Thursday, April 26, 2012

Making kid magic.

I read an article recently commenting on the passage of time. It talked about that list of activities you want to do with your child. They are good ideas, but it’s never quite the right time. Then suddenly, your child turns 18.

I narrowly averted one of those regrets this week.

Five years or so ago I saw a picture of a child’s teepee made of long poles, with vines trained to grow up and shelter the space inside. How cool, I thought. I persuaded my husband to drag up long cedar poles and lash them to the outstretched branch of an Ashe juniper near our picnic table. I stuck some jack been seeds in the cedar mulch at the base of the poles and waited for the kid magic to happen.

It didn’t happen. The vines didn’t grow, and the teepee stood there year after year, neglected and unused, except for the time it was wrapped in a sheet for a senior English film project by my oldest son and his friends. They filmed a Westernized adaptation of  “Candide“; my daughter had a small role as a young Indian girl. This was not quite what I had in mind, but fun, nevertheless.

But as part of the gardening frenzy of this spring, Monday afternoon I conscripted my daughter to help me with clearing out under the teepee and planting. She was reluctant. She was engrossed in her own activity.  Nonetheless, she trudged over and began pulling weeds and removing rocks. Then she retrieved the broom while I retrieved the loppers, and she swept the dirt in the teepee while I lopped live oak scrub encroaching into the teepee space.  Next I gathered some plastic 1-gallon pots with the bottoms cut out and placed them at the base of several of the tent poles. We filled them with good garden soil and planted transplanted morning glories on either side of the door and hyacinth bean seeds in three other pots.

Somewhere in the middle of this, she got into the project, and began coming up with her own ideas to improve the teepee. She suggested bringing in dirt and putting turf grass on top, so she could lie down comfortably. We agreed that Native Americans probably used buffalo robes for floor coverings. Wish we had one of those . . .

So now I have a second chance to make this project work before my beautiful daughter is too old to enjoy it.  My fingers are crossed that the kid magic happens this time.

But really, I think the magic has already begun.

Favorite spot in my garden:

One of my favorite wildflowers began blooming this week, just in time for Wildflower Wednesday (hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone). The prairie brazoria (Warnockia scutellarioides) did not bloom at all in last year’s drought.   The plant pictured here is part of a volunteer colony in a flowerbed right outside my office window. I also saw some yesterday by the driveway – much smaller and less showy.   

This gem is native to calcareous soils in Central Texas (that’s us!), according to the Wildflower Research Center database. It blooms April to June, is 6 to 12” high (some in my bed are taller), can form extensive colonies and attracts butterflies. Love it!

Visit Clay and Limestone to see more wildflower pictures!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rioting in the garden

My garden is a riot of color. Between the blooms and the butterflies - oh my. I can't show all that is blooming this April Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (hosted by May Dreams Gardens), but I'll give you a sampling.

In my flower beds, the yarrow (Achillea millefolium var. occidentalis) is putting on an eye-catching show.

Other flowers showing their colors include Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) and the Engelmann daisies (Engelmannia peristenia). The daisies are showy on the roadsides in our area right now.

Blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum) continue blooming.

Cedar sages (Salvia roemeriana) continue to brighten a few shady areas. I want to spread these all over my property!

Out in the wild, lots more things are blooming. The two most prolific bloomers - in order of numbers - are the Drummond's skullcap (Scutellaria drummondii), which are carpeting the ground all around my house, and the prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), both shown in this picture.

The prickly pear began blooming this week. I'm not sure, but we may have the Texas prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri). The butterflies are so prevalent, you can hardly take a flower picture without one muscling its way into the frame. I think this is a painted lady, though it looks a little different than in my book.

Texas stars (Lindheimera texana - right) are still blooming, getting larger as the season advances.

The little darlings above have the most wonderful lemon smell when crushed underfoot; and I have just this minute figured out what they are:  annual pennyroyal (Hedeoma acinoides). They are native only to Texas, on limestone.

Zexmenia (Wedelia texana) has begun blooming. Last year, with the drought, it did not bloom at all. This is one of my favorite wildflowers here.

That's about it from the hill. Be sure to visit May Dreams Gardens to see what's blooming all over the place!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Just a member of the family . . .

One morning last week as I trundled a wheelbarrow load of garden soil, I startled a snake crossing the rock sidewalk. I watched him – warily, it’s true – as he slithered into the “red bed,” and underneath a yucca.

He/she was a non-venomous checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus marcianus). I am not a snake whiz, but we’ve seen this little critter several times. Last year, my husband caught him for the budding herpetologist to get acquainted with. The snake did not really enjoy this process, and before it was all over . . . he bit her. Her first snakebite!

This is the third or fourth sighting of a checkered garter snake near the side porch. Apparently it lives here as another member of our family, albeit a shy one. If so, its survival is impressive, as we have a cat. He is an old cat, though. Perhaps he’s a bit slow.

Today I consulted our A Field Guide to Texas Snakes (Alan Tennant) to look up the checkered garter snake. My picture matches the one in the book, so our identification seems to be correct.

According to the guide, our snake friend is common across Texas, except in East Texas. In Central Texas, it likes grassy upland areas near water, “where it is widespread but not numerous.” We see it near our ponds. And the reason it likes water: it eats worms, tadpoles, mice and frogs. In fact, one of our sightings was of the snake with a toad halfway down its throat.

These snakes bear live young, around 8” long, between late May and October. When full-grown, they average 15 to 28 inches in length, with one on record at 42.5 inches.  Ours is probably around 2 feet long.

The guide says that these snakes rove around at dawn and dusk in the spring and fall, and are completely nocturnal during the hot months. However, most of our sightings have been in the daytime.

An interesting historical tidbit:  the snake is named for Capt. Randolph B. Marcy. In 1852, Marcy mounted a two-month expedition to explore undocumented parts of the Texas and Oklahoma territories. He was the first white explorer of Palo Duro and Tule canyons and discovered the sources of the Red River. He also discovered 25 new species of mammals and 10 of reptiles, including the checkered garter snake. (Information from The Handbook of Texas Online.)

I guess we should give this fellow a name, if it’s going to hang around. Any ideas?

Favorite spot in the garden:

The blackfoot daisies (Melampodium leucanthum) and prairie verbenas (Glandularia bipinnatifida) are throwing a big party to celebrate the wet spring in the dry bed out front. Their colors juxtaposed against the century plant, woolly butterfly-bush (Buddleja marrubiifolia) and cenizo are very nice. Very nice, indeed.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Evil in the garden

I believe this is a milk thistle (Silybum marianum).
Apparently it has medicinal properties, but is invasive in some areas.

Once upon a time there lived a beautiful gardener who gardened beautifully. She loved her plants and sang sweetly to them as she wandered through her gardens, gently removing weeds here and distributing life-giving essences there.

One day, as she thanked the very tough plants that guarded the front entry to her castle, she noticed a new guard among her faithful companions. It was an interesting fellow, with green and white variegated leaves and thistle-like comportment. She was a kind and gentle gardener who welcomed newcomers to her kingdom.  She bade the new plant welcome, then stepped back and let it develop as it would.

Over the next several months, the plant grew and grew, prospering in its new home. In time, it showed its gratitude by offering a tribute:  lovely purple blooms.

“Ah,” she said. “Tis beautiful, just as I suspected it would be.”

Before long, the blooms turned to fluffy seed heads, and the beautiful gardener realized that perhaps the guard plant should be removed before it relieved the other plants of their duties by overpopulating the bed.  She wasn’t willing to part with her faithful companions, so the new fellow needed to move along to its next assignment.

But the new fellow liked his new home and job and did not want to leave. When the gardener began digging up the green and white plant, now an imposing three feet tall, she discovered it had defenses: deep roots and a prickly demeanor. It fought back.

But the beautiful gardener could be tough when necessary, so she persevered in the face of such animosity and eventually was able to roust the newcomer.

“You have served me well,” she told the guard plant, “but it’s time for you to rest.” She consigned its remains to the burn pile.

The following year, as she again wandered her gardens happily, she noticed a disturbing sight. Dotted here and there in the front bed were small green and white fellows.  Her guest had, after all, left its offspring behind.

“This will not do,” she told her companions. For the rest of that summer she diligently removed the little fellows whenever they showed themselves, dumping them across the driveway in a low spot. She was a kind and beautiful gardener, but she would not be taken advantage of.

In the third year, no interlopers appeared. Of course, that was a drought year so times were tough in the kingdom. In the fourth year, the rains came and the kingdom was lush and beautiful once again.

One day, as the gardener strolled the lane in front of her castle, she glanced to the side, and shrieked in horror. “THEY ARE BACK,” she shouted to her guard plants. In her quest to be welcoming and kind, the gardener had allowed an evil being into her kingdom.

It was time to take firm and decisive action. She had to protect her kingdom from such foul fellows.   She needed to resort to the dreaded, final measure, one she rarely needed to utilize:  Round-up.

Favorite spot in the garden:

My favorite spot is near the sidewalk from our parking spots to the house. The cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana), four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa) and white autumn sage (Salvia greggii) are all blooming in concert. It is so very lovely!