Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New residents in the salvias

James spotted a new resident in our salvia anole. Our other anole still lives in the African milk tree (succulent) on the front porch. We visit nearly every morning.

And then this morning, I found two salvia blooms of a different color on the same plant! They're whitish with pink markings. The dominant plant bears fuchsia blooms, which is the blurry color in the top right of the picture below. Surpise!

Leaffooted bug

This guy has been hanging out near the passionflower vine in the front yard. I haven't pointed him out to James. Yet. I distinctly remember James giving the last one a "thunk" in the head (it survived). I'm more of a "let-and-let-live" kind of person. I even hate to kill roaches (I flush'em instead whenever possible.) However, I identified this insect, and the news is not good. He (she?) is a leaffooted bug (Acanthocephala terminalis). Read more on, too. What do they eat? Stems, leaves, fruit, that type of thing.

In other words, this guy likely preys on our passionflower vine.

Uh oh. Not good. Think he may be taking a trip across the street soon to the vacant field.....

Dump load of dirt

This week, James has been busy in our Wildscape, hauling rocks and mulch to create new beds around our oaks. The reason's twofold: we want to protect the trees' roots and also we also want less grass to mow. What's more, less grass in times of drought is better, too. I don't believe in watering grass (costs too much, for one thing) so it's just got to survive on its own. Which the little that we have has managed to do over the years. (I've been told by Master Gardener Dave Ardiana that we have Floratam St. Augustine.)

Yesterday, he ordered a dump load of dirt from a local company. It arrived late afternoon, much to James' obvious delight....

From the looks of things, we've got a LOT of work ahead of us!!

Impulse buy (never again)

Last week, we bought two pretty plants at a Home Depot. The bees were buzzing all around them, which impressed us. However, we couldn't find an I.D. We asked the sales assistant for help, and she couldn't figure them out either. Since we knew the name of the wholesale nursery, I figured I could contact them and get the name. We went ahead and bought two.

However, we held off planting them because we weren't sure exactly where they needed to go.

Long story short, I emailed this photo to a lady at the nursery, and she sent me the name: Purple loosestrife (Lythrum virgatum 'Morden's Pink'). After reading up on this species, we've decided not to plant it. That's because most states ban the sale of loosestrife. According to Texas Invasives, even "sterile" cultivars of Lythrum salicaria (which we have) are "actually highly fertile and able to cross freely with purple loosestrife and with other native Lythrum species. Therefore, outside of its native range, purple loosestrife of any form should be avoided."

That said, we cannot in good conscience plant these two in our Wildscape, even though they're very pretty and attract bees.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bees, the Law of Averages, and another insect

Bee on a hummingbird feeder

Bees, bees everywhere! I noticed them at our hummingbird feeders soon after the rains last week. They haven't let up yet. I'm thinking of mail ordering a feeder with bee guards. They cost lots more $$, but even one would give the hummers a place to feed unmolested. We've got four "big" feeders in our Wildscape, and four 1-ounce models. The latter drip, which definitely attracts bees and wasps. But it hadn't been a problem this summer until now.

Get this: the bees even land on ME.

I'm not afraid, and I don't berserk when they do. However, when I was watering awhile ago, the thought occurred to me that one might slip under my shorts, panic, and go into attack mode.

"The law of averages is definitely gonna go against you when it comes to these bees, Sheryl," I thought. Oh, well. I figure I'll cry pretty good if one does zap me, but that's life.

Bee on my knee....

Last Saturday, when I was sitting in the back yard, I noticed numerous blackish bugs buzzing over the grass. Now and then, one would bump into the chain-link fence–thud! Like nothing had happened, it'd just try again and keep going. Hmmmm. One never stopped long enough for a good look, but I did see metallic green. That meant they were probably green June beetles (Cotinis nitida). It was funny watching them hit the fence, time after time. Some, however, flew right through with no problem.

Underside of a green june beetle (don't worry–she's alive...photographed August 17, 2008)

Friday, August 1, 2008–UPDATE–I emailed TPW biologist Mike Quinn and asked if he knew what's been going on with bees lately. Here's his July 31 response:

"Am not sure. It's possible that a feral colony may have recently established a hive near your location. You might see if they are coming and going in a particular direction and follow them back. Note: they get more defensive nearer to their hive. Also, if they are from a feral colony, then they are almost surely Africanized honey bees. Mas info aqui:"

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hurricane Dolly shares some rain

Yes, Thursday brought nearly 2 inches of rain to our neighborhood! It's amazing to see how nature responds to its own moisture. We've noticed how faucet water keeps our plants alive, but rain makes them FLOURISH. Here's some photos to prove it!

Look how much the bougainvillea has grown!

Turk's cap and blue mist

Salvia coccinea around one of our five bird baths

Firebush's (Hamelia patens) first bloom of the season!

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Linda's night-blooming vines

Our neighbor down the street, Linda, called Saturday evening and asked if we'd be around.

"If you come over after dark, you can see some 'moon flowers' blooming," she offered.

Lindsey didn't get off work until after 10. When we picked her up, we told her that we were going on an "adventure" with our cameras. Despite being tired (so was James...we worked in the yard all evening), Lindsey was a good sport and agreed to join us. I had on my pajamas...who'd see me at that hour in the dark? Took a little time in the dark to find the flowers in Linda's yard (she's got a LOT growing everywhere!), but we did it. We found'em.

In honor of Linda and her beautiful "moon flowers," I thought I'd share some photos. The first one's mine; James shot the next three.

Saturday, July 26, 2008 – P.S. Gardener Pam Penick in Austin pointed out that these are likely a species of datura. She's right. Check out this link: Datura inoxia. (Caution: this plant is very toxic.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pink passionflower

James was outside, hauling more rocks, when he came in and alerted me.

"The other passion vine is blooming!"

So I grabbed my camera and followed him outside. Earlier this summer, we bought two passionflower vines. The first one bloomed, and I posted photos of it. This one is suppose to be more pinkish, but it sure looks lavender to me. So exotic looking, don't you think?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Penstemon and more

Naturally, after our visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we visited a nursery and browsed through all the plants. We came home with more than we should have, but that's our true fun in life–adding to our Wildscape. In the evening, we enjoy sitting outside and watching all the birds, especially the hummingbirds.

That evening after our Austin trip, we planted a native butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) near our blue mist, a nectar host plant for butteflies. Earlier this summer, we planted a butterfly weed that has red-and-yellow blooms. Last year, we planted a yellow-flowered butterfly weed, and it didn't come back after winter. We're hoping at least one of these two do. Queen and monarch butterflies lay their eggs on this plant. Last summer, I watched numerous caterpillars grow from tiny to big on our butterfly weed. I got up real close and spotted eggs underneath the leaves, too. Lots of fun!

Butterfly weed (newest one)
Asclepias tuberosa

We also planted a blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) near a rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) that we planted last year. The rock rose came back this spring but has struggled a bit with powdery mildew. We've cut back on water, and it seems to be doing better. I thought a blackfoot daisy might do well near the rock rose because it's also a low-water user.

Blackfoot daisy
Melampodium leucanthum

Last Friday, we bought three red turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) and also two pink ones ('Pam's Pink'). They'll be planted in the new bed that's under construction in the back yard. In the front yard, we have a huge patch of red turk's cap that grew from three small ones I planted three summers ago. My former husband gave me those little "saplings," and they've done quite well.

Isn't the pink bloom pretty? Can't wait to get those established.

Turk's cap 'Pam's Pink'

In the past week, we've also added two new lantanas in a front bed: a purple trailing lantana and 'Texas Flame.'

Purple trailing lantana

Lantana camara 'Texas Flame'
Here's a photo of a bed that's in the center of our back yard. Front and back, our yard is huge. Little by little, we're adding more native plants and building more beds. Just takes time!

Can you see that bit of red at the front of this bed? Yep, we loved that cut-leaf penstemon so much at the Wildflower Center, that we bought one for ourselves! It's between two columbines.

Cut-leaf penstemon
Penstemon baccharifolius

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

We took last Friday off and burned enough gasoline to get us to Austin (and back). Our main stop: the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. In honor of the one-year anniversary of her passing, everyone had free admisson for the day.

Spring and fall are the best times to visit the center, but something's in bloom there year around. Of the flowers and plants we saw last week, we really liked the cut-leaf penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius), which was covered with red flowers.

James took some nice photos, a few of which I thought I'd share.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Flame acanthus

Flame acanthus
Also called hummingbird bush
(Anisacanthus quadrifidus)

8 a.m. – In the back yard, we planted a flame acanthus earlier this summer, and it just started blooming this week. Pretty! Plus it's been raining in recent days so EVERYONE'S happy in our Wildscape.

2 p.m. – The sun came out so I went back outside with my camera for fun. Caught some insects in action. Look close, and you'll see a tiny ant crawling inside the cigar plant's bloom.

Yellowjacket on flame acanthus

Black-eyed susan blooming even more!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Another photographer...

For his big 50th, we gave James a new camera. So he's been having fun shooting pictures. Here's some he took in our Wildscape....

Butterfly weed

Rose of Sharon

The Sanctuary
(an area in the back yard that we leave "wild")

James' newest project in progress
(He rocked and dug all this last week. Sanctuary in far corner.)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Surprise in July

Just when you're about to give up, nature surprises you....

Last summer, James and I planted a potted bougainvillea in the front yard. It bloomed and seemed to thrive. At first, I was skeptical about taking it out of the pot. For one thing, it's special (though likely not a "Texas" native)–a dear friend gave it to me in 2002 after I moved into my home here. For five years, I'd kept it ALIVE. That was a miracle in itself. Then, after some discussion, James and I decided to put it in the ground. I was afraid it might not make it, and I'd be so disappointed if it died. But like I said, it bloomed and grew after we planted it.

Naturally, it died back during winter. Anxiously I waited for spring spouts. Come March and April, nothing.

May came and went. Then June. Nothing. James was ready to pull it up. NO, not yet! I kept hoping.

In the meantime, I asked a friend whose mother had bougainvilleas in her yard if they'd come back up yet. No yet, but they would, Andrea assured me. Give it a bit more time. So we did.

Yesterday, I was outside, mulching plants, when I stopped by the bougainvillea. Oh my stars, a couple of green shoots were poking their heads up! I was so elated! I gave it some fertilizer and water, then waited for James to get home.

Needless to say, he was happy, too.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Turtle and a spider

We had half an inch of rain earlier this week, a real blessing. The plants perked up considerably. Here's hoping we get more!

This morning, when I was outside, filling bird baths, I spotted a turtle about to cross the street toward our yard. I walked over, picked it up, and set it in our bed or salvia coccinea. I snapped some photos, then went inside the house for awhile. When I returned, I couldn't find that turtle ANYWHERE. So I'm not real sure what species it was. I did see some red so maybe it was a red-eared slider.

Then I couldn't resist shooting a jumping spider that I spotted on a metal chair in our back yard. Pretty, isn't she?

July blooms...

Black-eyed susan
Likely Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm'

Longwood blue
Caryopteris clandonensis
(Planted summer 2007)

Longwood blue
Caryopteris clandonensis
(close up)

Salvia coccinea 'Coral Nymph'

Salvia coccinea 'Coral Nymph'
(close up)
Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red'

Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red'
(close up)

Leadwort plumbago
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
(Planted summer 2007)

Leadwort plumbago
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
(close up)