Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More beds, more additions!

Here we go in the back yard of our Wildscape! More beds, more plants (from Blanco Gardens)....

Salvia coccinea
In the background are blue mistflower that James transplanted from another bed.
We also have passionflower cuttings started along the fence line.

Salvia greggii
Two different colors.

'Longwood Blue'
Caryopteris x clandonensis
I don't think this plant is a native. We bought another (Wildscape "rules" allow a few non-natives) because the one we planted a few years ago is flourishing.

Skullcap (two)
Scutellaria suffrutescens
The skullcap I transplanted from the front to the back (it was getting
swallowed by overbearing savlias) didn't survive. So I bought two more!

Coneflowers (three)

I love sedums

Okay, I can see that I could go nuts, trying to figure out the genus/species on sedums. I bought my first one last year or the year before that. I can't remember. Anyway, I thought maybe I could online and figure out what I had. So I found but–oh, my!–too many sedums!

On with my sedum story: This spring, I broke off a little piece and stuck in the ground in one of our new backyard beds (below). James stacked rocks around it, which I think turned out cool.

Then I broke off a little piece of bluish sedum (could it be blue spruce?) from a pot at the Blanco Bowling Alley. I think it's James stacked more rocks....

Then I bought this sedum from Blanco Gardens because I thought it was pretty. James stacked more rocks....

One more sedum from Blanco Gardens, this time with a garden label, Sedum 'Ogon'. Yep, you guessed it...James found more rocks for me!

I love sedums!

Load number two

Yes, this is our second load of mulch, compliments of our Pedernales Electric Co-op. They delivered our first load about two weeks ago. James zipped right through it so I requested another load last Friday. Steve with National Tree Service called yesterday before 8 a.m. and came by a half hour later! We're putting in new beds in the back yard, which is why we're using mulch so quickly. (Below, James is pointing out the back yard to Steve.)

That's all you do: call PEC and request to be put on the mulch waiting list. It may be just a few days or up to three weeks before they'll have a load ready to dump at your place.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Peaches peaches peaches

We're getting an armload of peaches off Lindsey's two peach trees in the side yard.

Case closed...and soon to be cut down

So this afternoon, I'm researching goldenrod and, in the course of my work, I read about ragweed. One by one via, I look at photos of different species of ragweed.

"OHHHHHHHH!" I exclaim after see photos of giant ragweed. "So THAT'S it!"

We'd been watching a huge plant in a front bed keep getting HUGER and taller taller taller. Yesterday, I had James stand by it so I could show some perspective on its height. I wanted to wait and see what the blooms look like so then I could identify the species.

Well, no need to wait! In fact, we'd better cut that thing down FAST. Because James has enough problems with allergies! I don't want to be responsible for more.

FYI: According to Wildflowers, Trees and Shrubs of Texas, this species can reach 16 or MORE feet high! "An infusion of the leaves is useful in treating poison ivy," authors Delena Tull and George Oxford Miller state.

Farewell, giant!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hungry hummers

The hummingbirds are really active right now. I took this not-too-great photo through our kitchen window.

For anyone who's interested, I change out my sugar water every second or third day. It's so important to keep fresh nectar available, not soured or moldy (would YOU want to drink something yucky?). I make two or four cups of sugar water at a time and refrigerate what I don't use. I also only fill feeders about one fourth full so I waste as little as possible when changing the water.

My recipe (one-to-four ratio): 1 cup sugar, 4 cups water. Microwave on high for three or four minutes. Stir and cool. NO RED COLORING is necessary!

(Smaller batch: 1/2 cup sugar, 2 cups water)

Black swallowtail kiddos

Meet my cute caterpillar children in the fennel, black swallowtail larvae. I did have three, but when I went outside last evening to take photos, I found only two. Sniff.

While shooting, I watched one munch munch munch. So I shot a series of pictures as it quickly devoured a fennel leaf. Reminded me of someone slurping up a strand of spaghetti!

I nudged it in hopes of getting a photo of its smelly osmeterium but no luck. According to Texas A&M's online field guide, the orangey V-shaped structure, which appears and disappears, emits a "strong odor that is apparently distasteful to predators." Well, I can vouch for the smelly part! I had no idea about that structure thing when I touched a caterpillar the other day, the V shot out, and I smelled something yucky. Cool!

Anyway, here's the spaghetti-eating series:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Robins robins robins

For the past several days, we've been watching the robin a robin family forage together in our front yard. I just stood at our bedroom window and watched a robin child follow its mother, begging for food. It'd flutter its wing and open its mouth. Here she'd come with a worm. I'm pretty sure they have three kids. Because yesterday we counted five robins. They don't seem to mind our presence either. I feel so honored that they chose OUR Wildscape.

I really, truly do.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thoughts and wishes

I feel so sad for people who have no connection, no feelings, for nature.

In the past few weeks, I've been watching a robin couple, feeding and hanging out in our Wildscape. A few evenings ago, I thought I'd spotted their nest high in one of our live oaks. But no, no such luck. Then, the next evening, I saw what had to be a juvenile robin (cinammonish, speckled breast), perched on James' wooden fence in the Meadow. It sat there for a long time. I finally walked slowly toward it, and then it safely flew away.

A bit ago, I was in the garage, pulling cloth napkins from the dryer, when I heard a familiar bird call. I stepped outside to see, and, sure enough, I spotted the juvenile robin along with the parents. "Good job on the baby!" I told them. The juvenile flew away, but the older robins stayed and kept foraging on the ground. I even sat down and folded the napkins while I watched them. They didn't mind me one bit! I felt awed, humbled, by the beauty of nature.

Yesterday, I made a trip to San Antonio. I am NOT a shopper (I'd rather not), but I did have some errands to run. So at a Stone Oak center, I parked my car and walked from one end of the strip to the other (and back again). Decided the exercise would be good for me. Toward the end, as I strolled along, I happened upon a rather large walkingstick! It lay on the cement sidewalk, not far from an empty storefront. "Poor thing," I said. I stood there a moment, debating. Then I scooped the insect up––it was the length of my hand!––and carried it across the parking lot to a small greenbelt. I leaned down and released it on a branch. Thank goodness that "wild" area was there! And I realized, too, that it was a good thing I came along because surely the walkingstick would have died. Or someone, thinking it was "poisonous" (not!) or hideous, would have killed it for sure.

The thought made me sad. A beautiful insect, lost on a sea of cement, with no hope of a rescue, because so few people these days have no connection or feelings for nature. I wish that wasn't true.

P.S. I also carried a small beetle across the parking lot to a bed of gold lantanas.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Photo session turned rescue

Just happened to see this truncated katydid (Paracyrtophyllus robustus), clinging to the outside of our house. Photo op, I thought. So off I go for the camera. Upon returning, I saw that the poor thing was missing two legs. Hmm, I really should move it or another bird's gonna attack it. So I reached up to gently move it, and it screamed at me! Startled, I jumped back, and the katydid fell to the ground. Bad me! So I got a small dustpan and scooped it up. Then I carried it over to our turk's cap and slid it off onto a bright green leaf. The katydid blended in perfectly.

Good luck, friend!

Beautyberry in bloom

Finally, after three years, our American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is blooming! That means we'll have beautiful purplish berries in the fall! I can't wait!

New plant markers

Take a gander at my new garden project! I surfed around the Internet to see how other gardeners label their plants and came across these metal markers. After some comparison shopping, I ordered 100 miniature labels (item "M") from the Paw Paw Everlast Label Co (plus a mechanical pencil, one package of replacement leads and two regular pencils). This company definitely had the best prices and apparently are THE manufacturers of this product. My package shipped FAST. So far, I'm very pleased, both with how easy they are to use and how nice they look in our Wildscape. On the backs of the labels, I jot down where and when we bought/planted each plant.

UPDATE–JULY 28, 2010–Believe it or not, my 100 markers ran out this week so I ordered another 100 on Monday. After I placed my order, by e-mail, I mentioned that I ended up with four extra wire holders and no labels. Was that possible, I asked. Yes, they wrote back.

Well, my order came today (yes, three days later!), and–you guessed it...or maybe you didn't–they stuck in four extra labels! Wasn't that NICE? This company and their products are GREAT! What's more, they don't charge for shipping, only a tiny clerical fee (mine was $1.48) if you order online. Thank you, Steven Starbuck and everyone at the Paw Paw Everlast Label Co.!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

I feel like a murderer

Subtitle: Death visits the nursery

Subtitle to the subtitle: HELP!

I'm depressed. Real depressed. Sad. Frustrated. The Gulf fritillary caterpillars on our biggest passionflower vine are dying. Melting even. Oozing, dripping, blackening. I have no clue what's going on. Last year, I know we had several caterpillars on this same vine that went into a chrysalis. I blogged about them. But this year, I don't know if we've had even ONE chrysalis yet. Tons of caterpillars but no chrysalises. I don't remember see the larva die like this last summer. It's awful. And I'm depressed. Any thoughts, anyone? Help!!

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UPDATE–Here are the posts and replies I've made/received on the Butterfly Gardens forum on

Posted by sherylsr on Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 11:14
The Gulf fritillary caterpillars on our biggest passionflower vine are dying. Melting even. Oozing, dripping, blackening. I have no clue what's going on. Last year, I know we had several caterpillars on this same vine that went into a chrysalis. I blogged about them. But this year, I don't know if we've had even ONE chrysalis yet. Tons of caterpillars but no chrysalises. I don't remember see the larva die like this last summer. Help? I've got photos of three victims on my blog.

Posted by misssherry on Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 11:19
So sorry! :( It looks like what I call the "black death" - it's a virus, more common in monarchs than gulf frits. It's not your fault, and there's nothing to do about it. Fortunately, it's not likely to happen again - it's only happened to mine once.

Posted by sherylsr on Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 11:31
How does it spread? I wondered if our passionflower was doing it.

Posted by tdogmom on Tue, Jun 15, 10 at 23:47
Nah...more than likely a viral thing OR have you or your neighbors sprayed any pesticides or insecticides around lately? West Nile stuff, from the Vector Control, perhaps? How about fertilizer? Sometimes, when you fertilize your plants, a similar thing happens with the larvae. What's the temperature been like? Hot? Cold? Variable temps from morning to night? Day to day? There are a number of variables that could be causing this as well. See if you can stop and think about what MAY be different right now. This may be difficult to do, yet, may hold the key to your problem. In the meantime, chin up! This happens to ALL of us at one time or another. Don't give up. Things will turn around.

Posted by sherylsr on Mon, Jun 21, 10 at 16:13
I can't even bear to go look at my frillitary cats any more. I picked off three little ones, put them in a bug box with a few passionflower leaves, and watched them blacken/die too. So it's bacteria then? We don't use fertilizers (except for occasional Miracle Grow in the little garden) or pesticides. (Did I put some Miracle Grow at the base of the passionflower? Can't remember now.) Yes, it's been in the 90s here and sunshine hits the passionvine but not all of it.
I've thought of cutting back the passionflower because it's so ravaged and horrible looking. Everyone's dying that's hatched on it! Sniff.

Posted by misssherry on Mon, Jun 21, 10 at 18:35
So sorry, sherylsr! If the virus can live on leaves or stems, then cutting it back would really be a good idea - don't know if it can, though. If it were me, I'd cut it all back just in case the virus can live outside the host.

UPDATE JUNE 23, 2010– I did it. I cut back the passionflower vine ALL THE WAY. It just looked so sick. Like a war zone, too, with all the little dead bodies here and there. So no leaves left now. While I was in the slow process of cutting, a Gulf fritillary butterfly flitted by and tried to land on the vine. "NO NO NO!" I exclaimed as I tried to catch her. I did! Then I rushed her–cupped within my two hands–to the back yard, where we have some healthy vines growing. I set her free by one. But she flew up into the live oaks, where she met up with another butterfly.

UPDATE JULY 14, 2010–I'm happy to report that the passionflower has rebounded and sent out lots of new shoots. Plus I have a few new caterpillar children as well. Yay!

New kids

ANNOUNCEMENT: Just arrived! We've got new babies in the fennel! They're suppose to be black swallowtail larvae, but they sure don't look like it. Stay tuned!

Do bird hearts break?

I stepped outside a bit ago to breathe some fresh air and refill a few hummingbird feeders. Out front, I heard a bird fussing. A lot. I looked up in the huge live oak and spotted a blue jay, no, two blue jays, jabbering and fluttering their wings. Another jay perched on a nearby branch. Impatient, she bumped into one, then disappeared higher in the branches. Babies, nearly on their own, I thought. She's trying to tell them it's time to grow up and separate.

Do bird hearts break, I wonder?

The babies, maybe three of them now, fluttered their wings and continued to cry. I knew what they wanted. Food. And for her to find it for them. Feed them, too. Like mothers do. And always have. But for all mothers, the job ends, the work is done. It's time for children to grow up, leave, provide for themselves. That's what this blue jay mother was trying to do. I felt sad and glad for her. I understood.

Do bird hearts break, I wondered again.

Finally, she flew across the street and hid among more branches. The little ones, still fluttering and crying, didn't see her escape. She could still hear them, I'm sure. It can't have been easy, even for a bird. But she knows...I do, too...that her youngsters will learn very quickly to forge on their own, find shelter, look for a mate someday. She did her job. She was a good mother. But still, I wonder....

Do bird hearts break?

Stink bug nymphs

Stink bug nymphs, LOTS of them! James found them under some rocks.

One bright bug

Milkweed assassin bug
Zelus longipes

Jumping what?

Remember Mexican jumping beans? Those always fascinated me as a kid. But I digress. James and I were walking through our Wildscape late Friday afternoon when he stopped to examine the turk's cap.

"I wonder what's eating them?" he asked, fingering a chewed-up leaf. One of many chewed-upon leaves.

Beetles, I thought.


A closer look turned up a lime green caterpillar. Then another and another. I reached out and touched one. FLICK! "Did you see that?" I exclaimed. "It JUMPED!" I laughed and laughed. It was the craziest thing to see a caterpillar actually JUMP. James was flabbergasted, too.

Last night, I finally identified our leaf jumper, using our caterpillar field guide: a yellow scallop moth (Anomis erosa). The folks at this morning confirmed the ID.

UPDATE JANUARY 9, 2012–The experts at never give up. I just recently received updates to my inquiry. Seems our caterpillar is not Anomis erosa but instead Bagisara sp., a member of Noctuidae family (owlet moths)!

Monday, June 7, 2010


(Photo by James)

The Indian blankets are still in bloom. And the greenthreads put on a second bloom this past week. The horsemints have joined the party. James shot this photo of flowers across the street.

Trumpet vines in bloom

(Photos by James)

The eight trumpet vine transplants that our neighbors, the Murrahs, gave us in summer 2007 are growing like weeds and blooming blooming blooming. They are beautiful.

Just had to share!

Squirrelly corn

(Photo by James)

What do you get when you mix fox squirrels and a Wildscape?

Wild corn!

As you can see, the corn crop planted here and there throughout our Wildscape by our resident squirrels is coming along GREAT! If we'd planted the corn ourselves, I'm sure it wouldn't be doing as well as THESE are. We're getting a big kick out of the crop, which has begun to put on tassels and ears!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Beetle hunting and love at the market...

Last fall, I traveled to Brownsville for research on a magazine article I'd been assigned. For two days, I followed entomologist Ed Riley while he hunted and collected beetles. My article, "Beetle Mania," just came out in this month's issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife.

And my long-awaited piece in Guideposts finally made it into the June 2010 issue. "Prime Cut," which shares how James (Hearn) and I met, originally won me a place in the 2008 Guideposts Writers Workshop. I am so blessed...through the story, God fulfilled two special dreams of mine–finding true love and writing for Guideposts.