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.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Fall is "get to work" time in Central Texas gardening circles. New plants dug in and seed spread are able to take advantage of gentler temperatures. If the weather stays within usual bounds, seasonal rains will water newbies in, helping them get roots established in preparation for the little bit of winter cold and whole lot of summer heat to come. It can be an exciting time, an opportunity to make changes, and I have lots in mind.
The changes I want to implement reflect my desire to more directly support local pollinators. I'd begun the work last year, putting several native flowering plants out front. Unfortunately I hadn't taken into consideration how close the overgrowing live oak branches already were to completely shading out those front spaces. Those trees aren't going anywhere so the solution will have to lie elsewhere.
I've been delighted to have a self-seeded native "weed", Bristly mallow, (Modiola caroliniana) establish itself along the front left rock edging underneath the bird feeder. I like its scalloped leaves and the tiny orange flowers it sports in April. Between my pruning and the birds' attention I feel optimistic I can keep the mallow corralled to this and other areas where I'd like it to function as a ground cover.
The non-native Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) with their deep taproots are going to be moved to less hospitable spaces. The ox-eye daisy mounds (Leucanthemum vulgare) and the garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) will be passed along and/or relocated. A straggly orange daylily will be transplanted into more sun in another bed where it will hopefully partner well with coneflower and wine cup.
The Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) might get moved back a bit, but stays in the bed. There is a small coneflower trying to survive in there, and I hope to get it a little breathing room. The large throwback orange cosmos in the corner is coming out. I'll keep trying to dig out recurrent ruellia (whoo boy - I know what puts the "rue" in ruellia!) and a bit of liriope on the other side of the feeder pole rock pile stays put. I'm not sure what will go in the opened spaces yet but I know I want to use natives.
I'll continue to dig out ruellia, (so much ruellia!) and other pushy plants I originally welcomed that no longer deserve as much space as they've taken. I have multiplying clumps of variegated liriope I hope to organize into more of an edging effect, some aloe to thin out... Oh, there's plenty of work to do!
And that's officially it for Summer 2014 here at Austin Agrodolce. It has been a delightful season really, with unexpected rains and not too many triple digit days. Now, as the weeks of waiting out the heat wind all the way down, I want to state it plainly here in part to hold myself accountable:I intend to rededicate my energies towards using a wider variety of native pollinator friendly plants.
Regular reader, occasional visitor or first time drop in- it is always an honor to have you come along for the ride. I hope you'll stick around to see what comes next!
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Frankly, the last weeks of August are discouraging for even the most enthusiastic local boosters. A typical August in Texas does not provide much of what most would consider tolerable, much less pleasant. Challenging, sure, but enjoyable? That's a tough row to hoe.
|Grocery store rose, replanted in a garden bed. Bless their hearts, they don't know any better.|
|The Hub's plethora of potted Plumeria. August is their time to shine.|
|Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon or Althea, in common use here but actually the national plant of Korea.|
It sounded a bit like a finch. It was similarly high pitched but less a song and more a call. I don't know how to explain this other than it sounded bigger. The calls were coming from close by, behind me, and continued until a raucous scold of jays arrived. The calls were first drowned out, and then ceased altogether.
Over the next span of days as I scouted for reappearing weeds I heard the calls again and again. When I finally caught a glimpse of the source it was obvious why they sounded bigger than a finch. My calling bird was a hawk!
Birding on Broadmeade. He reassured me that hawks can be particularly tricky to differentiate but what he thought I was seeing and hearing was a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus).
I realized, as temperature patterns shift, our previously fixed ideas of who and what are considered "native" to Texas will require shifting as well. Turns out Lyle Lovett was prescient when he famously sang, "That's right, you're not from Texas - Texas wants you anyway!".
Who knew weeding could lead to so much delight and unexpected beauty? August may be the month Texans love to hate, but given the chance, this August revealed it had a few surprises yet in store.
Nerd Out: Behrens graciously pointed me towards two remarkable resources for those of us interested in understanding and identifying local (for now) wildlife. iNaturalist ,which hosts information and spectacular photographs of sightings of all sorts of fauna, and a site specifically for reporting bird sightings, eBird.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Nothing much bothers with setting flowers in August under ordinary circumstances, and after our colder than usual winter, a lot of my usual late summer bloomers (most of them non-natives) are running several weeks late. The vast majority of my native plants have bloomed and set seed and are now content to coast and reserve their energies for cooler days to come. The view outside is set for the season and at the risk of sounding like a piker, things in the garden just now are fairly boring. That is what makes these exceptions so notable.
Garlic chives have taken advantage of their propagation dominance and are overrunning their bounds. But. They bloom in the heat of August, and though the cut stalks smell (and taste) like garlic? The flowers at least look sweet, a bit like miniature lilies.
crab spider hiding behind the white blooms until after I enlarged the photo for editing. These little guys have fewer potential lairs this time of year so I'm happy he found a good spot. Did you know basil blossoms are as delicious as the leaves? They are not only beautiful looking but quite tasty sprinkled into salads or arrayed atop sliced tomatoes for a more floral version of a Caprese salad. Just be sure to shake the spiders out, first.
Last but certainly not least is a native workhorse, Prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida) which is apparently a distant relative to teak trees. These purple blooms are central Texas garden standbys, persistently offering a bright splash of color to their surroundings from March through at least October, and occasionally blooming through until our first frost. It is my tendency to take these little troopers a bit for granted because they are so reliable. In mid to late August however they prove they are stars in their own right, as they shake off heat and drought in a beautiful way, inviting late Summer skippers into the garden. Here, a verbena offering what I'm pretty sure is a Erynnis funeralis a midafternoon meal.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Melothria pendula, commonly known as Guadaloupe or Creeping cucumber. It has shown up as a lacy covering atop of a little copse of roughleaf dogwood, spreading sideways over the crests of surrounding vinca, creeper and jasmine ground covers, to climb and drape a recurrent hackberry sapling.
At first I thought we had muscadine grapes establishing, which I would have welcomed, but then I realized there were no clusters forming. Whatever those green fruits were, they weren't grapes.
edible depending on the source consulted, with the general consensus being that toxicity can be avoided by eating the fruit while in its unripe green state. Eating the ripened fruit once it darkens in color will apparently produce a significant "laxative effect".
I doubt I'll test that ediblity premise. I'm not particularly adventurous when it comes to foraging wild plants. As far as I can determine, the vines aren't invasive and won't strangle out their supporting props. I think they are quite lovely, so at least for this season, I plan to leave them in place and enjoy their twining tendrils.
Monday, August 18, 2014
For the most part I am in complete agreement with Henry James who said...
Summer afternoon-summer afternoon:to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."
Friday, August 15, 2014
On the third morning I was shocked to find the large female's web unoccupied. I gasped involuntarily and asked aloud "where did you GO?". I didn't think a bird or other predator could have grabbed her without disturbing the web and as it remained intact, I fervently hoped this lovely lady had only stepped out to grab a few things...
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
That said, the attempt to capture a good image of a spider web with my camera is my photographic stumbling block. I try various techniques, I try in various lights at various times of day, but I rarely get anything I'm happy to share here.
Today I spotted a clutter of spiders and webs all securely anchored to various plants on the left hand side of the walk running through Candy Land. I figured with all the angles and sizes represented it was a rare opportunity to give my web photography a true workout.
I started with this shot of the far reaches of a web. Its hard to see I know but once you recognize the pattern your brain will "see it" for you. It was very fine, moving in the breeze, and twinkling when the light hit it just so. I tried every angle imaginable but couldn't quite get the edges to stand out. So I moved into the center for another shot.
Postscript: It isn't that I don't believe what I read, it is just that I am curious to see things for myself. I went back out the next day, after the sprinklers had run, wondering if the spider had returned to her nest and built in a new stabilimentum for the day. She did and she had. Here's Day Two's web center:
Friday, August 8, 2014
Nobody ought to ever have to buy more than one pot of garlic chives. Even if you wanted an entire lot filled with them (which would certainly be striking in August when they set blooms) you could have that based upon divisions from one four inch pot in the space of just a few seasons.
Garlic chive clumps are easy to divide, every flower stalk sets a head full of seed with a high germination rate, and they don't seem particularly fussy about their growing conditions.
I plan to put that to the ultimate test.
I had a gap in a front bed, in plain and constant line of sight from the front door, and it has been bugging me for months. I had a planter there before which I moved once summertime arrived because it was blocking the sprinkler for that bed. Summer is not a great time to start a new plant anywhere, so I figured I would let the gap ride a while, knowing the perfect plant to fill in that spot would come to me.
But like I said - this gap was part of my front porch view, and guys, I like that view. I view that view, dozens of times a day through the glass in our door and often, once the temperatures ease a bit, I find that view conducive to sitting with a glass of iced tea or chilled white wine, as I contemplate the goodness of life. So that gap nagged at me. It wanted me to fill it sooner rather than later, but with what?
Oho! Garlic chives! Of course! A nice clump of strappy bright green leaves with the occasional spires of white blooms thrown up overhead in the heat of August, when little else is in bloom.
So I grabbed my favorite shovel, now dubbed "the wire killer" by The Hub after a few nasty run-ins with sprinkler wires, dug out a clump of garlic chives that were absolutely superfluous, and moved them out front. Gap, meet your filler!
Then I had what just might turn out to be a slightly genius idea. I'm always impressed with symbiotic plant combinations where one plant offers some benefit to the other. Nature often does that effortlessly and I find that when I copy what Nature is up to, I often get great results.
The "ultimate test" nature of this pairing comes into play because it is August, and this particular corner of the mailbox planter does not get one drop of supplemental water. Ever. The rain lilies and opuntia established there survive because they are natives, and do just fine with whatever the Texas weather hands them. In fact there is very little other than rocks and sandy soil under those lilies. The stonework for the retaining wall is cracked, and when it rains, the water flows right through that corner and down the drive.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
But oh, I so do not. I am covetous of what I see on other folk's blogs all the time. I fall prey to envy on every level, from the macro to the micro. I want this flora, if I only had that fauna! A portion of my angst revolves around timing, as I wonder why my own fill-in-the-name-of-your-recently-posted-blossom, hasn't bloomed here yet.
Most recently I came down with a serious case of caterpillar envy. Not only was I green as the swallowtail caterpillars I was admiring as posted by Tina at My Gardener Says, but I was frustrated to note that my own fennel plants were not only NOT hosting swallowtail caterpillars, but were rather perversely infested with aphids instead. Humpf!
"OK," I thought to myself, "calm down, aphids are insect life too. Its totally cool the way the ants farm them, and maybe the little suckers will draw in some ladybugs. Ladybugs are awesome.".
So this morning out I went with my camera, determined not to waste any more energy regretting what my fennel plants were not hosting, and to pay a little better attention to what was happening among the fronds. I was not disappointed.
eight-spotted forester moth caterpillars.
As I'd hoped for, with so many aphids in play, an adult ladybug was busy at work, eating her (his?) duly allotted five thousand plus aphids of the average ladybug's year long life span.
Cryptolaemus montrouzieri larvae, which resemble a small mop head in action. Looks like this one has something cornered there at the end of that frond.
So maybe I don't have the targeted, coveted swallowtail caterpillars happily munching away on my aphid beleaguered fennel this year. It is what it is. And I have seen swallowtail butterflies daily especially around our citrus plants.