Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Farewell to March

I grabbed a few shots out back this morning (apparently I will NOT stay inside though I pay an increasingly higher price for each foray out of doors this time of year).

Folks, we need rain.  Here in Central Texas the temperatures are warming up, and with the wind blowing, the soil (and everything growing in it) is drying out fairly rapidly. I'm optimistic April will bring us some of the gentle watering everything needs.  However, my optimism is based on hope rather than any recent real world experience.  So just in case, as a reminder of what it all looks like here at the end of March, before the Hot Dry Season begins in earnest:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Recently spotted

We have abundant wild grapevine (I believe they are Mustang grapes, Vitis mustangensis)) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on our property, so I've come to expect the annual emergence of Alypia octomaculata, or Eight Spotted Forester Moth.  A day flier, these moths are often mistaken for butterflies and it is easy to see why.  They are fairly flashy for a moth.

Here in the southern parts of its range, the eight spot has two flights, the first beginning, well, nowish.  I noticed the first one here a week or so ago but by the time I retrieved my camera it had fluttered off.
The orange tufts on the legs resemble the corbicula (pollen baskets) on a bee though they don't serve that purpose.  
I caught this guy in a more cooperative mood.  He seemed fine with my presence so I snapped a few shots before retreating back into my filtered-air haven where I could admire his striking coloration in safety.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The flowers that bloom in the Spring, tra la!

We've established the annual appearance of Bluebonnets leaves me weak in the knees.   However, human nature being what it is, after the first few weeks of anticipatory breath holding, once the blue blooms kick into high gear, I find myself beginning to cast around, looking for signs that anything else is similarly responding to longer days and warmer temperatures.

And anything else most certainly is.  Specifically, Oenothera speciosa.  The pink evening primrose.

Some say wanting pink primrose in your garden represents a case of needing to be careful of what you wish for.  Massed pink primrose plants can be cantankerous, seemingly wanting to seed in and send runners wherever you don't want them. Left to their own devices they are content to jump out of beds into lawns, paths and planters.  They are much easier to get started than they are to contain or get rid of. They are sometimes considered invasive by those with more orderly tendencies.

Aloe bloom stalk rising above massed Primrose blooms-to-be.
Also under cover, at the base of this stake, a Bulbine struggles to reemerge while this tiny anole observes.
Orderly?  Not me.  What strikes others as invasions appears to me as natives simply doing what they do best.  Given their tolerance for heat and drought I welcome these persistent ladies wherever they may roam.
After all, despite their boisterous tendencies to elbow competitors aside, the pink primrose is a boon to native bees and other pollinators.  Past that, I am and always have been deeply smitten with their blooms.

Because oh!  Those flowers....I've sought them out and loved them since I was a child.  Each one only lasts 24 hours. If it weren't for the oak poison pollen so abundantly in the air I'd be out as many of those hours as I had the light, watching their pink skirts swaying delicately in the breeze.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Widely regarded

I'll be frank.  Except for the occasional blog header, I've hesitated when it comes to posting wide shots here.  As opposed to a carefully cropped closeup, wide shots are painfully revelatory.

In the spirit of full disclosure and determined to face down this reluctance, today I submit some shots of the front bed, along the curb on the uphill side of the drive.
I may be stating the painfully obvious, but I hadn't planned much in terms of an overall design for the view along the front.  I did have two goals.  The first was to remove all the St. Augustine lawn, and the second was to introduce more variety to areas that were overrun with a combination of two ground covers, Asian jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) and Periwinkle (Vinca minor).

Within a strictly limited budget I began to work towards my goals. As a starting point I figured to use my own labor and a combination of self propagated and passalong plants.  Progress was slow but steady.

One of the two houses across the street from us sold.  After sitting empty for a few months it was completely demolished and then rebuilt from the foundation up.  The resulting noise and chaos drove the decision for our other neighbors across the street to put their house on the market as well.  After it sold the new owners stripped it to the walls and remodeled, top to bottom.

This meant for the better part of the past three years our side of the street has served as a construction zone parking strip, hosting an ongoing parade of pickups, semis and panel vans.

When it came to looking at our spaces from the street I was reduced to intermittent glimpses of the curbside beds when a few of the workers' trucks left at lunch.  Except for Sundays, I rarely had street access to the front beds, and a wall of thorny agaves hampered my approach from the house side. I threw in the trowel, rationalizing with that constant screen of vehicles in place, what nobody could ever see would never hurt me.

Weeks turned to months turned to years.  It didn't rain, it got really hot.  It didn't rain, it got really cold.   Visualize a montage of flipping calendar pages. Fast forward to the here and now.

Both house renovation projects across the street are complete. Without the constant presence of parked vehicles I face, along with the world, the full consequences of our devastating weather and my ongoing neglect.  Big picture?  Well.  It ain't pretty.

To varying extent, every one of the agave plants were damaged this winter. Two coveted narrow leafed green varieties (weberii? americana? they were passalongs in a box and if I was told I can't remember!) were reduced to mostly mush. The centers seem intact.  I trimmed away the rot and am fervently hoping they'll bounce back.

There are a few bright spots.  The sumac I transplanted and protected with a barrier seems to have survived the winter.  Branches are showing signs of terminal budding.  Other plants put in last Fall (salvias, marjoram, penstemons, grasses, ferns, mallows) wintered over with no discernible damage. Many died back to the ground but that is to be expected and they should show signs of regrowth as the temperatures rise.

After agonizing over placement I finally planted two recently purchased gopher plants (euphorbia rigida).  I put them where they'll enjoy good drainage in combination with what I hope is enough sun.   If I guessed correctly they will become well established and not only thrive but reseed.  If I can believe everything I've read, the gopher plants should fill in an approximately 2x3 foot space.  They reportedly survive extremes of heat and cold, drought and deer.  Go go gophers!
Gopher the First (center).  Hoping this will stretch out to eventually reach the curb.
Gopher the Second.  I was originally going to pot this up but instead filled a gap created by the removal of a large cold damaged agave.  
Then there are the bluebonnets.  Last October I tossed out a couple of spent plants with their seed pods still attached.  More intentionally I then spread seed for both white and maroon blooming varieties that, legends aside, were released by the mad horticulturists at Texas A and M.  So far there are a few blooms on each which I hustle to share with you before the deer decide they are deliciously different.

The "maroon" and "white" varieties will never replace their original blue cousins in my heart, but for now I'm enjoying the novelty.  I hear they revert to their original blue within a generation or two but the pops of unexpected color are fun while they last.

Oak pollen will drive me indoors for the next span of weeks.  Regardless, now that I at long last have unlimited access, the urge to address issues out front will find me stubbornly popping outdoors for brief spurts of work.  Several clumps of purple fountain grass were killed by the cold.  I'd like to find native replacements. I want to relieve overcrowding and take out damaged agaves battered by cold and deer.  I will hand water wildflowers if the rains don't come, and there is always work to be done pulling Bermuda grass and replenishing gravel.

And, just perhaps, taking a few more wide shots.  It will be good to regard the curbside area taken as a whole as I continue planning for the future.
Not perfect, no, but much much better than grass!
The good, the bad, and oh my yes, the ugly. Out front I've sure enough got it all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gardening Stubborn

This is not a good time of year for me to be outdoors.  While I'm not sensitized to cedar, I am reduced to a sodden dripping mess once live oak pollen season arrives. And according to the accumulating carpet of fallen leaves all around our house, that time is right now.

That doesn't mean I don't take measures.  I so do.  We load up pristine filters to our air intake grids for the season.  We keep doors and windows closed no matter how pleasant the temperatures.  I stock up on tissues. I take daily over-the-counter tablets designed to tamp down my pollen response without rendering me unconscious.  I stay indoors.


Every year around October I attempt to seed in a patch of bluebonnets of sufficient dimensions to be safely viewed from indoors the following March. This visual satisfaction is meant to be garnered from the house, through closed windows, where the air is not industriously ferrying prodigious amounts of pollen to assist in the attempts to make oak tree babies. Not to mention the collateral damage done to my breathing bits.

And every year, there comes a bright and breezy March afternoon when I can no longer resist.  I decide consequences be damned, I simply MUST get out close enough to watch the bees at work in the blooms.  So I do.

And I did.  Naturally I took my camera with me, hopeful I could grab a few shots to display on my computer that would help keep me safely, happily indoors, as the pollen counts continue to climb.  That said, me being me, I couldn't just rush over to the winner's circle.  First I had to check out the also rans.

Coral honeysuckle and oxalis are true color work horses in a Central Texas garden, but their persistence into the summer months means I take them just the littlest bit for granted.  So unfair, I know.
Coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens.  I trimmed away overhanging branches recently to encourage more blooms.
Oxalis dillenii - slender yellow woodsorrel - is considered a weed by many, but I welcome it as a native ground cover.

I didn't catch bees at work on either.  Like me, the pollinator's current attention seems captivated by the appearance of our shorter term natives.   And why not.  According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Bluebonnets, aka Lupinus texensis, are "recognized by pollen ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bees."

While I'm already in bee nerd territory, may I mention that the orange colored saddlebags prominently displayed on the bee above?  Those are tibial pollen baskets called corbicula.  But maybe you knew that.  

Tibial trivia aside, I have no idea if the bees in these photos are natives.  I listened as long as I could and never once heard any trace of a drawl, so the jury is still out on that question.

Native or not, they were quite good company while I stubbornly ignored my seasonal allergies in favor of indulging some seasonal viewing.  Happy bluebonnet season, y'all!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Blogger see...

Blogger do...

I've been reading about Gopher plants everywhere lately.  Garden bloggers in our area have been rhapsodizing about how beautifully they bloom this time of year, singing praises about how they tolerate both heat and cold.  I think what finally sold me was when I read about how their milky sap deters predation by our ever present deer.

I'd seen enough.  I was a convert.  Though I try to use mostly natives, gopher plants are clear winners for our area and I decided to give them a try.  As time goes by, I'm beginning to wonder what the term "native" will even come to mean in the future.  As climate change and weather disruptions rudely shift the previously drawn temperature zones, naturalists have noted a shifting in the ranges of "native" plants and pollinators right along with them.  I'm thinking our idea of what constitutes a zone may need to become a bit more flexible.

But back to the euphorbias.  Off to the nursery I went, and came home with two sturdy looking Euphorbia rigida to call my very own.

I haven't decided exactly where I'll place my gopher plants.  They appreciate full sun and I have very little of that to offer.  To hedge my bets a little I'm considering putting one specimen into a container and the other into the ground. The container I'm leaning towards using is that blue pot with the "necklace"shown above, currently providing a point of refuge for a couple of leftover gifted zygocacti.

I think the yellow green of the euphorbia will be stunning against the deep blue of the pot.  The "necklace" for the container shown is yet another borrowed idea, this one an adaptation from Pam at Digging (who originally got her inspiration from a magazine article).
Meanwhile, another well adapted non-native, Rosmarinus officinalis, is blooming up a storm, attracting all sorts of interest from busy pollinators.

Some of the best ideas (like the best plants) are borrowed, wouldn't you agree?

Monday, March 10, 2014

In like a lion

You've heard the saying "If March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb."?
Ellie, who lives across the street, often rushes to join me when I venture out front.  She is both a lion and a lamb!
Trying to nail down the origin of this saying (because I was hoping it has some basis in truth) I discovered two different sources.

One is a series of old almanac sayings based upon lines written in early English plays and poems reflecting a belief in the eventual balance of nature.  Nature may indeed balance out,  e-ven-tu-all-y... but as an impatient gardener with plants I want to survive short term, I find it very difficult to take much solace there.

Another source for the saying has not to do with the weather at all, but rather with the stars.  The saying reflects the position of the constellations at the beginning and the end of the month as they switch between Leo (the lion) and Aries (the ram).  I find no encouragement there either, but admit it is a more reliable predictor of what will happen, as opposed to what I wish for.

At any rate, after whining in conversations and emails for days about how much we need rain, I was happy to see (and hear) embedded showers moving over our area during the late afternoon and early evening this past Saturday.

Then the lion roared.  Along came hail, blasting down with the rain. Fortunately the ice pellets were not in our area long enough to cause much damage, and the near inch of precipitation we got here in Rollingwood will not go unrewarded.

Bluebonnets are already responding...

As is a lone Indian Paintbrush...

I'm keeping an eye out for more freezing weather, as I have lots of 4 inch pots in the greenhouse I am eager to transplant into the soil.  Because March is so very unpredictable, weather sayings aside, I will wait a little longer until we are past our typical freeze dates.  Then I will pin my hopes on yet another saying, that April showers will bring May flowers.