Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ordering Seeds

It is January, and every January I spend hours flipping through seed magazines and perusing seed websites dreaming about what I might add to my garden for the New Year. In my moment of weakness today, I ordered a bunch of seeds. I couldn't help it. Those darn ever-so-alluring pictures of pretty plants and flowers get me every time. Many of these things will be experimental, but I can't learn what grows here unless I try it. Here is what I ordered:

Alpine Strawberry 'Ruegen'
Melon 'Northern Arizona'
Zucchini 'Cocozelle'
Agastache rupestris (Sunset Hyssop)
Scarlet Runner Bean
Hyacinth Bean 'Ruby Moon'
Gloriosa daisy
Tahoka daisy
Indian Paintbrush
Purple Horse Mint
Red corn poppy
Dwarf Red Plains Coreopsis
Wine cup

However, now I must go rip out more grass in the back yard to make space for my new stuff. I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my seeds! *rubbing hands together in great delight*

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hummingbirds in Winter

Around the middle of October every year all my Black-Chinned hummingbird friends fly south and I wait around until the end of March for them to return. But this year I got a surprise. I was sitting in my computer room about the 3rd week of October and I thought I saw a hummingbird zoom past my window. I looked out and sure enough, there was a little red-orange hummingbird zipping around my salvia! An immature male Rufous Hummingbird! Oh! I had always hoped to attract one in the winter - I had heard rumours that these guys winter in the gulf states, but I had yet to spy one. He has been hanging out here all winter and seems to enjoy perching atop my orchid tree. I tried to get a picture of the little guy, but he takes off whenever I get close enough for a picture. I guess he doesn't like having his photo taken.

It is now January 25th, and I noticed our wintering friend hasn't been around in about a week. I suppose he may have taken off back home to the West Coast already. I wish him a safe trip! Hopefully he will be back again next year. I will leave the feeders up in case he is still around and is just being camera shy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An Adventure in Suburban Central Texas Gardening

The Introduction

So it is what it is. It is hot here. Really hot. I get bloody well toasted and roasted most of the year in fact. As a recent transplant from the Great Northwest, I DESPISE the heat, LOVE the rain, and DIG the clouds...yet somehow I happily reside in a small cookie-cutter house in a semi-arid suburb of Austin,Texas where the trees look more like bushes on steroids and the deer are the size of large dogs (apparently not EVERYTHING is bigger in Texas). And I love to grow stuff. LOVE it. My ultimate nefarious plan is to turn my 1/8 of an acre postage stamp yard of bermuda grass into 1/8 of an acre of wildlife habitat and gardening goodness.

Now, as I very quickly discovered, gardening in Austin is a whole other animal than gardening in Seattle. It was so easy back home...good soil, 4 seasons, temperate climate. I didn't know what I had until it was gone. Here, the ground is caliche in one corner, black gumbo in the other, and landscaper's 'red death' special everywhere else. Where did my fabulous humous rich soil go? ....*kicking limestone rock to the wayside and heaving a great sigh*

As I ever so fondly recall, digging a hole in the earth was once an easy task to be completed with a simple shovel in a 5 minute interval. No more. When I first moved in (5 years past) and went to dig my first hole in the ground (solid rock?), my neighbor chuckled at my naivete, offered me the use of a crowbar and inquired if I had a good quality iron pick. I accepted the crowbar, threw the shovel to the wayside, and drove to the local Big Box store to purchase an iron pick. I am not so easily deterred.

Lost and Found

I had been mourning the fact that I could not have rhododendrons, giant flowering dogwoods, and azalias here. I missed my dutch irises, hyacinths, trilliums, tulips and fancy daffodils. I also missed moss. Yes, moss. I love that stuff. I had a whole section of garden devoted to moss and ferns and dicentra. That is so not happening down here. But, SOMETHING must grow here....I just needed to discover exactly what.

I became a bit obsessed. I poured over the net looking for any information about growing things in Central Texas. I visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Zilker Botanical Gardens. I watched Central Texas gardener and asked questions at local nurseries.

And I found that wonderful and beautiful things grow here! Oak, Orchid, and Persimmon trees, a virtual gamut of salvias and herbs, funky cacti and succulents, Wildflowers a-plenty, weird semi-tropicals, and many others. And oh!-citrus! OK, well citrus in a pot...but still citrus! I never could have that back home!

And so it began

A tiny Anacacho Orchid tree started my madness. I put it in that first hole I dug (hacked out?) with the borrowed crowbar and freshly-purchased, heavy-duty (which I promptly bent) iron pick. Feeling accomplished, I followed that with a pomegranate and some coral honeysuckle. Those plants thrived and so I added more. An Eve's Necklace for the north side of the house with silver ponyfoot beneath; Hinkleys columbine, violas, wild petunia, salvia greggi, and agave starts from the neighbor who encourages my sometimes futile gardening attempts.

At this point I decided that as much mono-culture, water sucking lawn as possible was soon to be replaced with native and adapted plants. Out went the lawn on the small west-side strip of my house and in went a desert willow, flame-leaf sumac, Golden Lead Ball Tree, rock roses, texas sage, lantana,and butterfly bush. And a granny smith apple tree because it reminds me of Washington State and the local native nursery guy swore to me it would grow well here (so far, so good!).

I looked about and noticed the trees the landscapers put in were yellow, chlorotic, and well, suffering. Japanese False Oaks don't much like hill-country soils (or lack there-of!) I took pity on them and gave them a quick death by hack-saw. In went a Texas Ash and a Live Oak. Next, out went 1/3 of the front lawn and in went all types of perenials - blackfoot daisy, coppercanyon daisy, various salvias, various skullcap, damianita, Mexican bird of paradise, yellow bells, gold lantana, mexican feather grass, and various cacti.

And so it continues....

I have really enjoyed the wildlife that all the new plantings have attracted - butterflies, birds, toads, anole lizards, and geckos. An added bonus is that all the critters are eating all the nasty bugs so I don't have to pour chemicals all over the place (I despise chemical lawns). I have far less fire ants (the toads love 'em!), Grasshoppers (birdie snacks), and Wolf spiders around (less ants, less spiders). And so five years later, I am still tearing up grass, and replacing it with all kinds of good things. It is my little wildlife garden and I love it. I still have much grass to dig out, back to work, back to work....better put on my wide-brimmed hat, 'cause the sun is killing me!