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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Winter in Decker Prairie

No, this isn't my garden today. The picture was actually taken at Rocky Mountain National Park when we were there a couple of years ago, but it sort of feels like this today in my garden.

We have had frozen precipitation this morning. Sleet, snow, freezing rain - you name it - although it hasn't actually been cold enough for it to stick except on high places like roofs. There has been a cold wind blowing much of the time which made it unpleasant to be outside for very long.

I've been keeping an eye on my bird feeders, all of which are overrun with hungry birds, mostly American Goldfinches. I have to refill some of the feeders every day or two now to keep the birds happy.

And that is Decker Prairie here at mid-winter. Tonight the temperatures are predicted to be heading down to the 20s degrees Fahrenheit. By Friday, it should be back near the mid-70s again. Pity the poor plants that have to keep adjusting to these changes.

But spring is coming to be followed by the near intolerable heat of summer, and probably sooner than we think. Then we will remember with nostalgia these cold days of late January and February.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Still blooming

As I told you on January Bloom Day, I still don't really have anything blooming in the garden. I do hope to be adding some blooms soon, but in the meantime, I have to be satisfied with the few blossoms that I have indoors.

And those are the same blooms that I had during the holidays - amaryllis and poinsettia.

This poinsettia on my living room hearth has been a real trooper. It has now lost most of its green leaves, but the blooms are still going strong. It has been in bloom in the house for more than six weeks now. I think I've definitely gotten my money's worth out of this plant!

The 'Flamenco Queen' amaryllis is now in its second cycle of bloom. Its bloom, too, is very long lasting and has given a lot of pleasure.

'Cherry Nymph' also has been a real winner for me and is now on its second bloom spike. Isn't it pretty?

'Grand Diva,' on the other hand, has certainly lived up to her name. She has kept us waiting, waiting, waiting... I began to wonder if she was ever going to bloom, but finally, she is putting up two bloom spikes at once. Leave it to a diva to show off!

Here's the second 'Diva' bloom spike, not as tall yet as the first one, but it promises beauty to come.

Here on a cold, cold day in late January, we'll take color and flowers wherever we can find them and I'm very happy to have these few flowers. Still blooming.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Trees in mid-winter

(Here's a post from the archives that celebrates trees, especially trees in the middle of winter. The only thing that has changed among my trees since the original post is that the old apple tree finally had to be cut down because of disease. Now a new one has taken its place and should be here for many years to come.) 

"I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree," the poet Joyce Kilmer wrote just before he went off to serve in World War I, where his life ended. His poem lives on, and no one has ever better described the mystical hold of trees on the human psyche.

At all seasons of the year, trees have a kind of beauty and poetry and majesty of their own. In mid-winter, as at every season, they are the anchors of the garden.

Live oaks, of course, are much the same at all seasons. They never get fully undressed, although they do shed their leaves in spring as new leaves are being produced. In winter, their leaves offer shelter and sanctuary for birds who need a safe haven from predators or from the weather.

The same can be said of the magnolia trees, a favorite roosting place for many birds in winter.

The bottle tree never loses its leaves either - but I haven't noticed any birds roosting here.

The sycamore hangs on to a few of its leaves until they are finally displaced by new leaves in the spring. Every passing breeze brings a shower of sycamore seeds cascading down from the plentiful seed balls. These seeds are favorite winter foods of many birds including the goldfinches who spend hours each day picking them out. 

The old apple tree, too, keeps a few of its leaves even as it prepares to open its swelling buds to the bees in late winter.

The corkscrew willow gives it all up, every leaf, and stands naked against the winter sky and the background of the neighbor's pine trees that tower over everything. The twisted limbs and twigs of the willow give some extra interest to the winter garden. Last summer, I learned that its leaves are hosts to some species of butterflies and moths. I knew there was a reason why I liked it.

This old crape myrtle was planted many years ago by birds, and it still feeds birds in winter with its seeds.

The upright limbs of the Shumard red oak seem to be lifted to the sky in praise and exultation.

None of these trees is old, as trees go. Except for the magnolia and the crape myrtle, we planted them all, but all of them, except for the willow, are now more than twenty years old. They have stood in our yard through drought and flood, heat and cold, and hurricane winds and they have been undaunted. Their leaves have shaken with our laughter, and in times of sadness, they have given me strength and consolation. They've always been there for me to lean on. They are friends to me.

I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as my trees.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 2014

Actually, in my garden, it is Garden Bloggers' (non) Bloom Day this month. My garden is literally bloom-free at the moment except for a few pansies which I have shown you before.

Just about ten days ago, Southeast Texas got its share of the polar vortex storm that swept the country. Ours was pretty weak tea compared to what our friends up north received but it was enough to send our low temperatures down to 20-22 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple of nights and that put an end to the few blooms which I still had. The almond verbena, yellow cestrum, Turk's cap, shrimp plant, and various lantanas that had continued to bloom through the winter were all hit hard by the cold and sent into a deep sleep. They should return in the spring, but for now, they look brown and dead.

So, I've truly nothing to show you this month, but I look forward to visiting the gardens of others who do have blooms to share, especially those in the southern hemisphere who are now in the middle of their summer. And I hope that by the middle of February, some blooms and color will have returned to my own garden.

Happy Bloom Day and happy gardening! And as always, thank you to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting us.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Succulents Simplified by Debra Lee Baldwin: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Succulents are described as the plants that drink responsibly. Requiring very little water in order to thrive, they are the perfect kind of plants for areas where water is a scarce commodity and must be conserved. There are likely to be many more such areas in the future. It is good to know that even in these circumstances, there are plants that we can grow successfully.

Debra Lee Baldwin has written a book that is a useful introduction to these trendy, low-maintenance plants. In Succulents Simplified, she gives advice about how to choose the appropriate plant for the site or the indoor project that you have in mind. She gives step-by-step instructions that can help the reader whether she has an acre to plant or is intent on filling only a few windowsill pots.

I enjoy succulents and have several pots around the house as well as a few in the garden. Over the years, I have learned through bitter experience that the worst thing you can do to these plants is to overwater them. I admit I have killed more than a handful in this way. Perhaps if I had had Baldwin's book to guide me, I might have been a better and more successful succulent gardener. Well, I guess I have no excuse in the future, do I?

I think the great appeal of succulents lies in their sculptural and geometric shapes. These are forms that blend well with modern design, but, in fact, they can accent almost any style, regardless of what your individual preference might be. I suspect that succulents, which are hot right now, will become even hotter in the future as more people come to realize just how easy and care-free they are.

For the crafty gardener, a category that doesn't really include me, Baldwin includes information and instructions for several projects. Things like turning a cake-stand into a planter/centerpiece for succulents. She also shows how to make vertical gardens with the plants or to create a topiary sphere. Personally, I prefer a more naturalistic look, letting plants grow naturally into their own space, but to each his/her own.

Baldwin's easy-to-follow text is illustrated with some beautiful photographs of these versatile plants. Most of the photographs were taken by her. The credits for other pictures appear in the back of the book.

She gives us a list of her 100 favorite plant picks for all uses and she explains how to care for them and keep them fat and healthy regardless of where you live. She is obviously well-versed on the subject and writes from a wealth of experience. Also, her enthusiasm for succulents is contagious and the humor with which she writes helps to convey that contagion.

This was a fun and interesting book to read and from it, I picked up several ideas for including succulents in my landscape and I am looking forward to getting to work on that. I am especially excited about the diverse palette of colors that are available and that were shown throughout the book through the remarkable photography.

If you have an interest in succulents, this might just be the book to help you get started. And if you don't have that interest, it might be the book to give it to you!

(A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

This week in the garden - #85

Finally, this week we got the "killing frost" that we had been anticipating. Our low temperatures got into the 20s F. and all the plants in the garden that can be affected by frost are now in a deep winter's sleep. It's time to begin the clean-up and time to move those sleeping plants that are poorly sited and need to be in a different location.

Plants like my 'Montrose Purple' vitex that is presently living in the shade of my red oak tree. It grows in a misshapen form because it needs more sun. It would be happier, in fact, in full sun, so, I want to move it to a new location. But it is a big shrub and I'll need help with the project. I do want to save the vitex if I can. Assuming that I am able to secure the assistance I need, I hope that I can move that unhappy plant to a spot where it will be more comfortable - maybe next week.


Earlier this week, before the freeze came, I photographed this little butterfly in my garden.

It is a Sleepy Orange Sulphur butterfly. I don't often see them in my yard, but in the autumn of 2012, when we visited Big Bend National Park, these butterflies were everywhere. I love that name - Sleepy Orange.


There's not much going on in the garden with the plants at the moment, but it is one of the most active times of the year for the avian visitors to the garden. I keep my bird feeders well stocked and they are almost always busy with backyard birds like these.

 Carolina Chickadee

 Northern Cardinal

Pine Warbler

Thank goodness we have our feathered companions and the occasional butterfly to brighten our otherwise dull gray days of winter.