Monday, September 28, 2015


Yesterday I worked outside my walls. I had a new plant to put in the ground. This cane cholla, Opuntia imbricata, was a passalong from one of our garden group. He gardens under much friendlier circumstances that I, so I am not going to promise that this plant will continue to look as good as it looks right now. It will only be getting the water that falls from the sky and growth is slow in this area.

It came home in two brown bags and it was no easy matter getting it into those bags. But at home I just happened to have the perfect transporter and holder to get it into the chosen spot in the ground. Never throw anything away, that's my motto. This old bath rug certainly came in handy. I didn't even wear gloves.

The opuntia wasn't the only 'nasty' I dealt with. I finally decided to pull out this beast, Agave lophantha. It was badly damaged by hail in the spring, losing many of its lower leaves, and had become too big for the space inside the front courtyard. I used our monster rock pry bar to get it out. Never had to get anywhere near it. I dragged it by its roots though the gate and into this area, dug a hole and dropped it in. That is better treatment than the Sotol behind it got when it was relocated some years ago, also from the entry courtyard. Both these plants have vicious spines. But they come with toughness built in so just as the sotol survived so will the agave.

You can see the area on the left, where the agave used to be. I am re-working this area by adding a layer of rocks with dry plants at the front and those that need a little more water at the back in the second row. I have relocated some low-growing day lilies from the back garden which will drape over the wall with echinacea and and columbines and various spring annuals.

Everything outside is enjoying the moderation in our temperatures. Still in the 90s during the day, and well above normal for this time of year, but mornings have been cooler. The lantana, Lantana horrida, after a complete cut-back, is blooming as is the Lindheimer senna.

And finally the purple trailing lanana. It returns faithfully every year but has bided its time this year only beginning to flower this week.

Come on fall bloomers. The days are growing shorter and cooler. It's time for a big show.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


I decided some time ago that I needed to paint the bamboo in the jar the same color as the Whale's tongue agave, Agave ovatifolia. It's only craft paint but has stood up well to the elements. Alas, not so the agave which succumbed to poor drainage. This is the new one I planted last week which has wavier leaves. Paired here with red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora and Ruby crystal grass, Melinis nerviglumis, the painted bamboo ties this little group together.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


It's not a plant that everyone would want to grow even though it has such amazing flowers. The problem is that when the flowers opens they emit a smell like rotting flesh. And you know what is attracted to rotting flesh-flies. Who wants to attract flies to their garden?

Surprisingly, Stapelia gigantea, is a member of the milkweed family, Asclepidaceaea, and native to South Africa. Sometimes called the carrion flower because of that smell of rotting flesh, the flowers even have the texture of animal skin, including long hairs.

Don't rub your finger across the surface because something you don't like is sure to rub off on you.
The flower parts are found deep in the center of the plant requiring a very small pollinator. When I looked at the flowers a day later there was evidence that a pollinator had been by or at least something had laid its eggs in the center of the flower. They had hatched overnight and were wiggling around. I wasn't waiting around to find out what they would turn into. Promptly dispatched into a sealed plastic bag.

I was surprised to see flower buds just 3 days ago and had been watching each day for the momentous occasion. You can see the twist at the end of the flower bud. I'm guessing that tension must build up in the twist until the flower just bursts open.

It's not the only stinky flower in my garden. Huernia schneideriana, is hanging in a planter on the gate, but its flowers are tiny and you have to get up very close to detect any aroma.

Both these plants have similar stems. This one may look spiny but it isn't. The stems are upright when young but then drape with their own weight. In nature they would like to spread along the ground sending out roots along the length of their stems. They make the perfect draper until their branches get  heavy and just drop off. Unfortunately for them it is usually onto the concrete. Neither of these plants are hardy in Texas but they never bloom during the winter so there is no danger of that smell in the house.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Two of my favorite views of my whale's tongue agave, Agave ovatifolia, are looking through the side gate into the front garden.

And the view from the upper gravel area. From both angles it is such a huge focal point.

But something was wrong. Black patches were beginning to appear deep in the heart of the plant. It could only mean one thing. Rot. The cause could be one of two things. The dreaded agave weevil or poor drainage.

Agave snout weevil
We lost an agave outside the garden to these devils last year. Fortunately we were alerted to the problem by some creature rooting for grubs underneath the plant so we were able to capture many adults and grubs. Hopefully this was not the problem here.
There is no easy way to remove such a large agave. First I cut the tips of the leaves. More damaging than the tip spines are the curved spines along the leaf margins. Nothing to be done there. I began by taking the saw and sawing through the more open leaves. That went well and in no time I had the majority cut down. What a ragged mess.

Then I began to notice that my legs were stinging. Of course I was wearing shorts. Then a light went on in my brain. I recalled someone referring to the sap of agaves being highly allergenic. I downed tools, rushed through the house tearing off my clothes an jumped in the pool. Then I got out the hydrocortisone cream. The stinging began to subside. The job ended there because I had to leave for the afternoon. When I came home the stump was removed and the area tidied up. Thank you David. He assured me there was no evidence of weevils and that the ground was surprisingly dry. This damage must have started a long time ago and progressed rapidly with our rainy fall and June.
Quickly moving on; this morning I planted a new Whale's Tongue but added lots of granite and mounded the area tilting the agave to the front so that any water will drain away from the crown.

I hunted for a few rocks to help camouflage the mound and have plans to add some blackfoot daisies to soften the whole area.
And the lesson is to wear long pants, longs sleeves, gloves and goggles when dealing with agaves.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Drive around Texas after a fall rain and as like as not you'll see roadsides of rain lilies, Zephranthes ssp and gardens of oxblood lilies, Rhodophiala bifida. Today I had four different kinds of lily open in response to the rain we had last week. The most prolific are the Ox-blood lilies which I have clumps in a couple of places. Many years ago a garden friend offered me some of her bulbs. They were in full flower.  "Just take them home and put them in water, enjoy them in the house and when the flowers die just plant them in the ground" What a forgiving plant which will allow you to dig it up when in full bloom and then enjoy its flowering for days. Come fall, and following a rain you notice a small nub of green peeking through the ground and within a day or two the flower bursts open from a single green stem. Later, when the flowers die two strappy leaves appear and remain until early summer the following year before they disappear. During their dormant time they prefer to be dry. They also prefer to be planted with their bulb tip just above the ground.

Our native rain lily flower, Z. drummondii, comes from a deep rooted bulb. I try to gather the black seeds before they fall because much as they like my my herb garden I would like them to bloom elsewhere.

My pink rain lilies,  Zephyranthes ssp, don't seem to produce seed at all. How I wish they would.

But the yellow ones do, and they now seem to be popping up in different places.

Long stems of liatris open their flowers from the top down. I watched a queen butterfly visit today. She must have forsaken the Gregg's blue mistflower, Eupatorium greggii,  blooming in the back garden.

This year I took out the gray globemallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, in the potager. Much as I loved its prolific orange blooms it just seemed to clash with the other plants. In its place I planted the more delicate pink variety which drapes over the low wall.

And my native Texas Indian mallow, Aubutilon fruticosum, in the front garden has a similar delicate appearance but velvety leaves.

Temperatures may still be in the 90s but both flowers and gardeners know we have broken the back of summer and we have only fall to look forward to you.
And Rock Rose wishes you a Happy September Bloom Day.

Thanks Carol at Maydreams for hosting Bloom Day for gardeners everywhere.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Last year, at my local nursery, they had some floating islands in their water garden. What a great idea. They were made out of some kind of dense black material with a hole in the center in which you could put a pot. The price tag was enough to get me thinking about how I could replicate something like this at little or no cost. Scouting around in the garage I came across the perfect materials and in no time I had three of them floating on the water. If you re at all interested directions on how I made them follow.

They are ideally suited to plants which like to be submerged in the water. I have two stock tank ponds, one which enjoys full sun and one in a more shady location. In the smaller of the two tanks I have golden variegated Japanese sweet flag, Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' and Horsetail, Equesetum sp. both in floating planters.

There are several advantages to having these floating islands.They make for a much tidier appearance than plant pots standing on bricks and they provide a perfect resting spot for wildlife. What frog doesn't like to float around the pool on his personal raft.

So what did I use and how did I put it together? Firstly I cut some circles out of this solid insulation foam cutting an inner circle the diameter of the pot I wanted to use.I happened to pick up a sheet of this at a garage sale. I knew it would come in handy one day!

My plan was to cover them with the heavy material used to cover the silt fencing. We happened to have some of that from when we built the house and it was a matter of removing it from the wire. I cut a circle of the material enough to fold right over the foam. I then pinned and stapled it down. It is not a permanent solution but it has held up well and means that if I need to redo the material it is easy enough to pull out.

I cut slits in the material and removed a lot of the excess so that there wasn't too much bulk.

Then slipped the pot into the hole pinning down the material. All ready to plant.

Any lightweight foam would do and there are probably a number of options for cover material. Black seems to work best with the dark water surface.
These plants will never be high and dry if the water level falls.

Monday, September 7, 2015


When I posted the photograph of my Texas fishhook barrel cactus, Ferocactus hamatacanthus, earlier this week I was totally unaware of its most amazing perfume. Today the air in the front garden was filled with this incredible fragrance. Unable to find any likely candidate I bent down very carefully to smell the blooms on the cactus and sure enough I found the source. I can only guess that it was a combination of the dense humid air coupled with temperature that favored us with such an overwhelming fragrance.

The blooms have lasted 4 days, although they are now beginning to fade.

Then in another part of the garden a different fragrance. This time one of sweet almonds. The Blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum, is putting on a show in more ways than one.

It is probably a good thing that my chocolate flowers, Berlandiera lyrata, are confined to the back garden because I think the mix would be a little overwhelming. On a warm humid morning you would think that there was a Cadbury factory in the neighborhood. At other times you might have to kneel down and get close to the flower for your chocolate fix. But make sure you do it in the morning because by mid-day the flowers will have closed.

I'm sure there are many more native flowers with a pleasant fragrance. Do you have any blooming this September? I'd love to hear about them.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


My garden has got the blues. Cape plumbago, Plumbago auriculata, on the left and Leadwort plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, on the right. They happily share the same spot in a morning sun because they have different growing habits. Cape plumbago stands a couple of feet tall and leadwort is a ground cover spreading by underground rhizomes. I love them both because they bloom at the hottest time of the year. Both of them disappear over the winter and their place is taken by the Heart-leaf skullcap. When that dies down in late spring the plumbagos take over. Over the winter a Yucca rostrata towers over the area.

But I shall have to admit that I have been feeling a little blue of late. It 's been a horrible year for my garden. First horrendous hail followed by endless rains and now no rain in July and just an unmeasurable amount in August. Twice recently there has been a threat of rain and a brief shower one time may have washed a little dust off the leaves. But with that cold front came a change in barometric pressure and that is pure magic. The first to bloom is the Texas sage, Leucophyllum frutescens. Sometimes called the barometer bush, a title well deserved.

The pink one is growing outside the walls where it gets no irrigation. It was a seedling from ones I had at the front of the house; long gone because they didn't get enough sun to bloom. But then I have a white one in the front garden , not as showy as the pink/purple but pairing well with another fall bloomer, Salvia leucantha, which is just starting to bloom. You don't see the white ones very often and this one came from Vivero Gardens.

The change in pressure also caused a blooming of rain lilies and today a cactus is blooming. My Texas Fishhook cactus, has four gorgeous blooms. Now what could dispel a gardener's blues faster than a blooming cactus.

Or maybe it would be the Texas clematis, Clematis texensis, Princess Diana. Just blooming all summer long. This one, which I purchased in the fall to replace a Confederate jasmine, was sheltered from the spring hailstorm by the potted citrus.

If only all my citrus were doing as well as the Calamondin. It lost all its fruit and flowers in the hail but bloomed again and is now filled with ripening fruit as well as a few sweetly scented blooms. It should be loaded with tiny orange fruits by Chinese New Year in February. Grow this as an ornamental bringing in to the house in winter and it will be sure to chase away any winter blues.

If, at the start of the week, I said I was going to give up gardening then the garden gods made sure that I had changed my mind my the weekend.