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.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Preference for Perennials, and Two Potential Problems

That cottage garden look?  I love it.  I try to remind myself of that fact, and of how I've worked to recreate it in my own garden beds when I am sidetracked elsewhere by the visual impact of a massed single plant or the particularly effective use of negative space in a garden.

Cottage gardens are more old fashioned in appearance, and represent samplers of scattered plantings.  When in full bloom they are spectacular.  Naturally, I've complicated matters here by using lots of passalongs in concert with mostly native perennial plants.  As opposed to an abundance of seasonally coordinated annuals, a problem with perennials in the cottage garden (if you can call it that) is they rarely all bloom at the same time.

As a matter of fact, native perennials (and reseeding annuals) have evolved to fill a particular niche timewise as well as microclimate wise.  I suppose if they did all bloom together they'd be competing for pollinators and competition dodged is competition won when it comes to surviving in the Texas countryside.  I respect that.

Regardless, occasionally when I squint and angle the camera just so, I catch a shot that captures as close to a cottage garden look as my beds usually provide. No pull out all the stops, everything in bloom at one time showstoppers here, but more typically two things in bloom together.  Like so.

And so:

Like this:

Or this:

And here, my current favorite, which appeals to me more as a matter of focus than variety but who cares, because look:  Profusion, suggested.

And to wrap things up today, a glimpse not at flowers but at two foliage plants I love, which also represent where I can get into my own particular version of garden troubles.

This little beauty is Mimosa pudica, or sensitive plant.  The leaves fold up as a protective measure at the slightest touch.  The novelty of that aside, I love the way it looks and the fact it creeps along just above ground level, quietly providing a gorgeous green backdrop underneath other showier plants.

And how could this be a problem?  Mimosa pudica is categorized as an invasive plant.  By all rights I should be removing this everywhere I find it.  But I don't. I just can't make myself take it out. This plant might go haywire in other parts of the country but in my garden there are two or three smallish specimens that come back each spring.  They don't seem to be spreading though I kind of wish they would.  So I resolve to keep an eye on them and promise myself if they show any signs of taking over I'll yank them right out. 

And speaking of yanking something right out.  See this?  You might recognize this native,

by the characteristic white underside of the leaf.  Vitis mustangesis, or Mustang grape.  My mother-in-law made amazing mustang grape jelly every year and so I was excited when I first realized we had some growing in our own back yard.  But while hers was neatly trained and trellised on a split rail garden fence constructed by my father in law, ours is bird sown and grows like this:

Which would be fine if it stayed on the ground, but these vines grow at a phenomenal rate and would much rather ninja-kudzu themselves up into and over every shrub, bush and tree.  Honestly, as I stood in the midst of it to snap this photo I was alarmed at what felt like a tendril experimentally wrapping itself around my ankle.

I'm determined to find some way to tame these vines in our spaces as my in laws did, so eventually we might get as much a chance at the grapes as the birds and squirrels do.  Even if we never got a single jar of grape jam, I am a total sucker for these leaves.  I think they are gorgeous, green side up or white side under.  And while I dither about as to how best to tame them, season after season they get away from me and up into our trees, where they compete vigorously for sunlight and often shade out entire sections of the smaller trees.  When it comes to the question of who's in charge around here, I'm afraid the answer in this case is, The Vines!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


In our backyard especially, past a certain time of year you can't venture out without hearing one or more white-tailed dove calling.  We have lots of them.

Lots and lots.

Years ago, when I first read the call of the white tailed dove described as asking "who cooks for you?" I found it all fairly annoying.  I'd begun to laugh a little bitterly whenever Prince's popular song "When Doves Cry" off his Purple Rain album was played on the radio.  I'd even been caught muttering "shut up!" in response to their ceaseless taunts.

That all began to change after family trips taken to Hawaii where white tailed dove wandered (and called) freely around the grounds of a resort we enjoyed for several years running.  I gradually began to associate them with vacations and beaches.

And sunset cocktails before dinner and pampered relaxation.  Anything other than the idea of ask not whom cooks for thee because thy is thine own cook all the damn time and don't ask who cleans up for thee, either.  Stupid doves.
I tried to find ways to admire them.  They have a pretty blue lining around their red (demonic) eyes.  They don't seem to be particularly picky eaters. They are just as happy cleaning up stale tortillas I'd leave out for the squirrels as food left in the bowl of the feral cat that adopted us.

The dove do try occasionally to feed more appropriately out of the bird feeder we have in the back yard,
but mostly they just sit on top of it and (no polite way around this, sorry), poop.  As a matter of fact, there is a new feeder we've placed out in front, and so far the only bird action it has seen is this optional dove finial.

Of course it will take time for the birds to find the new feeder and trust it. My daughter suggested the inevitable dove "coating" will probably help the new feeder smell less like "factory" or "store" and more like "local".
As constant as doves and dove noise is around here, I figured they must be nesting close by. I'd always wondered where.

I'd spotted multiple large clumps up high in some of the tallest of our trees that I thought must belong to doves.  Or squirrels.

As it turns out?  Both.  I finally spotted a dove peaking out over the edge of one of the nests, and then determined there were squirrels constantly guarding the approach up the tree to the other.

I realize squirrels and doves aren't as exotic looking or nearly as adorable as the baby owlets featured on other local blogs recently, but it's all too easy to fall into that trap of always wanting whatever you don't have.  Right?  Doves and squirrels!  We've sure enough got those.  Lots.  And lots.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ground game

There are always mysteries in any garden. Recently I was out obsessively checking on the Datura, wondering when the next bloom would unfurl.  That's when I saw it.  A tidy little hole in the dirt, about a quarter inch in diameter.

At first I was simply wondering, "what made that hole?".  So symmetrical, so discretely intact, I figured it must be an insect using some sort of specialized bug hole maintenance glue. But....what?  After I spotted the first hole I noticed others.  There were seven holes clearly visible and I suspected more partially obscured by rocks or leaf litter.

Apparently there was something of a colony of "whatever-they-ares" in residence here, not three feet from my front door.  Talk about sharing our spaces unawares!  A day or so later I started spotting the bees.

Or, at least what looked like some sort of shiny black bees carrying pollen underneath.  They went zooming around and then zip!  They would disappear into one of the holes.  Coming or going, try as I might I never did get much of a clear shot.

These bees are fast.  Super fast.

Of course each bee knew right where it was headed while I was working on a "keep your camera focused in a particular spot and wait and sooner or later you're bound to catch one" gambit.   Sooner became later with not many lucky guesses.

It felt like I was playing a version of camera whack-a-mole that worked out closer to camera-miss-the-hole.

I was out there so long the birds began watching me.

I grew more and more frustrated and responded as usual by becoming slightly obsessed.  I spent hours online investigating what types of bees nest in the ground only to discover there are all kinds of native bees that do so.  So many kinds there is a good chance they haven't even identified them all.  And, as usual, my blurry photos and spotty memory couldn't match anything up exactly enough with the images available online.

I went to bed that night vowing to spend more time outside the next day with my camera, as long as it took, because I WAS by GOLLY going to get a photo of one of these bees and figure out what they are. Cue Memorial Day Weekend and the traditional bands of rain.  Our accumulation so far?  Three and a half inches here in the hills west of town with more rain in the forecast for days yet to come.

With a little trepidation at what I might find, I went out again this morning. The holes are still there, still perfectly round.  That bug glue is good stuff.  But now I'm wondering.  Do those holes fill up with water when it rains so heavily and if so, what happens to the bees?  And what happens to their baby bees stuck in the holes?  Are the adults still in there somewhere?  Are they off waiting somewhere higher for drier weather to return?   Beats the heck out of me but I'll keep watching....and waiting....to see if this particular mystery can ever be solved.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Blogger See, Blogger Do

Absolutely because I was reminded to check by this post of Xericstyle's about her gorgeous native Uvalde Texas barrel cacti in bloom, I went right out with my camera to see if my first ever flower bud on the native cholla had opened up.  First blooms are always special, and I get a little extra excited about taking pictures of every one.

I was totally that way with my children, weren't you?  We probably have 538 photos from the first 3 weeks of our first born child's life.  When it came to the second child, I still took lots of photos, but we'd learned to relax a bit by then (or exhaustion had worn us down - sort of the same thing) and did not feel the same urgency to record every single yawn, smile, and puzzled frown.

Our children are grown now (for whatever reason I refuse to call them adults though they are chronologically eligible) and honestly, if I can get two photos a year of either one I count myself fortunate.  So now I take my photographic urges out into the garden beds and fuss over the other babies - the plants.

But back to the bloom.  It is a good thing Heather motivated me to check back, because...ta daaaa!  The first flower ever to grace the cholla plant is open for business.

I'm pretty sure this is a Cylindropuntia imbricata.  It came unlabeled as a gift in one of those small mixed cacti garden dish bowls, years ago.  I moved it (gingerly) from this pot to that until I decided to take a deep breath and give it a bed to dominate.

I say dominate, because this guy gets big when released into the ground, and is so very prickly that weeding and working around one of any size is precarious.

At least for a gardener as uncoordinated as I am.  There's no telling when or where I might lurch or land as I unceremoniously yank or stretch to weed or prune.  Zigging when you should zag around a cholla?  No, thank you very much!  But with a sweet flower like this much can be forgiven, wouldn't you agree?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Birds do it, bees do it

and sometimes, hover flies show up to watch.

At first I didn't realize what I'd caught at the time I was taking these photos.  I began out front, snapping the bees working the spineless prickly pear blossoms (Opuntia ellisiana).  There were loads of flowers and even more bees, diving in to get their fair share.  [I took a deep breath and attempted my own identification efforts this time - all mistakes made here are solely my own!]
I believe this is a Mason or perhaps a Leaf Cutter Bee (Megachilidae). They carry pollen on their belly rather than in pollen baskets on their legs.

Non-native Apis mellifera - the European Honey Bee

Lots of honey bees - someone has been doing their waggle dance!  Note how full their corbicula (pollen baskets) are.
So far, so good.  I moved out back where I spotted more bee activity on a Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera), and in addition noted a couple of Syrphid flies hanging in the air close by.  A three-fer! I moved in to see if I could capture the action.

Capture the action? Boy, did I ever.  I almost blushed when I enlarged the photos on my computer and got a better look at everything going on.  

These are some form of Ceratina, small native carpenter bees, that nest in pithy stems.
You don't need a degree in entomology to determine what is happening here.  Jeepers. Ahem!  The Great Circle of Life!

Afterwards, one of the bees stuck around and continued to feed.  The Syrphids, better known as hover flies, stuck around too, and I don't even want to speculate as to why.    

Brings a whole new level of meaning to "busy as a bee" doesn't it?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

They Bring Their Own Light

There are some blooms that seem to create their own light.  I'm not sure if that is why I'm so drawn to them, but I can't seem to ever get enough.

Bee Balm (Monarda)
Other than how they draw the light, these plants don't seem to have much else in common. They certainly aren't all a certain color or take any particular form.  The Beebalm is a native perennial, the Grandpa Ott Morning Glory is a reseeding annual vine, one of the original plants offered by the Seed Saver's Exchange,
Granpa Ott Morning Glory -  "Bavarian Style" 
and the so-called Dwarf Pomegranate bush represents the hazards of buying a plant off the back of a truck from an unknown vendor.

I'd been shopping at one of my favorite local nurseries when an unmarked truck pulled up to deliver a shipment of plants. They had several extra pomegranate trees in pots supposedly "left over" from another nursery that had declined to take more than they'd originally ordered, and I inquired if I could have any. Marked "Dwarf Pomegranate" in chalk on the side, I figured I had just the spot for two and we quickly struck a deal.

As it turns out, the pomegranate trees grew to about eight feet.  It is the fruit that is small, not the trees themselves.  Details, you guys, details.

It matters not.  Though it means I'm trimming off suckers from the base for weeks each year, I chose to clip them up into a mini-canopy where they arch gracefully over the cobalt blue birdbath.  It is a vignette that puts a smile on my face nearly year 'round, especially this year when both trees seem to have gotten whatever they needed weather wise and are putting on an impressive display of flowers.

Speaking of impressive displays of flowers - the Opuntia ellisiana, or spineless prickly pear, are pulling out all the stops this year.  These blooms are amazing - they just glow.  I didn't pay a penny for any of mine - I got my first pad off a pile curbside from another gardener who was trimming her plants down.  One pad led to another and pretty soon I was the one with piles of pads to give away.  Spineless prickly pear - the Mother of All Passalongs.

And this last one, well, I actually don't know precisely what it will look like when it fully unfurls but, look!  My very first cholla blossom-to-be!  I've had this plant for years but I'm like a child with a new toy watching it bloom for the first time.  I can hardly wait to welcome it and see who else shows up to admire it along with me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Photographic Memory

Going outside with my camera is a more frequent occurrence than going out to weed or water either one.  Bottom line, taking and even editing photographs is simply a lot more enjoyable than hauling watering cans or yanking weeds. Both watering and weeding are important precursors to having anything worth taking photographs of, naturally.  With a sketchy memory like mine, having photographs on hand as reminders of the potential rewards sure comes in handy as motivation.

If one day I am scratching my head and wondering, hmmmm....how long did it take to get from hauling water to baby along the plants shown here...
Bluebonnets! March 10, 2014
past here...

I cut these mature seed pods prior to predicted heavy rain (3 inches!).  May 3, 2014
to here?
Harvested bluebonnet seed futures May 18, 2014
I simply pull up the photos I've taken for the blog and check the dates.  Then when doing that triggers a desire to go back,
March 18, 2014
February 24, 2014
all the way back
February 18, 2014
to see how long it took to get from here...
February 14, 2014
to here?  Rinse, lather, repeat.
April 2, 2014
Occasionally, a before and after set helps remind me of lessons re-learned. Guess what happens when I stubbornly put a cheater pot out front filled with proven delicious-to-deer bloomers?
So pleased with myself for planning ahead, tra la! April 14, 2014
Sigh...Yup.  It might not occur the first night, it might not occur until after two or three nights, but the key takeaway is that The Munching always happens eventually and things ends badly.  For the plants, at least.  I'm supposing the deer was delighted.
I moved the pot out front May 1, 2014.  The morning of May 3rd it looked like this.  Bambi wins again!
Finally, when it comes to jobs that won't, simply can't, last as long as I'd like, such as weeding?  Oh such a thankless job, weeding.  Because I never get ahead, I can never stay ahead.  The seed bank accounts in my garden beds unfortunately represent multiple seasonal deposits.  One withdrawal barely makes a dent.

Rather than reaching for a flamethrower, I find looking at before and after shots encouraging.  A "You've done it once, you can do it again!" approach.  A reminder that these spaces look pretty good, given the chance to shine they way they were originally intended.  Because while this is everything I could hope for in a garden tableau...
April 19, 2014
unfortunately then it morphs into this....
Weedy weedy gone to seedy. May 18, 2014
and takes hours of stoop labor to get it back to this, again.
The reappearance of the ceramic shard mosaic mulch is fussy work but worth it.  The colors underneath the bench function as a reverse shadow all summer long.  May 19, 2014
Are all the weeds in this bed one hundred percent gone?  Ha! Not even close. I'll allow myself a generous accounting of ninety-nine percent gone, and know that if I can get back to this space every week or so for just a few minutes of work, I'll have the summer's worth of joy as my reward. That's a pretty fair trade.  And not if, but when I forget?  The photos will be right here to remind me.