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BogeyMan Freak Out


There's very little in nature that disturbs me. I can watch with fascination the way predators stalk their prey, study the little bones left behind in owl pellets, and look at snotty-faced hogs like they're as cute as bunnies.

I adore spiders, all of them.

greenlynx09-17-09.jpgIt would never occur to me to kill one, unless my family was in danger from a venomous one. Some of them make such beautiful webs -- incredible works of art and science and skill all rolled into one, though to the spider it's a just a normal way of life. I've walked into more webs and had more spiders in my big mass of hair than I care to admit, but I still love them.

web06-05-10.jpgI could cuddle with the biggest of snakes.

snake06-05-10.jpgI'd probably prefer not to have to outrun a taipan or to fall flat on my face in front of a rattler, but that's life or death -- and that's different. I guess I'm not a fan of ticks, either, but then who would be? They carry terrible diseases and suck your BLOOD. But they don't invoke fear in me. Not that feeling of panic that makes you shriek and want to flee far away. Well, there was that time in a deer grove near Uvalde that I looked down to see hundreds of ticks crawling onto my shoes -- I'll say that I did stare for a moment with fascination before doing the big "Get These Terrible Ticks Off Me" dance. None managed to reach my skin, thank goodness. 

I study flies and bees and slugs with equal amazement. Animal carcasses you find on a trail? Gross, yes, but the stink would drive me away before the sight would.

People say bats, and I run outside with a camera. I love the feel of slimy earthworms in my hand. I've been stung by a scorpion and lived to tell the tale. I've dealt with wasp hives and hornets and learned to appreciate the creepy-crawling of the zillion-legged centipede. I'd curl up with a lion if it wouldn't eat me.


But there is a creature that gets to me. Perhaps that's a poor way to word it.

The freak-out creature for me used to be a roach. I still remember the horror from my childhood of waking up in my room in the middle of the night, freaky shadows cast on the walls by oleanders outside the louver windows, their leaves and branches swaying eerily in the strong wind. In a moonlit spot on the wall, I saw a dark spot, and as my eyes adjusted I realized it was a the biggest roach I'd ever seen (and living in Corpus Christi at the time, I was no stranger to roaches). But this one was clearly the Big Bad Brown Roach from Dark Forces of Evil, and it was watching me. I could feel its little eyes staring at me from across the room.

moonb03-29-10.jpgI stayed as still as I could, trying to muster the nerve to call out for my mom, or better yet flee. But it held me trapped by its dark gaze, long antennas wiggling all around, and I'd never felt such an intense moment in all the five years of my life. And instinctively I knew something was about to happen, and I grabbed the edge of my blanket in my hands just as that giant roach flew across the room directly at me. FLEW! I had never seen one fly, but this sucker did, and my screams of terror from under my blanket must have woken up the whole neighborhood and probably utterly panicked my poor mother who had to find out what was torturing and trying to kill her youngest daughter.

My grandmother's house had lots of roaches. Little ones and big ones. Driven by that roach's attack on my childhood innocence, I went after them with a vengeance whenever I was visiting and saw them. By the way, I can slap a mosquito with the best of them. Grandmother had an infestation of crickets, too, but I could tolerate them somewhat. That reminds me of the year of the grasshoppers, when swarms of giant grasshoppers covered northern Texas, and they'd fly at us across the water when we tried to go sailing, a big white target for long-legged flying green grasshoppers. Shudder. I remember my stepmother shrieking over and over again while holding up a big towel to keep them from landing on her. A few years later, it was the year of the crickets, and stores had to sweep them out by the thousands onto the sidewalks and streets. They'd make a wall look black as they crawled up the sides.


In a biology lab in college, I once had to dissect a live roach. Not those flat little scurrying things we all find to be pests from time to time. No, this was one of those big fat roaches from the southern U.S., Georgia as I recall. We had to basically dismantle it body part by body part, including the fat globs of marshmallow creme, until it was nothing but head and gut tract -- and it was still alive! Its little jaws just gnawed away. THIS is why roaches will outlive humans by millions of years.

In case you are wondering, I was a Zoology major in college. We weren't given a choice about dissecting things, and I won't list them all here. But the scientist side of me took care of business, and really, the internal organs were just as fascinating as the animals themselves. Bodies in general are works of wonder. Beyond that, I tried not to think too much about what I was doing. 

I do recall the Giant Rat in high school. One night I was closing the curtains on our louver windows (I will NEVER willingly have louver windows in my adulthood, given the horrors they bring) when I saw a fat scaly tail hanging from the curtain where the drawstrings were. MOM! A giant rat! Neither of us wanted to try to get it out of there, and it wasn't budging on its own, and all we could see was that terrible tail dangling. So we decided to leave the door to the garage open to give it a chance to leave on its own (it probably came in through there). And we went to bed. Next thing I knew, my mom was nudging me awake, whispering that the giant rat was in her room. Why on earth she left her bedroom door partly ajar with such a monstrosity loose in the house, I'll never know. This time we went in with brooms in hand, ready to defend against and drive out the small intruder with giant freaky tail. It turns out that it wasn't a rat, neither giant nor little, but the cutest little baby possum (sharp teeth and all), and it was just as scared as we were. We gently helped it outside.

But while I might squeal at the sudden scurries of little mice or the unexpected appearance of a snake around a corner, none of it disturbs me, and my reaction turns fast to interest. But the creature of all creatures to utterly unnerve me is this. The Harvestman. The Bogeyman, if you ask me.

harvestmana06-05-10.jpgSome people call them daddy longlegs, or granddaddy longlegs. But whatever you call them, don't call them spiders. Because that's what they are NOT.

The harvestman is an arachnid, yes, but not a spider. Its body segments are closely joined to seem fused into a single oval.

harvestmanb06-05-10.jpgAnd they've got those freakily long legs. If they just stayed still, I could MAYBE get used to them. But... 

harvestmand06-05-10.jpgThe way they bob up and down and quiver as they walk, they way they gather in black throbbing blobs on walls, the way they move their long legs around when threatened-- EEEEEK. I never really cared for them before, but visiting the narrow cave at Enchanted Rock in college and crawling in dark spaces only to look above and realize the ceiling is quivering, and then to realize with horror that you have thousands of pulsing harvestmen inches from ALL YOUR HAIR, and yeah, that's what did it for me. The word for the masses is "aggregation," a term you never want associated with creatures that freak you out.

harvestmanc06-05-10.jpgIt's the quivering. It's the way they move. I really should capture a video, but I'm feeling pretty weirded out just by how close I had to get to take the pictures. Why? Because when I got close they started to move! They freaked out and started moving and pulsing up and down and then waved their long second legs around like antenna at me, and then I freaked out and I'm just lucky I didn't fall off the ladder I was standing on. Did you know that the legs can keep twitching after they are detached, due to little pacemakers in the first segment? I read that -- I did not try it out. Apparently detaching their twitching leg is actually a defense mechanism to help them escape from predators.

harvestmane06-05-10.jpgBut in researching them, I reluctantly have to admit that they should probably maybe sort of go on the list of a garden's beneficial creatures. They are predators and scavengers both, and if they'd just stay out of sight, they'd be kind of sort of tolerated in my garden. They can't hurt me or my family, other than to give me a heart attack! But no, they are currently on my house, and if their numbers start to increase and my heart starts getting that fight or flight feeling too many times, they're going to have to go. I will not have big quivering wiggling black masses making me relive my cave experience over and over again! THIS IS WHAT NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF, PEOPLE.

harvestmanf06-05-10.jpgLet's jump right in with a new poem shall we?

O Harvestman, My Bogeyman
© 2009, Great Stems

I think that I should never see
A Harvestman coming straight at me
Even worse is what I fear
That thousands of them gather here.
Lurking, bobbing, on the wall
Legs that make them ten-feet tall

FYI, I'm not actually scared of the harvestman. I won't really run screaming in terror when I see it. But it does creep me out a lot, a LOT, and you won't catch me hanging out around it for long. They might creep me out, but I don't really wish them ill will. I just wish them a new location.

So I've told a long tale, and in it confessed my nature weaknesses. What in nature freaks you out?


EDIT, same day: A funny thing happened after I wrote this post. I finished saving it and got in the car to head to a swim meet. I was still all creeped out after writing the post and doing all those pictures, so I was still thinking about the effects the harvestmen have on me and I started thinking up new lines for the poem. Well, I was driving on a rather long empty road and a cop pulled me over. It was a beautiful blue snazzy "police chase" kind of car, too -- one of those new ones that make your jaw drop. Part of me thought it was kind of cool to be pulled over by the most awesome police car ever. Of course, I was in a mini-van -- not so cool. Well, the dialogue went something like this:

Ma'am, do you know why I pulled you over?

          Ummmm... (serious pause here) maybe I was driving too fast?

Yes, ma'am -- that stretch of road is marked as 45, and you were going 60.

         Oh. (pause) Well, I was thinking about something that had me freaked out. It was
         those harvestmen, those daddylonglegs. And they were all on my house. And they were
         quivering and bobbing, and I'm still creeped out by them. And I guess I didn't know
         I was driving fast. I'm not a speeder by nature.

Please sign here, ma'am.

        Here? Okay.

Thank you, ma'am. Well, this is just a warning about your speed. It would have been a ticket, but in all my years, I've heard lots of stories, and I've never heard one like that before. 

By the way, Austinites, don't speed on McNeil, that part near the railroad as it heads toward Wells Branch. Mr. Cool Cop Car might be there waiting for you, but if he is, he's really nice. 

Pollination Fascination


While taking a stroll near the butterfly garden, the sound of busy bees caught my attention, and I realized that my little pollinating friends had moved from the pumpkin flowers over to a nice big batch of native plants, and my gardener's heart did a little pitter-patter.

But in observing them, I realized something I'd never noticed before. Gregg's Mistflower produces white pollen.


My mind was boggled. In all my years watching wildlife, I never knew that pollen could be anything but yellow?


beeonmistc10-07-09.jpgIn the same patch of flowers, the honeybees on the Zexmenia had bright orange pollen baskets on their little legs.

beeonzex10-07-09.jpg beeonzexc10-07-09.jpg This little bee has been to both Mistflower and Zexmenia. His pollen is pale orange.


I was fascinated. Today was a day where nature just had me reeling.

When I could tear my eyes away from the bees, I noticed a beautiful male Queen butterfly keeping me company.


And on the Fall Aster, newly blooming just on the other side of the Gregg's Mistflower, little hoverflies enjoyed a feast without getting the attention of the bigger bees nearby.   

hoverflyb10-07-09.jpg hoverflyc10-07-09.jpg Sure enough, these little flies can hover. Someone sure came up with a brilliant name for them! (Hey, guess what hoverflies eat? Aphids! Yay!)

Pollination inspiration, here's my poem for the day:



© Great Stems


Fly little fly

Fly little bee

Queen be flying

But not Queen Bee


O Alien Seedpod



O Alien Seedpod

© Great Stems, 2009


What creature lurks within this alien seedpod

That attached to the limb of this passerby

Have you tentacles or tendrils

Cloning slime or plasmic goo

Kind heartlight or superior intellect

With mal-intent, malevolent

Or cautious curiosity


Was it accident or enterprise

That those unearthly hooks grabbed hold

Not taken to my leader but to my home

My galaxy within our universe

The day this earthling then stood still

And kept you upon windowsill

Am I Bilbo to your Precious?

An unexpected foil

To the mission of your star trek

The light side to your dark side


Are you from twinkling star or battle star

What led you on your space odyssey

To our forbidden planet

Do you come in peace

Or were you lost in space

Or sent by evil empire

To make a deep impact

When our worlds collided


Does your presence herald an incoming invasion

A pending war of the worlds

A scout passing through the atmosphere of our sphere

To an obscure landing site in dusty field

Far from human occupation

Those claws the right stuff to hitchhike unobserved

Into the galactic center of our empire

And set the stage for Armageddon


Do you watch us, voyager, from within that protective shell

A wasteful race, a ravaged planet

A vengeful, violent species

Bent on destroying ourselves

Do you pity us or laugh at us? Or do you wait

While we do your work for you

Takeover is imminent, the countdown begins

Will we be assimilated? Or annihilated?

Or already absent when your star fleet lands


O Alien Seedpod

I ponder your existence

And then I ponder my own

Two strangers from distant planets meet

Whether it was fate or force or mul-ti-pass

You found me, and I gave you welcome

Whether that means that I'm ambassador

Or first to be devoured when at last you make contact

And I wonder if you can tell me, before my body is snatched:

Is the meaning of life really 42?




Background to my poem: This seedpod is from the Devil's Claw plant of the genus Proboscidea (without the original plant I hesitate to try to identify the species). It hitched a ride on my shoe while I trekked through ranch land near Uvalde, Texas, some 14 years ago. Since then, my family has enjoyed referring to it as the alien seedpod and enjoyed talking about how it would snatch our bodies or our brains in the night and/or take over Earth. It wasn't until yesterday that I decided that because I'm now a gardener I should actually find out the name of the plant it came from.


The plant itself, although I don't have a picture of it, is a somewhat low-growing sprawling plant with beautiful yellow or pink orchid-like flowers. Apparently it's stinky, too, due to its slimy leaves. The genus name Proboscidea is shared with the animal order which contains only one family, the elephants. In fact, Devil's Claw is sometimes referred to as elephant tusks, as well as unicorn plant, ram's horn, and even devil's snot, depending on the species.


For you veggie gardeners out there, apparently Devil's Claw works as an excellent trap for tomato hornworms!

Bad Drinking Habits of Citrus


A citrus tree walks into a bar and says to another citrus...


"Hey, orange you the cutie!"

citrusd09-06-09.jpgThe lime tree should be careful, lest someone think she's a little tart.

citrusb09-06-09.jpg These little trees developed quite the drinking habit during the summer drought. Maybe they just really wanted to let their hair down.

  cornsilk09-06-09.jpgBut they should be careful, because excessive drinking can lead to wanton behavior and unexpected results, like babies.


I guess I should stop now. I've probably gone over the top with these bad jokes.


They're real lemons.


(Disclosure: No plants were harmed in the making of these photos. The bottles are filled with water, of course. FYI, only one makes use of a Plant Nanny, while the others are placed straight into the soil. The key to success with bottle watering is to make sure the soil is wet BEFORE you put the bottle in, then the roots just take in more water as they need to. Also, the eggs are ladybug eggs, from my happy little busy bugs. The corn silk is just beautiful every day. And the sugar pumpkins have at last conquered the 8-foot trellis, and then some.)

Rock-a-Bye, Baby


Rock-a-bye, baby

In pantyhose

You won't fall down

When the wind blows

cantaloupesling08-26-09.jpgSnug in your bed

Some melons might laugh

Till they drop right off

And go-o-o CRACK.



© Great Stems

The darkness of night faded
I turn to the light of dawn

And gingerly I reach out

tendrilsd08-07-09.jpgA shy and uncertain hand


Longing for love, and clinging


At the briefest hint of touch


 Will I be made the fool?
My denied hopes a tangled mess


Or will the tendrils of love entwine?

tendrilsi08-07-09.jpgFor hand in hand, and more than hugs
Tenderness brings strength to heart

tendrilsk08-07-09.jpgAnd hopes become wishes true


 Oh, be the rock on which I stand
And I will stand proud but grounded 


 Be the wall upon which I lean
And I will know comfort yet stay dependent

tendrilsc08-07-09.jpgBut hold my hand and love me
And I will bloom and grow

cantaloupebloom08-07-09.jpgHigh and higher, unbound by rooted doubts
Upon the ladder of heart's embrace


Toward the warming sun above

tendrilsj08-07-09.jpgAnd I shall be whole and happy


All because I reached, and you were there.

And love entwined.



The photos show a glimpse of my young food garden: jack-o-lantern pumpkin, cantaloupe, and sugar pumpkin vines, with images of the tendrils of crossvine and caroline jessamine mixed in. The seedlings are growing well, and they are my babies. The cantaloupes are blooming now, and the jack-o-lantern pumpkins are teasing me with buds.
  tendrilsn08-07-09.jpg A few days ago I saw my first squash vine borer moth (horror!), and the next day I went out and removed about 30 little brown eggs from my jack-o-lantern pumpkins. Hopefully I got them all. Seriously, I'm checking for eggs every day now. This task will get harder as the plants get bigger.  

squashvineborereggs08-07-09.jpgI've planted 32 corn seedlings and all are growing. Yes, that's a lot of corn! But they all fit with this square-foot gardening.


I've had a few leaf-miners tunneling, but I haven't done anything about it. As far as I know, the overall plants will be fine, though I hate to see the pretty leaves tainted with trails.

veggies08-07-09.jpg And I've bought seeds for my third raised bed, for fall: carrots, beans, spinach, and zucchini. Looking forward to and terrified of attempting to grow even more veggies... But having fun, too.  :)  


Creature from the Black Lagoon


At long-last, my neighborhood got some long-needed rain. I say my neighborhood because in all honesty and selfishness, I have no idea what happened elsewhere in Austin. I was too busy out in the rain doing a little happy dance. I guess the gardening gods felt sorry for me and let the rain fall. I shall pay proper homage later.

rain07-30-09.jpgAnd it was a good long rain. Long enough to give a deep watering to the trees, gardens, and scorched earth. Long enough to fill my mock rain barrels and get the toads ready for l'amour. See this massive spout of water? We're in the process of painting and have no gutters up, so no rain barrels, but I put out two plastic bins to catch as much water as I could. They overflowed, so much water fell. Yay!  


raind07-31-09.jpgEven the entryway's crazy-tall Japanese Yew, planted 20+ years ago by some previous owner, got some water. You can't see much of it from this picture, because I was taking pictures of the rain!

rainc07-31-09.jpgHey, I just now read that the Yew is quite toxic. Why am I not surprised? It seems everything I want to plant or is already here is toxic (except the key lime tree I bought today. Wheee! Oops, hubbie, ignore that. But if you don't ignore it, blame the wee one; he insisted on getting it. It was only $20 and quite large! Key limes, honey, key limes! Just think of the money we'll SAVE!).

So what does rain have to do with this odd title, "Creature from the Black Lagoon"? Well, I'll tell you. It all started when I woke up at 6-something this morning and let the dogs outside. When I tried to get them to come back inside, the puppy was standing in the dog pond (a.k.a. wading pool) and not moving.

Grover wasn't moving because, as it turns out, he was surrounded by several toads in the water. They weren't very happy with him in there, and I guess he didn't quite know what to do, either. I didn't get a picture, as I decided to rescue the toads and move them toward the main pond. Here's a picture of Grover later, with a stick he'd found. 


But Grover is not the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And it turns out that two of the many toads were actually double -- mating toads foolishly thinking that the dog pond was a good place to hook up. Even as I rescued the toads and helped them find their way to the crevices of the main pond rocks, those silly boy toads kept a tight grip, making the females lug them around. I could hear the toads croaking last night and this morning -- I guess rain brings out toad passion. Water's here -- let's get together, baby!

While I was outside, I realized that the waterfall in the pond had become a trickle, which meant that the pump was clogged with something. So I decided to go ahead and deal with the pond right away. The rain might have sent some tree debris into the pond. While I got ready, I grabbed the camera and caught a picture of a toad on a pond rock. All those toads aren't Creatures from the Black Lagoon either.

toadb07-31-09.jpgIf it wasn't rain debris clogging the pump, there was a chance it was something messed up from the last time Sheba got in the pond. I'm still trying to get a good picture of this pretty dog, but she truly tries to hide from my camera. I have to be sneaky.


She might be camera-shy, but she's not the Creature from the Black Lagoon either.

So I get in the pond and begin my work. Sure enough, the filter was slightly tilted, letting debris get in. And there was an umbrella plant that had been knocked to the bottom of pond. Amazingly it was fine and had new growth. Is it the creature? No. Nor are the snails I found (the dwarf puffer in my aquarium will be most appreciative when I feed those to him!).

Since getting in and out of the pond is an annoying chore, I decided to make the most of my time in there. I threw out any leaves and sticks I found, got sludge that had collected below the pump, trimmed the dwarf papyrus, and gathered pea gravel that had fallen out of knocked-down plants and put it back in the respective pots. While I was working, two pairs of mating toads hopped up the pond rocks and joined me in the pond. I guess mating takes priority over being scared of the human. And amazingly I didn't drop the camera in the pond during these pictures.



The mating toads aren't Creatures from the Black Lagoon. Nor are these toad eggs I found while working on the plants in the pond. Pretty cool -- I hadn't seen eggs before. Suddenly I realize how many eggs are probably in my pond. Hopefully it won't affect the fish, or vice-versa! The fish aren't the Creatures either. But they gave me little goldfish "kisses" in the pond while I worked. Hey, I can pretend they were kisses! 


I continued working, even sitting down in the water to collect some hair algae that was growing in various places in the pond. It had become a problem after the last major time Sheba got in the pond, when she knocked half the plants into the depths of the pond. Lots of spilled soil and whatnot had been added to the pond, and the hair algae went wild. We added a barley block and more submerged grasses, and the pond is back on track. The hair algae? Not the Creature. But you're getting closer.

I found lots of nasty sludge in the filter pot. I scooped much of it out with my hands and tossed it into the nearby garden bed. Some sludge is ok, but not in my filter pot. I opted not to take a picture with my nice camera while having sludge in my hand. Sludge? Not the Creature.

You can see in the second mating toad pic the dwarf papyrus I trimmed back. It's trying to bust out of its pot now, but today wasn't the day for me to deal with it. So I trimmed back the parts that were drooping into the water. There were a lot. The monster "dwarf" papyrus, before or after its haircut, isn't the Creature.

Here's the cleaned-up pond. 

pondb07-31-09.jpgHmmm, after looking at this picture, the dwarf papyrus still looks like it needs a haircut. Reminds me of my husband on our wedding day, when his hair looked exactly the same after having paid for a haircut... you know, before wedding pictures... sigh. 

So the "dwarf" papyrus isn't the creature, nor is the baby dwarf lily I decided to lower slightly into the water to let it grow taller. Not the Pink Sparkle flower, either.  


I decided while I was out there to go ahead and plant the swamp milkweed I'd grown from seed, not realizing that Asclepias incarnata was actually swamp milkweed (It didn't say it on the package! Not my fault...). As the name implies, it likes water, and I had a dilemma of figuring out where to put it, as I really didn't want to plant something that wasn't drought-hardy. I finally figured out that if I plant it next to the dog pond, their splashing was likely to give the plants the extra water they'd need. I already cart the dirty dog water to my plants all over the the backyard, before refilling the wading pool. It's a pain, but I do it. Can't waste the water and can't leave it in long enough for mosquitoes.

swampmilkweed07-31-09.jpgAha, Swamp Milkweed, you say -- with "swamp" in the name, the milkweed has to be the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Nope, wrong again.

It's not this bug I found on the buds of my Texas star hibiscus, which apparently likes its spot in the pond. I can't wait to see the flowers!


It's not any of the dragonflies that were flitting about the yard and the dog pond. I couldn't get a good picture, they zoomed so fast; but I think they were Roseate Skimmers. The male was a gorgeous pink/fuscia. The females (if they were the same species) were brown/orange/black.


Ok, then what in the world was the Creature from the Black Lagoon in this story? ME, it was me. Picture if you will a woman wearing an old t-shirt and some old, too-short shorts (It was still just before dawn when I got in that pond! Who'd be watching?), who gets in a pond to do some maintenance. After sitting in the depths to gather sludge, hair algae, debris, gravel, and whatnot, I was rather a solid wet, gross mess from head to toe, and having the waterfall turned back on while I was in there guaranteed that more silt was churned up to collect on my clothes. Oh, but the story doesn't stop there...

When I got out of the pond, I figured that since I was already filthy, I might as well plant the swamp milkweed in the wet soil nearby, as you know. What's a little more mud? Nothing, until I went to the backdoor to go back into the house to take a shower. It was LOCKED. Locked by my husband, who so generously let me stay working in the pond by taking the boys to camp for me. Locked, perhaps out of habit, just before he left the house. And there I stood, now about 8:30 in the morning, looking like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And then the realization that I was probably doomed to walk through the neighborhood looking like that to find someone to let me either call my husband or help me get into my house.

Fortunately, a spark of brilliance came to me (thank you again, gardening gods... or house gods) and I was able to get inside the house without having to show up on a neighbor's doorstep, ring the doorbell, and <shudder>. If I hadn't found a way inside, this story might be called "The Black Widow" instead of the "Creature from the Black Lagoon," if you get my drift.

And no, I did NOT take a picture. 

WANTED: Dead or Alive


This just in from the Great Stems Police Department -- be on the lookout in your own garden!



caterpillars07-29-09.jpg hornets07-29-09.jpg aphids07-29-09.jpg possumhaw07-29-09.jpg bee07-29-09.jpg bermuda07-29-09.jpg fireant07-29-09.jpg grasshoppers07-29-09.jpgchrysalisesb07-29-09.jpg

Should you happen upon any of these Wanted creatures, please take appropriate action and as necessary, contact your local authorities.

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?

If you build it, they will come....

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School got out for the summer yesterday, and the boys look forward to a summer of relaxing and doing whatever. But I do want to encourage them to work on their writing skills -- with all this era's wonderful computer and Internet advantages, the good old-fashioned "sit with a pencil and write" seems to have been lost, at least with my kids. So this summer, with journals in hand, we are going to write a little each day. Stories, poems, books, thoughts -- whatever inspiration leads us to. Remarkably, the boys haven't groaned too much about it!

And after school let out yesterday, we welcomed new visitors to our yard. We've seen many a toad in the yard from time to time, but yesterday the male toads found the new pond. Three of them set up at strategic spots on the pond rocks and croaked. And croaked. And croaked. We saw two of them -- the third was clever enough to croak AND stay out of sight. We didn't witness any mass migration of female toads to them, but those males sure tried to entice them. I really like how all three toads croaked at different pitches. I fell asleep with the window open, just listening to them...

For our morning journals, we decided to all write garden poems. I'll admit we were all sort of groggy when we attempted this...


Call of the Summer Wild, zinnia06-04-09.jpg
by Meredith

Sun rising
Birds chirping
Good morning, summer, all

Kids running
Playing hard
Will their mom stay sane

Dogs wrestling
In the yard
Splashing in the dog pond

Flutter by
Flowers growing tall

bull-toad1.jpgGet off of
My zinnias RIGHT NOW

Sun is hot
Ack, more weeds
Compost, cactus happy

In the night
Bull-toads croak
Seeking their true love

And eating mosquitoes. YAY.






Garden poem, by Nolan

Birds, birds flap their wings
Birds can do almost anything

Our pond is great
We found toads that might mate
We cannot wait

Butterflies, butterflies everywhere
But we care






My backyard, by Logan

Birds flitter past,2dogs.jpg
While my dogs run fast.
The garden's filled with plants,
The perfect home for the
   common ant.
When the dogs meet a skunk
    it really
Sprays them well,
And when the dogs do come in
I really hate the smell.
My backyard's a habitat
For animals thin and small
But watch out when it's dark,
For the dogs might startle you
With a sudden bark.


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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