Tropical Popsicles vs Summer Heat

This record-breaking Texas heat wave is trying to do us in. We get about an hour in the morning in which we can garden or exercise – it’s pretty hard to do both. In the evenings it’s still hot, but at least it’s shaded, so you can get another hour to be outside, but you’ll be attacked by ravenous blood-sucking Texas-sized mosquitoes. Finally I decided that if I can’t garden the way I’d like to, I should figure out ways to help my family stay cool. So I’m going to experiment with making a variety of fresh-fruit popsicles – I’ll post the recipes after my family tries them and gives them their taste bud approval!

This isn’t a precisely measured recipe – modifications can be made based on what you have. If you can, use organic ingredients, especially the strawberries (conventional strawberries absorb a lot of pesticides –if you can’t get organic, wash them well with a vegetable wash to remove as much pesticide as you can). And yes, I added some greens to the recipe. I’m all about sneaking in the veggies – you can’t taste them or notice them in the fruit-loaded popsicles. What can I say — I’m a mom! The strawberry tops are loaded with nutrients, so keep them in!

If you don’t have popsicle molds, you can use cups or ice-cube trays. I just ordered from Amazon these amazing popsicle molds – they are BPA-free and you can pull them out individually, which is incredibly fantastic. You can choose from stars, rockets, jewels, or traditional shapes. I’m thrilled — though the boys chose the rockets over the jewel rings, go figure.

This recipe is tropical — the next recipe will be chocolate — wish me luck! 


Tropical Popsicles

Makes about 8 popsicles

1 large mango – cut up a bunch of small “chunks” to add to the popsicles later; set those aside. Put the rest in blender (about 1 cup to 1.5 cups in blender) (if you prefer, you can skip the chunks and put it all in the blender to make completely smooth).

11 medium to large strawberries, with their green tops on – put in blender

Another 3 strawberries, cut into chunks (add the green tops to the blender)

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons agave nectar

Several baby spinach leaves


Ultimately the fruits and veggies amount to about 5.5 cups in the blender BEFORE mixing – so work with what you have. Blend the main ingredients thoroughly until smooth, then pour into the popsicle molds (or paper cups, or whatever you are using). Sprinkle in the chunks of mango and strawberries and push them in with the popsicle stick. Freeze until frozen – enjoy!




Texas Heat Wave and Planting

 What’s the first rule about planting in the Texas summer, especially during a heat wave?


But here’s my dilemma. The boys and I wanted to get a little plant for the bees because it’s Pollinator Week. So we went down to Natural Gardener and selected a little pincushion flower. Why? Because it had a happy little bee already on it! (We didn’t take the bee home.) Is it native? No, I don’t think so. Is it drought hardy? I really hope so. Basically I broke all sorts of rules yesterday (it was the gardener mom in me — the kids were excited about a plant, and then so was I). Because after choosing the pincushion (and a rudbeckia), I headed back toward the cashier, turned the corner, and found…

Dutchman’s Pipevine! This beautiful little vine is not available that often in the nurseries, and not only had Natural Gardener just gotten some in for the first time this year, the vines were big, beautiful, blooming, and covered in little eggs. Dutchman’s Pipevine (Aristolochia fimbriata) is the host plant for a gorgeous butterfly called the Pipevine Swallowtail. Natural Gardener is known for having tons of these plants in their butterfly garden — they are usually covered with munching little caterpillars, and Pipevine chrysalises can be discovered in unusual places all over their garden. Many Austinites covet these plants, and I am no exception. Just look at this gorgeous flower. No, it’s not native. See, another rule broken. 


And the plants already have many little swallowtail eggs on them.

pipevineeggsb06-23-09.jpgHere’s a caterpillar picture I took last year.

pipevinecat.jpgI bought one last fall, and it has survived some of the worst my household and environment can do to anything. The dogs dragged it all over the yard from the start, and in tears I re-planted the little remaining root in the front, and I babied it over the winter and amazingly it survived. During that time it got completely smothered by falling leaves off my roof. I gingerly removed them. Then in March we got hit with a terrible hail storm with golf-ball sized hail. It survived. I thought it was done for when the roofers dropped tons of roofing material onto that bed. smooshing the plant. When I got all the debris off, all the leaves were gone. But I left the root in, and lo and behold, that little baby sprouted new leaves and looks better than ever. Small, but alive.

Back to the heat wave. We are having one of the worst Junes ever — 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit — usually we are mid-90s about now. Is this the time to plant? Absolutely not.

But at my house, if you want a plant to survive, you either:

1) Don’t buy it.

2) Get it in the ground fast with a good dose of water, and then some more. Otherwise, the dogs will drag it across the yard or eat it, or the sun will bake it on the porch.

So, yes I bought the plants because they are so hard to get and were stunning. Yes, I planted them (with lots of mulch). And yes, I’m prepared to baby them like you wouldn’t believe. I’ll set up a tent for extra afternoon shade if I have to. I will love them, and pet them, and name them George!

Austinites, if you have been wanting Dutchman’s Pipevine, too, I suggest you get down to Natural Gardener today!

Here are my other two flowers — the pincushion and the rudbeckia.



Stay cool and out of the sun, Texans — unless you are out there creating shade with your body to protect your precious new plants, like I will be!

Bee happy! It’s Pollinators Week! June 22-28, 2009

What’s all the buzz about? It’s National Pollinator Week here in the United States. It’s a time to spread the word about the desperate plight of our flower-visiting, pollen-spreading friends. Because of pollinators’ declining populations, many farms and flowers are already in trouble! Missing native plants, too many pesticides, and diseases have all contributed to drastically reduced numbers of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

queen06-22-09.jpgThat’s a queen butterfly on Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) — the butterflies, especially queens and monarchs, go crazy for Gregg’s mistflower. I had hoped to get some pictures of bees visiting my flowers, but they were camera-shy (there were some yellow-jackets, though, but they were a little TOO friendly, if you know what I mean). At least my trusty butterfly and hummingbird friends came out for pictures. Ignore the lawnmower cord and ugly ground in the background.  

hummingbird06-22-09.jpgHow can you help? If you have a garden, especially an organic one, you are probably already doing tons to help the populations of bees and other pollinators. But Pollinators Week for me is an excuse to go out and buy a native plant just for the sake of the wildlife, so as soon as I finish this blog entry, the boys and I are going to Natural Gardener to pick out something new. And we are determined not to let it die in the hot Texas sun (maybe a shade plant, lol). Not sure what to get? Enter in your zip code for an eco-regional planting guide on what plants are helpful in your region.

A kidneywood — bees love this plant! Well, they will, once it’s big and blooming (it’s a tiny little thing right now). Whenever I pass a larger kidneywood, bees are swarming all over it. I can’t wait!

kidneywood06-22-09.jpgPlant something new in your garden that is a bee favorite. Go native — invasive plants contribute to the plight of beneficial insect and bird populations. Plant larval food for the caterpillars and rejoice when you see your plant get eaten by little happy caterpillars. Build a little habitat that might be a perfect home for a hive. Make a mud puddle for bees and butterflies to drink from. Do you have fruit bats in your area? Build a bat house for them!

Make a commitment to avoid pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This is HUGE. Even organic pest controls can affect the population of good insects — so research before you buy and/or use any kind of product or method! And educate your friends and neighbors about the plight of bees and the dangers of pesticides and chemical fertilizers!

In this picture, there’s milkweed, flame acanthus, blackfoot daisies, and pentas, all together.


This is one of my favorite butterflies — the Gulf Fritillary. It has a stunning orange wingspread, but underneath it’s orange, silver, and black. I’m not sure which side I like best, which is why I like it so much. 

gulffritillaryc06-22-09.jpggulffritillaryb06-22-09.jpggulffritillary06-22-09.jpgAh, here’s one of my absolute favorites of the Texas natives, the wafer ash, or hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata). It can be hard to find in a nursery, but it’s easy to grow from seed, and they’re all over. Our dogs ate the top off our first one, and it amazingly grew back, the determined little thing. The wafer ash is a host plant of the giant swallowtail and tiger swallowtail. It’s part of the citrus family, and it’s one time that leaves of three (trifoliata) are a good thing. They have nothing to do with poison ivy, by the way, so get that out of your mind!


Swallowtails enjoy other citrus — we have a mandarin orange, lemon, and two lime trees growing. No fruit yet! But I’m hopeful that as long as I don’t kill them, I’ll have fruit someday. Look, here’s a little fly sort of a thing on my lime tree. Flies are great pollinators!


Here’s a yellow jacket on the baby Goldenball Leadtree (Leucaena retusa). Yellow jackets are minor pollinators as well as predatory wasps. I’m happy to have them around my garden, just not building hives under my eaves right where I’m building a new bed! The yellow jackets and I are currently having a discussion about where it’s ok to build a hive and where it isn’t. I haven’t killed one, but I do remove their little hives in an effort to get them to move elsewhere. Oh, and the dogs also ate the goldenball leadtree over the winter, too. It grew back. Yay for native plants.

yellowjacketgoldenball06-22-09.jpgThis one is almost native — it’s a Mexican Anacacho Orchid. We planted it a little too deep, I think — it lives, but I feel it’s struggling a bit. I hope to get a true native Anacacho Orchid in the fall. They are gorgeous when blooming.

anacacho06-22-09.jpgBees even like catmint! Catmint’s not just for cats anymore!


And who could forget the all-time bee favorite, the sunflower. Here’s mine:

sunflowersoil.jpgMy last batch of seeds I lightly spread into the ground where I wanted them to grow. They didn’t. So now I’m trying to grow sunflowers in little planters, and hopefully they’ll grow into seedlings. I love sunflowers. My husband said he always thought of them as a weed, not as a pretty flower (gasp!). When he sees them in the back of the yard with the prickly pear and the white TX honeysuckle and the goldenball leadtree, he’ll come around. I know he will.

So in honor of Pollinators Week, bee happy and make a bee happy. And then those vegetables and fruits and pretty flowers and trees you love will be around for you — and your grandkids– to enjoy. 

Bird Socks and a Garden Mom’s Pride

Put me in nature, and I’m happy. That’s how I’ve been all my life, and though my moods might change, the nature lover in me never will. I’m an animal lover, too, and if any of these two parts of me rub off on my family, then I feel I’ve done right by them. Goodness knows enough bad parts of me have probably been shared with them already!

06-16-09hummer1.jpgIt has often been difficult, however, to pry my husband and children away from computers and other monitors. Oh, I insist on sports and cycling and hiking with the dogs, but it’s not hard to figure out what they’d prefer if given the choice. That’s pretty much why I don’t ever give them a choice when it comes to my planning for us to be outside, be it for enjoyment or working in the yard. Sometimes I get a grumpy, groaned response when I announce it’s time to take the dogs to the creek, but a good mom knows when to ignore this or put her foot down. The hardest part is getting the family out of the door – once you get them away from the house, they have a good time, unless you accidentally forget to tell them that they’re not allowed to bring their Nintendos in the car. It’s all over if a nearby game beckons them.

06-16-09hummer2.jpgMy kids have been involved in our new garden since I began it in the fall. Amazingly, they’ve been fairly willing to help at least a few minutes each day, and they delight as I do when birds and dragonflies and butterflies and other creatures come visit our blooming flowers and pond.  But last weekend the effect I’ve had on my kids became truly apparent. My oldest son had friends come over for a birthday party, and when they arrived, he didn’t pull out the video games or Nerf guns. He took them outside to see our pond, and when they finished looking at that, he and his brother showed them the butterfly garden and thistle socks and birdfeeders. I didn’t get to hear the conversation, but I watched through the window as they pointed to different places in our yard and played tour guide. My heart swelled, and I’m still smiling.

06-16-lily.jpgAnd I also get to smile about our thistle sock experiment. We have a winner! The finches have found the thistle socks, and the clear favorite is the kitchen lace, which I kind of hoped for because it looks the prettiest in the tree. I guess I’m a girl after all – sometimes I forget that in a house of boys. Surprisingly, the next choice of the finches, based on missing thistle, is the jersey sock. The green netting has some holes poke into it, but it doesn’t look like they’ve touched the brand sock or the pantyhose (though there is a run in the pantyhose, so one must have landed on it). I’m also glad the finches chose the kitchen lace sock, because it’s the one my youngest son stitched by hand, his first attempt at sewing anything with a needle.

06-16-09finch1.jpgSo I think I’ll make a few more lace socks, and then rotate them as I refill thistle. The lace socks aren’t exceptionally durable, however – the finches are a little rough in their endeavor to get to the thistle, but I can make a bunch for cheap, and I think they’ll last a pretty long time anyway.

06-16-09thistlesock.jpgThe activity at the other feeders is busy nonstop. The hummingbirds are starting to fight over their feeder (and I’ve gotten to see them visit the flame acanthus and salvia). And it’s a nonstop parade of creatures at the other feeder. Cardinals, finches, blue jays, doves, squirrels, and titmice all for the most part are playing nice and taking turns (well, not so much the blue jays — they are the classic bullies). But we’re entertained, and so are the cats and dogs inside.


Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, June 2009 — my first!

At long last the 15th has arrived, and I get to participate for the first time in the Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. Some of my regular flowers stopped blooming for a bit this week, so I was a bit worried, but the garden came through for me. I’m just glad I don’t have to post a picture of algae “blooming” in my pond (thankfully, it’s not actually doing that anymore).

Zinnias. They are so much fun. You just never know what’s going to bloom at the end of that stem. Look at the variety in my butterfly garden — just some of many. These all came from two packets of seeds.

I think the buds are as lovely as the flowers.




I’m quite fond of the yellow flower holding its own among all the pink zinnias.



Several Texas natives are blooming away.









turkscap06-15-09.jpgIn a nearby Austin park were these native Texas Greeneyes, en masse. I love the way the yellow petals are delicately placed on a just-as-beautiful green center.


Elsewhere in the garden, a few drought-hardy non-natives are managing to bloom in the hot Texas sun.




The crape myrtle was a slow bloomer this year and managed to send out its pink colors just in time for Bloom Day.


Even though hail a few days ago pulverized my poor lily pads, the plants are already making a comeback. I’ve removed a few of the beat-up leaves, and new ones are ready to take their place, along with this beautiful bloom. I’m trying not to remove all the damaged leaves at once — I still need shade for my pond.


And lastly, here’s this white flower that for the life of me I can’t remember the name of today. I have a purple variety as well. All I know is that this was supposed to be a winter annual (or so I was told) and here it is blooming in hot June!


Happy Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, everyone!

Tornadoes and Rain Hit Austin

Central Texas got pounded last night by a supercell storm, which brought tornadoes, lightning, hail, and well-needed rain to the area. Despite the tornadoes and powerful storm, the overall damage was minimal, thank goodness, but in the thick of it, it doesn’t matter — you do your emergency procedures and hope that you and your children are safe. We had tornado sightings within a couple miles of our house — needless to say, the boys played their Nintendos while hanging out in the bathtub during the bad part of the storm.

Getting out this morning, I assessed the damage. The streets and driveway were green from fallen leaves, and I lost a few branches. Just up the road, we saw a whole tree fallen over, and a bent and broken lightpost.

Branch06-12.jpgThe dog’s wading pool was blown to the back corner of the lot. Either that or our local mischievous Sasquatch hauled it back there.

Wadingpool.jpgI’ll get to replace all the thistle in my finch sock experiment — I think the fact that I chose to leave them up there despite the odd clouds in the sky AND water some parched trees earlier in the day AND add some water to the pond to raise the level back up meant that we were destined to get rain. I should have known. But if I hadn’t have done all that, would we have gotten rain? The mandarin orange tree’s leaves showed off their raindrops this morning.

Raindrops06-12.jpgIt always amazes me how sturdy the most delicate of flowers can be in the face of hail and pounding rain. Instead of seeing petals all over the ground, I see very happy plants (except for all the fallen leaves on the ground). Austin looks beautifully green this morning. The birds are cheerfully singing and visiting the birdfeeder.


Cardinal06-12-09.jpgWe caught a squirrel hanging from the birdfeeder — he’s determined, to say the least. But the cardinals are thrilled with the feeder. Happy birds make me happy! The hummingbirds have found their feeder, too — I just haven’t managed to get a picture yet! I’ve seen a brown one and a green one with a ruby throat. I’d like to get another feeder, but I’ll wait until I see more than one at a time.

Today’s post ends with a space-age kitty — our son was emptying the dryer and while he dropped off some of the items, Cricket hopped in and snuggled in the remaining clothes. Dangerous spot to hang out in, kitten!


This Day Is for the Birds

I’m not sure whether this is the right time of year to be putting out thistle for finches, but I’ve been seeing them around, so I thought I might as well. I’ve been interested in trying thistle socks, but gasped when I saw how much our local bird shop was selling them for. No way could something like that cost $7 — online I found them for around $3. But why not make them myself? I headed to the fabric store and found that they don’t carry the typical fabric used for the socks, so I decided to do an experiment and chose 4 materials to see which the finches preferred — jersey, a lacy curtain material, and two kinds of netting. I spent a total of $3.05 and still have extra material to make more — I also got a sock free with my thistle purchase, and I pulled out an old bit of pantyhose to make a grand total of 6 thistle socks to delight the birdies.

thistlesocks1.jpgI should point out that I’m currently without a sewing machine — we handstitched the four bags we made. If we have a winner, I’ll likely be borrowing a friend’s sewing machine, and then I’ll make more (here’s yet another reason why I want a new sewing machine, hubbie!).

I hope the birds prefer the jersey, pantyhose, or lacy stuff — they were the easiest to work with. The larger netting was a failure off the bat — the thistle fell right through the holes (I should have tested it before I bothered stitching the sock). Surprisingly, a lot of thistle fell out of the store-brand sock, too. What a waste of seed — I hope the other socks work ok so that I don’t have to watch so much thistle fall to the ground. The pantyhose was the easiest of all — I just had to pour the thistle and tie a knot — but the result had, pardon me, a rather phallic appearance until I smushed the seed down into a nice ball shape. The advantage to the smaller netting is that it comes in a variety of colors — it would make a colorful display in the trees. I didn’t poke any holes in the fat little thistle ball of pantyhose, but I might do that if the finches ignore it completely.

thistlesocks2.jpgNow all I need are finches!

I certainly didn’t want to ignore the other birds in our neighborhood. I put out our new hummingbird feeder by the butterfly garden,

hummingbirdfeeder06-10-09.jpgand got the yellow jackets out of our old seed birdfeeder, cleaning it and drying it for new seed. Hopefully the cardinals will find it again before the doves do. I bet if I set out the little sprinkler near it they will — a cardinal couple took a bath when I watered the side yard today. Looking out the window, there’s already a squirrel trying to figure out how to get some free munchies. 



So where are the birds in my bird post? Well, they decided to hide when the camera came out, but I managed to sneak a pic of this female cardinal, chirping with her mate.

cardinal06-10-09.jpgIn other garden news, we already have tadpoles — we’ve had water in the pond for what, a week and a half? Seems rather fast — I wonder if there were toad/frog eggs in some of the plants we bought. Oh, I hope it’s just our neighborhood toads and not some crazy frogs from the pond store. Although there’s only one tadpole in this picture (it was hard to get a decent photo) — there are a ridiculous number swimming around happily in the pond. Some are larger than others — they just can’t all be from our toads. Sigh. 

tadpole06-10-09.jpgAnd the bottle discovery from the front yard soil is apparently a Coca-Cola bottle from around 1957 — for now I sealed a message in it with a cork and put it by the front door.


Arrrgh, there be treasure in that garden

Our house was built in 1971, and the earlier tenants were remarkable yard slobs, or this property was a dumping ground for someone long ago. I am amazed by some of the things I find deep below the earth — I have found parts of old metal tools, broken pots, and more — sometimes a foot into the soil. While digging part of a new garden bed in the front yard, I dug out this interesting item:


It was not that clean when I found it, mind you. Immediately my mind made plans for some excellent recycling project that would turn this old bottle into something fun for the garden. I had decided to turn it into a hummingbird feeder, much like the one I found at this site. However, in searching for feeder tubes, I learned that these kinds of upside-down feeders with stopper tubes are prone to leaking. The site does say that larger bottles are more likely to leak, but now I’m not sure I want spend money on supplies if it actually would leak and become less useful.

I’ve thought about putting the glass bottle on a new bottle tree, but it’s not as pretty as those colorful bottles people usually choose. Other ideas include using it with a plant nanny to water a container, using it as a vase (I already have vases, though), putting mini-lights in it, creating some sort of oil-and-vinegar thing, filling it with sand. I also thought about doing some sort of message in a bottle. Ruled the pond out for that one, though, lol. Maybe it could be a place in the house where my family looks for messages from one another, just for fun. Or even on the front porch.

I’m definitely in the market for suggestions! Or your experience with that type of hummingbird feeder tube — I was really looking forward to the project.

Dog disasters, algae, hummer, and (no longer a) mystery plant

So it finally happened. One of the dogs jumped into the raised pond yesterday and knocked over several soil-and-pea-gravel-filled pots of water plants. Add tearing into two mulch bags to that (and while we were outside dealing with that dog, the husky inside the house got my husband’s dinner off the table). We were not happy campers. I had just taken a shower and was in nice clean clothes, then I found myself standing hip-high in the pond trying to collect gravel from the bottom with my toes and a hoe, and saving surface-preferring bog plants from the depths of our hot-tub pond. Eventually I gave up and just reached down and used my hands to get the pea gravel, drenching me pretty much from head to toe in pond water.

I suppose that looking on the positive side of things, I got to do a little check on the placement of plants in the pond, as well as remove any dead leaves from the plants that would otherwise have been difficult to reach. And it will force me to finally get those last two bags of mulch off the grass (what remains, anyway) and into the garden beds where they belong. I guess the only thing positive I can say about the dinner incident is that perhaps my husband didn’t need those pizza calories anyway… I’m pretty certain there’s nothing positive my husband would say about that one, though!

I do have to say that either the additional plants I got in the middle of the algae bloom or just the natural process of pond establishment has put the clarity of the water back on track. I can see the goldfish again, and they are happy. Here is one next to a lily bloom, the Perry’s Baby Red. I worry that the pond is looking a little crowded with plants, and yet I’m determined to get a horsetail reed in there as a native plant.

Goldfishwithlily.jpgToday I saw my first visiting hummingbird! It was as startled as I was to see it, and it zoomed off before letting me take its picture. But I’m ecstatic and can’t wait to see more.

And finally, I figured out the mystery plant in my garden. I’d planted three of them there in the early spring and forgot about them — in fact, I hardly watered them, but they are thriving. They are Fall Asters. I read today that I should prune them some this month to make them more bushy and covered in fall blooms. Hmmmm….