Monday, September 26, 2016


Sometimes the plant that seems best for a spot doesn't work out quite that way.  After six tries I thought I had found the right grass for the driveway island bed.  Pennisetum grasses just had to be an excellent choice for that spot because they defy sun and drought better than most plants in my garden.  With the added bonus of being absolutely deer proof, the only downside seemed to be that they reseed prolifically.  So prolifically that I did not purchase a single one of the dozen or so in my garden.  Nope, a couple years ago the seeds floated two doors down from my neighbor up the hill and I've been transplanting seedlings ever since.  It was all good.  Except this morning I found the pennisetum grasses had been flattened by one of our deluge storms last night with as much as three inches during the 6 am hour.

Just yesterday when I took photos of Neal trimming the Salvia greggii out by the street, I paused to admire the pennisetum grasses softly waving in the background behind the wheelbarrow.  Did I think to take a better photo?  No, of course not, those grasses would look that good for a couple of weeks.

Except they got hit by a storm.  Now they're a mess with little chance they'll recover enough to display the winter interest I had planned on which means a replacement strategy needs to be in the works.  From the above photo it's clear this prominent spot needs to look good all year.

I've reworked this bed six times including the yuccas which died after blooming and now it's back to the plant selection drawing board so to speak.  Grasses are my preferred choice.  Which grasses would work better?  Taking a walk around the garden this morning I found native grasses stood up to heavy rain much better than the imports.

Lindheimer's Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) looks great by the garage, evergreen with upright stalks.  I'd like to use this in the island bed but I've not found another one as finely textured and compact as this specimen.  Divisions from this plant have not transplanted well in the past but I might try again.

El Toro Muhly (Muhlenbergia emersleyi) remained upright in the storm though the seedheads are not soft enough to be an eyecatching plant at the end of the row.

Deer Muhly (Muhlenbergia rigens) is just sending up stalks and, from what I've read, they won't unfurl much more than this.

Around back in the circle garden more pennisetum fell flat...

...while Muhlenbergia lindheimeri remains sturdily upright (in the background).  This very plant used to be in the island bed but it turned out to be too large and unruly for that spot so now it's in the circle garden where it works well.  Also shown is Pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubya) (lower left) which I like a lot but is not quite showy enough for a prominent spot.

Maybe instead of a challenge it's another opportunity.  While the search is on for the right ornamental grass, I may end up with another yucca.  The softness of grasses is preferred though yuccas do seem to hold up better

And to think I planted ornamental grasses for their low maintenance value.  Ha!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Invasion of the not so migratory butterflies

For several weeks now we've been watching thousands of the American snout-nosed butterflies pour over our fence line, always southbound.  They mostly stay above the trees like the 30' Live Oaks shown below.  (Click on the gif photo below to enlarge.)

Many drop lower and end up splatted on cars.  Not to worry say local butterfly experts, there are plenty left to make a bumper crop next year.  With all the rain, conditions were good for butterflies this year.

They are closely following the path of the lowly and ubiquitous Hackberry tree.  Considered a weed tree by most landscapers, this important wildlife food source is plentiful in natural areas along our creek.

With so many growing nearby, I have no problem pulling hundreds of seedlings from my garden each year.  Thank you birds for feasting on the seeds all winter and dropping them in my garden.

Hackberries develop a deep tap root very early which makes them a challenge to pull if I wait too long.

American snout nose butterflies are dull brown and moth-like so they're not the prettiest butterfly but observing their seemingly endless numbers in flight against the summer sky is fascinating.

Where do they come from and where are they going?  They don't go far at all!  Their migration begins 50 miles north along I-35 in San Marcos and ends near the Mexican border in Brownsville, about 250 miles south.  Considering the thousands of miles Monarch butterflies travel twice a year, that's not much distance at all.

Fly high, little butterflies!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hill Country Roads: Texas Hill Country Olive Company and a few stops along the way

Last Friday a group of gardening friends piled into Melody's car and headed north to Dripping Springs for a tour of the Texas Hill Country Olive Company.

Our first stop was in Blanco to drop off a plant for Sheryl Smith-Rogers of Window on a Texas Wildscape.  Of course we had to take a tour of her garden.  Sheryl was away but her husband James Hearn was there to show us around.

Schoolhouse or Oxblood lilies were in bloom near the well.  These fleeting red blooms in early September offer the promise of cooler weather on the horizon.  They are also a reminder of the early settlers who planted these bulbs throughout Central Texas nearly a century ago.

I was especially taken with the silvery tops of Whiteleaf mountain mint under the massive oak.

I could easily identify this plant which I don't think I've seen before because Sheryl thoughtfully and clearly labels her plants for visitors.

James was an excellent tour guide and even showed off his interest in archeology with two metates (one pictured below) found near Peyton Colony, an early African-American settlement in Blanco County.  Thank you for the tour James!

Next stop was the Texas Hill Country Olive Company just north of Dripping Springs.

Our tour was guided by owner John Gambini who gave us a brief history of olive cultivation and background on his olive growing operation founded in 2008.  We headed out into the olive orchard for a look at a few of the 1900 olive trees and a discussion of the testing and harvesting process.

There are five different varieties of olive trees planted at this orchard.   The two varieties closest to the building are Arbequina and Mission.

Mission olives shown below are larger than Arbequina above.  Olives at the top of the tree are beginning to ripen and the Gambini family is preparing for harvest soon.  All olives on the tree are harvested at the same time whether green or black.

One of the harvesting methods is to shake the trees with this device.  Olives are collected in the bin and zipped over to the pressing machine on site to maintain quality since light, air, heat, and time are the enemies of good olive oil.

We headed indoors to see the pressing operation.  Mr. Gambini emphasized buying local to ensure we get 100% olive oil since worldwide demand has led to some vendors cutting olive oil with other types of oil.

We visited the nice gift shop and lunch in the Bistro with a view of the garden was excellent.  There was a tasting bar for olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar which were quite good.

Before we left I paused to take in the view of those wide open Hill Country spaces which are fast disappearing.

Our next stop was Vivero Growers where I took a photo of our native Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) in a field near the parking lot.  We'd been admiring the blooms all along the way so it was fun to get a better view.  I'd have waded into the field for a better look but there was a fence in the way.

Of course I headed straight for the succulent greenhouse which was beautiful as usual.

As great as the selection was, I decided to wait for spring to add new succulents.  To see my previous visit to this excellent nursery check out my post here.

On the way home we stopped at Sol'stice, a funky art and garden shop in Dripping Springs.

Owner Chris Smartt is a garden designer and artist.  We all remember his best-known project which was turning his mom's swimming pool into a pond.

Sol'stice carries a nice selection of plants including plenty of Texas native plants.

I didn't ask what this colorful pot is made of.  Chris works with concrete and if this is concrete it would be quite heavy.

"Yard art mecca" as a Sol'stice customer commented on the website.

View of the porch.

An agave stalk tied to the eaves of the shop is a cool way to keep part of a bloomed-out agave.

Interesting containers and plants.  The pot at lower right is an olla, an ancient form of garden irrigation making a comeback during our frequent droughts.

Slag glass in concrete.

The sun was intense and most of the art was in deep shade but I think you can see by the artful  mushrooms just how cool this place is.

Concrete fountain

Art lined garden paths wind through oaks behind the shop.

Peacock bench

Metal art

Look closely at the deer head!

Old metal pieces with a Texas twist.

And this impressive totem of stacked concrete and wheel rim spacers draped in lights.  It would be kind of heavy to cart home but I do like the concept.

All in all a great day in the Texas Hill Country.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

December 2002, Never Forget

We visited just over a year after...

A hole as big as the one in our hearts.  There are buildings, a museum, a memorial fountain filling the hole now.

One of the names on the list belonged to a former neighbor from the Boston area.  He died here, on American Flight 11 when that first plane hit the towers.