Hot July

Clear blue skies dotted with drifts of puffy clouds, warm south breezes creating shadow puppetry underneath leafy trees, and the onslaught of truly toasty temperatures are all reminders that summer has settled in.  This is a relatively mild summer compared to some of recent years and one benefiting from plenty of rain in May and June.  The humidity is high and skin is sticky, hats are worn, sunscreen applied, mosquitoes are slapped, water taken, and air conditioning is always appreciated:  it’s hot July in Central Texas.

As well, the garden is lush, with blooming action to satisfy pollinators and gardeners.

My Retama treeParkinsonia aculeata, has bloomed non-stop since May.   The flowers are borne in clusters and bees buzz all around.

Petals are sunny summer yellow, except for one with a honey gland which turns the petal orange-red.

Retama are native to the southern and western states of the U.S., but have proven invasive in other parts of the world.  My tree is about 15 years old and beginning to decline.  It’s only produced a couple of viable seedlings in my garden, one of which is now about 3 feet tall.

I’m quite fond of Tasmanian flax lily, Dianella tasmanica, ‘Variegata’.  I originally planted several individuals for their fun foliage and brightening impact in my shady back garden.  My garden also wanted some structural detail and I’m not a fan of spiky plants,  so softer grasses and grass-like plants appeal.   Plus, flax lily stands strong against our hot, typically dry summers.

While Flax lily are noted for foliage they do produce blooms.  The slender, slightly arching bloom stalks are graceful and the petite flowers are shooting-star enchanting.  They last for quite a long while.

I recall seeing some small native bees and flies around the blooms last summer, but haven’t spied such things this year.   This flower looks like it’s ready for a pollinator pal.

 

Some years ago, I was given a tiny seedling of a Mexican orchid treeBauhina mexicana.  It was early autumn and I dutifully planted, watered, and mulched  the baby tree.  After a cold winter with a number of hard freezes, I assumed that the seedling orchid tree was probably a goner.  However, it returned and now, a decade (or so) later, it returns each spring after winter freezes, and in mild winters, remains evergreen.  This little tree blossoms on and off through the long growing season.

With a rangy, shrub-like growing habit, my original specimen sports pure white flowers.  A favorite flower among the pollinator crowd, the larger swallowtail butterflies are enamored with the gorgeous orchid-like blooms.

The original has bequeathed several seedlings, some of which I’ve given to gardening buddies, but one I kept and planted in my front garden and it’s flourished.  The blooms on this tree are tinged pink, rather than the pure white of its parent.  In the photo below, check out the smeary green metallic bee (left side) heading with determination for a taste of Mexican orchid nectar.

 

Nothing says summer like sunflowers!  I feed my urban bird visitors black-oiled sunflower seed year-round and each spring dozens of individual sunflowers germinate from those very seeds.  I cull most of the seedlings, but allow some to stay.   They always grow tall, but with this year’s rain, they’ve grown Jack-in-the-beanstalk giant.

It’s not a difficult task to find someone feeding on these happy flowers almost anytime of the day.

As the flowers fade and seeds replace blooms, House and Lesser goldfinches (and other birds, too) become feeders-in-residence on the tall annuals.

 

My pond gurgles and flows in increasing shade each year.  The water isn’t impacted by the shady situation, but the pond flowers bloom less, though still manage some lovely and welcome flowers.  These pink pretties are waterlily Nymphaea ‘Colorado’.  Soft pink petals paired with golden centers, the flowers float among fish and fins and lily-pad foliage.

A pond colleague, Pickerel rush, Pontederia cordata, sits in the bog section of the pond.

In contrast with the lily flower floaters and their spider-like spread of leaves, Pickerel rush is upright in both floral and foliage form.

 

If this were March rather than July, the Yellow columbineAquilegia chrysantha,  would be a resounding choice as a main garden bloomer.  But this is the first year EVER that I’ve seen columbine bloom in my garden through June and into July.  These summer columbine blooms came from one particular columbine plant and the blooms certainly weren’t as prolific as they are in the spring, but the individual columbine shrub flowered until about a week ago.  Of course I’m not complaining about the summer appearance of a typical spring bloom, I’m just baffled at this bit of serendipity and have assigned credit for the bonus blooms to our rainy June.

Sweet flower mug shot, face forward,

…and side view.

The columbines are done for the year, I believe, but I enjoyed their long bloom cycle in 2019.  I’d love it if this summer’s blooming business signals a trend, but I’ll be surprised if the summer columbines make an appearance next year.

 

My mother was a gardener who planted.  She didn’t particularly care about color or form or name of plant–she just like plants and especially flowering plants.  My parents gardened near the Gulf of Mexico and in their garden grew this crinum lily.

  

Long ago, before they both died, they gave me a number of bulbs which I planted in my own back garden.  I don’t know the crinum’s name, nor do I know from where it originally hails.  Blooms from this lovely lily have been rare treats in my garden; usually, it’s one stalk per year in mid-summer and that’s it.  Most years, no blooms appear and I’ve long contented myself with the crinum serving as a nice foliage perennial, rather than anything of a floral nature.  This summer–again, it’s the rain–all of my established crinum plants have bloomed and each with several bloom stalks.  What a treat it’s been!

 

Conversely, the Texas native TurkscapMalvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, is normally a powerhouse bloomer in the summer. Not so this summer.  Thanks, rain!

Turks are wonderfully drought tolerant and prefer to live and bloom in dry, shady conditions and my garden supplies plenty of that.  The summer started wet and lots of foliage grew, but not as many blooms popped on the plants–including Turkscap–which prefer arid conditions.  As we’re now in a more normal dry summer pattern, the crimson hibiscus-like flowers are making up for lost time.

The little honeybee accommodated my photo by flying in and nectaring at just the right moment.

 

Another summer bloomer grown in Central Texas is the Pride of BarbadosCaesalpinia pulcherrima.  It’s an eye-popping plant with shocking orange and yellow flowers, along with dramatic red stamens.  It’s hard to ignore and why would you want to?

A popular landscape plant,  this prolific bloomer is root hardy here in Austin, but evergreen in the southern parts of the state.  Pride of Barbados is also a pollinator magnet; bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds all spend time working the blooms’ bounties.

I only have one spot that comes near to providing enough light for this sun lover and even there, my specimen is, quite frankly, a little lame.   In the right conditions–full, blasting sun–these herbaceous perennials can easily grow 5 feet wide and 6-8 feet tall.  They are drama queen plants!

July in Austin is a mixed-bag:  blue skies are full of cheer and hope, but hot temperatures wear thin over the long days.  There’s plenty in the garden worth celebrating though and I hope your July garden is providing a good flower and foliage show too.

Spring Things

In this post, there will be no philosophical musings, no preaching about pollinators or planting for wildlife.  Spring is in full flush with fresh florals opening each and every day.

Spring being spring, it’s all about the flowers.

This cheery bit of yellow, Golden groundsel, produces a sprightly sprays of spring flowers and a year-round, drought-tolerant groundcover.

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata)

The Texas mountain laurel is famed for its beauty and fragrance.  Spring breezes carry the iconic bouquet throughout Austin for weeks, though I notice the heady grape juice scent mostly after nightfall.

Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

During daylight hours, I sigh at the stunning blooms and appreciate what it offers pollinators.

Migrating Monarch butterfly nectaring at the blooms.

The tubular flowers on Coral honeysuckle vine pop in spring, but there are always a few clusters gracing the vine throughout summer.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

I finally found a home for Carolina jessamine in my garden.  Requiring full sun, there is one spot in my garden–and one only spot–where this spring-only bloomer can grow successfully. Carolina is repaying me with a second spring set of blooms.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

Trees bloom too!  The catkins of the Texas oak tree vie for attention with new green foliage.

Texas red oak (Quercus buckeyi)

I like the lone double acorn cap, affixed firmly to the branch.  It hung onto the branch through winter and is now keeping company with the catkins and the new leaves.  I wonder if it’ll still be there in mid-summer?

It’s been easy to spot native and wintering birds as they perch in the bare-limbed trees.  Going forward, those observations will become more challenging as the deciduous trees leaf out.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)

Of course, what is up must come down, and that is certainly true of the oak catkins.  I’ll be cleaning the pond when all the oak catkins and powdery pollen is down and done.  But walkways, patio covers, and roof gutters also need some tidying.  Let the sneezing commence!

Shooting stars?  Garden fairies?  Nope, these darling dancers are the Yellow columbines beginning their blooming season!   I’ll enjoy these charmers into late April or May, and so will their pollinators.

Yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)

Pink-tinged columbines, another Texas native, also provide a month or two of pretty pollinator action alongside their yellow compadres.

Wild red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Spiderworts dot roadsides, countrysides, fence lines, and my gardens with their purple-to-pink prettiness.  There are many varieties of these wildflowers, but I only grow the Giant spiderwort.  My specimens were on the verge of blooming when we were hit with a freeze–our only real freeze of this year–last week.  Still, quite a few are open for business and more are in the process of developing.  On the upside of enjoying fewer blooms this year is that there will be fewer volunteers next year requiring weeding. With gardening, it’s always good to take a positive spin.

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Giant spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea)

 

I garden in Austin, Texas (zone 8b) with mostly, but not exclusively, native Texas plants.  It’s been a while since I joined in with Carol’s fun May Dreams Gardens GBBD, but I’m happy to renew my participation.   Happy blooming!

Foliage Follow-up, August 2014

Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-up, the monthly fanfare of foliage in the garden. As much as I love flowers, a plant’s foliage is often a deal-breaker when choosing for my gardens.  Especially in August when Austin blooms are a little scarce, the plant parts that are not flowers can lend beauty and definition to a garden space.

While not exactly foliage, seed heads certainly aren’t  blooms either.  Ex-flowers, I guess, but I’m including them because in mid-to-late summer, seed pods produced by former blooms impart interest to perennial gardens.  This group of seed heads of the Gulf Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis, are just about to POP open and spread their glory!

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The Gulf Penstemon is a lovely lavender spring-blooming perennial.   I keep the seed heads as long as possible to give the seeds time to develop for propagation of new specimens for this short-lived perennial and also because I find them attractive.

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Little, tawny turban-hats, the hard shell will burst open, spreading the seeds to nearby areas.  Or, the gardener (that’s me, folks) can prune the stems, crack open those turbans, shake out the seeds and in doing so, appear to evoke some pagan ritual while waving the stalks over the gardens.  I wonder what the neighbors think?

The Hill Country Penstemon, Penstemon triflorus, sports a larger, darker turban-capped seed head.

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This year marks the latest I’ve ever left these seed pods on their bloom spikes. Usually, this plant topples over by early summer, I lose patience with the mess and cut it to the ground.

This seed pod of the RetamaParkinsonia aculeata, hangs from the tree’s slender branch like a pea ready for pickin’.

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Retama is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae), so the pea analogy works.

This combination of varying foliage pleases me:  Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, Globe MallowSphaeralcea ambigua, and GoldeneyeViguiera dentata.  

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This trio includes some of the premier hardy perennials easily available for the Austin gardener.

If you have, have had or have ever seen a teenage boy of that certain age when the hair is long and a bit shaggy, close your eyes and visualize that in this DamianitaChrysactinia mexicana.

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I love the swoosh of the “bangs” framed over the decorative stone.  Just imagine the teenage boy-head, constantly swooping his hair back to keep those bangs out of the eyes, in that annoyingly cute, but insolent way.

The wide, heart-shaped and deeply veined foliage of Coral VineAntigonon leptopus,

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suggests a tropical lushness that is welcome this time of year.

I’m enamored with strappy, striped foliage, like that of this Dianella or Variegated Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’,

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…and this Color Guard YuccaYucca filamentosa, ‘Color Guard’.

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Those banded beauties work nicely in concert with each other and with another pairing I like, the native ColumbineAquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana, mixed with the cultivar  Katie’s Dwarf RuelliaRuellia brittoniana, ‘Katie’s Dwarf’.

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The evergreen Columbine, with its soft form and graceful foliage, blooms yellow in spring. Conversely, the deciduous Katie’s Dwarf Ruellia has dark, lance-like leaves and sports sprays of deep purple from July through October.  Opposites attract and work well together–at least that’s true of these two plants.

Head over to Digging to check out other accolades to the leafy among us.