About Tina

I’ve gardened in Austin, Texas (zone 8b) since 1985. I garden with low maintenance, native and well-adapted non-native plants to conserve water and reduce workload. I also choose plants which attract wildlife to my gardens. I’ve completed the Travis County Master Gardener and Grow Green program (through the city of Austin). I’ve volunteered for a number of public and private gardens, as well as consulted and designed for private individuals. Formerly, I managed Shay’s Green Garden at Zilker Botanical Gardens and Howson Library Garden for the City of Austin. My garden is a certified Monarch Waystation and a Wildlife Habitat.I blog about my garden adventures at: https://mygardenersays.com/ I love blooming things and the critters they attract. Tina Huckabee

Fuzzy Wuzzy

Spring is progressing apace, new foliage and flowers appearing, posthaste. My diverse garden community offers varied, interesting blooms, each with their own timeline for appearing, each with their own story and role in this ecosystem. Puffy and playful, the fuzzy spring looms of the Goldenball Leadtree, Leucaena retusa, are glorious golden decorations in a shady part of my garden

This tree is also called Little-leaf tree, or Lemon ball tree–names I find poetic–and except for the ‘goldenball’ part, I find the moniker Goldenball Leadtree a bit klunky. If I’d been asked, I might have named it Golden Koosh Glory tree, or Magnificent Yellow Fuzzy-Wonder tree. Nomenclature aside, what isn’t klunky is the lovely, airy form of this tree.

Shortly after the foliage appeared, blooms begin.

Goldenball Leadtree is a small, shade to part-shade tree, perfect for a small to moderate sized urban garden.

The tree in near full bloom mode.

Flowers begin developing in early March, shortly after the foliage returns from winter’s dormancy. Blooming peaks in April, and slowly declines through May and June. Autumn rains often bring a late season gift of a few of these fuzzy delights. Foliage is delicate and little leafed, colored in pretty, bright green, until a hard freeze unceremoniously drops the leaves.

Developing buds remind me of certain unripe berries.

In sunshine or shade, the tree is a joy in the garden.

The Goldenball Leadtree is in the Pea, or Fabaceae family. Most of the other plants that I grow producing fuzzy flowers belong to the Aster, or Asteraceae, family. I also grow plants that aren’t fuzzy in their flower form, but once they’ve gone to seed, fuzzy, usually soft, structures carry seeds on the wind to parts unknown.

In the light shade of the Goldenball Leadtree, sits a stand of more golden goodness, a small patch of Golden Groundsel, Packera obovata. Diminutive ray flowers accompany the larger goldenball blooms in their early spring show. Once the blooms are done, cottony-soft seed balls appear, awaiting wind, landing in a new place.

Spring is a bounty: lush green, color galore. These are but two of the flowering plants in my spring garden. What’s flowering in yours?

Patio + Cats = Catio

One of the first improvements we made to our house after we bought it years ago was to hire a carpenter to build a covered structure over the boring slab of concrete, ubiquitous to urban homes all over Texas, just outside the back door. We’ve enjoyed the covered patio over the years, in hot weather and cold, during rainstorms and drought. It’s been a place to keep handy some of my gardening tools, a covered spot for the grill, with easy access to the kitchen, and for dining al fresco at the table during pleasant times of the year. There are some downsides to the patio: the area is challenging to keep tidy, as breezes constantly bring leaves, pollen, and other plant matter into the patio area, that detritus resting (and sometimes piling) at the back door, and during warm months (we have plenty of those), mosquitos are in the garden–and buzzing in the covered, but not enclosed, patio.

We’ve also always had at least one, usually two-at-a-time, cats during our stay a Chez Gardener Says. Our current cat companions include 10 year-old Astrud (named after Astrud Gilberto) and 2 year-old Lena (named after Lena Horn). Astrud has been an indoor/outdoor cat, mostly being indoors. When we adopted Lena, we decided she would remain a strictly indoor cat. She’s super smart and fast and I wasn’t convinced that wildlife would be safe around her. That being said, she has enjoyed some short, supervised kitty field trips in the great outdoors, when I have time to keep a keen eye on her.

I never worried about Astrud hunting as she has poor eyesight (cataracts), but late last summer, she managed to catch a couple of birds. One was a House Sparrow, which I admit to not caring about because they’re invasive. (I know, species prejudice…) The second was a Lesser Goldfinch, and that catch was a feather too far. I couldn’t, in good conscious as a wildlife gardener, let Astrud continue time outside since the evidence was now clear that she menaced those wild things that I garden for and welcome in this space.

Prior to this, we’d mused having the patio enclosed, possibly making it a catio, which typically has shelves for cats to climb on and sturdy screening that is cat-scratch proof. I’ve always liked the open area to the back garden and fretted that enclosing the patio might make the living room darker than I prefer. After sweet Astrud perpetrated her murderous deed, the decision was clear: catio or bust.

Voilà! And here we are! A newly hatched catio, designed and built by father and son team, Oren and Ben Gil at CatManDo Catios! CatManDo is based in Austin and work in parts of Central Texas creating unique, beautiful catios for those who love cats, want to keep them safe, and appreciate the native wildlife in our midst.

The team worked around the existing structure, keeping the roof and supporting columns intact. They used lovely cedar, lightly stained, to create the door and supporting wood for the shelving and to close all openings to keep the area flying-bug free. The entire patio is screened, the back garden visible.

Lena is completely on-board with this new room. She loves being in the catio, snoozing on the top shelves; she’s entranced with the antics of squirrels and activity of birds. When we’re home and she’s in the catio, she’ll dash from the catio, through the open back door into the house, to the kitchen window to “chase” a squirrel that has run along the edge of the catio and house. Then, she runs back to the catio, so that she doesn’t miss any action. She’s having fun!

Astrud is shy. Very shy. Change is hard for her, and she is slow to adapt to new situations. But she’s meandering into the catio, hopping onto the lower shelves, and observing some garden goings-on.

She’s not entirely sure this is her cup-o’kibble, but she’s giving it a chance and I think in short order, she’ll be happy for this enclosed outdoor space.

From the outside, the screening looks dark, but it’s not dark at all from inside of the catio looking out, and the screen hasn’t darkened the inside of the house. My fretting was for naught; Astrud isn’t the only one who resists change.

However, I will have a harder time bird watching from inside the catio, especially during migration season, as those neo-tropical songbirds are typically tiny and flitty. I still have good windows in the house for observation, and the bench that has been my go-to bird watching bench is now placed in front of the catio for direct access to the garden. During mosquito season (which goes longer with each passing year), I won’t need to use repellent as long as I’m in the catio, but if I garden or sit at that bench, long sleeves and pants for cover, or repellent on my skin will be required.

Lena inside, looking outside.

There’s also a couple of places for my own tchotchkes, including the metal screech owl who keeps me company year-round, even after our neighborhood owls have left.

Duke the Dog has also enjoyed some time in the catio, but the cats get priority and I think he knows it!

If you live in Austin, or nearby areas, and are thinking about enclosing your patio or adding a catio to a window, check out CatManDo–great guys who create good things for cats, their owners, and critters-at-large.

Green Sweat Bee

Spring has sprung and bees are buzzing. Honeybees forage during winter’s warmer days, but native bees take a break from their duties, being safely tucked away in nests of wood or soil, or waiting to emerge from enclosures of plants. As days lengthen and warm, they make their way into gardens. This early spring, I’ve observed several native bee species that I regularly see during the growing season. The first ones who show up to work are the tiny black carpenter bees (Ceratina), followed by a variety of Green Sweat bees, like this emerald beauty, perhaps an Osmia ribifloris.

This type of metallic green bee belongs to the Halictidae family of bees and are common in gardens with a variety of flowers for nectaring and pollen gathering. Bees who forage from a wide array of plants are polylectic. As they visit flowers, females gather pollen on their legs (which you can see in the photos) for their nests. This one is working the blooms of Giant Spiderwort, Tradescantia, but I’ve seen her kind on other flowers.

Her whole body is curled around the anther of the bloom where the pollen is located, all-in to her goal of gathering pollen. A front on photo, while not crystal clear, allows us to glimpse her face. She looks determined in her work, as she packs her little legs full of golden pollen.

These shiny, metallic bees are fast flyers, but observable and not at all rare. They and their cousin metallic bees love a blooming garden.

If you plant them, they will come.