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The Long View

When I first started gardening, it was great fun seeing what would or wouldn't grow.  I collected cacti and scented geraniums (pelargoniums), and had a wide assortment of culinary herbs.   Little forethought went into any design or view of the yard as a whole, and you would have been hard pressed to call it a garden.  Playin' outside is exactly what I've always done, with little attention paid to the longer view of gardening - design.
Gaining proficiency in propagation and some skill in keeping plants alive did not lend cohesion to my chaos.  Local garden centers never talked about design but were always happy to feed my addiction to the new and unusual.  Being a master gardener put me in the company of others who shared my fascination, but who also rarely if ever discussed design.  So I gathered more plants but it's fair to say my yard looked MUCH better in close ups.   Chaos continued to reign. A gardening friend calls it "cramscaping".
It's not until I …
Recent posts

A Plant with Purple Leaves

There are a couple of groups on Facebook where I lurk and occasionally dip my opinion into the fray.  They're places where people with knowledge of unbelievable scope can be observed, deftly identifying this obscure native plant or that scraggly left-behind orphan found in the backyard of a newly purchased home.  
One such backyard orphan recently was posted in need of identification.   If it were a native plant, two people on "Texas Flora" would've named it within minutes.  Even the taxonomy of those impossible grasses is typically put to rest in seconds.  Not so with this poor guy. 



 At first I was fairly certain it was one of the purple leafed basils, maybe 'African Blue'.  It's fairly impossible to find it still thriving in a Texas January, but two plants in my yard are still hanging in there.  They even look like they'll come back if we don't have a deep freeze before spring.  BTW, this basil has one heck of a botanical moniker - Ocimum kili…

Purple Martin Party Time!

Travis Audubon hosted a Purple Martin Colony visit this past Saturday next to the historic home of Laura Joseph.  Laura started the colony 25 years ago, the product of a lifelong love of the little birds.  The colony is tended, and carefully documented with daily data, by a group of dedicated volunteers called "landlords".  Steve, the "head honcho" of this effort, was in attendance to answer our questions and give us a peek at these interesting birds.


In February, the birds begin to arrive.  The mating pairs will produce around 500 babies by mid-May,  teach them to fly in the safety of the colony, then guide them to the larger migrating flock that draws thousands of sightseers each night to see them roost near Highland Mall.




Here in the colony, the landlords will first provide pine straw for nesting material.  Then the houses are lowered daily so that every single nest can be cleaned, eggs and birds counted, and houses carefully tended to ensure that the hundreds of…
And just like that, this year's Fling is upon us - three very full days of renewing old friendships and creating new ones, seeing some gardens that challenge us and some that spark ideas we'll modify and plant in our own.  This is the tenth Fling and it's returned to where it started ... here in Austin.

Even though it's where I live, many of the gardens will be new to me.  There are others that are familiar favorites; but I'm looking forward to seeing my city through the eyes of a visitor.  Between the traffic and heat, it's far too easy to retreat to our air conditioned corners and lose out on what the city has to offer.  It'll be nice to leave the driving to our bus drivers and focus on catching up with our group.
We've had Flingers join us from Canada, Spain, the U.K., and most states of the U.S.  We've been to the D. C. area, Minneapolis, Toronto, Portland, San Francisco, Asheville, Seattle, Buffalo, Chicago, and of course, here in Austin.  Every …
This past Saturday was the first ever Austin Catio Tour put on by the Travis County Audubon Society.  They did an amazing job of showcasing 10 catios that varied in size,  style, and number of contented cat customers served.   One "certified cat lady" had a screened porch built for her herd, but hers wasn't even the largest structure featured.   A stop by the home with that honor came with a side of barbecue and refreshments.
One homeowner added style to her catio by planting a clean, modern border of foxtail ferns along the outer wall.  Her catio was basically a screened-in porch, and its construction included building a wooden deck, exterior paint to match the house, and plenty of cat perches clustered in favored spots to avoid squabbles over the perfect vantage point.


For this inaugural tour, all but one were built by The Cat Carpenter, David Murphy.  David is a cat lover and customizes the structures with the cats' safety and needs in mind.  By noon on Friday, 8…

Three Simple Ways to Garden for Monarch Butterflies

This past weekend I got to enjoy being with a room full of folks who completely understand the value of native plants to native wildlife.  They "get" the concept of co-evolution, the way that native pollinators and native plants have evolved to be mutually dependent.  And, of course, the popular issue of supporting Monarchs eventually came up because we all now know these beautiful icons are also dependent on a specific host plant.  But when the topic of planting milkweed for Monarchs came up, our discussion underscored something I find myself repeating over and over, and repeated yet again to this experienced group.  When several of them were surprised, I decided to repeat it here as well.  Remember, if you hear or see something repeated three times, it's going to be a test question.
As central Texans who find ourselves smack dab in the squeeze point through which all Monarchs east of the Rockies travel during their migration, we really need to focus on providing nectar …

Rain Chains

Why do I always hear Rex Harrison's voice from My Fair Lady when I hear "rain chains"?  We're not in Spain, nor in the plains, but by George I've finally got it, I mean, got one.  It's been sitting in a box at least two years waiting for me to repair the fascia and soffit, then paint, then install a short section of guttering just so it could be deployed.  No doubt you know how that goes.  But it's all completed now and ready for the reveal.

The bottom of the chain is anchored in a large pot full of stones, something I decided to do to further slow the runoff.  Underneath and surrounding the pot are more of the same stones.
After watching it in action through some hard rains, I can report it functions very well.  The water gently cascades down and no longer washes out the bed or the gravel along the side of the driveway, and it's just so darned pretty to watch in action.
However, we have three oaks and a crape myrtle in the front that drop leaves and lit…