirt, and I in my sweater,
Were working last minute to make Christmas better.

In the kitchen, I’d been baking: cookies and bread
While Dad sawed and created out in the shed.


When out on the yard there arose such a clatter,
I threw open the door to see what was the matter.

Outside on the lawn, dusty grass and limestone
Helped to create a dry, Texas tone.

The wind tossed dried leaves up and around,
And the sun lit up grasses, green and brown.

What to my wondering eye should appear
But a large brown truck drawing quickly near.

With a shorts-clad driver sporting a tan,
I knew in a minute he was the UPS man.

This is not my UPS man, but an apt photo
from the Lodi, California website.

He was dressed all in brown from his head to his foot,
His arms were quite brawny from lifting his loot.

His smile was so friendly as he asked if my name
Was Cynthia, and I told him it was the same.

He spoke no more words, but handed it over:
A box filled with presents for all my book lovers.

Stuffing his hand-held device in his pocket,
He turned and was off at the speed of a rocket.

He sprang to his truck, turned the key and backed out,
Waved jauntily out the window as he headed south.

But I heard him exclaim ere he drove round the bend,
“Merry Christmas to you, and to all of your friends!”

Ashe juniper Christmas tree, cut from our property.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Where's the rain?

It's a good thing to have drought-tolerant plants
when you garden in a drought-prone area:  Silver pony-foot
(Dichondra argentea) under Lindheimer's muhly
(Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), with spineless prickly pear
(Opuntia ellisiana, maybe).

We just wrapped up a November totally devoid of measurable rain. I can’t find any records for Hays County, but in Austin where they track such things the last dry November was in 1897.

As you know, this part of the country recently endured an extreme case of the dries during the summer of 2011, culminating in the terrible fire near Bastrop. The next summer and fall were reasonably wet. We gardeners were ecstatic! Probably the farmers and ranchers were pretty happy, too.

But anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with history (which accurately describes my acquaintance) knows that droughts can be multi-year events. The drought of record in Texas happened in the ‘50s, and lasted seven to 10 years (depending on the source). And when you see a factoid like this – the last dry November was 115 years ago – well, your heart sinks a little.

I read somewhere (and now can't remember where) that when very thirsty, the Agave americana's leaves start opening wider. These are pretty wide.

According to the U.S. Drought Portal, 82 percent of Texas is in moderate to extreme drought as of Dec. 4. Hays County is in the “moderate drought” category. To my recollection, we have been categorized in some drought category or other since 2011.

The Keetch-Byram Drought Index measures forest fire potential on a scale of 0 (saturated soil) to 800 (completely dry soil). The majority of Texas counties, including Hays County, appear to be in the 500-600 level.

I may have posted this before, but I still find it fascinating so here it is again: an animation of the drought index:

I’m not a meteorologist, nor do I play one on television, but I’m beginning to wonder if drought is just Texas’ natural condition in the brave new world of climate change.

Days with 20%, 30% and 40% chances of rain continue pass by dry. Seems like there’s a good chance this drought is not through with us.

Favorite spot in the garden:  The white crape myrtle behind my porch swing is at last bowing to the season, and losing its leaves. The fall color of its leaves, decorating the tree and the ground underneath, really accentuate the red of its trunk.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What is going on around here?

Something is going on around here. I'm not sure what it is. Something is different. Hmmm.

Flame-leaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) is - well - flaming.
Fall-blooming Copper Canyon daisy
(Tagetes lemmonii)
Let me lay out the clues for you.

Strange colors have appeared out in the yard and woods. The normal greens have been interrupted by occasional oranges and yellows. Very odd.

The wicker rockers have disappeared from the porch. I've so enjoyed rocking in those chairs these past few months - feeling balmy breezes on my bare arms while gazing out at my colorful domain. The rockers have been replaced by a wood rack half-stocked with oak and cedar logs. This is not near as comfortable for domain gazing. Sort of knobbly. Strange.

My laundry has become bulkier, recently populated by sweatshirts and blue jeans, instead of t-shirts and shorts. Bizarre.

Here's the real kicker: it is cooler outside than it is inside. I know! What the h-e-double-l is transpiring here on the hill?

What? Fall? You mean, autumn? That elusive season that sometimes appears after the marathon that is summer in Texas, and before the sprint that is winter?


Never mind.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
is going to seed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In the woods

This was the tallest tree we tackled.
Sunday we spent some family time in the woods. We were doing a job that I enjoy, that exhausts my husband, and that really annoys the children:  slaying cedar.

Technically, we weren’t slaying cedar (Ashe juniper is its correct name), as they were already slain – laid low by that terrible foe, the drought of 2011. A belt of trees were geographically challenged in their quest for water, and a number of them – Ashe juniper, live oak and yaupon – perished. This left an unsightly mess next to the driveway.

And according to our calendar and much to our dismay, it will get cooler here soon and the firewood supply was perilously low.

And it's down, destined for firewood.
It was time to take action. We donned long pants and boots, and gathered chain saw, fuel, bar oil (or as my husband says, bahr awl), gloves and loppers, and ventured out solve two problems at once.

My boys were enlisted to drag brush frequently when we first bought this land, and it was a battle every time. Now they are out of our clutches, and we have shifted our sights to the little daughter. She has begun exhibiting the same reluctance her older brothers did. On Sunday I heard things like, “I don’t have any shoes” and “Can I make a pie, instead?” No.

Iris the dog is site supervisor.
I set her to using the loppers to break off dead branches and cut small cedars; she prefers this to dragging brush. Dan wielded the chain saw, while I stacked firewood and piled up brush.

In addition to the reward of how the area looks when we are done, we usually find a few surprises or treasures to make the job more enjoyable.

The first thing we saw was a giant pink and cream lantana, escaped into the woods and twining up through a cedar tree. It is far from where I had planted one in my garden. The thing is at least six feet tall!

Green tree frog and daughter's hand against
freshly cut Ashe juniper stump.

A while later, Dan called our daughter over. As he was prepared to take down a dead cedar, he discovered a bright green tree frog on its trunk. My daughter was entranced, of course, and carried the frog back to the house where she constructed a home for it near the new pond - deluxe accommodations that I’m not sure it will appreciate.

(Have I mentioned how much I love having a daughter who is not afraid to pick up a frog or toad?)

Tote that wood, sister.
It was a productive day:  dead trees cleared away, firewood stacked, brush pile created (which may be chipped sometime, but until then will be home to sundry critters), unexpected plant found, frog examined and relocated, fresh air taken in, muscles used, pre-teen ejected from the house, sense of accomplishment felt all around.

The finished-for-today product - more dead trees remain for another day.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fall beauties.

The white mistflower (Agaratina havanensis) is blooming in my garden, in a profusion not seen here before. The mistflower is native from Central Texas south into Mexico. In and of itself, it is beautiful when in bloom. But when butterflies flutter all around it, drawn by its heady fragrance wafting on a breeze . . . well, it becomes sublime.

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
is the most common visitor.
I've never seen this butterfly here before;
it is a bordered patch (Chlosyne lacinia 
adjutrix). The adjutrix  is a Texas subspecies.

I have spent time the past two days sitting on a pile of rocks next to this bush with camera in hand. I can’t really describe how fabulous this is: perched two feet away from buzzing bees and fluttering butterflies, including some new-to-me types, all so intent on this little bush with its multitude of tiny white blooms that they quickly forget I am here.  They are busy harvesting the last nectar of the year before cooler weather arrives.

Queens (Danaus gilippus) are frequent visitors on our blue mistflower; guess they like this, too!
This was one of those transcendent natural experiences.

Well, I'm not sure but I think
this is an American painted lady
(Vanessa virginiensis).

The Texan crescent (Anthanassa 
texana) is new to me, also.

Have you ever had one of those experiences? While outside somewhere, you happen upon something so cool, so beautiful, so interesting that you will never forget it? For me, it usually happens when it is very quiet and I am alone.

Twenty years ago we lived in the middle of a 10-acre hay pasture. Bluebonnets covered the pasture in the spring; it was absolutely beautiful. One quiet day in early summer I stepped outside and heard the oddest popping sounds all around me. I stopped and looked around, trying to determine the origin of the sounds. I saw nothing, but quickly realized that I was hearing bluebonnet seedpods popping open all over the pasture. I stood there listening with a big grin on my face, looking over the pasture in amazement. Yes, I still remember that moment.

My first i.d. of this one, too:  pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos).
This tattered fellow appears
to be a variegated fritillary
(Euptoieta claudia).

This memory of communing with and observing butterflies on the mistflower will stay with me, also. When I’m looking out the window on a cold gray winter day, wishing for summer, I will unpack this memory, and relive those joyous moments, sitting with butterflies under a warm November sun.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Crazy beautiful

Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea)
We are experiencing a crazy beautiful fall, with perfect temperatures and rain at appropriate intervals. Maximilian sunflowers, palafoxia, broomweed and asters are decorating the roadsides.  

Here on the hill, my flowers are looking pretty spiffy, too. In fact, things look about as good here as they ever get, so I thought I would share some pictures.

Four-nerve daisies (Tetraneuris scaposa)
in front, Gregg's mistflower (Conoclinum 
greggii) behind.

Fall and spring are the best gardening seasons in Central Texas. The rain and the temperatures are moderate . . .  except when they're not. Trees have not started losing leaves yet, but the first good front arrived over the weekend, and we've been in the lower 40s for the past several nights. We’re sure to see some fall color soon!

My pride and joy right now is the east bed. I envisioned this as a cottage bed, overflowing with blooms of less xeric plants since it gets afternoon shade and has deeper soil.  Well, the shade is late in the day arriving and I am not willing/able to water as much as cottage plants desire. You may recall that one year this area suffered chicken depredations, and Iris the dog periodically decides she must excavate immediately and deeply. This bed has never lived up to my expectations.

Until now.

East bed! From left:  rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala), Gomphrena globosa 'Fireworks,'
white and purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), bachelor buttons (Gomphrena globosa),
purple morning glories. Black and blue salvia (Salvia guaranitca 'Black and Blue')
and some sort of gaura ('Whirling Butterflies'?) are in the back.
I believe I have finally come up with a good combination of flowering plants that can withstand the heat and moisture conditions, yet still give me the cottage feel I wanted for this area. Hurrah!

The next frontier: blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum), rock rose and fall aster
(Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, I think) with a volunteer Lindheimer muhly (Muhlembergia linheimeri).
Many flame acanthus (Anisicantus quadrifidus var. wrightii) grow here, also, but aren't blooming now.

My new pond, with turk's cap (Malvaviscus 
arboreus var. drummondii). Do you see
the goldfish and happy water plant?

Looking out my window, I have identified the next frontier. Out front is a wild area, where we do not mow. I’ve planted a few things, and a few others have self-sowed. There is such a profusion of blooms that I’ve decided to take it to the next level, cleaning out weeds and grass so those volunteers can spread and thrive.

There’s nothing better than a new garden area to plan. That’s what beautiful weather and conditions will do to a gardener – provide inspiration for the next project!

Rock rose, black dalea (Dalea frutescens), yucca,
and autumn sage behind.

From the left, zexmenia (Wedelia texana), pigeonberry (Rivina humilis), white mistflower
(Ageratina havanensis - behind about to burst into bloom), fall aster, dayflower (Commelina erecta),
bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), and more zexmenia.

I hope you are enjoying a crazy beautiful fall in your garden!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

From the ground

This grows wild, and looks a bit like lamb's ears.
 While kneeling on the ground to take pictures a few weeks back, I snapped two that led me to the idea for this post:  the view from the ground.

That's it. That's the theme.

I don't usually take the time to look at the world from the ground level, but it does provide not only a different perspective on things higher, but a closer look at things lower.

So without further ado, here are some views from the ground on the hill.

These well-worn boots decorate the new rock garden out front.
 Periodically Iris the dog decides they need a good gnaw, and drags them away.

Don't get excited - it's just a cow bone. Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is behind.
"Go away go away go away."
Blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum), Manfreda maculosa (I think)
and fallen cenizo  blooms (Leucophyllum frutescens).

My perfect native groundcover: straggler daisy or horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis).
Fruits of fall labors - dead Ashe junipers cut into stove-sized pieces.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fall flowers spring forth!

Wildflower Wednesday, hosted by Gail at clay and limestone, gives me the opportunity to showcase a few blooms on the hill today. Thanks to September rains, we do have some wildflowers in bloom.

All the wildflowers I found today have very small flowers. None are showy, except perhaps in masses. These are the hardy survivors. They have persevered through the heat and through the drought.  Now, in their quiet, understated fashion, they lend subdued color to the fall season.

One of our favorite fall wildflowers has poked its blooms above the mulch – the wood-sorrel (Oxalis drummondii).  This beauty likes dry or moist soil, grows in sun or part shade, and forms small colonies in open grassy areas, open woodlands, and brushy areas on calcareous or sandy soils. It is native to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  Its leaves resemble clover, and the flowers fold down at dusk and in cloudy weather. While its color is bright, its habit and size mean one must look closely to find it among dried grasses and leaf litter.

White heliotrope is an understory plant here to the broomweed
Of course, the white heliotrope (Heliotropium tenellum) continues to bloom, as it has for most of the summer.

The broomweed (Amphiachyris dracunculoides) has begun blooming. These are about three feet tall, with a bushy habit. These are not at all specific to Texas, but are plentiful here. According to Wildflowers of Texas (Ajilvsgi), early settlers tied the plants to sticks and used them as brooms. Hmm, sounds like a fun thing to try with my daughter . . . 

I also found a mystery flower. The plant is small, with insignificant flowers. Upon closer inspection, and with the use of a camera, one discovers the beauty of those insignificant flowers, which feature sky blue anthers. I cannot find it in my books, so if anyone has a clue what this is – share it with me!

Favorite spot in the garden:

Everything across the front of this bed is blooming at one time! (Don’t look at the stuff behind, none of which is blooming.) From left to right, Gomphrena globosa ‘Fireworks’, remains of some oxblood lily blooms (Rhodophiala bifida), white and purple trailing lantana (Lantana montevidensis), bachelor buttons (Gomphrena globosa), and some stray purple morning glories and tropical sages (Salvia coccinea).