Friday, April 17, 2015

THE WILLOW LOOP

This spring has been an exceptional spring for wildflowers. Winter rains meant germination of seeds lying dormant in the soil and coupled with some warm February days it wasn't long before the road sides were a blaze of blue and red. Around Austin our state flower the bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, nearly lost the show to the Indian paintbrush, Castilleja indivia, this year.
We hadn't yet had the chance to take any road trips, but Wednesday promised to be a perfect day to head out to the Willow Loop.


This is the road to Sandy and bluebonnets were in thick swatches along the edges of the road. No doubt making the best use of roadside run-off.


Was this a good year for mimosa too. I have two blooming in my wild garden too.


The Willow Loop is a private road that winds its way through some pretty Texas hill country. Residents permit visitors on the condition that they don't stop. Of course people do. But there are too many reasons not to stop and during the quieter times it is easy to get out and take a few photographs. Our first stop was not for wildflowers but for Texas Longhorns. And they were so accommodating as they moved through the trees towards us.


The same ranch had dressed up their fence posts with cowboy boots.


This plaque on the tree caught my attention. Some historical oak tree, I thought. No....a memorial to one of the residents who met his untimely end at this tree. It was some time before I saw the wording around the Texas plaque.


A quick stop but a photograph, from the car, for this swarm of bees settled in a tree.


Then it was time to move on to see the real show. Several years ago we drove this same road, seen here,  and the prickly poppies, Argemone albiflora, were unbelievably beautiful.  We had every expectation that we would see the same scene again.


We began to see more and more poppies mixed in with bluebonnets.


And then suddenly on either side of the road a sea of white.


Such a delicate flower with tissue paper-like blooms. But the prickly poppy is also known for its prickly pods. I once tried to collect some seeds from one that appeared in my garden. Not so easy. Best to let them just seed themselves. When left alone they seem to do as good a job as bluebonnet at carpeting the countryside.


This is one plant you are not likely to come across at the Wildflower Center. Maybe they are afraid of the above happening.



We continued along the loop taking in beautiful hill country scenery and spotting other wildflowers such as the wine cups, penstemons and daisies. Then we headed towards Fredericksburg and the Navajo Grill for an early dinner. What a wonderful day.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A PERFECT DAY FOR VISITORS

When visitors come to my garden at this time of year I really like them to come early in the morning. That's because there is no shade and when the sun beats down the flowers tend to sulk. So when I learnt my visitors this week would arrive around 2:30pm I was worried for how they would find it. I need not have worried because the sun never came out and made for a really nice showing.

Sunken garden with bluebonnets, blackfoots, skullcaps.
California poppies, bluebonnets

Hinckley's columbine, corn poppies, 
 The Zephirine drouhin growing in the corner grew from a root of a potted rose that was in the corner. She is the most spectacular of the 3 Zephs. I have and has never been watered or fertilized. I let her do her own thing which is exactly what a rose likes.

Zephirine drouhin
 My visitors got to see both my Lady Banks roses. I bought a cutting of the  white Lady Banks rose, Rosa banksiae x banksiae from the Rose Museum in Tombstone, Arizona. The original rose was brought there in 1885 and was a cutting from the original rose brought from China by a Sir Joseph Banks expedition in 1805.
Lady Banks' rose
My yellow rose in the front garden was at its peak this week and what a show with her clusters of tiny double yellow flowers.


Another big bloomer and at its peak this week was the cross vine, Bignonia capreolata, tangerine beauty. Would you know there was a greenhouse hiding under here? This is the very same vine that I cut back down to the ground 2 years ago. As I pulled out a root from a standing position I fell backwards and ended up being unable to move for 3 days. I have to cut it back again this year but a cut-back is all it is getting.

Everyone got to see the Claret cup cactus. This clump had 20 blooms this year.


And in the herb garden the culinary sage was a mass of purple blooms.


I had a few ladies question me about the tiny plant pots on top of the bamboo canes. Do you know why they are there? So I don't poke my eye out!


Yes, my visitors couldn't have come at a more perfect time.



Friday, April 10, 2015

A DAY SPENT WITH GARDENERS

This week I had the pleasure of leading a group of gardeners, Rock'n Oaks Garden Club, from San Antonio, on a tour at The Wildflower center. It was my first time back this year and I have to say everything was looking beautiful.

Admissions kiosk and green roof
The great thing about taking gardeners on a tour is their interest level in everything. I signed up for this tour a long time ago because I knew it was organized by Shirley from Rock Oak Deer. It was such a large group we needed 2 docents. After giving my introduction to the center, with a brief history and architecture, it was on to check out what was in bloom. Wisely, the Wild Flower Center makes sure that the bluebonnet does not take over! After all there are plenty of other spring flowers who would like to share the limelight.


Just beyond the entrance they have set up a station for viewing the Great-Horned owl. Yes, back again for a fifth year and I am told with three owlets. They have binoculars so you can get a really good view of the nest and a felt cut-out to demonstrate the wing span of the owl when in flight. The owl appears not to mind an open nest and is more than happy next to the sotol in the wall planter. I wonder what they make of all the gawkers.



But that was the end of my photography because I was too busy with the tour. Nevertheless I was determined to take some when the group followed on to our house after the picnic lunch.
I had been trying to decide all week whether we were going to tramp through the bluebonnets down the side of the house. After visiting the front garden the natural way is to go out through the front gate and down the side of the house. We haven't walked down here all spring but because the bluebonnets are fading and I have another much larger group at the end of the month I decided we would tip toe through the bluebonnets. And so we did... in single file.


And after I had taken this photo my camera abilities went to sleep again and didn't awaken until I realized I didn't have a photo of the group. So, as they were about to leave I got them all together, David included, for a group photo.


It was a fun day. I went straight into the house, put the kettle on and put my feet up. Stay tuned for what the group saw in the garden that day.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

SAY HELLO TO MY NEW.......

little fish in the side-entry stock tank water garden. I don't have any live fish in this pond but may add some mosquito fish this year.


Of course you probably know where he came from but I won't tell.  I had to give him several coats of sealant to make him water proof and for now he is above the water line on a temporary stand while I think of a better perch.


The floating rafts made it through the winter and look as good as ever. So much so that with some help from David I made two more this weekend. They will help shade the water surface in the larger stock tank until the water lilies cover the surface.



There is a little less shade here this year due to some trimming back of low branches on the live oak tree. That meant not so many cactus on the steps. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

EASTER GREETINGS

Happy Easter. There are so many flowers blooming now in my Texas garden but one is especially significant for the season of Easter. The Easter cactus, Rhipsalidopsis gaetneri, is known for blooming at this time of year. Not to be confused with the Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus this member of the leaf cactus hails from Brazil. Mine came from a Coeur d'Alene garage sale!


This is its second year and I feel quite blessed that it is blooming right on cue. I say this because conditions have to be just perfect for it to flower. It requires cool short nights and a dry period between October and November. Then it will respond to watering and warmer temperatures by producing buds in the early spring. This plants has had occasion to drop a good many of its leaves which it will do to tell you that it is not happy.


I tucked a few of my painted Easter eggs around the base to dress it up for this happy day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A COMPRESSED SEASON

I have decided that we are having a compressed season this year. I noticed that flowers that normally bloom in February did not bloom until March. I can't speak for the weather in January because we were traveling but February was much colder than usual, especially the later part. We had plenty of fall rain which germinated the wildflowers but that cold February brought an abundance of vegetative growth. My bluebonnets are much taller than usual.


You wouldn't believe that a dry creek runs through here and there are stepping stones leading to the front gate. The bluebonnets are hiding the downed live oak leaves for now!
And I definitely remember saying "No bluebonnets in the sunken garden next year" I daren't even show you a picture of the English Garden! Yes, you can have too many bluebonnets.


Or that the walkway around the side of the house to the side gate is impenetrable. That's Lady Banks' rose hanging over the wall.


Early March came brought a lot of weather ups and downs. Warm days followed by a killing frost, for those of us who garden on the edges of the hill country. Tender new growth, on lots of plants, was zapped overnight. No Mountain Laurel blooms over here this year and probably no pomegranates. But mother nature was ready to make up for it with a nice rain followed by day after day of 80° temperatures. All at once everything wants to bloom. Daffodils bloomed, were buffeted by winds and heat. They lasted only a few days.


These tiny rock garden daffs, with their string-like foliage are having a great bloom season but it is cut short by the heat.


Clumps of Crow Poison ( False Garlic) Nothoscordum bivalve, are attractive when in clumps but an intruder when they come up among other plants. Because they grow from a bulb they are difficult to eradicate.


Here's a new visitor to the garden. Scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum. It's an annual but it is putting on a stunning display. I bought 3 small plants in the fall but only one has really thrived.


Here's its native cousin, the prairie flax, Linum lewisii.


Large clumps of Texas beargrass, basket grass, Nolina texana, are also flowering. Their creamy white blooms attract lots of bees.


Iris, California poppies, blue eyed grass, columbines, gaura, pink primroses are just a few of my later blooms making an earlier appearance. I just hope we get a little rain this weekend to extend the bloom time.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

BRINGING FRAGRANCE INTO THE HOUSE

There are several ways to bring your garden fragrance into the house. The first is with cut flowers. Today I picked these white 'cheerfulness' jonquils. Their stems were battered down by strong winds yesterday so rather than try to prop them back up again I cut them and brought them inside. Their perfume reminds me of Easter when I was a child.


Their double white blooms with a touch of yellow in the center are intensely fragrant. Don't mix them with other cut flowers because their stems exude a substance which makes other flowers wilt.
But there is another way to bring the sweet smell of the garden into the house and that is to plant a fragrant vine by the door. This one, planted by the French door, is Jasminum polyanthum.


This vine, seen here on a trellis on a south facing wall, grows by twining itself around its own stems. It can grow as large as 25' but is easily controlled by pruning back after flowering. The flower buds are pink, hence its common name pink jasmine, opening to white. The first time I saw this vine was on the house we bought in Southern California. It was draping over the trellis outside the kitchen window. One day I came home and the whole vine was gone. The house had a zero lot line and the vine was growing on the other side of the wall in next door's garden. They had cut it down to the ground. I have done that myself before now and this year my plant will get a good pruning to bring it to a manageable size.


At my front door I grow Confederate jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, sometimes called star jasmine. It's a few days away from flowering at the moment which is probably a good thing. When the fragrance from one plant has diminished another will take its place. This evergreen vine is growing on a north facing wall with a little shelter from the porch over the front door. It has been here for 12 years. One year it was severely damaged by a late freeze when the sap was starting to rise. That resulted in split bark and die back. Nevertheless after dead tissue was removed it began new growth. The flowers on this Confederate jasmine has a slight yellow tinge. There is also a pure white-flowered variety.

April 2010
Does fragrance waft into your house when you open the door? Both these plants can be grown in pots in cooler climates and overwintered indoors.