Bloom Day, December 2014

Celebrating blooming things with Carol of May Dreams Gardens on this last Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day of 2014, I’d like to share some currently flourishing flowers from my gardens.  It’s been mild here in Austin, Texas, though a few light frosts have come our way, none were significantly cold enough to dampen the blossoming spirit.

Wonderful native perennials continue strutting their blooming stuff late this growing season. Two native salvia species are providing nice nectar sources for passing bees and butterflies and a color show for the resident gardener.   The Tropical SageSalvia coccinea, …brightens the garden with its scarlet blooms, while Henry Duelberg salviaSalvia farinacea, ‘Henry Duelberg’ provides spikes of blue.


Planted near to those two perennials is a group of  Texas Craglily, Echeandia texensis. There are few blooms left, but many seed pods readying for future golden lily loveliness.

Some of my GoldeneyeViguiera dentata, still bloom.

I don’t really think I need to add anything to that!  These individuals face west and receive the warmth of the afternoon autumn sun.

A few Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus, flowers grace the gardens as well. I don’t recall ever seeing this plant bloom so late before–I’m not complaining.

Native to areas west of Texas, but not specifically Austin, is the Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua.

In my gardens it’s a reliable cool season bloomer–at least through the beginning of summer.  The one mature Globe Mallow in my gardens is beginning a nice bloom production and that’s likely to happen throughout winter.

There are always a few Purple Coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, charming the gardens. This one is planted with an unknown variety of basil-in-bloom,

…which I’d know the name of if I’d bothered to keep the tag.  Ahem.

And here, Coneflower is partnered with the equally sweet Four-nerve Daisy or Hymenoxys, Tetraneuris scaposa.

I love native Texas plants.

As for the non-natives, well, they’re pretty cool, too.  The Firecracker or Coral PlantRusselia equisetiformis, requires a hard freeze to knock it back. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet.

I feel good about this plant–it has such a tropical look, but in reality it’s water-wise and tolerant of the cooler season.

Roses are responding in kind to our temperate December by blossoming again. Whoop!

Glorious in vibrant red are these blooms of the Old Gay Hill rose.

Finally, the Potato VineSolanum laxum, has entered its bloom time.  This vine twines up one side of my swing beam and blossoms primarily in the cool months here in Austin. It’s a timid vine in my garden, never growing too large.    I forget about it during our long, warm  growing season–it’s there, but unimpressive. Once the temperatures cool, its lovely clusters of dainty, creamy-bell flowers provide interest for my honeybees, still foraging on warm afternoons.

Enjoy whatever blooms you have–indoors or out.  Then check out the many bloom posts by visiting May Dreams Gardens.


Irrigation SNAFU

You can’t pick your neighbors.  

A pithy statement, to be sure.  While it might be true, another saying I’d like to introduce–Friends don’t let friends over water–also appeals to me.  I don’t live in a neighborhood that is particularly, um, progressive in the realm of home gardening. Especially for  a neighborhood in a region which is experiencing severe drought conditions.  Each of the mostly sterile, water-wasting landscapes throughout my neighborhood showcases a blank slate of water-guzzling St. Augustine lawn as the major “garden” feature and many are situated in full Texas sun. These properties require loads of mowing, edging, fertilizing, and irrigating.

There are a couple of folks who understand the value of home gardening and landscaping as a low-maintenance, water-conserving, perennial and wildlife friendly endeavor, but not many.

And I don’t live next door to either of those folks.

This is the result of over watering a Soft-leaf Yucca,Yucca recurvifolia, compliments of a neighbor who is an enthusiastic St. Augustine lawn waterer.

Beginning in early August, this poor thing developed spots on its straps, which quickly spread, rendering each strap a mottled mess, which then died.  I couldn’t figure out what the cause of the diseased foliage was, but I pruned the disfigured and dying foliage, strap by strap.

Damage from an insect infestation?  I searched and couldn’t find any offenders. Some sort of disease of Soft-leaf Yucca?    Always a possibility, though literature doesn’t suggest this species has any real disease problems.  Additionally,  I have eight other Soft-leaf Yucca plants thriving in my gardens, from full sun,

…to deep shade,

…and everything in between.

There were and are no disease issues with any of those other yuccas.   The only variable with the sickly yucca that differed from the others was the weekly irrigation courtesy of  the neighbor.  I don’t water often–primarily my gardens are watered only with rain.  I pruned the mottled and dead foliage in hopes of stopping the necrosis and eventually the yucca sported a tree-like shape which was fun and quirky. I thought the yucca might survive.


One morning though, I  found a rotted and toppled-over


Well, there wasn’t much I could, except to cut my losses, or rather, the yucca, toss the mess into the yard waste can and stand there, hands on hips mulling my next step.  I considered digging up the whole root, but alas, the yucca root is too large for that.  Of course it is.  It’s a xeric plant and its xeric-ness comes from the massive root system, really a type of rhizome, that the mature plant develops.  Also, there were pups growing,

…and rather than disturb them, I left the yucca root in place with its new, seemingly healthy growth.

My neighbor, Mr. I-Gotta-Water-Every-Week-No-Matter-What, watered his St. Augustine grass.  Every week!  You could set your clock by his schedule. I couldn’t really complain because he watered on his assigned day, during the accepted hours, and though more water than necessary ran down the curb, it wasn’t horrible. Trust me, I’ve seen worse.   What I didn’t realize during those months was that the yucca was probably watered every week. I never thought to check if his overhead sprinkler was watering my garden, which borders his property.  Because of its massive root, the yucca doesn’t require much irrigation.  Once I connected the rotted yucca with weekly summer irrigation, I realized the cause of the once-healthy yucca’s demise. The hardy Soft-leaf Yucca had received much too much water for its needs.

I should add that Y. recurvifolia is not native to Texas, but to the Southeastern part of the U.S.  I doesn’t mind a little irrigation from time-to-time, but certainly doesn’t like wet feet or require regular watering.

That’s why I plant what I plant–so that I don’t need to water often.  There are many benefits to using native and well-adapted, drought-tolerant plants in a home garden, and conserving water is certainly at or near the top of that list. But the prevalence of St. Augustine grass, especially in full sun and as a primary landscape feature, is not a regionally appropriate choice for Texas.  To look good, it requires more water than should be wasted on a landscape.

I left the little pups that were emerging,

…and they’ve grown.  I’ll talk to my neighbor next summer to explain why I don’t want extra water on my garden.  With our lakes (the prime water source for Austin and surrounding areas) down to about 30% capacity and heading toward a historic low, he might not be able to water anyway because of tighter water restrictions.

His grass will struggle with those restrictions, but my gardens will continue to blossom and thrive.

And my yuccas and other xeric plants, will be happy.

Tree Following: Retama in December

Meet my tree, the Retama, Parkinsonia

I’m new to the Tree Following meme, having joined last month, but my tree is native to Texas (where I’m also a native), as well as other areas of the southwest United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America.  Last month, I profiled this lovely, small tree in a general way and this month? Let’s see what’s happening, shall we?

Mostly, it’s dropping its foliage,

…all around its immediate vicinity.  But then again, so are other trees.  Here lie the slender stalks that are the leaves of

Co-mingling on the ground along with the turned and fallen brown leaves of a nearby Red Oak tree, this interesting foliage resembles little sticks.

Not sticks though, these are leaves, commonly referred to as “stalks.” The leaf structure of the Retama is unusual–a botanist would describe it as bipinnately compound; there are two stalks from an axis and each stalk has series of tiny leaflets arranged on either side of the stalks.  Most of the stalks and leaflets from my tree have dropped, but you can see remaining ones in silhouette against the sky.

As days shorten and cooler temperatures reign, the remaining stalks and leaflets will exit from the tree. Retama is dormant in winter, though during a prolonged drought, the same defoliation process occurs and the trunk and stems carry on the photosynthesis function of the foliage. The Retama is a valuable medicinal plant.  In Brazil, where it’s also  a native, parts of this tree have been used as a traditional remedy for hyperglycemia. In 2011 an article was published about the antidiabetic properties of Retama in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal.  Using “aerial” parts of the Retama (parts that are above ground), these researchers dried and combined a powered form of the plant parts in a suspension which was administered to rats (yeah, sorry about that…).    Simplified, the results indicated a decrease in both blood and urine glucose in the rats, without accompanying toxicity or negative side-effects related to the use of this plant during treatment.  Diabetic rats showed improvement in kidney, adipose tissue, and skeletal muscle tissue when ingesting the Retama suspension just before a sugar load.

The researchers concluded that the use of P. aculeata, (what I like to call Retama) is an appropriate treatment either alone or in conjunction with other medications for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.

That’s very cool.

If you’d like to read the full article, click here.  This is the full citation:  Ana Catarina Rezende Leite, Tiago Gomes Araújo, Bruno de Melo Carvalho, Maria Bernadete Souza Maia, and Vera Lúcia de Menezes Lima, “Characterization of the Antidiabetic Role of Parkinsonia aculeata (Caesalpineaceae),” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2011, Article ID 692378, 9 pages, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/692378

Interestingly, the article indicated that the area where the Retama, P. aculeata, grows in Brazil is a “semi-arid” region–much like that part of the United States where Retama is native–for example, here in Texas.

I planted my Retama because it’s pretty.

I planted Retama because it’s a hardy, drought tolerant native Texas tree.  I also planted it because the bees and the birds like it.  I’m fascinated though, that this lovely tree helps people in a far away place and that they’ve known its value (for more than its good looks) for a long time.

Maybe nurseries should advertise:  Retama: it’s pretty and it saves lives.

This coming year, we’ll be learning lots of interesting facts about this extraordinary little tree.

Thanks to Lucy for hosting Tree Following–please pop over to Loose and Leafy and check out trees being followed by garden and tree enthusiasts from all over the world.