It’s Grown In

Last autumn we removed an old, freeze-damaged Arizona Ash from our front garden. Within a few hours, the west-facing garden morphed from mostly shade to full sun. With no tree canopy protecting the garden, it now faces all day, blistering Texas summer sun and that’s a thing that demands respect as well as tough-as-nails plants. I recognized early on that some established plants would welcome the challenge, but others would need immediate removal, and a few would require observation throughout the growing season to assess their viability in the changed conditions.

This is a view of my front garden in early December from the corner where the driveway and street intersect, using the zoom feature to capture the innards of the garden where the yellow chairs sit.

All that remains of the poor tree is a stump, now happily hosting a large potted bougainvillea, thriving in the searing summer sun.

A front-on photo in December demonstrates a completely new landscape in the center part of the garden. I transplanted appropriate plants from other parts of my garden, as well as newly purchased shrubs, perennials, and some small trees to this open garden. The southeast quadrant of the garden (behind the orange pot, along the right side of the photo) and the northwest quadrant (outside of this photo, to the left) are the two sections of establish plants that I left in place.

This shot was taken in June, roughly at the same angle. Stuff grew in! Who knew that would happen? Full disclosure: the following photos were taken in late May and June. (I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while.)

The tall 5-7 foot spikes in the background, right side of the photo, are American Basket flowers, Centaurea americana, and in the middle of the garden, you can see the large leaves of a couple of common sunflowers, which have grown to 6-8 feet. Both of these annuals have bloomed since late May, providing for pollinators, and now, as they complete their blooming cycle, for birds who are feasting on seeds. The tall plants have also allowed privacy for the seating area of the garden. I have planted several small trees and large shrubs for the long-term, but it will be a few years before they will be large enough to act as privacy screens.

I left bits and bobs of Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, and they’ve proved pretty and hardy, rocking their rich green foliage and fresh, creamy flowers.

To this bright landscape, I added Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, its grey foliage and creamsicle-orange blooms a fetching combination, several pink-to-red flowering evergreen Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii shrubs, and silvery Wooly Butterfly bush, Buddleja marrubiifolia. These new plants have flourished in the heat and with the abundant sunshine. Graceful Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima (bottom right in photo), Gulf Muhly, Muhlenbergia capillaris, and rusty Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, are new native grass additions. All are well-adapted to harsh conditions.

Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, adds lofty salmon flowers and keeps the little Red Oak tree company.

In June and July the sunflowers and basket flowers have towered over the garden. Pollinators are busy from sunrise to sunset: bees buzzing, butterflies flitting, and hummingbirds chasing one another, vying for dominance over disputed territory. Pretty pink- blossomed Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala and the crimson blooms of Big Red sage, Salvia pentstemonoides, rest below the taller plants at the corner of the garden.

As this very hot summer drags on, some plants are showing heat damage. At the corner of the garden grows a ground-cover, Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum. It has struggled with the heat and morning-to-evening sun, plus it’s situated at the intersect of the street and driveway, enduring reflective heat from the asphalt and cement.

Crispy critter! Last summer, which was a more ‘normal’ summer, the ground-cover grew well, lush and green, blooming beautifully in autumn. But this summer has been particularly hot; Austin just recorded its hottest 7 day streak ever and we’re breaking heat records regularly. The mistflower isn’t up to that kind of grilling. There’s also no water at this corner; the soaker hose is situated about three feet away. So what to plant there? I’ll probably go with one of the smaller native grasses or something like a Blackfoot Daisy, Melanpodium leucanthum or a small native yucca–all sun and heat lovers needing minimal water and care.

The sunflowers and basket flowers are colorful protectors of the center part of the garden, which I enjoy in the early mornings and late evenings. Their growth is a little wild and rangy, but I like that and more importantly, wildlife is pleased with the choice of meals.

Native perennials, like cheery Engelmann’s Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, and the blue-blooming Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea, are rock stars, happy during long weeks of heat, though even they are growing weary with the oven-like temperatures.

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, always puts on a good show, though the blooms are mostly done and seeds are spent; I’m currently pruning them to the ground, their rosette set to weather the remainder of summer. Coneflowers generally return in autumn with rain and cooler temperatures, not as tall or prolifically, but flowering nonetheless. While that’s something to look forward to, temperate weather seems almost an impossible dream right now.

While I’m pleased with most of my established and new plants, I’ll need to remove many irises and all of the day-lilies and crinum lilies. The full-day summer sun is too much for these bulbs. I’ve also grown a couple of shade-loving spring ephemerals and they’re now frying in this sunny, hot garden. If they survive until fall, I’ll need to move them elsewhere.

As I observe the good, the meh, and the ugly of this new garden, I realize that changes are required and I look forward to the time when I can tweak the problem areas. It’s way too hot to contemplate the particulars of that work for now, so I’ll have to be content with mulling, fretting, and flip-flopping about what I want to plant.

A garden is ever-changing, never completed, and full of challenges .

Resting and Robbing

Bees are busy pollinating the summer garden, but like the rest of us, they need rest. Foraging is hard work! This Horsefly-like Carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis, chose a pretty pink bougainvillea bract as its preferred napping spot.

I watched it for some time as I puttered in the garden and it didn’t move. I’ve seen bees “sleep” on flowers in the past, usually on petals or atop leaves. I’m sure they rest in other places too, but it’s likely that those spots are more private, less noticed by the perspiring gardener. I checked the plant after puttering and the bee had moved on.

This Southern Carpenter bee, Xylocopa micans, participating in nectar robbing, is poised to poke its proboscis into the bloom of a Big Red Sage, Salvia penstemonoides.

Nectar robbing or nectar stealing is a way that various insects, bats, birds, and mammals consume nectar without the benefit to the plant of pollination. In the case of bees, they typically bite or poke a hole in the petal tissue, then sip the nectar, bypassing the parts of the flower where pollination happens. Flowers can be damaged by the robbing, thus preventing further visits from pollinators. As well, some pollinators also recognize when a bloom has been robbed of its nectar, so they move on to other nectar-filled flowers, the robbed flower missing out on pollination. For for various reasons, nectar robbing isn’t generally considered harmful for plants or an ecosystem as a whole, but is simply part of the functional tapestry of a diverse natural space.

Carpenter bees nectar rob because they’re such big bees they can’t fit into certain blooms. Generally, the blooms that bigger bees rob have slender, tubular corollas. This same Southern Carpenter bee is head-and-proboscis-deep into the base of the Big Red sage bloom, sipping the sweet stuff available. There’s no way that big body could nestle in the bloom.

Sometimes, a robber is sprinkled with pollen, perhaps due to buzz pollination. Buzz pollination happens when certain bees vibrate their strong thoracic muscles, vibrating, or sonicating, the pollen grains from flowers’ anthers. During foraging, this Horsefly-like Carpenter bee might have buzzed pollinated on a different flower, its back carrying sprinkles from the loosened pollen onward through the garden. The bee is too big to crawl into this bloom, a Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea, so stealing is the way to go.

Of course, there are those who pollinate the old-fashioned way, crawling all over a bloom, collecting pollen as they go! This native bee, perhaps a Mining bee, Andrenidae, or a Plasterer bee, Colletidae, enthusiastically worked the flower of a Texas thistle, Cirsium texanum.

Pollinating or robbing, it’s a busy time in the summer garden, especially for those who live in and rely on its bounty. After a hard day in the garden, sleep is bliss.

Part of the Story

A plant near the pond, this Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, opens its lavender petals for welcomed business.

Then a pollinator lands. Busy and beautiful, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, sips nectar from the blooms before moving on to other plants also offering sustenance.

One event in the longer story of a garden.

What’s your garden’s story? Linking today with Flutter and Hum and its Wednesday Vignette. Happy gardening!