Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A gardener's week - #9

Ah, September, we hardly knew ye! Your thirty short days went by in a blur. Hardly had we begun to recover from the insufferable heat of August when sweet October was peeking over the windowsill. Where did you go, September, and what was accomplished during your tenure?

Well, actually quite a lot was accomplished in September now that I am looking back, and a lot of it was done within the last week or ten days of the month when suddenly the weather turned quite pleasant. A lot of fall cleanup was completed and much of the fall veggie garden was planted. In fact, things are beginning to look more like a garden than a wilderness in my yard. Now I just have to try to keep up the momentum.

So, this week in the garden, the challenge was to refrain from just sitting down and looking around with a foolish grin while glorying in the gorgeous fall weather and my recent accomplishments, but to actually keep slogging along, making a little progress every day. That and keeping the hoses moving around the yard to sustain my plants until the autumn rains finally begin. (They are coming, aren't they, Mother Nature?)

One of the fun things about this week and most weeks in the garden has been observing the critters that come and go here. I've already written about my first Monarch butterfly sighting of the fall, but here are some of the other critters with whom I've shared my garden this week.

Little Sammy, the baby Eastern Box Turtle, has been back looking for a meal of kibble. He's very shy and shuts up tight as soon as he sees me and my camera, so it is almost impossible to get a picture of him with head and limbs out of his shell. I love the pristine, shiny quality of his shell. Most of the adult box turtles that I see have worn and damaged shells.

On Thursday, I was doing some pruning and deadheading around the garden and I decided to "limb up" my lemon tree which is now close to four feet tall and had several bushy limbs around its base. As I started to snip one of the limbs, the base of the limb twitched!

I nearly dropped my pruning shears when I realized I had almost cut a Giant Swallowtail caterpillar! Funny thing is, I've had lots of Giant Swallowtails around the garden recently and I had just checked the lemon tree and the Satsuma a couple of days before to see if there were larvae or eggs there. I didn't find anything, but obviously this guy had been there for quite a while, for he was about ready to pupate.

Only a day before, when I was watering my bronze fennel, I had found a cache of Black Swallowtail larvae of all sizes. I had not even seen any Black Swallowtail butterflies around the yard lately, but they had been here and had left me some presents.

This was the largest of the group and I only found one of his size. Like the Giant Swallowtail caterpillar, he was about at the end of his life as a larva and ready to move on to the next phase of metamorphosis.

The caterpillar on the left was about two-thirds the size of the one above, but the one on the right was very young indeed. There were several of his size scattered over the plants.

There were other interesting tiny critters around the yard this week, including all the baby anoles, toads and frogs that seem to be super-abundant this year, but I would rank katydids right up there with the rest of them.

Not a critter, but named for a critter is this butterfly ginger (Hedychium) from which I've been waiting for a bloom for three loooong years.

No waiting was necessary for this red ruellia which was all too anxious to bloom. And bloom. And bloom.

Same goes for this salvia 'Otahal' which seems to bloom continuously spring to fall, with maybe just a short rest during the hottest days of August.

In fact, as many Gulf Coast gardeners have learned, there are few more dependable bloomers or more useful plants in our gardens than the many varieties of sages and salvias, including the beautiful and prolifically blooming 'Mystic Spires'.

Even the Texas sage (Cenizo) has favored me with a few blooms recently. I had watered the xeric bed where it lives a few days before and apparently it triggered a bloom cycle.

I've been disappointed in my oxblood lilies this year. I had dreamed of a nice, lush display of blooms when I planted them. Instead, they have come up one by one by one and bloomed. The effect is very sparse, not at all what I had hoped for. I thought about possible reasons for this and finally realized that these blooms too are triggered by rains, and my rains have been extremely spotty to nonexistent ever since July. Also, these little bulbs live in a bed where I don't routinely supply supplemental water, but next year (if I can remember) if we are not getting rain, I will try to start watering that bed in August in hopes of getting better blooms.

The spring-blooming redbud is now full of seed pods that show its relationship to the legume family of plants.

This banana is showing neither blooms nor "seeds" so far. Last year it began its bloom in mid-October, so I'm keeping my eye on it.

And, finally, this, surely, is the very last of the blossoms from the milk-and-wine lilies. These tough old Southern beauties have bloomed repeatedly and often unexpectedly throughout the summer and at the end of September offered the "last of the summer wine".

I hope your week in the garden was a good one and that next week will be even better.

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