We’re Back, Baby!

In February, once the snow cleared and the ice melted from wicked winter storm, Uri, I assessed the damaged garden–and damaged it was. I guessed (correctly–yay!) that my native plants would endure. But I wondered if the plants I grow which are native to regions south of the Texas border might succumb to the way-out-of-wack deep-freeze week. Minimally, I assumed it would be autumn or even next growing season before the pollinators and gardener would once again enjoy the gorgeous blooms from Mexican and Central American plants.

I’m so glad that I was wrong!

I grow two Mexican orchid trees, Bauhinia mexicana, and both emerged from the soil in late spring and there’s been no stopping their growth. This one is my oldest tree and has been blooming since June. Here in Central Texas, the “tree” is really a large shrub.

The blooms are snowy white, but the plant loves the heat.

Foliage of Turk’s cap photo-bombs the orchid tree. Do you see it?

My other mature orchid tree receives more sun, growing a little faster and flowering more. This tree is a seedling from my original tree.

The orchid tree is partnered with a cluster of native White Salvia coccinea.

Rather than the pure white of the mother tree, this tree’s flowers are white with a subtle blush of pink.

Another Mexican perennial that I thought wouldn’t bloom until fall is the Mexican honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera. In this part of my garden, it’s paired with the South American beauty, Majestic sage, Salvia guaranitica, which grows just behind it.

Majestic sage and Mexican honeysuckle are perennials that have proven themselves reliable, even after a week of sub-freezing temperatures. The rich blue of the sage blooms complements the cheery orange honeysuckle flowers. Both plants are pollinator magnets; the sage is a favorite of various butterflies, but the bees are all about the honeysuckle blooms.

When Mexican Honeysuckle blooms, it really blooms!

Honeybees have been all over the Honeysuckle flowers. Usually, I also see plenty of native carpenter bees at these blooms, but sadly, their population is decreased this year. While the plants returned with vigor, some insect species have been slower to recover.

Native to parts of the Carribean Islands and Mexico, Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, lives up to its botanical moniker, very pretty. This one is tall and truthfully, a little past its blooming prime for the year. Still, it’s topped with dramatic orange and yellow flowers that usually have pollinator attendants.

Early in the morning, only the honeybees are at work.

One more Carribean-to-South American plant that has weathered well in my garden during both hot and cold is the Firecracker fern, Russelia equisetiformis. Not only did its ferny foliage pop up from the ground after the winter storm, but its fire-engine red blooms have popped with color all hot summer.

All of these plants are tough, beautiful perennials that return after the hardest freezes and grace the hottest summers; I’m glad they’re a part of my garden palette.

I’m happy to link with Carol and her Bloom Day for August. Check it out to see lovely blooms from many gardens! Happy gardening!

July Blooms

It’s hot.  Really hot.  It’s the kind of hot where all you want to do is pull up a hammock and nap in the shade, not unlike this Horsefly-like Carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis.  I observed this sleepy-head as I worked in the garden, pruning a bit of spring’s overgrowth.  The bee chose a pretty-in-pink spot for its rest, curled up in the pinky petal of an open Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, bloom.   

I stopped by from time-to-time, taking a break from my hot work to check on the bee’s movement and there wasn’t any.  Who can blame the bee for wanting a snooze in the heat?  Here in Austin, zone 8b, record breaking heat–108°F on Monday–has rendered everyone somnambulant.  Well, it is July in Texas and even the bees need their afternoon siestas.  The flowers are still going strong, even if the rest of us need our rest.

 

This bee, another Horsefly-like carpenter bee, is as busy as can bee, working the heat-loving blooms of the Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacia ‘Henry Duelberg’.  Bee and blooms are a productive pair.

As August approaches, I’ll prune the ‘Henry Duelberg’ salvia to the ground and let it rest.  When the early autumn rains arrive (fingers-crossed!) and the days shorten, the ‘Duelberg’ salvia will bloom up again, providing for pollinators throughout the fall months.

Grey Hairstreaks, Strymon melinus, enjoy nectar from many different blooms, but as with lots of other pollinators, the Purple ConeflowerEchinacea purpurea, is a fan favorite.  The little charmer crawled around the center of the flower, taking in what it needs, while adding beauty to the garden.

As summer drags on (and on…), the coneflowers will fade and seed out, assuring plenty more new coneflowers and blooms for next season.   Pollinators rub their wings together in satisfaction–and cheer!

 

A majestic Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, regularly visits the stunning, intricate blooms on my Mexican Orchid treeBauhina mexicana.   The ice-white flowers appear on and off throughout the growing season, to the delight of the big pollinators and the tiny ones too.  Snowy blooms cover the small tree, visually cooling, if not in reality.  I look forward to temperatures following in suit–in October.

 

Nothing says SUMMER like sunflowers.  

Always cheery and comfy in the hottest of hot weather, these bright blooms are the perfect summer flower: easy to grow for the gardener with plenty to offer for wildlife.  Pollinators love the nectar and birds enjoy the eventual seeds.  It’s a wildlife garden win.

This Southern Carpenter bee, Xylocopa micans, nectar steals from my magenta gorgeous Big Red sage, Salvia penstemonoides.  It’s fascinating to watch the shiny, brilliant black bee buzz from bloom to bloom, searching each for the sweet stuff. The bee dips its proboscis in some blooms, remains for a time–sipping.  Other red receptacles are checked, then ignored, having already donated their goods to some passing pollinator.  

Originally, this stand of four individual plants grew in my back garden, but as that area has become increasingly shady, I transplanted the sage to the front garden, where it thrives, enjoying blasting west sun.  It’s a tough, Texas plant and a beautiful addition to my garden.  

Celebrating mid-summer blooms, I’m linking with May Dreams Garden’s Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day and also with Flutter and Hum and Wednesday Vignette because blooms are the protagonists of garden stories.  Check out both lovely blogs for blooming stories.   

 

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.