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Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas Everyone!

 Last year, we had a bit of a mishap with our Christmas tree when one of the cats that we had taken in caught a claw in our small table top tree and pulled it down.

This year, we decided to try the 7 foot tree which I felt fit the room better as we have high ceilings.

I'm thrilled to report that it's been a week now and... THE TREE IS STILL STANDING!!!

I don't know whether they remember the accident last year, when the small tree came crashing down, but after the briefest of sniffs, they are ignoring it.

 I got some new ornaments this year, which I'd like to show you here.  They fit in with the garden/wildlife theme, as I'm sure you will agree.

I adore this little brushy squirrel, which I found in Plants for All Seasons, along with the owl shown below. (I'm getting quite the collection of owls now - I love them!)

In addition to owls, I seem to be getting a collection of cardinals.  I have a stained glass window in the bedroom with a male and female cardinal.  On the mantel I have a beautiful wood carving of a cardinal on a branch. And the ceramic ornament in the center of the photo below features a cardinal on a snowy pine branch

It's one I made myself and it's available for sale in my Zazzle store.

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.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Butterfly's Tale

Yesterday I blogged about the freeze damage in the garden, and my concerns for the Monarch caterpillars and chrysalises.

Well this morning, when I went outside to feed the birds (quite a bit later than my weekday, pre-dawn bird feeding) I caught sight of a flutter of beautiful orange and black on the ground.

One of the chrysalises underneath the bird bath had emerged! 

She was sitting on the ground, soaking up the winter sun, unfolding her wings.  

 I left her walk on to my hand and transported her to a nearby container full of violas, so she has some nectar when she's ready.

A couple of the other chrysalises look like there's still change going on inside, so hopefully we'll see more beauties for Christmas!
The story is not over for this young lady yet.

Her wings didn't straighten out properly, so two days later, she's still unable to fly. She didn't appear to be drinking from the plant I put her on and she was becoming lethargic, so I mixed up some nectar for her and she sat on my hand having a drink yesterday.

Today, I went out and bought some fresh sponges to dip in the sugar water and hang up over the container of pansies. She's been climbing up and down the ribbon they are hanging from and taking sips of the nectar.

I don't have much hope that she will fly, but I'm doing all I can to make her short life as comfortable as it can be.

On the plus side, two more of the chrysalises hatched and I saw the butterflies fly through the garden a little while ago, in search of nectar. Perhaps they will join my little girl on the sponges now I've come inside.

We made the butterfly as comfortable as we could. Because of the expected high winds over Christmas, we brought her inside and set her up in a large cardboard box which I punched holes in for air circulation. We also set some branches in there, with the sponges dipped in sugar water hanging from them. For a few days she rested comfortably, either climbing the branches or sipping from the sponges.

Then, two days ago I found her lying on the bottom of the box. She was still moving feebly, so I set her on a nest of soft tissue.

This morning we laid her to rest in a special spot in the butterfly garden.

I hope she is flying free now.

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

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Winter Garden

The recent weather hasn't been too kind to the garden.  I suppose I shouldn't complain, after all it is winter.

But after spending early December weekends sitting on the patio in shorts and watching the butterflies, I was brought back to earth with a thump when last week's freeze did quite a bit of damage.

Oh, I know most of it will come back eventually and just needs to be trimmed back, but it's still sad to see.

Saddest of all is the fact that this Milkweed bush, now dead and brown, had a whole host of caterpillars on it the day before the frost hit.

I don't know whether the three chrysalises have made it or not.  They still look nice and bright and green, and being on the underside of the fence and birdbath, they were protected from the actual frost, if not the cold temperatures.

All I can do is wait and see. If they make it, I'll have to run and get some container plants so they have some nectar to feed on.

In addition to the freeze, we had some very strong wind and rain on another night and I went out the following morning to discover a large branch had come off the dead pine tree on the other side of the wall. (We've been waiting for the developer to respond to requests to take it down before it falls on our house, but that's another story).

But all is not gloom and doom.  Some things made it through unscathed.  As you can see in the photo above, my deliciously scented rosemary topiary is still healthy, as are the million achillea babies under the Vitex tree.

Note to self: must see about relocating some of these in the spring.

And also, in amongst the frozen Mandevilla and Lantana, the Turk's Cap Lilies are looking great - so far, at least.

So that's the garden in winter.  Some low points and some high points, but that's gardening isn't it?

How is your garden doing this winter?

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

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Queen Came to Visit

I've become so used to seeing Monarch butterflies floating around the garden, I almost missed this beauty.

It's a Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, another butterfly that lays eggs on Milkweed.  I've seen them before, but I think this is the first time I've been able to photograph one.

 Speaking of Milkweed, I counted 7 Monarch caterpillars munching away this morning.

We're expecting a freeze tomorrow night so of course I'm worried about them, and also the chrysalis on the fence that I posted about last week. I've put some bamboo poles in the ground around the Milkweed plant and will throw a blanket over them tomorrow.  Hopefully that will provide enough protection from frost so the caterpillars don't all die.

But I think other than that, I'll have to let Mother Nature take its course.

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

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What a Difference Two Hours Makes

Here we are in December and, although we had some cold weather and even some frosts earlier in the fall, the recent weather has been very mild.

Even so, I've been surprised at the number of butterflies we still have floating around the garden.  We've got Sulphurs, Gulf Fritillaries, Buckeyes and Monarchs.

At the end of October I blogged that we had Monarch caterpillars and chrysalises.  Who knew then that I'd be able to report another chrysalis in DECEMBER?

Mum and dad (visiting from England for the Thanksgiving Holiday) were mildly amused as I kept watch over the most recent caterpillar and probably thought I was nuts to get excited over it.

When I went out this morning to feed the birds at 9:51 am, I got even more excited when I noticed the caterpillar had attached himself to the fence and was starting to curl up.

I was totally amazed when I went to check on him later to discover that, in a period of just two hours he had completely transformed into a chrysalis! The photo below is time stamped 11:51 am!

For some reason, I thought it would take longer than that.  What a difference two hours makes!

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

In Search of Fall Color

One thing I usually miss at this time of year is fall color, the changing of the leaves.  It seems that the climate down here in coastal Texas is not conducive to the brilliant color usually seen up in New England and other places.

However, as my husband and I were driving around town with my parents, who were visiting for the Holiday from England, we noticed there was a lot more fall color than there normally is.

Now granted, most of it seemed to be courtesy of the obnoxious, invasive China Berry tree. But even as much as I despise China Berry, I forgave it a bit, as it was fulfilling my need for fall color.

 This first photo is taken of the hedgerow on the other side of the road that runs behind our house.

More color as we look over our wall and down the road :-)

There's even some fall color in our garden -- I don't think I have ever seen this crepe myrtle change color before!

But when we took mum and dad up to Davy Crockett National Forest and, quite by chance, found Ratcliff Lake, we hit the motherlode.

Not only did we see some lovely color on our drive up there, but the lake itself offered some wonderful views, with reflections of the fall colors in the lake. The maples, oaks and other trees were changing leaves in ways I really just haven't seen down here.  I was thrilled!

We had never heard of Ratcliff Lake before and we found it quite by accident, but it's a delightful place and, in the summer offers paddleboats and a swimming area, as well as hiking and fishing. 

There's a concession stand (closed for the winter now), picnic tables and barbecue pits.  Eric and I are looking forward to visiting again next year, during the season, and perhaps take a dip.

But there's always those pesky alligators to think about....

Fall Foliage in Texas State Parks
Texas Fall Foliage - Texas Tripper

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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

More Monarch News

What a wonderful day to be out in the garden!  Clear blue skies, low humidity, pleasant temperatures - just perfect!  OK, so I had some indoor chores I could have been doing, but it was just too nice to be stuck indoors.

I spent the afternoon out in the garden -- I planted a few bulbs, I pulled a few weeds, and then I just sat and enjoyed the day.

There were still several butterflies floating around, such as this Gulf Fritillary.  But the Monarch nursery is what has me super excited this year.

In my last blog post I mentioned that we had several Monarch caterpillars, and also some chrysalises, including a couple under the birdbath.

A couple of days ago, I took another peek under the birdbath and noticed that I could see the distinctive black and orange coloration of a Monarch butterfly inside one of the chrysalises (below on the left).  

Yesterday my husband spotted a Monarch sunbathing in our newly planted pine tree (replacement for the one that we had to have removed).

When I checked the chrysalis under the birdbath, sure enough it was empty! We were looking at a brand new Monarch :-)

Here's another chrysalis that's easier to see. If you click to see the larger version, you can really see the orange and black markings. This one is on the fence and I was hoping it would emerge today, while I was home.  But Mother Nature works to her own schedule!

To add to the merriment, I noticed a Monarch floating round the milkweed today, laying eggs. See that little white dot in the middle of the photo below?

 As I examined the plant to see if I could find any more eggs, I spotted a tiny caterpillar, about a third of an inch long. I couldn't get a photo of that one, but here's another that I was able to get a photo of.

There are still several more chrysalises to emerge, including one on the back of a garden chair, and now a new batch of caterpillars.  I hope the milkweed holds out!

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Banner Year

Just a couple of days ago, I blogged that we were still getting Monarch butterflies in the garden, and that we had a lot of caterpillars on the yellow Milkweed in the back garden (but none on the red and yellow variety).

I was worried that they would run out of leaves before they were ready to turn into chrysalises so I was out in the rain, snipping stalks with caterpillars on and relocating them to nearby plants!

Here's the yellow milkweed now:  as you can see, there's not a leaf on it, nor any caterpillars.

 Happily, the ones I relocated to the other milkweed plants are still doing well.


 But what  of the rest?

So far, I've counted four chrysalises -- including these two on the underside of the birdbath:

There are also a couple more on the fence:

I also saw a caterpillar crawling up the side of one of the planters, so I'm sure there will be a chrysalis there in the morning.

Looking back at my blog throughout the year, it's really been a banner year for Monarchs.  We first had caterpillars in the front garden back in April.

In June, we had so many chrysalises, I lost count of them all! 

At the end of June, we were lucky enough to witness some newly hatched Monarch butterflies.

In July, we had another generation of caterpillars, this time in the back garden.

By August, the second generation had eaten us out of house and home and had turned into chrysalises in some unusual spots and once again we got to witness new butterflies.

And now here we are in October, when I really thought we'd seen the last of them, we get to witness the miracle again. 

Something else I thought we had seen the last of for this year are hummingbirds.    I hadn't filled the feeders in a couple of weeks (but had neglected to take them down and clean them).

Imagine my shock when I saw a female ruby throat attempting to get a drink from one of them the other day!  

Luckily, we still have some blooms on the Rose of Sharon, the Vitex and the Flame Acanthus, so she wasn't going to starve. But I turned the kettle on then and there and made up some fresh nectar and later pulled the feeders down and cleaned them and refilled them.

I was able to get this photo of her.  My apologies for the poor quality but I was losing the light, plus I was taking the photo through a dirty window!

It's moments like these that make gardening in the brutal Texas summer a little easier to bearThis is why I garden and I still find it amazing that in four years we've accomplished so much.

Happy gardening all. 

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Fall Garden

Ooops - here we are half way through October and this is my first blog post for the month.

My husband and I went up to Lake Conroe for a weekend getaway last week so I didn't get around to blogging.

I really haven't done much in the garden recently, but it seems to be thriving, in spite of the benign neglect.

The island bed just continues to bloom and flourish, although I realized too late that Pink Muhly Grass grows a lot bigger than I thought it did! There's an Artemisia between it and the Cat's Whiskers, but you can't see it.  I need to plan more carefully next year.

I may need some advice on what to do with this glorious mess along the back wall, and when to do it.

The Southern Wax Myrtle on the left is beloved by birds of all kinds. However, I planted it too close to the Rose of Sharon (center) and now it is shouldering it out of the way.  I don't want to move it, and I'm not sure the Rose of Sharon would survive a transplant. I may end up doing what I did when I moved from my previous house -- start some cuttings from it (this one started life as a cutting from the Rose of Sharon at my old house.
Next to/underneath/behind the Rose of Sharon is a Flame Acanthus.  When we had the mother cat and her kittens in the garden the summer before last, the kittens did a number on the Flame Acanthus with their rambunctious galloping round the flowerbeds.  I didn't know enough about it then to know if it was safe to prune it and tidy it up and well, I haven't done anything to it since either.  As a result, it's a shaggy mess.  I need to find out more about pruning these things.

In between the Rose of Sharon and the Dallas Red Lantana is this plant, which I have no idea what it is.  The bees seem to like it though!  I got it at the Houston Chronicle garden bloggers plant swap a couple of years ago and it's been sitting in a container tucked in behind the lantana since then.
I would have moved it and planted it in the ground somewhere, but it's firmly rooted to the ground, pot and all! Not sure what the best course of action is now - any advice would be appreciated.
We still have some Monarchs floating around, mostly nectaring on the lantana now, but they've apparently been busy laying eggs.


Some of the milkweed is in disgusting shape, covered in aphids, caterpillar droppings and chewed to bits, but there are yet another generation of caterpillars out there as I type! 

Edit: When I got home from work this evening, I went out in the rain to check on them and sure enough, they had eaten the yellow milkweed down to nubs, so I snipped off the stems they were on and relocated them to milkweed plants that still had leaves. 

OK - so I'm weird! 

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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Fairy Garden

In May of last year, I told you how I repurposed our old grill and made it into a planter on the back patio.

Since then, it's seemed that everything I planted in it has been doomed to die a slow death.  First, I think in the location we had it, it was getting full afternoon sun and, being metal, it was heating up too much and literally cooking the plants inside. 

So then I moved it into the far corner, by the bedroom window, where it didn't get any direct light at all, except for perhaps a short time when the setting sun touched it briefly.

I had a Pothos Ivy in there for a while -- the photo below was taken right after it was planted.  It looked great at first, but within a week or two it just lay there drooping and leaves were dying off  until finally I dug it out and planted it in a pot and put it on the little plant stand next to the grill.

Within a week, the Pothos Ivy had perked up, had new growth and was getting its marbled coloring back.

I had to face it, what had started out as a good idea--to turn an old grill into a planter--wasn't such a great idea after all.  You could even call it an Epic Fail.

So now, here I had this "planter" on the patio, complete with the trellis I made from the saplings we cut from the lot next door before it was cleared, and nothing would grow in it.

What to do?

It just so happened, on the way back from a visit to the doctor, that I stopped in to Plants for All Seasons and became entranced by the collection of Fairy Gardens they had on display.

It came to me that it would be the perfect solution to my problem.

Using the gardens I had seen as inspiration, I used pine cones as bushes in my fairy garden, along with some items purchased at Plants for all Seasons. 

Here's a close up of it at that point.

Perhaps I should have stopped there but I added some shells and gravel, another toadstool and some actual fairies.

Below you can see the finished fairy garden in close up. 

 Maybe I over did it, but I'm happy with it :-)  And even the sweet potato vine is coming back!

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Year of the Hummingbird

This really does seem to have been the year of the hummingbird.  I think they showed up earlier this year than in the past, and there are definitely more of them.

Sitting on the patio has been like sitting on the set of a Star Wars movie while they're filming a fight scene with light sabers.  I swear George Lucas must have been inspired by the sound hummingbirds make when thinking about sound effects for the movie!

I'm not sure how much longer they will be here.  They're really massing and getting ready to migrate now.  There can be nine or ten chasing each other round the garden at any one time.

I haven't been able to get much in the way of photos because by the time I get home, when they're out on the feeders, the light is already starting to fade.

I've been able to get a couple though, such as this one of a male and two females:

 I particularly like this photo of a female coming in to land on the feeder by the column on the patio. Again, not good lighting because of the time of day and the fact it's on the north side of the house, but I think she's cute anyway.  I love the way their feet curl when they're in flight.

Do you still have hummingbirds in your garden?

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Hardest Working Plant in the Garden - Lantana

I find it amusing that a few years ago, I really didn't care for lantana much.  I planted one in my garden at my previous house and this one plant spread over an area about 6 ft x 6 ft, which happened to be where I wanted to grow some other plants.  So I was forever cutting it back and I hated the smell of it when I cut it.  I swore I'd avoid it in future.

When I moved to this house, I discovered the New Gold and White Gold varieties which don't take up as much room and are more mounding in habit. I loved them and planted them throughout the garden. I've shown them on my blog many times.

I think my current favorite now is Dallas Red.  I've got it in the border across the back of the garden, underneath the Southern Wax Myrtle and it's growing like wildfire.  I had to hack it back as it was hanging over the stone border and out into the lawn. I still don't care for the smell when I cut it, but the spectacle of all the butterflies and hummingbirds enjoying it makes it all worthwhile.

This past weekend I took a break from pulling nutsedge out of the front border and spent some time out on the patio with my camera zoomed in across the garden and managed to get some snaps.  I'd love to be able to get closer, but when I did, the hummers went elsewhere which was frustrating. So I had to be content with cropping the photos in Photoshop Elements. As always, you can click on the photos for a larger version.

For example, can you spot the female Ruby Throat in this photo?

How about in this cropped version of the same photo?

Here's another shot of her.

The hummingbirds aren't the only wildlife to enjoy the Dallas Red.  This Giant Swallowtail spent all afternoon flitting around.  I had a hard time getting a good photo because his wings moved so quickly.  Thankfully out of the 10 or so duds, I got this decent shot.

At the end of the day, I loved the way the Pink Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris in the island bed looked with the sun behind it.

Another of my favorites in the island bed, the Cats Whiskers, Orthosiphon aristatus, has done great this year.  It's bloomed non stop since early summer and is about 4 ft wide and 3 ft tall now.  I had wondered how it would do in the new island bed in full sun, but it seems to like it there. 

 I certainly did enjoy the somewhat cooler weather at the weekend -- it almost felt like fall for a short while.  I'm looking forward to more of the same so we can finish my most recent project (adding another layer of stone to the island bed).

Have a good week!

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