Getting back to my grass roots

Despite the fact that our butterfly garden has been dedicated as such, the old grass is trying to reestablish its territory. So every morning I go out to pull grass. It’s amazingly hard to pull it out with its roots in this clay soil, so chances are I’ll be pulling grass for some time to come. On the plus side, I get to spent ample time admiring the wildlife that is frequenting the garden. This morning I enjoyed, among others, Monarch, Queen, Skipper, Sulphur, and Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. They’d fly over me, casting shadows the size of birds, and as I looked up I’d see a vision of color fluttering by.

Monarch 10-22-08 a.jpgThis morning also brought a dragonfly and a small centipede, which crawled quite close to my flip-flop-exposed toes. I just studied it for awhile and went back to my gardening. After all, a centipede, while hazardous to humans, is quite the bug predator and is welcome in my garden. On the other hand, perhaps I should stop wearing flip flops!

Happily all my plants are doing well. The rains we had last week assured me that my front yard plants are finally getting established — they have really settled in and started growing. It’s fun to see all so many blooms on small plants. It’s like watching small kids learning to do grown-up things. Here’s a close-up of a milkweed bloom.

Milkweed bloom 10-22-08.jpg

I should correct my statement to say that all of my plants that have survived the dogs are doing well. The thundering husky and his girlfriend do their best to trample the garden or eat young seedlings. Hopefully, if all goes well, one of these days the surviving plants will be large enough that the dogs will go around, instead of through, the garden. If only the dogs could pull up the grass for me — that would be okay.

Grass 10-22-08.jpg

I Am a Lily

I happened upon this quiz in a garden blog, This Garden Is Illegal. As it turns out, I am a Lily. I usually can’t stand these types of quizzes, but how could I resist one that pertains to gardening? Here’s the description of a Lily person: “Your artistic expression tends to show up in flamboyant bursts. When you are feeling creative, it consumes your every thought and action. But just as quickly as the muse shows up, it leaves you and you are back to your relatively normal self.” Fits me to a T.

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

The pond begins

The pond is officially underway. Thanks to Craigslist, we found someone who was getting rid of a tremendous number of huge rocks from their yard, and another person wanting to get rid of an old hot-tub shell. We are recycling the shell into a pond for our backyard. We’d love to go even bigger with our pond, but because of the dogs, we need to have a partially raised pond in the hopes that we can keep the dogs out (ha). The hot-tub shell should be perfect for the job, plus we get to save a major piece of trash from having to go the landfill. 

The pond beginsThe butterfly garden has a few more plants. If all goes well, these plants will be much larger next year, supplemented as well by spring-blooming plants.

Butterfly garden 12-19-08The first removal of an invasive Nandina also happened this weekend. One down, fifty to go! Okay, hopefully not that many. But lots.

The problem with a big yard

Living on roughly 1/2 acre has its advantages, but of late I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all. The property has about 65 trees on it, but they are mostly on the sides and back of the property. The rest of the yard has been fairly empty, except for a few volunteer shrubs and invasives and weeds. So now that I’m finally gardening — I’d call it landscaping, but I don’t like to think of it that way — I feel like I’ll never be able to get enough plants to fill it.

Today was the biannual plant sale at the Wildflower Center, one of my favorite local places to visit. Normally a visit brings peace and tranquility to one’s soul when walking through the colorful displays of butterflies fluttering among flowers, listening to the sounds of buzzing bees and trickling waterfalls. But today was a madhouse of mayhem — local Wildflower Center members all fighting their way to their desired native plants in order to claim them and place them on their cart. It was quite an experience– and fun getting caught up in the selection of plants. I bought 5 trees: 2 Mexican Redbuds, a Lacey Oak, a Wafer Ash, and a Texas Persimmon. Perennials and shrubs included Hill Country Penstemon, Salvia coccinea, Salvia greggii, Purple Coneflower, Mealy Blue Sage, TX Lantana, Wood Fern, Yellowbells, Mexican Feathergrass, and Red Columbine — I think that’s everything. But did I buy enough? Nope. I still need another big tree and some more plants for the butterfly garden. I still need to buy shrubs for… everywhere. I have so much I’d like to get in the ground now so that I don’t have to wait again until next fall. But I have so much yard!  

A green thumb? Mine’s covered in dirt

Just like my mother, I thrive on projects. My latest project has turned out to be one that will keep me busy for years to come. It’s time to finally turn our scorched dead yard into something pretty and useful, so I am planting plants, some for landscaping and some for pure enjoyment. Sure, I’ve planted a handful of things from time to time, but the task of transforming the large yard was daunting and the desire to fully commit to it just hadn’t stuck. Well, I finally found my green thumb, or at least my perpetually dirty fingernails and feet. Welcome to my young garden.

This all started with the deliberate falling of a dead tree in our front yard. We beat it to the punch — the old hackberry was destined to fall on the house (specifically our son’s bedroom) with the next strong wind. Somehow the process of removing it got me inspired to plant a few things. And suddenly a little project became a full property focus.

I started on the entryway, where three beds of almost complete dirt had sat empty (except one yew and some annoying weeds) for far too long. Now they are filled with small shade plants that will someday be big plants. The beds have room to change — in fact one change was made today to save a new plant. We’ve had rain for the past 24 hours, and it turns out the water running off the roof was bombarding my poor little wood violet, trying to drown it in the process. The wood violet is now safely tucked away in a different bed, and I have buckets collecting any additional runoff. On our project list is adding gutters and rain barrel, when money allows. But in the meantime my wood violet may yet live, and for now that is what matters.

Our dogs and newly-adopted cats have been my gardening companions. When I’m in the front yard with the cats, the dogs are jealous and whiny. When I’m in the backyard with the dogs, the cats want to come outside. But they each have their area, and the cats are chaperoned (no hunting allowed).

Tooga the Gardener

Tooga loves to garden with me, and she insists on coming outside whenever she sees me heading out there. Any hole I dig in the front yard, she is right there to test it out and make sure it is just right.

Even skittish Cricket, our kitten, has found her adventuresome side, though she still scurries back to the house or garage at every noise.


Tooga doesn’t notice toads if they act like garden rocks. The toads prefer it that way.

Tooga ignores toad

The garden is bringing in all sorts of wildlife already — toads, butterflies, lizards, skinks, caterpillars, wasps, birds, and squirrels. A few pest bugs have arrived, too, but nothing to bring alarm (well, except for the goldenball leadtree that was filled with fire ants).

I found an itty-bitty monarch caterpillar on the milkweed:

Baby monarch caterpillarAs one of my plant purchases, I chose a baby Dutchman’s pipevine, only to discover the next morning that it was half gone thanks to a big pipevine swallowtail caterpillar! That hungry caterpillar was awfully cute though.

Pipevine caterpillar on pipe weedBut I didn’t have enough plant to support it, so I took the caterpillar back to Natural Gardener’s so it could feast on their pipevine. And wow, was it happy. But my poor pipevine then got dragged by the dogs through the yard before I managed to get it planted — amazingly it’s actually growing, and it seems quite happy now.

Pipevine catA toad made use right away of the toad bath we made .

Toad hallBelow is a view of the butterfly garden before I put in the edging — the butterfly shape is at our kids’ request. I’m not going to overdo the edging in the yard, but I wanted to make sure the butterfly shape stayed. It was a pain to get those wings even! You can see the original and much smaller bed in the butterfly shape. The area along the fence and house, separated by a line of bricks, will be a bed we prepare for spring planting.

Butterfly bed

Next is the garden with the edging and some of the plants put in place. Michael helped dig out the bed, but I did the edging and the planting, giving myself a bit of tendonitis in my right elbow during the process. 

Michael in the gardenTurning our old wheelbarrow into a planter, I planted herbs and colorful annuals. I used some of that basil just this evening! Yum.

Wheelbarrow of herbs and flowersEastern tiger swallowtails came to visit this weekend, and two danced and went off together.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

All in all, it’s been fun. I seem to be spending most of my waking hours thinking about plants. The yard is officially certified as a wildlife habitat, and now I’m trying to bring in as many native Texas plants as I can to help get the yard certified as a Texas Wildscape and a Best of Texas habitat. Someday our yard will look very different. Right now it’s in its baby stages.