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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

TEXAS SNAKES. A review

The holiday season will be upon us soon and the mad panic for gifts. What to get the avid gardener or nature lover? Here's an idea. Texas Snakes, by James R. Dixon, John E Werler, and Michael R. J. Forstner. Published by the University of Texas Press.


Just a few days ago I found a snake in my water collection system. Feeling rather guilty I fished him out, (I think he had been in there for a while because he didn't slither off) went in the house to get my camera and took his photo. His markings were certainly different from the more common snakes we see around the garden. After checking in this guide I decided he was plains hog-nosed snake. I'm pleased to say when I went the check the next morning he was gone. 

I posted his picture on face book and almost immediately someone asked if he was poisonous. Isn't that what everyone always wants to know. Many people think only of the venomous snakes and to many every snake out there is just that. 

I like the fact that the books answers these questions right away. Turn to the first two pages in this book and you will see listed 108 non-venomous snakes and only 16 venomous ones. And of those 8 are rattle snakes and 3 are copperheads. In the introduction a number of pages are given over to each of the latter. Enough maybe to allay the fears of many and ways to reduce the chances of snake bites.

The book gives a good basic education on the habits of snakes and why they are so important to the environment. By far the larger content of the book is given to non-venomous snakes to be found in Texas and illustrated with excellent color plates. 

Perhaps reading this book might just save your life and a snake's life too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

FALL IN THE VEGETABLE GARDEN


 Over the last few weeks I have concentrated some of my gardening time( just an hour or so a day is still all I can manage) on preparing the vegetable and herb garden for the fall/winter growing season. Arguably the variety of crops that can be grown successfully over winter far out-number those grown during the spring/summer season, although some of the fall plants will mature during the early spring.

 Before I could even begin to prepare the beds I had to first remove much of what had been growing in the pathways all summer. This included the many grasses, blanket flowers, gomphrena, pink, purple, strawberry and 'Fireworks." I am always torn between having flowers spilling over the pavers and the neat and tidy look of having nothing to impede moving around when working out there. When I clean everything out in the fall I know this is the look I like but then when they all start growing in the spring I like that too. How to balance this with the hours spent removing them is the challenge at this stage in my life.

Even now I have left a few to enjoy the last of their blooms.

Then I had to tackle the beds themselves, removing the layer of cedar mulch that had been been on there for 2 years saving it to either mulch another area of the garden or return to the beds after planting. Each bed got one bag of new 'garden soil' purchased from a big box store. 



 

We decided that because our gardens are so difficult to access that it was more economical on the body to move them by the bag. Plus we no longer have a truck to transport bulk material. 



 Weeks ago I started some winter vegetables inside, under grow lights.  I find they stand a better chance against snails and caterpillars if they are a decent size when planted outside. 

broccoli, baby pak choi, kale




             red cabbage, parsley

Beets and carrots were sown directly in the ground. They are now up and growing well. One of my weaknesses is my inability to pinch out plants but with the beets as soon as they are big enough to add to the salad bowl. I promise I will!


Kale, pak choi, broccoli and cabbage are now all big enough to go into the ground.


I have a few packets of seeds including Napa cabbage, lettuce and radish which I will direct sow over the next few weeks. 

Peas are struggling with the heat. I probably planted a little early. 

 

We kept the citrus trees out on the driveway this year, mainly for ease of transport into the garage during periods of freezing temperatures. All that is except the smaller kumquat and the orange. The kumquat was a rescue citrus and it was a few years before I even knew what it was. Last year was the first fruiting which has increased this year. It makes great marmalade.

I see the beginnings of ripening on one of the fruits.


The orange tree has not done so well. One last chance to improve itself!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

GOODBYE SUMMER, HELLO FALL

At last! Temperatures are moderating and fall is on the way. It is not just the gardener who is celebrating the advent of the new season but the garden plants are too.

All that is except the plumeria. A few nights of temperatures in the 50s and it is already beginning to cry "I'm out of here" Shortening days mean the plant starts to cut back on food production, the leaves turn yellow as the supply of food is reduced. The leaf forms  an abscission layer and eventually falls off. 

 Every day new leaves fall and soon it will be time to move the plant into the garage. During the winter it will receive no water and will go completely dormant. Because the plants are so large I plan to do some pruning before I move them which will make the job a lot easier. 


 

Flower colors become more vibrant as with the native orange lantana, Lantana horrida. And the award winning David Austin rose, Rosa 'Molineaux', blooming again for the first time in months. This shrub rose is a repeat bloomer and named for David Austin's favorite soccer team. 

 

There are lots of flowers that are repeat blooming such as the Verbena, Verbena bonariensis whose lanky growth was cut back to the ground a few weeks ago.


Another repeat bloomer is the soft leaf yucca, Yucca recurvifolia, which the deer have failed to find. 

 

It has become quite a free-for-all of flowering plants in the sunken garden with Perovskia, white Salvia greggii, mealy blue sage, Salvia farinacea, frost weed Verbesina virginica, and Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha.


 But there are some plants that bloom only in the fall. They wait patiently for the shorter days before they begin to bloom. Notable in my garden is the Philippine violet, Barleria cristata. 


It blooms best when given plenty of sun and is one of my favorite fall bloomers because it attracts neither bugs nor disease. It dies to the ground during a normal winter and shifts a little from its original positions as the center often becomes very woody and dies out. 

And finally the bush clover, Lespedeza thunbergii, waits patiently to bloom in the partly shaded border of the English garden. 


There are lots of short day plants which will bloom over the next few months including chrysanthemums, poinsettias, Christmas cactus. Make sure the later receives at least 15 hours of darkness from now on. 

Happy Fall Y'all.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A BUCKET A DAY KEEPS THE WILDERNESS AT BAY

 I think I would somehow feel cheated if I didn't pull out at least one bucket of vegetation every day. It is what I do best! When I analyze my style of gardening it is to allow plants to grow with wild abandon. Self seeding plants everywhere and plants allowed to remain until even I find it necessary to bid them goodbye. That takes a lot but it does eventually arrive. And every year I look on enviously at my fellow gardeners with their well-managed borders and thriving plants and wish I could do it that way. But I am trying and maybe two buckets a day would get me there.

 

This week I started to pull out Gomphrena 'fireworks' as well as some of the many ruby crystal grasses in the herb garden. I like to have a few plants growing between the pavers but by the end of summer it becomes too many. The Ministry of Silly Walks has nothing on how we get from A to B in this garden. And in every other garden too! While in that area I tackled pulling out one of the clumps of society garlic. It is actually growing in one of the herb beds but unlike the real chives (not garlic chives) it is prolific in its spread. The roots had become so intertwined that in the end I had to use a pick axe and even with that I left a lot of roots behind. A quick text to my new neighbor to see if she would like some and she did. I am more than happy not to have to put them in the garbage can.

It leaves a nice space to add some new herbs for the winter, like parsley, chives and maybe some dwarf sage-if I can find it and of course some edible flowers like calendula and violas. The one dwarf sage plant, Salvia officinalis minum, I had died this summer. It was so well behaved that I regret its passing.

 Further along I have removed the purple basil which did not like the rain. Cilantro is beginning to germinate from last years seeds. I had to break a little piece off the seed leaf and roll it in my fingers to smell it. Yes! Cilantro. I did the same with another seedling growing in between the pavers-definitely parsley.

It was a bad year for my various thymes. The lemon and variegated thymes did poorly. Only the culinary one seems to make it from year to year, which is a good thing because I use a lot of both fresha nd dried thyme in cooking.

I'm hoping the Mexican mint marigold will flower this year as last year, for the very first time, it failed to flower. I don't see any flower buds yet.

I moved around into the front of the house to tackle a rather large agave that was in the way.  At one time we could walk across the creek and up some steps into the granite area. Delightful when it appeared from beneath the rocks it was now too big and impeding the way.

 If you have ever had the need to remove an agave then you know the only way to tackle it is to cut off the leaves one by one. I use a serrated knife. I suppose you would call that the easy bit of the job.

 Now to find someone to do the hard bit. David! And even he complained how difficult it was because the plant had come from up above and its root was firmly wedged under the rock. 

But there is more to be done. This one needs to go too so that once again we can walk up the steps.


But that will have to wait for another day. The buckets are full.





 
 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

OXBLOOD LILIES Rhodophiala bifida

Oxblood lilies, Rhodophiala bifida, are such a common sight in our gardens and on garden posts at this time of year that I was almost hesitant to write about them. Surely everyone knows about this truly delightful fall-flowering bulb. However, there are plenty of newcomers to Texas every year and frequent new questions on Facebook asking for an id, so I  thought I would share the ones growing in my garden. They all came as pass-alongs. 

 

 

By far the largest grouping I have is in the Secret Garden.


Sometimes called schoolhouse lilies or hurricane lilies they are the harbingers of the cooler weather to come. Watering with irrigation will not make them bloom but when rain is accompanied by a drop in temperature and pressure they will burst out of the ground and into bloom. My first passalongs came in flower with their bulb attached and with instruction I put them in a bowl of water to enjoy in the house until the blooms faded. As the flowers come first followed by leaves, which remain all winter and well into summer, when planted after the flower fades they will have plenty of time to bulk up the bulbs for next year's flowering.

It was only yesterday that I noticed one in the Front Courtyard garden tucked in behind the daylilies and the phlox, Phlox paniculata 'John Fanick' I think I may have put one or two of the originals in there and then moved most of them.

I have decided that this was a perfect place and combination. The day lily 'Tiny pumpkin' blooms early on in the year, the phlox comes into bloom into the summer tolerating our Texas heat and humidity well, and finally the Oxblood lily takes the show into the fall. And its strappy foliage will be hidden during the winter through early summer. Always one of the problems with bulbs. Coupled with spring flowering love-in-a-mist and rose campion I think I may have finally settled on a planting scheme that works well for this area. I have also seen a stunning planting in among Mexican river rocks along a driveway edge.

If you purchase or receive oxblood lily bulbs then plant them about 3" deep. They are fuss-free and do not need rich soil. Just sit back and watch them multiply.

Monday, September 7, 2020

TIME FOR SOME TIDYING

When one of my gardening friends wrote, "Nothing lasts forever",  on a recent garden post I couldn't help but say "Well spoken" Two weeks ago I had given  David permission to remove the flowering Senna tree in the far corner of the Front Courtyard. It was never happy there even though it had planted itself many years ago. Being in the shady corner it tried to reach into the sun and being a fast growing tree meant weak wood. The main trunk was beginning to crack and some rather nasty looking brown stuff had oozed out and dried. I had enjoyed it for many years partly because it was visible from the living room. It also provided safety for the cardinals who came to drink from the bird bath beneath the tree. Leaning over and constantly dropping leaves it seems it wasn't even worthy of a good photo..... and yet still I had let it remain. 


It had almost fallen down in a strong storm and had to be staked. More and more falling leaves found their way into the dry creek. It was definitely time to bid both the tree and the mess farewell. And so I asked David to remove it. Being the tidy one among us he wasted no time. 

The big job was to tidy up all debris and fallen leaves in the dry creek before the rain came. And the clean up involved removing seedling inland sea oats, violets and ruellia, and some rather large liatris.  If there had been a place to walk there was no longer. A clean sweep. Both the garden and I feel so much more able to share a photograph of the cleaned-up space. I moved the bird bath because I doubt the birds would visit unless they felt the protection of a tree and the feeder now hangs under the the yaupon holly tree. t is only there for show after I discovered mice liked to climb up and feed too.

I stood back and looked at the corner realizing that it needed something in there to replace the bird bath. I started to think about what I could put in there to fill the void left by the tree. I took a wander around the garden to see what I might have. There is already a large pot in the other corner, a pot that I have never planted because it had always looked fine with nothing in it. I briefly thought of moving it over.  In retrospect I should have tried that first.

 

Then I remembered the pillar (half of a bird bath I had picked up somewhere) with a clay planter on the top. It was outside the gate so I lugged the two pieces in and stood back. Not right! Even if I gave it a grey wash. The problem is having two upright pieces. They fight with one another. So now I'm thinking I could put the old bird bath back and just put a plant in void. Maybe the birds will come anyway because they can fly into the yaupon for cover. Or maybe can find a suitable small bush or even a grass to plant there. One that doesn't drop leaves.

For now the planter and stand stays until I have had more of a think. And the rain came and I gave myself a pat on the back for having got the leaves cleaned out and those huge trailing liatris in the path. Those giant tubers found a new home in someone else's garden. The gravel and stones are all washed cleaned and ready for another year.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

SOMETIMES THE NATIVES ARE TOO FRIENDLY

You know how plants can suddenly become a nuisance and just won't go away. I'm talking about a few Texas native plants that I have unwittingly allowed into my garden. First on the list is the American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. 15 years ago I planted one outside the walls of the garden under the oak trees. Right plant right place.





Shortly thereafter one appeared in the front courtyard along the back wall. I was really excited. There it remained for several years until even pruning it back each year just didn't seem to control it enough. I got out the pick axe and took it out. It was not the end of it. 

 

Who doesn't love those clumps of berries that begin their life as a tiny unobtrusive flowers, morphing into tightly grouped bunches of delicious looking berries. If only we could eat them. I haven't tried but by all accounts they are quite medicinal in taste. But......delicious to many birds including the mocking bird. And therein lay my problem. Just inside the garden wall and towards the front grew, and I use the past tense, a fabulous Lady Banks rose. Its gorgeous blooms enchanted us every spring.  It was a haven for birds who found great shelter in the branches, which grow at peculiar angles making a dense tangle. And every winter as long as I can remember a mocking bird has found a home in there. It can't possibly be the same bird but somehow or other one bird will find a winter roost there. No doubt he saw great pickings in my garden because not only were there beauty berries but a yaupon ( another seeded tree) had grown up right by our living room window and providing a plentiful supply of winter berries. Last winter that bird tried our patience to the extreme. It would land on the tree and see his reflection in the window and promptly fly at the window, landing and pooping on the window ledge. We tried hanging old DVDs along the window but nothing would discourage the bird from throwing himself at the window several times a day. Not only that but when visitors were leaving at night it would suddenly begin a frightening squawking sound. 

It was a difficult thing to do but 3 weeks ago David began the painstaking job of removing the rose. The decision was made easier by the fact that since we had the terrible hailstorm 4 years ago the tree had had a difficult time recovering. There was so much dead wood underneath which had been supporting the new growth that the decision was made to remove it. It is sad that the birds would no longer find safety in the branches but I will not be unhappy if we don't get a mocking bird this winter. 

With the rose spout of the way I could get into the garden and begin clearing all the beautyberry bushes that had been seeded over the last couple of years. I didn't want to risk any of those berries falling to the ground.


Here's another good planting at the Wildflower Center. Planted under large trees is the perfect spot. 

The job isn't finished yet. I need to get the roots out and that is going to take another morning with the pick axe. At the same time I have at least 6 Texas mountain laurels to remove. Yes, there's another plant that does a little too much of its own planting.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

CAN YOU TAKE ANOTHER WEEK OF TRIPLE DIGITS?

 It’s no surprise to Texas gardeners that we are in for another week of triple digit temperatures. They will likely be around for quite a while before we start to feel that little breath of cooler air in the mornings.  This morning I asked my garden if it can hang in there for a few more weeks. I am always amazed how refreshed the plants can look in the early morning hours. At the end of the day not so much. We really have to give the plants their due as so far we have had 23 triple digit days in August with nothing less than 93º and still they soldier on.

 I am slowly removing the spent blanket flowers. When the goldfinches have had their fill I will be hoping they haven’t been too tidy with their eating habits. I’d like some for next year. At the same time I am culling some of the ruby crystal grasses Melinis nerviglumis, and the Mexican mint marigold, Tagetes lucida. The latter makes a lovely small bushy plant which blooms in the fall but it is a prolific re-seeder. I cut it back to the ground in the late winter.

 One thing about the sunken garden is it mostly plants itself. Not always in the right places of course and often a little too much of some plants than I need. For instance, zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida. But as long as I am around to tend to the garden then the visual effect is to my liking. However hard I try the sunken area will not accept nursery grown plants.

 I have better success with adding plants to the upper level and this year I have plans to reduce the numbers of plants growing there. More blackfoot daisies, Melampodium leucanthum, like this one. I'm usually a 4" gardener but I chanced to buy a rather healthy 1gallon plant at the grocery store this spring and it took to its surroundings quite happily.  It is shaded a little by the fragrant white mistflower, Ageratina havanensis. It is my plan to remove the mistflower in the fall as it is far too big and crowding out some more valuable plants.

Backfoot daisies seed quite well in the English garden gravel but never look quite as healthy as the one above.

I should have given these ones a light trim several weeks ago but sometimes that is a risky thing in this heat. 

Tropicals just lap up the heat like these beautiful tree-shaped potted plumerias in the English garden. I am more than happy they are white but would love some of the colored ones. They have now reached the most perfect size but I have concerns about what to do with them this winter. I don't really want to start all over but even without pot, soil and leaves they weigh a ton.

In the right foreground the Philippine violet, Barleria cristata,  waits patiently for its time to bloom. The once single plant is now three separate plants and another one has seeded by the edge. Such a wonderful plant that seems to attracts no bugs or diseases. I am happy that there are at least 3 more that have seeded themselves around the garden. This one along the edge of the patio above the sunken garden. Fortunately they die to the ground in the winter or they would be monsters.

But like the Philippine violet I wait patiently for the the temperature to drop so that I can get out and work in the garden.