Waiting For Rain

Waiting for rain.

We’re all just hanging out, lumbering through these last few weeks of true Texas summer and waiting for rain.  Like this little guy, a Carolina anole, Anolis carolinensis.

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He appears to me as if he’s expecting raindrops to cascade down the rain chain–any moment now!   Along with the rest of us summer-weary Texans, he would love it if some of the wet stuff would break the Texas August heat and end our summer doldrums.

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In 2011, during the record-breaking drought and high temperatures of that hellish summer, we suffered through almost 100 days of over 100 degree temperatures.  That summer, I once saw an anole creep up to a dripping planter after I had hand watered.  The little anole parked himself under planter and commenced licking the few drops of water.   Poor little guy– he was so thirsty and there was so little moisture in that garden, until the planter dripped. It was a simple but poignant reminder, underscoring to me the necessity of water to all: wildlife, plants, and people.

I’m sure this anole hasn’t searched much for moisture this summer as there was rain earlier, though not in the last month or so.

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Maybe in addition to waiting for rain, he’s also waiting for Wildlife Wednesday?

September Wildlife Wednesday happens next Wednesday, September 3rd. Will there be rain and some cooler temperatures before then?  Stay tuned!

Wildlife Wednesday.  Join in and post about those wild critters, looking for rain or not, who visit and live in your gardens.

September and its promise of cooler temperatures, more regular precipitation, and softer days is almost here.

Wildflower Wednesday, August 2014

Today I join Gail at clay and limestone with heat loving wildflowers for August. No longer cool nor even somewhat pleasant, we’re crawling down the hard stretch of summer here in Austin, Texas. But the light is different and once in a great while, I feel a slight change to the breeze. When there is a breeze.  I say that every year, to anyone who will listen: Sometime in August there is a change–the air is different, the breeze is different! Usually those I’m in conversation with roll their eyes and smirk.

I get lots of smirks.

There’s no smirking though when viewing  this hot, summer/fall blooming GoldeneyeViguiera dentata.

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A few of these flowers open throughout the summer months, but in October? Watch out! There will be an explosion of yellow.

The ridiculously pink Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala, is a long-blooming native perennial. These pinks,

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look almost too pink.  They open in the wee hours before dawn and close in the afternoon heat.  This group is tired of the heat and are closing up shop for the day,

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…while this group contends with both heat and sun.

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By 4pm in hot August, Rock Rose blooms are done for the day. Fresh, perky blossoms will open for business early the next morning.

The glory of Purple ConeflowerEchinacea purpurea, 

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is over for the year.   I leave the gone-to-seed flower heads as long as possible for finch nibbling, but the blooms are crispy now and I’ve pruned most back to their rosettes. After the spring/summer blooms are done and pruned, there’s usually a second flowering that is shorter in stature, but very welcomed,

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…by pollinators and people.  Later in fall, Purple Coneflower will segue again into seed production for winter finch food.

YarrowAchillea millefolium, is taking a bow for its long bloom season as well.  All of mine, save this patch,

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are pruned to their ground foliage for the year.  I’ve always found the ecru disks of spent blooms as attractive as the snowy white of the peak of Yarrow season, so I keep them through the long summer months.

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The finches appreciate the seeds, too.

Turk’s Cap,  Malvaviscus arboreus, blooms magnificently during this toasty time of year.

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Visited by bees,

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Turk’s Cap produce scads of swirled lovelies with pollen and nectar galore and will do so for another month or two.

Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, employs a hopeful common name.

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Frost.  That’s hard to imagine right now. Frostweed’s snowy blooms evoke a coolness we can only dream about with our daily 100 degree-plus temperatures and the death rays of the August sun.

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Flowering will continue into September, giving way to seed production in the fall.

Slather on the sunscreen, drink plenty of fluids and traipse over to clay and limestone to see other hot August wildflowers.

Bee Mama Missive: Adding To The House!

As a family grows, sometimes the house needs additional space. Though it seems like I’ve tried my darndest to kill my hives Scar and Mufasa, they’re buzzing along just fine, thank you very much.

Recently I’ve felt like Bee Daddy and I are the Laurel and Hardy of beekeeping–just one blunder upon another.  After our bee drama of rolling (aka: killing) our queens, then not recognizing that we needed new queens, then finally realizing that we needed to re-queen and working weeks to see that process through, both Scar and Mufasa are re-queened and thriving.

I think.

Scar is the more advanced hive–he didn’t go long without a queen and his population didn’t decline much, if at all.  In Scar’s top box, each bar has fully drawn comb,

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…meaning that the bees have made full comb and that comb has capped and uncapped honey.  It’s remarkable how heavy all that sweet honey is.

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The gals will need the honey stores for winter, so we will not harvest it.  The last time we checked the bottom box, there was also fully drawn comb, but with capped and uncapped brood in cozy little incubators for the next generation of worker bees.  Worker bees change careers throughout their lives, driven primarily by the needs of the hives and their pheromones.   But workers don’t live long, so the queen lays eggs constantly for on-going repopulation of the hive.

Scar appears active and healthy.  However, the last two times I’ve opened both hives, I’ve seen several  Small Hive BeetlesAethina tumida–the nasty nemesis of the honeybee.  Oh, good grief, what now?!!

The Small Hive Beetle is an invasive species that damages comb as well as honey and pollen stores.  There are chemical solutions for the hive beetle, but those chemicals can also hurt honeybees.  Duh.  There are other less toxic products as well, but I found the beetles at the low point of my angst about my hives–Queens or no queens? Oh-no-I’m-killing-my-hives! I wasn’t sure it was worth doing anything for the hives. Beetles attack hives which are vulnerable–like those tended by rookie beekeepers.

Ahem.

I didn’t feel like I had much to lose, so I commenced a squishing campaign to eradicate them whenever I saw the little creeps.  Well, actually, squishing those few visible beetles isn’t going to annihilate an infestation, or even make much of a dent, but it makes this beekeeper feel like she’s taking care of her bees. For whatever it’s worth (and the beetles could still rear their rather unattractive little selves), I haven’t seen any of those devils since my hives were successfully re-queened.  I’m also feeding the bees, which will help them maintain strength through their endeavors, our mistakes and the dearth of blooms that is August in Austin.  The only thing beekeepers should feed bees is the bees own honey (if there’s a surplus) or a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of sugar-to-water.

Fingers crossed that we can avoid a Small Hive Beetle catastrophe.

In opening my hives in these last few weeks and acknowledging that Scar is progressing well, I thought: if I don’t totally screw them over with my incompetence, it might be time to add another box to Scar.  Mufasa is also doing well, but doesn’t have fully drawn comb, nor full honey in the top box.  Mufasa has some work ahead before needing a third floor addition.

But Scar?  Verily bursting out of his seams!  Or boxes.

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So, I added some wax to eight unused bars to give the girls a place to start,

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…and we opened up Scar, ready for the opportunity to expand the digs.   Scar’s bees are busy, active and yeah, they still sting–even when smoked.  She got me right on the thumb. I put gloves on after that.  Some people never learn.

So much wax, comb, honey and bee activity!

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I pulled out four bars with full comb and placed  them into the third (new) box,

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…and placed four new (empty) bars to the second (now, middle) box.

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I evenly spaced the bars in the hives.  The bars must be three-eighths of an inch from one another for the bees to safely crawl around in the hive. This is known as bee space.  I’m so OCD that when checking my hives, if I have to move the bars and I usually do for one reason or another, I measure each space.  Thoroughly, I would say.  Obsessively, others would say.

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My family loves me in spite of that particular personality quirk.  Trait.

Lastly, I assured that the hives were set evenly on the ground–no tilt allowed or the bees might build cross-comb and that could become a whole thing, which you can read about here.

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I popped on the tops, while Bee Daddy cleaned up and put out the smoker.  I stood back and smiled at my hives.

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Scar and Mufasa.

Nice little hives with nice little bees who make delicious honey and pollinate…everything,

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…and their crazy beekeeper lady.

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Globe Mallow-Bewitching Bloom, Fair Foliage

On the heels of celebrating blooms with May Dreams Garden and foliage with Digging, I can’t help but think about the Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, which is graced with both characteristics in abundance.

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With fuzzy, ruffly gray-green leaves and orange dreamsicle blooms, the Globe Mallow is botanical eye candy.

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But it’s also drought tolerant and hardy, so its marriage of beauty and brawn makes for a sexy and solid relationship! Globe Mallow is certainly a great perennial for the home garden in Central Texas.

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For years I  thought the “globe mallow” that is commonly available in Austin nurseries was a native shrub, but that’s not the case.  The gray-leafed and orange-bloomed “globe mallow” that most Austin gardeners pine for and plant is usually the Sphaeralcea ambigua and isn’t native to Texas according the the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s plant database. The native-to-Texas orange-blossomed “globe mallow” is Sphaeralcea incana  and the only place I’ve ever seen it sold is at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Fall or Spring plant sale.  For whatever reason, it appears that the S.ambigua has cornered the commercial nursery market.  The Texas Sphaeralcea incana grows from a tap-root, so it might be more difficult to propagate or perhaps it’s harder to grow by seed. Regardless, the S.ambigua, Globe Mallow, works well for us in the Austin area. The Globe Mallow is a perennial that I like, but I’ve only experienced moderate success with it.

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I’ve planted several of these lovely mallow shrubs.  The first was planted beside a Mt. Laurel, Sophora secundiflora and that was a majestic plant combination. Unfortunately I have no pictures, but imagine in cool, verdant March, the pairing of Mt. Laurel’s deep, glossy foliage, dripping with rich purple blooms planted alongside the airy gray foliage and orange flowers of the Globe Mallow–it’s a stunning sight.  I grew that combination for several years until the Globe Mallow sputtered in the increasing shade of an Oak tree. It grew leggy and thin, plus it stopped producing those gorgeous blooms.  I moved the mallow to this spot where it still didn’t receive enough sun to do much of anything except to flop over.

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Then I transplanted it here,

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…in the middle of my large perennial garden and purchased a couple of companions to keep it company.

For the first year the transplanted Globe Mallow performed well in the garden, though the newly planted mallows puttered along, with limited growth.

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As I’ve written before, the biggest frustration with my gardens is the amount of “part-shade” I have.  My back gardens, which were once full sun, have less of that sun every year.  Darn trees.   My ill-fortune with Globe Mallow is a prime example of my part-sun predicament. This group of three were okay in that spot, but still didn’t quite receive enough sun to perform their best. They grew and they even bloomed in spring.

The foliage was stellar,

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…but I wanted more orange-blossom beauty!

As the plants matured and the Oak trees cast shadows over the garden, the Globe Mallow would leeaan into the available sun, so they ended up looking a little silly.

This past year, I moved those listing mallows again, only this time to my front gardens.  One is here,

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…planted in a strip garden, along with Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea and annual Sunflower.  These are just on the edge of my property.  Really, just on the edge. Don’t ask what I was thinking when I planted the mallow there, I have no idea. But I’m not moving it. I’m not moving it.  I’m not moving it. Transplanting woody perennials (like mallows) is tricky, so that’s not happening again.  

Except if I need to find more direct sun for them!

The second Globe Mallow is planted down the property line, nearer to the street.

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I like this group with the Globe Mallow: Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, the not-in-bloom-yet Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, Mexican Feathergrass and Soft-leaf Yucca,  Yucca recurvifolia.  

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With this move, both Globe Mallows are doing quite well–finally, they get a full 6 hours of sun, year round. And that, kids,  is the trick with Globe Mallow success: they really do need FULL SUN. None of this part-sun, part-shade nonsense. They enjoy being tortured by the death rays of the Southwest Sun.  And why not?  These are desert plants–native to sandy, rocky soils and arid climates and the furnace blast of the sun.

My experience is that Globe Mallow bloom fully in the spring and again in fall, taking a rest during summer.  This one though has bloomed sporadically throughout this summer, which was a treat.

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I recently pruned the mallow back a bit, as it was lolling over everything around it. Like many in the Malvaceae family, Globe Mallow flowers best on new wood, so pruning for tidiness also enhances blossom production.

According to the Wildflower Center, the Sphaeralcea are important plants for native bees, but I haven’t noticed bees favoring my blossoms.  Again, the S. ambigua is not native to the Austin area, or Texas, for that matter, so that might explain why I haven’t seen significant numbers of native bees at my flowers–other gardeners may experience differently.  If you plant the S. incana, the native bees in your neighborhood surely will enjoy the blooms.

One more note about “globe mallows” in Austin.  I’ve seen the Sphaeralcea angustifolia, also called Globe Mallow, for sale at Austin nurseries.  I don’t have that plant in my garden, but click here for the Wildflower Center’s database photos.  It produces similar foliage to the other two discussed, but blossom color ranges from pink to purple. Like the S. incana, it’s also native to Texas, as well as other Western states.

Stunning foliage and lovely mallow flowers,

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…extend an invitation for Sphaeralcea shrubs to take their place in the sun and in your gardens.

Foliage Follow-up, August 2014

Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-up, the monthly fanfare of foliage in the garden. As much as I love flowers, a plant’s foliage is often a deal-breaker when choosing for my gardens.  Especially in August when Austin blooms are a little scarce, the plant parts that are not flowers can lend beauty and definition to a garden space.

While not exactly foliage, seed heads certainly aren’t  blooms either.  Ex-flowers, I guess, but I’m including them because in mid-to-late summer, seed pods produced by former blooms impart interest to perennial gardens.  This group of seed heads of the Gulf Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis, are just about to POP open and spread their glory!

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The Gulf Penstemon is a lovely lavender spring-blooming perennial.   I keep the seed heads as long as possible to give the seeds time to develop for propagation of new specimens for this short-lived perennial and also because I find them attractive.

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Little, tawny turban-hats, the hard shell will burst open, spreading the seeds to nearby areas.  Or, the gardener (that’s me, folks) can prune the stems, crack open those turbans, shake out the seeds and in doing so, appear to evoke some pagan ritual while waving the stalks over the gardens.  I wonder what the neighbors think?

The Hill Country Penstemon, Penstemon triflorus, sports a larger, darker turban-capped seed head.

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This year marks the latest I’ve ever left these seed pods on their bloom spikes. Usually, this plant topples over by early summer, I lose patience with the mess and cut it to the ground.

This seed pod of the RetamaParkinsonia aculeata, hangs from the tree’s slender branch like a pea ready for pickin’.

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Retama is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae), so the pea analogy works.

This combination of varying foliage pleases me:  Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, Globe MallowSphaeralcea ambigua, and GoldeneyeViguiera dentata.  

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This trio includes some of the premier hardy perennials easily available for the Austin gardener.

If you have, have had or have ever seen a teenage boy of that certain age when the hair is long and a bit shaggy, close your eyes and visualize that in this DamianitaChrysactinia mexicana.

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I love the swoosh of the “bangs” framed over the decorative stone.  Just imagine the teenage boy-head, constantly swooping his hair back to keep those bangs out of the eyes, in that annoyingly cute, but insolent way.

The wide, heart-shaped and deeply veined foliage of Coral VineAntigonon leptopus,

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suggests a tropical lushness that is welcome this time of year.

I’m enamored with strappy, striped foliage, like that of this Dianella or Variegated Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’,

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…and this Color Guard YuccaYucca filamentosa, ‘Color Guard’.

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Those banded beauties work nicely in concert with each other and with another pairing I like, the native ColumbineAquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana, mixed with the cultivar  Katie’s Dwarf RuelliaRuellia brittoniana, ‘Katie’s Dwarf’.

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The evergreen Columbine, with its soft form and graceful foliage, blooms yellow in spring. Conversely, the deciduous Katie’s Dwarf Ruellia has dark, lance-like leaves and sports sprays of deep purple from July through October.  Opposites attract and work well together–at least that’s true of these two plants.

Head over to Digging to check out other accolades to the leafy among us.