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

Friday, March 29, 2013

This week in the garden - #57

Just in time for Easter, here is my first St. Joseph's lily bloom of the season, happily flowering right next to the yellow cestrum.


Several new plants have been added to the garden this week, in another busy week of planting and moving old plants around. Things are beginning to take shape, but the chore can never be called complete.

One of the new plants is this blue hibiscus, Alyogyne huegelii. This plant was entirely new to me but I saw it at one of the big garden centers and just fell in love. I had to have it! Interestingly, it is not a true hibiscus but is related to the mallows. It is native to southwestern Australia and is said to be a very tough plant that will grow in a variety of soils and climates. My new plant is growing in a big pot on my patio. It can get up to about six feet tall, but this pot should be able to hold it, I think. It's presently sharing the pot with some little begonias.

Another plant added this week was 'Little John,' a dwarf bottle brush plant. I added two of them to the bed at the front of my house, another bed that I am reworking this spring. It always surprises me that these strange little blossoms are such favorites with hummingbirds. They just don't look like typical hummingbird fare, but the birds do love them.


My new fountain that I showed you last week has proved to be a big hit with the birds.

The winter finches, Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches seen here, are particularly attracted to it. We do refer to them as winter finches, but they are still here at the end of March. Maybe they can sense that it is still cold and snowy up north.


More blooms around the garden this week:

Calibrachoa is usually classified as an annual, but these plants, in a pot with a blueberry shrub, carried blooms right through the winter and are blooming now right along with the blueberry.

'Coral Nymph' has become one of my favorite salvias. Here is its first bloom of the year, as it settles into its new bed next to the patio.

The 'Peggy Martin' rose lives on a trellis on the side of the garden shed. It is absolutely full of buds and soon will be full tiny pink flowers like the one you see here. This is a child of the famous rose that survived Katrina in a New Orleans garden. It has survived drought in my garden for the last two years for it is in a bed that is not very convenient for me to water and so it gets very little care. It is one tough rose!

Finally, this is another first - the first bloom of the year from 'Monkey Business,' a floribunda rose. (Something took a bite out of one of its petals.) It's not completely open yet but it will be by Sunday, in time for my Easter visitors to enjoy it.

Have a peaceful weekend. Happy gardening!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday...er, Thursday

I have a distressing habit of forgetting to participate in Gail of Clay and Limestone's excellent Wildflower Wednesday meme each month. I always seem to remember it a day or two too late.

Well, it happened again this month. After all, it is Wildflower WEDNESDAY and here it is Thursday already, but I decided, what the heck? I'll participate anyway. Better late than never, right?

I have several wildflowers growing and blooming in my yard right now. Let me show you a few.

This is a wild allium which came up in my yard last year. It was the only one of its kind. I thought it was so attractive that I dug it and potted it up to try to encourage it to multiply. And, here it is, still in its pot and blooming for me again. When it finishes bloom this year, I'm going to plant it in one of my beds. I'm not entirely sure which allium it is. My best guess is Allium canadense, but it could be Allium drummondii. Whatever its proper name, I quite like my little pink allium.

This is another gift of Nature that has seeded itself in my garden this spring. It is Philadelphia fleabane (Eigeron philadelphicus). It's been in bloom for a couple of weeks now and, as you can see, it has several buds which promise more blooms.

This plant has been used in traditional medicines. The dried and crushed parts of the plants are used to make a tea that is beneficial for sore throats, the treatment of stomach ailments, and even for a poultice that can be applied to swelling. I'm not sure where it came from, but I think I'll dig it and plant it in my wildflower bed.

And speaking of my wildflower bed, when it's spring in Texas, it is bluebonnet time. Sometimes we get a few pink bonnets among the blue, as you see here. The bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas.

I grow purple oxalis on purpose in my garden, but its cousin, Oxalis violacea or violet wood sorrel pops up in beds all over my garden. Technically, it's a weed, of course, but it's a very pretty one and unless it is in a particularly awkward spot, I tend to ignore it and let it flower. Which is probably why it keeps popping up around my yard.

Here's wishing you joy with your wildflowers. Next month, I'll try to be on time.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The dying Monarch

Lately, the news for the Monarch butterfly has been all bad. It seems that every week we have a new story detailing the depressing news of the beautiful butterfly's decline. Illegal logging, rampant ecotourism, and unusually harsh winters have damaged the butterfly's winter sanctuary in Mexico. Mid-America's big factory farms' reliance on the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides have killed butterflies and their caterpillars and have destroyed the stands of milkweed which caterpillars need to feed on in order to grow and transform into butterflies. And looming over all of this are the effects of global climate change which is reeking havoc with weather patterns, causing extended droughts and, paradoxically, historic floods, and contributing to raging wildfires which damage the butterfly's food source and kill butterflies. It is estimated that today's population of the butterflies is approximately one-fifteenth of what it was in 1997.

This marks the third straight year of decline for this migrant butterfly which is a treasure of all three nations of North America. Indeed, its population is at the lowest levels ever reliably measured. There seems a very real possibility that the Monarch butterfly could become extinct. At the very least, its population will be a mere shadow of what it once was. As recently as 1994, wintering butterflies in the Mexican mountains covered 22 acres. By 2003, the area covered was down to 12 acres. During this past winter, it was only 2.9 acres. That is just shocking.

The best known fact about the Monarch is its migratory habit. It crosses the continent twice a year. It takes four generations of the butterfly to travel from Mexico to Canada. In order to make that long trek, it must have milkweed to nourish caterpillars into the next generation. You can easily see what the destruction of all those stands of milkweed across middle America has done to the prospects for the successful completion of the migration.

Of course, gardeners across the country have been trying to fill the void by planting more milkweed in their gardens. I have about twenty plants of the stuff and I just added three large plants this past week, because my old plants died back in the winter and were just emerging from their nap. Their leaves were not big enough to nourish many caterpillars. This is probably the most important thing that we, as gardeners, can do to help the butterfly. That and refusing to use chemical pesticides and herbicides in the garden. These can be death not only to butterflies but to so many useful and beautiful critters that make our gardens their habitat.

Many wildlife conservation groups have also made the Monarch's survival a priority. The World Wildlife Fund, for just one example, has sponsored the census of the butterfly and is looking for ways to aid it and to mitigate the forces aligned against its survival.  The organization Journey North, which tracks many migrating species including hummingbirds and other birds as well as butterflies, has invaluable information on its website regarding the Monarch's life cycle and what it needs to survive. They also encourage citizen scientists to report Monarch sightings to that website so that the migration can be tracked. (I've made my reports and I encourage you to do the same.)

Everyone loves the Monarch. No one wants to see it perish. So, why is it in such trouble? It seems to be trouble that is altogether of human origin, even the changing climate. Can we summon the will to change our practices in order to give the butterfly a fighting chance? If we can, we may save more than a butterfly.

A Monarch egg on milkweed leaf. You can see the tiny embryo inside. 

 Monarch caterpillars on milkweed, their only source of food.

  I don't have grandchildren, but if I ever should, I would hope they would still be able to see this sight.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools & Garden Supplies by Jim Fox: A review

This is a short book, but it is chock full of advice and information for gardeners on everything from how to read and understand a plant tag to choosing the best tools for your purposes and where to site and establish your plants where they will be happiest. It gives us some common sense rules that, if followed, will help to make us successful gardeners.

The book is divided into seven chapters, starting, quite logically, with one that reveals what you need to know before you buy anything. Things like your climate zone, soil types, what purpose your garden will serve, and how much money you can spend on it. That last one, in my experience, is the toughest and the bottom line keeps getting erased and rewritten once you get into it.

The writer, Jim Fox, a gardener with forty years of experience, goes on to tell us how and where to buy plants, how to judge the health of plants, how to select the best tools, how to make your plants happy by planting them in the right place, and, finally, what it takes to keep the plants growing happily.

The suggestions that Fox gives seem so obvious that I found myself repeatedly slapping my forehead (metaphorically, anyway) and saying, "Why didn't I think of that?" But, in many cases, I hadn't. I'll give you just one example. 

Fox suggests taking a big manila envelope, writing the year on the front, and then placing all the tags of the plants that you plant that year in the envelope. If you felt the need to make it more complicated you could write the date that you planted it on the tag. But, really, what a simple and simply elegant way to organize a record of your garden. As a gardener who constantly has to wrestle with the chaos of her records, this is one idea that I plan to implement immediately!

This little book is full of such ideas. I think it would be a perfect purchase or a perfect gift for a beginning gardener. It could save him/her many of the stupid mistakes which I have made over the years. 

But it is never too late to learn something new in the gardening game, and, although I have almost as many years' experience as Jim Fox, I learned quite a lot from his book. I'm glad it came my way.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own. The book is on sale now.)

Cross-posted from The Nature of Things.

Friday, March 22, 2013

This week in the garden - #56

Whew! What a week! The beginning of "real" spring brought an exceptionally busy and productive week for this gardener.

We did manage to get all the new beds around the patio installed and some of the planting done. I still need to make another run to the nursery to purchase a few more plants, but I have bought several new ones already and have moved others from other beds around the garden so it is beginning to shape up. Another week of planting and then mulching and maybe it'll be ready for public viewing, just in time for my husband's birthday celebration on Easter Sunday!


There are lots and lots of blooms around the garden this week.

This pot of colorful gerberas brightens the little sitting area near the front door of our house.

 Among the plants that I added this week were some dwarf  'Mystic Spires' salvias.

 In the wildflower bed, the bluebonnets and some pink bonnets are still blooming profusely.

Speaking of wildflowers, a stand of Philadelphia fleabane has seeded itself in my yard from somewhere. Pretty little flower.

Along the veggie garden fence, the crossvine just keeps putting out more flowers.

And in the veggie garden, the winter greens have mostly bolted now and have put out great quantities of these yellow flowers which the bees absolutely love. Soon, I'll have to pull them out in order to plant my spring garden, but I'll let the bees have them for a few days.

The redbud tree is now in full and glorious bloom - another favorite of bees.

  The white yarrow continues its bloom.

The blossoms of my little mystery allium have now opened all the way. It really is a pretty little thing.


Here are a few of the plants I've added to the new patio beds this week.

This is a banana shrub ( Michellia fuscata). Its interesting little flowers really do smell like bananas.

Here's a close-up of one of those flowers.

Here's a view of the pretty blossoms of the mandevilla vine that I added.

And this is 'Little Henry' Sweetspire (Itea virginiana).

This is one of 'Little Henry's' buds. When fully opened, it will look like a big white fuzzy caterpillar.


 On the patio, this red kalanchoe blooms in a pot.

Among the several plants that I added to the garden this week were some fully grown milkweed. My old plants have just put up their first green shoots of spring, not sufficient to feed any hungry caterpillars that visiting Monarchs might produce, so I added three of these big, bushy, healthy-looking plants that I found at a local garden center.

The milkweed won't help this Black Swallowtail. I need to add some members of the parsley family for them.

Let's end this week's roundup with a view of  'Old Blush' rose, still in full bloom along the back fence after two months.

I hope all of your plants are in "blooming" health this week and that you are, too. Happy gardening! 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Spring officially arrives in the early morning hours of March 20 and the flowers of the redbud tree, along with their accompaniment of native bees, are here to greet it.

Of course, spring has been here unofficially for several weeks now, but with the coming of the vernal equinox today, our calendar will finally match our weather.

The word equinox is derived from Latin words meaning "equal night," and on this day, the hours of daylight and night are approximately equal and the sun rises in the due east and sets in the due west. Spring brings increasing daylight, and temperatures in our part of the world begin to heat up rather rapidly.

This is the time of the rebirth of both flora and fauna. I can see it in my garden with the perennials that died back during the winter now putting up fresh shoots as they get ready for a growth spurt, and I see and hear it at one of my bluebird boxes as the bluebird babies that have been assiduously cared for by their hard-working parents for a week and a half now will soon be ready to fledge. New life is bursting out everywhere!

And on the vegetable garden fence, the 'Tangerine Dream' crossvine blooms in its glorious flush of spring beauty.
Welcome sweet spring and don't be in any hurry to give way to nasty old summer!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Friday, March 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 2013/This week in the garden - #55

There are plants waiting to be planted, weeds waiting to be weeded, limbs waiting to be pruned, and rocks waiting to be moved. I need to be out there doing all that, so let's get right to it. Here's what's blooming in the garden in March and what's happening in the garden this week.

I've mentioned my new fountain in posts here a couple of times in the last week. Well, here it is. There's still work to be done around its base and planting to be done, but projects get completed verrrry slowly in my garden. You can see a few azalea blossoms peeking out from behind the fountain.

 In the wildflower bed, the bluebonnets are still blooming.

The yellow cestrum, a butterfly magnet, has begun its months-long bloom cycle. Typically, it is constantly in bloom from now until first frost next December.

 Along the back fence, the wild blackberries are in bloom.

'Mabel Bryan' camellia has several of its luscious deep pink blossoms open.

In the front yard, the viburnums are just beginning their bloom.

This purple verbena has reseeded itself next to the walkway and is sending out its fragile blooms.

Winter-blooming violas are still showing their colors in pots by the patio.

The twelve-month bloomer 'Big Momma' Turk's cap is still full of its uniquely shaped flowers which both butterflies and hummingbirds love.

Another twelve-month bloomer is the variegated potato vine. It carries a few blossoms right through the winter, but now it is full of these pretty white flowers that show its relationship to the nightshade family.

The purple trailing lantana continues to attract butterflies. Here is a Giant Swallowtail feeding from its blossoms this week.

 The white yarrow umbels wave in the spring breezes.

'Old Blush' rose just goes on and on and... It's been in full bloom along the back fence since mid-January.

 Orange bulbine is another faithful bloomer.

 The reseeded 'Laura Bush' petunias have begun their bloom.

 The old 'Ducher' rose continues to send out its pretty white blossoms.

 And the purple oxalis is hanging right in there with its delicate little flowers.

 Even in my little goldfish pond, there's still "blooming" going on! These fish are definitely frisky.

My garden chores await and I'm off to do them. Thank you for stopping by this month and thank you, Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Bloom Day once again.