Saturday, May 25, 2013

Life's Wheel

This plant is unknown, but seems
to enjoy our woods!
                    These past few weeks in my English Honors class, we have been reading Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt. Frequently used throughout the story is the metaphor : "Life is a Wheel." These past few weeks, I for once decided to actually try to LEARN, and READ (shocking, I know) in Mrs. H's class, and I discovered that it was slightly (okay maybe REALLY) worth it.

Peach. sadly not ripe.
Our squash plant's leaves
after a good drink

Today, I went out to cater to my chickens, and decided to take a while, and ride my life's wheel. I lay with my back to the ground, and stared up at the sky, partly obscured by jealous trees. I took deep breaths, and felt the woods hum about me. The ash junipers stood still, moved by the occasional rogue wind, and the summertime air was hot, and dense. It was glorious. There is almost nothing better in this life, than standing in the woods, oblivious to human nature, and society, and listening to life itself.    

Ashe Juniper (cedar) trees. Again, in the corner, is the mystery plant.

This is our peach tree's trunk. Oddly enough, it seems to enjoy growing in our chicken pen!

Gray Santolina, ever cheerful.

Mexican Hat. We happen to have a ginormous patch of it near
our veggie garden.
So now the yuccas bloom, the verbena flower, the bees cluster around the ponds, and I head for  my 12th summer vacation. I suggest, this summer, that you all take a minute or two, to simply ride life's wheel, instead of driving.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Scenes from the Wildflower Center's Garden Tour

This garden's standing cypress was stunning.
While we were on the Great Nursery Tour of 2013 (last week), I commented to my friend that we should definitely go on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s next Garden Tour. It was sure to have many interesting gardens, and would feature lots of native plants. 

Later that day, I popped open Facebook, and a notification jumped out at me:  the Wildflower  Center’s tour was the coming weekend (May 11). Mind you, my entire family was coming to celebrate my dad’s 75th birthday on this day.

I love this combination!
Did that deter me? Oh no.

Bright and early Saturday morning, we (Lona, my dad and I) jumped in the car and headed to Austin on a schedule. We were determined to see two, maybe three of the gardens and be home by lunchtime.

Detail of the fern wall (on the left under the porch
overhang in the large photo above). A/C condensate
provides water for this feature, according to the handout.

After a lengthy discussion, not only about which gardens to visit and in what order, but also about how much trouble we have making decisions, we made a plan and then executed it. We managed to visit three gardens, and had a lovely morning communing with plants and other gardeners.

And yes, we made it home by lunch and before the other guests arrived. I even had time to spiff up the bathroom!

Hope you enjoy a few pictures of what we saw. I really would like to visit more of the gardens on next year’s tour.

This area is beyond the pool in the photo above.

More detail from the same garden.
Because the lot was steeply sloped,
the garden required extensive terracing (left).
I really liked this bird watering station (above).

My dad, enjoying the deck. Behind him is a view of the Austin skyline.
We also liked the succulent garden centerpieces.

This succulent garden literally stopped me in my tracks. It greeted visitors at the last house we visited, which also was sited on a steeply sloped lot, with a wildflower meadow, orchard, vegetable garden, pond, buffalo grass lawn, etc.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Nursery Tour 2013

"This one? Or this one? Hmmm."
Many years ago, a dear friend and I began a tradition of visiting a new nursery each spring. We would spend hours at our chosen business, looking at demonstration gardens and debating the merits of this plant versus that plant. I would soak up her plant knowledge.

We had children in tow (her youngest is 15, mine 11) until they started school. Luckily, many nurseries supply little red wagons just for entertaining small children. Oh, those are for hauling plants? That works, too.

Over the years, we have visited every nursery we could get to during the school day.

On our trips, we talk about all manner of things:  children (our oldest sons are best friends and have been since kindergarten – they are men now), careers (she is a fine artist, and you can see her work here), and husbands (no comment).

And of course, we discuss and admire lovely plants. We are not landscapers, but plant collectors. Usually we discover some new plant to add to our collection. Because we are frugal, each plant choice requires much thoughtful debate and consideration.

Audra made us feel welcome at Bloom.
Yesterday we visited two nurseries, beginning with Bloom in nearby Dripping Springs. I had been there many years ago; this was Lona’s first visit. The nursery surrounds an old house. As is practical in a small town, the business has two sides: the house holds a bakery and lunch place called Thyme and Dough. We found some plants we needed that we hadn't seen elsewhere. We also found some sweets. We give the nursery and bakery our seal of approval.

Wildflower meadow at The Natural Gardener.
Next, we headed north to The Natural Gardener, one of the premier nurseries in Austin. We visited here last when my daughter was young. Truth be told, we did not love this nursery. It sold plants mostly in 1-gallon containers – too pricey for us. But it had some nice demonstration gardens. This made it the perfect destination for this year’s excursion:  a place with things to look at, but not to buy.

Or so we thought.

I was wowed by this garden art at The Natural Gardener. I am standing under a cedar gazebo.
This is a good use of a water feature
for a drought-prone area!

We spent quite a bit of time wandering through the demonstration gardens, much expanded since our last visit. We saw a labyrinth, a ground guitar surrounded by grass plots and a wildflower meadow, a kitchen/medicinal garden, animals (chickens and goats), a vegetable garden, and much more.

Then we headed over to the sales area. This nursery offers lots of xeric plants, with a wide selection of yuccas, agaves and succulents, as well as some of the usual annuals. Soon we came to those perennials sold in one-gallon pots.

Look at all the lovelies!
But wait, what was this?  A whole row of perennials in 4” pots – oh nooooooooo!

Overall, we were proud of our restraint. We came home with a reasonable amount of plants to fill existing holes in the garden. I have already put most of mine into their holes (supposedly rain is on its way!).

More importantly, we enjoyed a lovely day catching up on each other’s news and admiring beautiful plants and gardens. I think we should continue this tradition. What do you think, Lona?

Kitchen/medicinal garden designed by Austin designer Lucinda Hutson.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Where the wild things are: on the hill!

Walking sticks have appeared
on our porch.
It must be spring, because all kinds of wild creatures are presenting themselves for observation at our country home.

We’ve seen some rare-to-us birds in the last few weeks. A golden-cheeked warbler perched on a branch outside our picture window a week ago, begging to be observed. These warblers actually are rare: they are listed as an endangered species. They only nest in the oak-juniper woodlands of Central Texas, and boy, do we have lots of home sites for them! We have continued to see him occasionally, and this morning we saw two––maybe a pair nesting nearby? This is the ultimate for an amateur naturalist––providing habitat for an endangered species!

Although this is a terrible picture, perhaps it's the perfect picture of a rare, shy endangered bird. Can you find him?
A Nashville warbler has been hanging around for several weeks, enjoying the birdbath. On Sunday, a summer tanager spent the day with us. We heard his call and knew he was not one of our regular visitors.  He finally landed on our picnic table so we could identify him.

Pine siskin (left) and Carolina chickadee
enjoy the seeds.

Another harbinger of spring (not at all rare) has arrived: chuck-will’s-widows. We’ve been hearing their night calls for several weeks.

A cottontail has been hopping around the yard. When we first moved in, many cottontails lived here. But we brought two cats and a dog with us, and the rabbits moved out.  We’re down to one rickety cat now, and this dog isn’t interested in chasing them.  I guess the rabbits (or at least this one) decided it was safe to return.

Our resident checkered garter snake finally woke up from his winter nap. My daughter and I startled him this weekend as he swam with the goldfish. He leaped out of the pond, and then slithered away slowly, and if to say, “Yeah, I’m back. It’s no big deal.” 

That same afternoon, I walked out into a field to inspect the first prickly pear bloom and heard a rustling to my left. I looked over to see a rather large snake crawling up a cedar tree.  I came back with binoculars and my budding herpetologist, and we spied him lounging on a branch about 40 feet high. We think he was a coach whip.

The fire ants are busy making trails across the driveway.
Of course, the whitetail deer are ever present. A pair skittered away as I went to my car one day last week. We don’t usually see them near the house, thanks to the presence of our dog, Iris.

Other recent sightings include a leopard frog squatting on the edge of the minnow pond. He appears to be dozing, but I’m sure if something edible came within reach he would leap into action. Lots of squirrels have been raiding our black oil sunflower feeders. My husband has harvested a few of them for our table. Free range, hormone-free, and . . . free! And before you ask, they taste like chicken––little bitty chickens.

Night before last, a coyote chorus serenaded us. We were sleeping with the windows open, on a quiet spring night. We awoke to the sounds of yipping and howling from the next-door neighbor’s property. I lay there smiling, because their song was so clear and distinct and perfect for the night. They sang for only a few moments, and then slipped away to their next engagement.

Oh, how I love living in the country!