Fort Phantom Hill

The occupation of Fort Phantom, north of Abilene, only lasted two years and five months.  Yet, on some days, it must have felt like a lifetime.

Soldiers traveled from forts in Arkansas and from the Indian Territory to erect this new fort.  The purpose of the fort was to protect travelers and settlers from Comanche raiding parties.

The grand, ghostly chimneys don’t begin to convey the hardships endured during these short years.  Yet, the feeling of isolation is still present even though a state highway divides the fort.

While living in tents, the soldiers constructed wooden houses for the officers using limited building supplies.  The enlisted men lived in pole huts with dirt floors and grass thatched roofs.

The Guard House or Jail was used to house soldiers for fighting or drinking whiskey, called bug juice.

Unusual for Texas, some houses had a cellar.

The ubiquitous Prickly Pear Cactus was as thorny a problem for them as for present day land owners.

Rattlesnakes are a fact of life in Texas. As the soldiers traveled to this location, a Texas Blue Norther struck.  Temperatures dropped quickly and the wind blew fiercely.  One teamster, twenty-seven oxen and mules froze to death in the sudden cold.

In the beginning, there were few problems from the Comanches.  But by 1853, travelers were attacked, some killed and scalped and others kidnapped.  After Indian Agent Jesse Stern was slain, the mood changed.  A new commander did not change the situation and the fort was abandoned.  As they left, he ordered that the fort be burned.

The water near the fort was full of minerals and tasted bad.  A deep well was dug but often ran dry, so water had to be hauled from a small spring four miles away.

Mesquite trees provided the only shade.

Hardships included scorching hot summers, freezing winters with ice and snow, and the ever present wind.  And, then, there were snakes, spiders, insects, ants, and other vermin.  There was rarely enough food and illnesses resulted.

What is it?

This stone bottom level of a two story commissary remains.

The monotonous view contained these three elements:  cacti, prairie grasses, and mesquites.

Across the present day highway, the Magazine still stands.  It was designed with a tall ceiling and vents to keep the gunpowder and shot dry.  The fort had muskets, rifles, and two brass cannons for protection.

Anyone want to go back to the good old days?  Not me.

“I cannot imagine that God ever intended white man to occupy such a barren waste land.”  Lt. Clinton W. Lear, Nov. 19, 1851

“Other states were carved or born, Texas grew from hide and horn.”  Berta Hart Nance

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Spring Fed River

While in San Angelo recently, we enjoyed strolling through a small park area bordering the Concho River.  The key to success in public park spaces is meeting the needs of local people and knowing what grows well in your area.

The sight of this spring fed river in dry West Texas always makes me feel good.

Although this area is beside a major road, it is quiet and peaceful.  The deep shade of what I think is Arizona Cypress (Cupressus Arizonica) is a welcome relief from the hot afternoon sun.

A  soothing spot to while away an morning or afternoon.

Continuing our walk, we cross the river on the foot bridge.

The Concho River in West Texas seems like a strange place for a mermaid statue, but is actually appropriate since she is holding a Concho freshwater mussel that produces gorgeous pearls in many colors.  The pink one is probably the most well known, even from the time of the Spanish conquistadors.

The sculptor, Jayne Charless Beck, was a San Angelo resident artist who passed away in 1993.  After his death, this bronze casting of “The Pearl of the Concho” was donated to the city.

This memorial for 9/11 victims displays 2,996 flags for the victims.

A metal cross stands in the center of the memorial.

Several plantings of Blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculate) provide a coolness to the area.  It is native to South Africa and survives in zones 8 – 11.

This combo with Texas Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) contrasts the brightness of the yellow and the calming effect of the blue.

The draping of the Blue Plumbago’s long branches is an additional plus.

In the right zone, Plumbago is easy to grow.  Unfortunately, for me it is an annual and has to be grown in a pot.

Yellow Bells also require mild winters, but the problem can be solved with heavy mulching and some kind of cover over the roots.

Grass plantings are very popular.  This is Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima) with an Autumn Salvia Greggii (Salvia greggii) in front.

Some consider Mexican Feather Grass to be invasive.  It has not been for me, but the top half of the plant should be cut off in winter to keep it from flopping and looking messy.

Salvia greggii should also be cut back severely in winter.  Otherwise, it becomes too leggy.  The species has several different flower colors.

I think this is Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetumsetaceum ‘Rubrum’), which is hardy in zones 9 – 11.  It’s used as an annual in larger Texas cities.

Mugwort or Artemisia  (Artemisia vulgaris) placed in the middle of Mexican Feather Grass adds a lovely softness.

Salvia Greggii can be overused because of its hardiness, but this park has just a few scattered here and there.

One of my favorite ornamental trees or large bushes is Chaste Tree, Abraham’s balm,  Monk’s pepper or Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus).  They are just so reliable for our dry areas, plus they have gorgeous purple flower clusters.  After the flowers die, the cluster of berries can be dried and used in arrangements.

Before turning around, we stopped outside of the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts that we had previously visited a few weeks before this trip.

Potato Vine with Periwinkle (Vinca minor) and maybe a Bougainvillea that isn’t blooming.

Nothing is as refreshing as a walk through nature, even if it’s in the city or maybe, because it’s in the city.

“We always want the best man to win an election.  Unfortunately, he never  runs.”                   Will Rogers Save

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Cafe at the Ridge Garden Vignettes

Our Master Gardeners Club took a day trip last week to the Kerrville area.  Our first stop was Café at the Ridge outside of town.  Originally it was called Roadkill Cafe.  About 12 years ago a new owner renovated it and put in a bakery, a garden, a nursery, and a gift shop.

Immediately I knew I would love this place.

Usually, whiskey barrels are cut in half for a flower pot.  This arrangement of three different ways to use the barrels make them much more unique.

Behind the railing is the porch area for the cafe.  We ate a delicious lunch there.

The wood is mesquite, which is expensive because it takes a long time for trunks to get large.

The pot on the left contains a Hardy Hibiscus.  Behind that is Dusty Miller with its lacy gray leaves.  On the right are some Daylilies and mystery yellow flowers.

This picture is to show the use of a broken pot.  In the center, surrounded by Begonias is a large pot that has parts of the pot stuck in the remaining large section.  There is also a bright blue pot placed inside.

Even though I like yard art, I don’t care for the hanging sunflower circles.

Another reconstructed clay pot contains plants and a fairy garden.

Unusual.

Lots of brightly colored pots for sale.

The theme of the garden seemed to be:  use as many unique items as flower pots as possible.  Here, old chest drawers were attached to legs and hold Foxtail Fern, Woodland Fern, and Begonias.  Not sure about the dark leafed plant.

A concrete basket contains Dusty Miller, Pentas, and maybe Penstemon.

A seesaw for adults

I’m always on the look out for old metal cars.  So far, no luck or they are too costly.

The round plaque would be nicer if it were more legible.

I actually have an old enamel pot that I need to drill holes in so it can be a planter.

The plant in the large pot looks like a Mexican Flame Vine (Pseudogynosux chenpodiodes) and the purple leafed one behind it is Princess Caroline Napier Grass, which is a Texas Super Star plant.

Because the Mexican Flame Vine is zone 9 -10, I have to move it into the shed for winter.  I bought it at a garden club sale in Waco but didn’t realize it was too tropical for here.  But it is beautiful.

Even old tires can become planters.  Not sure how they folded the tire back after cutting the zigzags.

A word about yard art.  This place has an overabundance of it.  But they are selling plants, pots, yard art, and suggesting ways to use plants.

The “tea and brie” set look down their noses at yard art.  But it can be used effectively.  First, one should see and enjoy the plants.  Then, wandering through the garden, one should encounter pleasant surprises that makes one smile, such as yard art.

In the city, that can be more challenging because of yard space, and because  some community rules prevent it.  But enjoy it when you can.

Lamb’s Ear in front.  The bedstead in the back has been turned into a plant protector.  In the center is a wire grid tepee that can be covered with plastic to shade plants from the sun.

Note the posts for this porch – cages filled with chunks of glass.

This picture was taken to show the Bottle Tree.  Haven’t seen one with that shaped frame.

I was enamored with this place, so lots of pictures.  Next post will continue with more from this nursery.

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Old Reliables

One of the great things about old friends is that they love you in spite of your flaws.  I feel the same way about plants that I can depend on.

Privet bushes (Ligustrum vulgare) are invasive in the southeastern U.S. and are much maligned by horticulturists.  But here, in our hard, rocky clay, they just survive.

In early spring, they flower heavily and provide a wonderful aroma.

This bush has been here about four years, so at some future date, I may have to eat my words.  But, for now, we are enjoying it.

And so are the butterflies.

Strong scent attracts Painted Lady butterflies.

We have been dragging the same two pots of Asparagus Fern in and out of sheds for over thirty years.  Actually, the roots would probably survive outside in the winter, but it takes a long time for the sprigs to grow back out and look nice.

At one time, I had some in hanging baskets, but that required diligent watering.

It is interesting that they aren’t really ferns but are in the lily family.

For several years, Pink Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) Whirling Butterflies has been blooming in our yard.  I must admit that they are becoming aggressive but are fairly easy to dig up.  They haven’t yet jumped out of the flower bed where they were planted.

I also like them in pots that can be moved around the yard.  They will return after the winter, even in pots.

Dianthus will return for several years but will eventually die out.  They are lovely little flowers.

This pot came from my mother’s yard.  At 97, she recently moved into assisted living.

Another Amarylis just bloomed.  This one is in the ground.  Even though this one isn’t quite as pretty as the last one I showed, I do like the short stem.

As I’ve said before, bulb flowers just keep on giving.

Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) are starting to bloom.  Year before last, they were divided and spread out into two different beds.  This year they have regained their fullness and filled in nicely.  Shastas are a good investment because they are reliable, add a bright clean look, and the clumps can be divided.

The Mexican Feather Grass behind them adds graceful movement.

“America is the only country where a significant proportion of the population believes that professional wrestling is real but the moon landing was faked.”
David Letterman

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Children’s Area, Lady Bird Center

Since the goal of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to promote water conservation and the use of native plants, much of the area is in its natural state of prairie fields.  That is also true of new Children’s Gardens.

As we enter into the Children’s Gardens, there are several of these curving walls.  I’m not sure what their purpose is.

This berm is covered with native plants, including yuccas, and limestone boulders.  It is the backside of a waterfall.

This walk-through cave like space is definitely meant for kids.  We had to stoop over low to pass through it.

These dinosaur tracks replicate the actual ones found in Glen Rose, Texas.  The Paluxy River contains some of the best preserved tracks in the world.  And there are lots of them.

Cute chairs sized just right for a family.

I have seen these for sale in Austin and have coveted one.  They are pricey, and I can’t justify the cost to myself.

Not sure if these statues are carved from real stones or man-made materials.  The stylized frogs are cute.

A larger frog designed for sitting awhile.

We saw two little girls with miniature watering cans walking around pouring water into these.

I like the Dragonfly bench, too.

Does it bother anyone else that “is” is left out before the word “that”?  Or maybe the true quote had “It is” at the beginning of the sentence.

A perimeter walking trail went around a large mowed field.

Just off the path were bronzes of native animals and birds.  Here a roadrunner has snagged a lizard.

A jackrabbit is posed ready to hop away.

One area had a variety of exercise equipment for “big kids”.

Quails, popular game birds, are perched on a branch.  Real ones hide in tall grasses and can give a person a heart attack when they all fly out just as you reach the area.

The trail leads back to the main part of the Center.  The steeped part of the building behind the trees is an auditorium.

This is the back side of the gift shop.

Even though it’s too early for wildflowers to be blooming, the Center is still worth the time to stroll around.

“One who does nothing but wait for his ship to come has already missed the boat.”  Chinese proverb

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Prickly Plants

Last Saturday we attended a Native Plant Society of Texas Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Center in Austin.  There were some interesting speakers and one that read her speech.  Boring.

Afterwards, we strolled the gardens even it’s still early for many plants to be growing.

It is the season for the Texas Mountain Laurel (Dermatophyllum secundiflorum) to display their clusters of purple flowers that smell strongly of grape kool-aid.

There were also a few Giant Spiderworts (Tadescantia gigantea) already blooming.

Some sculptures from stone and thick glass were fascinating.

Nice use of stock tanks.

Another featured sculpture.  I’m not sure if these are permanent or not.

The stone is limestone, which contains lots of shells.

Muhlies are currently poplular as landscape plants.  The genus of this plant is named for a German Lutheran minister, Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg, who lived in Pennsylvania in the late 18th century and early 19th century.  He was also a botanist, chemist, and mineralogist.

This one is Pine Muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia Forn. ex Hemsl).

The Texas Persimmon or Mexican Persimmon (Diospyros texana scheele) is a small multi-branched tree that usually grows to about 15 feet tall.  The orange fruit turns to black when ripe.  Before it ripens, the fruit is so tart that it makes one’s mouth pucker.
Childhood memories of eating orange persimmons on my uncle’s farm makes me avoid them altogether now.

Lovely.

Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia imbricata) or Tree Cholla or Walking Stick Cholla grows in the hot deserts of West Texas or high in the Colorado mountains.

As a native Texan raised in West Texas where sharp, pointed, prickly plants are common, it is not my preferred type of plant.  But the violet flowers on these are bright and very pretty.
Green Sotol (Dasylirion leiophyllum) is another pokey plant.  Interestingly, it is used to produce an alcoholic drink called sotol.

Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa) is in the rose family.  How crazy is that.  It has white flowers and silvery or pink puffs of fruit heads that are said to resemble an Apache headdress.

I know that some people really love these plants.  There are many of these rustic plants growing out in the fields here, so we can enjoy them as we take walks.  But in my yard, I love flowers and more tame looking plants.

Thanks for taking the time to ready my blog.

“No one was ever named ‘Hero’ for following the crowd.  Heroes set their own course.”  Johnathan Lockwood Huie

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Antique Rose Emporium, Last Part

One last look from our visit to this fabulous nursery.

roseemp0The old weathered sign expresses the feel of this place.

roseemp1A pot of Begonias next to an Agave.

roseemp2They do a good job of just mixing in all sorts of plants.

roseemp3Don’t know what this plant is.  It looks tropical and is shaded by the tree.  Lovely.

roseemp4Roses everywhere.  In the springtime, this is the place to come and smell the roses.

roseemp

roseemp6This section is playful.

roseemp5The rabbit in the wheel barrel with plants spilling out of pots is delightful.

roseemp7The plants with the purple flowers behind the scene look like Philippine Violets (Barleria cristata).

roseemp8

roseemp9Wood Ferns, Philippine Violets, Cigar Plant:  this breaks the rule that plants with the same watering needs should be planted together.  Now I don’t feel so guilty for doing the same thing.

roseempaMike Shoup, the owner of the nursery, presented some new roses that they now sell.  Although the backbone of their business will always be antique roses, he says that producers are coming out with bushes that have some of the same characteristics of antique roses:  such as fragrance, diverse forms, and hardiness.

I’m sure his presentation increased the sales that day.  I know I couldn’t resist one of the new roses.

roseempbA Salvia Greggii with white flowers.

roseempdThe purple grasses look like Napier (Pennisetum purpureum), which are perennials that will return in the spring in most of the state.

roseempeI don’t know what the purple flowers are, but this picture was taken to show the trellis behind them.  Several different types of of trellises are scattered around the gardens.  I think this one is made of bamboo.

roseempfThis small dead tree is used to hold up a climbing vine.

roseempgAny ole stone statute can be used as an accent.

roseemphEven the public restrooms are in a unique building.  The hedges on the left serve as a privacy fence for the usual line of women awaiting their turn.

roseempiGreat use of large clay pots.

roseempjSucculents for sale are displayed on an old cart.

roseempkAntique Rose Emporium had its origin in selling rescued roses from cemeteries and old home sites.  Now it is a wonderful garden with a very diverse display of plants and a joy to visit.

“Despite our many differences here in America and around the world, when we meet in the garden we find ourselves united in our love of nature, beauty, and the sheer awesomeness of life.”  Old House Gardens