Thursday, December 18, 2008

Raindrops on Roses

Many years ago when I was new to Austin, I remember hearing someone complain about the humidity. I'm fairly certain that I said, "Humidity? You want humidity? You can't handle humidity!"

Okay, so maybe I just dated myself, but trust me, that kind of talk was da bomb in those days.
I have lived in some of the most humid cities in the United States--Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, LA; and Washington, DC. I know humidity.

And today, my friends, it was humid. I took these pictures hours after any measurable rain. It was just too humid for the raindrops to evaporate.
These aren't raindrops I caught on their way to the ground. These are raindrops that just would not drop.
On an ordinary Austin day, I would need a superfast camera to catch this droplet on the continuing-to-be-confused fig tree. (Or I would need to be hallucinating because the drought has made this occurrence as rare as, well, rain.) Notice the bud at the end of the branch. What will become of this poor confused brown turkey?
At 11am--when I took this picture--the sun had not yet made an appearance. I hear that we may not see it again until tomorrow afternoon.
On the upside, the day's weather has turned all the plants, like this dinosaur kale, into little Christmas trees covered with sparkling lights.

(Dinosaur kale, aka Lacinato kale, aka Nero di Toscana kale, is my favorite kale--and probably my favorite green--so much so that I no longer plant any other varieties.)
This bronze fennel would make a great Christmas tree, if it could stand a wee bit more upright and support ornaments.
I have to admit that the gloomy weather has had a similar effect on my mood. At times like this, I'm happy to live in Austin and not the Pacific Northwest. I know that in a few days, not a few months, the sun will come out, and it will be 70 degrees.
Until then I'm reaching out to raindrops on roses to boost my mood.My mood will be sky high if you enjoy a few of my favorite things while ignoring the yellow leaves on Belinda's dream. I think I may have killed another rose.

Looks like I may need to go in search of whiskers on kittens, or maybe some warm woolen mittens.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Life in Texas

So by now I'm sure you've heard about our weather yesterday. We went from a record-high of 81 degrees to snow in less than 24 hours. Sigh. Is it any wonder that Austin is the garden blogging capital of the world? We have a lot to complain blog about.Our rapids shifts in temperature keep our plants on their toes and down in the dumps, or maybe just confused as heck?

My fig tree is the perfect example. Do you see that perfectly ripe fig? It's DECEMBER! I took this picture on Sunday! I had no ripe figs on this tree all year, and now as we are about to head into a new year, I see not one, not two, but three perfectly ripe figs on my tree.
Poor tree. It's so confused. It's lost almost all of its leaves. The remaining ones have turned lovely shades of yellow and red.

And yet, it's producing the most beautiful figs it ever has. Can you blame the tree? One day it's 70 degrees, the next 90, then 85, then 50, and then back in the 80s. The tree's gone schizo. Half of it believes it's living in the summer. The other half is packing it in for the year.
And the other half of it might just be thirsty. (Oh wait, that makes three halves. Hmm. Maybe the weather is having a similar effect on me.) I haven't watered it during this drought.
The fig tree came with the house but not with instructions. I may have learned a thing or two about flowers and vegetables but fruit trees are still a bit out of my range. (Should I mention that I learned the hard way [pun intended] that figs don't ripen once they've been picked?)

For all I know, the tree is throwing everything at me to get my attention face time on my blog.

Attention granted.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Flora and Fauna at Iguazu

Other than a few photos I used for an April Fools' Day post, I never posted any photos from our trip to Argentina last fall. Probably because I didn't have a blog then. I'm finally processing some photos to get prints made and thought you might enjoy a look at life in the Southern Hemisphere.

Our first stop after Buenos Aires was Iguazu Falls, located at the border of Argentina and Brazil.
The park is huge, and we ended up visiting it two days to soak it all in. And yes, I mean soak. We stood where those crazy folks are in the first photo, and if you look closely at the bottom right of this photo, you'll see a motorboat about to head into the falls. We took that ride as well. It was a lot of fun, and I didn't mind getting drenched with very cold water as the temps in Iguazu were in the upper 80s with high humidity.
We also took a slower boat ride in the upper Iguazu. I suppose if the guide had taken a wrong turn, we could have gone down the Garganta del Diablo (Throat of the Devil, seen in the upper left of the wide angle view of the falls), but I think keeping the tourists alive is a big part of the park's mission.
While on this boat ride, I learned that the angel's trumpets growing 15 to 20 feet high along the banks are hallucinogenic. Maybe that's why I didn't get a better picture of their size.

Other familiar plants in the area included this hibiscus:
Even if it grew more like a tree than a bush.
Some of the other plants were unfamiliar to me, like this one with purple tube flowers. Maybe you know it?
I also couldn't find a name for this fruit tree. Some of the fruit grows directly out of the bark instead of on branches.
I also can't identify the many butterflies we saw. My NWF field guide covers North American insects only. And well, we were in South America. Does that mean the butterflies there fly in the opposite direction?
Some of these definitely look similar to ones in my book, but I am not positive on the identifications.
I was surprised to find in my photos one of a bug.
I thought my bug love had just started this fall with my entomology training. I certainly couldn't identify many bugs then, and I definitely hadn't inspired a song but I guess I was budding bug lover in training.
One of my favorite parts of the park was the signage. As is common in tourist places where many languages are spoken, the park used visuals more than words to convey meaning. Near the waterfalls above, I found this sign:
Perhaps a little too visual was this sign:
Even if that does look like the friendlist snake ever.

My favorite sign though had to be this one:
I hope to post some more photos from other parts of Argentina, as I wade through the 2,000+ I took.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Recognize This Guy?

It's Lone Star, the deer my in-laws took in and nursed this summer. He's a big boy now--notice how he's lost his spots.
My in-laws have encouraged him to leave and let him out of his summer holding pen when the deer in the neighborhood came by. A couple of times he joined the crew, but he's not stupid. My in-laws are great cooks and fed him quite well during his stay. The normal grass he was forced to eat with his deer family was not to his linking. And apparently, he's let the other deer know. Most mornings an entire herd of deer are hanging out in the backyard. I never saw them but then again I walked out each morning with a dog very interested in the deer's scent.
So Lone Star became a boomerang deer. The deer is quite skittish around people now--no more leash walks, and he has moved on from his childhood pal, Coco, the chocolate lab, to more "wild" animals. He now lives in the pen with my niece's latest FFA lamb, Trick or Treat. (Want to guess when she got him? I guess he's a she but it seems so indelicate to look).
Before the deer returned home, my in-laws got the new lamb a new companion. Lambs don't thrive as solitary animals. The previous lamb's companion lamb went with it to the um, well, that place animals go to become meat for us. Gulp. Really makes me consider becoming a vegetarian.

Some neighbors gave them this guy (or girl, again, I didn't check). My sister-in-law said he's a Cashmere goat. When I looked up these goats, they seem to have straight hair. Maybe it's the humidity giving this guy the curls?

In the past my brother-in-law has encouraged me to let our dog loose in the pen to exercise the animals. But the new lamb is quite big in comparison to the previous lambs and the goat has these:

I don't think the dog cared. She was very busy, beating up on playing with the lab who had lost her friend.
In the end, I think all is well in the animal kingdom, also known as the suburbs of Houston.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Alter Ego on TV

As some of you know and many of you have probably guessed, Vertie is not my real name. When I told my husband that I had started a gardening blog and that I was using a different name, he asked why.

I told him it was fun to have a nom de plume.

He asked, "Don't you mean nom de bloom?" (Now you see why I married him.)

So at the risk of confounding you and breaking through the fourth wall, here's a video from Central Texas Gardener.

I appear in it, and yet the name Vertie is never uttered.

Thanks, Linda. It was a pleasure to meet and work with you, and the video is wonderful.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Annie in Austin's My Austin Entomologist

You must check out Annie's latest song. She'd been telling me about the idea for a while so I am so glad that I don't have to keep it a secret any longer!

Great job, Annie!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 2008 Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

For Carol's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, I decided to finally reveal my newest garden bed. For those of you keeping track at home, that's THREE new garden beds in the last six months, which is probably one or maybe two too many. Ask the front yard gardens. They'll agree. More on them later.
In September, I took advantage of a gardening WOO to dig this bed. I decided fairly quickly that rusty metal and broken glass are not the best plant-growing mediums so I borrowed my friend's truck once again for a drive out to the Natural Gardener for some of their Hill Country soil. A yard of HC soil weighs about 1400 pounds, 500 pounds more than their Revitalizer mulch, and about 400 pounds more than the recommended weight load for my friend's petite truck so I had to make multiple trips to get all the soil shown above--one and a half yards, or two dog lengths.

For those of you keeping track at home, that's the fourth time I've borrowed my friend's truck, which is probably one time too many. Ask the truck. She'll agree.
So the bed probably could have used a bit more soil, but after putting my friend's truck out of commission, I decided that that window of opportunity had definitely closed. One and a half yards would have to be enough. (Note to self for next time: a yard of soil, despite its name, isn't all that much. Go ahead and have multiple yards delivered.)
The finished bed measures about 12 feet by 5 feet (at it widest) by 8 inches deep. It gets morning sun, afternoon shade, and some late afternoon sun, although the shade is a bit deeper now. It's already in shade by noon.
On October 1, I planted the bed. Given the hot weather we were having, I probably should have waited, but only if my calendar had shown another gardening WOO before mid-November.
Some of the plants I'd been collecting and storing in my #1 garden utility item were already starting to show signs of having waited too long, like this blue porterweed (aka rat's tail. Had my husband known of this alias, he never would have selected it. Long story. Hilarious even, if you weren't the one having rats rain down on you.)
On that same buying trip I picked up this plant, identified on the tag as Dicleptra Mexican Hummingbird Bush. I think that should be Dicliptera (look at me! using botanical names!), but I still can't find a good image online of the flowers. It's not Firecracker Bush or Mexican Firebush. If I remember correctly, the flowers should be purple.

Here's how the bed looked right after I planted it:
Some of the other occupants include a friend's society garlic and black and blue salvia, another friend's chile pequin, an American beautyberry (as it looked then),
a lemon rose mallow (as it looked then). Have I just violated the first rule of Bloom Club by showing a picture of a plant in bloom on a day other than the 15th? Perhaps I can make up for it by showing the pineapple sage, which is blooming as I type?
Here's how the rest of the bed looks today. I've added a Forsythia sage on the left. I've kept some room there for the Turk's cap I plan on transplanting from the alleyway to this bed in January. I also added two Gulf Coast penstemons I had bought for the front yard. One is thriving; the other isn't but I'm giving it a chance for a comeback before I compost it.
I've also added some of MSS's red spider lilies. They didn't bloom for her so I'm not sure how good the odds are that they will bloom for me, but as we really aren't in control of Mother Nature, I figured they were worth a try.

I've also got a couple of other items to go with this bed. I plan to add a bottle tree with the blue bottles Pam passed along to me back in May. Today I hope to attach my husband's beedominium (™my husband) to the shed.
And now on to the much neglected front yard. I watered it little to none over the summer, and it shows. a few years ago I stuck plants in the ground before I had much any gardening knowledge. The front is very shady, the soil sucks, and the elm tree roots run through it, making digging very difficult. The plants survived and thrived in the summer of 2007 because of the unusual amount of rain. Fast forward twelve months and I can't even bear to show you pictures.

I had refurbishing the front yard beds on my gardening to-dos. Feeling cocky with a bit of knowledge under my belt, I thought I could save them. I even bought a few new plants, but in the end, I decided I had overgardened. The need to keep the new plants alive in the back with limited to nonexistent rainfall won out.

But all is not completely lost. Yesterday as I walked up the front path I saw a flash of something large out of the corner of my eye. I'm calling it the world's largest leaf-footed bug. Seriously, it's about two inches from antenna tip to stern.
In the reverse of what normally seems to happen (but which is increasingly the norm chez Vert these days), the presence of this huge insect alerted me to the fact that the Barbados cherry had refused to succumb to my neglect.
It may not quite be blooming, but I think it deserves special merit for trying so hard.

So that's my not-very-many-blooms Bloom Day post. I and my new friend will be looking for yours.