Monday, June 30, 2008

Hip, Hip, Hoorain

We actually got a little shower last night and another around two in the morning for a total of 5/8". It wasn't much but after 91 days without it, it will do for now. When I started to smell rain I went up the big hill behind the house to my neighbors. It's a wonderful spot to observe weather as there is a 270 degree view. When I got there, and looked out over Lake Georgetown, I saw a beautiful promise of what nature was about to bestow on me. Hope you like the picture.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Well, a few days ago my Lotus started blooming. And boy has it bloomed. I think this might be a record year for blooms. That would be a good thing as the blooms are magnificent. The blooms are huge, smell good and last for several days.

It is very interesting to watch it go through it's cycles as it blooms. It's really beautiful whether closed or open and after the bloom is gone, leaves an interesting seed head behind that we just leave til the fall. People are always wanting them for arrangements as they are so unusual and interesting to look at. Here's some pictures of a bloom start to finish.

Here is the bud before opening, about 6" tall and 4" wide and tightly wrapped. Certainly a nice promise of what is to come.

When they first open the petals are more upright and not too spread out and of course, beautiful.

The pink is darker, quite intense and you can barely see the yellow of the inside.

In the evening, after being open all day, the bloom closes up for the night. Some blooms, but not all, close up quite rapidly. You can actually see the petals moving as they close.

The next morning starts the cycle over again, opening, staying open all day, and then closing again. This goes on for several days with the bloom opening wider every day until the petals are barely hanging on. The pink color fades a little every day as well, showing more of the brilliant yellow center. Little native bees and flies really like these blooms as do the little spiders that prey on them. This picture shows day four for this bloom. Some last longer than others.

This is day five now. You can see that almost all the pink is gone and the petals are now barely attached. Sadly, this is its last day. I've been lucky enough to be close when some shed their petals and it is pretty cool to watch. On some blooms the petals will start falling off, one after another till they are gone, taking only a minute to completely shed. Others will instantly drop every petal at one time. Some will just drop a few at a time looking quite haggard till the rest are gone.

But it's not too bad because they leave behind an interesting seed head that will last a long time. Even the seed head goes through changes over time on its way to its final destination. Eventually it gets spongy and falls off the stem and floats away to where the seeds will fall out and float even farther away to expand its range. The one on the right is one that has the petals that have fallen off recently. It has been almost a month since the petals have fallen off the one on the left.

With most water pond plants, there is a certain responsibility that goes with owning them. As you can see in the back ground of these pictures, water plants are very prolific. Lotus are no different. You would be very irresponsible to ever let any plant parts get into native water bodies or streams. They literally take over the native plants. I just thought I would post this warning to people thinking about getting into ponds. I've seen it personally in stock tanks and even on Decker Lake where there are now acres of Lotus growing. Any plant parts that are pulled out of our ponds are put into the compost pile unless they are being potted to give to a friend.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gardening Anxiety

Every year I get anxious about whether some plants are going to bloom. This year is worse than some others, what with this early set in of intense heat and little rain. My 5,000 gallon rain water collection tank is already 2/3 of the way down. I know it's not long before I have to start watering from the well. I just hate to water with well water. I usually get stingy with the water when it is from the well. When you are responsible for your own water system you get stingy, as you know what the alternative is. And it will also make you plant more drought tolerant plants.

So far, my anxiety has been for naught. Some plants are late and not quite as glorious as other years but they are blooming. For my gardening year to be good, certain plants must make a show. It seems I accept failures much better in my vegetable garden than I do from my flowers. That's a good thing, too, as the vegetable beds didn't do too well this year. Oh, the beans are doing quite well and the corn put on okay and we are getting tomatoes, but there won't be any cukes or cantalopes this year. The beets would have been good if an armadillo hadn't rooted it up--twice. Onions are good and there are plenty of bell peppers but my Russian radishes barely made at all, and I love my Russian radishes. They need to make more heat tolerant vegetables like they do ornamentals.

There are just certain plants I wait for every year. They must mean more to me than other plants. Some are not even in my garden but grow on our place. These are plants that I have harvested seeds from other places just so I could have them on my place. They are not in my gardens because they won't grow there but at least I've got them on the place. One is the Standing Cypress. I've posted pictures before as it is one of my favorites. Here are some of the others.

This is Mountain Pinks. You can tell from looking at the ground around it that it grows in limestone rocky ground. I've tried to grow it in the good dirt in my gardens and it will not grow. So, I must be satisfied with it growing on the front of our property.

These are some of the most beautiful of all native flowers, Texas Blue Bells. I've seen a huge field of these outside of Lampasas and really thick. When the wind blew you got the sensation of a huge flowing stream with little wind flecked waves. Typing it now lets me see it in my mind. It was a view of nature's art that humans could only wish to duplicate.

This is my favorite flower in my garden. I bought one for my mother and hers did so well she gave me one off of hers. It is a Texas Star Hibiscus, native I think to East Texas. Boy would I like to see a bunch of them in bloom all at one time. Look at the size of that thing would you. To me it is just stunning beyond belief.

This is our long awaited first Lotus bloom of the year. My mother-in-law gave this plant to me about ten years ago, just after we built our first pond. Now we have five ponds and Lotus are growing in three of them. I have given roots off this plant to about fifteen other pond owners through the years and they have done well for all of them.

These are two of our first water lillies to bloom this year. We don't have a whole lot of lily blooms as so much of our ponds are in the shade and they have to have a lot of sun. But thirty or forty a year is enough to keep some color in the pond.

And finally, my Lace cactus bloomed. It's really late this year. This one is different from all the hundreds that grow on our place. The thorn structure is slightly different and in every bloom you get something extra. A little tube grows out of the bloom,and never in the middle but off to the side. I don't know what it is. If anyone knows, please let me in on it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Some of what's in bloom in the heat

This early intense heat is putting a "stop bloom" signal on a lot of the plants and a "quit bloom" signal on others. With a lot of natives and other heat tolerant plants you will always have some bloomers. It shows us that colorful foliage plants that don't depend on blooms to look good are well worth considering. No one likes the heat but it can be a good thing for gardeners. It shows us what we need in our gardens, when the heat hits triple digits, to keep a little color. All we have to do is look at our plants to tell which ones will continue to bloom under the oppression and almost physical weight of the Texas heat. If you don't have any plants that look good in your garden, go to a nursery and see what looks good there, mark it in your note book and buy them in the fall and plant them in anticipation of next year. If they don't have anything that looks good then it's time to look where the plants have evolved to withstand the summer heat-nature.

I've heard it said there are five seasons in Texas--Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer and Super Summer. I've also heard it another way of only four seasons--December, January, February, and Summer. Either way you had better plan for the summer heat as much if not more than you would for the winter cold. My gardens are over half natives. Most of the other half is made up of heat tolerant and well-adapted plants. And then there are those few that I just want to grow, even though I know they may not do well. But, hey you got to try if you really, really like them. And then there are the gimme plants. People give them to you as a gift, and even though you really don't like them, you have to plant them and take care of them. I have miniature Geraniums from a friend that owned a nursery. I hate miniatures of anything and am not a big fan of Geraniums. But they won't die, in fact they have spread out some and look pretty good. Maybe I can find someone to give them to. I've got three colors and fall would be a good time to move them,hint, hint.

Here are some bloomers that are blooming and looking good in my garden right now. This is a Mexican Oregano, a perfect example of a perfect Texas plant. As with any plant with Mexican as the first name it's a dandy. Beautiful and a good cooking oregano as well.

Yarrow is another one I really like. I have these in a little rock bed that has been a problem bed for me. I tried several different types of plants in this bed. Even after amending the soil year after year, nothing seemed to like this bed. My Mom always said you have to find the spot a plant wants to live for it to live well. Well, I had a spot that nothing wanted to live in. The Yarrow is about the seventh different kind of plant I've planted there and it likes it just fine. Thank goodness.

This next one is a plant that is not for everyone, especially if you have kids. But I really like this plant. It's known to be poisonous, even prolonged breathing of the fumes can cause nausea and headaches. The Indians used the plant orally to have their "visions". It played a major role in the Carlos Castenada books about Mexican witch doctors as well. It is the native Daturas. I've been told that the double bloom, purple and white is not considered to be a problem though. The Sphinx moths love it. They are like night time humming birds--way cool. I gave one to my mother as she thought it quite lovely and always said that having white in the garden was calming. She, being the ever diligent gardener that she was had to dead head the old blooms. She called one night to tell me that every time she dead headed the Daturas she would get terrible headaches. I could have sworn I told her it was poisonous. I told her it was and to stop dead heading it. The next time I visited, it was gone, and it took a lot for that woman to kill a plant on purpose.

This is a Standing Cypress, over six feet in height, with a two foot bloom head. They are truly a sight to behold. They are a bi-annual. The first year they are nothing more than a small whorl of wispy leaves lying close to the ground. A lawn mower will go right over them and not touch them. But, the second year they make up for it by shooting up and giving you the big show.

This is what it looks like the first year. Not much to look at, but it's going to turn into this.
Over six feet of spindly stem holding a beautiful bloom head waving in the wind, making for a seductive yet elusive target for the many hummers we have around the gardens. When the wind is blowing and that bloom head gets to waving around, the humming birds have to be at their aerodynamic best to get any nectar out of this beauty.

Rock Rose or Pavonia will bloom on and off all summer long and that crippling heat that stops the other plants from blooming will not effect it one bit. I know that it is a common plant but I like it so I put this picture in because of it's background of Snow Cloud Artemesia, another plant that can take the heat. Non-blooming, this Artemesia is about as close to white as a plant can get. Not great looks by itself but everything looks good with it as a background. It is as hardy as my regular Artemesia and I have given lots of it away to people for that background enhancement.

Don't let the dainty looks of this Greg's Mist flower in the foreground of this picture fool you as it's very heat tolerant. And as you can see, it is a butterfly drawing magnet, in my opinion the best. But it does spread rapidly, which could be a problem for some and is for me as well. It just won't stay in the rock lined bed I have it in. I keep noticing lacy little stems sticking up from the cracks in the rock walkway next to that bed. It isn't a problem to pull them up but I just can't stand throwing them in the compost bin when I know what a great plant it will turn into.

I told you everything looked good against that Snow Cloud Artemesia. This is a Skeleton Leafed Daisy. What a great plant, it's a native, needs no water but dresses it's best with a little help. Mine keeps it's foilage all winter long, and blooms from a late spring start through the summer. It's value to me is not just in it's beautiful blooms but that there is a big green spot out in the garden all winter long. It just keeps some resemblance of spring life through those dreaded winter months. That makes it a very valuable plant indeed as there is not a lot of those to choose from. Salvia Gregii and Mexican Oregano are two others.

These are the last of the Lark Spur as they just don't do the heat well or maybe it's just their life span. Ah, well, but I hate to see them go as they are so beautiful. But I know they left behind the seeds of a new crop for next year as they have been coming up, scattered through my gardens, for years.

It's a good thing I took this picture a week ago as my Bat Faced Cuphea is no more. An armadillo dug it up during the night. With it being so hot at night, it was pretty dried up by morning, and there were months more blooms to see. Damn them Armadillos.

The Jerusalem sage still has a few blooms on it. It was spectacular a month ago and I was too busy building horse stalls for some customers to take pictures. I now regret it as I'm sure you would've wanted to see it. As I said, it was spectacular, just a huge mound of yellow.

I don't get very many blooms on my Puple Heart, but I noticed a few this morning and decided to take a picture. They are tiny and can be easily missed, but they are pretty. The blooms are just a little icing on a nice cake anyway. I like the flowing vine effect with the leaves of this Jew hanging over the rocks. I got my plants from an elderly lady east of Wier, Texas. She had it planted across the front of her property. I stopped to take a picture as it was more Purple Heart in one place than I had ever seen. When she saw me, as any gardener would, she came out to talk. I did fairly good, too. I only stayed about an hour. But I had to promise to come back to see her again. And of course she insisted I take some home. I did go back and took her some giant Petunias. Aren't gardeners just the nicest people?
Besides my big Zinnia bed out front I decided to plant a pack of seeds in with the vegetables this year. They were not the Zinnias pictured on the package as they were supposed to be the big headed ones. It seems to me that a lot of plants and seeds are marked wrong lately. But these are still pretty, just small. My dog, Bonnie, remembers the armadillo she chased out of the garden last night and she's looking to make sure he didn't come back.

Well, it's midnight, so I'm going out and see if there are any moths flying around the Daturas. If there are, I'll take pictures.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Garden Helper Saved

A friend down the road wanted to borrow my fish trap, the one I had made to catch goldfish in our ponds. I had put it under the porch last fall. When I started to pull it out I noticed something moving inside. It was the largest hog nose snake I had ever seen. Most of these kind of snakes only are 10 to 12" long. The largest I've seen to date is maybe 16". This one was close to two feet long. Thank goodness I looked in there when I did as I would have hated for him to have died, as this is truly a valuable garden friend to have.

They are also known as a Spreading Adder and I've heard some city folks call them a Texas Cobra. They are a great friend to have in the garden. They eat almost nothing but bugs with crickets and snails being at the top of the list. What more could you want out of a garden pal. Well, I guess you could want it to not make you soil yourself when you reach into the plants for something and have one crawl across your hand.

Unlike the small rattle snake my wife found while picking bell peppers a few years ago, the hog nose has no poison or even any real teeth in which to defend itself. So it uses every other source at its disposal. When you find one of these snakes you just have to mess with it a little bit so you can see the whole show. Believe me, it's worth taking the time. I had to call my wife, Lyn, so she could see the show. The first thing they do is spread their head out wide, like a cobra, to see if that frightens you off. Then they spray poop out and stink up the area. You hardly want to stay around then. Certainly no predator would want to eat it then. But---if that doesn't work they roll over and play dead. I mean really play dead, and they are good at it too. Unlike Opossums, that actually faint instead of playing dead, a Hog nose is playing dead. They roll on their back, writhe as if in pain, tongue comes out and they go limp. It's dead, anybody can see it's dead. That's what snakes look like when they are dead. But if you grab it and roll it over on it's stomach, it will immediately roll back over on its back. If you go off a little ways, but keep an eye on it and you will see its head come up to look around. If you move, down goes the head. Back to dead.

I could never make this one play dead for Lyn though. He liked the aggressive approach better. I moved him to the corn bed where he would have better cover so the dogs wouldn't find him. You have to take care of your gardening buddies you know. Lyn was worried that it would eat her frogs like the ribbon snakes do that live around the ponds. She just can't stand to hear the frogs screaming when a ribbon snake has one in its mouth. She goes out and grabs the snake to make it let go of the frog. She does the same thing with our giant bull snake that lives around here when he gets into a cottontail nest. She won't grab him, as he's nearly eight feet long, and will strike at her. So, she gets her a little stick and whacks him till he leaves. But he's usually already eaten a couple of the babies before she gets there so he already has a meal. He eats a lot of her frogs, too. But he's too big and fast for her to stop him from eating them. It's not like she doesn't have enough frogs. When you walk through the shady parts of the garden there are frogs going every which way. With this many frogs jumping, it confuses the dogs so much that they don't even try to catch them anymore. But they are also on the garden pals list as they fan out from the ponds every evening to scour the gardens for bugs. The snakes, the frogs, the toads and the masses of grand daddy long legs, they are all garden pals, and we are glad we have them.