Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Big Yucca Quest

Did you ever really want a certain big ticket plant?   I did, but I realized it's important to wait for the right moment.  It takes extensive preparation to ensure a feature plant is located in the proper spot (since you only get one chance to get it right) so timing is important.   I have wanted a tall yucca for years and have pictured it somewhere in my front yard.  But getting it done took a combination of creating the basic landscape first and also the right circumstances.  

This spring we knew the Vitex tree on the front corner by the garage was past its prime.  Planted 20 years ago by the original owners, it had served its time well as a visual anchor at the corner.  But it was never a favorite plant, just a useful one.  Nothing wrong with that and I had so many other landscaping issues to deal with.

Pruned into treeform it held its own with stunning spring blooms until a few years ago, as shown in this 2010 photo.

Last spring it was clearly signalling decline by barely blooming at all and summer leaves were sparse and small.  Time to take it out.  Could the circumstances be coming together for my tall yucca?

First things first which meant removing the old plant.  We discovered the trunk was hollow.  No wonder it wasn't doing well.

Neal cut it into slices like an Angel food cake and hauled off the remains.

At this point a nest of scorpions ran out of the hole!  But they did not get far.  Are scorpions good fertilizer?  We'll find out.

Massive roots too!

Now what to do with the blank spot?  Of course, I already knew.  With the old Vitex gone it was easy to see my first choice would work well.

It's the perfect spot and I've been visualizing a tall yucca there for a while so the "Big Yucca Quest" was on.  At first thought, a Yucca rostrata was just the plant.  Except I wanted presence from the start which called for one about six feet tall.  Trying to find a large one available at retail proved to be a challenge and hiring a landscaper to acquire one wholesale would come at a steep price.  Yucca rostrata is a native Texas plant so I searched and made lots of calls.  I found specimens in the 3' to 4' range at a reasonable price from several Rio Grande Valley growers but the shipping made the prices essentially the same as those same sizes available locally.

Finally I found Yucca Rigida or Blue Yucca advertised on Craigslist at wholesale prices.  Calling the number revealed the seller was highly reputable grower Barton Springs Nursery in Austin.  For a while I was still on the fence about giving up on Yucca rostrata.  After more consideration and spotting a few striking silvery Yucca rigida around town, I decided its longer, thicker leaves would look more sculptural.  Still, we were limited to the 7' overall length we could fit inside our mid-sized SUV and that included about 2' of root ball leaving me with just 5' or less of yucca.  Then I just happened to mention my predicament to my friend Linda and she offered to take her truck.  Yay!  Linda and I were off on a roadtrip to Austin for the pickup.  Oh, and we decided to purchase two!  The BSN crew had already dug, wrapped and cleaned two six foot specimens by the time we arrived.

Barton Springs Nursery is apparently selling off Yucca rigida plants in favor of growing space for more popular Yucca rostrata shown in the background field.  BSN helpful staff loading Linda's truck.  The entire experience with them was great.

Here we are unloading back at home with help from our awesome neighbor Mike.  The hole was already prepared in advance with a combination of sandy soil and small gravel.

That's Linda in the background by the truck.  These weighed about 250 pounds each, so they were not exactly an easy install.

Here's the first six-foot beauty in place by the garage.  The yucca leaves will relax over time to show off their silvery side and pick up the agave color.

A longer view from the driveway.  Those spiky leaves work well with the house style.

Yucca number two went into the back corner where a significant focal presence has been needed for some time.

A before and after look.  Before: April 2015 with declining Vitex in place.

After: A clean, sculptural look works in well with the rest of our landscape.  Just as I visualized.

My "Big Yucca Quest" was quite an adventure and I'm so excited to have a great structural plant in place and it was a bonus to also get one for the back yard.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter Egg Colors Abound

Easter weekend in San Antonio means local parks are filled to the brim with family campouts.  The tradition is generations old and families begin arriving on Thursday when park curfews are lifted to hold their regular Easter cookout spots.  A local website features a fun montage of photos on the techniques employed.  Saturday brings Easter Egg hunts taking place all over the city.   My own garden is bright with Easter Egg colors so let's see how many colors I can find blooming during Easter week.

We'll start out front with Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus), a native beauty which enjoys wide distribution in Southwestern states including Texas.

Planted several years ago as one tiny pup, it will eventually form a three-foot hedgehog mound covered with bright blossoms each spring.

Bright yellow Damianita at the foot of Agave ovatifolia.  I'm pleased with the performance of this evergreen native which replaced 'New Gold' Lantana last year.

Iris purple just says Easter.

Orange Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigerabrightens up a front corner with Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue' in the background.

Deep pink Salvia Greggii in the streetside garden.

More golden color from Four-nerve Daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa) nested in fresh green Flax Lily.  Four-nerve Daisy is an evergreen repeat bloomer making the list of easiest plants to grow in my garden.

Red Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana) blooms gradually turn from pink to red.

Yellow Caesalpinia pulcherrima is a bit hardier and blooms earlier than the red variety.

I've had a challenge keeping Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea munroana) alive in my garden.  With encouragement from gardening friends I planted another last fall and so far, so good!

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) is another easy care native plant I'm trying in the sunny tank garden this summer.  Blackfoot Daisy blooms throughout our mild winters.

Typically an annual, the Hyacinth Bean Vine (Lablab purpureus) continued to bloom throughout our mild winter.  Planted by accident (I thought it was a different plant), I'm looking forward to seeing how it does in August heat on the full-sun arbor.

Larkspur with their upside down bunny ears.

Bright orange Nasturtium will be finished soon.

Bilbergia Nutans produces gorgeous, delicate blooms.

Now that's my kind of Easter Basket!

With all these blooms, no need to hide Easter Eggs to find bright colors in my garden.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Springing into "re-purposed" garden projects

Spring gardening brings a rather long "to-do" list.  My list usually focuses on planting, but this spring we've focused more on maintaining existing gardens which means several delayed projects have come to the front of the list, and they include ways to better enjoy the garden we've created during the last few years.

Re-purposing is a habit for us and this "new" swing from an old frame is the biggest project so far this year.

A neighbor gave us her old swing when she moved.  The metal frame was sturdy but a little rusty and the original sewn-on sling fabric was torn and in very sad shape.  It was destined for the trash until we rescued it.

We removed the fabric, cleaned and sanded the frame, then a couple of cans of black spray paint later it was ready to add a new seating structure.  We decided on wood instead of replacing the fabric.   A few pieces of scrap decking cut to fit and finished with outdoor stain and Voila! -- a new swing which will now last many years in exchange for a little elbow grease.  We inserted the screws through the metal frame instead of through the wood providing a very clean look which will extend the life of the seating.  It also does not trap leaves or become moldy like the old fabric seating.

We leveled and mulched a space under the trees a few months ago.  I already have cushions which fit, but with or without cushions the swing makes a nice place to relax with a good view of the creek and birdbath.

Next up are two new barrel ring spheres.  I purchased the rings on a recent trip to Fredericksburg.  The large sphere in the foreground was made last year and the two on the left are new.  We use metal screws to hold the rings in place and the key to keeping it all together is an "equator" ring around the outside.  Small, medium, and large will make a fun accent grouping for the garden.

I needed very narrow and shallow window boxes to sit on the sills since drilling into the stone is not an option.  Finding the right width was a challenge and after a long search we decided to make them ourselves.  Leftover fencing boards turned out to be just the right depth and six simple boxes were easy to cut and assemble.

We put tapered feet rails on the bottom so they sit somewhat level on the slanted stone sill.  I painted two for the front windows with several layers of paint which I also sanded to blend with the stone.  Planted up with a selection of favorite succulents, I enjoy the view from my office.  Most of these succulents are fresh cuttings just stuck down in the soil to root.  Succulents are the easiest plants to propagate and work beautifully for so many applications.  I will rarely have to water these even in the hottest part of summer.

Re-use, re-purpose, re-cycle is a fun way to add character to the garden.  More spring projects are on the way and I plan to spend less time gardening and more time enjoying the garden this year.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bluebonnets for Bloom Day March 2016

We have Texas Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) blooming in the garden this week.  Bluebonnets reseed prolifically and we also collect the seeds each year for fall planting just to be sure they turn up where we want them.

With their bonnets of blue they are a welcomed sign of Spring and our Texas state flower.

Except they're not always blue as in this rare white bloom.  While non-blue blooms are the exception the hue can range from white to pink, deep purple and even burgundy red.

Two white blooms emerged from one plant.  If white flowers are pollinated from nearby blues chances are the seeds will produce blue blooms next year.  With at least two white blooms there's a small chance we can have more white ones next year.

To up the odds on getting white flowers next year we tried cross-pollinating the white blooms with a Q-tip.  Just an experiment, but we had to give it a shot.

Look closely and the lower flowers have slight blue tint.  On the right you can see centers of the blue flowers turn red as they age allowing pollinators to find the freshest flowers by their white centers.  On the left, one early bloomer is already producing seeds.

In March it's all about the wildflowers and Texas Bluebonnets are my favorite so I'm linking with Garden Blogger's Bloom Day at May Dreams Garden, so be sure to check out what other garden bloggers are sharing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Wildlife Wednesday March 2016

Wildlife Wednesday, sponsored by Tina at "My Gardener Says..." presents an opportunity for bloggers to gather up wildlife photos from the past month and share them all in one post.  For the first Wednesday of March my photos show that pollinators have been quite active in the garden the last few weeks.

With rosemary providing most of the blooms in the garden last month, it turned into quite the hot spot for pollinators.

Green Metallic Bee (Agapostemon), a type of sweat bee, shines bright on Rosemary Goriza flowers.

A beautiful wasp (ceratogastra ornata, I think) common to southwestern U.S.

Bee and Wasp together

Spotted Ladybeetle, didn't get close enough to count spots.

Honeybee working the Rosemary.

Buckeye butterfly enjoying damp gravel and a bit of camouflage in a low spot on the path after a rain.

Red Admiral Butterfly on the always popular Gomphrena 'Fireworks'.

Pipevine Swallowtail on Salvia 'Hot Lips'.

Monarch Butterflies have been with us all winter, this one was at the gardens where I volunteer each week.  They seem quite happy with our mild winter this year and, barring a late freeze, we should see quite a few as they make their way north this spring.

For every plant there is a pollinator.  Tiny fly on a just right tiny anemone.

Birds have made themselves scarce since a cat took up residence in the back yard so I keep an eye out when on the road.  I spotted a Roadrunner near Fredericksburg, Texas.  Interestingly, roadrunners are members of the cuckoo family.  Roadrunners are classified as Greater or Lesser depending on size.  Probably a Greater Roadrunner since the beak is so prominent.  One of the few animals that will prey on rattlesnakes, they are welcome in the garden.  Just like in the cartoons, their legs do appear to go around like wheels when they run fast!

That's the wildlife roundup from my garden, please join Tina at "My Gardener Says..." for more fascinating wildlife in gardens from faraway places.