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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Gardener's Christmas Present

This year, for Christmas, my husband got me a tractor scoot from Gardener's Supply Company. It wasn't a random choice on his part -- he asked what I wanted and I told him!

Today I got a chance to try it out and I love it!

It features a tractor style seat, which swivels, pneumatic tires, an area underneath the seat to hold tools etc and a basket on the front which you can put a bucket in to hold mulch, plants, trash/weeds etc.

I've been having knee problems this year, which has made gardening somewhat difficult, but this little tractor scoot really helps me out, as you can see below.

Today's task was cutting back all the tropical milkweed which had frozen back. I was able to trim it back to healthy green stems about 8 inches tall and it's already putting out new leaf buds.

I also did some weeding and mulching.  There were several zillion milkweed seedlings in this bed, along with the crepe myrtle and the established milkweed.  I don't have room for them all so most of them got dug in and mulched over.

If they manage to come back up, I'll take that as a sign I was meant to have more milkweed.

Tomorrow, after we take our Christmas lights down, I'll work in the front flowerbed. It needs some serious tidying up!

I wish you all a safe and Happy New Year.  I'll see you in 2012, when I'll be out in the garden again!

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas All!

 We always love decorating the house for Christmas but last year, for the first time since I can remember, I didn't have a Christmas tree.  

The reason was the four kittens we had taken in, along with their mother, in the summer of 2009. They had shown, while they were still out in the garden, that they loved climbing trees.  In addition, when we brought them inside, within a few days Jester had tried to climb the silk ficus tree in the bedroom, with the result that the whole thing toppled over.

We could only imagine what would happen to a Christmas tree.

And then, of course, you only have to Google "cat in Christmas tree" to see our concerns.

Well this year we decided one year without a tree was enough and that perhaps they had matured enough (and perhaps learned from the ficus incident that these indoor trees couldn't be trusted to stay upright) so we thought we'd put up a small tree this year.  By placing it on a table we hoped to discourage investigation and climbing.

Naturally Jester, the class clown, was first to investigate but two feet stayed on the ground at all times.

And, after sniffing at it for a while, they decided it was boring and went back to wrestling on the kitchen floor or chasing each other up and down the cat tree and all was well with the Christmas tree for a couple of days.

Then came the morning when I heard crrrrraaaaaaash! from the living room and heard the sound of cats zooming in all directions.

Bandit, seen here, looked at me with a "I didn't touch it, honest!" look.  

The suspected culprit, the aforementioned Jester, was shaking in the far corner of the room.  

We surmise he had been patting at the tree and got a claw caught in the wiring for the lights and, when he pulled his paw out, pulled the tree down with it. Poor little guy was obviously spooked.

I decided to give it another try so we stood the tree back up (secured this time with velcro so it won't be so easy to knock over) and put the ornaments back on.

This morning the tree is still standing and the cats are showing no interest. Fingers crossed it makes it through the Holiday!

I wish each and every one of you the very best of the Holiday Season and look forward to a wonderful New Year.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Requiem for a Garden

We've had a couple of nights of hard frost recently and yesterday I was finally able to take a tour around the garden.  It was depressing, to say the least.  I know things will brighten up again in spring, but I thought I'd share the sad sight with you.

In the front garden the sweet potato vine is now brown mush.

 In the back, the milkweed which were blooming up until last week are now shriveled up.

 On the plus side, with their dying breaths, they let loose a zillion more seeds! (To add to the zillion or so seedlings poking up through the mulch and in the lawn all around them)

 The Dallas lantana, that until a week or so ago were providing sustenance to Buckeyes and Gulf Fritillaries, are now history.

 The Trop-Canna froze back, like they did last year.  I think all I need to do with these is cut them back and they will come back next year.  I may have move them in to a bigger pot at some point though, this one looks pretty cramped in this pot.

 Even the crepe myrtle suffered freeze damage.  

The only spot of color are the pansies I put in at Thanksgiving.  Hopefully they will continue to bloom until spring.

Now I have a question for you -- seeing all this devastation around the garden, I'm itching to get out there and start tidying up.  But I'm wondering how much is too much.  

Should I rip the dead milkweed out of the ground to let the seedlings take their place, or should I cut them back look forward to new growth in the spring?

What about the lantana? Does it put out new growth after freezing back, or is it gone for good? 

Any and all advice will be appreciated.    

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The New Island Bed

 If you were to believe my husband's Facebook posts regarding our fledgling island bed in the back garden, you would think that I had stood over him with a whip as he lugged 500 two-ton rocks round to the back garden, and then filled the resulting bed with enough dirt to fill the Grand Canyon.

Luckily we share the same sense of humor!

In reality, we purchased 30 shoebox-sized blocks from Lowe's, each weighing maybe 15 lbs. So yes, there was a little muscle involved, but it felt good to be outside and doing something during the Thanksgiving week.

The plan was to create an island bed connecting the two tree saplings we have planted. 

We started out by laying a soaker hose to get the basic shape. Then, since we were going to be using the "lasagna method" we cut and laid out sheets of brown paper over the existing grass.

Then we started laying the stones out, following the shape we had chosen with the soaker hose.

We soaked the paper down and laid bricks in strategic places to keep the paper from blowing away before we were finished, then we left it for a few days.

We finished up the basic bed yesterday, by purchasing 12 bags of Organic Choice garden soil, again from Lowe's. This was what my husband referred to as  "enough dirt to fill the Grand Canyon." Wouldn't he have been shocked if I had had a truck load of dirt delivered and dumped on the driveway, as I briefly considered doing!

Of course, 12 bags is just the start.  We brought them in, opened them and spread the soil over the paper in the bed and soaked everything down again.

Here's what the bed looks like now.

 During the course of the winter, we'll bring in some more soil, add some compost from our composter and add a layer of mulch.  The plan is to build up the center of the bed, while not burying the trees already in the ground at each end of the bed.

By spring it should be ready for planting.

After we had finished up with the soil and gone in for a shower, I discovered a little extra bonus that I hadn't thought about before:

We'll have a lovely view of the bed from our bedroom window.

The cats should enjoy it too, as they sit on the little window shelf we put in for them, and watch the birds and butterflies.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Certified Wildlife Habitat

When we moved in here three years ago, we knew that the wooded lots either side would be cleared for homes, which they were this past summer.  My plan for the garden was to create a habitat that would be pleasant for us to enjoy working and relaxing in, which would also provide the necessities for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

It's still a work in progress, but we've made a start and I'm proud to announce that our garden just received it's official recognition as a Certified Wildlife Habitat from the World Wildlife Federation.

In order to be certified, a property has to provide food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young.

Even though, in my opinion, our garden has a long way to go, it does provide these basics already.

We have lots of nectar producing plants for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. In addition, I keep the bird feeders filled and the birdbaths filled with clean, fresh water daily.

The border we put in along the back wall provides cover, with a variety of shrubs. I love sitting on the patio watching birds scratching around in the mulch underneath the wax myrtle, or under the feeders by the holly bushes.

Two years in a row, Mockingbirds have chosen to build their nests in the small live oak trees we have in the front garden.  We've also hosted a Carolina wren on the back patio for two years in a row. 

Our garden and feeders are regularly visited by Northern Cardinals, who I think nest in the hedgerow on the other side of the street behind our house.  To encourage them to nest in our garden, I recently purchased a Cardinal bird house from Duncraft. We need to decide where to put it and get it up and ready for the cardinals to inspect before nesting season rolls around.

As I mentioned before, our wildlife habitat is still a work in progress. There's lots more to be done yet, but our neighbors don't need to worry that we'll be turning our garden into a jungle. We'll keep it neighbor-friendly too.  

The National Wildlife Federation have lots of tips for creating a beautiful wildlife garden:

Neighbor Friendly Wildlife Gardening -- how to keep your neighbors AND the wildlife happy :-) 

Cut Your Lawn in Half -- we'll be using some of the tips in this article and creating some island beds which will give me more room to plant colorful flowers etc., while at the same time getting rid of the vast sea of lawn which currently surrounds our house.

So, with this certification, and also the Monarch Waystation certification that I mentioned last week, my dream of having a wildlife habitat is coming true.  All we have to do now is continue what we have started!  

(Poor Eric is having nightmares of having to haul tons of rock home from the store to create the island bed for the butterfly garden!) 

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Benefits of Gardening

Janie at Loch Ness Water Gardens invited me to post this intriguing infographic on my blog this week.

I have always known that gardening and being out in nature was good for my soul. Now here's proof that it's good for the body too, not to mention the benefits to the enironment.

If you click on the graphic below, you can see it full size, and read the text. (You may have to click a couple of times, depending on how Blogger is feeling today)

Source by Loch Ness Water Gardens

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fall Colors in the Garden

The Houston area typically doesn't get the spectacular displays of fall color that New England is famous for.

Many of our trees stay green year round and those that do lose their leaves seem to just drop them without fanfare. It seems to me that one of the most colorful "fall color" trees we see at this time of year is the invasive chinese tallow tree.

Other than the Chinese Tallow, much of the "fall color" we're seeing is actually the rusty brown of dead trees that succumbed to the drought and/or pine bark beetle damage. So sad - acres and acres of dead trees.

On a more cheerful note, last weekend I was able to capture some photos of  fall colors in our garden, seen in both the flora and the fauna.

First is the front border, which is absolutely overflowing with tropical milkweed.  Incidentally, last week I applied to have our property certified as a Monarch Waystation.  I'm excited to make this commitment to providing habitat for migrating monarch butterflies and can't wait for the plaque to arrive.

Here's a Monarch, enjoying our hospitality :-)

And here's our insurance that we'll have plenty of tropical milkweed for next year's generation of Monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies aren't the only "fall color" in our garden at this time of year.  The Gulf Fritillaries are quite abundant right now, seemingly unfazed by the summer drought.

This one is enjoying the Buddleia in the back garden.

This one is enjoying the lantana in the front garden.

I was very happy to see this Buckeye too, dressed in his own fall colors, with the striking eye pattern on his wings. 

Last year Buckeyes were very common in the garden, but this is the first I have seen this year. As I get out in the garden this weekend, I hope I see more of them.

In addition to having our garden certified as a Monarch Waystation, it also became a Certified Wildlife Habitat, something I'll tell you more about in a future blog post.

Have a wonderful weekend and Happy Gardening!

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Singing the Praises of Vitex and an Unusual Night Visitor

 I was sitting on the patio, drinking my morning coffee on Saturday and noticed lots of movement around the Vitex.  As I looked closer, there were at least five Monarchs nectaring on the remaining Vitex blooms.

Of course, I couldn't get them all in one photo, but if you click on this photo to see it full size, you can see two Monarchs in it.

 It's funny to think that I'd never even heard of Vitex before I walked in to Southlands Nursery on FM 2920 outside of Tomball, Texas (Now From Rocks to Roses ) and asked for suggestions for shrubs that would attract wildlife such as butterflies.  

The lady there suggested a Vitex, also known as Chaste Tree, Lilac Chaste Tree and Monk's Pepper.

I thought it a bargain at $15 as it was in a large container and they had to hack it back quite severely so I could get it in my car. I was a little concerned about that but they assured me it would be fine and sure enough it took off like gangbusters. 

It's in its third year here and is now 15 ft tall and has been blooming on and off all summer.

Butterflies love it, hummingbirds love it.  *I* love it!

Speaking of butterflies, my husband and I were enjoying a glass of wine on the patio late on Saturday evening when suddenly something, we presumed a moth, started flapping around in the ceiling fans up by the lights.

We realized quickly it wasn't a moth, but a Monarch, although I didn't think they would still be flying around after dark.  It was flying erratically, obviously confused by the lights and I think it got hit by the ceiling fan at one point.

After a few minutes it landed at my feet and just sat there.  I was able to gently grasp it's wings and walked it out in to the garden away from the lights and let it go. However, within minutes it was back, flutttering erratically up by the fan again.

We decided, at that point, to go indoors and turn the patio lights and fans off. As we did, it landed on the window screen and I took a picture before going indoors.

I was late getting up Sunday morning, but I was dismayed when I peeked through the blinds mid morning and saw it was still there, in exactly the same position.  I felt sure it had died and was just sort of stuck to the screen.

 I opened the back door and was about to reach for it, not exactly sure what I planned to do with it, when to my amazement it fluttered its wings and flew away.  I watched and noted it seemed a little unsteady, but perhaps it was just a bit too breezy, but it eventually headed to the Vitex and took some much needed nourishment.

Who know, perhaps this is the same butterfly, photographed later that day on one of the few milkweed plants that hasn't already burst its seedpods all over.

Wonder if we'll ever see caterpillars this year?

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Milkweed Fairies are Ready to Fly

 When I was a child, I used to love catching "fairies" as they drifted through the air and then setting them free, with a breath of air and my best wishes for a good flight.  

Back then, of course, the "fairies" were dandelion seeds, with their fluffy white parachutes. 

I mentioned a week or so ago that the milkweed in my border were loaded down with seedpods. 

I've been watching them, knowing that any day now they would start opening up and the fluffy little "fairies" would catch the breeze and  distribute the seeds.

I caught some today, as I noticed some of the seed pods were open.  I put them in a paper bag and shook them gently and when I opened the bag, the "fairies" drifted out and away on the breeze, happy to leave their burden of seeds for me to look after till planting time.

I'll probably be collecting seeds for several days, judging from the amount of seed pods!  If anyone would like any, please let me know.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rain! Glorious Rain!

The weather man has been teasing us with the chance of rain, to the point where we had given up believing that it was possible.

So when I woke this morning, I mistakenly assumed the sound I heard was the air conditioner running.  It wasn't until I head the rumble of thunder that I realized that was RAIN I heard, falling on the roof, and running down the downspouts!

So what does a rain-starved gardener do when it rains?  She runs out into the garden, barefoot in her pajamas, and starts snapping photos!

 I don't have a macro lens, so I wasn't able to get a super close up shot of a raindrop, and this photo of raindrops on the star jasmine is as close as I could get.  I like the effect.

At the end of a long, hot summer, the Rose of Sharon, here surrounded by milkweed, is putting on another show of blooms.  

The vitex is still blooming too. The Sam Houston peach (front left) and the River Birch (front right) are hanging in and hopefully will show some more growth in the spring.

Look at this!  The rain barrel had been completely empty and after one little rain shower - it's FULL!!

Now if Eric and I can only be sure to turn the spigot completely OFF when we use it next, it won't empty overnight again.

Looking closely at the Southern Wax Myrtle, I noticed it was covered in berries.  No wonder it's such a favorite with the birds!

Speaking of birds - most of the hummingbirds have moved on, but I noticed there was one still around and I put up a fresh feeder.   This morning I saw two out there, playing in the rain and enjoying the feeder.  

I'll miss them when they too move on.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall is In the Air

Got an email from my dad on the other side of the Atlantic this week, pointing out that it had been two weeks since I updated my blog and that my readership (presumably he meant him) was waiting.

So, dad, wait no more!  It's officially fall and while we're still officially in a drought (I heard it would take 30 inches of rain to get us out of drought conditions) it did get a bit cooler last weekend.  Rather than the 100 + temperatures we were having, there were a few days when the temp didn't get over 90. I spent last Saturday afternoon lounging in the hammock - BLISS!!

The hummingbirds have gone south, although there may still be a straggler or two.  I've left a feeder out, plus there are still lots of blooms in the garden for them, such as the Dallas Red Lantana above and the Tropical Milkweed below.

Speaking of the milkweed -- this photo and the one below were taken about 10 days ago.  Looking around the garden as the sun went down today, I see they are all loaded down with seedpods.  I'm going to collect some seed tomorrow, if they haven't all blown away on the wind.  So if anyone would like some free milkweed seeds, let me know and I'll save you some.

With all the milkweed around, I was rather surprised to see this Monarch on the Southern Wax Myrtle.

I'm keeping a look out on the Milkweed for caterpillars, but haven't seen any yet.

 Oh My Sweet Potato!

 In the bed beside the garage, the sweet potato vines have really taken over this summer! Believe it or not, there are some holly bushes and Indian Hawthorn in this bed.  You can't really see them for all the sweet potato vine.  Only the dark one has blooms, apparently.  I noticed the same thing last year.

 Our pine tree behind the house doesn't look so great in this photo, but it looks better in person.  And believe me it looks a whole lot better than the hundreds of trees around town that have succumbed to the drought.

It's very depressing driving along and seeing whole forests of dead trees.  I'm surprised the county aren't being more proactive about taking some of them down, especially considering the devastating fire in Bastrop County was said to have been started by a tree falling on a power line.

We can only hope that disaster isn't repeated.  And we can pray for rain.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wonderful Weekend

Wow - what a great weekend this has been! OK - for some reason I've been feeling puny for part of it, but the good definitely outweighs the bad.

First of all, Eric and I went to the Hummingbird Festival at Kleb Woods.  There was a good turnout of people, not so much from the hummingbirds.  As I said yesterday, I think they are all in our garden!  

There weren't many hummingbirds to be seen, but there were a couple, to the delight of the eager crowd with binoculars focused on the feeders. And the organizers made sure there was plenty to do, even in the absence of hummingbirds (like last year). There were demonstrations and lectures in the Nature Center, and out by the Kleb house and garden, there were tables set up with various wildlife-inspired games.

The most notable event happened as we went for a walk through the woods.  It RAINED! It started out as a gentle rain and then got steadier. By the time we got back to the car, we were pretty wet, but it was such a welcome relief from the endless days of drought, we laughed as we dripped.

When we got home, we could tell it had rained there too.  I took a stroll round the garden and could almost feel the relief.

And look who came to visit...

 This is the first Monarch I have seen this year.  The garden is certainly ready for them - we have some impressive stands of milkweed.  

This was still visiting the milkweed on Sunday (and I hope she laid some eggs).  She wasn't, however, the only butterfly enjoying the milkweed.

This Pipevine Swallowtail enjoyed an afternoon nectaring on it as well. I wonder if she laid some eggs on the Dutchman's Pipevine I have growing underneath the Southern Wax Myrtle?

On Saturday afternoon, I got up close and personal with a hummingbird in the garden.  You could call it a rescue mission.

Since it was cloudy, and not blisteringly hot, I was determined to get some decent photos of the hummers by getting closer to the feeders, rather than taking photos from in side the house.

There were several hummers buzzing around the feeder under the crepe myrtle, but I was shocked by what I saw when I got closer...

One of them had got stuck!!!

I have no idea how she managed to get stuck like this, but after snapping this photo, I carefully put my hand underneath her and lifted her up so she could free her wings and fly out. It was amazing to touch her, she felt so tiny, light and delicate.

Once she was free, she hovered six inches in front of my nose for a few seconds, as if to say thanks, and then took off over my shoulder.

After that, I took lots of photos of them on the feeder, and another short video clip.  I wonder if the little one I rescued is among them, or if she is wary of the feeders now? One of the hummers has been enjoying the Dallas Red Lantana, and the milkweed - perhaps that's her.  I guess I'll never know.

I think the photo below is my favorite photo:

Looking at these photos, it occurred to me that most of my hummers are girls.  There are a couple of males out there, but they are way outnumbered by the females.

So all in all, it was a great weekend. With yesterday's rain and the cooler temperatures, it's easier to believe that fall isn't too far way.

At least I hope it isn't too far away.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.