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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


A dear friend of mine organized and leads a once per week session of yoga exercises at a nearby church.

Though I don't attend worship services there or attend the yoga sessions either one, I remain on the email reminder list for each session, because I don't want to miss the gentle urgings that are delivered right along with the class meeting times.

Each message reminds me to slow down, pay attention to my body, and gently care for myself, all as part of my caring for the world around me.
Hamelia patens with berries
Most recently the class reminder included the observation that (and I'm paraphrasing here a bit) "when the third Christmas cookie did not satisfy, I slowed down enough to realize I had never been hungry for the first.".  This slowing down and taking in, he went on to say, is an ongoing part of yoga practice.

Yoga is, for him, intentional attention, a "practice of noticing".  For my friend when it comes to yoga, his goals include a degree of presence and attention that moves the class sessions from exercise to meditative spiritual practice.

It struck me this morning.  The way my friend approaches yoga is the way I approach gardening with native plants in order to attract local wildlife.  For me, gardening this way requires more practice in noticing.  Working in and around the earth becomes, on a good day, a meditative spiritual practice.

Happy Holidays to all.  May your days be merry, bright, and filled with the wonder of growing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cloudy with a chance of Sulphurs

Winter arrived in Central Texas, took one look around, and apparently decided to wait a little longer before unpacking its bags.  Thanksgiving and the span of days immediately after were sunny and warm, blustery in ways that may have been challenging for our fluttery friends, but at least one local was not discouraged from doing what Momma Nature called upon her to do.
This Colias philodice, or Clouded Sulphur, was one busy lady.
Nectaring at tropical milkweed was followed in short order by ovipositing in a thick stand of ruellia plants.  I'd had plans to dig that clump out, but when I looked closely and saw the multitude of butterfly eggs there, I decided to let it ride a while longer.  I don't fancy myself as a Destroyer of Nurseries.
This butterfly is quite well camouflaged in a Central Texas garden on a windy day in November.
In flight she resembled nothing so much as the golden leaves falling towards the soil.
Wherever she landed, with her light green wings folded, she often vanished into whatever plants she'd chosen as temporary refuge.
Which was a very good thing, as I had another guest, a very energetic and curious puppy, on the day this butterfly appeared. The puppy found the butterfly's flight pattern an irresistible invitation to give chase. As a result I only grabbed a few shots and felt it wise to keep more than usual distance. But the fun we all had dancing around that windy warm afternoon! It is a memory I'll cherish long after winter's cold and gray have settled in for good.

Even the intermittent occurrence of freezing and near freezing temperatures means a change in the garden's recurring cast of characters. With native plants on hand, doing their work to provide shelter and forage, experience teaches me we'll still have plenty of visitors.  The locals, gardeners and wildlife alike, are well familiar with our now-it's-warm/now-it's-cold prologue to winter. Native plants that evolved in tandem with native and migratory wildlife throw out their own versions of a welcome mat and buffet table, all the year 'round. I just love the idea of being a gracious hostess, don't you?

This post is my contribution to Wildlife Wednesday for December 2014.  As this meme has just gotten started, 2015 will bring us the first full year to share our observations. I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing who and what turns up, as all four seasons unwind.

If you haven't previously shared a WW post?  I respectfully suggest you think about joining us with a contribution this coming January.  Don't be shy, there's plenty of time between today and the first Wednesday of the coming year. I guarantee you'll have fun keeping a close eye out for critters as winter's cold throws most of the garden's work back to the garden itself, rather than the gardener.  You could make it your New Year's Resolution!

Happy Wildlife Wednesday to all, and thanks as always to Tina of My Gardener Says for hosting.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Much has been given

Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us; and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips and shows itself in deeds.
~ Theodore Roosevelt

I'm grateful for a lot today. The readers and writers here online (I sometimes think of all of us as "friends-in-our-heads") are certainly part of that.  You  enrich my experience as well as increase my sense of community, all while teaching me many lessons. Some of them are even about gardening.

Wherever you are today, I hope your celebration (or even your choice not to celebrate) is everything you wish it to be.  May your dressing be savory, your pies sweet, and your company heartwarming.   Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Support Wildflowers (on Cars!) (for Free!)

It's true.  For just a few days longer you can support wildflowers and the LBJ Wildflower center, through the Texas DMV!
While you may read the statement above and conclude that I am crazy (I probably am, but not for this!) bear with me.  What I'm proposing is so easy it won't require you to even leave your chair.

Between now and Friday, November 21st, you can visit the State of Texas DMV site and register your preferences for a batch of newly proposed specialty license plates.  One of those plates, the first specialty plate offered up for public approval in this particular group, features wildflowers.

If approved, a portion of the fee for the plate ($22 out of the total $30) will be distributed to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center to  "increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants, and landscapes in Texas".

You don't have to buy the license plate, you don't even have to register any information to vote your preferences. You simply visit the page, scroll down to the choices section, select the "I like it" button for the wildflower plate and submit your vote here at this site.  Boom.  Done.

How easy was that!  Now go have yourself another cup of coffee or tea and put your feet up for a while.  Then get out there and cover those plants you forgot about last night before tonight's hard freeze hits.

What?  You didn't forget to cover any of your tender plants last night?  Well, we sure enough did.  All that misty wet yesterday lulled us into a false sense that the lows were going to be plant friendly overnight.  And as the mercury is hovering at thirty degrees here currently, I'd say we were sorely mistaken.  I'm not sure how many hours below freezing the plants have already endured, the resulting browning to come will let us know how wrongfooted we've gotten.  And it isn't even Thanksgiving!

The "forgetting to cover" mishap occurs for us every year at some point in the season, just not usually so early on.  We consider it a bit of Darwinian overlay, a long range natural approval (or rejection) process around the plant choices we've made for these spaces.
Just another wonderful feature of wildflowers...they seem to take our winterly swings between above and below freezing temps in stride.  Here's one last peek at some blooms from last year, coming after an especially cold winter, just to remind you how forgiving native plants can be.  
Pretty, yeah?  I think so too.  Now get yourself over to the Texas DMV before the end of the day Friday, and vote for wildflowers.  On cars! For free!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It was as if they were watching...

I recently took down a temporary barrier I'd placed a year or so ago to protect a sumac tree I transplanted into the ground after it became root bound in its pot.
Why the barrier?  I took the sumac from the enclosed back yard and planted it in a spot in the beds out front, where it would get good sunlight but was vulnerable to browsing deer.
I considered leaving the barrier up for another year until the sumac got a little taller.  We were all tired of looking at it though, so I took it down.  I'd rather not even try to have a sumac there if it means our view must include that green plastic barrier.

I'm optimistic the tree is well established enough, a year later, to withstand the inevitable ruminant pruning.  Because most of the time, deer don't kill my plants outright.  They simply eat most of what they've targeted, leaving a remnant to grow seconds.

As captured here.
This afternoon as I went out to get the mail, Bambi was just finishing up and moving on.  Or at least he moved on once I showed up and loudly "suggested" he do so.  What's left of the small sumac is just visible in front of the opuntia and agave in the top left corner of the image.

From fence removal to deer pruning, it took less than seven days.

This little tree has been a tough customer so far.  It will either bounce back, regrow branches and get taller in self defense, or I'll have to try something slightly less deer-licious in that spot.  Talk about a rough micro-climate!


Saturday, November 8, 2014

What's in a name?

During recent rains I was stopped dead in my tracks when I spotted this guy who seemed to simply appear on one of our back windows one morning.
I didn't know what this was, but it was clear it was not to be messed with.  The spiny protuberances had me standing on the other side of a window with my fingers curled into a fist, protectively.  Whatever the opposite of cuddly is? That is this guy.
I called for backup.  At first glance The Hub immediately reacted "asp!".  It turns out each of us had our own separate unpleasant childhood experiences with asp caterpillars growing up in Texas.

As we stood with coffee cups and shared horror stories, exaggerating the pain and suffering inflicted upon the innocent child-versions of ourselves by our initial contact with asp caterpillars, we acknowledged that 1) we were both unusually brave and fine young people, and 2) this spiny window walker was a relative perhaps, but no asp.  Asps are hairy and this guy is spiny.  Very very spiny.

I was having a terrible time trying to get a reasonable image as the reflectivity of the window coatings played games with the auto-focus on my camera. Knowing I could not leave such a stingy thing crawling on the house so close to a doorway anyway, I carefully transferred the slug from window to trowel, and carried it out into better light.

I took a few more shots and, uttering a few words of farewell, gently heaved this guy over the fence to a spot where there is no regular human or even much animal traffic.  A spot where both slug and other neighborhood travelers may stay safely separate one from the other.
Quarantine established, identification quest initiated.

It didn't take long to discover that our intimidating visitor is a Spiny Oak Slug. More scientifically, a slug caterpillar of the Limacodidae family, genus Euclea.  
According to no less stellar a source than BugGuide, there is little to no information on how to further distinguish larvae of Euclea between E. delphinii and E. nanina. Their ranges overlap and larvae vary widely.  That's all right. Spiny Oak Slug will do just fine.

Sometimes, a common name tells you most of what you really need to know.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bee-ing There

I can watch bees work flowers for a long time.  A VERY long time.  I'm not sure if that is a tendency towards close observation on my part, or perhaps merely a reflection of my ability to zone out when I choose to?  

Am I communing with nature when I watch the bees?  Am I respecting their industry and their inter-relationships with the seasons and native plants?  Am I joyful to see that some of them remain healthy, a productive part of the pollination process?

Or am I zoning out and simply "being" in the sun and breezes?  Am I watching the bees because in my non-thinking state, their activity keeps catching my otherwise unoccupied eye?  Am I watching them because they are there and they are moving?  Would any other visual activity capture what little of my attention is in play?

I believe the answer to all of the above is "yes!".  A final question that qualifies the ones just posed: Does it matter?  

Answer: Certainly not to the bees!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wildlife Wednesday November 2014

I was walking back from the mailbox with both hands full when I spotted something that looked like a green sash hanging from the belt of St. Francis.  I took the mail inside, picked up my camera, and went back for a closer look. This is what we had going on.
An anole, soaking up radiant late afternoon sun against the mass of St. Francis' robes.  Warmth from above and below.  Mmmm.  Toasty.
November brings reminders that actual Winter, in whatever form it will assume here this year, is well on the way.  Plants and animals are moving a little  more slowly and many are facing weeks of dormancy.  
Gather ye sunbeams whilst ye may, little green guy.  This year's party is nearly over. 

This is my November contribution to Wildlife Wednesday.  A once-every-month opportunity on the first Wednesday, to celebrate and appreciate the creatures that populate our outdoor spaces.  My ongoing appreciation to Tina at My Gardener Says for creating and hosting.  

Want to join the fun?  It's easy-peasy. Simply post about your wildlife (it can be informational or entertaining or both!), then place a link to your post in a comment on Tina's blog post for the meme for that month and that's all it takes.  Happy November to all - hoping yours will be "wild" in the best possible way.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Blame that sky

It was another morning sky playing around with colors like this that had me upstairs on the balcony for starters.

"While I am up here", I thought, "I might as well take some wide shots.  Just in case." "For the meme!".

So I did.  Then I went out front and took more wide shots there. Like so.
These wide views don't allow much appreciation of new plants recently placed (due to scale) but next year! Next year I'll be happy to point out new blooms in the mix.
 Just to be evenhanded.
Last winter's freeze damage has been erased for the most part.  When it gets a little further into the season I'll feel free to take out a few of what were potentially "replacement" agaves.  That should create more interesting negative spaces in these curbside beds.
Not much new going on anywhere at the moment.  Fall's major blooms are behind us now.  The flurry of transplanting and seeding that characterized September and early October has been replaced by the institution of support services in the form of hand watering and weeding as needed.  Speaking of weeding....

One of the results of editing wide shots was a renewed resolve on my part to get out and weed more.  I have no excuse not to at the moment.  The path and bed weeds are all taking full advantage of my laziness.  Raking those pecan leaves off the front curb and putting them in the compost would be doubly beneficial.

Yup. As October closes out and plants begin to go dormant, these wide shots remind me it is time to do a little less appreciating and a little more maintenance.
The bed to the left of the "bench triangle" is filling in very nicely with new plantings and self seeded wildflowers.  Basil and jalapeno are nearly over, and my attention will turn to the bed on the right hand side where oregano and purpleheart plant masses will be reduced.
Looking at the shot to follow, my attention was drawn to a pretty bold takeover maneuver being attempted by the bristly mallow on the day lily.  "What day lily?" you'd be excused for asking. It is there, over to the right of the miniature rose, completely surrounded by mallow.
Problem solved.  Temporarily at least.  I'm monitoring how assertive the mallow continues to be when it gets colder. Wait, monitoring sounds like lab coats and clipboards.  I'm just keeping an eye on things, trimming runners and pulling out seedlings as needed.  Mallow seedlings come out easily so I'm feeling brave.

While I'm temporarily using a narrowed frame, let's hear it for passalong plants, and natives to boot.  Tina of My Gardener Says is the source for these welcomed natives.  (Thank you, Tina!) Hopefully as time goes by, I'll have my own extras to share.   Out front? Yarrow!

In this instance passalong plants are acting as a "favorites" cognate.  As in, "my favorite kind of beer is cold and free, not necessarily in that order".  Out back? Salvia lyrata sorry, Heartleaf Skullcap!

Now that can read "my favorite kind of plants are passalongs and natives, not necessarily in that order".

Shared plants are part of the repertoire in nearly every bed.  Pavonia! More skullcap!  Maybe a goldeneye?!
We'll see how much sun this spot gets as the oaks continue to grow overhead.  It looked to be a great dappled light spot this year, but these plants were just put into play and next year?  Remains to be seen.  That's part of what keeps gardening from getting boring, yes?
I have passalongs from family, friends, even local interest sites.  I look at those plants and am appreciative for all of it, for all of them.  But I digress.

Here we go, back to the wideness for one last shot.  Bidding a fond farewell to The Hub's Plethora of Potted Plumeria.
They are last legging it, nearly done for the season, and before too long will be taken out of their pots to overwinter.  But not as long as they still sport even one flower.  The Hub won't consider touching them until then.  Plumeria consider it time to go dormant when nighttime temperatures begin to fall into the 50's.  The predicted low last night? 42.

And there you have it.  This post, digression and all, is my end of October - beginning of November contribution to Heather at Xericstyle's monthly wide shot meme.  Hope you'll join in and share your very own wide views of the places you care for.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Something borrowed, something blue

What is borrowed?  With gratitude and a tip of the hat to the Sierra Club's "Daily Ray of Hope" feature, this wonderful quote from Lucy Maud Montgomery, author perhaps most famously of "Anne of Green Gables":

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."

What is blue?  Migrating geese. Pointing the way they are going, and going that way at top speed.

I heard them long before I saw them. When I did find them in the sky, the angle of the sun's glare through hazy high clouds blinded me. I had to point and shoot and keep fingers crossed I captured anything before they flew out of range.

For the record, I realize those terms, "Something borrowed, something blue," refer to good luck tokens for a bride's wedding day rather than having anything directly to do with gardening. I stipulate that gardeners however, especially Central Texas gardeners, need all the good luck they can get.

Here comes November.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Border skirmishes

Recently a regular commenter to this blog (Hi Kris!) asked me: how do I keep the mint that is growing in a couple of beds here under control?

The short answer?  I don't.  Mint is only one of a number of uncontrollable plants I have mixing it up in the garden beds here.  My approach is to put bullies in close proximity to each other and hope their aggressive tendencies work to keep each other in check.  Here, the photo that triggered the comment.
In this bed close to our house, there is the mint, a mixture of native wildflowers, a few seasonal vegetables, and at least one native ground cover which other gardeners might classify as "a weed".   The mint has been growing here for years, having originally escaped from a pot.  I dig and pull it out liberally to make room for other plants, knowing more mint is always in there somewhere and will find its way back into the mix.  I can't eliminate it but by the same token, I don't have to worry about accidentally killing it by cutting it back or digging runners out.  And that's fine by me.

These wildflowers (bluebonnets, pink evening primrose, prairie verbena) and native ground covers (predominantly wood sorrel) all have a tendency to take over for part of a season and then go dormant and/or seed out.  They each in turn will fill the empty spots created during the others' dormant spells. All I have to do is keep an eye out for those transitional moments when one plant must yield to the other.  At those times I yank and clip fearlessly as needed.

As is often the case here, this riot of competing ground covers wasn't anything I planned in advance. I had open areas I didn't want to spend money on mulching or simply watch helplessly as they filled with weeds, so I "allowed" these aggressive plantings to provide the weed suppression mulch would otherwise.   The zietgeist here is very Garden of Least Resistance.
Their days are numbered
I take a similar approach with oregano and purple heart in another bed just down the path.  The two non-native ground covers are both troopers, taking heat and low water as well as torrential rains in stride.  The purpleheart grows faster than the oregano does - a lot faster.  It also disappears down to the roots once the weather gets cold, while the oregano stays put with a plant mass aboveground year round.

I think of the oregano as a rock with the purple heart functioning like a wave against it.  You can see how the purple heart is both attempting to grow up over and insinuate itself under and through the established oregano.
I love you, goodbye.
For now at least.  Neither purpleheart nor oregano grows here spontaneously, so both will be replaced eventually soon by some combination of native plants. For the moment they continue to keep each other's borders in loose check as the seasons shift, and while preparations are yet underway I have pollinator approved, attractive coverage.



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Progress made

Oh, best laid plans...gardeners are as familiar as anybody with that promise of "gang aft agley".  At least, I am.

I dug out garlic chives aplenty, transplanted some and passed others along to gardener friends.  I trimmed verbena and dug out Jewels of Opar.  I planted a couple of passalong Henry Duelberg Salvias, then bought and planted more.  I put in tropical milkweed.
I put in more tropical milkweed.
All in pursuit of monarch butterflies.

For whatever reason, that, the attraction and support of monarchs, was the shape "what being a good gardener looks like" took for me this past year.   I was already doing much better in the attracting bees and other pollinators department. Maybe I was just looking for a fresh challenge.

I watched and I waited and saw one monarch.  The butterfly was nectaring on a lantana way across the yard from my especially prepared and well monitored monarch attracting and supporting bed.  It fed there on the lantana (not even a native variety!) for some time and then it exited, stage South.

It seemed the attracting part of that new and improved bed proved itself pretty much a bust.  It naturally follows the supporting part never really came into play.  But I was ready! In case! Partial credit for that.
Even without butterflies overhead I am smitten with the dance the leaves of various pre-eixsting occupants are doing.  Stalwarts of the bed shown above: bluebonnet, mint, verbena and wood sorrel.

Progress has been made, the newer plants are filling in, blooming, and holding their own.  Lack of monarch visits notwithstanding, I think the resulting bed looks pretty attractive.  To me.  The gardener.  I flutter around here a lot.
PS:  As I was editing this I spotted a monarch hovering over this bed.   I asked The Hub.  "Do you see what I see?".  He did, and he said he'd seen a monarch around that bed yesterday as well.

So, shut up.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dramatic Skies (or, Why I Love Gardening)

I am an editor by nature (and probably nurture, but we aren't looking at that today).  Editing is what I do, be it gardening, writing, or taking photographs to share here.

Happily I have an entry-level, you'll pardon the expression, "garden variety" editing function that is part of the photography processing and storage program I use.

Today I am ignoring nature and technology both, to post The Rare Un-edited.

Because it had been so beautiful yesterday morning, I had my camera in hand as the sun rose.  There were gray low lying clouds waiting in place along the horizon.  As I watched, the light went all to pinks and purples. This is what it looked like gazing East this morning from my top deck.  Unedited.
Autumn, you are one dramatic sonofabitch
Occasionally, I lose sight of the best part of gardening (for me).  It isn't the wildlife. I love the company and feel obligated not to mess with creatures who always have (and hopefully always will) live here.  I want these spaces we share to be welcoming, but that does not drive me.

It isn't even the plants.  The more I learn, the more I realize: a lot of my plants choices here have been spectacularly poor.  Much of my gardening success has been luck of the draw and I'm looking to change that.  I'm working to get these spaces (re)populated with plants that theoretically would be growing here anyway.  I do have a certain look I'm aiming towards, one I find pleasing.  But any "plants and planting" motivation is seasonal, at best.

What is at the center of why I so deeply appreciate and avidly pursue gardening?  Gardening gets me outside and gives me things to do there that keep me outside.  The approach I take requires some constant level of my attention to be focused on everything going on outside of our house, from curb to shining curb.

"Everything" of course, including the skies this morning.  Which I am taking another cup of coffee outside right this minute, to sit and stare at some more.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Candle or Mirror?

Edith Wharton wrote: "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.".

I'd meant all along to post about Native Plant Week (October 19-25, 2014) but when I first noticed it was coming up, it was early September and honestly, there was too much work to be done in the garden beds themselves before it would be proper to stop and write about anything on the garden blog.
Mockingbird sitting guard over Beautyberry bush berries (Callicarpa americana)
One chore led to another, you know how that goes, and suddenly, here it is Native Plant Week observed, and I found myself unprepared to celebrate much beyond raising a cup of coffee to the native plants already established in our spaces.
Horace's Duskywing Skipper Butterfly on Augusta Duelberg White Mealy Sage (Salvia farinacea)
"OK", I thought to myself, "I can at least organize something to post and raise awareness a little.".  And right as I was thinking that, THIS popped into my inbox.  Tina of My Gardener Says had already written a lovely (and comprehensive) meditation on why it is not only important but deeply rewarding on every level to use native plants in the landscape.
Mockingbird eating berries off Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria)
I've written some recently (posts here, here, and here) about taking out non-native plants that have dominated certain sunny spots in my spaces to be replaced with natives that better support local and migratory wildlife. I don't really have anything significant to add today, so I'm going the "what SHE said" route.  When it comes to reading about the joys of native plant gardening, Tina's post truly says it all.  If you haven't yet, do drop in and read what she has to say, and then I'm going to challenge you to take it a couple of steps further.
Eysenhardtia texana (Texas kidneywood tree) 
Go outside and identify at least two native plants you have in play at your own place. (HINT: the native plants are typically the ones drawing in the most bees, butterflies and other wildlife.)  The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center's plant finder is a great resource to help you with names and other helpful information.
A mini-grove of Pavonia lasiopetala (Rock rose) coming right up!
Now, make plans to introduce more. You won't be sorry!

Happy Native Plant Week all!  Here's hoping if you aren't already enjoying the additional benefits of going native, that this will be the week that changes all that.