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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, this was a gardening blog. I posted pictures of plants and flowers in my yard. And then sometime in September, I took a bug class, and this blog veered strongly towards the bug love. Between the zombie watching, camping, and Peckerwooding, I haven't focused much on my own horticultural efforts.

But today is a new day.
The new sun bed, the one with the wine bottle edging, has survived the summer and is starting to come into its own. The yellow, white, and purple butterfly bushes are doing their primary job. Sometimes I feel like I should be a butterfly traffic controller. Oh wait, slapping my own typing fingers, must discuss something other than insects.
The rock rose is blooming like crazy, but I think I love the look of possibility more than the actual flower.
This Duchesse de Brabant may also be waiting to bloom, although I have less confidence that it will. The roses had a tough summer. The Cramoisi Superieur bit the dust (pun intended). No amount of watering seemed to help it. I've since replaced it with a Belinda's Dream rose, which while not a waking nightmare has not yet shown itself worthy of its name.
I also added some bluebonnet seedlings, which are rivaling the nasturtiums with their post-rain loveliness. Yes, that's actual rain in the center of the seedlings. I had five minutes of the wet stuff.
The new herb bed is also coming along. The caryopteris did not survive the summer, but I was able to stick a bronze fennel in its place. A dog who shall remain nameless ran through the bed and ended up relocating the hot and spicy thyme across the yard. It did not survive, but the French and lemon thymes are thriving, as are the oreganos and rosemary.
I do wonder though about this dill. It shouldn't flower until the summer. But as we haven't yet moved beyond the warm temperatures that most the country would label as summer weather, I guess it's confused.

I still haven't decided if I am going to edge this bed with wine bottles, but just in case, I've been maintaining a wine-drinking schedule. Feel free to maintain one of your own.
If I did not know that these garlic scapes are not supposed to emerge until spring, I would think this garlic bed was thriving. But I've read all the conflicting arguments about cutting the scapes, and know that I'm not supposed to be facing this quandary until two or three weeks before harvest--NEXT YEAR.

Once again, Annie has come to the gardening rescue. Bob, the "Garlicmeister, a self-inflicted title for amusement only," from Gourmet Garlic Gardens, confirmed Annie's wisdom. These shoots are not scapes. Guess I should have googled an image of the scapes, not just information on them. Aren't you glad that I'm here to make the silly (and maybe slightly embarrassing) gardening mistakes for you?

Here's Bob's response to my email asking for information:
Not a problem, that's what they're supposed to do. Garlic sprouts leaves (not scapes - those don't come until spring) and will grow throughout fall and winter, whereas up north the leaves usually do not emerge until spring. Garlic loves the cold so you don't need to protect it, just enjoy the greenery.

I guess while I'm discussing plants in the wrong time, I should mention these guys:
My beets and radishes have germinated albeit not the same position I planted them in. No neat rows here. Those seeds moved around a lot the last time we had any rain and are now growing wherever they want. And I'm fine with that as long as they keep growing.
I've also got some cute microgreens growing. These I tried to put in diagonal lines across the bed, like Carol's at May Dreams Gardens, but I am not as anal sloppy as she is.

So there you have it. An entire post about my own garden, with nary an insect in sight. I did stumble once and discuss one Hexapoda, but I did not post a picture of the cute little thing it.

Who am I kidding? This whole post may have just been an excuse to show off this picture of my Gulf fritillary butterfly.
I know he's mine, because I have his former home. I'm so glad that he enjoyed his initial stay in my yard enough to make a return trip.

Spread the word, Gulfie!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Peckerwood View

On Friday, seven of us Austin garden bloggers traveled to Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead. Since I'd heard about the garden and YuccaDo Nursery, which is in the process of moving from next to the garden to Giddings, I'd always wanted to visit. Hempstead is not that far from my in-laws in Magnolia, but we'd never been able to combine a trip to visit family with the limited open days at the garden.

So when Diana of Sharing Nature's Garden arranged a tour, I was delighted. I was even happier that I didn't have to drive.

The garden, more like an estate, is huge. Libby at Aurora Primavera, Pam at Digging, MSS at Zanthan Gardens, and Diana have already offered their observations of the garden, along with more its history, origins, and philosophy. Cheryl at Conscious Gardening and Lori at The Gardener of Good and Evil have also added their thoughts.

What I'd like to focus on are the little things that caught my eye. So now I am sure you are wondering what's so little about the agave flower above? It's not the tall flower but the bent one coming toward you in the photo that's most interesting to me. Someone mentioned that it looks like a dragon. I wasn't quite able to capture that photo in the bright light, but trust me, it did.
The small mysteries began even before we entered the formal garden area. These seedpods are on a bottlebrush tree native to Australia. Normally, the pods would have dropped from the tree and spread, but being from Australia they need a brushfire to break open. Some of the Australian trees need only smoke, not fire, to germinate so the gardeners at Peckerwood sometimes wrap them in liquid-smoke soaked paper.
Most of the garden depends on plant structure and foliage, and not flowers, to give it form and variety.
If I remember correctly, this Queen Victoria agave is named after the queen because a specimen was taken back to her in the 1800s. (Not by John Fairey obviously.)
All of the different sharp-tipped plants, like this sharkskin agave, made me wish that I had a little more room in my garden to plant some of them without the risk of my dog gouging her eyes out.
But every once in a while, the garden belies John Fairey's, the garden's owner and creator, early Southern garden and his continuing love of azaleas and camellias.
Mr. Fairey met us at the entrance and then turned us over to Chris Camacho, one of the two people employed to care for the garden.
My husband, perhaps quite rightly, wondered why I took this particular photo, at this particular angle, of our guide. I think he believed me when I told him it was because the gloves and worn Felcos exemplified Chris's style of learning. (Pictures of Chris's face are available at the other bloggers' sites.)

All of Chris's horticultural knowledge comes from experience, not through classroom study. Based on his depth of knowledge and despite his youth, he has a lot of experience. He had previously worked for Gardens in Austin, and James David recommended him for the position. Chris's enthusiasm was contagious as he rattled off botanical names like they were the names of his sisters.
With my extremely limited knowledge (and recall) of botanical names and the fact that many of these plants don't have common names, I can't tell you what many of them are. I am hoping some of the other bloggers on the trip, maybe those that took notes (hint, hint), could help me out.

I love that the garden strives to keep the plants as natural as possible. The older leaves on these palms are not trimmed up because they aren't trimmed in nature. The older leaves protect the stem. You'll probably never find an untrimmed palm in a nursery, but the information to take away with you is that you don't need to trim.

Scratch unnecessary pruning off your to-do list!
With all that free time I just acquired for you, you might want to use it to turn your Texas pistache tree into a bush like this one behind the bench. Mr. Fairey pioneered this method of repeated shearing to turn a tree into a bush. He gave several trees this treatment. When Chris put his hand on it, the whole bush shook like a bowl full of jelly.
All of the elements in the garden showed Mr. Fairey's keen eye for detail. His background is in the fine arts and architecture.
Even the plant tags reveal the garden's attention to detail and conservation.

I'm fairly certain that by now I can hear you asking, "But what about the bugs?" Yes, of course, a garden with such diversity is teeming with wildlife: wild boars, coyotes, foxes (I think), cougars, flying squirrels, deer, and loads of insects, spiders, and amphibians.

Before we move on to the insects, let's warm up with some other animals.
I was quite taken by this cute tree frog snuggled up in this six-foot crinum. It is perhaps a good thing that I did not then know that these frogs make easy pets. Otherwise, it might have ended up in my pocket along with the acorns Chris said it was okay to take. (The acorns, not the frog.)
I found this guy on the wisteria arbor, the same place I found the carved rock at the top of this post. Being a Francophile, I was looking for the wisteria from Monet's garden in Givenchy. I didn't find it before the tour moved on, but I was still pretty happy to catch sight of this daddy long legs, which led me to discover that it's not a spider after all. It's an arachnid, Harvestman, oder Opiliones, but not a true spider. Wow, there went so many childhood tales of Granddaddy long leg spiders.

And now on to the insects. Here's a beautiful dragonfly.
Here's a closeup. I've scoured my NWF insect field guide but still haven't been able to identify it definitively.

I also spent way too much time yesterday trying to ID this damselfly. (I think it's a damselfly as opposed to the dragonfly because of the angle of the wings, but I don't have a better shot to clarify.) I do love the pink and purple color on the tail.
I am fairly certain that this insect is a black soldier fly.
The iridescence on the wings really caught my attention as we neared the end of the tour.
Near the very end of the tour, we found a sunflower patch. Gulf fritillaries, my new favorite butterfly, were enjoying the flower and the day.
And then, they, like us, had to leave.
If you get a chance to visit the garden, I would highly recommend it. I would even more highly recommend that you try to organize your own group tour, as opposed to visiting on an open day. You'll get far more information and really learn so much about this wonderful garden.