Plateau Goldeneye and Other Fall Blooms

My family and I enjoy visiting Walnut Creek Park here in Austin with our dogs and friends all throughout the year. This beautiful 300-acre woodland park is busy with strolling families, determined trail runners, frolicking leash-free dogs, and trail-riding, hill-leaping, rock-jumping cyclists. The biggest draw of all is nature, with woods, grasslands, crisscrossing streams, and abundant wildlife. This fall, the park has been adorned with spectacular blooms and berries, perhaps thanks to the well-timed rains we’ve had this season and earlier in the year.

FYI, these photos were taken with my smart phone over a three-week period.


Just three weeks ago, Maximilian Sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) brought bright sunshine to line the trails.


While many sunflowers are annuals, Maximilian Sunflowers are perennial members of the aster family, and while they wait all year until fall to finally show their true colors, the pollinators are grateful once they do. 


Tucked into shadier areas, Calico Asters (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) offered a subtle but happy fall presence.


Calico Asters are so named because their disk flowers offer yellow centers that age to a darker red. The plant can have both colors on display at the same time.


But the woodland areas also have their own yellow sunshine in the fall — Plateau Goldeneye (Viguiera dentata). This lovely aster is a prolific reseeder, but it is easy to manage. I have some special Goldeneyes in my backyard that were given to me by a dear woman who passed away this spring. They can reseed in my yard all they want, for each one is a memory of a wonderful environmental steward and friend.


Plateau Goldeneye is not only beautiful, it is the host plant for Cassius Blue and Bordered Patch butterflies.


Apparently some grasshoppers find it tasty, too. This photo actually is of a muncher I saw at the Wildflower Center a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t bother to stop eating while I took its picture.


Above, Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) had a determined showing at Walnut Creek Park despite the abundant presence of Plateau Goldeneye. No worries, for it knows that its seasonal blooms will outlast the yellow ones of its aster companions.


The berries of American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) gave a pleasantly shocking contrast of magenta. It’s hard to keep jogging or walking when these beautiful colors beckon you to stop. Mockingbirds would rather you keep going, however. Once you are out of the scene, they’ll get to work eating those beautiful berries.


Clusters of Prairie Flameleaf Sumac (Rhus lanceolata) berries ripen in the fall to a dark red color. These tart berries can be soaked to create a lemonade of sorts, high in Vitamin C.


A few weeks later, the berries are shriveled, and the foliage changes to vibrant fall colors, well deserving of its Flameleaf name.


Sometimes the Walnut Creek woods open up to sudden pocket meadows, giving romping dogs opportunities to bounce above the grasses, chase rabbits, and collect many seeds in their fur.


Those grasses, catching sunlight with their wispy seedheads, have their own seasonal value, for they give wildlife an important food source throughout the cooler months ahead.funnelspiderl10-19-14

Not so much a bloom, this funnel weaver spider did at least come out of its cozy hiding spot to say hello as we traveled by.


Beautiful park, worth visiting if you are in Austin. Dogs, worn out and happy. Dog points earned for the family.

A Rainbow of Texas Wildflowers


Over the past three weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to head out to the Hill Country a few times to see the beautiful Texas wildflowers blanketing fields and roadside edges in color this spring. They have been a most welcome sight, as last year the drought meant there were almost no springtime wildflowers at all. Thank goodness for the little bit of rain we’ve had.

Take a walk on the wild(flower) side with me…

Indian Paintbrush

Blackfoot Daisy

Firewheel, or Indian Blanket

wildflowersh03-29-12.jpgPrairie Fleabane

Texas Bluebonnets, our official state flower, with Prickly Pear, our official state plant

Mexican Hat

Missouri Evening-Primrose

Prairie Verbena and Coreopsis




 Texas is beautiful all around, but never more so than in the spring!


End note: Our state is having a terrible time with an invasive plant called Bastard Cabbage, or common giant mustard (Rapistrum rugosum). I had to drive quite a distance to find pristine pockets of wildflowers in the Hill Country, for vast areas have become covered with this awful plant, which originated in the Mediterranean and thrives in the same places and soil our wildflowers do. But then it takes over with its long tap roots, large size, and prolific seeds. I opted not to show a picture of the Bastard Cabbage (my son calls it “Bad Word” cabbage) so as not to taint my post with its presence. I’m mentioning it only because I worry about the trouble our wildflowers are having!

Busy, Busy, Busy

photinias10-23-10.jpgWell, haven’t I been the slacker, not posting anything on Great Stems for a few days? I’ve missed my blog. But I have an excuse. This past week I:

  • Took care of friends’ kids at a school carnival
  • Planted many plants in our fall garden
  • Organized two major habitat events at my son’s school, which also meant picking up loads of compost, plants, and other supplies, sending a gazillion e-mails, and putting out signs
  • Held a Kindergarten Seed Stomp for the school’s wildflower meadow
  • Led a volunteer workday at the school to remove photinias and nandinas and get native plants in the ground

Oh yeah, and I was sick with a cold in the middle of the week, too. Somehow I survived, recovering just in time for the big events. Phew! Thankfully, my garden does well on its own, but I must get out and water my veggie seedlings and new plants today. And this upcoming weekend, remarkably enough, we’re having another habitat workday at the school. Round 2!

So the picture above shows the results of some serious work by strong and determined volunteers. The pile shows why one should skip planting Red-Tip Photinia, because once you come to your senses, you’ll have a beast of a plant to deal with (or plants as the case may be, given that Photinias are typically planted in groups for screening purposes). Not only did it take lots of adult and kid volunteers, lots of muscles, and lots of tools — we still had to tie the monster plants to a trailer hitch just to yank them out of the ground. Ten of them. Whoever planted them years ago also stuck them right up against the foundation. That made it extra fun for the volunteers, let me tell you.

photiniasb10-23-10.jpgI didn’t get a picture of our Nandina crew, but about 30 of those plants were removed as well, by volunteers with Weed Wrenches — best tool ever, other than the power of a two-ton vehicle against a Photinia.

By the end of the workday, we had many native plants in the ground, with more still to be planted. Already the school looks so much better. Hurray for our volunteers!


Back on the home front, the Fall Asters are busy blooming like mad.

fallasterb10-26-10.jpgAnd my long-awaited bloom explosion of the Exotic Love Vine has finally arrived, making me just as passionate about the flowers as ever.


It’s easy to see why this pretty vine is also called Firecracker Vine and Spanish Flag.

lovevineb10-26-10.jpgAnd I’m excited to discover a new native in the yard. Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) — it just popped up in the butterfly garden.

tallgoldenroda10-26-10.jpgI’d seen the plant elsewhere in the yard but didn’t know what it was, so often I yanked it when I got nervous. This one managed to reach bloom stage, and now I happily know that it’s a keeper. I’d rather it be over by the cactus, though, than in the middle of my Lantana. Hmmm, what to do, what to do.


I’m off to the garden to hunt for caterpillars. I went to an Austin Butterflies Forum meeting last night and brought home caterpillars in need of plants to munch on. It was too dark to set up a caterpillar hotel, so I just let them climb onto their respective host plants, hoping that I’d be able to find them again in the morning. One species in particular is new to me — Gold Rim (Polydamas) Swallowtail — so I want to keep them safe to adulthood. The others were Fritillaries, of which I already had plenty of caterpillars, but also plenty of Passionflower to support more. Wish me luck!

Similarities in the Garden

The sweet smell of Almond Verbena drew me out into the garden this morning. Apparently I wasn’t alone. As soon as the sun began coming up, a few flies and hoverflies were sampling the nectar of the fragrant flowers.

almondverbena09-19-10.jpgAs I took in the aroma, I noticed how similar the Almond Verbena is to other plants in my garden, and I set out to match it up.

The pigeonberry is in full bloom, a lovely white and faint pink at the moment, though it will show off more pink colors before long, I’m sure.

pigeonberry09-19-10.jpgBut the longer stalks of tiny white blooms of the Texas Kidneywood really match up well in size to the Almond Verbena.

kidneywood09-19-10.jpgIf you take a closer look at the leaves, however, they are like night and day. Whereas the Almond Verbena has lush, ample green leaves, the Kidneywood is covered in tiny leaflets.

And these leaflets made me think of the Fragrant Mimosa, which was still a baby during blooming season.

fragmimosa09-19-10.jpgBut look at those thorns!

Near the Almond Verbena is a special Tecoma Stans variety called Sangria.

tecomasangriab09-19-10.jpgWith that hint of orange in the yellow tubular flower, it looks so much like the bloom of Crossvine. Actually, my other Crossvine has the opposite color pattern of this one (yellow on the outside, orange-red on the inside), and it would look even more like Sangria were it in bloom.

crossvine09-19-10.jpgThe butterfly flower of the Gaura plant is so fairy-like.

gaura09-19-10.jpgAnd so is that of the Mexican Anacacho Orchid. I’m so glad this little plant toughed it out and survived a term in an ill-draining location, a transplant to a new spot, and last year’s terrible freeze. It seems so much happier now.

mexanacorchid09-19-10.jpgLastly, the Cigar Plant is quite inviting to the hummingbirds with its red tube-like flowers.

cigarplant09-19-10.jpgJust like the hummer magnet, Firebush.

firebush09-19-10.jpgIt’s a small world, after all.

Go Orange

Purely by accident, my photos of the day are showing off the warm colors of the season. How perfect as we transition from late summer to fall. I might as well confess that I’m a Longhorn fan, too — so “Go Orange” has multiple meanings this time around. But red and yellow, count, too. They, after all, combine to make orange. All in the realm of warm!

I’ve been waiting all year for my Exotic Love Vine to bloom, a plant I… ahem… fell in love with during my trip to Mexico last fall.

lovevine09-09-10.jpgJust before the rains from Hermine arrived this past week, evidence of blooms first appeared on a vine stem, and happily the steady downpours did not hurt the blossoms before I could get a picture. I do hope that soon our wonderful plant will be covered in these vibrant flowers.

The plentiful rains have encouraged other freshly-hydrated plants to bloom, and the garden is filled with new buds all over. The Texas Lantana is bright with color, and the butterflies are flocking back to it. Here’s a Gulf Fritillary, blending in so nicely with the orange and yellow flowers.


Our young pomegranate tree has three lovely fruit on it. Though I might wish for more, I’m thrilled that we’d have even three fruit in our first year of having the tree. I can’t wait for them to ripen.

At the pond, a fiery Flame Skimmer stands out against the green bog-loving plants.

And the Blackfoot Daisies have revived along the garden path. I like the way they provide a nice look against the decomposed granite.

It occurs to me that this time last year I was eagerly watching our pumpkins turn from green to orange. Clearly this is not a new theme. But it certainly is a mood-boosting one!

And just to mention it, our new decomposed-granite (and orange-ish!) garden path held up quite well in the heavy rains. No mush! The only area that we’ll need to touch up is a portion of the upper pathway, where compaction was at a minimum, and that’s our fault for not giving it the equal time that we did to the rest of the garden path. That the overall pathway stood the test of a major flood-causing rain lets me know that we made a good choice on our plan. Still, we’ll make the minor repairs to the upper pathway and determine how best to guide waterflow just off to the side a bit, where the garden itself can absorb the excess water.

Go orange!

Good Morning, Pavonia

A Rock Rose by any other name would be just as pretty…

Here in Texas, our native Rose Pavonia, Pavonia lasiopetala, just loves the hot summers. When other plants curl up for protection from the baking sun, the Rose Pavonia opens up its flowers and puts on a beautiful display.


A gorgeous metallic turquoise female sweat bee (Halictidae) covered herself in extensive pollen grains by visiting the flowers. This behavior not only identifies her as female in the sweat bee world but also distinguishes her from a Cuckoo Wasp, which is remarkably similar in appearance.

pavoniac08-28-10.jpgThe Pavonia flower closes at night and reopens in the warm sunlight. I just love its closed state, like a little flower puppy or kitten all curled up and sleeping. Here is the Brazilian Rock Rose, Pavonia braziliensis, looking like a tiny peppermint-candy rose bud.

When it opens, it is a striking white version of its Texas cousin.


That’s Firebush just behind it, another heat-loving plant. I’m glad these plants enjoy the Texas sun — they remind us of the good side of our hot summers (but thank goodness fall is approaching).


I’m having another Wildlife Lover’s Moral Dilemma, but this time it’s of a different sort. Up until now, my love of butterfly caterpillars has known no bounds, and I’ve gone out of my way to plant larval host plants and create a Caterpillar Hotel and so forth. But today caterpillars have rained on my parade, and my beloved caterpillars have come back to bite me, or at least my precious flower favorites.

It’s been raining a lot lately, and so I’ve not been in the garden too much, grudgingly recognizing that the nutsedge and bermuda are taking over again in the meantime. But a glimpse out my bedroom window got me excited — blooms lower down on the tall Cinnamon Sunflowers meant I had a chance to take new photos of my dark red blooms. I rushed outside in a dry pause from the rain… to a horrible sight.

The first thing I saw from a mere glance was a mass congregation of black on the leaves of one of my yellow sunflowers. Caterpillars, and a lot of them.

bordpatchcate07-02-10.jpgThen my eyes opened wider. There were more on the plant next to that one. And on down the short row. 

bordpatchcatb07-02-10.jpgThen I was hit with the realization that they’d completely defoliated many of the leaves of the yellow sunflowers, to the point that I’m not sure whether there’s a future in sight for any of the already-struggling annuals.

In fact, I’m quite certain that two of the smaller plants are dead, or at least zombies. I hadn’t even shown a photograph of a bloom from the poor traditional flowers — I’d been waiting for them to get bigger. I felt such sadness.


And then, like a scene in a horror movie, I turned slowly to look at my Cinnamon Sunflowers, dread gripping my heart.

The first thing I saw was caterpillar poop, and a lot of it.


Ok, something’s eating my Cinnamon Sunflowers. Looks like a few caterpillars. At this point, I’m still thinking it’s ok — I knew the flowers were larval hosts. I accepted that.

But as I opened my eyes beyond the poop to the damage and destruction above, around, and beyond, my heart started breaking.


I have what I can’t seem to call anything else — an infestation — of literally hundreds of caterpillars of all sizes. I knew by the spines that there was a good chance they were butterfly caterpillars, but still… in those numbers?

bordpatchcatf07-02-10.jpgPart of me wanted them to be something that I could consider pest caterpillars, so that my moral dilemma could be simpler to deal with and I could find a soapy bucket of water. But no, as near as I can tell, these are the larvae of the Bordered Patch Butterfly. At some point, I am going to have incredible numbers of chrysalises and several dead, once beautiful sunflowers. Was this gorgeous butterfly from just a few weeks ago one of the culprits?

borderedpatchb06-13-10.jpgDespite the destruction, I can’t bring myself to dispose of the caterpillars, or feed them to the birds, nothing. Must… love… caterpillars.

bordpatchcath07-02-10.jpgI can’t love the butterflies without supporting their eggs and babies. I guess I’m just going to have to watch them devour my plants and hope that the sunflowers, at least the larger ones, will recover.

bordpatchcati07-02-10.jpgI thought about moving the Bordered Patch caterpillars over to the Zexmenia, also a host plant. But that’s when I discovered hundreds of caterpillars were over there, too. My beautiful Zexmenia, already getting eaten up, too. Gah! It’s ok, Meredith, it’s ok… planted as a host plant. All good.

borderedpatchcatsonzexb07-02-10.jpgHere’s what I want to know: when exactly did these Bordered Patch butterflies show up laying eggs? And OH MY GOSH JUST HOW MANY EGGS CAN THEY LAY? Holy cow. And where are my beneficial predators now, now that I need some ecoystem balancing? Hello birds, stop feasting on my seeds and get yourself some live protein. Leave a few so there’s still a good population of butterflies, please. Why didn’t anyone tell me that Bordered Patch butterflies and their cousins are the rabbits of the butterfly world?!!!

According to some sources online, Straggler’s Daisy, or Horseherb, is a larval host plant for the Bordered Patch. I’ve got plenty of horseherb, so I did try moving some of the caterpillars over. They wouldn’t eat while I was watching, and then the rain came again, so I’ll have to monitor them for awhile before moving the rest over. Cross your fingers — there’s a glimpse of hope for the sunflowers if I can pull this off. I’m not holding my breath for too long, though, since so many other sites didn’t list the little groundcover as a favorite host plant.

Between the masses of caterpillars eating my CinnSuns and the masses of nutsedge and weeds abounding in my garden, I just want to cry. And yet, I’m so happy we’ve had rain — just an absolutely wonderful thing in central Texas during the summer. And I can still smile at the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the passionvine.

fritcat07-02-10.jpgI saw one starting its chrysalis stage today — it’s a J right now — and I happily discovered a chrysalis hanging from a Mexican Redbud branch. (I also discovered a passionflower bloom in the redbud tree — that pesky vine has done it again!)

fritchrysalis07-02-10.jpgBut overall I feel like I’m being tested, and I’m not sure whether I’m passing or failing. Passing as a wildlife lover with a high level of tolerance for munchers; passing as a butterfly grower. Failing as a gardener who wants beautiful, intact plants around; failing my new sunflowers. This isn’t my veggie garden– with my tomatoes, it was a war I had to engage in, those hornworms and stink bugs. Now the line in front of me is blurry. Should I be thinking of the crazy numbers of caterpillars as pests or be happy that I’m supporting more butterflies?

No worries, it’s still the latter. I just need to get used to this new concept of caterpillar quantity and re-evaluate my planting methods. Clearly I need more sunflowers so that my plants aren’t so easily overtaken. That will work, right? Learn to share, butterflies!

Hang in there, sunflowers. I know this is tough love from mama.


A smile from a damselfly to cheer us up…    🙂


Bittersweet. That’s what it is. Bittersweet.

Humming a Tune in the Garden

I’m so pleased — the hummingbird feeders have been getting a lot of birdie traffic!

Do you see the pollen on the little hummingbird’s beak above? Someone has been visiting flowers! Hurray for our flying, humming pollinators.

I’ve tried again and again to get a good picture of a hummingbird visiting one of our blooms — usually they come out blurry because the birds dart off so fast. And then this morning…

The little lady usually doesn’t let me get too close when she’s at a bloom — she is much more tolerant when she’s at the feeder. Perhaps she’s getting used to me and will let me get more flower shots, given the progress above. She used to visit the Salvias, but when the Standing Cypress started blooming, it became her favorite.

The Cinnamon Sun has produced a lovely bouquet. All the flowers are still above the roofline, though. I’m waiting for the lower buds to open up so I can really study the blooms easily.

We’ve had a bit of rain with the tropical systems happening in the Gulf of Mexico — it made for a pleasant relaxed time in the garden. This male Queen butterfly took a long rest on a lantana.

How do you ID a Queen, and a male from female? Many people often mistake Queens for Monarchs, easy to do because they really are lookalike cousins. Soldiers make it even more confusing, and then there are the mimic Viceroys, too! Take a look at the photo again, this time with labels.

If you’d like more info on IDing the lookalike cousins, click here.

Also resting on the Lantana was this handsome damselfly. I’m needing a nap, just watching these guys. Perhaps the overcast day has something to do with that, too.

We’ve had another butterfly release from the Caterpillar Hotel! A black swallowtail emerged and took its time resting and drying its wings. I hope it came from the brown chrysalis from awhile back — I was worried about it taking too long. Now I’ve got so many chrysalises that I can’t tell which came first.

Soon the swallowtail headed over to the butterfly bush for a longer rest. Within a few minutes later, it flew away for its grown-up adventures.

I’m eagerly watching for the Giant Swallowtails to emerge. How can they fit in such a tiny shape?

Good news on the tomato front. Over several days we devoured tons of homegrown Romas in homemade spaghetti sauce, and now the Brandywines are starting to produce.

Is that crown an indication of how big the tomato will become? I won’t eat these myself — but I hope they’ll turn out so I can give them to friends and neighbors. I’m a cooked-tomato kind of girl.

I’m also a pomegranate kind of girl! Lookee, lookee!


Fun morning in the garden. Had me humming like the hummingbirds. Hoping for more rain, though!

I Should Apologize Now For All My “Cinns”

I might as well apologize now, because it’s just possible that the rest of my photographs for the remainder of the fall and summer might all be of this, my new favorite flower.

cinnamonsunflower06-24-10.jpgThe Cinnamon Sun sunflower is now blooming, and I can barely draw myself away.

cinnamonsunflowerc06-24-10.jpgI had a little trouble getting the pictures I really wanted, because this bloom is the first on the plant, and it’s about 10 feet off the ground. I had to stand on a ladder. Oh, but there are so many more blooms getting ready to open… and they are much more accessible.

cinnamonsunflowerd06-24-10.jpgNot only is the bloom gorgeous, but the colors are exactly the same as those on my house, not that you can tell from the back of the house. But might it be too matchy-matchy to have a flower match my house? I think not.


cinnamonsunflowere06-24-10.jpgAt times during the day, the flower appeared almost black — in fact, the gloominess of the dark flower early this morning almost had me worried that I’d made a poor choice. Then the sun came up a bit more, and wow. Take a look at this next photo, where the flower appears dark. See what else showed up?

cinnsunspiderc06-24-10.jpgThat’s a Green Lynx spider. I guess when I got so excited about it being Pollinator Week, the spider did, too — but for a different reason. The last time I saw a Green Lynx spider, it was much better camouflaged.


But then Ms. Spider today moved to the back of the sunflower, and there was her camouflage. I’m impressed with her capture, even if it is one of my bees. Can you see her?

cinnsunspiderb06-24-10.jpgI did manage to pull myself away from the sunflower long enough to capture a quick picture of a hummingbird before my battery died. I also successfully managed to take the picture without falling off the ladder. Must be my newfound ladder skills from painting the exterior of my house…


I also caught a hummingbird today visiting the new blooms on the Standing Cypress. I always get a thrill of justification when I see hummingbirds at my flowers instead of just at the feeder — like it was all worth it, this gardening stuff. Alas, I had no camera in hand at the time. But here are the blooms.

standingcypress06-24-10.jpgThis morning, over at the Gregg’s Mistflower, I saw that this patch of flowers is becoming quite the spider hangout. Not too long ago a spider caught one of my beloved dragonflies in this popular insect hangout. Today I found another kind of spider waiting patiently on its zig-zag recliner. I think it’s a male Argiope spider.  Edit: Having later found a larger Banded Garden Spider, I now wonder whether this is a juvenile female, species Argiope trifasciata.

spidera06-24-10.jpgI think that if I were an orb spider, I’d go for this kind of web. That zig-zag is called a stabilimentum. It just looks extra secure and comfortable. On the other hand, the spider is probably more noticeable, but the rest of the web could barely be seen. Maybe that’s a plus for the spider — if the prey avoids the visible spider by flying to the side, it gets caught by the invisible web. Anyway, it worked, because the next thing I knew there was frantic movement going on in the web — a grasshopper had made an unfortunate jump. Try focusing with a zoom lens on a spider that’s moving and spinning and wrapping its prey — what a challenge!


spiderd06-24-10.jpgNow this time I can say yay for the spider — it caught one of my nuisance grasshoppers. It can have all the grasshoppers it wants. I’m sure the green lynx spider eats grasshoppers, too, but so far I keep catching it with its paws in the honey jar, so to speak.

Enough spider pictures. Let’s go back to the Cinnamon Sun, shall we? Oh to be a bee visiting that sunflower… well, preferably without the spider there, too.


Growing Up

I love the rain. Everything just looks so green afterwards.


 But even without the heavy rainfall this week, which I was so grateful for (by the way Austinites — you can thank me for the rain on Wednesday because it was my watering day and I got up and watered– Murphy’s Law was in full effect, because the rain showed up that evening… now if you got hail, too, that’s not my fault…), this year we are enjoying massive growth of pretty much everything in the garden. I suppose that sounds reasonable, as in the plant world we are in Year 2, at least for some of our plants — the rest are still young. Following the saying “Sleep, Creep, then Leap” — it is clear that our plants are enjoying a growth spurt!

gardena06-04-10.jpgI am envisioning a garden of giants before long — the thought crossed my mind that I might have to trim some of these back at some point. Whoa, that’s too much for this girl to think about right now.

But take a look at this Rock Rose, one that I don’t even remember planting in that spot. It’s massive. Right now I’m just letting it do its thing, but I’m sure that other gardeners are wisely shaking their head, saying that I’m going to be dealing with lots of little Pavonia babies everywhere and soon. (Here’s where I’ll tell you that one of my other Pavonias already made lots of babies, as I discovered a couple of days ago. And it was a much smaller plant!)

 On the plus side, I hope that the natural shade that the larger plants in the butterfly garden will provide this summer will help the smaller ones get through the heat and sun. Downside is that right now everything appears to be the same height. Somewhere in the middle of all that is a Texas Kidneywood, as well as a Barbados Cherry, which at some point should provide the height variation the garden needs. They need to be in their Leap Year, too! 

All around the garden, I’ve got new plants I’m excitedly watching. Exotic Love Vine, an annual vine from Mexico and Central/South America, still hasn’t produced any flowers, but I find myself admiring its beautiful leaves everyday. I guess the love effect is already, well, in effect, even without the amazing blooms it hopefully will produce. Maybe they bloom in fall.


exoticlovevineb06-04-10.jpgNow check out this great stem — hoho, Great Stem.

cinnsunflowerstem06-04-10.jpgNow at 4-foot tall, this Cinnamon Sunflower is already bigger than some of my trees. Still no evidence of blooms. The leaves themselves are the biggest leaves of any plant I have on the entire property. For comparison, I placed a Pomegranate leaf on one of the Sunflower leaves — I still don’t think it does it justice.

cinnsunflowerleaf06-04-10.jpgFor the record, the Cinnamon Sunflower’s growth is putting the Giant Sunflower’s growth to shame. I haven’t taken pictures of the Giant yet, so it better do some catching up!

The Passionflower is blooming like mad. I’m still waiting for the Fritillaries to show up.


But here’s a little Phaon Crescent come to visit.


The Purple Coneflowers are doing some strange things this year, but at least they are officially blooming. Some big, some small, some tall, some flat, some wide, some droopy…

purpleconeflower06-04-10.jpgThis odd Coneflower has a striped appearance.

purpleconeflowerb06-04-10.jpgSpeaking of Great Stems (giggle), here’s another one. Check out the thorns on this wee tree, a Toothache Tree, or Prickly Ash. The thorns are currently longer than the stem is wide!

toothachetree06-04-10.jpgWe’re fortunate to have two species growing — Zanthoxylum hirsutum (shown) and Zanthoxylum clava-herculis (very much still a sapling). If you haven’t heard of these trees, they’re fun. Chew on a leaf and your mouth goes numb for a few minutes. Back in the old days, they served to help with toothaches, hence the name. Bonus — a larval host for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly! I look forward to our trees getting bigger.

Venturing back to the butterfly garden, I paused to admire a strawberry-like annual, the Gomphrena, that I spur of the moment planted a couple of weeks ago. It’s a dwarf compared to the older perennials, but I appreciate the red color that was needed in the garden.


And ugh, a decision to make. This rogue not-native Lantana has popped up in the yard near the pond. Now I have to decide whether to pull it. This is why I stick to the native Lantana urticoides/horrida (Texas Lantana–has orange/yellow/red blooms) — I don’t want to contribute to the easily-spread other kind. I know where it came from, too — my neighbor had one. Had. I notice she pulled it out this year.


Over in the veggie garden, I discovered an abundance of peppers! Garden Salsa peppers, and they are inspiring the Mexican meal we will have tonight. I didn’t even see them start out as babies, and here they are.


Meanwhile, their leaves are getting munched by these little culprits — tiny (but pretty) grasshoppers. The admiration stops there. They are munching on my peppers, my tomatoes, and my Exotic Love Vine. Stop it, grasshoppers!

grasshopper06-04-10.jpgThe tomatoes are certainly growing up. They’ve outgrown their cages, keep trying to topple over, and so bushy I’m feeling a little concerned. Next time, I’m going for the big collapsible and way over-priced Texas cages.

tomatoes06-04-10.jpgThe runner beans have grown up past the trellis. I’m hoping we’ll actually get some beans before the heat of the summer really hits us. I feel we’re pushing the season a bit.

beans06-04-10.jpgAnd the perennial Bell Pepper is producing fruit again. I look at this plant in wonder — it survived last year’s terribly hot summer, made it through fall and winter without any attention from me, and here it is, still growing. I didn’t know they could do that. Talk about pushing seasons!

bellpepper06-04-10.jpgPlants aren’t the only things growing up around here. I’m about to have a teenager in the house (egads). And at 12, he’s already 6-feet tall. We’re going to do a final “kid” measure tomorrow, the day before he turns 13.

And these fledgling cardinals showed up this morning. Three of them. I love how their feathers are in transition. Mama and papa should be proud! You can tell my blood sugar was dropping at the time — the camera was shaking! I’d eaten breakfast, but only just. Not enough time to hit the bloodstream, I guess.

cardinalfledglingc06-04-10.jpgI’m pleased that birds are finally starting to pay attention to the thistle feeder. I abandoned the thistle socks awhile back due to the damage the eager birds were doing — I kept having to replace the feeders. But wow, they did love those socks. It’s not off the project list — I just needed a regular feeder to keep around constantly.

thistlefeeder06-04-10.jpgYeah, I see you squirrel. I know what you’re up to. Yeah, I know you see me, too. And yes, I saw you on the birdfeeder this morning. I noticed the young squirrel nearby, too, watching you do it. Naughty squirrel.


So the organic garden is growing up. The birds are growing up. The squirrels are growing up. My kids are growing up. And I guess the evidence is there that this gardener is growing up, too. If I haven’t already done it, I guess I have to do away with my newbie status officially, my crutch when I don’t know what in the world is going on in my garden. But the greenery around means I must have done something right, newbie or not. If in doubt, add compost — that’s my motto! I’m loving it and ready for more.

For a look back at the garden beginnings through its first year, visit this page.