Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rain for Christmas, hooray!

After three months without significant rainfall, Santa dropped off some of the wet stuff on Christmas Eve.
Rainy Christmas Eve

For 2 glorious hours, we had ourselves a good ol' fashioned gullywasher.
Rain & Christmas lights

The rain quickly puddled on our hard, dry clay soil.
Rain puddles

You could practically hear the parched plants soaking up the moisture. Slurp!

This morning, I checked the rain gauge. Half an inch, says the Gnome. Wait--what? The Gnome? Where did you come from?
1/2 inch of rain, says the Gnome

Jack gave me new Fiskars bypass loppers and this super neat garden organizer that fits over a 5-gallon bucket; hand tools go in the organizer's multiple pockets, while larger tools, bottles and bags of fertilizers and whatnot fit inside the bucket, which can then be toted around the garden as I work. It's genius!

Tonight, we're in for a hard freeze. It's already 32 degrees and it's only 10 o'clock. Merry Christmas, y'all! What did Santa bring you and your garden?

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Last day of fall

Tomorrow night, December 21st, is the winter solstice; at 5:38 p.m., fall will officially end and winter will begin. My Texas red oak has not gotten the memo and is in full color.

Alas, I did not have this photo ready in time for Foliage Follow-Up, hosted on the 16th of each month by Pam Penick; stop by her blog, Digging, and see who got their photos up on time!

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2010

Where are the blooms? Nothing but dormant perennials and agaves here.
Dormant perennials, agave

It's vignettes like these that drive gardeners to spend hundreds of dollars on annual bedding flowers so that there's Something Attractive to Look At Out There. Especially in front yards.
Dormant perennials, agave

Me, I'm too poor, so my neighbors get to look at bare sticks and brown leaves for two more months, until pruning time. Wait, what's that? A tiny hint of purple?
Post-season lantana

Well, hi! There's a tiny spot of trailing purple lantana (L. montevidensis). That qualifies as a bloom, by golly. I really like its spent seed heads, and the way its leaves turn the color of burgundy wine when the temperatures drop.
Trailing lantana

And here's a bit of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) that the caterpillars haven't gnawed to bits.
Butterfly weed

On the shady side of the house, here's a wee sprig of Molly Ivins salvia (S. Coccinea), hanging on for dear life.

Next to it, there's a few tiny white blooms on a Wort of Some Sort. I can't recall if Jenny or Diana passed this Tradescantia along, nor do I recall its full name.
A wort of some sort

The chenille plant (Acalypha pendula) hasn't done much since November. It's been super dry here, with no significant rainfall since September. But it still has one fuzzy bloom.
Chenille plant

Here's a few bright spots on an otherwise bare Hot Lips salvia (S. microphylla).
Hot Lips salvia

And a few blotches of yellow on this Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida).
Mexican mint marigold

The Bright Lights cosmos (C. sulphureus) still has a few blossoms for the remaining bees and butterflies.
'Bright Lights' cosmos

Lastly, the baby La Marne rose, a polyantha from 1915, is finishing her fall flush. I love how her little leafies are edged in red.
'La Marne' rose

Not too shabby, considering the drought and the cool temperatures. Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting GBBD. Visit her website and see what's blooming around the globe, mere days before the winter solstice.

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bird bath gets a workout

On a recent warm December day, the homemade bird bath got quite a workout. It's made from a hunk of old ash tree stump and a large planter saucer. It cost virtually nothing and works great.

First, I spied our resident male cardinal taking a dip.
Male cardinal

There was much splashing and flapping of wings as he bathed.
Male cardinal

Then he flew off. A few seconds later, I heard Mister call his mate. It's a short, distinctive "chip" sound. I crept a bit closer to the bird bath.
Homemade bird bath

Suddenly, Ladybird appeared for a dip. She kept an eye on me, though.
Female cardinal

She flapped her wings a few times, but more gently than Mister.
Female cardinal

The next visitor was a mockingbird, but he just stopped by for a drink, not a bath.

Last came the grackles. The males didn't bathe, but they did like to wade right in and drink, one sip at a time, angling their heads back to swallow.

The lady grackles were apparently informed they had to drink from the saucer on the ground. I've seen squirrels drink out of this dish, too.
Lady grackles

Without a bird bath, our garden would not have qualified as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, and we're diligent about keeping it clean and filled, even in winter. Do you have a bird bath in your garden? Who are your frequent visitors?

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Oh, those cosmos!

Just look at those half-dead cosmos. WHAT an eyesore.
'Bright Lights' cosmos, end of season

Why, there's hardly a blossom on those sad stems.
'Bright Lights' cosmos

Why on earth don't they cut them down already?
Honey bee on cosmos

Every year, we're "treated" to this, erm, "display."
'Bright Lights' cosmos

There's no purpose to keeping those ugly things standing that I can see.
Orange sulphur on cosmos

I mean, they're right there, next to their patio. Do they not see the problem here?
'Bright Lights' cosmos

Isn't there something in the deed restrictions against this sort of thing?
'Bright Lights' cosmos

I'm thinking they're just too darn lazy to deal with this problem.
American lady on cosmos

No purpose, no reason, and no excuse. Ugh.
Cosmos seed heads

Sigh. Maybe we should go over and say something. Or build a tall fence.
Common mestra on cosmos

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nom nom nom

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted this fuzzy fellow noshing on the remnants of the Mexican milkweed, Asclepias curassavica (or was it A. tuberosa?).
Estigmene acrea

I believe he's a mature Estigmene acrea larva. If my ID is correct, he will soon build a cocoon to spend the winter inside, and emerge as a Salt Marsh Moth in early spring.
Estigmene acrea

The wind was really whipping around around this day, and it was overcast, which made snapping shots of Esti difficult. I needed a really high ISO to get a high enough shutter speed to prevent blur with the lack of sunlight. But the wind didn't bother Esti one bit. In fact, he seemed to prefer dangling from the underside of the leaves to eat.
Estigmene acrea

In this shot, you can really see his abdominal prolegs, acting like little suction cups to keep him on the leaf.
Estigmene acrea

He really enjoyed eating the flowers as well as the leaves.
Estigmene acrea

He looked a bit like Phil Spector circa 2003.
Estigmene acrea

Unlike Phil Spector*, Esti had a cute gray and yellow belly with black spots, and little orangy feets, um, I mean thoracic legs.
Estigmene acrea

I grew the milkweed as a Monarch butterfly host plant, but have I seen any Monarch larvae? Sigh. Oh well, that's OK, there's plenty of host plants to go around in my garden. Maybe I should plant some Asclepias tuberosa next year...or is that A. curassavica? Sigh...

*Or so I assume. We'd have to ask Ronnie.

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No freeze here

Good thing too, because by the time I got home and ate dinner, it was too late and too dark to do anything about it if it had.
Didn't Freeze

Message to NOAA and Austin's chief meteorologists: issuing a freeze warning with a prediction of low overnight temperatures "between 28°F and 39°F" is not very helpful. (p.s. 33°F-38°F is not freezing.) I know you have a tough job predicting the unpredictable, but next time, could you try to narrow it down a bit for us?

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2010

Blooms, blooms, where are the blooms? The recent cold snaps have put all my Central Texas flowering perennials into a funk. I was about to give up on GBBD until suddenly, I saw this, hiding under the Swiss chard, next to the frilly asparagus fronds:

Saffron crocus

GASP! Saffron crocuses! You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Backstory: I've wanted to plant saffron crocuses ever since I first saw them in a Shepherd's Seeds catalog sometime in the early 1990s. At the time, my ex and I were living in various rental properties throughout Houston--duplexes with no gardens, apartments with blisteringly hot balconies (or no balcony at all)--none of which provided a lick of hope for naturalizing crocuses. We eventually bought a house in the late Nineties, but it came with a garden, and I didn't add much in the three years we lived there -- certainly not edibles. Fast forward a decade, through a divorce, a move to Austin, a second marriage, and a real garden with real garden beds. When I saw Crocus sativus bulbs on the Easy to Grow Bulbs site last fall, I couldn't resist. I purchased a package of 10 bulbs, although I didn't really have a spot for them.

Last November, I squeezed the crocus bulbs into a tiny spot in a tiny garden bed with no drip irrigation, partially shaded by a coral honeysuckle vine, and watered them well after planting. Thin green leaves came up in early spring, but no flowers. Oh well, I thought, and left them alone. The green leaves died back and disappeared. The bed got a fair amount of rain in spring. Once or twice a month in summer, the asparagus and chard in the same bed got watered by the garden hose, if it hadn't rained recently, when I thought about it. The bed got a lot of heat, and some morning sun, and dappled shade in the afternoon. I think I might have scattered some Ladybug 8-2-4 over the top of the soil once or twice; definitely last month, and probably in the spring sometime.

Although these conditions aren't exactly what was recommended, the crocuses seemed to have liked it all just fine, thank you very much, because here they are. See those bright red stigmas? Them's the goods, right there -- saffron, glorious saffron. There's only three red stigmas (or saffron threads) per flower, so it takes a lot of crocuses to get enough saffron to do much cooking. This also explains why saffron is So Darn Expensive.
Saffron crocus

The gorgeous purply-blue flowers only last a day or two, so it takes some vigilance to catch the saffron threads before the flower shrivels. This bloom is on its way out, and its stigmas are flopping. Quick, get the tweezers and a tiny pair of scissors! (Some gardeners snip off the whole bloom, but I can't do it.)
Saffron crocus

Here's my first saffron harvest: a whopping six strands! Whoo hoo!
Homegrown saffron

Well, I think It's a fine start. Like bulbs tend to do, C. sativus will multiply -- and how. There's a story on the Easy to Grow Bulbs site about a gardener who decided to move her dozen bulbs after a year in the ground, and found an amazing 64 bulbs in the soil! I'm already seeing more than a dozen tufts of green, so I'm very hopeful that I'll be whipping up oodles of paella, arroz con pollo, and fluffy Persian rice dishes very soon.

Saffron crocus

What other surprises are making gardeners gasp on this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day? Visit Carol's blog at May Dreams Gardens, then add your post to the list.

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Foliage Follow-Up: October 2010

I'm starting my Foliage Follow-Up post with the foliage I'm most proud of -- my asparagus foliage! I planted three asparagus crowns this spring, and they're doing really well. The label said the crowns were males, but apparently only female plants make the tiny little flowers you see here. Oh well; both male and female crowns will make asparagus stalks (although the males are allegedly more prolific). [EDIT: The Aggies say both boy and girl crowns make flowers, but only girls make red berries, so what do I know.]

Each one of these tiny stems should turn into a full-sized asparagus stalk this coming spring. The better I can stave off my desire to harvest them, the more stems the crown should produce in following years.

My beautyberry has fully colored up in its deeply shady spot, and is ready for harvesting by the birds. It's not very noticeable in person, but in this photo, a powdery film is quite evident on its leaves. Looks fungusy to me. Must investigate.
American beautyberry

The Gulf muhly grass is starting to send out its purply plumes. It will be enveloped in a purple cloud by next GBBD.
Gulf muhly grass

This Whale's Tongue agave has grown A LOT MORE than I thought it would in a year's time. After seeing Pam and Jenny's photos of the five-year-old A. ovatifolia at the Utility Research Garden on the Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour, I'm thinking I should have planted it further away from the driveway, Big Noisy Sigh.
Agave ovatafolia

Purple fountain grass dies back every other winter, but I will always replant in the spring. When the sun hits it at just the right angle, it's just glorious. (A tiny 'Bright Edge' yucca is to the right.)
Purple fountain grass

Thanks to Pam Penick at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-Up. Visit her site for more fotos of frolicking fronds!

Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.