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

Friday, September 28, 2012

This week in the garden - #33

The first week of autumn in the garden has been wonderful! The weather has been very pleasant. It has been possible to work outside without feeling that one is melting, melting, melting... (Sorry, I had a flashback to The Wizard of Oz there for a moment.)

I've spent much of the week weeding, trying to remove the rampant weed growth that had established itself in various beds around the garden through the long, hot summer months. It never ceases to amaze me just how much such growth there is. I've removed several garden cart loads already and there is still more to do.

I've also been pruning back the flame acanthus which has grown exponentially, as it tends to do during the summer. Next I need to prune the wild hedge along the back fence which has gotten out of hand over recent months. Maybe next week I'll get around to that.

Autumn is the time when lantana really is at its best. This purple trailing lantana has bloomed sparsely more or less continuously through the summer but now it is covered in its tiny purple blossoms which bees and butterflies love.

Equally floriferous is the nearby "butter and cream" lantana.

A closer view of the "butter and cream" blossoms.

The Gulf Fritillary butterflies are very numerous in the garden just now and they do utilize the lantana blooms for nectaring. Funny how Nature works, isn't it? The lantana covers itself in blooms and squads of fritillaries show up to take advantage of them.

The blue plumbago continues to be covered in blossoms. It has really been a winner in the garden throughout the summer and now into the fall.

The pots by the back porch, with their gerberas and potato vines, continue to add color to my favorite sitting area.

More gerberas and potato vine.

Autumn is the time of the Cape honeysuckle bloom - another example of Nature's wonderful timing because the fall migrating hummingbirds take advantage of the blooms.

An immature male Ruby-throated Hummingbird looking for likely blooms to sample this week.

I hope your week in the garden has been as pleasant and rewarding as mine. Happy gardening!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Texas purple sage: A great waterwise plant

Leucophyllum frutescens, also known as ceniza, barometer bush, or Texas purple sage. This shrub has been in bloom numerous times this summer in response to the rains that we've had. Last year, during our terrible drought, I think it only bloomed once.

Purple sage is a shrub that can grow 4-6 feet tall and just about that wide. It thrives during hot summers and can withstand drought, as it did in my yard over the last couple of years. In my yard, it lives in a bed where I very seldom provide any supplemental water and so it has to be tough enough to find the moisture it needs and survive on its own. Last summer it dropped a lot of its leaves, and the ones that remained looked wilted most of the time, but it managed to survive until the rains came again. Then it put on a growth spurt, developing new leaves and limbs. It is now full of the attractive silver rounded foliage that provides such a nice background for the snapdragon-like flowers that cover the bush. As the blossoms mature and fall, they carpet the ground beneath with their pink beauty.

These pretty blossoms are attractive to hummingbirds and bees. The shrub is also a host plant for the caterpillars of checkerspot butterflies. I occasionally see various kinds of checkerspots in my garden, but I haven't noticed any caterpillars; however, this is a big shrub with dense leaves. There could be lots of little caterpillars in there and I might not necessarily see them.

This is a shrub that is very amenable to shaping or shearing. I cut mine back pretty severely in late winter and it never missed a beat. It just got fuller and leafier and more attractive (to my eye anyway). It really is an excellent shrub for our area, particularly if you need something in the gray palate. According to the plant guides, it will grow from zone 7b-10. My 9a garden is right in its happy zone!

Friday, September 21, 2012

This week in the garden - #32

It has been a week in the garden that is just about as close to perfect as it gets. Over the last weekend, we got exactly five inches of much-needed rain, which totally negated the need to do any watering this week. And then the weather turned mild and full of sunshine, golden days that could hardly be improved upon. The only thing that might have made it better would have been if the garden fairies had pulled some weeds for me. Oh, well, we can't have everything, I guess.

The garden is actually full of blooms on this day before the beginning of fall. Let me show you some of them.

One of those weeds that needs pulling is this wild morning glory which has seeded itself in inconvenient places all around my backyard. It's so pretty - and the butterflies do love it - that I've postponed pulling it, but this weekend, it really has to go.

These are the glory days for Hamelia patens.

A pretty Sulphur butterfly hangs from a Hamelia blossom like an early Christmas ornament.

'Pride of Barbados' has finished its bloom cycle and it is now covered in these beans which show its kinship with the pea family.

Purple coneflowers still display their beauty.

These marigolds have been a major disappointment. They've hardly bloomed at all. I won't be planting them again!

The Monarchs are still migrating. Every day I see at least two of three of the beauties in my garden.

It's not only Monarchs that like milkweed. This Spicebush Swallowtail spent a long time sipping from the blossoms.

The Stapelia gigantea is still putting out more of its odoriferous blossoms. This bud will be opening soon.

Jerusalem artichokes continue to put out a few blooms, too.

 And the volunteer red salvia is still offering its blooms to passing hummingbirds.

My favorite old cannas continue their bloom as well. They are also favored by Gulf Fritillaries and, of course, by the hummingbirds.

  Gerbera daisies keep popping out these pretty blossoms.

And the "naked ladies" still shamelessly flaunt their charms.

It's less than twenty-four hours now until autumn officially reaches us. At 9:49 A.M. Saturday, our time, the autumnal equinox will arrive. I hope to be out in my garden ready to greet it.

Happy weekend and happy gardening!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Giant Swallowtail on yellow cestrum

Yellow cestrum is another of the several "butterfly magnet" plants that I have in my garden. Today I watched as this Giant Swallowtail butterfly spent several minutes nectaring on the shrub.

I love watching these big butterflies and I love photographing them because they are a lot more cooperative than some of the other varieties. Any day that I find one in my garden - and that would be most days at this time of year - is a happy day for me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2012

Mid-September. Only one week until the calendar tells us it is officially autumn, but we are already feeling the sweet brisk breath of autumn in the early morning air.

Fall migration is in full swing. Every day a virtual army of new birds passes through the garden on their way farther south. Some of them, like the hummingbirds, linger for a while, much to our delight. But the birds are not the only migrants. Monarch butterflies, too, are stopping for a visit as they head down to the mountains of Mexico for the winter. The milkweed is in full bloom now, tempting them to tarry for a while.

All my "old faithfuls" that bloom month in and month out and that get featured here every month are still brightening the garden this Bloom Day. Things like blue plumbago, Tecoma stans ("yellow bells"), Hamelia patens, yellow cestrum, cannas, Anisacanthus wrightii, salvias, and many others. But a few new plants are showing off for me this month, also.

Well, actually, this is hardly new. It is more in the category of an "old faithful," but I don't think I've shown it to you lately. It is crossvine 'Tangerine Dream.' It blooms heavily in the spring, but then it continues to rebloom again and again through the summer, and just now it is full of its pretty trumpet-shaped blossoms.

As I've shown you in a couple of earlier posts, September is the month for Lycoris bulbs to send their magical blossoms out for us to enjoy. We call them "naked ladies" because they come to us unclothed by any leaves. The leaves will emerge later after the blooms have died back.

And, of course, there are the oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida), sometimes called schoolhouse lilies because they bloom just as the school year begins. In an earlier post, I showed you a paler version of this plant whose blooms were rather pink. This variety bloomed just about a week later and is more of a true oxblood color.

Late summer and early fall is when many of the roses in my garden get their second wind. Roses like...

  'Belinda's Dream'


'Lady of Shallott'


'Darcy Bussell'

'Litchfield Angel'

In fact, all of my plants seem to have gained their second wind today after a couple of days of wonderful rain. This followed several weeks when not a drop had fallen and has been a great relief to the gardener as well as the garden. 

We all need that second wind as this bittersweet time of year reminds us that time is passing all too swiftly. In honor of that passage of time, I leave you this month, not with a blossom but with a song - the one that perfectly describes this time of year and my time of life.

Thank you to our hostess, Carol of May Dreams Gardens, and happy Bloom Day to all. Thank you for visiting.

Friday, September 14, 2012

This week in the garden - #31

Finally! The rains came down this week. Yesterday, we got exactly three inches of rain. It came down hard and fast. I would have preferred slow and easy, but you won't hear me complaining. My garden and I were just happy to get it.

But that's not all. As I write this at 4:45 on Friday afternoon, it is raining again and this time it is coming slow and easy and it looks like it might last for a while. The weatherman even says that we may get more rain over the weekend. I had hoped that the autumn rains would come early this year. It looks like I may be getting my wish!

The fall veggies that I had planted over the last couple of weeks are coming along. The onions are doing well. The peas look perky. The winter squash looks a bit less perky, but it is surviving at least.

You may well ask if it isn't a little late to be planting winter squash. Well, it's a gamble. It takes 75 to 85 days to produce a harvestable crop, so that will take us into November. Whether or not the plants have time to produce mature fruit will just depend on when we get our first cold weather. Our first frost normally comes in early December, but winter has been rather unpredictable over the last three years. Will this year's winter be early and cold or late and mild? We'll just have to wait and see. Anyway, when was gardening ever not a gamble?  

I also got my 'Yukon Gold' potatoes planted. They are not up yet, but they should have plenty of time to give us some nice-sized potatoes. Soon I'll plant some winter greens and root crops like beets and carrots. Even if winter does come early, they can take the cold.

It's just one more week now until the Autumnal Equinox marks the official beginning of fall. Where did the summer - or, for that matter, spring - go? It all seems to be rushing by too fast. I guess that's what happens when you get to be a certain age.

I hope that you are happy with your age and that you are getting just the right amount of rain and sunshine in your garden. Happy weekend!

Autumn sage with Gulf Fritillary butterfly.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Organic or non-organic? That is the question

Have you been following the brouhaha that erupted last week with the publication of a new report that indicates that there is little nutritional difference between foods raised organically and those raised with human-manufactured fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and fungicides? Researchers from Stanford University completed the study that found that there truly was not a significant difference between foods raised organically and those raised with conventional methods, based solely on the health benefits of the foods.

They could not find any strong evidence in the research that indicated that organic foods are more nutritious or that they carry fewer health risks than the conventional alternatives. Though consumption of organic foods can certainly reduce one's exposure to pesticides, that did not seem to be a significant consideration. 

In recent years, the popularity of organic products has skyrocketed in the United States, with many consumers convinced that these are the more healthful alternatives, but this latest research confirms that the body really cannot tell the difference between a vitamin that comes from an organically-grown carrot and one that is grown using more conventional methods. Part of the perception that organic products are better for you seems to be based on the fact that, in general, they cost more. In the mind of the consumer, pricier equals better and better for you. Pointing out that this is not necessarily true was bound to get a strong reaction from those consumers. And it did.

As a gardener, I try to stick to organic methods as closely as possible, although I am not obsessive about it, and I admit that I do occasionally use something like Miracle-Gro or Roundup, but never any pesticides. I actually use these products less and less frequently because I find that as I adhere more stringently to organic methods, I need them less and less frequently. 

But my reason for gardening organically has little to do with the nutritional benefits. Having grown up on a farm, I think I always pretty well accepted that a carrot is a carrot is a carrot and it doesn't matter so much to my body whether it is organic or not. No, my reasons for wanting to be organic have always had to do with the impact on the environment. After all, there is more to be considered than just the nutritional benefits of the crops grown. There is also the effect of the gardening or farming practices on the ecology of the area. Man-made pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics, and fertilizers can have devastating effects as they leach into the food chain. 

To give just one example of this effect, birds, amphibians, and reptiles eat insects that have been poisoned by pesticides and it becomes part of their bodies. It may lower their resistance to disease and affect their ability to reproduce, as well as often causing birth defects and a lessened ability to survive in the offspring. These animals are eaten by the mammals that prey on them and so the chemicals are passed on and soon the whole ecosystem is poisoned and changed, perhaps beyond repair. For me, preventing this outcome is the best reason to avoid using non-organic chemicals.  

So, as the studies show that there is little nutritional difference to the human body between foods produced organically and those produced non-organically, it really won't have any effect on my gardening practices or on my consumer practices, because the best reason for being organic has nothing to do with my nutrition. It has to do with the protection of the web of life on Earth. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

This week in the garden - #30

Gerbera daisies, like this one blooming by my back porch, always make me happy when I see them.

It's been another dry week, another week of deploying the sprinklers on a daily basis. The dry spell that we've had for several weeks now has created a lot of stress for many of my plants. I think my spicebush, for example, is now past the point of no return. I planted it early this year for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies and they took to it with a passion, laying batch after batch of eggs on its leaves. The resulting caterpillars decimated the plant several times, but it continued to come back and put out new leaves - until the rains stopped. Since then it has lost all of its leaves and I fear it is dead. When I replace it, I'll replace it with two, maybe three, plants to give the butterflies more options and spread the stress around a bit. Also, I'll try to make sure the new plants are kept well-watered until they are completely established. Never let it be said that I don't sometimes learn from my mistakes.

The butternut squash seeds that I planted last week are up and doing well, but the acorn squash shows no signs of germinating. Those seeds were old. I may have to buy some fresh ones if I want acorn squash this year. The onion sets that I told you about, the ones that had been in my refrigerator for five months, seem none the worse for their long cold storage. They are popping out of the ground like magic as if they are in a hurry to get on with it!

This red salvia (I think) is one of those gifts of Nature. It seeded itself in one of the beds of my garden. I don't know where it came from and didn't even notice it until it started blooming. Then I lifted it and put it in a big pot where it has continued to bloom its little heart out, much to the delight of passing hummingbirds.

Red seems to be the dominant color of blooms in the garden just now. Of course, Turk's cap carries the banner for red every month of the year. It bloomed all last winter when it was continually visited by overwintering Rufous Hummingbirds and so far it has been in bloom every month this year. It's also grown as big as the side of the house and almost as tall. I'm going to need to cut a bit - or a lot - this winter.

And, as I showed you earlier this week, the Lycoris "naked ladies" are still tempting passing butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees with their spidery blooms.

The heat index has been just about unbearable all week, but the weather maps show that there may be some relief in sight. Cooler temperatures are expected over the next several days. There's even a possibility of showers tomorrow. My fingers are crossed.