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

To Watch a Feeder

I’m a backyard birder.  I like that my wildlife habitat, also known as the garden, attracts a multitude of native and migrating birds and that I am able to observe them from the comfort of my back patio or from inside my house.  I have little desire to wake up a 3am and drive somewhere to watch birds, though that would certainly allow me to see a wider variety of birds and there are clearly rewards collaborating with other bird enthusiasts to observe and learn about birds.   In reality though, seeing many different kinds of birds is not my goal, though I understand why it’s important to others.   At least at this point in my life, I’m not a birder in that sense–and that’s just fine.

I also appreciate that there are several kinds of citizen scientist activities that I can easily participate in which allow me to watch, to learn, and also contribute to on-going and vital research concerning how birds in North America are faring.  Climate change, urbanization, various kinds of pollution (chemical, light, noise) all have had serious deleterious impacts on North American birds.   The National Audubon Society and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology are engaged in long-time research and are great resources for learning all about the birds of North America.  Both organizations support myriad volunteer and educational enterprises related to birds, bird watching, and installing bird-friendly habitats.

My primary and on-going participation in science-based bird watching involves volunteering for Project FeederWatch, sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The FeederWatch season occurs from mid-November to early April:  the ‘watch’ period is after the main autumn migration and before spring migration is fully underway.  I’m now about 8 weeks into my 2019-20 FeederWatch season and am thrilled to have listed two Ruby-crowned KingletsRegulus calendula, though I admit both little songbirds showed up on only one of the watch days.  For most of my recorded FeederWatch days, I’ve only seen this tiny cutey, a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

During the November to April FeederWatch time, I’m mostly counting and categorizing the native birds and those birds who are migratory, but have decided my part of Central Texas is a good place to stay for winter–like the Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

I’m especially excited about seeing the Ruby-crowned Kinglets this season, because it’s been about 3 years since any have over-wintered in or near my garden.  I’ve learned much as part of my FeederWatch participation.  Not only do I watch birds for a regular and close connection to nature, but I’m also assisting–in a small way–the research related to the health of birds, their numbers in various areas, and their changes and movements in population over periods of time.

Before I became involved in FeederWatch, I’d planted for birds (and other critters) and most warblers and other songbirds visit the garden and trees to glean insects and nosh on plants’ seeds.  But I’ve also widened both the type of feeders I place in the garden and feed that I provide for birds to better target those same songbirds and that’s thanks to my greater knowledge about birds–what they like and what’s good for them to eat.

Another typical overwintering bird species (and this season there are at least 2 and possibly 3 in my garden, it’s hard to tell for sure), are the Orange-crowned Warblers, Leiothlypis celata.  I think the Orange-crowns are my favorite of the warbler species: there’s a sweet cheekiness about them and they have darling faces.

The Orange-crowns favor the peanut feeder.

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Do you see the bit of green among the peanuts in the feeder? It’s a rogue bit of plastic–yuck! I didn’t see it until I downloaded the photos. I dumped the peanuts out and disgarded the plastic.

But I don’t think they always favor the watcher.

 

Participating in Project FeederWatch is ridiculously easy.   Pick what days are most convenient with your schedule; watching and documenting isn’t time-consuming–watch as much or as little as you please–though you need to commit to two consecutive days.  As well, the process for entering your online data is a snap.  I’ve had the occasional question about my data and the Cornell folks are friendly and great about promptly responding.

Counting birds is usually not a problem, even with their flighty natures, but sometimes…

From a post last spring: Mob

…it can be a challenge.  Oh, those silly, pond-loving, gregarious Cedar WaxwingsBombycilla cedrorum, they’re such charactersI haven’t seen any so far this year; no doubt they’ll be in my FeederWatch counts sometime in February.

It’s not too late to join in for this year, just click here and you’ll find easy-to-follow directions to help you jump on the birdie bandwagon.   Cornell Lab requests an $18 fee to get the initial information, but that’s all–unless you want to donate more to either Cornell Lab or Audubon–and they’re both worthy organizations.

Birds rock.  They’re beautiful, fascinating and you can help birds by helping the humans who study them so that your descendants will have birds in their lives, too.

From Fog to Sun

On this gloppy, drippy, foggy morning, the late-blooming Forsythia sage, Salvia madrensis, appears hesitant in its commitment to yellow.  I took several shots, frustrated that the camera lens wasn’t capturing the proper hue of this plant, even if it rocked a yellow vibe in the garden.  Was the lens as fogged as the air?  Was the photographer as fogged as the lens?  Was more coffee needed, or perhaps, another day’s rest from a bout of flu? (Yes, I did get a flu shot in October.  Alas!)

I neglected to prune the branches of the sage in mid-to-late summer, so the branches are floppy. Notice the rebar which follows the line of the tree? My lame attempt to keep the sage in some form of upright.

A ramble down the pathway and a halt at the plant delivers the answer: at close up view, the plant loses the veiled dullness that the distant shot suggested.  Instead, the foliage is defined and fresh, the masses of late-season, post light-freeze blooms their normal rich butter-yellow.  As long as no fog impedes, either in the atmosphere or in the flu-addled brain of the gardener, the S. madrensis retains its happy demeanor, providing a welcome counterpoint to the dark of winter.

The lush salvia flowers, situated in whirls along the terminal ends of long branches, shout look at us!  In mid-January, with only a few bare frosts under the garden’s belt, there are scattered blooms in my garden; nothing dramatic, just a few pops of red, yellow, and white, but enough to give the honeybees something to snack on during bee-friendly weather.  S. madrensis is bloom royalty this January, granting a sunny focal point in my back garden, and appreciated for its beauty, no matter what the weather conditions.

S. madrensis hits its flowering stride starting in late October, blooming until there is a mid-20s freeze.  Who knows when–or if–that will happen this year.

This cluster of blooms flops toward the pathway, almost–but not quite–impeding a walker.

My cluster of this native to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico is a passalong from a friend and I’ve grown it for about 5 years.  Its common name, Forsythia sage, is so applied because the clusters of yellow are reminiscent of spring blooming forsythia, a common plant grown in much of North America (and elsewhere), though as far as I’m aware, it’s only in the northern third of Texas where forsythia thrives.  Until I traveled to Oregon to visit my son when he was in college, I’d never seen forsythia in real time–only in photos.

Foliage of S. madrensis is attractive in summer. Where mine is planted, its slightly blue-grey foliage stands unique among its truer green neighbors. I’ve noticed that this sage requires extra water during our hottest time of year (more than most of my plants), but that’s easily remedied because it’s planted along a pathway and situated between several bird baths, so I employ the hose in that area on a weekly basis and extra drinks of water are delivered.

In August, along with some other autumn bloomers, I prune the S. madrensis branches by one-third to one-half, but for whatever reason, this year I didn’t get around to that chore.  As a result, once the blooms burst forward, the branches drooped downward.  I chastised myself with the garden adage that if you have to stake, it’s too late to stake.  But stake I did (which you can see in the first photo) and that’s allowed most, though not all, of the branches to remain at attention (rather than flopping along the ground, annoying other plants) and proudly displaying their sunshine blooms, thus brightening the garden.

The main pollinator of S. madrensis are now dormant for winter: the Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa tabaniformis.  Interestingly, I don’t recall ever seeing honeybees at these blooms, but I have seen butterflies–just not recently.

Even with our (so far) mild winter, the grey gloom and short days remind me that appreciation of good health and garden beauty are paramount–and the joyful blooms of S. madrensis go along way to make that happen.

In celebration of my Central Texas, zone 8b blooms–and all others–I’m joining in today with Carol of May Dreams Garden and her Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day–I really need to do this more often!   As well, Wednesday is always a good day for garden ditties, so I’m also joining with Anna of Flutter and Hum and her Wednesday Vignette.  Check out both these beautiful blogs for gardening insights.

New Digs: Wildlife Wednesday, January 2020

Another trip around the sun is completed, the calendar page has turned, and 2020 is here.   In this darkest season, my garden still enjoys some blooming, hosts a few insects flitting, and cheers with plenty of native and wintering birds feeding, calling, and singing.  I’ve begun winter pruning, though with a only few light freezes under the garden’s belt, many plants aren’t yet dormant.

My garden is a full-on wildlife habitat.  Most of the garden provides something for someone:  seeds and fruits, nectar and pollen, cover and protection, and plenty of nesting material. In my garden, water is provided and chemicals are avoided. Other than maintenance and occasional revamping of a garden space due to loss of light or some other environmental shift, my garden flutters and hums (thanks for the phrase, Anna!) with busy wildlife and minimal effort.

I live in a fairly typical American urban neighborhood.  For most of my years here, especially after I transformed the standard issue, turf-centered landscape into the vibrant, native plant-focused wildlife habitat that it is now, my garden served as the lone example of a urban habitat planted with something other than grass, a tree or two, and a couple of evergreen foundation plants.  Though most house dwellers stick with their sterile, water-hogging grass and turf remains the dominate landscape feature, more gardens have appeared, utilizing pollinator plants and native grasses, along with pathways to enjoy the beauty that the gardens provide.  Our neighborhood also now boasts a gorgeous and well-planted community garden; kudos to the many volunteers and neighborhood leaders who made that happen.  These steps toward more diverse gardens and landscapes is a solid and positive trend, even if it’s been at a slower pace than I would prefer.

Baby garden steps.

Since we moved into our home in 1985, we’ve enjoyed a nice relationship with a kind neighbor.  She’s been retired most of the years we’ve lived in our house.  She saw us bring home our babies, as we saw her with visiting grandchildren.  She would chat with me in my garden, complimenting its beauty and peace, though I believe she thought me a garden nut.

She’s not wrong there.

When I’d offer to plant for her or change something in her landscape, she would decline, declaring her yard was exactly as she wanted it.  The neighbor aged, but preferred to stay in her well-loved home for as long as possible.  But suddenly in early November, she told me she was moving to a town in the Texas Hill Country where her daughter lives.

Prior to this unsurprising news, she and I had discussed the inevitability of her moving “some day” and I asked her to let me know when she decided that it was time to move.  My sister-in-law (going forward, SIL), The Hub’s big sister, might be interested in purchasing a one-level home, rather than remaining in her lovely, two-story condominium with its dangerously steep stairs.  Many phone calls later, with a minimum of wrangling and negotiating, legal papers duly signed and the check for purchase delivered, my SIL is the three-week long proud owner of this charming home.

Isn’t it cute?  And guess who will garden it?!

Just look at all that grass and visualize instead something more diverse: color and texture varied, interesting in form and beckoning to wildlife.   In my gardener’s mind, I  already see pollinator plants blooming in shrubs and perennials of many colors and graceful native grasses sparkling in spring green and swaying in autumn breezes.  This garden transformation will be a long-term project; afterall, it took me years to “complete” my garden–and no garden is ever really complete.  Plus, this is a much larger lot than my own slice of the Earth and I’m no kid these days, as my achy knees will confirm!

I hope I’m up to this gardening task.

I’ve already planted the small bed that borders the front porch (first photo), though mulching is on the to-do list.  We’ve agreed to lay mulch between our homes, as there’s plenty shrub action on either side of the border.

 

Stepping through her iron gate and into the back yard–someday garden–reveals a huge space, opening the imagination to all sorts of possibilities, no doubt accompanied by sore muscles and a stiff back.

 

This fence between our properties is about three years old and some of “my” plants have already migrated over and under the wall, settling in for the flower show.

Trust me, I’ll add plenty more.

As is typical in most American landscapes, the layout of this property relegates the actual gardens to narrow, small areas–for shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and ground-covers–with the starring role given to the expansive swaths of turf. As a general rule, a well-designed garden places larger plants toward the back, with shorter plants in front.  The narrow beds allotted on this property will be the signature challenge to its wildlife habitat transformation :  transplanting the smaller, original specimens with newer, larger specimens of wildlife-friendly shrubs, native grasses, and understory trees,  then re-planting the smaller plants toward the front of the beds.

 

In the center of the back yard towers an aging Arizona ash tree.  Someday, it will be gone, but for now, it provides glorious shade in summer and plenty of perching opportunities for birds, including the many Screech Owls that have nested in our owl nesting box, which sits in our Shumard red oak tree, about 60 to the left of the photo.

Here’s a view from the back of the property toward the rear of the house.

 

Another view, this one is toward the opposite neighbors’ house, and you see that  between SIL’s property and those neighbors, stands a chain link fence.

Maybe vines (blackberries, pretty please!) will grow there one day as the fence is in full sun, all year-round.  There’s talk about planting some fruit trees in that section of the lot, taking advantage of life-giving full sun.

Weee!   Meyer lemons!  Peaches!  Plums!

Oh dear.  Perhaps it’s best I don’t get carried away…

Fallen leaves drift to the grass from a stunning native Bur oak tree in the southeast corner of SIL’s lot.  During the growing season, this corner is quite shady because of that Bur oak;  ferns are lush and happy there and in time, other shade-loving perennials will feel right at home, too. In autumn, the leaves cover the grass; they’re huge!  SIL is planning to hire an eco-friendly lawn company who uses electric equipment rather than gas-powered and who mulches leaves, rather than bagging for pick-up.

 

My former neighbor installed a small pond about 25 years ago under the shade of the ash tree.  My SIL is an avid backyard birder (Yay!  Another bird nut!) and she’s already set up her feeding stations in this spot.  In fact, since moving in, she’s already bested me in bird watching: she observed two Ruby-crowned KingletsRegulus calendula, at her pond to my one. 

SIL will clean out her pond in late winter, adding more rocks so that the birds have an easier time accessing the water for bathing.  It should be an excellent spot for the birds to congregate–and be watched.

 

I miss our former neighbor and still half-expect to see her amble out her front door toward me with that wry grin on her face, both of us understanding that a quirky conversation will ensue.  I wish her well in her final years; she’s in her mid-80’s, but still active and I hope that continues.  That said, I’m happy to have my SIL next door; we’ve always gotten along well–she’s a sweety–and I know she’ll be a great neighbor.  As well, she has an appreciation of gardens and gardening and understands the importance of biodiversity in the urban environment.  With her new digs comes exciting opportunities to dig:  to develop a welcoming environment for birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects and to create set of unique gardens full of plants providing color, form, interest–for all.

While there was no actual wildlife in this post, I’m interested in reading about the wildlife you enjoyed in your garden.  If you wish, please leave a link to your wildlife gardening post when you comment here about your wildlife garden happenings–and happy wildlife gardening.