WestCave Preserve

Last Friday we headed to Austin for some diverse activities:  a little shopping, some Mexican food, a Gilbert and Sullivan production, and a visit to a grotto.

WestCave is about 40 miles west of Austin in an isolated area.

By the entrance gate is some New Gold Lantana.  I had thought it was a hybrid, but everything growing here is native.

Some Rock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) in front of the main building.

As we head down, we get a glimpse of Pedernales River.  The word means flint stone.  The Spanish explorers named it to denote an area the Indians had used because it was rich with a high quality brown flint or chert.

Ball moss hanging from Live Oaks.

The moss is a Tillandsia or the type of plant that gets its nutrients from the air and is not harmful to the tree host.

Further down, Woodland Fern grows among the rich soil of tree leaf mulch.

Not sure what this plant is – maybe a type of Oakleaf Hydrangea?

The path is rough and steep.  Wish I had taken a picture of the stone stairs, but I was concentrating on staying upright.  The guide constantly reminds the group to stay on the path for our safety and to protect the preserve.

Some American or Canadian Germander (Teucrium canadense) seems to grow out of rocks.

Love the bright red of Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) flower.

At the end of the trail is the grotto area.  It seems that we’ve stepped into a mythical secret place.

What looks like a cave is just a spot under fallen rocks.

Delicate Maidenhair Fern provides more lush growth.

Standing under the large fallen rock, the dripping water forms a thin curtain.

This the actual cave that we climb into.  The rocks are wet and slippery, so I’m thankful for the wire hand holds.

The Cow Creek Limestone forming the ceiling of the cave is covered with ancient sea shells.

The humidity is so high that by the time we leave this area, we’re soaked with sweat.

But I take the time to take photos of these two dragonflies.

I’ve never seen a red-orange one before.  Glad one stopped darting around long enough for a photo to be taken.

Two full days of activities was fun.

Have a blessed day.

“We only know a tiny proportion about the complexity of the natural world.  Wherever you look, there are still things we don’t know and don’t understand.”                          David AttenboroughSave

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A Healthy Garden

The day we were in the community garden in Menard, butterflies were everywhere – one sign of a healthy garden.

gardenmenard6A Southern Dogface Butterfly is enjoying the Zinnias.

gardenmenard5Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia Leucantha) has a wonderful velvety texture and butterflies gravitate to them.

gardenmenardaA Pipevine Swallowtail also like the Zinnias.

gardenmenardbWhat is it about butterflies that is so spellbinding?  The fact that they are fragile?  Always in motion?  Or just plain gorgeous?

gardenmenardThis garden has many purposes besides looking pretty.  It provides raised beds for citizens to rent for growing vegetables.

gardenmenard1Some okra pods look ready to be picked.

gardenmenard7Our group of Master Gardener students was here specifically to learn about water conservation.  In a demonstration, Billy Kniffen pours water into four different plastic boxes on top of a rack.  The water then flows down into other boxes on the lower shelf that have drain pipes.  The purpose of the demo is to show how much water pours out of the pipe and how quickly it empties out.

What is planted in the ground makes a difference for water absorption.  The bin on the left has native prairie grasses growing, which allows the rainfall to soak in, and the long roots of the grasses leads the water further into the ground, replenishing the water table.

gardenmenard8The next container is turf sod or grass like what is used in most yards, which allows some runoff.

Then there is a container that has very little growing in it.  Bare ground becomes hard and doesn’t absorb water, which then washes away even more soil.

This shelter and some other small sheds have gutters that direct rainwater into water storage tanks.

gardenmenard9The last container has a house.  Sponges are placed around the house.  Once they have soaked up water, then it will gradually seep out.  He suggested having water permeable hard surfaces to prevent water runoff.  Replacing concrete with other materials like gravel would help.  There are products that have a strong enough surface for walking or even parking a car, but have holes that allow water to pass through.  Those have been in use in Europe for many years.

Manufactured permeable blocks that look like concrete are available, but are extremely expensive. Hopefully companies will come up with ways to produce more affordable materials.

gardenmenardcLarge ornamental grasses similar to the native prairie grasses hold water and are good choices for landscaping.

gardenmenarddAnd of course, every garden needs pretty plants like Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii).

Enjoy the butterflies in your garden now before cold weather comes.

“You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out.”  unknown

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Oldies but Goodies

One of the pleasures of gardening is the return each year of perennials.  Success with plants is not always the case, so it feels good when it happens.

oldiesOne sure way to achieve success in the garden is to use native plants.  All plants are native somewhere, so planting native always refers to what grows naturally in your neck of the woods.

Clammy Weed (Polanisia dodecandra) is one of those wildflowers that comes up wherever it pleases.  If that doesn’t bother you, then it works.   I like the way the white flowers kind of glow.

oldies8Clammy Weed and Zinnas are easy to please – just a little water and sunshine.

oldies1Rose of Sharon also does well here.  Most of my bushes have the flowers that look like Hibiscus.  These have a rose look.

oldies2One of the best plant that gardeners in central Texas can have are Gregg’s Blue Mist Flowers (Conoclinium greggii).  Just step up close to them and have butterflies darting all around you.oldies3Blue Mists fill in spaces among other plants.  If you like that, you’re good to go.  If not, put them in a contained flower bed.

oldies44Another beauty is Turk’s Cap (malvaviscus drummondii).  It doesn’t look like it would survive Texas sun, but this plant has been in this spot for eight or nine years.  it’s tough.

oldies4The garden is doing well when all kinds of “good” bugs live there.

oldies5Bright red of these turbans always make me smile.

oldies7Behind the Blue Mist, Mexican Petunias (Ruellia brittoniana ‘Purple Showers’) keep expanding.  This is another one that needs to be contained if you have limited space.

This group all came from one cutting that I took nine years ago.  If you see something you like, then ask permission to take a cutting.  If it doesn’t survive, then nothing lost.

oldies6One of my favorites:  Henry Duelberg Salvia (Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’) was planted many years ago.  I bought it long before I knew anything about it.  It is now a Texas Superstar plant.

Many hardly plants are found in cemeteries.  These were growing on a grave when they were discovered, so they were named for the name on the tombstone.

oldies9Ordinary Morning Glory reminds me of old gardens of the early settlers.  There’s a reason they have been around for years and years.  It’s impossible to kill them.

Just a few seeds from a friend and voila, you’ll have flowers forever.  But they are invasive, so beware.

oldiesaRock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is one of the better behaved natives.  It stays where it is put and is not invasive.

oldiesbPretty little flowers that look more like hibiscus than roses.

oldiescStrawberry Gomphera (Gomphrena haageana ‘Strawberry Fields’) does come up profusely.  But it’s a small plant that looks good poking its head up among other flowers.

Neat and tidy in the garden isn’t my thing.

oldiesgCanyon Creek Abelia (Abelia grandiflora ‘Canyon Creek’) is fighting to keep its place in a bed since Pink Gaura keeps spreading out.

oldiesdThis bush in the back yard is so bright and cheerful.  I have sought to identify it definitively.

Finally, a nursery man had one like it and told me it was a Texas Flowery Senna (Senna corymbosa).  Other names include Flowering Senna, Tree Senna, and Buttercup Bush.

After about six years, it’s about 6 feet tall and wide.  Great plant.

oldiesfSmall green flying bugs or bees flit from flower to flower.  One is on a petal in the upper middle of the picture.

Wildflowers are just weeds.  So pick the pretty ones you love and plant a few seeds.

“One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.”  W. E. Johns

 

Cooler Temps

Twenty degrees makes a world of difference.  From 95 degrees to 75 degrees recently has perked up everything.  It’s nice to have the weather match the calendar.

Also, we were blessed with six inches of rain.

coolautumn6Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) is a winner.  It was named a Texas Superstar by Texas A & M in 2011.  And that it is.

coolautumn7Pictures of the garden really points out flaws.  In this photo I noticed the Hackberry tree growing in the Salvia Greggi.  I have since cut it down.  Behind the salvia is hardy Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)  and several different rose bushes.

coolautumn8In front is Double Delight rose, then Tropicana rose with tall Knock-Outs in the background.

coolautumn5Purple Aster didn’t perform very well this year because it needs to be divided.  I’ve read that should be done in early spring.

coolautumn3The dead pods on the Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)  are beginning to bug me.  I was leaving them as food for birds this winter.  But I decided to cut the heads off and leave them in the flowerbed.  Then the stems can be eliminated.  That way the birds can forage on the ground, and the dead plants are not an eyesore.

The Strawberry Gomphera (Gomphrena globosa) bloomed in the spring, hot summer, and now into autumn.  Even though they are small, their bright color gives a great bang for the buck.  They also reseed generously.

coolautumnaMexican Petunias (Ruellia simplex) are still going strong.

coolautumncThey don’t bloom with a great mass, but the delicate tubular flowers on the ends of tall stalks are pretty.

coolautumndCannas have revived with some red flowers.

coolautumneBlue Mist Flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) fuzzy puffs continue to draw butterflies.

coolautumnfA few flowers remain on Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), but leaves have dropped off.

coolautumnkDuranta (Duranta erecta) is a hot weather plant but has seemed to like the cooler weather.  Love it.

coolautumnmWhat is prettier than these clusters of tiny purple flowers?

Several potted plants still look good:

coolautumnhRussian Sage, Turk’s Cap, and Kolanche in pots provide some color.

coolautumniFinally, the Bougainvilla has a few blooms.  Don’t know what the problem is, but thes are the first flowers this year.  Probably didn’t fertilize it.

coolautumnjAfrican Bulbine’s (Bulbine frutescens ‘Orange’) flowers wave in the wind.  All of these potted plants will have to go into the shed for the winter.

hibiscusHibiscus is looking good.  The wet weather is agreeing with it.

hibiscus1Love the color of the flowers.

hibiscus2This tropical Hibiscus has been in this pot for eight years.  The beautiful flowers make it worth hauling into the shed each winter.

coolautumnoIce Plant will die back during the winter.  I used to always have a start inside, but it has come back from the last two winters, so that doesn’t seem necessary.

ContainerPlants1Purple Oxalis (Oxalis triangularis) or False Shamrock has been in this pot for years.

coolautumn1Last week I was working at the Brady Master Gardener’s Butterfly Garden.  I thought that Monarchs had already passed through this area, but I was obviously wrong.

coolautumn2I love Maxamillan Sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) with lots of flowers on each stalk.  They grow in the bar ditches around here.

The cooler weather is great, but it also means winter will be here soon and flowers will be gone.  But winter is what makes spring so special.

“Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent free in your head.”  unknown

Drooping in the Heat

The beginning of summer was so mild.   Then the heat was switched on suddenly.  Everyday now is in the high 90’s with a few 100’s.  Some plants are just barely surviving while others are hardy enough to last here.

Is it really this hot every single summer?  Yes.  It’s just easy to forget that until reality sets in.   But the mild winters and the few months of spring are great.

bloomingnowThis Sage Sapphire Carpet (Salvia sinaloensis) is now history.  I should not have believed the label – full sun.  Ha!  If I had moved it to the shade, maybe it would be alive but wouldn’t bloom.

Nice to enjoy in the spring but not worth it.

Bulb Flowers4“Ellen Bosanquet’ Crinum Lily is now five years old and produces beautifully.  Being on the east side of the house, they only get morning sun.

Bulb Flowers5They droop downwards, so kneeling on the ground is required to get a pix.  Still a beautiful sight in early summer.

flowerbushes1The Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) bush has spread out to about five feet.  With its large, thin leaves, I’m amazed that it survives in full sun.  It’s one of those great perennials that can be planted and forgotten about.   Water twice a week during high temperatures, and it’s good to go.

flowerbushes4Just love the turban flowers.

flowers9‘Victor’ Crape Myrtle is dwarf size with coral red flowers.  It’s three years old and still not as many blooms as I expected.

texas star hibiscusThis is the way Texas Star Hibiscus blooms should look.  In the past, mine have had that greenish yellow joint between the petals.

flowers1But this year it looks like a regular Hardy Hibiscus flower transferred onto a Texas Star Hibiscus bush.

flowersCrazy.

flowers4This is a Hardy Hibiscus across the yard.  This bush gets tall and has lots of blooms before the heat wilts it.  With frequent waterings, it remains vibrant.  I just water it enough to keep it alive this time of the year.

When the heat gets to me, I remind myself that it won’t last forever.  It will still be awhile, but cooler days are ahead.

“A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.” Paulo Coelho

This and That

A little rain, a lot of wind requiring holding on to a tree for stability, a little cool weather, and some flowers hanging on is the situation here.

autumnblooms4The Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is losing flowers quickly in this wind.  Earlier in the spring it wasn’t blooming profusely like normal.  But it recovered and is an interesting focal point at one corner of the house.

autumnblooms8It’s always a surprise where Clammy Weed (Polanisia dodecandra ssp. trachysperma) will come each year.  This year the holes of some insects left the leaves looking like tattered lace.

autumnbloomsmThe flowers are attractive but not bold.  With some decent foliage, it’s a nice looking plant.

autumnbloomsaI don’t know why it took me so long to discover Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha).  It’s a perfect plant for our arid conditions.  It’s a shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.  Oops, I definitely didn’t leave enough space for its width.

autumnbloomsnMexican Sage is a sun lover, although it will tolerate some shade.  It is drought tolerant and attracts bees.

autumnbloomsoPlus, the flower spikes have a soft velvet look.

autumnbloomspJust makes a person want to reach out and touch it.  We’ll see how it survives the winter.

autumnbloomseThe Swamp Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) or Narrow-leaf Sunflowers put on their usual air show waving on tall stalks.  Most of the flowers are gone now, but they bloom for about two months.

autumnbloomsgOne stalk leaned over and it was easier to admire the flowers close-up.

autumnbloomshThe brilliant red turban-like flowers of Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) just keep on attracting bees.

autumnbloomsfI love to watch all the flitting activity of the pollinators.  Very soothing.

autumnbloomsdSince Orange African Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens ‘Orange’) is not winter hardy, I’ve kept it in two large pots for years.  But the last couple of years, I’ve planted some as an annual in one bed.  Each spring when the pots are put outside, a few clumps are hanging just over the edge of the pots with their roots out of soil, so I decided to just put them in the ground, where they last until the first freeze.

This is a water wise plant that does well in the hot sun and is a beauty.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.”
Chief Seattle Duwamish

African Bulbine/Other Flowering Plants

Fantastic weather.  Our mornings have turned cool:  50’s and 60’s greet us early.  With highs in the 80’s, this is really autumn.  Not only are we enjoying it, but plants are rejuvenating with a sigh of relief.

stillblooming9This is probably the best time of the year for Purple Heart and African Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens ‘Orange’).  More flowers  appear and the color of both flowers and foliage is stronger.

Since the Bulbine is native to South Africa, it is an annual here.  Mine stay in pots that must be brought inside during the winter.  They survive well in our shed kept just a few degrees above freezing.  In the spring when we bring the pots out, I pull out a few clumps of the succulent leaves and plant them in a bed.

stillblooming6For some reason, I cannot get a good close up that shows the true colors of Purple Heart.

stillblooming7This is better, but the flower is a little deeper pink in reality.

stillbloomingaTexas Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans ‘Gold Star’) are such a delight.  This one is hardy to Zone 9.  An important note for those in lower number zones.  Buy the Gold Star and not a tecoma grown from seed.  Otherwise, it will be an annual.

stillbloomingbPreviously I had tried the Esperanzas sold in chain stores.  Losing them in the winter made me a believer in the Texas hardy one.

stillbloomingcA few Purple Cone flowers (Echinacea purpurea) keep opening up.

stillbloomingdTheir colors are paler, but still pretty.

stillbloomingeThe cone flowers are visited by bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

stillbloomingiThe Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) bushes have spread this year and the flowers have been brilliant.  They have become established and just make themselves at home.   The bushes spread out like a queen draping her skirt out beyond her throne.

Turk’s Cap can be grown in the sun or shade.  In the sun, they flower more, but their leaves do better in the shade.

On the right is an Autumn Sage.

stillbloominggLots of pollinators love Turk’s Cap, including this Splinter Moth.

stillbloominghRussian Sage is still covered with blossoms.  With their soft pastel color and indistinct form they look like a Monet painting.

And now from Art Master’s Gallery is a picture that speaks to our drought situation.

mousesidewalkCute, huh?

“Every test in our life makes us bitter or better.
Every problem comes to break us or make us.
The choice is ours whether we become victim or victor.”