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, September 30, 2014

Widely wonderful

Just a few shots of the front beds for this monthly Wide Shot cycle, hosted by Heather at Xeric Style.

Keeping with our original shoestring budgetary practices, I bought a few four inch pots to supplement the planting beds out front, but I also put out wildflower seed and welcomed passalong plants to help fill in the wide open spaces that used to be nothing more than an expanse of boring lawn and ground covers.
The front curb on the uphill side is holding up pretty well.  There are a few blooms here and there but most of those are in the dappled shade behind the agaves and beyond.  There are bluebonnet seedlings emerging across this area, and I am going to put out more Indian blanket seed in the coming days.
The curb on the down hill side is putting on more of a Fall display.  Turk's cap, lantana, salvia greggii, beauty bush and Mexican honeysuckle on the left side of the second tier of plantings have been supplemented by two small desert ruellia (a woodier less invasive cousin that appeals to local pollinators and so might be an advantage over the native in this case.) and two small salvia leucantha, (another near neighbor that is a well adapted non-native and benefits local pollinators).   By next fall, these new additions should be providing a significant color boost and provide further diversity here.

Here's a closer look showing off that second tier of plantings with a little more specificity.  Waves of rosemary hold a steep slope in place, so that behind them a variety of native plantings can flourish even though the layer of soil here is very thin.

Peeking behind the second tier, down what used to be a well trodden deer path.  Working from the far side we've been putting in plants as barriers to through traffic.  So far, so good.  We are about three quarters of the way finished.
You can see the salvia leucantha closing the gap at about the mid point.  It will hopefully stretch out and further fill in over the coming seasons.   In that wide area just behind the inland sea oats?  Next Spring we'll put in a sumac, or perhaps a persimmon.  Or more datura.  Or more leucantha.  Or datura and leucantha and a sumac!  At least I've got options.  I'll decide when the time comes.

That is that for September here at austin agrodolce.  Short and sweet.  We are thoroughly enjoying Autumn here in Central Texas, and wherever you are? We hope your Fall is filled with promise.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Immersed in their work

Apparently, the best way to keep an eye ON a beauty berry bush...is to keep an eye IN the beauty berry bush.  An adolescent male (a guess due to the territorial behavior) mockingbird has essentially set up shop in this last as yet unstripped fruit bearing beauty berry, Callicarpa americana, on our lot.  He sits there all day until and unless one of us gets too close.  Then, fussing, he retreats, but not far and not for long.
This particular beauty berry bush, planted closest to the house, is typically the last one to have its berries eaten each year. This young bird is quite determined to get his fair share.  Or more.  If he eats them all he'll have to waddle over to the nearest tree.
I am amazed each year at how bright these berries are and though I'd love to have them left on display a little longer, when I see how much the birds, mockingbirds especially, enjoy them?  I am more than happy to share.  Sharing has its rewards, as well.  We have a couple or three bird planted volunteer beauty berries coming up in our spaces.  I consider them the result of a most happy cooperative venture.

When I spotted the tiny scrub snail on this pot I couldn't help imagining it had scootched all the way up the side to see what that white mulch was, scattered all around the tasty succulent.  Then when it got close enough to see the piles of empty shells, it had the snail equivalent of an "oh Sh*t!" moment and fled the other direction.
Some things you are better off not knowing, little snail.
We are still enjoying every cooler morning, not taking a single one for granted, excitedly opening windows to welcome in the gift of fresh air.  This is a wonderful time to be in Central Texas, especially outdoors in Central Texas, and that is just where I'm headed.  The garden beckons.  Hope you are having a lovely Fall as well, wherever you may be.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A season for surprises

I would never pretend to know the names of most of the plants growing here. My inability to recall which plant is what extends even to perennials I've personally planted here over the past several decades.  In my defense, there are a lot of plant possibilities to consider for the varying microclimates that can occur on even a mid-sized suburban plot, especially as you get a little further away from the center of town.  In these hills just south and west of Austin, there exists every planting and growing situation you can imagine.

Coming into the game a blank slate, as I began to try gardening here I had a very steep learning curve.  Figuring out what might work versus what was out of the question required a methodical approach.  I used nothing of the sort, wandering through each nursery and big box store willy-nilly, drawn to whatever looked best that day.  I read every identification and "requirements" tag and once purchased, completely ignored most of them.

If something was pretty I got one.  Sometimes more than one.  I bought a lot of plants that died.  A whole lot.  Was it any wonder I needed to forget?  Time passed and I grew more philosophical about my losses.  A few plant names I'd somehow always known and eventually I learned a few more. It got to the point where I could remember what to call Verbena without having to scrape too hard.
Some plants, small trees especially, have always been here and I either mis-identified them (you are shocked - I know!) or I simply never took the time to learn their name.  These little roughleaf dogwoods out back were persistently referred to for years as "you know, those bushes out back that aren't altheas".
So it was no surprise really, or at least it should not have been, when my daughter mentioned she thought the fruit on the small tree in front of where she parks is really pretty this year.  "Fruit?" I asked.  "What fruit?  Fruit where? What small tree!?".  So she took me out to see.
She is right.  The fruit on this small tree IS really pretty this year.  More remarkably, this is the first time any of us ever noticed ANY fruit on this tree. I'd never really looked closely at it, not once. All this time I'd idly assumed it was just another yaupon growing up under the live oaks.
Not even close.  This is a slightly sun starved specimen of Diospyros texana, the Texas persimmon.  I never noticed any flowers on this little tree (Next year! Next year I'll pay attention!) but the fruit are hard to ignore.
Can you imagine I had this beauty right under my nose all this time and never noticed it before?  Me neither.
Perhaps I garden too much with my head down and focus kept narrowed.  Clearly I need to look up and around more often and pay better attention to more than just the task at hand.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Happy First Day of Fall!

Autumn has officially arrived! Gardens and gardeners alike are rejoicing throughout the land (or at least the parts of the land that are otherwise known as Central Texas).  Hope you are finding reasons to celebrate wherever you are.  Summers may be long, but life is short!
Ball moss against the morning sky

Sunday, September 21, 2014

No, really, I mean I FORGOT

Lately I've read on a couple of local blogs that some of my favorite gardeners had planted red spider lilies and then forgotten all about them until they saw them in bloom recently.

When they wrote that they'd "forgotten" I believed they meant temporarily.  As in "oh, that's right! I planted those and then forgot about them" which is not to say they really forgot, forgot, they just weren't thinking about the Lycoris radiata they'd planted because they can take up to two years to bloom after planting, and they don't always bloom every year.  One site I consulted playfully hinted aliens from another planet controlled their bloom cycles just to torment earthbound gardeners.  

I looked at their photos of Lycoris in bloom in their posts and remembered I'd seen bulbs for sale when I made my last major nursery buyout.  I think I commented on both sites about how I wished I had picked some up.  Shortly after that my daughter pointed out more bulbs for sale at the big box hardware store where I (almost) always resist buying plants because who knows where they came from?   I agreed they were striking as we passed them by.
As I watched the rain from Tropical Storm Odile wake up heat-idled beds, I was regretting that I hadn't bought any Lycoris bulbs for my own garden spaces.  Sure, I had picked up a couple of new oxblood lily bulbs, and at least one of them began blooming already. But oxblood lilies, as lovely as they are,  just aren't quite as flamboyant as Lycoris.

I had "passed-that-plant-up-regret".  Big time.

Then as I went out to pick up Saturday's mail, you'll probably guess what I spotted out in a front bed close to our mailbox.  Yup.  Lycoris radiata.  I planted them and then forgot about them.  And I do mean FORGOT.  ALL ABOUT THEM.  As in completely, totally, if you'd insisted to me I'd already planted some, I'd call you a liar to your face.  (not really, I wasn't raised that way)
The deer have already bitten one or two flower stalks off neatly at the top.  I'm not sure why I believed all the sites claiming these were deer resistant.  Obviously I was reassured enough to plant the bulbs in jeopardy.  I'd make a joke that the deer don't read the lists of resistant plants but it is too soon.  I'm still way too peeved.

I can only hope Bambi took a bite or two and didn't like them enough to eat any more.  Ever. I hustled to get a couple of shots of the rest of the blooms just in case.  Now I'm trying to decide whether to leave them where they are or to try and move them inside the fence after their blooms fade*.  (*But before I forget.  Again.)
Anybody have any experience transplanting these beauties?  I'm all ears.

Friday, September 19, 2014

For the record

Do you ever talk to yourself?  I do occasionally.  I maintain I'm always aware that I'm doing it at the time.  I also maintain that makes a difference.

Sort of like right now with this blog post.  It consists of a series of before and after shots of beds here indicating the editing, both adding and subtracting, that I've been doing the past few weeks.  After my efforts the focus of what I've got growing in these beds now has shifted to more accurately reflect one of the more objective goals of gardening:supporting wildlife with native plants.

This may not enter new territory or be particularly entertaining for some and that's fine.  I need to have these images on this site in a post because awareness aside, I view things differently once they are on my computer screen.  It is an entirely arbitrary distinction how I see them when they are similarly screen bound as raw photos in a digital library, but in my mind the distinction and the difference exists.  So let's get looking, shall we?

There were two beds I focused on as I applied the first of several changes.  The bigger bed, which I'll call the Big Bed, and the bed that is a bit shaped like a boat that I'll call the Ship Bed.  From both I removed large clumps of non-natives, many of which became passalong plants and a few of which were transplanted to areas out front.

This was the Previous State of Being in the Big Bed.  This is where most of our edible plants live.  I'd already transplanted out Jewels of Opar and most of the garlic chives.
I planted two H. Duelberg salvia plants in the middle of the large open area. H. Duelberg are descendant of Mealy Blue salvia predecessors.  I've got to be careful not to over-water these as they are getting established.
After a trip to the nursery came four more H. Duelberg salvia plants, five tropical milkweed plants, and a healthy scattering of a combination of clammyweed, Indian blanket, and Larkspur seed.  Pre-existing verbena is responding to rain and less crowded conditions.  Bluebonnet rosettes continue to establish themselves, pink evening primrose plants are resurgent, and the mint that rules this universe along with the freely reseeding Jewels of Opar is cropping up everywhere I haven't pulled it completely out.
The jalapeño pepper plant to the left rear is still producing peppers, so it stays.  The basil immediately to its right is sporting some major seed stalks that the finches love.  The basil stays for now.  The tropical milkweed plants aren't in bloom but they're close.  I harbor hopes they'll draw in some migratory monarch action.  If not this season, then certainly next Spring when all the flowers are back up on already established plants.

As a parting gesture I buried some nasturtium seed for our winter salads.  Hey, people need to eat, too.  If some of everything planted and scattered here comes up?  This bed will be a pretty lively and delicious space.

On to the Ship Bed.  This shot was taken before removing most of the non-natives.  Honestly I look at this and think it looks pretty good as is.  So why would I want to move around healthy plants doing well and looking good right where they are?
There is not much room left in this mostly sunny bed and barely any native plants in play. That had to change.  The Jewels of Opar came out, as did the ox-eye daisies.  The rosemary was cut way back, the Meyer Lemon tree trimmed, and a lonely daylily moved up front into more sun.  A coneflower that struggled for light was similarly rescued.  Here's a look:
I took out that rear clump of liriope and trimmed the grocery store "mini-rose" back.  I transplanted additional verbena into the back left corner.  In a spot already hosting a native rain lily, I put in pink and yellow rain lilies, some ox-blood lilies,  (I'm OK with a few non-native plants) and scattered seed for native wildflowers here as well.
The ox-blood and yellow lilies aren't blooming.  Yet.  There is a Flame Acanthus I transplanted here from the front where it was courting death after suffering from an excess of shade and deer attack.  I put in another H. Duelberg salvia with its blue blossoms to echo the bed across the walk, and to complement the acanthus' orange display.   Both acanthus and salvia once fully grown, will provide additional shading for various rain lilies, which like some sun cover during the Spring and Summer months.  I'm excited to see how these plants will all fill in and flower as their season to shine approaches.  In the meantime, I'm very happy with this early display as a promise of beauty to come.
Pink Rain Lily, probably Habranthus robustus

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Drawn out

I absolutely can't help myself.  When I see swaths of pink in the morning skies I am simply pulled outside to dawdle and gawk a while.  As my gaze was directed upwards today I was similarly struck by a starkly lit moon.  Without intervening atmosphere or trees, the morning sun can be harsh indeed.
Of course once I was outside, I realized there was a bit of early morning detective work to do, and potentially some clean up as well.
I knew "snails" as an abstraction were putting holes in the leaves of coneflower plants I'd recently brought home from the nursery, but whenever I checked the leaves during the day, they were persistently unpopulated.  Not so this morning.

I gathered up and tossed at least half a dozen snails in specificity, rudely interrupting the morning meet up at the coneflower bar.  Including one especially cheeky snail who apparently thought it could get away with nibbling on that nursery trip's impulse buy, a deep pink coneflower.  Sorry Mr. Snail, the bar is closed.  You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.
On that same trip to the nursery, I made a planned purchase in the form of a handful of tropical milkweed plants.  I have eventual hopes of luring migrating monarchs into our spaces.  I say eventual, because the plants haven't bloomed quite yet, and there isn't anything currently for the butterflies to feed on. That hasn't stopped a small colony of yellow aphids or the ladybug I saw drawn to them yesterday.  They were all busy feeding in turn.

This morning the ladybug had moved on, so I took my garden paintbrush and carefully brushed as many of the rest of the aphids off into a soap bath as I could reach.  The milkweed cafe is temporarily closed, hopefully to reopen under new floral management.  With any luck there will be monarchs nectaring at this neighborhood eatery very soon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fall Color

Native Texans will automatically sense I'm joking around by invoking the term "Fall Color".  According to our State's many gleeful detractors, we not only lack authentic autumn weather here in Texas, but what with our prevalent cedar and live oak trees, we most certainly do not have anything that passes for Fall Color.

Up to a point, our detractors are correct.  Through October, much less September, our weather rarely calls for donning a sweater, unless like me, you're a bit sensitive to the chill provided by air conditioners.   And with the possible exception of a couple of the less common trees to our area, there are not a lot of leaves changing colors to signal winter is on the way.

Yet I maintain we do have our own set of color signifiers.  They just aren't going to be apparent if you are looking up.  In my garden spaces, rather than foliage displays, Fall Color is more about the appearance of certain blossoms that wait until summer's heat has abated.  Around here, these flowers are just as reliable a sign of the change in seasons as any flashy, look-my-leaves-are-dying tree.

One sure pop of color hitting its stride right now?  Hamelia patens, or Mexican firebush.  While this plant is native to Florida, it is a well adapted non-native, designated a Texas Superstar by Texas A&M.  Native or not, it does a great job supporting native pollinators and hummingbirds with its tubular blossoms.  A bit cold sensitive, mine has reliably come back from the roots after the harshest winter weather.  The protracted cold we experienced last year put a bit of a delay on bloom initiation, but there was no stopping this beauty.
Next up? Scarlet Sage, or Salvia coccinea.  This self-seeder resists deer and tolerates shady hillsides with poor soil, making it ideal for lining the drive up to our house.
I keep these trimmed down to prevent legginess but that is all the care they require.  Once the summer heat fades a bit these tough little plants reward us and the hummingbirds with weeks of blooms.  Fighting against my childhood indoctrination that you cannot mix red and pink, I've got both colors going out front.
Occasionally I gather the seed pods off a spire and sprinkle them into some new spot.  Maybe the birds are doing the same?  I don't care who is responsible, I'm just happy to have these pretties popping up in all sorts of relatively inhospitable places.
Perhaps you noted that blurry bit of yellow in the background of the photo above?  Let's pull that into focus next, for it deserves a view all its own.  I first noticed Lindheimer's senna on a trip The Hub and I made out to the Lake Buchanan area years ago.  It was an El Niño winter, and the senna bushes were blooming away in January.  I loved their leaves as much as their blooms, and was determined to introduce some into our spaces.
For a gardener on a tight budget, Senna is a very wise choice.  These tough natives produce readily collectible seed pods with a fairly sturdy germination rate.  You might need to buy one senna plant, but if you are patient and want more? You'll never need to buy a second one.

Speaking of easily propagated, no fall color lineup would be complete without making mention of Fall Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana.  
A distant relative of mint (those squared stems are a dead giveaway), this plant is predictably willing to spread past its point of origin, earning it the label of "potentially aggressive".  While this beauty does love to multiply, it is easy to pull out, and though it reportedly gets fairly tall in the moist shady areas it prefers, in my much drier sunnier spaces it maintains a more modest height.  I've read this is highly deer resistant, though I haven't put that to the test here.  Yet.  Hummingbirds love these freckled purple flowers and so do I.

Each year I cheerfully take the plants that have strayed past the bed border and transplant them into some new corner that could use a little pop of purple in September.  As it turns out, there are lots of those corners here and so far, the obedient plants have adapted to everything but the hottest driest spaces.

To continue our parade of Fall Color in Texas, I'd like to salute a small native tree,  the Texas kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana).  It might not sport brightly colored leaves, but its white bloom spires are every bit as welcome.
Mildly fragrant, these blooms are swarmed by pollinators for hours every day. Withstanding a blast of afternoon sun all summer long, this well mannered little tree blooms intermittently from May well through October.  I admire its delicate foliage in between flowerings, but it is hard not to be smitten with kidneywood's sweet white blooms.

Unless it is purple berries you'd prefer?  Then you'll appreciate the closer for my Fall Color roundup, the Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).  The name says it all.  See for yourself.
Deer love the leaves, birds love the berries, I love the look. Color? Beautyberry has your color right here.  If the spectacular magenta berries taste as delicious as they look, then it is no wonder the birds and squirrels fight over these. Preferring a bit of shade, these edge habitat understory natives bring their own light to the party.

OK East Coasters.  I've had my fun.  It is September again and you will have your annual run of glory days to boast of striking fall color. Your reputation is well deserved as far as it goes.  But please, don't ever try to convince me we don't have color in Texas in the Fall.  It might not be the leaves on our trees capturing the spotlight each autumn, but when it comes to color in the landscape?  We've got gracious plenty.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Local excitement

I'd written previously about my big plans for the beds out back this year. I wanted to go on the record so this wouldn't be one of those situations where I ended up being all talk and no trowel.  Truth be told, I occasionally come up with big plans that never get off the drawing board.  Not this time though.  I'm already on my way!  Here's what the first bed selected for revisions looked like before I got started.
There's nothing really wrong here, but this is one of my few sunny spots out back and it had been taken over by non-native plants.  Jewels of Opar, Rosemary, Ox-eye daisy mounds, garlic chives and a Meyer lemon tree are all happy as clams here but most of them don't support native pollinators and that's not in keeping with what I want for our spaces.  So.  Deep breaths taken, one hot and sweaty work session later, and the bed now looks like this:
I left one daisy clump in the far left corner.  I worked around two verbena plants, two clumps of liriope, a patch of bristly mallow, wire grass and a grocery store mini rose bush, leaving them all where they were.  I also left a small clump of garlic chives in place as they are in bloom right now and support pollinators when not much else does.  

I'm a little on the fence about the liriope.  I really like how it is evergreen and I love the subtle flowers. At the moment I plan to leave the clump behind the bird feeder pole because they suppress bird food seed germination a bit, but before long the other clump is destined to take a little trip over to the compost heap.  

I trimmed back the lemon tree a bit, the rosemary a lot, removed the rest of the daisies and all but one Jewel of Opar (hidden behind the lemon).  A giant cosmos growing in the far right corner came out.  I carefully moved a coneflower mound to a more open spot.  I transplanted an orange day lily clump into a place of pride where hopefully it will respond to the lack of crowding and sunshine with a lovely display of blooms.  Eventually.
Here's a look from another angle.  There is room in the bed now for new sun loving native flowering plants to join the party.  And I find that super exciting. The prospect of new native plants (and maybe a little seed scattering too) just makes my day.

And then? This!  It rained a little!
The precipitation didn't last long and the totals weren't significant, but it sprinkled multiple times after I'd gotten the bed cleared out and all my transplants relocated.  I'm not big into portents but it felt like a beneficial sign.  And the rain gave me a great excuse to stop and drink some water while the plants were doing the same.

Finally?  As I was drinking that water, take a look at what I spied from my front door:
An orb weaver.  Isn't she a beauty? Most of the garden spiders out back seem to have decamped since the largest female disappeared.  This lovely lady is currently setting up shop out front.  Maybe she heard about the dicey conditions out back.  Word of web? Anyhow, I'm quite happy to welcome her to the garden.  When it comes to these beneficial spiders, the more the merrier.

I'm calling it quits for the day but I still have big plans for three other beds out back.  I'd prefer cooler weather for both garden and gardener's sakes, but I don't want to waste time now that August is behind us.  Next on the list? Moving variegated liriope sprigs into position to give the edge of a back bed a more finished look.  Because, hot or not, I've got work to do!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Usual Suspects

Welcome back for another post as part of Wildlife Wednesday, when garden bloggers stop to appreciate the fauna that goes along with the flora in our outdoor spaces.

Here at austin agrodolce, we don't simply welcome birds, we work hard to lure them in.
Chief Bird Watchers: Bijou and Sketch
We keep our cats indoors.
Lesser Goldfinch couple
We put out feeders,
Blue Jay
we provide lots of water,
Beauty Berry Bush
we plant native perennials known to provide berries and habitat.  And, we use very few chemicals in our outdoor spaces.  If that means things get a bit buggy here?  The birds don't seem to mind one bit.
Black chinned hummingbird
To reward our efforts we have a fairly consistent cast of feathered characters who serenade and otherwise keep us good company whenever we venture outside.  Above and to follow are the stalwart regulars that make up our Avian Ensemble.
Ruby throated hummingbird

House Sparrows

Black crested titmouse

Poppa Cardinal - We are pleased to share our gardens with a nesting pair.
Carolina Chickadee
Yellow Warbler
Carolina House Wren - A mating pair leads us a merry chase each year as we try to prevent them from nest building in a car bumper or empty shoes or the tip bag stored in the garage.
Eastern Screech Owl adult
Eastern Screech Owl fledgling
White tailed Dove
There are a few other feathery visitors coming our way.  We get the occasional flock of Robins and Cedar Waxwings stopping by to feed on seasonal berries.
There are smaller Mourning and Inca doves that tend to show up later in the summer and a crew of woodpeckers that work the trees out back.  I recently got a photo of a woodpecker though it wasn't great.  They're pretty shy.  The other doves always seem to catch me without my camera.  But I'll get them all, sooner or later.

Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall, birds in the garden here are as constant a presence as the weeds, but they are a lot more welcome and a lot better company.  We love them all.