Recently in perennials Category

Pretty in Red


yauponc12-03-10.jpgI want to ask, "Is it just me or are these the reddest Yaupon berries we've ever had?" but I suppose no one reading this post can answer that -- not even my husband, and he lives here. But wow -- don't they just pop with vibrant color?

yauponb12-03-10.jpgI think this tree must have had as much fun as I did with the Cedar Waxwings last February -- it's clearly ready for them to come again.


yaupond12-03-10.jpgWe interrupt this post to show you this adorable Black-Crested Titmouse, seed in beak. These cute little birds don't like to sit still for pictures, so I'm amazed I got one. Oh my gosh, so cute.


I've been eagerly waiting for the little peppers of the Chile Pequins to turn red, and at long last they have. The few green peppers combined with the red is a very holiday-festive combination.

chilepequina12-03-10.jpgOne of these days I'm going to pop one of these little peppers in my mouth to see what happens.

chilepequinb12-03-10.jpgWell, maybe I'll dare my husband to do it instead...

Edit: I told my oldest son that Chile Pequin peppers are 7-8 times hotter than a Jalapeño, and he decided right away that he wants to try one. Guess I won't have to dare my hubbie after all! I plan to have camera and lots of water on hand...



I just couldn't come with a title for this one. But I had fun taking photos!

The Cinnamon Sunflower is about 3 feet tall now, but still no blooms. Looking pretty snazzy even without the blooms, I must say.

cinsunflower05-27-10.jpg I never realized how fun milkweed seeds are, fresh from a pod. Hopefully some of these will germinate -- I need more milkweed!

milkweedseeds05-27-10.jpg Still damp from a gentle rain, the Passionvine is happily entwining along its trellis. With luck it will hide our A/C unit soon, at least until the caterpillars start munching!

passifloraa05-27-10.jpg Passiflora flowers just might be the most bizarre flowers out there. I mean seriously -- how on earth did nature come up with that crazy design?

passiflorab05-27-10.jpg The tripod of a stigma at the top looks like some alien straight from a sci-fi movie.

passiflorac05-27-10.jpg The coneflowers are huge and teasing me with blooms to come.

purpleconeflower05-27-10.jpg I'm not sure whether it was the rain or the change in temperature, but I finally got a Checkered White butterfly to hold still for a photo.


And a Dainty Sulphur -- both of these butterflies usually tend to dart around like mad if I get too close. Gotcha, little flutterbies!


I've been noticing more wasps visiting the dill lately, and the caterpillar deaths have increased, so I decided it was time to create a butterfly tent. Within a day we had our first swallowtail chrysalis. The tent is a collapsible $9 laundry hamper -- much cheaper and much larger than the "butterfly kits" you can buy online and in various stores.

swcat05-27-10.jpg swchrysalis05-27-10.jpg    

Okay, what's this bug? Good guy? Bad guy? Found him on my native White Honeysuckle bush. I guess I could go look him up.


In other news, I found little slimy larval stuff eating one of my tomato leaves. I took a picture, but they're gross and I decided that they messed with my pretty zen pictures, so I'm not posting it today. The slimy things are in the compost bin now. I don't know whether they're good guys or bad guys, but they were working as a team and my gut told me I didn't want more of them around. And there was a leaf-footed bug on another tomato leaf. Little booger got away. Gah. But at least I'm onto him.

Screech, Screech! Seeing Double


owlk3-22-10.jpgCorrection to my last post -- it's official -- both our owlhouses are occupied. Camera in hand, I ventured back into the yard at dusk to see whether I could get any shots of a more active owl. Well, this time Mrs. Owl made her appearance at the front owlhouse. For confirmation that it was a different owl, I checked the other house in the back of the yard. Sure enough, the owl I photographed earlier was still there. We have two!

I'm guessing this is an owl couple, given the size difference between the two birds. Mrs. Owl really filled up the doorway.


owll3-22-10.jpgIf this really is an owl couple we've got occupying our two owl houses, then it supports the idea that having two houses is more likely to attract owls sooner. It sure worked in our case.


Mrs. Owl didn't seem to mind me too much, until I apparently took one step too close. She's a beauty, though. My favorite is the side view of her. She's big for a little thing!

Reflections on the First Year


Has it really only been a year? So much progress has been made in our first year of gardening that it's hard to believe it happened in a mere 365-ish days. Hey, I only about destroyed my back and my husband had to have knee surgery, but what does that matter when our yard is such a pleasant place to be now? (Ok, my husband just pointed out that we can't really blame gardening for our failing bodies, but it sounded good.)

What started it all? The felling of one very dead hackberry that was dangerously leaning over our house.

reflections2009x.jpgWhen that tree fell, I had no idea that I was about to embark on a gardening endeavour of massive proportions. But I looked around my yard and hated what I saw. It was time, after 13 years of doing nothing, to do something. Even if I had no clue whatsoever about what to do. 

But apparently I figured a few things out. The rest will come when I figure those out.

Here are a few tidbits of how our outdoor world has changed. Now be warned, the overgrown state has to do with all the rain we've finally been getting -- I haven't been able to clean anything up. At least things look more green...

The backyard, before and after:


reflections2009zh.jpg The pond, before and after:

reflections2009zc.jpgreflections2009zg.jpg The back porch, before and after:

reflections2009f.jpg reflections2009zl.jpg The front garden bed, before and after:

reflections2009v.jpg reflections2009zza.jpgThere's a lot more to our yard than what you see here, and I invite you to see more. We have a long way to go, but it's fun to take a look at how far we've come. You can also hear more about the story that got us on our gardening journey.

Love It or Leave It: Horseherb


Ah, Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), also called Straggler Daisy. There doesn't seem to be much of a gray area on this one. People either truly love this little groundcover or hate it with a passion. I'm of the former variety. I adore this little plant.

horseherba10-02-09.jpgWhy do I love it? If you've ever walked past a field of horseherb, you are presented with an incredibly lush sea of green, with the daintiest of little yellow flowers throughout to catch your eye. I've seen some gorgeous fields, and each time I was mesmerized by the beauty and serenity of the scene. 


Field of horseherb at Hornsby Bend

I almost don't want to walk on it -- it's so pretty in appearance -- but for a non-lawn groundcover, it can withstand some foot traffic. It only needs water in the worst of droughts, and it loves shade and sun.

Horseherb is also native to the southern U.S. on into Central America, and it makes a great alternative to the exotic and water-hogging Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses. I'd love to see it replace Asian jasmine, as well -- now THAT is a plant that will take over a garden bed and yard. Horseherb is considered semi-evergreen, blooming most of the year except in cold winter areas, and if you like you can mow it, or you can let it grow to its typical max height, which is about 8 inches. But as bonus, horseherb also attracts small butterflies, including sulfurs and skippers. And think of all the happy little lizards that will zip underneath the foliage!


It's an eco-friendly solution to having a lawn without having to resort to heavy chemicals or fertilizers or ridiculous amounts of water to sustain it. Lawn irrigation tops the list on where our municipal water goes, and the time for water conservation is now, especially in Texas.

Why do some people want to leave it? Well, in some yards it can be a big nuisance. For those who keep a grass lawn, horseherb is a competitor, and it can be difficult to get rid of. And it can spread into garden beds, though I've found that so far it doesn't bother much with my well-mulched beds. In fact, one of the characteristics of this plant is that it supposedly doesn't do well in areas that have heavy leaves that take a long time to decompose. It spreads by both seeds and runners, which means that if the goal is to remove all of it, you're going to have a challenge. In a wildflower field, I have to imagine that it would be another competitor, but it's going to depend on the goals you have for your yard or area.

But for now I prefer to embrace its desire to spread. What I loathe is the Bermuda Grass and St. Augustine in my yard. I loathe the unnamed weeds that dominate my backyard. I love my buffalograss in the back, but it too is losing to the weeds, and in the drought, the buffalograss was dead most of the time, so I didn't end up loving it as much as I wanted to - I loved it when I could see it.


What would you choose: spotty grass or spreading horseherb? 

Will I regret it? Some gardeners are going to shout out an absolute yes to that question. But I do regret having Bermuda and St. Augustine (not that I planted it; that was the previous owners), so it's not a big deal to switch from frustration with the grasses to frustration with another groundcover, unless I've got all three to deal with at the same time. At least horseherb is native. But I'm going for the complete wildscape, and I have a lot of ground to fill and a lot of grass to get rid of. In those bed areas I want to keep maintained, I'll do my best to keep horseherb in check. And love it everywhere else!

So how about you? Do you prefer to love it or leave it?

Setting the Urban Example


I've been posting so much on Texas habitats that I realized today how much I miss blogging about my garden -- after all, it's my baby. But soon, soon -- for now I have one more Austin locale to share.

A bit of history -- for many years, Austin's airport resided fairly close to downtown; it was the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. It closed in 1999 with the opening of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and the old airport sat untouched for many years. Today it has been replaced with a new community, including shops, homes, and parks, and it is home to the Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas. Of course, this is a commercial development (Mueller), so I'm not going to chat it up too much, but I'd like to say that I appreciate what I saw in my visit to the demonstration garden last weekend (yes, along with Hornsby Bend and Rockport -- I told you it was a busy weekend!).

Basically, the concepts are simple -- think green and sustainability. Builders and developers are making use of recycling, solar energy, native plants, high numbers of trees in parking lots, commuter service, bike paths, and more. In partnership with the Wildflower Center, large areas have been preserved as natural habitats, and homeowners are encouraged to plant native plants, educated with beautiful and/or wild examples shown in the community's demonstration garden, prairies, and ponds.

Enjoy the tour, a bit of a zoom-in/zoom-out look!

Damianita and Prickly Pear...

muellera09-19-09.jpg Gregg's Dalea...muellerb09-19-09.jpg Prickly Pear, Lindheimer's Muhly, Salvia, Lindheimer Senna...

muellere09-19-09.jpgLindheimer Senna...

muellerc09-19-09.jpg Flame Acanthus, Lindheimer Senna, Salvia

muellerd09-19-09.jpg   I fell in love with this mixture of Salvia greggii colors.

muellerf09-19-09.jpg muellerg09-19-09.jpg   Inland Sea Oats in front of American Beautyberry...

muelleri09-19-09.jpg Walkway under Desert Willows...

muellerl09-19-09.jpgA view of the three ponds, surrounded by native grasses...

muellerj09-19-09.jpg  One of the grassland prairies... 


Among the walkways in the demonstration gardens, native plants are all sorted and identified in lists, and the plant species are far more numerous than I've shown in these photos -- this is just a sampling. In addition, there are signs that teach about certain aspects of native gardening. What an excellent way to educate residents and visitors about plants they might like to grow!

Given that this area was once an airport and was destined for development of some kind, it is nice to see such strides toward thoughtful, green building and the restoration of native plants in place of the parking lots and runways I remember.

Blooming! GBBD September 2009


The extended rains last week did Central Texas much good. While we are still in a major drought, the rains brought much needed relief to the scorched earth and cooler temperatures for wonderfully pleasant days.

birdart09-15-09.jpgAnd the plants responded right away -- greenness abounds, and among the green are the most vibrant blooms of all colors. I think fall just might be my new favorite season. I forgot how beautiful it is. Although technically, I guess it's still summer! Here are just a few of what's blooming in my yard today, for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Amazingly, of my three surviving Endurance Sunflowers, I still have three, and all are blooming. Although I've loved sunflowers all my life, this is my first time growing them, and I finally understand why bees love them so. Even my young sunflowers are really putting out the pollen, and they are only going to grow bigger and bigger. I'm thrilled! My sunflowers have a few specks of dirt on them -- because they are still babies and low to the ground, they got splashed during the rain.


I'm finally starting to see color combinations in the yard again. In the main butterfly garden, the Gregg's Mistflower is starting to bloom once more, with Blackfoot Daisy and Zexmenia nearby. The butterflies are already fluttering about again. I missed them when all my plants gave up their blooms in the heat.

greggsmistflower09-15-09.jpgThe Pigeonberry plants are blooming like crazy. They berry, too, but the birds pick them off so fast.

pigeonberrya09-15-09.jpg   Here, I found a berry.


Speaking of berrying plants -- I was woken up in the middle of the night with one of the dogs trying to break through the window screen to get to something outside. While I hope it wasn't a prowler, I did get up to discover my American Beautyberry plants were missing berry clusters. I went outside to see if I could see anything -- seriously hoping at that point that it wasn't a prowler! No creature found. Bolted. Who wouldn't when that massive husky is trying to lunge for them though a mere window screen? Thank goodness it held tight.

This Red Yucca's is technically on my neighbor's property, but it's right where our yards meet, and I think I'm the only one who pays attention to it. But oh I could photograph those blooms all day. Love, love, love. Someday mine will bloom!  


The Salvias are blooming like mad. They are such an interesting flowering perennial -- it can be challenging to photograph them, as they tend to look straggly even when they really aren't, but they look wonderful backdropped by other blooming yellows, blues, or even just trees.

salviagreggii09-15-09.jpg Though most of my Turk's Caps are the traditional red, I do have a pink bloomer in the front. It's quite special. Makes me feel like a little girl, loving that pink.


I have a new plant in the yard -- actually all over the yard, as I placed them in many spots. It's the native Texas Poinsettia, also known as Wild Poinsettia, or Fire on the Mountain (Euphorbia cyathophora). These were given to several class members of the Habitat Steward Training I'm in -- we got to pull them directly from the gorgeous wildlife garden of Cathy Nordstrom. Thank you, Cathy! The reddish-orange you see is part of the leaves, just like the red of the Christmas pointsettias. I think it's amazing. It's a spreader, so at some point I'll probably be giving some away. It's so easy to pull and replant, too. I planted them all over because I have so much land to fill.


And I have a surprise bloomer -- blooms on my newest Key Lime tree? Of course, they are all at the level where the husky lifts his leg. I don't even want to think about why the tree is blooming only there. Nor do I want to think about what I'll do if limes actually show up and get peed on.


Speaking of the husky... Camouflage FAIL, Loki.


And stop laying on my Lindheimer Muhly! And get out of the butterfly garden! And stop peeing on my plants!

The Aptly Named Beautyberry


The American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is truly a sight to behold in the fall. The strikingly vibrant magenta-colored berries stand out boldly against the light-green foliage of this open, airy shrub.

beautyberrya09-12-09.jpgBut aside from its beauty, what makes this shrub truly valuable is that it is a fall and winter food source for more than 40 different songbird species, as well as other birds. It also is enjoyed by mammalian wildlife, including the opossum and raccoon. Its deer resistance probably depends on your area and the harshness of seasonal weather. In some areas, deer leave the mature plants alone, but they're happy to nibble on young shrubs and sometimes the berries. In general, though, it's best to plant the shrub in a protected area if you are concerned about deer.

American Beautyberry is an excellent shrub for understory growth, and understory plants are a key part of successful wildlife habitats. They can provide food and/or places to hide, and despite its airy nature, the Beautyberry does both, particularly when several of the shrubs form a small colony.

beautyberryc09-12-09.jpgIn the summer, the shrub has delightful pale flowers. But it is the beautiful clusters of purple berries that really provide that wow factor come fall. There is also a white variety, but if choosing a color most attractive to birds, I'd stick with purple.

beautyberryb09-12-09.jpgThe deciduous shrub is typically 5-6 feet tall when mature, but I've seen some get more than 8 feet tall. It prefers partial sun/partial shade, but with extra water and attention, it can handle more sun, too. But as an understory plant, it is at its best.

American Beautyberry, according to, is native to all the states of the southern U.S., on up into Maryland, Missouri, and Oklahoma. It thrives in a variety of conditions of soil, water, and light conditions, and it is easily grown from seed as well. A worthy plant for your wildlife habitat! 

Becoming a Habitat Steward


It's just one week until I begin Habitat Steward training, 2009 class, and I'm very excited. This four-week training program is a volunteer opportunity for the National Wildlife Federation, and in Austin it is co-partnered by the Travis Audubon Society. Habit Stewards work with the community to educate adults and children about wildlife habitats, as well as help remove invasives and plant habitat gardens. There are similar training classes all over the nation, and you can learn more at NWF's volunteer page or for Austin at the city's volunteer page. I just finished my first "homework" assignment, and class hasn't even started!


The berries of this Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria, are in the process of changing color. During winter, the bright red berries are a favorite source of food for mockingbirds, cedar waxwings, robins, and several other bird species. The berries are only on the female trees -- there must be a male tree nearby in order for berries to appear on the female. Cooler seasons can bring food hardships for birds and other wildlife, so planting year-round food sources is a major part of creating a wildlife habitat.

Cheering for the Survivors

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Because of all this house painting I've been doing, I've had to rely on the kids to help water, and I was starting to experience garden and blog withdrawal symptoms. So today I got out the camera and trekked around the yard getting my scheduled watering done and snapping a few pictures along the way. I also took another veggie class this morning (more on that in a separate post).  So I got my infusion of "green" this morning. And as soon as I finish blogging, I get to go back to... you guessed it... painting. Houses are big! Even small houses! 

Today I honor and recognize my yard's truly amazing Survivors. In our Texas heat wave, really every plant that still has chlorophyll is a survivor, but some of my plants have overcome some of the worst situations to keep on growing despite the odds against them. I give you... the Survivors.


The Challenge: Being gnawed to the ground, dug out, dragged across the yard, trampled, peed on, or otherwised abused by THE DOGS

There are numerous survivors here, including our sweet remaining Mexican Redbud and Hop Trees, and others. The Goldenball Leadtree shown here survived not only the dogs chewing it in half, but the fire ants that made a colony in the original planter (I had to survive those fire ants, too, because I found out about them the hard way). I can't wait to see blooms on this little guy, by the way. Little golden puffballs!

goldenball08-22-09.jpgThe Challenge: Growing in the side yard, which means being in a place that is so low priority on the watering scale that they often get forgotten. 

Lucky for the sideyard plants, I've been rinsing my paintbrushes out there (fyi, we're using eco-friendly paint), so they are getting more water than they are used to, and they are using the opportunity to grow, recover, and even bloom. I have several survivors of this challenge, but here are pictures of Salvia "Indigo Spires," Flame Acanthus, Turk's Cap, and Inland Sea Oats. The Inland Sea Oats also have been mowed over several times when we thought they were long gone or something else.


turksred08-22-09.jpg       flameacanthus08-22-09.jpginlandseaoats08-22-09.jpgThe Challenge: Surviving where others have failed

My first Chile Pequin simply struggled to grow, and I assumed it was because it needed more water than I could regularly provide. But after it died, I bought another and planted it in similar shade a few feet away, in the neglected side yard. Though it gets even less water than the first, the new one has grown to about a foot tall already.


The Challenge: Thriving despite being told, "You're too old"

Our house was built in 1971, and we've lived here 14 years. We have two huge Arizona Ash Trees in the front yard, and we were told five years ago that the trees were at full maturity and would die at any time. Well, they continue to do fine, so well that they once again have blanketed our sidewalks and yard in golden leaf-like seeds.  We never water the two trees, which a neighbor suggested might be why ours do well where others have died off. Regardless, we thank them for their shade.

  arizashseeds08-22-09.jpg arizash08-22-09.jpgThe Challenge: Being a tree planted in late February as opposed to fall/winter, and then surviving what we think was overwatering

Lacey Oak is one of our favorite trees, and our tiny one just recently caved to the heat and abuse by dogs. But this other beauty of a tree was planted a little late in the season in the front yard, and we were determined that it would not die to transplant shock or heat. But after a few months, we became concerned at the number of leaves turning brown or partially brown. At first we thought it needed more water, but now I think it was overwatering that might be cause. We backed off on the watering, and it's hanging on. Grow, baby, grow!

laceyoak08-22-09.jpgThe Challenge: Surviving despite our best efforts to (purposely) kill it

We're NOT cheering for these, by the way. There are some plants that keep growing back despite how hard you try to kill them off -- weeds, of course, Bermuda grass, and so on, but in this case I'm referring to Chinaberry and Gum Bumelia.

Chinaberry is an exotic invasive, and it grows from any little bit of root you accidentally leave in the soil, and of course from the numerous berries. The neighbor's mother tree has been removed, but we are still trying to dig out shoots from a root so deep we can't get to it, and others growing out from under the air conditioner. This next time, I'm pouring on the vinegar.

chinaberry08-22-09.jpgThe Gum Bumelia is a Texas native, and it made me a little sad to remove the ones growing directly behind the house, but their spines are exceptionally long and hazardous, and they blocked us from having any other use for that area right by our patio. Even cutting them down led to numerous spines in the dirt, and we had to pull many out of our shoes and sometimes (ouch) feet. I can't get to all the culprit roots, so I'll try vinegar on these, too. 


The Challenge: Being the tiniest plant to survive several TX freezes in a season, with some winter-wise TLC

This Yellowbells, or Texas Esperanza, plant was a tiny little 4-inch guy that was planted just before a series of freezes in central Texas. My efforts (watering and covering) to keep it and its neighbors apparently did the trick, because they all survived. Is that an assassin bug in there? I hope so. Be good bug, not bad bug. 


The Challenge: Surviving being a tree planted in full sun in the heat of the summer

We couldn't resist buying this big Mexican lime for such a cheap price, and then we realized how perfect it was for a bright spot by our patio. We decided to take the chance and plant it and not to get too mad at ourselves if it didn't make it. It's actually doing pretty well, and its leaves let us know when it needs water. I even got to pull a lime off it, though it was probably already growing when we bought the tree.

lime08-22-09.jpgThe Challenge: Making a comeback despite being near death when finally getting put in the ground

Again, numerous survivors here, but one of my Rose Pavonias (Texas Rock Rose), a Gaura, and a Basketgrass (Nolina) got photos taken. The Nolina doesn't look like much, but trust me, we're happy to see some green.

texasrockrose08-22-09.jpg gaura08-22-09.jpg nolina08-22-09.jpg

The Challenge: Staying alive in full sun as tiny seedlings until another growing season began, and then finally starting to grow

My son's mixed bell pepper seedlings, planted in a recycled recycling bin. 

peppers08-22-09.jpgThe Challenge: Being overshadowed by towering plants, but blooming once those died off (the Na-na-na-na-na Challenge)

That would be one of our Pink Skullcaps, accidentally sandwiched between the tall kind of Zinnias since spring.

pinkskullcap08-22-09.jpgThe Challenge: Surviving the worst we can throw at a plant, short of acid

Perhaps the winner of all winners should be my very first Dutchman's Pipevine, which has survived being dragged across the yard by the dogs, having its leaves completely stripped by dogs and roofers (in cleaning up their mess), being drowned, being underwatered, being smothered by a foot of leaves, being transplanted multiple times, and more. It is now hopefully in a permanent spot, alongside more of its kind, with something to challenge it to grow taller.

dutchmanspipevine08-22-09.jpgThere are plenty of other survivors in my yard that also deserved their tales told, but it's time to paint. :)

I end with a picture of Loki, doing what he needs to survive...


Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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