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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dashing through the....


This time of year I spend most of my days indoors, though not entirely by choice. March, April and May are arguably the most pleasant months of the year in Central Texas.  Featuring moderate temperatures buffered by gentle breezes and offering flowers popping up everywhere, Spring is the ideal time to get outside and enjoy everything Texas has to offer.
Lady Banks Roses growing at Laguna Gloria
Ideal for some, that is.  I'm severely allergic to several trees that lavishly bestow their pollen upon the world each springtime, chief amongst those our beautiful Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana), mainstay of landscapes statewide. Every Spring while the oaks leaf out, I stay in, away from their pollen catkins releasing irritants that plague by triggering my overactive immune system.
You may well wonder, "have you tried...?" and I'll risk interrupting to tell you, "Yes.".  Yes, I've tried it all, and the best recourse I've found in order to support a reasonable facsimile of respiration while maintaining a semblance of good humor involves medication along with isolation.  As in isolating my nose, keeping it at least one filter away at all times from, well, the air.  The soft, warm, pollen laden air.
It has been like this since I was a youngster, and over the years I've learned how to make the best of my situation.  Time spent gazing out windows helps me plan for improved sight lines.  I run errands in batches, keeping my car windows closed.  I know what I can get away with, and what needs to be off the table until mid May.  And I (mostly) stick to that.

I venture out only in the late afternoons, when pollen counts are a bit lower. I stay out 15-20 minutes or less.  I multitask, putting out fresh nectar for the hummingbirds as I pass the feeders, weeding a small section of path while waiting for watering cans to fill from rain barrels and refreshing bird baths along the way.  I take along clippers and trowel, occasionally bringing a few blooms inside or handling a transplant that cannot wait.

And I try to always take my camera along.  Transitions are rapid.
A spiderwort volunteer transplanted out of a path last August
One day's bud is the next day's blossom.
This spiderwort went from bud to bloom overnight, attracting one of the tiniest pollinators I've ever caught in a photo.
Though not native I'm hoping the bottlebrush tree will help attract hummingbirds.
Oxeye Daisies
Twenty-four hours often marks the difference between swollen branch and fully developed leaves.
Sumac is one of the last to green up, wisely waiting until the chance for freezing weather is past.
Spring waits for no one, and I used to get a bit frantic annually as seasonal garden chores stacked up.  Reading about what other folks were reasonably accomplishing before the temperatures soared occasionally made me wonder why I didn't simply throw in the facial tissue and hire some help.
Ajuga blooms undaunted by a blanket of oak leaves.
I suppose it is because I am as stubborn as I am cheap.  Working the soil year in and year out, I know if I will wait, only wait, there will be plenty of time for me to get everything done in June, July and even August, long after sensible Texan gardeners have called it a year and retreated inside.
Carolina wren greets the sun
We all have our limitations.  I'm deeply grateful this particular one has fully predictable beginning and end points.  I'm grateful as well to all you non-pollen affected gardeners and bloggers who are out there working your spaces, touring, snapping photos and posting about the beauty unfolding around and under our lovely oak trees.  I'll be right back out there with you, in just a bit.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Out like a lamb...

If you regularly read garden blogs originating from Central Texas you are seeing a lot of wonderful photos of bluebonnets and mountain laurels in full bloom. Seasonal rains came at a good time, and folks are understandably smitten with the results.  We Texan gardeners can become a bit giddy over what looks to be a bumper crop of native blossoms. With the reappearance of the Death Star imminent, delicate flowers don't hang around for very long.  We can get a bit carried away.

That said, I am looking at things a bit differently this year, noticing differently, if you will, and this view absolutely took my breath away. Aside from the excitement around seasonal blossoms, to me, this is what the end of March looks like in Central Texas.
Surrounding Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) adorned with new leaves forming alongside pollen catkins, are dappling every line of sight with the most achingly poignant shade of green imaginable.  They provide an absolutely idyllic backdrop for the reappearance, however brief, of Spring's denizens.
There.  You didn't think I'd let you go without showing you my mountain laurel, did you?  And, just because I can...
OK.  Now we're done.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Garden ball Gazing Guy and I both want to wish everyone a very sweet First Day of Spring.

At least, if you live in this Hemisphere...  If not, stay warm and know that as soon as we are finished with it and clean up after?  We'll be sending Spring right back to your side of the globe/s.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ready or not!

So far it is mostly the early self seeded bluebonnets in a bed out back that are already in bloom.
These bluebonnets established rosettes last summer before I even finished collecting seed pods. 
In addition to the over-achieving lupines out back however, yesterday I noticed one of the "regularly scheduled" bluebonnets in bloom on the plants growing alongside the curbing out front.
That "on time" bluebonnet, in combination with buds shooting up over rosettes and taking shape atop leafy stems of all descriptions, signals to me our recent warmer Spring weather has triggered The Great Unfurling.
Oxeye daisies are gearing up.

Pomegranate bushes have leaves left from last year dancing above the new growth emerging.
Every Fall I chastise myself for not pulling out more of the residual Vinca ground cover.  Then every Spring it decks itself out in purple blossoms, and all is forgiven for another season.
I'm noting swellings at branch nodes on even the typically tardy leafers - the sumac and althea are perhaps only a couple of weeks away from greening out. 
Sumac (Rhus lanceolata)
Althea bushes, while not native, are very well adapted to Texas weather and they've responded to warmer soil with opened seed pods in preparation for generating new plants as well as new leaves on established specimens.

Seed pods open up like flowers as a predictor for beauty yet to be realized.

The bottlebrush tree, another well adapted non-native, is getting ready to do...something! I'm not familiar enough with bottlebrush to recognize if these are blooms-to-be or simply new leaves on the way but they are very attractive in their own right...whatever they are.

Now that the bottle tree has a couple of years under its belt, I'm optimistic if these are not in fact blooms in progress, that the eventual flower display will (finally!) justify my interest in having one.

On a "blink and you'll miss it" timer, this spirea bush (cultivar unknown) is mere hours away from being covered in delicate white blossoms.
And as you'll see on the stem close up to the buds to the left in this closer shot, even the aphids are back (if they ever really went away).
I never noticed aphids on the spirea before, which probably means only just that - I never noticed. I'm coming to realize most of the activity I notice going on in my gardens has always been going on, right under my nose.  Since things are doing reasonably well without my intervention, watching and waiting for natural systems to balance themselves out over time is usually a safe move.

A safe move depending on your gardening goals, that is.  The spaces here behind the fence are private. Except for close friends or family, we don't invite visitors in.  If things look a little ragged, we don't mind.  Other than grabbing a shot for those of you coming here to read blog posts I don't have to get beds "viewing ready" for anything or anybody.  And the many lessons to be learned? They will wait until the pupil is ready.  This garden is keeping to a schedule all its own.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Better wetter

Here in the States, children memorize all sorts of rhymes, even before we learn to read.  Among them,
Rain, rain, go away
come again some other day.


April showers bring May flowers...

Once upon a time I'd fervently sing the first even while I deeply believed in the truth of the second.  It never occurred to me the two could be either contradictory or linked.  I was a child and questioned little that arrived wrapped in either a catchy tune or a rhyme.

After I became an adult, and especially after I began to garden, the nonsensical nature of both rhymes were fully revealed.  These rhymes simply don't apply, at least when it comes to life in the Lone Star state.

Because everywhere in Texas, when it comes to rain, there is no "other day". And as for May flowers, well....
Didn't wait for May, or rain
May flowers are late comers in our native landscapes.  Flowers here just west of Austin appear in early Spring, and to thrive they need a steady supply of winter rain showers.  Come February seeds are popping up and flower rosettes are trying to establish themselves, growing deep tap roots long before the bluster of April arrives.  
Nope - these guys didn't wait either
But this last February, we didn't get any measurable rain.  No rain in February means powdery dry soil and a hard slow start. A hard start can mean not much of a wildflower show in fields and along our roads.  With no February rains, local gardeners miss another cool weather month's worth of chances to sow seed, transplant established species and set in additional plants unless they are willing to provide supplemental watering along with covering tender growth from freezes.
I planted native milkweed seed here knowing I'd have to hand water the area for weeks with no guarantee of germination
Without fields filled with native flowers, we offer a very poor welcome for beleaguered native pollinators wakening from their winter slumbers.  A low bloom rate bodes ill for migratory visitors as well.  This year's display was in jeopardy.  We were running out of time for the rain we needed.
Pink Evening Primrose patch-to-be (also not waiting)
Enter my new favorite month, March.  Not only did March slide in on skids of mist and fog this year, but it just finished delivering us a gentle area wide three inches (or more) of soaking rain.
And not one day too soon.  
Give it a few more weeks and I'll be sneezing, shaking a facial tissue at the live oaks, March, and ruing the day, but for now?
For now I say thank you! Unlike February (my new least favorite month!) it is clear you read your job description and showed up ready to get to work.
Every flower and flower visiting creature to appear in the weeks to come all owe you a life saving debt. Here's to you, March.  You've gotten Spring 2015 off to a better, wetter start!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Ilex Buffet

The fauna show around these parts has been on winter hiatus, but a bountiful display of berries produced by yaupon trees along the fence line pulled in some regular visitors this February.
Table for two.  
Yaupon, or Ilex vomitoria, suffers a bit of a bad reputation as a result of confusion arising from its name.  According to various sources, indigenous people and early settlers used caffeine bearing young twigs and leaves off Ilex to brew a strong tea which would be consumed in mass quantities and then vomited back up, as part of ceremonial gatherings. Can't you just imagine the invitations?  "Come celebrate the harvest with our tribe!  We'll supply the tea and buckets, you just bring yourself (and a change of clothes)!".
Testing revealed it is not a chemical compound in the yaupon itself that causes vomiting.  Ritual ceremonies apparently included the ingestion of other substances or perhaps participants utilized a finger down the throat.  Either way, the "vomitoria" appellation stuck and has some folks still avoiding using these beautiful trees mistakenly thinking they are somehow protecting children and pets.

Which is a shame, because the berries are quite attractive, drawing in birds and mammals alike, especially after a series of freezes and thaws which theoretically alter their taste or texture in some fashion to make them even more desirable.  Each berry holds 4 nutlets, the protein source everybody is after, including these Eastern Fox squirrels, (Sciurus niger).  After some rather unscientific observation, it appears to me the squirrels mash the berries up in their paws and nibble the nutlets out.
Mature fox squirrels mate twice a year (young females only bear once annually) including a litter born in late January or February.   I'm not experienced enough to be able to determine the maturity or the sex of the two that have been feeding together for hours daily, but one of the two is significantly shyer than the other, retreating deep into the tree whenever I get too close.
That leads me to believe this is a female, while the handsome bolder squirrel who watches closely but rarely moves far from its selected seat at the table?  I am guessing this is her male consort.
Handsome, but he could use a napkin.
Whenever the squirrels take a break, a pair of Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) visits, to get their fair share.
Cardinals do not molt into duller winter plumage, so this male may be an adolescent who has not quite reached full color.  He has been regularly accompanied by a female, who like Ms. Squirrel, is also a bit warier of having her portrait made.
She's in there...keep looking.
Things have been relatively quiet around our spaces the past couple of months. Aside from the ever present deer, and a handful of white tailed dove that took full advantage one afternoon of newly exposed soil underneath a bird feeder, these guests at the yaupon buffet represent the totality of our regular recent wildlife sightings.

I'm eagerly looking forward to an easing up of our spells of freezing and near-freezing weather, as warmer days and nights will trigger an explosion of growth benefitting flora and fauna alike.  The wildlife visitor bureau assures me traffic will pick up in March, and from here forward fauna watching should become a daily pleasure again.

Thanks as always to Tina at My Gardener Says, for hosting Wildlife Wednesdays, a salute to the wonderful creatures who not only share but decorate our spaces with their colorful beings and behaviors.  Be sure to check out the other wildlife posts from all around as linked to in the comments section of Tina's post for March.  Happy Wildlife Wednesday everybody!