Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tiny Dragons and Bottle Trees

The winter of 2013 affected my four "orchid trees" in different ways, not surprising as they were different varieties originating in very different climates.  Our native variety, Bauhinia lunarioides, commonly called an Anacacho Orchid, lost tender branches (about 2 to 3 feet of each limb), but has since fully recovered.   The Bauhinia blakeana, which produced enormous pink blooms that really did look like orchids, died to the ground.   A fourth, Bauhinia fortificata commonly called the Brazilian Orchid tree, also died.  I had high hopes for my favorite, Bauhinia mexicana, a tiny shrub with delightful split leaves, as it had survived freezes in other years.  But evidently our pattern of freezes alternating with high heat followed again by late season freezes was just too much -  and it too died.  The "native is better" movement may have gained support here.  Even so, we gardeners probably all have our guilty little collection of plants from some remote place with completely different growing conditions.

On the bright side, the dead trunk and branches of B. blakeana allowed me to make a bottle tree of sorts.  After trimming it back to highlight its form, the branches were decorated with Lucky Buddha beer bottles - each bottle sports a laughing, round bellied Buddha molded into the green glass who dares you not to smile.   In keeping with my pollinator friendly garden,  I also attached several bee houses then planted a Yellow Butterfly Vine at the base.  Oddly, the leaves of the vine look very much like the leaves of the Bauhinia it replaced.

As of today, 6 cells have bees and the Butterfly Vine is going crazy!  Two anoles seem to think it's their own little nirvana, and guard it ferociously.   All in all, the new activity is more than compensation for the loss. 

All material © 2014 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Little Things

Funny how the smallest things in nature can give us so much pleasure.  This past weekend I noticed that one of the new metalwork items in my garden had been blessed by the addition of  a line of lacewing eggs.


If you're not familiar with lacewings, click here to see the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension page on this fascinating and welcome garden visitor.  Delicate in appearance, they're fairly voracious and consume a long list of undesirable garden pests.  

Fun fact, that little "stick" from which each egg is suspended is likely designed to prevent freshly hatched baby lacewings from eating each other!

All material © 2014 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ligustrum Lament

If you want to get a gardener talking trash in Austin, just bring up the topic of ligustrums.  The botanical name is Ligustrum japonicum, but you may also know it as Japanese privet or Wax-leaf privet.  We just love to hate these highly invasive shrubs!  They easily grow from small plants into tall trees, crowd out local plants, and form dense thickets by developing tasty berries to entice birds to "drop" seeds miles away.  

What we don't want to remember is that bees and butterflies (particularly Red Admirals) love their fragrant white flowers and that their trunks can be truly beautiful when pruned and tended.

Our yard was home to a fully mature specimen when we purchased the house about 10 years ago, and I've constantly apologized for my ligustrum ever since.  Yes, I tried to be responsible by pruning immediately after it flowered so those little purple berries wouldn't form.  But challenged by how I might quickly replace a tall architectural element in the garden that also attracted swarms of bees and butterflies, I could never bring myself to cut it down.

Well, a leaky pipe has now fixed all that.  Seems the original owner of the house planted that sucker directly over the spot where a city water PVC pipe connects with the copper pipe to our house.  The very same spot where a majority of residential leaks develop.   By the time the leak was detected, 500 gallons of water PER DAY had been seeping out for who knows how long.  Ouch!  

My dear husband dug test holes all around the base, patiently showing me that the source of the leak was indeed directly under our 15 foot tall tree and that it really did have to go.

Patient husband digging 3rd pilot hole to find leak's source
Last branch to go

Broken pipe at the bottom of it all
 As soon as it was gone, brainstorming a replacement kept my mind racing.  What would be tall, perennial or maybe even evergreen, good in full sun to dappled shade, flowering in any color but bright orange, and in some way beneficial to local bees, butterflies, or birds?  So far, I've decided a nice metal trellis will be a good way to establish height right away and hopefully also update the look of our house.  That's already in the works.  Now I need your suggestions of a vine that will meet my criteria.  Tell me - what would you plant?

All material © 2014 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Invitation to Natural Discourse

Garden bloggers attending this year's Fling in the San Francisco area were treated to a reception at the home of artist and garden designer Shirley Watts.  A photo I took that evening of the glossy rose hips forming on a Rosa glauca later created an opportunity to speak with Shirley on a number of our shared passions.  She's asked me to spread the word about one of them - a Symposium on Natural Discourse to be held October 10, 2013 in Berkeley.  

Here's their website for details and tickets:

We simply have no idea who a person truly is when we first meet.  A person's reputation or celebrity is simply a costume worn in particular settings, and we're fortunate on rare occasions to truly know one another.  One of my favorite parts of our annual Garden Blogger Flings is knowing a little more, settling a layer deeper, growing real friendships with others.  

If you have the opportunity, enrich your life and widen your circle of friends by attending this Symposium.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Monarch Waystation Open for Business

Thanks to Monarch for their beautiful graphic.  Check out their website for information on creating your own "Monarch Waystation."

Just a quick note to say that Monarchs are now being sighted in my Austin area garden.  Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana) and various Asclepias seemed to be their favorites this morning, but they also flitted without landing among the Gregg's mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) during the time I stood transfixed and delighted.

Please comment with your location if you're also seeing my favorite little southbound fall transients in your garden.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

I've Created Monsters

It seems like building housing for native bees would be a good thing, but it seems I've created some tiny striped monsters.  With so many options available in my garden, they've started to see everything as potential housing.

Today I watched a leafcutter bee for thirty minutes as she tried to decide between the holes in an orchid pot and the hole in the handle of my Cobrahead tool.  If you're not wondering how I could stare at a bee for 30 minutes, you're my kind of people.  Look closely at the hole in the blue handle - that's her butt in there.  She must've gone in and out fifty times, trying to envision where to put her things.

Can't really see her?  Here's a blurry, but full picture of my little friend.

It's not her fault, really.  The old digs were already buzzin' with new tenants and she had to think fast.  That new fancy place with the green bottles may have looked too rich for her taste, and what's a girl to do with kids on the way?   Here's someone moving into the old place ...

Other option was this waterfront property, but it already had several offers.

Update 2 days later:  she appears to have chosen the CobraHead.

All material © 2013 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bee B & B now open for "beesiness"

Shortly after I first heard about insect hotels, one of my favorite bloggers built one in her "Middle Tennessee" garden.  See Clay and Limestone's Pollinator Condo here.  Inspired by her design, I did what all of us do these days - a Google search - only to find out that those garden crazy Europeans have been wild about insect hotels for years.  There are even national contests in the UK to see who builds the most clever design.  It was clearly time to catch up.

Closer to home, my friend Sheryl who blogs at Yard Fanatic has constructed the most amazing tower of insect friendliness.  Her Austin garden is already awe inspiring, but I just had to keep going back to admire her well-researched and beautifully designed insect hotel.  Hers was completed in time to welcome the spring bees, and served as another nudge for me to get my "bee-hind" in gear.  Recently she and Ed spent four sunny Saturday hours helping me cut branches and drill bee sized holes in materials for my bee house.  They could've been gardening, or resting from gardening, or drinking on the porch and planning to garden, but nooooo - they generously helped me instead.  Wow.  How do you adequately thank friends like that?

My constant local inspiration in all things related to native plants and habitat gardening is Meredith at Great Stems blog.  Just this morning she posted about her Hotel Insecta.  With detailed instructions on every step of the construction, she guides you through the how AND why.  So, guess it's time to unveil mine.

Starting with the idea that I wanted to do something creative and slightly weird, I decided to repurpose a vintage metal rack for empty soda bottles.  Turned upside down, the base provided a support for a small roof and the square bottle spaces gave structure to the branches, twigs, and other materials used to provide bee and insect friendly housing.  With ample nectar and pollen plants in the garden, and some uncovered soil nearby for the "mason" bees, it's shaping up to be a fairly inviting Bee B and B, don't you think?

Since it started out as a bottle rack, it seemed natural to incorporate some empty bottles.   Hopefully that will also satisfy my craving for a bottle tree as my husband doesn't really "get" their appeal.     

All three of my friends' insect hotels are easily broken down and replenished - an important idea to keep in mind as you plan yours.  And I know you will.  Why not provide something to attract and protect the beneficial pollinators in your garden?  If you already have an insect hotel and have blogged about it, please leave a comment and provide a link.  

The more ideas we share, the more interest we can stir up.  No reason we can't be just as hospitable to pollinators as to those European insect hoteliers, right?

All material © 2013 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.