Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Autumn's Golden Gown

Fall color is quickly becoming a dim memory for gardeners in colder climes but here on my corner of Katy, it's just coming into its own. The Copper Canyon Daisies which started blooming on November 1st sport masses of yellow-gold blossoms and they're not yet at their peak. Tagetes lemonii is the botanical name of this awesome perennial. I raved about it on November's Bloom Day and you'll probably hear me rave about it again before winter is done with us!

This river birch is the only plant left here on my corner of Katy that was planted by my mother. My parents bought this house in 1990 ... it's just blocks away from our first home in the neighborhood. My dad passed away in 1995 after a long illness and until 1997, my mom rattled around here by herself. When EM and I decided that our family had outgrown our small one story house, we offered to buy this one from my mother. Bless her heart, she's watched me systematically dig up everything she ever planted ... except this tree!

One of my favorite small trees is Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa). It has both fall and spring color: before the leaves emerge in the spring, the branches will be covered with small pink blossoms. I also love it for the architectural growth habit: the branches bend and curve very gracefully.

Looking at these pictures, I was reminded of a phrase from the Moody Blues song, "Forever Autumn", so I chose that as the title of this post. Long ago, far away, I was introduced to the Moody Blues, and many other wonderful musicians, by my first love. The romance didn't last, but the memories and the music have stayed with me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Anyone Recognize This Fine Fellow? Or Lovely Lady?

I walked outside late Monday afternoon, thinking I'd put something decorative up on the front wall at the south end of the house. As I turned the corner, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a magnificent hawk sitting on the wall. Never before have I been that close to such a bird: it was truly an awe-inspiring moment. We regarded each other briefly, and then s/he flew up into my neighbor's pine tree. Not wanting to miss even one second of watching it, I called to my daughter to bring me my camera. She was as awed as I was to see it and watched with me as I took the hawk's picture. I was only able to get this one shot before s/he flew away.

I'm hoping a sharp-eyed reader will be able to confirm his identity for me. Based on this picture and the description I gave to a birder friend in Iowa, we think it's a Cooper's hawk. Although sharp-shinned and red-tailed hawks were a possibility, we ruled them out based on size. The wall s/he was perched upon is just over 36 inches long and there were only a few inches of clearance on either side of the hawk. Its coloring was more of a light to medium brown than gray, and its very broad breast was streaked with that color. Its tail was rounded at the end but I didn't get a close enough look at it to see the bars that would have definitely IDed it as a Cooper's. I was too shocked and thrilled to notice!

UPDATE: I posted this on my blog at the Houston Chronicle and the estimable Birdwoman confirmed that it is indeed a Cooper's.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yesterday Was Bloom Day but ...

I was too busy actually working in the garden to take pictures. Fall weather finally found my corner of Katy: I took full advantage of the cool temperatures and sunny skies and did my best to ignore the stiff breezes. I finally took off my gloves about 4:30, came in to grab the camera and proceeded to snap my way around Wit's End.

I planted these Amazon Rose Dianthus a couple of weeks ago. I think I may have to add a few more around the garden.

This is 'Teresa', a Salvia greggii mutation discovered by Texan David Steinbrunner and named after his wife. I bought this plant at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center fall sale in 2006 and was so underwhelmed (despite their rave reviews) that I had almost given up on her. Earlier this year I moved milady Teresa to this spot under an east facing window, where she's protected from the afternoon sun, then pretty much forgot about her. Evidently she thrives on inattention! Note that she's reverting to her parental hot pink on one branch.

One of my favorite old garden roses is Gartendirektor Otto Linne, seen here with the first bloom on Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima. The latter's leaves still show the stress of too little rain over the summer and too much Ike in September.

It's not a bloom, per se, but the rosettes of this Flapjack Cactus, Kalanchoe thrysifolia, are as lovely as any bloom in my gardens.

I think I've found just the right spot for the Salvia regla, Mountain Sage. This one has been growing in front of my courtyard wall in the front garden for a year or so now. It's a little leggy, but I think some judicious pruning next year is the answer. When I saw one gallon pots of it at The Arbor Gate recently, plants that were covered in these red-orange blooms, I admit it: I succumbed to their lure. I need to get planted out today!

While I don't have much fall color in the usual sense of the phrase, I do have an abundance of fall colors in the garden. The Copper Canyon Daisy, Tagetes lemonii, is just getting started. Some gardeners find this plant an overenthusiastic grower and complain about its sprawling habit. I'm not one of them, though: how can I not love a plant that will soon be covered in these bright yellow blooms and continue that way through January? It responds well to pruning, even welcomes it. It's also a great passalong plant, since it roots where it touches.

Cigar Plant, Cuphea macropetala, sports tubular yellow and orange blooms.

Butterfly Vine, Mascagnia macroptera, clambers up, over, around and through whatever's nearby. It snakes along the ground and roots where it touches, making it another great passalong.

This purple Lantana is an upright variety introduced here in Houston by grower Heidi Sheesley of Treesearch Farms. Her description of it: Lantana trifolia - Fruity Pebbles Lantana – An unusual lantana, featuring highly ornamental fruit clusters. Flower clusters are lavender-pink. As the blooms fade, flower spikes elongate to form popcorn-like spikes of shiny lavender
fruit. Tough, perennial shrub averages 3’ tall. Sun, Moist, well drained soil. Also known as ‘Lavender Popcorn’ Lantana. The name comes from the fragrance of the flowers: they do have a faint aroma of Fruity Pebbles cereal!

One last picture and we'll call it a Bloom Day ... this is Purple Iochroma, Iochroma cyanea. I love these blooms but the plant gets a little rangy. I'm wondering if it would respond to more frequent light pruning but now is not the time to find out!

Thanks, as always, to Carol of May Dreams Gardens, our congenial and entertaining host for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Check out her Bloom Day post and those of her commenters to see what's blooming around the world!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

So Much for Good Intentions ...

Didn't I say recently that I was going to make an effort to post more often? I wish I could say my failure to do so was due to my spending hours on end in the garden each of the last 10 days. I've actually spent more time inside than out, highly unusual for me at this time of year. Looking back at my ten year garden journal, here's excerpts from my entries:
  • November 4th: Cloudy & humid. Replanted Reggae Time agaves because they were rotting. Put them in small pots on DR patio. [That was all I did that day.]
  • November 5th: Worked in back, spread pea gravel beside pond ... manure/compost/humus in River Birch bed. Feeling out of sorts, not enjoying my time in the garden.
  • November 6th: Come ON - when is it going to feel like fall again?
  • November 7th: Weather a bit cooler, very sunny. Worked in rose bed and along DL bed.
  • November 8th: Clear and cool at 8 a.m. First flock of geese today! Worked in back ... Worked on streetside vitex/pruned. [I was out most of that day, I remember that, because it was so lovely.]
  • November 9th: Arbor Gate with Mom. 2 Salvia regla, 1 Anthony Parker Salvia/lavender (why did I let salesclerk talk me into that?), 1 Stokesia, 1 Purple Woods Aster, 2 Mexican Oregano, 1 Clerodendrum Musical Notes ...
  • November 10th: Raining at 8, started up again later. ... Rained most of afternoon. No gardening today.
  • November 11th: Unpleasantly warm & humid. Sun in & out. No rain as of 3 pm here.
  • November 12th: Major storms from midnight till 3 am or so.
So I've only spent significant time in the garden 3 out of the last 10 days. I wish I knew what in the name of Chipping Sodbury I did the rest of the time!

The pictures are of my Neon Rose Amaryllis. Purchased on October 25th and planted on the 27th, the first blooms opened on November 10th, exactly two weeks after planting.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How To Get Ready for A Day In The Garden

Roust yourself out of bed and begin searching for your gardening togs. Once you have found them, assuming they're not in the laundry room which can't be entered because that's the dog's sleeping chamber and you don't want to get her up yet, place the clothes upon your body and reassure yourself that that hole in a strategic area of your shorts really isn't that noticeable and you'll be careful not to bend over with your back to the busy street.

Put the water on to boil for coffee, and tell yourself for the 222nd time that you really ought to just use the danged coffeemaker even if it does take up valuable counter space. While water boils, check e-mail, Plurk, Twitter and gardening blogs.

Make coffee and head out, balancing mug in one hand and generous pinch of fish food in other, to feed the fish and take a walk around the gardens. Savor the first sip of coffee, being careful not to inadvertently eat fish food instead.

After feeding fish, spot noxious weeds that must DIE!DIE!DIE! and yank them while sipping. Look around to find where you put the weed bucket for that area and realize you need to deadhead a whole truckload of plants.

Slap at mosquitoes who are unaware that you haven't really started your day in the garden and are therefore off-limits to them. Spill coffee in process of slapping.

Acknowledge that mosquitoes have limited intellectual capabilities and therefore don't understand the rules.

Stand and stare at one particular spot in the garden. Contemplate. Slap another mosquito and return to house to fix another cup of coffee, eat breakfast and read paper.

[INTERMISSION during which above activities are accomplished.]

Unable to resist lure of computer, stop at desk to check e-mail and Plurk. Make self step away without answering anything.

Unlock front door, removing "good" clogs as you do, step out door and into garden clogs, open front gates. Remind self you need to put on insect repellent to discourage the wee beasties.

Remember that bucket with garden tools is in back, walk all the way around the house and go through back gate to find tools.

Stop to admire the view from the gate and sigh in delight at the beauty you see. While squinting, realize that wearing visor would be a good idea. Go inside to find visor. Stay well away from computer. Realize that you need gloves, as well.

Put on gloves, then recall that you never did put on insect repellent. Take gloves off and apply OFF. Put gloves back on.

Find keys to truck so you can move it and unload the bags of soil. Discover that it's hard to put key in ignition with gloves on. While taking them off, think to yourself that it might be a good idea to make a visit to the necessary room.

Upon exiting necessary room, see that dog needs to go out. Let her out in the back and think about what you can do out there until she's ready to go in, since she had surgery recently and shouldn't be left unattended.

Putter in back while dog does her thing. Remember that you need to move that tool bucket out front before moving truck, so leave dog briefly to walk through house with bucket. On way to put tools outside, pass rolling plant saucer that has been sitting by the front door since Hurricane Ike and think to self you really need to do something with the 2 pairs of pruners, hammer, sprinkler, fairy house and disgruntled fairy that are lying on said saucer.

Return to back and look for dog. Call dog several times before she limps into sight. As she makes her way inside, hear cardinal calling and realize that bird feeders are empty. Put dog in house and go out to garage to get birdseed.

Fill feeders, apologize to birds for not doing it sooner, pause for a moment to watch a butterfly in flight. Return to garage, put up seed bucket, find keys in pocket and move truck out front.

Think to self that unloading and spreading soil does not really feel like gardening. Give self stern talking to and FINALLY ... start day in garden!