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

Friday, August 6, 2010

A gardener's week - #1

(I've decided to start a new Friday feature of the blog, a summing up of my week in the garden. Here's the first.)

I could sum up my week in the garden with one word: Hot! If you press me to use a second word it would be: Dry! Yes, it is August and the garden and the gardener are suffering. The rains of July are only a dim, faded memory.

In truth, we never got as much rain in my yard in July as some spots in the area did, but at least it was frequent enough that watering the garden was mostly unnecessary. No more. I've had to break out the sprinklers again this week, much to the delight of the avian population in my yard.

Birds do love flying through a mist of cool water on a hot day. Today, I saw a battling pair of hummingbirds flying through the sprinkler's spray actually pause and hover for just a moment before they recalled their argument and resumed the chase. Anything that can bring even one moment's peace to the Eternal War of the Hummingbirds is worthy of note.

Speaking of hummingbirds, it is that time of year when traffic from these little guys is beginning to pick up in the area. I'm certainly noticing a lot more activity in my yard, and, unfortunately, just now, there are few blossoms in the yard to attract their attention. Their favorites, the Anisacanthus 'Flame acanthus' and the Cuphea 'Cigar plant' are both at a pause in their blooming. This week, I cut the overgrown and floppy 'Flame acanthus' back rather severely to encourage more bloom for the fall. Within another month, it should be blooming again, but for now, what can I offer the little visitors?

Now's the time to break out those feeders and keep them clean and filled. I refilled this one this morning and this lady was waiting impatiently on a nearby limb, chittering at me, as I rehung the feeder. As soon as I stepped away, she nipped in...

...and had a long, long drink.

In addition to cutting back the Anisacanthus this week, I've been trying to bring some order to other parts of my yard that have become very overgrown due to my neglect over the last several weeks. I did my annual pruning of the wild hedge along my back fence and found that the elderberries, pokeweed, and beautyberries are having a bumper crop of fruits this year, more feasts for the berry-loving birds.

I also tidied up the cannas. They are suffering a severe attack from leaf-rollers. I cut off the offending leaves as well as the spent bloom stems and the plants looked a lot neater when I finished. Some of them should give me another round of blooms in the fall.

Some of the roses are doing better than others. All of the 'Knockouts' are pausing briefly now before they put on another flush of blooms. Poor 'Belinda's Dream' has been struggling to keep blooming, but this week I took pity on her and cut back all her stems a bit. I'll give her some food and plenty of water and let her rest from producing blooms for a while. There'll be time enough for that in the fall.

Meanwhile, in another part of the yard, 'Caldwell Pink' blooms on, unfazed by the heat or by my neglect.

Sadly, some of this week's gardening projects did not turn out well at all. We bought three tomato plants, 'Champion II', and planted them for the fall garden, but obviously, we should have given them more protection from the brutal sun. They didn't survive. Our vegetable garden plot is really the one spot in our yard that has sun all day long. In the spring and fall, that's a good thing for veggies, but right now, it's just too much. Shade cloth is in order.

I'm very happy to report that other garden projects have turned out well this year. For example, this one:

This is the mason bee home that I hung in the old apple tree this spring. I didn't know if the bees would actually use it, but they have! Repeatedly, in fact. You can see that three of the tubes are presently in use, but several more have already been used and have ushered new bees into my garden. It feels good to be able to help our wonderful native bees.

Of course, it is always good to be able to help the butterflies, too.

This week, I photographed this beauty as it enjoyed the blossoms of my Clerodendrum bungei 'Cashmere bouquet'.

Pipe-vine Swallowtails are common visitors to my yard. I just recently installed two 'Dutchman's pipe' vines so that they will have something on which to lay their eggs. I haven't seen any eggs or larvae on either vine yet, but I'm hoping.

Although these butterflies are common in my yard, what caught my eye was this butterfly's size.

It was huge! At least in comparison to the Pipe-vines that I usually see. At first, I thought it was something else. According to the field guide, these butterflies can be from 2 3/4 - 4 inches in wingspan. Well, this one was every bit of 4 inches and seemed even bigger.

As we near the mid-point of summer and the temperatures get hotter and hotter, it is harder and harder to force myself into the garden to do the things that need to be done, but little gifts of Nature like butterflies and hummingbirds definitely make it a bit easier.

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