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, June 30, 2014

Widely weedy

Whew! Some months wrap up quickly, don't they?  Whoosh go the days and here we are at the end of June already, time for another wide shot exercise graciously hosted by Heather at Xericstyle.

I'm indulging myself a bit and limiting shots to the back beds this month.  The front is fairly static at the moment and I have this fantasy that if I continue to expose the very weedy paths out back it will keep me extra motivated.  I despair I'll never get completely on top of the weed situation here. If I continue laboring for an hour or more in the early mornings before the sun gets high along with the temperatures, I hope to knock the weeds down to the bare minimum.  And I can live with that.
At the moment the overhead shot shows the paths to be pretty awful in spots. The beds (and path!) have been cleared of primrose, the daisies are finishing up and the purple coneflowers are just beginning to bloom.  Pepper plants are setting fruit, and basil and thyme are flourishing.  Most (but not all) of the isolated green bits in the beds are bluebonnet babies and they get to stay.

I toyed with the idea of allowing succulents to grow in the front of that triangular bed behind the bench but the weeds showed up in force instead. That triangle will have to be cleared back down to the gravel mulch soon.
Here's that back bed to the right. The four-o-clocks are up with tropical sage filling in underneath.  The althea "tree" is loaded with buds and is finally sporting a first bloom.  Aztec grass can just be seen to the far left by the rock edging.  I'm hoping to get that established all along the border eventually for contrast. Here and there in every bed, purple heart plants and Jewels of Opar are providing much appreciated pops of chartreuse and purple amongst the deeper greens.
The flat footed view.  There is a new solar lantern hanging above the bench providing another blue accent.  The crepe myrtles to the right (like the ones all around town) are putting on an especially riotous display of blooms this year. Everything is reflecting the overall vigor that regular rains and slightly cooler temperatures encourage.
A look from the far side of the path up through the three central beds.  Ooof. I'd be a lot happier with this shot if the path to the left was a clear as the path to the right.  I console myself with the (probably nonsensical) idea that as the weeds get a little taller they are that much easier to dig out.
Blah blah more weedy path, blah blah blah.  I love the little purple ball shaped blooms of Liriope on the right. I'm thrilled to have coneflowers showing up after being overrun by Primrose and daisies both. I'm even content to allow that bully Ruellia to have a bit of a go underneath the Senna to the right as ruellia seems immune to grasshopper munching and is offering up flowers at the moment.  I'll have another run at digging those aggressive monsters out after the path work is complete.  I won't get all the roots out though and they'll be back again next year, but for the moment?  All sweetness and light.
Coneflowers!  Sorry - couldn't help myself.  Every year I see these blooming in other better managed spaces for weeks before mine get going and I panic a little and think this, THIS is the year I let things go too far and waited too long to clear air space for my well beloved coneflowers.  But these lovely ladies are tough customers as many Texas natives tend to be, and as soon as I give them a little head room and access to sunlight they are back in business.  So pardon my exuberance but, Yay!  Coneflowers!!
Looking the other direction we have what I think of as the birdhouse and bench corner set up for the season. Impossible to tell at this distance but the Yellow Gold lantana is blooming up a storm, the morning glory and roses are all doing their part while the plumeria plants tease with leaves and more leaves.
Sadly, there is no floral joy to report in Plumeriaville as of yet. The leaves are nice but c'mon guys.  We all know it is your flowers we are after.  Cooperate! Please?
To finish, a not-quite-so-wide shot of the waterfall beds and planters.  Nothing much native going on over here but I like having a splash of tropical color to balance the unbroken green of our plethora of potted plumeria dominating the view across the pool.

And there you have it.  Some whining, a few victories, and a lot of work left to do.  Thanks again to Heather at Xericstyle for hosting the monthly wide shot meme.  It'll be back to closely cropped shots again tomorrow. Trowels crossed by the end of next month I'll be back to display some well cleared pathways with my head held high.    

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why yes,

I do have a child attending UT Austin just at the moment.  So hopefully you'll find it understandable that I'd want to capture this "Longhorn Moment" in my gardens.
OK so technically these aren't burnt orange flowers, but close enough.  Go, Horns!
Because if there is one plant (other than succulents in a pot) that I don't shy away from planting "late" in the season here, it is caladiums.  Caladiums are part of the Araceae family, which means they are related to Jack in the Pulpits.  I suppose you could think of them as the flashy branch of the family? (Every family has one!)

You probably knew caladiums originally come from South and Central America. But did you know they've been in cultivation in Europe since the late 18th century?  Take that, tulips!  And did you also know that most of them found in these parts are bred in Lake Placid Florida?  I had no idea.

Caladiums work in Texas in the summer.  They are very heat tolerant, the newer types will handle at least some summer sunshine, and though caladiums aren't politically correct (not native!  don't support pollinators!) or au courant in the least?  Though along with crepe myrtles, mimosa trees, monkey grass and St. Augustine lawns they represent a mostly abandoned version of how Austin landscapes used to look?
I simply can't get over the way their leaves catch the light.  Call me nostalgic and old fashioned, but this to me is just the way summertime in Austin is supposed to look.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Faux Foliage Follow-Up

Every month just past Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, Pam over at Digging hosts a Foliage Follow-Up post-a-thon designed to our increase appreciation for the non-floral wonders in our gardening spaces.  I typically miss both events.  For whatever reason the bloom and leaf memes both sneak up on me month after month, without my having a thing organized to share.

And you'd think it being summertime would fix that, because this is the time of year when experienced gardeners in Central Texas know it is time to hunker down and wait out the heat before attempting to plant anything.  And mostly, that is just what I do.  Other than scattering a little wildflower seed here and there, this is a planning rather than planting season for me.  Except...
Recently I came across an array of locally grown, totally enticing succulents on sale at an agreeable price, hosted in four inch pots.  I get a little weak in the knees when it comes to succulents, so when I felt that familiar stirring deep in my soul and got the urge to buy some new plant babies to take home?  I just went with it.  I had empty pots ready and waiting and just the spot to park them.  Done, and done.
I realize this post isn't coming after anything, and so technically is only a faux foliage follow-up, but I'm most definitely happy to share a little love for the shapes and forms and colors to be found in these leaves.
Thanks, Pam!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Second verse, same as the first

After it rained a few days ago I went out to see what was taking advantage of all the extra moisture.  And of course, what I mostly found were...snails.
Snails eat plants, and eating plants is not particularly garden friendly. Unfortunately I've never seen a snail attacking Bermuda grass or poison ivy either one.  Even snails have their limits.

But, keeping in mind snails also feed birds and snakes and the occasional raccoon, I mostly leave them alone until and unless I see them in sufficient numbers to alarm. Given our ongoing run of droughty hot summers, this has not happened for quite a while.

Speaking of heat and drought, legend has it snails protected Buddha's head from the sun as he meditated during a particularly hot dry spell.  Can you imagine the powers of concentration it would take to ignore tolerate welcome snails forming a shady covering for your head? Yeah. Me, neither.
Out I went with my camera intending to capture images and then identify the types of snails to be found in these spaces.  You can guess the rest.  As it went with birds, and then butterflies, bees, and then moths, I did not find many photos of snails supposedly common to our area that seemed to neatly align with the ones I found.

This is not to say I am hosting any rare or new or previously undiscovered snails.  This is to say I spent a lot longer than I intended online, searching out snail information and images.  Most of what I found was centered around eradicating rather than identifying them.  Understandable, but not helpful.

So for what it is worth, here goes my highly unscientific taking-a-wild-stab-at-what-they-are lineup of usual suspects.  FIrst up? Several examples of some type of scrubsnails.

They are a lot more acrobatic than I imagined.

That smaller, slightly globose shelled snail to the top right side of the photo above, is a common brown garden snail (Cornu aspersum).  They like verbena and penstemon among other flowering plants.  The one on the far left?  It could be a color variant of the common brown or it might be something else. Honestly it beats the heck out of me.
Scrubsnail?  Maybe...
The following is potentially the remnant of some form of Rabdotus.  Or not...
Finally, and here is where I gratefully made a definite identification, the elongated cone shaped shells here in my "snail's graveyard" are a form of Rumina decollata, or the Decollate snail.  They were categorized as an exotic though I have them everywhere.  Or at least their leftovers.

They feed on other snails as well as plants and I ran across a couple of sites that reported the mature snails break the tip off their shell purposefully.
I'd noted their shells were nearly always minus the end and attributed it to wear and tear.  Nope.  The snail did that and nobody seems to know how, much less why.

Score another mystery for the snails.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Maybe Katy Did

maybe Katy did not, but since I only saw one of these (as opposed to the hordes of tiny metallic black Altica litigata beetles and brightly striped baby grasshoppers I've been battling this week)... and since it was so very striking in all its glorious greeness?  I simply let this bug finish its salad in peace.

Identification Woes Continue:  I was pretty sure before I looked anything up that this was a Katydid.  Turns out there are Greater Angle Wing Katydids and Lesser Angle Wing Katydids and even, catch this, False Katydids.
I believe the one I caught munching away on my Four-O-Clocks (Mirabilis Jalapa) is a False Katydid.

As a "joke is even more on me" aside?  I was thinking, as I looked through the viewfinder, "I may not be a scientist but this is obviously a male. Watch out ladies - pretty impressive bug penis there".

Then I began my online investigations only to discover that no matter what type of Katydid this is, it is most definitely of the adult female persuasion. That impressive bug penis?  It is a characteristic "sword shaped egg laying structure".  Seriously, some days I wonder why I even try.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I have met the enemy...

...and she is adorable.
I am out shooing white tail deer away from my (apparently delicious) plants out front all the live long day. Though I check whenever I cannot sleep, I have never caught one in the act, but the evidence left behind is clear. Occasionally, grazing deer are coming up to our front porch in the middle of the night and gnawing away at the "decor" right by our front door.
I try not to stay angry with them.  I use "deer resistant" native plants and fence off what I cannot otherwise protect.
They are, after all, natives here, just like I am.  They were here before we moved in, and they'll have relatives here long after we move out (or are buried in the back yard which is the only way I said I'd ever leave).
There is one particular doe who has taken a liking to an area out front.  Year after year she leaves her nursing fawns here to wait for her return as she forages.  I try not to be softened by what I cannot resist interpreting as an act of trust.  I try.  But...
Look at that face.
Look at those gangly legs.

Even as I rue their ongoing determination to reduce some of my plants to ground level nubbins, I cannot help but admit to and even admire the appeal of their young ones.

Reminder:  Watch this blog and many others, perhaps even yours? for the inaugural Wildlife Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 hosted by Tina at My Gardener Says.    

Monday, June 9, 2014

Cheaters Sometimes Prosper

If I was going to draw my gardening tendencies in pie chart format, I'd have a larger than you might expect sized wedge to represent my collection of and affection for what I think of as "Cheater Pots".
These are not native plants, they benefit only the most local of wildlife, if I'm counting myself and my family members in that category.  Typically they are tropical, always they are impulse buys. I justify their presence by using them to liven up our mantel for a special occasion, or to park by the front or back door when heat and drought have reduced our longer views to a whole lot of Tired.
Like many grocery store plants, these are easy to care for, thriving with little effort.  Over the years we have accumulated a few Spath plants, a handful of orchids and numerous bromeliads.  Eventually they all move under The Hub's ongoing care, earning a spot between periods of bloom in the greenhouse he keeps.
Because while I like cheater pot foliage just fine, and a few of them are particularly striking in appearance, it is and always has been the blooms I am drawn to.  Once those blooms fade it is out! Out to the greenhouse and out of sight, until and unless their blooms reappear.  Or at least that used to be the case.
Last year when we were slated to be gone for ten days,The Hub decided it would be beneficial to take the cheater pots out of the easily overheated greenhouse and nestle them into the ground cover on either side of the path. This area is shaded under large live oaks, dotted with a small collection of gazing and other ornamental "balls" and also hosts our original large bird bath.

It is also, not so incidentally, close to the door way of the garage, a spot where The Hub routinely stands to puff on a cigar and survey his domain.  The effect of the various bromeliads in proximity this way is delightful, and one of the few examples of any sort of massed "plantings" in our spaces.  After coming back from our trip last year The Hub and I agreed. We liked them much better "Out" of the greenhouse.  This year I couldn't wait to see them lifted from obscurity and back on full display.
Reblooming Bromeliads, Spath plants and Acuba "Gold Dust".
I think of it as Candy Land.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

After the Rain

Everything is happier when we get a good rain.  As we are heading away from May with its generous chances for precipitation, I wanted to stop a moment and reflect on how lovely it was to live in a world that was, for once, well wetted.

The plants, the wildlife, the gardeners, everything and everybody responds enthusiastically to a thorough soaking.
The overcast skies delivering drenching rain create other opportunities, including a subdued appreciation of ordinarily brilliant blooms.

A good rain in concert with the residual moisture in its wake, gently coaxes out the rarely seen.

Including a stunning display growing on the stump and root remnants of a hackberry tree shown below.   

I don't know what type of mushrooms these are, but I'm lost in admiration of their exquisite forms.  If ever a fungus deserved the designation "floral", these certainly fit the bill.  Another hackberry trunk nearby served in past years as a home styled bottle tree.  I share that to explain the appearance of the cork mulch. 
As has happened before with birds and bees, butterflies and moths, I searched high and low to identify this fungi without definitive results.  I sense a new obsession taking form....

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A start reveals the startling...

Way back when, days ago, when I was yet lost to innocence, I posted the following cringeworthy photo as part of a monthly "wide shot" meme. It revealed banks of primrose mostly gone to seed, crowding out other established perennials waiting their turn to shine and weeds appearing in numbers that rendered the paths more conceptual than practical.
The Shaggies
Margaret Roach who writes at A Way To Garden summed it up perfectly, stating the appearance of gardens this time of year is subject to a case of  "the shaggies" which certainly resonated with what I was seeing.  Pictures of my beds may be worth a thousand words but this area had been succinctly captured by just the one term.

I had not wanted to post my photographic auto-indictment, but I knew if I did it would help motivate me out into the garden to begin the work needed to reclaim those beds. Any job no matter how large or how small begins simply by getting started.  So start I did.

Here you have it, another look down from above with at least a slightly improved version of my vision.  Better, yes?  Yes!  That is my "start".  Now, for the startling...  As I was pulling out primrose by the hands full, I began to notice a few of these.
After I'd spent several sessions working and had filled my tip bag many times over, when I looked again at the greatly reduced number of primrose plants they each looked more like this:
Yikes!  These little beetles are Altica litigata, and like me, they love them some primrose. Fortunately they don't bite or sting and frankly I think the way their metallic black backs glisten in the sun is handsome.  Unfortunately in addition to their tasties for primrose they are reportedly inclined to move over to crepe myrtle trees to support their colonies.  Which we have three of, fairly near by.  Crepe myrtles, I mean.

No, Altica litigata, no thank you.  No crepe myrtles for you!

I'm optimistic I can handle the beetles non-chemically, with a combination of removing the host plants (including leaf litter underneath) and spending as long as it takes knocking the remaining beetles into soapy water.  These little fellas fly, but not far, and at this point I'm finding it fairly easy to knock them into a deadly soap bath to reduce their numbers.   I don't like stepping into the beds and compressing the soil but at the moment it is a fair trade and what I must do to gain access.

There are several lessons to be learned from this, but one chief lesson here is to avoid letting anything this close to a monoculture get established, no matter how much I like weeks of pink blossoms in my gardens.  Monocultures naturally encourage infestations, and my garden beds are currently proof of that.