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

Winter Oranges

Wet, cold, and gloomy describes recent days, but after all, it is February and some winter weather is expected.  My Farmhouse Delivery of local produce came yesterday, and with it, some oranges.   The the rogue grapefruit keeping the oranges company is from last week’s delivery and became my afternoon snack.  Yum.

Hamlin oranges and Ruby-red grapefruit from Texas valley farmers.  There were originally four oranges…

Fresh fruit aside, my real appreciation of winter oranges has recently resided with butterflies and blooms, here demonstrated by the orange-winged Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, nectaring on a softer version of orange represented by a Globe mallow bloom, Sphaeralcea ambigua.  My garden has enjoyed a surplus of the fritillaries this winter because its host plant, passion flower vine, remains green and providing for fritillary caterpillars hatching from eggs.

Globe mallow is a cool season bloomer. It’s a native shrub to high altitudes in far West Texas and New Mexico, but grows well here in Central Texas–in the right conditions.  I struggled to find a place for this beautiful plant, but only have one spot where it’s grown successfully: it’s happily planted in a raised bed which is in year-round, full, west-facing sun.  The mallow has stunning grey-green, frilly foliage, paired with salmony-orange flowers.

Another orange winter beauty is the Mexican honeysuckleJusticia spicigera,  which blooms prolifically during our milder winters.  I especially like this plant because of its water-wise character in summer, its ability to thrive in shade-to-part-sun, and its role as a great pollinator attractor. During the warm months of the year, honeybees, native Carpenter bees, and a variety of butterflies all flock to these orange delights.  In recent weeks I haven’t noticed any pollinators on the tubular blooms, not even the active fritillaries, but I know the nectaring insects will be back for their “orange” juice in the near future.

The orange has brightened my garden this winter, because even with tepid temps, there aren’t many flowers abloom.  That will soon change:  I’ve spotted an iris and a columbine, each with at least one bud that should open in the next week or so.

The oranges cheer dull days, timely and welcome reminders of joy in color and life from gardens.

Thanks to Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.  Pop over to her beautiful blog and check out other February musings.

Snow Day

At the risk of ridicule from my northern kin–I woke up to snow today!

There wasn’t much of the white stuff, but enough for me to bring out the camera and crunch around the garden.   Actually, there was very little crunching as I meandered, because the air temperature was 32ºF (0ºC), but the ground stayed warm enough that the snow which landed on the ground, didn’t stick.

The snow blanketed plants, rooftops, and other assorted surfaces, which was a joy to see.  Here in Austin, Texas, ice storms are more often the norm than actual snow.

I’ll probably kiss my crinum lily foliage goodbye after today.  It’s remained evergreen up until now, but after our “snowstorm,” I suspect it will be rendered frozen mush.  That’s fine,  the mushy straps will be good additions to the compost bin.

A quintessential Central Texas winter garden scene: snow laden plants, blooming water lily.

At sunrise, the sky was clear.  With a morning of sunshine, the temperature will warm  quickly.  But for this brief moment in time, snow highlights the textures of the garden.

Snow-pack (snort!) highlights the back garden greenery in white.

This Sparkler sedge, Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’, wears its snow well.

A snowy hat tops the silver globe,

…and its blue cousin.

Brrr!  Snow capped bee hives!   The bees were warmly tucked in, but a short time later, I saw a few venturing out.  What must honeybees think of the snow?

The temperatures weren’t cold enough for the Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, to perform its icy show, but I’d say that this morning, it lives up to its common name:  frostweed.

A patterned Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra.  The leaves of B. cherry are quite attractive, but more so with a touch of the white.

At 10AM, the snow has melted in my garden.

It was fun while it lasted!

February is for Wildlife Lovers: Wildlife Wednesday, February 2020

Virginia is for Lovers is a long-time advertising slogan used to appeal to tourists interested in visiting Virginia and it’s apparently been a successful one.  My riff on that slogan is February is for Wildlife Lovers in celebration of Wildlife Wednesday during this month where love and pairdom is paramount: a month of hearts and chocolates–and the birds and the bees–though for our purposes here, it’s the birds and the butterflies.

February is the month when human couples send flowers, share candy and/or make reservations at absurdly expensive and noisy restaurants.  But some of my backyard birds are also busy in the art of love, or at least, in the art of settling down to the business of wooing, mating, and preparing for a family of winged things.

I typically see either the male or the female Red-bellied WoodpeckerMelanerpes carolinus, but I rarely see both partners on the same day.    A couple of weekends ago, that paradigm changed, the female visiting first, in the tree.

It’s not a classically well-framed shot, but I love the stink-eye that she looks like she’s giving me.   Red-bellied eye-rolling is about to commence!

After moving up along a main branch of my Red oak tree, she fluttered down to the black-oiled sunflower feeder for a quick snack.  The female Red-bellies have little-to-no blush of red on their bellies and their splash of head red starts toward the back of their heads, extending down the nape of their necks.

 

A short while later, a handsome woodpecker chap visited the same tree and feeder.

“Did ya get a good shot of my rosy, woodpeckier chest?”

With more red on his face, head, and belly, he’s a brightly patterned catch.  I assume these two comprise the same couple who raised two clutches of junior woodpeckers last year.  Red-bellied woodpeckers are monogamous and each share in nest building and chick raising.   The males choose the nesting site, starting the pecking work on the hole;  if the female accepts the offer and the site, she and her partner finish the construction together:  the couple that builds together, stays together!   Red-bellies are known to use the same tree for their nests, but build a new nesting hole for each new set of eggs.

 

At about the time that the Red-bellied couple visited, I enjoyed a similar sighting of both a female, then male Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens, again on the same day.   The female has no red on her cute little head, but she’s adorned in snazzy black and white on her head, wings and back, with a lovely white tummy.

The male Downy has a dab of red atop his head, accompanied by similar-to-his mate black and white patterned feathers.  Like the Red-bellies, the Downies are monogamous and both partners parent offspring.  Last spring I enjoyed the privilege of watching Daddy Downy teach his little one how to flit from tree-to-feeder, then back again.  Daddy birds rock!

I look forward to a new set of woodpecker kids in the neighborhood.  The Red-bellied Woodpeckers nested in my neighbor’s tree–the one that my SIL now owns–and I’m certain that my SIL will enjoy watching these charmers as they build the nesting hole(s) and once again, become parents.

I don’t know where the Downy Woodpeckers nest.  They fly in a northwesterly direction from my back garden, but I don’t know what tree, or trees, they’ve chosen to secure their little ones in past breeding seasons.

More pairing is underway with the mating of Gulf Fritillary butterfliesAgraulis vanillae.  Butterfly wooing is quieter than bird wooing and mostly involves undulating flight patterns between the partners, who then rest somewhere as they seal the deal.

Due to our mild winter, there are active butterflies and not only Gulf Fritillaries, though they’re clearly in breeding mode with egg laying to follow.  While I’d like to have some hard freezes (this month–NOT in March!), I haven’t at all objected to butterflies during this typically drab time of year.  There are still some flowers for nectaring and my passion vine–the nursery for Gulf Fritillary caterpillars–is green and able to provide sustenance for the larvae, given that a hard freeze hasn’t yet killed it to the ground.

The breeding season for birds, butterflies, bees–and heck, everything else–is about to begin.  It’s a time that gardeners can provide food, in the form of seeds and fruits, and with diverse choices of plants, as well as water and cover.  If your garden is welcoming to wildlife, you can sit back and observe remarkable events in your garden:   you’ll enjoy watching the wildlife lovers and their offspring and you’ll become a wildlife lover.

Please leave a link to your post when you comment here and happy wildlife gardening!