Monday, December 22, 2014

Bits here and there

I have new neighbors across the street. They hired a sweet father/son duo to take up the sycamore leaves and I managed to greet them and hire them too for a one time yard clean up. "Cuanto cobran?" I asked the dad and he simply answered "cuanto nos paga?". We are lucky people to live where we do, and have what we do. I paid him 20% more than we agreed upon and my yard is spotless and beautiful. I wished him a "Feliz Navidad"...

I've been away working and on travels. Doing work in Guatemala with children who couldn't get medical care otherwise, gorgeous and sweet. I'm pretty non-religious but the Shalom foundation did a good job working with the Dell Childrens Surgical Outreach group to help over 60 kids. Five busy clinical days followed by a brief stay in Antigua which was a wonderful break. I thought about snapping a million pictures but settled on soaking it in and being present. The few pictures I took are funny comments on plants that I think could only live in Austin and thrive (so much better!) down there..
That is an Esperanza bush (or Yellow Bells) in the ruins of an old monastery. No shrub, it has grown into glorious tree status..

Back at home the chickens keep laying (see my former neighbor hugging my Houdini),

and the holidays are in full swing (see my  blurry multi-color tree).

My eldest snuggled with me a few nights ago and out of the blue commented that he was thankful he was healthy and 'all his body parts worked'. Such a funny, odd (and wise!) comment. It reminds me to be deeply grateful for my nest and my chicks (human and otherwise). May everyone have a rich winter holiday, full of love and connection!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Late bloomers

My mint marigolds, coneflowers and zinnias didn't get the memo about so-called freezes.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nature takes her course..

Silver linings to the freeze:

So many options for these pretty green tomatoes: make chutney, fry them, grill them, pickle them, make tomato pie.. I'm leaning towards frying.

Picking these up all over the yard- fall treats..

Lastly I get time to knit for the impending babies due to my co-workers. We have two sets of twins coming in December, so I'm sticking to cute hats combined with sleepers and books. Hats are the perfect project for me right now- easy on, quick to complete (and very cute!).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Here and there

I'm a bit late for Wildlife Wednesday (hosted by Tina at, but will link to it anyways since I have some lovelies to show-and-tell :)  My "butterfly-eye" caught a glimpse of some caterpillars and butterflies both in my home garden and at my parent's place out near Mason, TX.

At home I was excited to see this plump fellow eating the butterfly weed I planted just for him:

For years I've hosted swallowtail caterpillars on sacrificial fennel, but this guy appears to be a bonafide Monarch caterpillar (no green stripe). I'm glad to welcome him!

Less welcome is this cross striped cabbage caterpillar, which has turned my Brussel sprouts into swiss cheese. Happily, he and his kind have left my chard seedlings alone (I prefer the taste of chard anyway!).

I saw multitudes of butterflies near Mason, enjoying the late season wildflowers and riverbank milkweed, but they were mostly too fast for my camera! Some looked like sulfur butterflies, some were black swallowtails. Like my mother, for a long time I thought all the orange ones were Monarchs, but it turns out they are different types of Frittilaries instead (see the Gulf and Variegated Frittilaries below)..

Down by the James River (refilled by recent rains) we saw more butterflies and bees (and no snakes happily). I sometimes doubt things as pretty as lantana and salvias can really grow in the wild, but I saw a few wild specimens mixed among the persimmon and yucca plants near the riverbank. My boys love wading in the water, and I have to muffle my "Lonesome Dove" induced snake phobia (anyone remember the scene with Newt and the water crossing?) when they happily forget about media and technology and play in nature in the river..

As I walked along the banks multiple frogs hopped hopped away from my clumsy feet into the water. The one below is only the size of a quarter.

It is always lovely to see how my mother's truly xeriscape garden is doing at the house. It puts up with harsh Texas summers with minimal supplemental watering (once every month or two) and shows off some tough plants!

These enormous bushes of lantana (2 types) and rosemary started out in 4 inch pots.. They are all each at least 4 feet wide in diameter.

She planted an autumn sage somewhere inside the fence about 15 years ago and it has happily self seeded throughout the garden. The black spot in the center may be a swallowtail that was too blurry to catch!

Throughout the rest of the property my parents voluntarily spend their weekends chain-sawing cedar trees, spraying prickly pear and generally doing their best to undo 250 years of overgrazing to restore the land to native prairie. The colors are faded and many would see a dry arid place, but when they look at hillsides covered in big bluestem, little bluestem, sideoats grama etc they are deeply happy.

A funny story- they recently decided to get a quote on the cost of replacing their St Augustine back yard in Austin with a xeriscape garden (the St Augustine was there when they bought the house but has been decimated by grubs). The (friendly, young and non-Austinite) consultant came up with a pretty design and some good ideas, but lost my mother's interest when he proposed a whole bed of spineless prickly pear. She sees plenty of prickly pear on her weekend days (see below)! They have decided to do the work themselves (and go with a different plant in that bed).

An uncleared area left for animal habitat..

She does get the perk of being able to collect plants to take home- like these twist-leaf yuccas.

Don't worry, there are plenty left!

I also had fun comparing what I've planted as "specialty" transplants in my backyyard with what grows rampant in the wild such as this Lindheimer senna:
Barely started in my back back garden..

Happily ubiquitous. I gathered seeds and will spread them :)

I hope everyone enjoys the cold weather moving in this week- I brought back some firewood and am looking forward to using our new firepit at least a few times!

Friday, November 7, 2014

A little envy is ok...

Neighborhood pomegranate tree.. This is not the first time I've admired them and wondered just where in my garden I could place one. They handle the heat well, but can get quite big and bushy. But look at those fruits! I'm sure there's an area of grass that could be replaced with a circular bed with one of these as a focal point..

The rain has awakened a few seeds in my front bed. I'm hoping to see drifts of bluebonnets, winecups, evening primroses and coneflowers in the mulched areas this spring. Here and there I see hints..

The guy above is my lone early bird who popped up a few weeks ago..

In the meantime the local blooms have simmered down (except the Mexican mint marigold which smells delicious and keeps putting out cheerful yellows). My zinnias, started from a casually thrown seed packet, have brightened up again since the peak of summer faded in September. I'm enjoying their old-rose color in the fall light..

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ms. Nosy...

Psst- gardener lady.. Why are you sitting inside that warm dry house? Wanna let us in? If not, we'll just sit in the dry spot on the back porch and watch you through the back door. We call it "People TV"..

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hello fall..

No really- we flirted before, but now you've come to stay a while. I spend more time raking, less time trimming, and no longer have to mow my (probably fungus ridden) yellowing grass. The chickens love the pecan nuts that fall from the trees on the borders of our yard, though they rely on me to crack crack crack the shells for them. My cucumbers plants have put on a last hurrah, and I harvested a glossy eggplant for dinner this week.. After keeping my head down in a barrage of work-days, I plan to walk the neighborhood on days off this week, keeping an eye and ear out for crunching leaves and cool-weather greens popping up in neighbors yards..

Things I noticed in the cooler days in my back yard:

The mistflower in the back is white, not blue.. It has always been eaten before it flowered, but has been spared this year. I'm glad to see the white blooms, which smell lovely. If I had time I'd stalk whatever bug has decided to chomp large bites out of the leaves..

The (known) white mistflower in the front was low key but hardy through the summer, then put on a beautiful show of flowers that smell wonderful..

I saw a Monarch flitting around it, but it vanished before I moved to get a phone or camera :)

My chicks are adolescents now, wandering the yard with the big girls but coming back to their safe "chicken tractor" for dust baths and comfort.. Their brown and orange markings echo the feel of fall, so I've named two of them in honor of the season: Pumpkin and Walnut (though maybe I should change Walnut to Pecan for a more regional name!). Below is Cross-Beak (not my most inventive name) looking plump and happy in a dust bath:

Pumpkin (below).. standing almost on top of her sister..

I try to balance the chickens and the garden, but the hens seem to be winning over my new beds. They have plucked the leaves off my newly transplanted Henry Duelberg salvia, blackfoot daisy, flameleaf acanthus and purple salvias, so I may wrap the new plants in chicken wire for a few months to protect them.. Plants they ignore include:

Everpresent Carolina snailseed, putting on a pretty fall show of berries.

Tropical milkweed, laying down it's deep taproot in the new bed!

Cenizo blooming after a small rain..

They are happy to have pumpkin left-overs in the compost heap to eat.. I hope everyone had a fun Halloween!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October blooms

Enjoying the friendlier weather with a look at what's blooming in my garden this week! I'm a day late, but it's fun to join the others at Garden Blogger's Bloom Day at

I only planted these fall asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) this spring but they are abuzz with happy bees this month, full of brightly purple blooms.

In an apparently classic Texas garden move, I have a couple of Mexican mint marigold near my asters, and another providing contrast with this variegated agave. I'm fine with borrowing what works!

Blue plumbago in a pot- a proud survivor of both the summer heat and hungry hens!

Ripening berries on my yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) lending fall color. 

This one is not in bloom, but will be off and on as long as it doesn't freeze: Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis) is a part shade loving native perennial that produces red flowers that are apparently quite a treat for birds. It was part of a shade-friendly native seed bomb pack I threw out last fall and it was a fun surprise to find that at least one seed has grown into a sturdy happy plant without any attention from me. Now I'll need to make sure I don't weed it in the spring!

I hope everyone's enjoying fall!

Monday, October 13, 2014


Are gorgeous and I cheer every time I see them except today. One scooped up my bantam Ruby and luckily dropped her, but from 20 feet up! You know, I'm all about the circle of life, but want my chickens to stay out it!

Ruby seemingly unharmed (no wounds visible) giving me the stink eye from inside the coop!

Thursday, October 9, 2014


This will be a post about just-becoming things- beds starting to bloom, pathways almost-there, my baby chicks growing bigger, one with a major deformity that may/may not be her undoing. None of it is done, filled in or mature. It's thrown together based on the flow of my impulses instead of a rigidly organized plan.. I have friends and family that are "very well put together" and I've always felt like a disorganized tomboy by comparison. My college roommate did DIY salvaged book art 20 years ago (before Pinterest!) and then became both a corporate attorney and a handbag designer in NYC. Some branches of my family epitomize preppie coolness, others have always had immaculate hair/make-up, house and garden decor. That would not be me, or my other march-to-the-beat-of-our-own-drummer friends and kin for that matter. I constantly have an itch to dig, rearrange, and open spaces for new things to evolve. If that means things never seem "done" then I'm getting used to being ok with that.. The details that show up today are what I'll focus on to savor and capture..

So this is a pre-shot, laying out my path intentions in Morse code-ish black weed barrier and and white stone..

I've carved out the pathway bit by bit, pacing both the strain on my back (!) and the textural enjoyment from digging in the dirt with nothing but a shovel, a bucket and a wheelbarrow. The big chickens have  bonded with me through the process- I pull up sod and they scour the dirt for (plentiful) grubs. I have to nudge them off the shovel at times. I think the most enjoyable time is when I kneel to smooth the surface pre- and -post adding a layer of sand before the weed block fabric and decomposed granite. It gives me a bit of a break, but I can also focus on the earth under me (and sometimes ponder how deep it goes and how little of it I am actually seeing!).

Not done yet.. I'm sure next spring, or the year after that, or sometime later I'll rearrange things again. The grass to the left always becomes scraggly and water starved in late summer, so perhaps I'll extend the bed in the distance, or put smaller paths through a series of water-friendly beds.. No plan yet, I'll let impulse guide me when I get there.

My front bed was dug out of the grass this spring, and the plants there are filling in, though I think they were still trying to just establish themselves this summer. My fall aster and Mexican mint marigold plants have just begun to bloom, while a Mystic spires salvia seems happy to bring summer to a close (see it's yellowed leaves).

My veggie bed is protected from the chickens (though it was created from an area I filled with compost and had them dig up and fertilize). Lettuce, brussel sprouts and broccoli on one side- must remember to water and eat the lettuce in time!

Flower details..

Hey mountain pea bloom! I have it in a neglected dry shady bed and it has never fully filled in, but I like its small lavender flower..

My ignored Turks cap in the back has risen to the occasion- it gets no attention from me and still puts out beautiful flowers..

I planted a tiny 4" Martha Gonzales rose this spring because they apparently do great in Texas, are resistant to mildew, and need little care.  It has done great in an intensely sunny area without large amounts of water.

Ruby my Wyandotte bantam eating a pumpkin on a bed-in-evolution. Apparently pumpkins are wonderful for chickens since they are nutritious and help deworm them. I've layered newspaper, hardwood mulch, pine straw, hay and compost scraps over a worn St Augustine area with the idea that I'll dig it all together in the spring and move my veggies there. 

Another shot of my cross-beaked chick. The angle and (lack of) overlap between her top and bottom beak has steadily increased, but she keeps growing and seeming to eat well. I moved the three chicks to the chicken tractor (the temp outside being the same as our bathroom!) and she has been the first to fly up and find a roost up high. My eldest worries about her abnormal beak (and whether she'll die from it for lack of eating), and it's been a good experience to talk to him about difference and uncertainty. I alternate between enjoying watching her seem fine and worrying about how I'd know if she was suffering/starving. Pets and animals are tough that way.. It's a lesson in patience I guess, letting things take their course.