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

Migratory Machinations

My garden enjoyed an extended fall bird migration as the the feathered travelers made their way southward for winter. I didn’t catch photos of most of the migrants I saw, either choosing to simply observe or (more often) lacking quickness in the utilizing of my camera. It’s gratifying to see so many birds resting–if only for a day–and that my garden serves as a respite along their long and dangerous journeys.

Typically, bird watching is more fulfilling during spring migration, as there are not only a reasonable number, but also a greater diversity of birds who temporarily visit my garden from early April, stretching to early June. Historically, fewer migratory birds have come through my garden during fall, though this year, that wasn’t the case. It’s hard to say why there were more migratory birds in September and October: perhaps it’s the drought we’re experiencing, making the urban garden scene a better bet for food and water sources than the open areas of rural Texas. Or maybe it was just the right weather or wind stream pattern that allowed for sufficient numbers on a path that brought them to my garden.

I was fortunate to host a female Black-throated Green Warbler, Setophaga virens, for the better part of a day.

Like most migratory birds (as well as the native birds), it’s the promise of a refreshing bath and cooling drink that lured this cutie in and allowed me to appreciate her beauty.

The first time I saw one of these birds I thought it was the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, Setophaga chrysoparia, who nests no where else in the world except here in Central Texas. If you click on that link, you’ll see that, at a quick glance and if you’re a novice bird watcher, the mistake is an easy one to make. I’ve never seen a Golden-cheeked, but I’m oh-so glad that the Black-throated greens have seen fit to visit my garden space, even if those visits are ever-so-brief.

I like this cheeky am I not adorable? pose!

I hope she has safely made her way to southern Mexico/Central America and that her winter is spent eating well and resting.

For the last few springs, I’ve seen Nashville Warblers, Leiothlypis ruficapilla, in my garden. They always come as a troop of 4 or 5, never as a single bird, like so many migratory bird species. Nashvilles are feathered friends who enjoy another’s company!

In mid October, I was entertained for most of a week by a group of 5, both males and females, until a strong cold front sent them on their way south.

They’re shy and skittish at first, perching in the trees above and alighting on the plants below and beside the pond before they’re comfortable getting into the pond.

This Firecracker plant, Russelia equisetiformis, well-placed by the pond, serves as both perch and protection, before and after a bath.

Usually, there’s some time sitting on top of the pond rocks, nervously surveying the surrounding area for safety’s sake.

This one is a female,

…and this one is male. How can I tell? Check out the dab of rust-colored feathers topping his little head–it’s guaranteed to charm the ladies, or at the very least, one special lady.

In time, relaxed and ready, they take the plunge! I like these two, canoodling in the bog area.

Isn’t that sweet? Bird love in the bog! Most of my bird visitors favor the bog: the water is shallow, perfect for fluffy, flitty bathing and plants grow for cover from predators.

That said, there’s always a character lurking around, ready to disturb the peace, like this not-a-bird!

This Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger, skittered up the rocks and scattered the birds, taking its turn for a drink at the waterfall. When disturbed, the birds disappear for a time, but they come back when all is quiet and they can bathe and drink in comfort.

Migratory season is mostly over. I did see a Nashville Warbler at the pond twice in this past week. Was it a tardy migrant, winging as fast as possible toward its warm winter digs? Or will it stay here until spring fever hits, joining several Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and at least one Ruby-crowned Kinglet for bog baths, pond parties, and insect/suet munchies? Whatever they decide to do, they’re all welcome, temporary or permanent: these seasonal birds, along with the year-round resident birds, add their particular beauty to the diversity that is a wildlife garden.

November Blooms

Here in Austin, Texas, zone 8b, my late season garden is more about foliage and seed heads than petals and pistils. That’s especially true this year as we’re in a moderate to severe drought–we could use some rain! Even so, I’m fortunate to enjoy a few things in their last (?) blooms of the year.

This Mexican honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera, flowers-up as it feels like it: in spring, summer, autumn, and winter, this is a plant with a mind of its own! As long as we don’t have a hard freeze, this hardy shrub is truly a perennial bloomer.

The flowers appear, bloom for a time, followed by a rest period, and the cycle repeats. When bloom time is nigh–regardless of season–I eagerly await the cheerful orange blooms nestled in lush foliage. Especially now, with limited flowering plants, I’m glad that honeybees have these blooms available.

This particular Mexican honeysuckle bush is large and growing at one part of its base peeks out Purple heart, Tradescantia pallida. The tangled green, orange, and purple medley is nice.

In another spot of my garden, the Purple heart showcases charming three-petaled pink flowers. No bees here, but these dainties are popular with the bee and small butterfly crowd.

Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, is past its blooming time, though three individual flowers remain in my garden, defying expectations,

…and providing for pollinators, like this Sleepy Orange, Abaeis nicippe, more hungry than sleepy, I think. It enjoyed a yummy nectar breakfast.

The small, year-old patch of Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, growing at my garden’s edge has performed well this year. Without missing a beat in spread and bloom, it ignored heat from the Texas sun, aided by the human-made cement driveway and asphalt street which borders the plant. Blue mistflower is a tough and lovely groundcover.

This nymph Assasin bug, Zelus longipes, patiently waited for its meal. I imagine the hungry nymph moved in for the sip after I was out of the picture.

A consistently late-blooming perennial, Forsythia sage, Salvia madrensis, brings sunshine to a shady garden.

Each August, as the stalks of the lanky plant grow ever upwards, I promise myself that I’ll prune those tall things to half their size, ensuring that the blooms–when they come in late September–don’t weight down the stalks and branches. Some years I’m better about completing this chore, some years, I forget or succumb to August’s heat. Well, this year I didn’t prune by half, indolence as my main excuse, August’s heat as my backup excuse. Forsythia sage blooms beautifully, but the flower load is too much for floppy the stalks and they’re now lying near to the ground, draped dramatically on and over one another and other perennials. Nevertheless, the flowers are available for a nectar buffet, though photography is a bit trickier. Next year, I promise to keep this wayward thing in check.

Right. We’ll see about that!

There’s always something interesting in the garden and that’s something to cheer about. Today, we celebrate blooms with Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Pop on over and enjoy blooms from many lovely places.

A Tale of Two Mistflowers

October is the month for mistflowers in my garden. I grow three different ones, two of them closely related. My original mistflower is the Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum.

My first experience with this plant was a four-inch pot, purchase 20-ish years ago. It spread with joy and bloomed gorgeously many an October, until deep shade forced its move to a different spot along this pathway. As this second area has become shadier, it’s time for another move. Soon, I’ll pull the strands up by their roots and transplant the lot to my SIL’s garden. That said, the Blue mistflower has grown and bloomed in this less than ideal situation, perhaps not like it should, but enough to satisfy.

Blue mistflower blooms are a rich purple-blue, its leaves slightly scalloped and triangular shaped.

My other Conoclinium is Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, happily grows in one of my rare full sun spots. I planted this group from a one gallon pot a year ago and it has thrived.

The Gregg’s blooms boast a lighter shade of lavender-blue–more lavender than blue, I think. The foliage is bright green with a pinnate leaf structure. I admire the foliage and even when not blooming, this mistflower is an attractive groundcover.

The spent blooms turn to toasty puffs as they mature, or once a freeze ends the blooming.

Mistflower blooms are fuzzy and feathery.

The lighter Gregg’s,

…the darker Blue.

Mistflowers bloom primarily in autumn, but pop out a few flowers throughout spring and summer. These plants are groundcovers, drought tolerant (Gregg’s more than Blue) and dormant in winter. I prefer the Blue mistflower–the color is divine–but pollinators prefer the Gregg’s.

Unknown fly-type enjoying some of Gregg’s nectar.
Unknown wasp (I think it’s a wasp…) on Gregg’s flowers. Any ideas who this character is?

There are other “mistflower” plants, several in shrub form, but these two blue-hued mists are well-worth growing. Gregg’s mistflower grows in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Blue mistflower enjoys a much wider range throughout the United States.

You won’t tell a sad tale with either of these mistflowers!