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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Collecting rainwater

Something that I've wanted to add to my garden for a long time is a barrel for collecting rainwater, but, for one reason or another, it was a project that always seemed to get postponed. Finally, this month, I sensed an opportunity. Bob's birthday is in March and I went to work convincing him that what he really, really wanted for his birthday this year was a rain barrel. I may have mentioned in passing some of the astronomical water bills that we received last summer, and, suddenly, he was surprisingly amenable to the idea.

He picked out the style of barrel he wanted - strictly utilitarian, of course. He decided to go with a 50 gallon barrel to begin with, because it would easily fit the space we had and we could always add more if we liked the outcome.

The barrel was delivered a few days before his birthday during our last heavy two-inch rain. I lamented that we did not already have the barrel installed so that we could collect all that wonderful water, but no use crying over spilled water. A few days later, Bob installed his birthday present under one of the downspouts on the back of the house and we waited for another big rain.

But our weekly downpour didn't come this week. Instead, we got just a trickle of rain on Wednesday, barely 0.1 inch. Thursday morning, I decided to check the barrel. I wasn't expecting much, because the rainfall we'd had was not much more than a heavy dew. I looked into the barrel and my eyes almost popped out of my head. It was two-thirds full of lovely water! If 0.1inch of rain could do that, what could a two-inch rain do?

I couldn't wait to tell Bob the good news, but I got busy with other things and later had to go to my book club meeting and didn't see him until later. Almost the first words out of his mouth were, "Did you check the rain barrel?"

"Oh, yes," I said, "I meant to tell you..."

He interrupted me with, "IT'S TWO-THIRDS FULL OF WATER! I just ordered a second barrel!"    

I think this may be the best birthday present I ever got him. He may even like it better than the lawn furniture that I've given him over the years.

Utilitarian. That's the word for it. Not much to look at, but it does the job, and I'm very happy to have it in place. I'll be even happier when we have two or three more in place.

Friday, March 30, 2012

This week in the garden - #9

This week in the garden the blooms are coming in fast and furious.

The 'Dortmund' rose is blooming and already a pair of tiny pollinators has found it. But the 'Dortmund isn't the only rose in bloom.

 'Belinda's Dream' is in full bloom.

The pink Knockouts like their new home by the veggie garden gate where I moved them last winter and they are showing it with a profusion of blossoms.

The yellow Knockouts - 'Radsunny' - open with a bright yellow bloom which fades to a pale, almost white, shade of yellow as the bloom ages.







The 'Monkey's Business' floribunda rose that has performed so well for me over the last couple of years has a new home next to my little fish pond this year and it is almost ready to flood the area with its bright yellow color. I find its buds very attractive, too.










The old 'Caldwell Pink' polyantha rose is showing its perfect little bouquets of tiny blooms.






It's amaryllis time in the garden and one of my favorites is the hardy amaryllis St. Joseph's Lily. This is an heirloom plant for the South. It is one tough bulb that can stand up to conditions in our gardens, and I speak as one who doesn't have much success with most bulbs. St. Joseph, though, is a winner for me.










I got a start of 'Laura Bush' petunias from a friend a few years ago and since then the plants have reseeded widely in my yard to the point that they've become "weeds" in some areas, but I let them flourish in this bed next to my garden shed.

My little pomegranate tree is in full bloom now and the pollinators are headed straight for those bright orange  blossoms.

The sulphur butterfly preferred to dine alone so she moved over to another blossom.

In the vegetable garden the bed of multiplying onions is in full bloom now. The plants will go down when they finish blooming, but they'll be back for these are perennial onions.

Over in the tomato section, I have my first tiny, kumquat-sized fruit of the season. It's on one of the 'Mortgage Lifter' plants. You can see that somebody has already taken a bite out of it, but I'm just thrilled to see a tomato in March. I don't think I've ever had one this early before.

Isn't this a pretty little blossom? We're still in the vegetable garden and this bloom is on one of the red potatoes that I planted around the first of this month. It could almost be an ornamental bloom.

For comparison, here is the ornamental variegated potato vine that lives on the north side of my house and blooms for me virtually twelve months of the year.

I had hoped to get out to the countryside to see the meadows of bluebonnets which I understand are just spectacular this year, but I didn't make it this week. At least I still have my little corner of bluebonnets in my wildflower bed.

 The calibrachoa plants that I stuffed into a hanging basket next to my fish pond are beginning to show some color.

My anonymous camellia is still in bloom. In a normal year, it would just about be starting its bloom now, but this year it was fully three weeks early.

The 'Otahal's' salvia is just beginning its bloom cycle.







While the 'Coral Nymph' salvia is well into its blooming season. I really like this salvia. I got my start of it, like I do so many of my plants, from a friend and it has done very well for me.












The Blackfoot daisies are showing more and more of their tiny blossoms.

And nearby, the 'Blue Daze' has also joined the flower parade.

The recently added 'Senorita Rosalita' cleome has a few blooms. I've heard and read such good things about this plant. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it will perform in my garden.

Remember last week when I told you about the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly that laid eggs on my little spicebush? Well, ta dah! There has been a blessed event! The eggs have hatched. I found seven of these tiny caterpillars on the leaves today. Finding them, I went to check on the Monarch eggs on the milkweed to see if they had hatched as well since they were laid around the same time. The Monarch eggs were still there and I didn't find any caterpillars. Maybe tomorrow...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Five inspiring bloggers


The Liebster Bloggers Award

Recently, my blogging friend Pammy of Thyme Square Gardens was kind enough to honor me with the Liebster Bloggers Award. The name of this award is, rather obviously, German, and it means favorite or dearest or beloved. The rules of the award require that the recipient pass the award along to five bloggers who have motivated and inspired him/her.

Narrowing it down to just five is the hard part. There are a lot of wonderful bloggers out there (Pammy being one of them and if you haven't checked out her blog, please do) and I read many of them. They give me great ideas which I cheerfully steal for my own garden or my own blog and sometimes they provide just the right words that I need at that particular time to get me going or keep me going. It could be a much longer list, but here are five that are dear to my heart. Liebsters, all, and in no particular order.

1. Karin of Southern Meadows: The blog features good writing, excellent photography, and Karin's unique thoughts on Nature and gardening.

2. Jayne of Green and Serene:  I love her special empathy for critters and her efforts to create a garden that is welcoming to them.

3. Snap of Tales from Twisty Lane: Always inspirational and often quite funny. And she's a cat person!

4. Cindy of My Corner of Katy: Her beautiful cottage garden in Katy, Texas is what I aspire to have!

5. Kathleen of Hill Country Mysteries: Wonderful writer and always has something interesting to say.

The rules for accepting the Liebster Award are as follows:

1. Link back to the person who gave it to you and thank them.
2. Post the award to your blog.
3. Give the award to five bloggers with less than 200 followers that you appreciate and value.
4. Leave a comment on each of the five blogs to let them know that they have been offered the award.

Congratulations to my five selectees and thank you for being an inspiration to me, and, I know, to many others.



Friday, March 23, 2012

This week in the garden - #8

This week in the garden, green anoles have been everywhere, staking out their territories and trying to attract a mate.







This one has staked out a crape myrtle tree. I see him patrolling its limbs and displaying his throat pouch for any female who may be watching every day as I sit nearby.












This guy claims the redbud tree as his territory.

He's saying, "Look at me! Isn't my red throat pouch the most handsome thing you've ever seen?"

He may look like a brown anole but he's really green. He's just camouflaging himself to blend in with the dark bricks.

It was a week of firsts in the garden.

The first clematis ('Rouge cardinal') blossom opened.

As did the first pomegranate blossom.

There are lots more on the way.

The first daylily opened yesterday.

Today a second variety, also yellow, opened its first bloom.

The first blossom on the 'Fuji' apple tree that I got to replace my old apple tree that died also opened this week.

 Nearby, my little Satsuma tree was covered in blossoms. Last year it had a few blossoms and set some fruit but all of the fruit fell off while it was still small. I'm hoping for better luck this year.

Yesterday I showed you the Monarch butterfly that visited and left her eggs on my milkweed.

Well, today, another female showed up and she, too, was busily laying eggs on the plants. 

Later, I checked the leaves of the plants and found these little white eggs on many of them.

But it is not just Monarchs that are thinking about the next generation. Recently, I got a small spicebush and planted it in my garden. My main reason for getting it was that it is the host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly and I generally have several of those butterflies in my yard in spring and summer. Today, I saw a black butterfly hovering around the spicebush and picked up my binoculars to get a closer look. Sure enough! It was a very tattered Spicebush Swallowtail and she was laying her eggs on my little bush!

Again, I checked the bush later and found six of the butterfly's eggs on its leaves. There may have been others that I didn't find. I think I may need to purchase another of the plants. The bush is so small and its leaves not fully developed yet, I'm not sure that it can sustain a population of caterpillars.

This esperanza lives in the protected south-facing corner of the "L" of my house. It never died back all winter and, in fact, it carried a few blooms right through the winter months. Now it is putting on even more blooms.  

Three happy-faced gerberas form a natural bouquet.








Even the culinary sage in the vegetable and herb garden is sporting a plethora of these pretty blooms.













The unsinkable 'Peggy Martin' rose is beginning its bloom. This is the famous rose that survived a long period under very nasty water in a garden in New Orleans after Katrina hit. Weeks after the storm, once all the water had drained away, the rose bloomed again. Nature is an amazing thing. 

In the corner of the wildflower bed, the bluebonnets - and pink bonnets - are in bloom now.

And the first amaryllis of the season is almost there.

And up on the Squirrel Highway, the utility cable over the back of the yard, one of the local squirrels watches over it all and wonders where the snacks are.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A welcome garden visitor

A most welcome spring visitor came fluttering into my garden today. It was a migrating female Monarch butterfly and she was on a mission.

She went straight to my butterfly weed and proceeded to deposit her eggs on the leaves. Here you can see her curved thorax as she bends it to touch her ovipositer to the leaf, attaching an egg there.

I think she visited every single butterfly weed plant I have in the garden and, as best I could discern, she was leaving eggs on all of them.

She often hung upside down to deposit her eggs on the underside of a leaf.

This lady appeared to be in good shape. Her wings were completely intact, not tattered and torn as is often the case with these migrants.

My visitor continued her tour through my butterfly weed for perhaps the better part of an hour. She was not to be distracted by any of the nearby flowers. She was only interested in green leaves. With any luck at all, perhaps those green leaves will soon have some tiny caterpillars crawling on them. I just hope they fare better than last year's crop of Monarch caterpillars.

Last year, I had a plague of wasps that hunted the caterpillars in my garden all spring and summer. I don't think a single Monarch caterpillar survived to become a butterfly. I haven't seen any wasps around so far this spring so I'm hoping this generation might have a window of opportunity to develop and mature before the predators find them. I've seen very few of the migrating butterflies in my garden this spring. I would love to see the population increase here with the help of my plants.