Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hangin' Around

The cicada is long gone, but its shell still clings to the underside of a Caladium leaf.

A Black and Yellow Garden Spider sits in its web and awaits a meal.

A large damselfly takes a break from feasting on the yard's mosquitoes.

Seems like everybody's just hangin' around in the shade.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Transformation Complete

Early this morning, I made a fun discovery.  One of my Dill-fed Black Swallowtails had recently emerged from its brown chrysalis.  Hanging upside down just a few inches from it (visible in the lower left), the butterfly slowly flexed its wings.

The now empty chrysalis was perfectly camouflaged, appearing as a small dead branch off the main stem.  It has two small threads that allow it to lean out from the stem enhancing the twig-like appearance.

The butterfly stayed in this position for quite some time as its wings completed their expansion and hardened.

When the sun reached a height that allowed scattered light to penetrate through to the swallowtail's location, the butterfly crawled up on top of the leaves, spreading its wings, catching more of the sun.

Eventually, it made its maiden flight, flitting about in a wide circle, gaining height until it landed higher on a sunlit Live Oak branch.  There it stayed for quite some time, wings spread, basking.  Later, an upward glance found an empty branch as the swallowtail had begun its adult life.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More Dill Please...

Caterpillars have appetites!  My Dill is down to sticks.

But the caterpillars keep coming - quickly consuming the few leaves that dare to venture out.

And, since the Dill has been vanquished, they've crawled the forty feet over to the celery in my tiny herb garden.  "It ain't Dill, but it'll do."

I'd better get some Dill going before they get even bolder...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gardening Limitation #8: Environment

While perusing many beautiful garden blogs & articles, I began to contemplate what would be required to transform my garden into one of these amazing showcases.  And this led, naturally, to my determining what obstacles stood between me and my vision.

This was followed by the creation of my Eight Gardening Limitations which I hope to share with everyone over several postings.  They will be listed backwards from the one having the least impact on my personal gardening plans to the one having the greatest (8 = least limiting, 1= most limiting).

Gardening Limitation #8: Environment

 Every gardener feels their situation is unique and demanding:
Texas: "Sure, you northerners also have shade, but I have hot summer nights, high humidity & drought - at least your ferns and hostas get cool nights and regular rainfall."
Oregon: "Yeah, but we have slugs the size of chipmunks plus moles and voles and even chipmunks the size of slugs. Not to mention blizzards and six month long winters. And did I mention the slugs?"

But chances are good that if you visit any nearby wild area, you'll see that nature has no problem with the environment.  The issue is that our gardening desire often conflicts with our environment :

Customer: "All I want is an evergreen shrub, four foot tall & wide with variegated foliage, that is relatively drought tolerant, stands our heat and will grow in the shade."
Nursery: "Hey - we can do that!"
Customer: "And I want it to bloom from March through October"
Nursery: "Oh...well...hmmm..."

Though some native or adapted plants may find their way into the garden, others may not be particularly pleasing to us (Poison Ivy is actually quite nice looking, has vivid winter coloration and grows quite well in my environment, but I'm thinking I'll be removing it from my garden).  Maybe these plants lack that special something that makes them stand out - unique foliage or vibrant long-lasting blooms.  Or perhaps they are too well adapted, growing with wild abandon and taking over the garden space.  Though gardeners like natural & full, we also like tidy and structured.

And we also often tend to push the edges of what is appropriate for our environment.
Spring: "Hmmm. The plant data says it will do fine up to Gardening Zone 10. I'm in 8b - that's pretty close. I mean, really, when was the last time we got down to 20 degree around here?"
Winter: "Dear, the house is quite cold, so I turned up the heat. And look out the window! Is that snow? Isn't it wonderful? But why are your pretty succulents changing from green to black? And they appear to be...melting. Dear, are you crying?"

Of course, short of moving, we cannot make changes to the major aspects of our environment.  The garden plans will have to adapt to the seasonal temperatures & rainfall patterns.  One can, however, make small changes to the local micro-environment.  A gardener can install watering systems to augment limited rainfall, introduce mineral supplements to compensate for soil deficiencies, or even thin or remove trees to increase sunshine.

Obviously the environment places limitations (AKA "reality") on our gardening vision.  I won't be growing cacti in my deep shade areas, nor will I have much success raising moisture-loving plants in my dry, limestone-enriched soils.

And some may even argue that the environment does limit our garden from being spectacular.  But, I have seen pictures of incredible gardens in almost every imaginable environment.  There are blogs & magazines showing beautiful desert gardens, colorful pinewood shade gardens, luxurious tropical jungle gardens and breathtaking high mountain garden meadows.  So I know they can exist.

Though the environment may limit our plant selections, and we may have to adapt to it's demands, it actually plays only a very minor role in preventing a gardener from realizing their grand vision.  Thus it is the least of the eight limitations.

(Next up: Gardening Limitation #7: Proximity)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dill is a Caterpillar Magnet

After reading many postings stating that Swallowtail caterpillars loved Dill, I decided to plant some for that express purpose.  By the time the plants were only three inches tall, they already had a large specimen dining on the fresh greens.  That particular caterpillar eventually disappeared.  I assume it went off somewhere to begin its transformation to life as a butterfly.

But now that the Dill is almost six inches in height, there are almost a dozen of the little caterpillars scattered about the frilly leaves.

The largest is presently just over a quarter inch, with most much smaller.  At this stage, they each have a small white saddle midway down their length.

The seem to grow almost overnight, so I'm looking forward to watching them gain in size and develop their distinctive white, black & yellow pattern.

If I am lucky, maybe one will stick around for the transformation.  Would love to discover a chrysalis amongst the foliage.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aloe 'Doran Black'

My Aloe 'Doran Black' has produced its single bloom stalk.  It is not uncommon for it to have a stalk several times throughout the year.  Its variegated leafs are quite attractive (though mine still show damage from last year's golf ball-sized hail).

The 1.5 foot stalk is quite thin and I have found it best to give it additional support, otherwise wind or rain will cause it to snap.

The stalk is crowned by a spread of small red flowers that will, at best, only barely open at their tip, but are quite attractive anyway.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rusty Purple Oxalis

Thanks to Caroline of The Shovel-Ready Garden: she pegged the problem (and Kathryn of In The Shade of a Nut Tree also knew it was a fungus among us).  Caroline directed me to turn the leaf over and look for orange stuff.

So I followed her directions and - oh my goodness - I have little orange crop circles on the back of my disintegrating Purple Oxalis leaves.

So the culprit is rust (or possibly minuscule aliens marking future invasion points for their coming offensive).  Standard procedure for controlling rust is to remove all infected leaves and then treat the remainder with anti-fungal sprays.

Sadly, pretty much all the leaves were infected.  Thus I only have about three leaves remaining in a six foot long strip.  I guess they were fading fast anyway, and who knows, perhaps they'll throw out some additional foliage.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Purple Oxalis Acne?

Don't remember having this problem before, but my Purple Oxalis (Oxalis triangularis subsp. papilionaceae 'Atropurpurea') is breaking out in acne.  Well, not likely - but that's what it looks like.

It's spreading across the entire row of plants.  Many plants are losing all their leaves and disappearing.

It starts with the acne, then the leaf seems to almost disintegrate.  Online research indicates that Purple Oxalis has no severe pest problems, but can occasionally be damaged by spider mites or leaf miners.

But I've seen no pictures of leaf miner or spider mite damage that looks like this.  Is this happening to anyone else?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

After The Rain

Got a refreshing rain last night and through most of today (thankfully no hail at my garden).

Discovered this moth taking it easy on a sprinkler head perch.  Was suspiciously close to my potted tomato plant...

I have always enjoyed the bright pink blossoms of the Rock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala); makes a nice splash of color in the sunnier parts of the shade.

Many of the Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus africanus) are sending up bloom stalks - should make for a nice show.  I have heard that difficult winters may cause them to bloom; and with most of them freezing back to the ground, this winter would certainly have been "difficult".