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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

This week in the garden - #48

Is winter over? Has spring arrived early this year? It certainly seemed like it this week as daytime temperatures headed toward 80 degrees.

Looking around the yard, it was clear that something was going on. The bluebirds and the wrens were busy checking out possible nesting sites. As I went about my garden tasks, I kept encountering green anoles who were out sunning themselves. Last night, when I turned on the back porch light, I looked up to see a couple of Mediterranean  geckos perched on the ceiling waiting for some unwary insect to come close enough to grab. Also, that harbinger of spring for our more northern friends, the American Robin, showed up in the yard this week.

Some years I have robins in my yard all winter long, occasionally in very large numbers, but I hadn't actually seen or heard any in the yard this winter until this week. The last ones I had seen here were in late summer/early autumn. Now, suddenly, they seem to be everywhere.

And then there are the butterflies. I stopped seeing Monarchs and Queens several weeks ago, but this week they've joined my winter butterflies, the Sulphurs, the Painted Ladies, the American Snouts, and the Red Admirals, in a virtual parade of butterfly beauty.

Of course, if it is January, it's time for the Carolina jessamine to start blooming.

 And there it is - right on cue. In another week or ten days, this vine will be full of these yellow blossoms.

The cold weather that we had last week encouraged the purple oxalis to bring out its pretty little pink blooms.

This oxalis generally continues to bloom for me well into spring when the hot weather causes it to take a rest.

Cleanup of the winter garden continued this week at a slow pace. I developed a respiratory infection with fever. Cold? Flu? Who knows - it just makes one feel rotten. So I had to take it easy, but I did manage to get a few things done. My best work of the week was adding some pansies and violas for a little winter color. 

Few things can perk up the spirits like the happy little faces of violas and pansies.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Voila'! Violas!

For weeks I have whined about the fact that my winter garden is uniformly brown with a few bits of green - not a particularly exciting palette. On Monday, I decided to do something about that.

I made a run to the nearest big box garden center, which happens to be Lowe's, to see what they had in the way of plants for winter color. Well, the answer was not much. Their shelves were essentially bare. They were clearing out in anticipation of a big shipment of spring plants this week. They did still have a few violas and pansies, though not much color choice.

Violas are, hands down, my favorite plant for winter color, so I grabbed what they had and then three flats of  pansies for good measure and hurried home with my treasure.

I didn't actually get around to planting my new plants until yesterday. I started with the violas and filled several pots that sit in my backyard seating area and voila'! I had pretty colors to look at once again.

Just like that, there were sweet little viola faces everywhere I looked.

It didn't take long for a passing Painted Lady butterfly to find them.

Now, both the Painted Lady and I are happy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

This week in the garden - #47

What a gorgeous day we had today! After a wet, cold, miserable start to this week, the last couple of days have been filled with sunshine and temperatures that finally climbed above 50 degrees F., making it a bit more pleasant to be outside. Well, actually, a LOT more pleasant to be outside.

Not that I'm complaining about the wet weather, you understand. The January rains have been a gift from the heavens, one that was badly needed. They have helped to restore our water table and the trees that have suffered so much throughout our drought have drunk long and deep.

We've also had some quite cold nights this week. I woke up Thursday morning to the heaviest frost we have yet had this season. As it happens, everything that could be affected by frost in my garden had already turned brown and mushy, so I don't think it did any additional damage.


This was the week that I finally got off my butt and did some work in the garden. I started the cleanup by pulling out the frost-killed annuals and cutting back some frost-damaged limbs on a few plants, including my milkweed plants. One benefit of the frost has been that it has actually killed some weeds, and I was able to pull those from a few beds, although I've still got quite a lot to do in the weeding department.

Today, I also managed to make a start on moving plants that need to be moved. I got my white mist flower moved to a spot where it will have a bit more room and also will be more visible. I also moved an unknown plant that was near the mist flower. It's something in the aster family, I think, but I haven't quite figured it out yet.

If the wonderful weather holds through the weekend - and it looks like it might - I hope to get a lot more done over the next two days.


As I took my breaks today, I watched the birds and butterflies (yes, there were a few) and took some pictures.

This male cardinal posed for me in the tangled limbs of the old crape myrtle tree.

A goldfinch in winter dress was enjoying the sun, perched high on a limb.

My overwintering Rufous Hummingbirds are always a favorite subject for my camera. This is a first year male who is turning more and more rufous as the days go by.

I caught this Red Admiral soaking up the sun from a spot on the latticework on the back porch.


Spring is coming. Are you ready?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 2013

Brrr! It's 38 degrees Fahrenheit in my garden this morning, and while that may not sound very cold to some of you, it is certainly what passes for winter here in my zone 9a garden near Houston, Texas. It's been a cold and wet few days here and that is expected to last for several more days. Then, overnight, we'll probably be back in the 70s again. And so it goes.

But on this Bloom Day, there isn't much happening in my garden, not much moving except the birds. Hungry birds.

Northern Cardinal

Pine Siskin with three American Goldfinches

Walking around the yard this morning, I found very few blooms hardy enough to brave the cold.

The purple trailing lantana seems unfazed by frost, and on sunny days, I would find it covered in butterflies and bees, even in the heart of winter. But on this cold, gray, misty day, there were no diners at its blossoms.

The Turk's cap along the warm south wall of the house still hangs on to some blossoms which are favorites with our overwintering Rufous Hummingbirds.

I've been surprised to see that the Cape honeysuckle also continues to offer a few blooms. This hasn't happened with this plant before, but perhaps it is finally just well-established and happy in its home by the fence.

The shrimp plant holds on to its long-lasting blossoms all winter, and even though they look a little worse for wear, they continue to offer sustenance to hungry pollinators.

The variegated potato vine had no blooms this day but was full of these buds. It won't be long...

This camellia, though, doesn't bloom until late March or early April, but its early buds hold the promise of beauty to come.

Likewise, the fig tree...

...and the nearby peach tree tell us that spring is just around the corner now.

And if we need further confirmation, we need only look to the daffodils, seen here tentatively poking their green shoots above ground.  By the way, those things that look like pebbles are actually live oak acorns, of which we had a bumper crop last year. The squirrels are very grateful.

I'm afraid that is all I have to offer on this gray Bloom Day, but looking at gardens around the world, one can find lots of color to brighten the day. You can find a list of them at our hostess, Carol's blog May Dreams Gardens.

Happy Bloom Day and happy gardening to you all. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, January 11, 2013

This week in the garden - #46

If my garden were a hawk, this week it would look like this:

Bedraggled. Disheveled. Wet through to the skin. Waiting for the sun to come out and dry him off.

We've had just over four inches of rain this week. Not unwelcome rain, to be sure. After our last two plus years of drought, I'm certainly not here to complain about four inches of rain in January. But I have to admit that it has left the garden looking pretty sad.

I've yet to really get started on winter cleanup. All the plants and limbs killed by the few frosts that we've had are still present in the garden in all their brown mushy glory. Soon, weather permitting, I really must get started on the task. Next week, perhaps.


In last Friday's TWITG entry, I promised you a "point of view" project this year. Well, the sun finally came out today and I went outside with my camera to fulfill my promise - at least the beginning of it.

I debated about where to point my camera for a POV, but, at length, I decided to stand in front of my garden shed and look back down the garden path toward the house and my neighbor's yard. This gives a fairly panoramic view of a good slice of the backyard and it is a view which should change dramatically as the months go by. Right now, it must be admitted, it's a pretty desolate view. Here it is - the unexpurgated, unedited, un-retouched image of part of my backyard.

I plan to take pictures from this angle every month on the 11th of the month to show you how this area changes over time. By February, I hope it will be a littler neater and a little more colorful.


This was another week when I didn't really get any real gardening done, but I did manage to get some birding done. Yesterday, we spent the day at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, where I took the picture of the wet hawk that you see at the top of the page. I took a lot of other pictures, too. You can see some of them at my other blog, Backyard Birder.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: A review

I mentioned in my last post that I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Flight Behavior. I finished the book a couple of days ago.

I always review the books that I read for Goodreads and to be posted on my other blog, "The Nature of Things," so on this rainy, rainy day when I can't get into my garden without my Wellies, I thought I would cross-post that review for those who might be interested. Here it is.


I know Dellarobbia Turnbow. She is someone I grew up with and went to school with, someone whose life arc was changed forever by an unwanted teenage pregnancy. She is someone who grew up in an ultra-conservative society that is founded upon a rock-ribbed traditional understanding of the Bible. She is also whip-smart and has begun, at age twenty-seven, to question the understanding that underlies the closed society in which she finds herself.

Dellarobbia lives in the Appalachians, in the small town of Feathertown, Tennessee. She is a small woman with an outsized personality, flaming red hair, and a deep desire for something more meaningful in her life than her unchallenging duties as a wife and mother. We meet her as she is hiking up a mountain behind her home, heading for an assignation with a telephone lineman, someone she is hoping will bring a passion that is missing from her life. She is not wearing her glasses, because "men don't make passes at women who wear glasses."

The fact that she is not wearing glasses is critical, because, topping a rise, she looks out on a sea of orange. To the myopic Dellarobbia, it looks like a forest fire. It takes her breath away and changes her life forever. She feels that it is a sign to her. She gives up on the assignation and heads back down the mountain to her two young children and to the life which bores her.

Barbara Kingsolver was a scientist before she was a novelist and she is not shy about taking on the big issues of science and the environment in her writing. In this new book, she again visits her favorite themes of Nature and the burdens of cultural privilege and social injustice. Specifically, the focus of this book is climate change and its effect on one family and one community in one life-altering year, because that "sea of orange" that Dellarobbia saw was not a forest fire but millions of butterflies - migratory Monarch butterflies that should be settling down for their winter in the mountains of Mexico but, because of a changing climate, have been misdirected into an almost-certainly fatal winter in the mountains of Tennessee.

The coming of the butterflies creates fault-lines in the community and in the Turnbow family. Most see it as a sign from God, but what does the sign mean? 

As news of their coming reaches the 24-hour news cycle, a noted entomologist and expert on the Monarchs comes to town and to the Turnbow farm to study them. His presence and his willingness to share his knowledge with Dellarobbia and with her small son, Preston, the budding scientist, begins to widen Dellarobbia's world and makes her realize that perhaps it is not too late for some of the dreams she had for her life when she was a teenager. Perhaps her marriage to the kind and easy-going but lumpish Cub Turnbow does not have to be the life sentence to dullness which she has seen it to be. As she learns new things about butterflies, she learns new things about herself as well and begins to find a new passion, different from that which drove her up the mountain in the first pages of the book but no less fierce, and perhaps more productive.

Empathy for her characters is a mark of Kingsolver's fiction and it is on full display here. She lovingly draws the intricacies of the characters of each Turnbow family member, sometimes sketching them with a minimum of words, but her dense, beautiful use of language gets the job done. We know these people.

Of all the characters, I found myself empathizing most with Hester, Dellarobbia's mother-in-law. Hester and Dellarobbia start at cross-purposes. Dellarobbia sees her as an adversary, and yet, by the end of the story, she begins to understand that she and Hester are more alike than different, that they have much in common and should be natural allies. As Dellarobbia increases her understanding of the older woman, Hester comes more into focus and we see the tragedies and sorrows of her life and how it, like Dellarobbia's, has not turned out as she would have wished. 

Kingsolver's ability to take a big issue like global warming and make it personal is one of the things that I find most affecting and irresistible about her fiction. Her inspiration to put the silent and breathtakingly beautiful Monarch butterflies at the center of this issue seems to me to be a stroke of brilliance. It would take a hard heart indeed not to sympathize with the plight of these wonderful creatures and to wish to save them. One can only hope that this story might open some other minds and lives besides the fictional Dellarobbia's. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

This week in the garden - #45

Did you make any New Year's resolutions pertaining to gardening? I had plenty of time to think about it this week because I wasn't doing any actual gardening, but in the end, I didn't make any gardening pledges. I guess my only resolution would be to try to build on what I've accomplished and make the garden better this year. In short, the same resolution that I make every year.


I've spent the week doing indoor chores and reading. On January 2, I started reading Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, Flight Behavior. I'm about halfway through it, so if you've already read it, don't tell me how it ends!

If you haven't heard of it, the plot of the novel is about climate change and its effect on migratory creatures - specifically the Monarch butterfly. In the time covered by the novel, millions of the butterflies have been misdirected from their normal migration to their winter home in Mexico and have settled instead in a fir forest in the Appalachians, in Tennessee. The drama of the story is how this affects the local inhabitants, particularly once the story gets out and becomes a part of the 24-hour news cycle. Climate change and its effect on all of us is something that has concerned me for a number of years. Kingsolver has taken the story and made it understandable and personal, the mark of a very good writer.


Trying to come up with a project for the blog this year, I thought I might do something photographic. I'm considering taking a picture from a particular point of view in my garden at a specific time each month and posting it on the blog. I did something like this several years ago when we put in some new beds in the front yard and I found it enjoyable and interesting to watch how the beds evolved and matured from month to month. Now I just have to figure out my point of view and the date on which I will take the picture.


My sweet daughter knows that I like poetry and I like gardening and so today, she sent me a garden poem. Have you seen this one before?

The Garden Year
by Sara Coleridge
January brings the snow,
Makes our feet and fingers glow.

February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.

March brings breezes, loud and shrill,
To stir the dancing daffodil.

April brings the primrose sweet,
Scatters daisies at our feet.

May brings flocks of pretty lambs
Skipping by their fleecy dams.

June brings tulips, lilies, roses,
Fills the children's hands with posies.

Hot July brings cooling showers,
Apricots, and gillyflowers.

August brings the sheaves of corn,
Then the harvest home is borne.

Warm September brings the fruit;
Sportsmen then begin to shoot.

Fresh October brings the pheasant;
Then to gather nuts is pleasant.

Dull November brings the blast;
Then the leaves are whirling fast.

Chill December brings the sleet,
Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.

Obviously, that garden was much farther north than mine. July brings "cooling showers"??? In my dreams! Nevertheless, it's just a reminder of how our gardens are always changing, from month to month and day to day even. That old saw about how you can't step in the same river twice could be applied to the garden, too. You can never see the same garden twice. It changes even as we look. Let us hope that we have the eyes and take the time to see that in 2013.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

No fit day for gardening

Bored with being stuck inside these last couple of days, I decided to take a turn around the garden to see how things are going. Well, it turns out most things are brown and mushy. There's not a lot of excitement to be had out there these days.

What little excitement there is is in thinking ahead to what needs to be done. A lot of cleanup. A couple of big plants need to be moved. I need to get some seeds planted under my grow lights to get ready for the spring vegetable garden. Several of the raised beds in the garden need new surrounds to replace old ones that have been damaged or rotted over twenty years' time.

Then, of course, there are the birds. The only real "chore" I'm doing in the garden these days is keeping the bird feeders topped up with seeds, and that's turning out to be a full time job since the finches have arrived. Flocks of a hundred or more come and go from the feeders throughout the day and the seed levels decline even as I watch.

Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches feed both on the feeders and on the ground underneath.

Time to make another run to my birdseed supplier, I think.

Meantime, back to my seed catalogs. On a cold, gray winter day, I'll take my excitement in an easy chair by the fireplace.