Monday, April 16, 2007

Of Wrens and Butterfly Plants

They're moving in! The Carolina Wrens have decided that the birdhouse in my back garden is worthy of consideration. You can see one of them sticking its head out the entrance below. They were stuffing grass, twigs and anything else that wasn't nailed down into the house today. I'm so pleased!

Meanwhile, I've been busy planting the front bed with hummingbird and butterfly plants. This weekend we planted more red columbine (Aquilegia canadense), winecup (Callirhoe involucrata), red bee balm (Monarda didyma) and bat face plant (cuphea). I need to move some of the previous owner's plants out of the 'triangular' bed -- in the foreground below -- but the new red yucca and variegated lantana seem to look okay, even in the jumble. I still have my eye on an orchid tree for this front garden, but cannot bring myself to cut down the crepe myrtle yet.

I'm excited about planting the columbine since it's always been one of my favorite flowers.

The neighborhood is starting to pop with color. I saw this red rose draping down over the fence next to the sidewalk and had to take the photo.

Speaking of color: On our way to The Oasis last weekend we discovered the largest bank of bluebonnets we've seen so far. It's on Oasis Bluff Drive, West of 620 if any of you want to take a look. It really is a dazzling spectacle. Wish my photos did it justice.

Of course I had to stop and take the ubiquitous photos of my kid sitting in the middle of the bluebonnets. We used a 'sitting spot' that someone else had already made. While we were shooting photos other cars stopped. One couple even took photos of their reluctant Chihuahua in the midst of the blooms. I wish I had gotten a photo of that.

I saw this white wildflower along the drive as well. It looks a bit like either a Woolly Daisy or Blackfoot Daisy, but I'm not sure.

On Saturday we decided to visit The Natural Gardener Nursery again. Of course, we had to visit the animals first. My cats would love this screened-in cat porch.

Then we had some fun in their Butterfly Garden.

Their poppies looked fantastic!

I'm going to have to put some poppies in my garden now.

This almost looked like a variegated violet. The black caterpillars loved it.

And below is another lovely mystery plant that was not marked.

We noticed a white stone with a hole in the center hanging from a string in a tree. I'm guessing it's to scare away birds. Any other ideas?

After buying some new plants and picking up another free booklet -- this time the NWF's "Gardener's Guide to Global Warming" -- we took the hint from the donkeys that our time there was at an end.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Beautiful Day in My Neighborhood

Copyright © 2007-2009. Suburban Wildlife Garden. All Rights Reserved.

As a recent transplant to Austin I'm on a huge learning curve when it comes to gardening here. I found a terrific resource book at Half-Priced Books entitled "Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife", by Noreen Damude and Kelly Conrad Bender.

According to the book my neighborhood is on the edge of a geological region known as the Edwards Plateau. My limited understanding is that this section of Austin has a somewhat different climate than Central Austin. We have only a few inches of soil over solid limestone in our garden. Yet, what may seem like a deficit to some can be a real blessing. The limestone outcropping in the garden below makes a very dramatic statement.

It's a far cry from Florida's sandy soil, yet some of my Northwest Austin neighbors have proven that a beautiful garden can still be realized in this area. The curbside garden below is particularly lovely. Even the fire hydrant looks good.

It's fun to enjoy the wild and cultivated plants on morning walks in my neighborhood. This morning I discovered some lavender-colored wildflowers. They seem to be everywhere. I wasn't sure what they were. Annie from The Transplantable Rose says it is Allium drummondii and I do believe she's right. Thanks Annie!

I appreciate the beautiful trees that shade the sidewalks here as well.

I love the way the branches seem to dance against the sky.

In news closer to home, I am happy to report that more of my goldfish survived the cold last weekend than I had feared. Seems they were only suffering from stage fright and are experts at hiding.

A problem our local squirrels do not share. This little fellow let me get within 6 feet of him to take this photo. As long as the whole wheat crackers kept coming he was happy.

Just want to add that the highlight of my week was when I was invited to join the Austin Garden Bloggers on their annual garden tour. I'm so excited and cannot wait to meet all of you. Many thanks to you ladies!

And if that doesn't convince you that Austin is a great place to live, perhaps this video of Zilker Park will. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2007-2009. Suburban Wildlife Garden. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 9, 2007

A Very Cold Easter Weekend

Copyright © 2007-2009. Suburban Wildlife Garden. All Rights Reserved.

Austin was extraordinarily cold last weekend. We even had sleet here near the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. I tried to prepare for the freezing temps by covering my flowers with sheets and putting a heater in my new container water garden. The sheets seemed to work, but I still lost a few fish to the cold.

Looks like I have another excuse to visit Hill Country Water Gardens. Not that I really needed one.

One interesting thing we observed during the cold snap last weekend was a lone hummingbird. S/he hung out at our hummingbird feeder all weekend drinking from the feeder and shivering. I felt sorry for the little guy who looked very cold indeed. In the photo below he's drinking at the far side of the feeder. Please forgive the through-the-screen view.

The newly planted passionflower, pentas and milkweeds below the squirrel-proof birdfeeder seem to be doing well despite the cold. The cardinals happily ate sunflower seeds during 30 degree chills.

The milkweed seems very happy in fact. I hope its neighbors do as well.

I visited Wild Birds Unlimited near the Lakeline Mall a few weeks ago and bought this wren house:

The man at WBU said that the 1-1/4 inch entrance hole would be big enough for a Carolina Wren, but all my bird books disagree. If the Carolina Wrens ignore the house I'll increase the diameter of the hole myself.

Speaking of birds, I found a fun Live Birdfeeder Video cam which I believe is in Louisville, KY. Pan all the way to the left or click "Home" and you'll see the feeder. I saw a pair of cardinals feed each other via that site this afternoon. If you know of other live birdfeeder cams, please let me know the URLs. Thanks!

Copyright © 2007-2009. Suburban Wildlife Garden. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Nursery and Roadside Inspiration

Copyright © 2007-2009. Suburban Wildlife Garden. All Rights Reserved.
Even though it's supposed to get cold this weekend, I couldn't resist visiting the Red Barn Garden Center to look at their native ornamental trees. I learned today that the old house in the center of the nursery is the Historical Thompson Home built in 1870's.

According to the clipping at the bottom of this article I read today some Red Barn employees claim the area is haunted. I didn't see any ghosts this time, but I did find some lovely roses that the owners had planted on the grounds. I especially liked this one.

Unfortunately, I didn't discover the name of the roses at the center, but Pam at Digging says it's a 'Marie Pavie'. Thanks Pam!

This pink was lovely as well. And it's fragrance is fabulous. Pam says it's 'Belinda's Dream'.

On our way home from my son's school we stopped to take some photos of our neighbor's Texas bluebonnets.

I wonder if my bluebonnets will ever look this good. Luckly there seems to be enough in Austin for everyone to enjoy.

For some reason the song Make Our Garden Grow from the musical Candide was going through my mind as I looked at the bluebonnets. You can listen to the melody here.

Let dreamers dream

What worlds they please

Those Edens can't be found.

The sweetest flowers,

The fairest trees

Are grown in solid ground.

We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good

We'll do the best we know.

We'll build our house and chop our wood

And make our garden grow.
Copyright © 2007-2009. Suburban Wildlife Garden. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Container Water Garden

Since we live on a limestone hill I decided not to try digging a fish pond right away. Instead I thought our tiny patio could use a container water garden.

I found the urn at my latest trip to Hill Country Water Gardens.

It was the right size for my patio, but too big to fit in my car, so they delivered it the next day. I chose a small, pink-flowering water lily, variegated rush, pickeral and parrot's feather. You can see the fish food flakes on the water my son tried to feed the goldfish this morning.

The bottom of the urn is relatively small. Instead of stacking bricks for the marginal plants to sit on we fashioned wire hangers to keep them at the right height.

We also have a couple of small birdbaths in the back yard. This hanging dish is one of my favorites, though I'm not sure if the birds like it as well as I do.

Of coures, if you want to see beautiful water gardens you must visit Zilker Park's Isamu Taniguchi Oriental Garden in Austin:

Pond with Koi and Wisteria

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Gardening Penance in Suburbia

Copyright © 2007-2009. Suburban Wildlife Garden. All Rights Reserved.

My neighborhood is connected to the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve; a 24,000 acre wildlife refuge.

Photo by Mark Sanders

While I feel a bit guilty living in a subdivision that may impact negatively on this wilderness, I also view my garden as an opportunity to grow more native plants in a lot that was -- and still is -- fairly desolate by wildlife's standards.

My goal is to choose native and adapted plants for my garden that will serve as dependable sources of food and shelter for birds, butterflies and other wild animals in my area. I'm not a purist, so I'd love to do this while still creating a beautiful garden.
I've found a great resource that is free to Austin residents called "Native and Adapted Landscape Plants" that is published by the Texas Cooperative Extension. The nice people at The Natural Gardener offer free copies to Austin residents.

I'm starting with a relatively blank slate. My lot is one of those typical postage-stamp yards with too much house in the middle. The plantings we inherited were a sad hodge-podge.

We added solar lights by the sidewalk and a birdbath we found at Hill Country Water Gardens.

We've removed several of the randomly planted ilex and replaced them with lavender, phlox and bluebonnets.

I hope the sago palms look better under these windows. I'm trying to decide on a small, native ornamental tree to replace the crepe myrtle.
Since the soil is so shallow we've been planting smaller specimens and hoping they will fill out relatively quickly. In the photo below you may be able to see a 'baby' Mexican Bush Sage, Senna and Butterfly Bush behind 3 yellow daisy bushes and a sago. I think it's time to bring in more mulch as well.

One of my favorite new plants is a variegated lantana I found at Hill Country Water Gardens. The butterflies seem to love it, so I'm going to buy a few more to fill out that small bed on our hill.

I found a decorative hanging basket I liked for the front porch. I planted it with purple petunias and variegated vinca minor. I've read that vinca minor is invasion, so I hope it won't be a problem if confined to the basket. The cannas below are just coming up.
Copyright © 2007-2009. Suburban Wildlife Garden. All Rights Reserved.