Recently in pets -- mulchers and tramplers Category

And Then There Were Reptiles


Meet the two newest members of our family. They are ssssimply worth sssssmiling about! Though we certainly didn't need more animals in this zoo we call home, the boys were eager for a snake, and I finally said yes because I'd wanted a snake for a teaching companion when I talk to kids about wildlife. Somehow I managed to bring two snakes home. Don't ask.


And so we have two very young snakes, adorable and loaded with personality.


Morse is the most outgoing and friendly. Just look at that smile!

morsec01-12.jpgShe is a corn snake, one that is an anerythristic motley (meaning she lacks red pigmentation and has that dotted pattern you see on her dorsal side). She likes to climb and explore, but she is also content to entwine herself through your fingers or to wrap around your wrist until you have a serpentine bracelet.


I say that she's a she, but I really haven't confirmed the gender of either snake. She does seem to taper the way female snakes tend to, but as my friend learned with her Baird's Rat Snake, that is no guarantee (her snake turned out to be a boy despite all indications otherwise).


Morse's name was inspired by the dot-dash-dot pattern that her motley pattern makes.


She, like other corn snakes, is a constrictor. I love how it looks like Morse tied herself in a knot.


Our smaller snake is a rat snake/corn snake hybrid, and his markings are just beautiful. He looks more like snakes you might find in the wild here in Texas, which is why I was so drawn to him. He is younger and smaller than Morse and quite a bit more shy. Poor thing, it took us forever to name him. For the longest time, we had to call him Little No Name, but now he is Walker. An odd name for a snake, you might think, but let me explain.


When I met this little guy, he seemed very frail in my hand, but the folks at the exotic pet store assured me that it was because he was shedding, and shedding snakes are sensitive to being touched. However, at home and post-shed, the little guy still seemed fragile, and on closer observation, I realized that he couldn't grip in his middle section -- I don't know whether he'd been injured at the store or whether he has a spine or nerve issue from his incubation period in the egg.


For Walker, this means two things -- he can't climb well, and he needs extra special care when we hold him so that he doesn't fall.

lnnf01-17-12.jpgHe's most content staying on the ground, of course, and he moves quite comfortably on a relatively flat surface. And so we named our legless pet Walker, after MUCH deliberation, discussion, voting, and compromise between members of my family. A little bribing might have happened, too -- hey, we know how politics work! For the record, Walker is his last name -- now we're deliberating, discussing, and so forth on the initials that will someday be in front of his name.


Walker is only about 11 inches long right now, compared to Morse's 16 or so inches. But he's a happy eater, and we're giving him a little extra food to help him grow faster. He stubbornly refuses to drink any water, however, at least not in front of me. Morse, on the other hand, likes me to hold her while she lowers her head down to the water's surface and guzzles. The saying "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink" almost earned Walker the name Horse, but good thing for him we didn't want his name to rhyme with Morse.


Walker is our shy guy. It could be that he's showing his rat snake side (corn snakes are naturally more docile, whereas rat snakes are known for their much more skittish behavior), or it could be that because he is injured he's understandably wary of being handled. In any case, two things are happening already -- a) he's getting stronger, and b) he's getting much more comfortable and trusting. But he'd still prefer to be tucked into a dark little cave (almost earning him the name Tucker or Bear).


Both snakes will peek out of their hiding spots to see what's going on. Above, Walker had hidden himself under a tissue box but couldn't resist looking out. Morse, below, was on her way over to taste the camera, flicking her tongue at it.



  Sometimes Morse will stick her head out of the Aspen bedding in their habitat and look like a submarine's periscope, or like the Dianoga in the Star Wars garbage compactor scene.


Now there's a size comparison for you -- these young snakes are itty bitty!


What else can we say about these snakes except that we love them!

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.

One of Those Days


Didn't sleep well last night, had to drop a kid off at school at 7am, car broke in the bus lane at school (fortunately I got moving before the buses arrived), $700 repair fee at the dealer, forgot to get my husband to move the heavy birdbath so I could grout it, my dogs are wreaking havoc on my garden, and aphids are wreaking havoc on my plants. BUT.. other than that it's a fine day.

Look what I discovered this morning! Know what these are? I just learned what they are at a lecture by a local entomologist last night, and lo and behold I found some in my garden the very next day. Life works in funny ways, doesn't it?

greenlacewingeggs09-25-09.jpgThese are the eggs of green lacewings. As larvae, they are voracious aphid eaters. Yay, another ally in the garden! I need them because the aphids are worse than ever. I seem to have least three species now --- I'll call them green, yellow, and beige. The green I'm sure are corn leaf aphids. I have got to get out and tackle them TODAY. My veggies, my milkweed, and now my firebush plant are all having an aphid problem. The little pests took advantage of my time away from the garden during the rainy week and bred like rabbits. I'm starting to think that it's the other way around, and rabbits breed like aphids. Today I'm seeing wings on some. Gah, more colonization!


yellowaphids09-25-09.jpgSo I've got new lacewings arriving soon, and of course I've got ladybugs. More spiders are arriving, as are earthworms. The bees are getting plentiful, and I don't even have to do the veggie porn thing to pollinate my plants anymore. I truly love the way nature just naturally (ha) balances its ecosystems. Got organic wastes? Happy earthworms move in. Got flowers? Let's pollinate. Overpopulation of something? Here come the predators. And here come the predators to eat the other predators. Oh look, birdie treats. And then snakes. And hawks. Whee, life is grand.

I call these my bees because I'm so fond of them, but of course they are wild. They get a little drunk-like in their flying when they are heavily loaded with pollen -- it's fun to watch. The pumpkin flowers were all abuzz this morning with bees about, and as I took pictures, I realized that there was some hostility going on. It seems at least one other colony has found our garden, and apparently different bee colonies don't play nicely with others.


Know what else I learned from the entomologist? Feral honeybees in Texas and other states of the Southwest have all been Africanized in some way. Only beekeepers are able to keep sound European colonies because of their control of the queens.


FYI, in case I've scared anyone, bees in your garden are not a threat -- don't rush out and kill them, please! They are not in stinging mode when they are out pollinating -- that's quite counter-productive to their hive's needs. Africanized honeybees, or any bees really, are a danger only when you threaten their hive (allergies aside), and apparently they'll give a warning by buzzing around your head or actually bonking you on the head, believe it or not. If you find yourself near a wild hive, RUN -- don't walk away. Like fire ants, the Africanized honeybees give word to others in their colony by pheromones, and you need to put immediate distance (at least 200 yards) between you and the hive. Other than their defensiveness in protecting their hive, Africanized bees are not really any different from other bees. And actually there have been positive changes in their aggressiveness, too, depending on factors of colony age and breeding with European bees. It's all good. No worries. As with anything, just be aware, not necessarily beware. Ooh, I like that.


By the way, have you hugged a beekeeper today? Not only do they raise pollinators and help with honey production, they are helping tremendously by keeping domestic European bee colonies intact, as well as helping breed gentler stocks of Africanized bees by culling out aggressive queens. Hug!

Thanks to my bees, I have several pumpkins growing. One is approaching the size of a soccer ball now (it's been a week since I discovered female buds in bloom). Another is growing in the dead tree. And more are scattered here and there -- finding them is like going on an Easter Egg hunt. There's one! There's another one! Again, how I love nature.


pumpkinb09-25-09.jpgWith the rain this week, the yard is a big mudfest for the dogs, and they took advantage of it -- digging where they shouldn't, trampling through the butterfly garden, and taking turns leaping over the pumpkin vines. I'm out there yelling, "This is not your playground!" And then I realized my neighbor must think I'm nuts, because of course it IS their playground. If I can manage it, I'll try to get a picture of the husky leaping in full gallop over the massive pumpkin plants (in between my yelling at him, of course). It really is a sight to behold. 

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!

Gardening Gods, Why Do you Forsake Me


Gardening is still such a mystery to me. What should work doesn't, and what shouldn't work does. I know there are all sorts of Murphy's Laws when it comes to this crazy hobby. Here's what I've discovered about the way gardening works. Gardening gods, why do you forsake me?!!

*Why is it that you promise yourself most determinedly that this time you will not buy any plants, and when you get to the nursery you realize that not just one, but two of your most coveted hard-to-find plants have just arrived off the truck? (here is more Dutchman's Pipevine -- the other, non-pictured is a native milkweed I rarely see)

pipevinecat07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that you wait so long for the first monarch of the season, and when you finally see one you discover all your milkweed is covered in aphids?


aphids.jpg*On the same note, why is it that ladybugs show up when there aren't any aphids and leave before the ferocious onslaught of the little sap-suckers?

*Why is it that your darling dogs have an impelling need to lay on and compact any dirt you till, and another impelling need to dig up any freshly planted garden bed? (This photo, by the way, is of the naughty dog that keeps getting in the pond. She's usually camera-shy. Don't be fooled by her gorgeous fur. It hides an imp.)

sheba07-24-09.jpg*And why is it that your yard can have plenty of available (dog) fertilizer but you can't use one bit of it to make compost?

*Why is it that the bag that spills in the car is not the bag of pine straw, and not even the pleasant smelling potting soil, but the compost made from cow manure?

*Why is that you set out birdfeeders for hummingbirds and cardinals and what you get instead are gluttonous, wasteful doves and predatory wasps? (Ok, really, I get them all.)


wasp07-24-09.jpg  *Why is it that the pond you enjoy so much attracts, among other creatures, hornets and wasps that take a nice long, happy drink before going and killing your beloved caterpillars? (Sad note: the monarch caterpillar in the milkweed picture above, along with all its buddies, disappeared during the writing of this blog entry. Stupid, but necessary predators.)

*Why is that you attempt to sacrifice yourself to the gods for some rain by putting up a metal trellis while standing on a partially metal ladder with wire cutters and a hammer in your hand and thunder and lightning in the distance, and all you get is a few sprinkles, like a spit in the eye?

trelliswireclose.jpg*Why is it that you don't realize you have to stop at the grocery store on the way home until after you've covered yourself in stinky compost while bagging it at the nursery?

*Why is it that you buy a beautiful tree that you are determined to keep alive because it needs to shade the A/C unit and because it is replacing one that died, and it dies while the one that the dogs dug up multiple times over the winter is the one that is thriving? (Actually, three trees the dogs mostly destroyed came back and are doing well.)


mexredbud07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that the young trees you rarely water (including two you forgot about for weeks in your garage after the last frost) survive, but the ones you faithfully water on a recommended schedule die?

barbadoscherry07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that the plants you still haven't managed to put mulch around are doing better than the ones you surrounded with three inches of mulch?


dyingconeflowers07-24-09.jpg   *Why is it that the most amazing, beautiful sights in your garden happen when your camera is nowhere near?

*Why is it that a random new seedling grows in your yard and you have to wait until it gets big to find out what it is, or whether it is friend (keeper) or foe (weed or invasive)? This one looks like a friend, I hope, but I don't know what it is yet.

unknownseedling07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that your son doesn't want to work outside when it's hot, but then when it's cool and overcast, he still doesn't want to work? Oh wait, I know that one.

*(from the son) Why is it that your mom always makes you work, but barely ever lets you goof around? Oh wait, I know that one.  (from the Mom: clearly I just let him goof around)

*Why is it that your beautiful plants take so long to grow, but your weeds grow like... well, weeds?

txpersimmon.jpg*(from the other son) Why is it that every time you want to plant something, your mom doesn't have a plant to plant? But when you don't want to plant something, she has lots and lots.

*Why is it that you lovingly make several cost-effective environmentally-friendly thistle socks for the birdies, and the finches tear such big holes in them until the socks won't hold any more seed, making you want to reconsider plastic? (technically these two are the brand-name socks -- I'd already removed the destroyed homemade ones... I guess I better get busy making more)

thistlesocks07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that you work so hard to create a great garden for your new veggies and then realize that you managed to let some of your herbs die in the process?


deadsage07-24-09.jpg*Why is it that you can spend so much time making your outside yard beautiful and neglect your poor house plants?

*(from the husband) Why is it that dinner isn't ready yet? Oh wait, I know that one.

Got any to add? Please share them! I have a feeling this is a non-ending list!

Author's edit on 7/26/09: How could I forget this major one: Why is it that I finally start gardening, and Texas finds itself in the middle of perhaps its worst drought ever, with drastically reduced water availability and temperatures over 100 degrees all summer long?

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....


Pond plants at last!

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We've waited so long for this... we finally finished the pond enough to get plants in the water! Among the selection, I chose the water lilies Pink Sparkle and Perry's Baby Red, along with a fun Fiber Optic plant. In the filter falls, I placed Ruby Red Runner and Lemon Bacopa. My friend Kim gave me another baby lily, a Pickerel Weed, and an umbrella plant from her Houston pond (thanks for transporting them all the way here, too, Kim!), and a Taro plant came from, I think, the guy who gave us all the rocks -- the plant was kept alive for months by my dear neighbor Jan.  

plantsinpond.jpgBut we are thrilled -- the pond looks so different with the plants. View the latest details on the pond contruction here.

My son took a picture of his baby bell pepper, along with pictures of two of our dogs. That's the puppy's snout pushing up from the bottom of the pic, like Jaws.



Not So Keen

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Well, I went out into the backyard and discovered that my favorite shoes, my normally-expensive Keens that I got for free in a raffle and wear just about everywhere, had been mostly destroyed by one or both of our monster dogs, who apparently were "keen" on enjoying a classic dog-eat-shoe scenario. Grrrr.

KeensWhile it means that we'll need to fork over the big bucks to replace them (because yes, I want another pair), at least this unfortunate pair can officially become garden shoes, because as it turns out that having no ankle straps means they slip on and off fairly easily, like a nice garden clog except more comfortable. It doesn't mean the dogs aren't on my bad side, though!

A green thumb? Mine's covered in dirt

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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.

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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