Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cat watching

Caterpillar watching, that is. Yep, I'm at it again. Don't know if you recall the hours I spent last September, watching a tomato hornworm meander back and forth across our back yard. But I did. That study ended in a big question mark. That fat green thing just stopped in the grass. I tend to believe it later burrowed into the ground after dark.

This time, I followed a pipevine swallowtail baby around because I was hoping I'd see it choose a chrysalis location. My vigil started around 5:20 p.m.
In the Meadow, beneath our live oaks, we have a patch of non-native pipevine (Aristolochia fimbriata) that is (or now was) covered up with pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. Yesterday late afternoon, I stopped to shoot some photos of the gang and noticed that not one but two had taken off from the roost. So I kept an eye on both for awhile.

Like I said, I was hoping to see where they might end up. A day or two earlier, I had looked up photos of a pipevine swallowtail chrysalis and found this great photo.  I wanted to see what they look like so I'd better know what to look for in our gardens. While I watched, both caterpillars circled around a mountain laurel. One went right back to the roost! I was rather relieved that I only had one to tail.
In the meantime, a mama swallowtail showed up. She was persistent. "No, no!" I fussed. "There isn't any more vine left! Go somewhere else to lay eggs!" She fluttered away.

While my cat friend kept crawling through the grass, I sat on a rock. I checked on the rest of the brood. I looked up at the sky. I listened to the bird calls. I shot a photo. I shot another photo. I sat back down on another rock. I stood up and followed the cat. Go up the chain length fence, caterpillar, I thought. I want to see you pick a place. Go go go. But the caterpillar had a mind of its own (or something to that effect in its tiny head), and it just keep crawling here, back there and over yonder. I figured James must be wondering where I was. But I couldn't leave or I'd lose my cat. 

I also photographed a medium-sized pipevine cat on the underside of an agarita leaf (above). I plan to go back and check on it.
Meanwhile, my little pipevine friend kept crawling through the grass.
I also photographed a smaller pipevine cat that clung to live oak bark. I'll check on it, too, later on.
James finally came out and found me. He hung out with us for a little while, but, yes, it's true, tailing a caterpillar gets to be a bit boring after a while. So he went back inside the house.


After a half hour, I kept hoping and hoping the caterpillar would make a decision (above). Then I noticed ANOTHER caterpillar nearby in the grass (can you find it in the photo below?). 

And then, my cat friend vanished. I lost it in the thicker grass and weedy plants (above). Mission ended. Heavy sigh. Nothing accomplished. Other than learning (again) that caterpillars can travel for many, many miles in the quest for whatever they're seeking. Time: 7:15 p.m.

Bluebonnets in the Meadow

They're SPREADING! We have more bluebonnets in the Meadow this year! I'm so excited! Some of these photos aren't that great, but I wanted to at least document what we've got. Because it's more than what we've seen in past years. O happy day!







There are a few Indian paintbrushes. I'd sure love to see more. Darn neighborhood deer chomp off the blooms, I think.

 Some purple prairie verbena are blooming, too.

Even the tiniest bluebonnet matters and adds beauty to our world.

More blooms

Fragrant gaillardia
I love blue-eyed grass!
Downy phlox

Brazos penstemon

Berlandier's sundrops

Mealy blue sage 'Henry Duelberg'

Red columbine

Friday, March 24, 2017

Blooms and bees

 More blooming around here! Like daminanita.
 Lots of crow poison everywhere.
 Engelmann's daisies

 While I was shooting photos in our wild wildflower area, I watched some carpenter bees on patrol. On a lark, I tried to photograph one. And I did! Can you find her hovering in the photo above? Below, I cropped the image close for a better view.

There she is again!
And finally, a thank-you gift of tulips from a friend. I took some photos for him. Thank YOU, Mark!

Passiflora lutea spreading!

Several years ago, I discovered yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea), a native passionflower growing on our neighbor's side of the fence. I was thrilled! With her permission, I dug up a few and planted them on our side of the fence in June 2013. One made it and had been coming back in the spring ever since. For the past week or so, I'd been watching the site where it grew. Nothing. I was sad. Would I have to dig up another one? 

But WAIT! Yesterday, I spotted TWO new passionflower vines coming up a few feet away from the original vine! O happy day! That's why passionflowers do best, you know–spread underground and show up somewhere else. Sometimes they get to be a pain. However, I'm quite excited about my P. lutea spreading. In case you can't tell. 

Possumhaw in bloom

For the first time (that I know of), our possumhaw (Ilex dedidua) is blooming. Such tiny, delicate flowers! We planted this possumhaw in September 2015 in the back yard. I guess we'll find out later this year if we have a male or female. Only girl possumhaws produce red berries in the fall.


Crummy shot, but I didn't know I'd snagged the green sweat bee until I looked at the photos!

Fire pit cover

You may or may not remember the cool fire pit we had custom made for our Wildscape by Matt Rios (Matt's Custom Welding) in October 2014. Afterward, we ordered a canvas cover to protect the pit from the weather. But the weather (and, okay, okay, James, the resident cats, too, in particular one, who now deceased) eventually destroyed it. So Matt and his assistant Donald made us a VERY sturdy metal cover that can double as a tabletop. Nice, eh? Thanks, Matt!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Meet our madrone child!

Mike and Kerry Prochoroff
Last summer, I interviewed Mike Prochoroff of Dripping Springs for Landscapes magazine about the native Texas madrones (Arbutus xalapensis) that he raises. He calls his nursery The Madrone Way. I so enjoyed the time I spent with him and his wife, Kerry, at their remote ranch where an existing madrone colony provides the seeds that he meticulously germinates in his greenhouses. After our interview, Mike emailed me and said that he wanted to give me a madrone for our Wildscape. Oh, my, what an honor!
Last Sunday morning, Mike and Kerry came by with the madrone child, which is about four years old. Mike looked at our yard and advised us on the best planting locations. Then he gave James detailed instructions on how to plant the tree. After they left, James got right to work.
Per Mike's directions, James first dug a hole that was 16 inches deep and 36-by-25-inches wide. Mike said the hole needed to be at least twice as deep and wide as the biodegradable fiber pot (8 inches high and 6-by-6 inches).
To check the site's drainage, James poured a gallon of water into the hole. Half an hour later, he checked to see if it'd drained. That's what you want–good drainage. Madrones hate wet feet.
Most of the water drained, but to be on the safe side, he worked up a sweat and busted up the limestone rock that was down under. Later, he went out to our land northwest of town to gather up a 5-gallon bucket of juniper (cedar) needles. In their native caliche soils, madrones often germinate and grow beneath junipers.
The next day, James prepared a base mix, which consisted of 3 gallons of caliche, a couple handfuls of juniper needles, and 2 gallons of compost. Then he poured the mix into the hole. The depth measured 4 inches.
Before setting the madrone in the hole, James slashed the sides of the pot with a box cutter.
Before the big moment, I gave my new friend a BIG hug...
Then into her new home she went! To allow for optimum drainage, we made sure the top of her pot was an inch above ground level.
James filled in around her with a mix that consisted of fresh soil (no clay), juniper needles, and several handfuls of caliche. All done! And all told, James must have spent more than five hours working on this very important project. Mike said our madrone will be a demonstration experiment to see how these biodegradable pots perform. In the meantime, we will give her a gallon of water once a week, unless it rains.
Welcome to our Texas Wildscape, little madrone!