September Song

With thanks to Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson for this lovely bit of poetry and to
Sarah Vaughn and Willie Nelson (as a fellow Texan, I must include his version) for interpreting the words so beautifully.
 
Oh, it’s a long, long while
from May to December,
But the days grow short
when you reach September.
 
Indeed the days have grown noticeably shorter–not cooler, though.  The cool will come, as will the wet, but patience here in Central Texas for those particular autumnal qualities is still the order of business as heat lingers and summer blooms continue, though autumn is arrived.

Toward the end of its summer show, at least in my garden, is Pride of BarbadosCaesalpinia pulcherrima.

I’ve certainly enjoyed the brash and bold blooms these past couple of months, as have a variety of pollinators.  Honeybees, several species of native bees, butterflies, moths, and wasps all partake of these gorgeous hot beauties.  In spots around town where this riot of orange and yellow grow in full sun, the plants remain in full blooming mode.  Mine has blooms, but fewer each week.

 

On a subdued side of the garden is sweet little Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis.   A small, tough native ground cover, its blooming begins mid-summer and lasts until chill sets in–whenever that may be.

This particular plant has tiny white flowerets on small bloom stalks, but typically,  Pigeonberry blooms are pink.   In the shot below the flowers, spent flowers, and ripe, red berries all share space.  An extra pretty feature of this plant are its ruffly leaves–swoon!

In October and November, there will be fewer flowers and more berries. And yes, pigeons do eat the berries, as do doves and blue jays.

Dainty comes to my mind when I look at Pigeonberry.

 

My mature individual Red YuccaHesperaloe parviflora usually send up four to eight bloom stalks, each about 5 feet high.   In the past, I’ve noticed that heavy rain during that brief window of time when the bloom stalks make their appearance limit both the number and sizes of the stalks. Just that kind of rain pattern was in place this past spring at that particular time and as a result, every Red yucca I grow sent up one–and only one–stalk.  All were shorter than normal. I’ve missed the drama of multiple stalks decorated at their terminal ends with lovely salmon-n-gold blooms, but each individual stalk fulfilled its duty and produced flowers all summer.

This is one of the last of the season, in full pinky glory and accepting visits from hummingbirds and other pollinators.

 

It took a long while before I found the right spot in my garden for a FirebushHamelia patens.  Poor thing, I must have transplanted it at least four times.  A sun-lover, this plant is happiest where it’s hottest and sunniest.

That one best Firebush spot is located at the side of my house, in a narrow strip that no one visits or sees, except for the pollinators and myself.   The tubular flowers are red, tinged orange, and borne in terminal clusters.

Horsefly-like Carpenter bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis) sipping nectar.

The occasional predator also hangs out, waiting for a meal, looking cute all the while.

 

Here you see the Hamelia paired with another hardy heat-lover, Flame AcanthusAnisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, situated at the far left and toward the back of the photo.  Both of these plants are native to Texas.

I wish my garden supported a better stage to showcase both the Firebush and the Flame Acanthus because they’re gorgeous summer-to-autumn bloomers,  water-wise shrubs, and good sources of food and cover for a variety of critters.

Like the Firebush, Flame Acanthus sports tubular blooms, but grows from a woodier shrub and is accented with small, slender leaves.    Its white bark is attractive, especially after a hard freeze with resulting dropped foliage.  It’s a winning garden addition year-round.

You can bet that hummingbirds make a bee-line for these blooms, too.

 

Dwarf Mexican Petunia, Ruellia brittoniana ‘Katie’ is yet another hot weather bloomer, most years flowering from July to October.  A tidy little plant and perfect for the front of a border, the flowers present themselves as a bouquet.  While not evergreen, the plant only dies to the ground during very hard or prolonged freezes; in our milder winters, the foliage remains.  The foliage is dark green and graceful, complementing the rich purple flowers.  In the photo, The ‘Katie’s’ striped companion is foliage from Variegated Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’.

Can’t you just imagine a bride hold this as she marries her beloved?

 

Another ruellia in my garden is one in which I hold mixed feelings for.  The Pink RuelliaRuellia brittoniana ‘Chi Chi’ is another easy-to-grow, hardy plant flowering during our most difficult time of the year and I appreciate that.

The blooms are obviously similar to the ‘Katie’s’ Dwarf Ruellia, color notwithstanding.  The foliage is similar, too, but the plant is much taller.  This year, the ‘Chi Chi’ have grown nearly four feet high due to the heavy, prolonged rain of the spring months.  Pollinators, especially bees, visit the flowers constantly, making the it one of the better pollinator plants in my garden during August and September.

But ‘Chi Chi’ is invasive and I must keep the two groups of this plant in check, otherwise ‘Chi Chi’ would run rampant.  I don’t find seedlings all over the place, but they pop up close to where the main groups grow and ‘Chi Chi’ desires insidious expansion of boundaries.

Nope, not gonna happen, Ms. Chi Chi.  But you are pretty, I’ll give you that and I’ll keep you around as long as I can exercise a modicum of control over you.

 

Leadwort PlumbagoCeratostigma plumbaginoides, is a meandering cutey that I forget about, until those sky-blue flowers grab my attention.

Leadwort plumbago, with cheery blooms and lush foliage, hugs the ground closely and wends its way around other perennials.  This plant would probably like more sun, but nevertheless blooms during the latter part of summer and that’s why I grow it.

I once thought that, while the flowers were pretty, they didn’t attract any pollinators.  Happily, I’ve discovered otherwise!  I wasn’t fast enough with the camera, but just as I took this shot, a tiny native bee zoomed off from its mucking around in the middle of the bloom.  I like plants which serve a purpose other than pleasing me.

 

The next two plants I profiled in previous Monthly Blooms posts, but are well worth another visit as they’re still blooming, still providing for wildlife, and still making the garden a good place to be.  The Turk’s capMalvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii,  is chock full of hibiscus-like crimson blooms.

Pollinators love Turk’s cap.

As the season heads the end of its blooming time, Turk’s cap flowers share space with developing fruits, adored by a variety of birds like Blue Jays and Mockingbirds.

 

The Branched FoldwingDicliptera brachiata started blooming last month, but has hit its stride in September.  Sprinkled all over the diminutive shrub are elegant lavender beauties.  It’s not a showy plant and the flowers require a close-up for full appreciation.

Branch Foldwing appears delicate, but it shrugs off our heat and dry conditions, always looking its best.

Happy fall, y’all!   September has delivered some nice things for my garden and I hope to yours as well.  Hang in there Texans–it is autumn and time to kick summer to the curb.

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.

Bejeweled

Early in the morning, the inflorescence of a Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, is bejeweled.

Crystalline droplets adorn the junctions of peduncle (the main stem of the inflorescence) and pedicels (stems bearing the terminal blooms).  Closed buds–with their promises of floral beauty and pollinator sustenance–echo the water droplets in spherical contrast to the peduncle and pedicels.

The water jewels are ephemeral, soon eclipsed by opened blooms.

I’m delighted to join in today with Anna’s Wednesday Vignette.  Pop on over and check out other garden and nature musings.