i’ve been a bad garden blogger

if it weren’t for my insistent friend ms. slotharium, i’d probably never get this post up. i know, i’ve been a really bad garden blogger lately, but i just haven’t been able to spend  (i.e. distract myself) for a minute longer at the computer as this is the time of year to be outside in texas! surely you understand, so i won’t waste anymore time giving excuses. besides, it’s the bloom day before the garden bloggers meetup in asheville, so i really need to post something or else the powers that be might not let me participate.

here’s the prettiest blooming thing in the garden, bespeckled with the day’s constant drizzle. it sure makes me smile.

Hemerocallis ‘Big Smile’ (daylily)

no time to post photos of each individual blooming plant right now, so here’s the larger view what the front yarden is looking like. a little wild, yes, but over the past couple of months it’s been host to dozens of metamorphosing butterflies, color shifting anoles and even a few molting snakes seeking refuge.

driveway garden view
garden view to left of driveway
right side garden view
view from the top of the driveway

moving along towards the back yarden, here’s a little project mr. grwhryrpltd put together to support our enthusiastic grapevine.

new grape trellis over the garden gate. concrete footers and enlarging the gravel threshold are all that’s left to do (until i overhaul the gate itself ).
one bountiful cluster of Vitis labrusca ‘Black Spanish’ (grape). this is its first year of fruit production.

speaking of bounty, we’ve been harvesting plums the past few mornings from the front garden. they’re so tasty. i’m going to attempt to make plum jam this evening.

Prunus ‘Methley’ (plum)
beautiful and delicious!

oh right… we were heading to the back garden. here’s what it looks like with somewhat frequent rains (every 10 days or so).

a chair full of drying coriander, now probably lost to the rains it just sat through. oh well, i bet cilantro will be growing here come fall.
a nice place to sit with a glass of wine in the evening, particularly when the cushions are dry
while the vegetables haven’t been too productive this spring, the “native” sunflowers sure have shot up like a rocket. they’re everywhere, but i don’t mind too much. it gives the neighbors something to look at over the garden fence.

i’ve limbed up the sunflower’s leaves as they grow to support the tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers growing underneath them. the upper leaves should provide a bit of shade to get the veg through the heat of the day as well. the patch of sunflowers in front of the raised bed was a little experiment to see how big they’d get under competition from bermuda and st. augustine grass. they doubled in height after the last rain.

did i mention we’ve been visited by critters lately? here’s a few of the highlights.

a handsome anole on Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ and Fig
a non-venomous yellow bellied racer or yellow bellied water snake (i think? snake id is not my forte), unfortunately found dead in the garden. i buried him/her and s/he’s now growing a hearty patch of zinnias.

scare ya? ha! only a gardener would pull a (confirmed dead) snake out of sedges to see just how long it was – 10 wine bottle width’s worth. i wonder how many more might be sneaking around.

now, onto the critters for more gentle souls…

Danaus plexippus (monarch) caterpillars denuded this Asclepias (butterfly weed). it’s since recovered and ready for the next batch of larvae.
a freshly spun monarch chrysalis. you can still distinguish the caterpillar stripes on it.
another monarch chrysalis. safely located under the fence stringer for protection from weather, with lots of room for wing development available underneath.
a monarch chrysalis ready to break open…
she’s free!
even the kitties got to see the butterflies hatching. creaker johnny max (our +1 kitty) didn’t even bat a paw.
first year we’ve had Polygonia interrogationis (Question Mark) butterflies. guess it takes having a few Buddleia (butterfly bush) on hand, but somehow i don’t think these shrubs will survive the texas summer heat.
the Buddleia also attracted these Junonia coepia (common buckeye) butterflies. they may be “common,” but i find them stunning.

on the domestic critter front, the kitties have been, well, kitties. i’ve been playing nurse to puma for the past several weeks as she got into an altercation requiring surgery. while healing from that (with plastic cone collar on, of course) she went downhill fast due to another mysterious reason (stroke? aneurysm? tumor?), to the point we thought we were going to lose her. it’s a looong story, but she’s doing fine now and we’re so glad she’s still with us! dude and max did their best to avoid her, lest they catch what she had.

ms. pretty paws (puma) and mr. fence jumper (dude)

how’s that for an update? i could go on, but i’ve got some things to tend to before taking off for asheville. looking forward to catching up with the garden blogging community while there; and for those of you not going, oh how i wish you were! i probably won’t blog from there, but check out my twitter/instagram feed for pictorial updates enroute.



spring beauties

a dear friend of mine notified me that my last post was well, shall we say, less than uplifting? yes. i know, but i can’t really apologize for it. but i can offer up some spring beauties that are catching my attention these days a little closer to home.

a giant swallowtail chrysalis, open after spending the entire winter under the protection of our front porch
the Papilio/Heraclides cresphontes (giant swallowtail), who emerged from the chrysalis, getting to know her wings
a skeletonized leaf of Rudbeckia maxima (bog coneflower), casting beautiful texture of light and shadow
my first Latrodectus hesperus (black widow spider) finding in Stachys 'Helen von Stein' (lambsear). note CobraHead tool for scale.
a closer view of Ms. Latrodectus... and moving on to another part of the garden...
while i can't grow my favoriet giant Alliums here, i can grow this minature one. Allium canadense (native onion)
Verbena bonariensis (butterfly verbena) is coming along nicely. clumps of it were green all winter.
Sisyrinchium (blue-eyed grass) just starting to bloom
full view of Sisyrinchium (blue-eyed grass), with gallon-sized pot in back for scale reference
a full white bloom of the thorny Rubus (blackberry) shrub. the birds patiently await along the fence top above...
dude the sneak-away-cat sips from the water bowl. Prunus 'Sam Houston' (peach) stands over them.
Ipheon (spring beauty) about to bloom for the first time
Ipheon (spring beauty) in bloom
Pyrrhopappus multicaulis (texas dandelion), an adopted weed/wildflower in our garden, in bloom
a molting Papilio polyxenes asterius (swallowtail) caterpillar, on overwintered Petroselinum crispum (parsley)

and finally, here are three views of our spring time garden:

spring time view of the front garden (3.23.11)
back yard view of spring time garden (3.27.11)
patio view of spring time garden (3.27.11)

a gardener’s work is never done, but i think i’ll rest for now. enjoy your weekend everyone!

a surprise in every…

this morning i went to empty the contents of my rain-filled, chartreuse watering can onto our thirsty potted citrus trees when i noticed the water wasn’t coming out very fast. leaves and debris tend to fall into the can, or rather, i pour them into it as i decant our rain tubs into the can. apparently someone went for a water slide, because this is who i found in the spigot:

Hyla cinerea (green treefrog) in the spigot of my chartreuse watering can

well… what are YOU doing in there little guy?! i think he was as surprised as i was. thankfully, the plastic perforated covering pops off the spigot, with a little effort, of course. in no time i had Hyla freed from his confinement.

nice spring time color combo, eh?
nice to know you, Hyla cinerea (green treefrog)

without any significant trees to place him by, i set him, with his perforated plinth, into a clump of Chasmanthium latifolium (inland sea oats). i wonder where i’ll see him next… whadoyaknow, i just went through my photo archives and realized that this must be the same guy i saw in august last year (but never posted about), as he has the same number & location of golden spots on his back and behind his right eye:

see... same spots... we have a resident green treefrog!
same chartreuse watering can, same rain tub...

whadoyathink… is he attracted to the modern design of the watering can? hey ikea, i think you’ve got a niche market here…

thanks to the Herps of Texas website for help in identifying our garden critter. i’m stumped as to why he lives in our garden, because it’s far from a swamp, lake side, or stream edge. i guess the water in the can was a bit smelly, if not brackish from all the derbis in the bottom of the tub. none the less, i’m happy he likes it. and i’ll take that as my lucky four-leaf clover find for the day.

blooming swallowtails

i was scoping the garden yesterday for bloom day inspiration and came upon a surprise much more interesting than the few measly flowers that were blooming:

giant swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes

i certainly wasn’t expecting to see a giant swallowtail, freshly hatched, hunkered down in the foliage on a blustery (wind gusts 20-40 mph) and warm (77 degree) december day!  i ran to the porch where i knew there were three swallowtail chrysali hanging and sure enough, one of them was open:

a giant swallowtail chrysalis, zipped open & nicely camouflaged to its surroundings

this is what the chrysali look like before they hatch (this was in a different part of the garden earlier this summer):

giant swallowtail chrysalis

check out the super strong protein threads they suspend themselves from… these tiny details fascinate me!  here’s an image of the caterpillar, foraging on mr. grwhryrpltd’s precious dwarf key lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia:

giant swallowtail caterpillar on dwarf key lime tree

notice the giant caterpillar frass at the bottom left of the image above (yep, that’s insect poop).  now you see why mr. grwhryrpltd isn’t so fond of them.

giant swallowtail caterpillars... they even look like bird poop, on purpose!

at one point there were 20 little caterpillars between that and another citrus tree (my precious buddha’s hand citron, Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus).  by early november only half of the caterpillars survived, while the citrus trees kept producing new leaves.  the day i got back from the quilt festival i noticed a mockingbird hanging out in the rose bush nearby.  odd, because it was so close to the driveway and didn’t fly away when we drove up… but then i realized the bird was feasting on the plump caterpillars!  i ran out of the car only to find one left, which had its orange antennae fully extended and inflated, exuding a sulphurous pheremone that i now recognize as their go-go-gadget-get-away-from-me defense mechanism.  i picked it up anyway and tucked it down into the leaf mould beneath the hairy wedelia* for protection from that damn mockingbird, which i also made sure to shoo away.  a week or so later i found three chrysali on the brick wall of the front porch and wondered when they’d hatch, if at all, with the sporadic weather we’ve been having.  so it’s a understatement to say i was grateful to stumble upon the prettiest bloom all december…

keeping wings low out of the wind
a wind gust reveals the wing's yellow undersides
so nice to meet you giant swallowtail... safe travels to you

it’s the simple things that amaze me.  happy (belated, yet again) bloom day.

*hairy wedelia, (Wedelia texana a.k.a. zexmenia hispida) was one of the few measly flowers in bloom yesterday.  it’s a native, tough and drought tolerant.  and protective fodder for swallowtails.

a tiny hairy wedelia bloom
a wider shot of hairy wedelia's wide and low growth habit

a pollination dedication

it’s officially summer and pollination season has begun.  mr. grwhryrpltd has been out in the fields everyday for like a month now pollinating his research plants, leaving me to see what the professional insectivorious pollinators are working on in our garden.  seriously, it’s national pollinator week!  have you thanked your pollinators lately?  if you haven’t you should.  otherwise we wouldn’t have food in our bellies or flowers on the table.

Hypercompe scribonia (great leopard moth) at the DIG
Hypercompe scribonia (great leopard moth) at the DIG
Vanessa virginensis (american lady)

the critter shown below isn’t yet a pollinator, but will become a sphinx or hummingbird moth if it survives…

Manduca sexta (tobacco hornworm)

and yes, it probably survived…  you see, i’m a horrible vegetable gardener because i can’t seem to get rid of the insect “pests” in time to prevent major damage to whatever it is i’m trying to grow.  another case in point:

Leptoglossus phyllopus (leaffooted bugS) on the fruit formerly known as tomato

these guys are so bad this year i’ve all but given up on the tomatoes.  and artichokes:

Leptoglossus phyllopus (leaffooted bugS) contemplating artichoke for dinner

which is why i advocate for a good farmers’ market…

here are some more pollinators:

Eumenes fraternus (potter wasp) throwing pots in the wire ball

i’m not actually sure if these gals are into pollination, but i do know that they are beneficial parasatoids.  and damn fine potters if i do say so myself.  female potter wasps throw a perfectly formed pot from mud found nearby, sculpting the sides using only her mandibles and front legs – i know because i watched this one at work.  it was incredible!  she’ll then hunt for caterpillars, paralyze them, and thread them into the opening of the vessel.  once the vessel is full, she’ll lay a single egg and seal the pot with a bit more clay.

Eumenes fraternus (potter wasp)
Eumenes fraternus (potter wasp)

i’m not certain as to the pollination status of this guy either:

Arphia sp. (grasshopper)

you know me and butterflies… my favorite pollinator of all:

P. polyxenes (black swallowtail) caterpillar going to town on Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' (bronze fennel)
P. polyxenes (black swallowtail) caterpillar selecting a spot to make its chrysalis
P. polyxenes (black swallowtail) chrysalis... hanging by a thread
nine days later... hatched!
hello beauty

interestingly enough, i don’t have any images of the most widely known pollinator of all, Apis mellifera (honey bees). i honestly don’t recall seeing (m)any around here… does anyone else think that’s odd? i’ve seen a Bombus (bumble bee) and Polistes carolina (red wasp) here and there, but no honey bees. perhaps they’re declining here as they are in other parts of north america due to colony collapse disorder (CCD) caused by the varroa mite.  competiton from africanized honey bees may also be to blame here in texas. i’m no expert on any of that, so will have to use national pollinator week to learn more. in the meantime, keep an eye out for pollinators in your neck of the woods. watch and document them. refrain from eliminating them from your yard and garden but if you have to, use integrated pest management (IPM). provide them the food and shelter they need to continue bzz bZZZ bzz bZZZing along… they depend on us just as much as we depend on them.


last week i finished the weekender travel bag, an amy butler designed pattern:

weekender travel bag

i had it outside to take photos of it for maybe five minutes before dude, my feline garden companion, decided to hop in and test drive its roominess:

dude in a bag

it must’ve inspired him because he ran out of his yard late yesterday afternoon and has yet to return…  upon walking the neighborhood this evening i saw a black cat hanging out with someone in his front yard, so i went to investigate.  it wasn’t dude,  but was creaker, i mean, max – the kitty i took care of for 10 days (vet surgery and all) when he arrived in our garden last year with a huge gash on his head from a skunk, possum or other creature of the night.  i think while creaker was recovering he told dude a few things about the neighborhood and inspired him to wander.  so yes, this has happened before…

creaker (i.e. max) recovering after surgery last march (2009)

anyhoo, that’s another story, but the neighbor that max was hanging out with said he saw another black cat, to dude’s description (collar and all) in their yard yesterday, right after he caught a bunny…!  no way!  we figured his defense would be lacking as mr. grwhryrpltd clipped his claws an hour before he disappeared.  apparently, he can still fend for himself.

oh dudie, come back to your yard, you little wanderlust devil…

hatch of the fritillary

last year the hatching of the monarch butterflies rapt my attention.  this year it’s the gulf fritillaries, Agraulis vanillae.

Agraulis vanillae chrysalis
A.vanillae chrysalis on hosebib
A.vanillae chrysalis on concrete
A.vanillae emerge from their chrysali (second in background)
A.vanillae emerges from its well-irrigated chrysalis
A.vanillae rests before its first flight
another A.vanillae (!) emerges from its chrysalis
Agraulis vanillae at rest
first flight of this A. vanillae was hampered by feline curiosity and quickly rescued
surprise! the hindwings of A. vanillae are orange. you're safe in this backyard...

every day i spot more caterpillars and more chrysali, mostly of this same species so far.  i was amazed to learn that the chrysali are phototropic – they move toward or away from the sun depending on their needs – just like plants, who knew?!

i’ve also seen some black swallowtail caterpillars, Papilio polyxenes asterius, but haven’t spied their chrysali yet… so far i’ve only seen one monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, but i’m sure more are soon on the way.  to help track the caterpillars, butterflies and moths you see here in central tx, visit tamu entomology’s online field guide here, and click on lepidoptera.