Skip to main content

The Welcome Mat

Each year as the Monarchs funnel through Central Texas on their way to Mexico's oyamel forests for the winter, I hope they see my welcome mat.  It's a small multi-colored spot in the midst of the green  suburban lawns and brown pastures surrounding me.  Nectar producing plants are planted in clumps at least 3 feet wide to increase visibility for my anticipated guests, and offered in a variety of colors to appeal to many eyes - both single and compound.

At the beginning of this 2019 fall migration, the mistflowers were the big draw.  They create a long early swath of blue in the front yard that gives way beyond the Turk's cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) to a tall blue mistflower that threatens to climb the six foot tall fence in the back.  The blue in front is Gregg's blue (Conoclinium greggii) and the tall one remains a mystery that was sold to me as "fragrant mistflower".  Just as they fade, the shrubby boneset (Eupatorium havanense) fires up on the opposite side of the garden, drawing small butterflies and bees during the day and clearwing or "hummingbird" moths at dusk.

Cestrum aurantiacum, or yellow cestrum, is considered an invasive in some areas, but in my garden it's a big part of the welcome mat and easily stays where it was planted.  Blooms start in early summer and continue until the temperatures are consistently frosty.  Bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies flock to it.  If the noise from neighbor dogs or children makes the Monarchs too nervous to settle on the mistflower, they just float over to the cestrum and hang there.  After a few hard freezes, the leaves curl up and die but the plant easily returns from a good pruning the following spring.  It also serves as a most welcome privacy screen so it doesn't seem my neighbors to the back are right on top of us.

Serving up lots of nectar to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are the almond verbenas (Aloysia virgata) that surround the corner of our patio.  They're reliably in bloom when the Monarchs come through, but also during the summer and early fall.  Follow the link to Pam Penick's blog post on this sweetly scented plant.   It may have been in the heat of a Texas summer that I decided to experiment with five of these as a hedge.  The result of the experiment?  Well, let's just say that we attract A LOT of bees once the blooms start to open.  It was a successful experiment in that the welcome mat is enhanced but the gardener is exhausted by trying to force small trees to bend to my will.  One would've been plenty and I see a design revision in my future.

Rounding all of this out is a sprinkling of low mounding, flowering plants that take turns blooming throughout three seasons - winecups, bulbine, lantana, salvias, and others .   I keep experimenting and adding clumps of those that will be blooming during the fall migration.  With all the push to plant native milkweed, it's easy to focus on that.  Do spread those seeds in the fall so it can be up and available as a host plant for the Monarchs the following spring.   But in the fall, the focus should be on fuel for the long journey south.  A welcome mat signalling food and a place to rest for a while.


Popular posts from this blog

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…

Another Dang Opportunity

When we recently had to remove a mature Arizona Ash from our back yard, we went from a shade garden to one passionately caressed by the hot reach of the Death Star.  A couple of plants curled up and died before they could adjust, but the resilience and flexibility of most truly surprised me.  They've merely gotten a bad sunburn and the new foliage seems to be growing in tolerant of the increased sun.  Having plants that are native or well adapted to our area must give them a healthy resilience in extremes.
It wasn't just the plants that needed time to adjust.  Mourning the loss of the tree and considering the changes ahead were a bit overwhelming to me, and I'll admit to being fairly grumpy for about a week.  Finally I could see it as just another dang opportunity.  Here's a peek at the good news that grew out of the bad.

As you may know, my garden is all about supporting pollinators.  A variety of bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and fairly benign wasps honor …

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 …