Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dirt Discoveries

Every time we place shovel, spade, trowel, pitchfork or even hand into the depths of our soil, we are likely to discover something...unanticipated.  Over the last week, as I amended the dirt, dug the holes and planted the plants, I came across objects both expected and unexpected.

There is always, of course, the distinctive sound of metal hitting stone that lets one know that digging a hole in this particular location is not going to be quick nor will it be easy.  Especially if the sound repeats itself as one tries a foot or so in all compass directions.  Sometimes the limestone wins.  And sometimes one can apply those old high school physics lessons regarding the power of the lever (i.e dangling oneself from the end of a rock bar) and actually pry out enough chunks to break through to the greater depths of soil beneath.  Then the gardener has not only a location for the desired plant, but some rock to show off elsewhere (if one still has the energy to drag the darn stone there).

Or perhaps the digging utensil locates another solid object, but one with a duller "thud" to its resonance.  Fortunately, a large tree root can usually be dodged by simply moving a half foot away along the perpendicular.  But sometimes we discover the remains of a long departed tree, likely lost years before the land was ever divided up and sold as lots.  The fragmented and decaying trunk remains, buried under consecutive layers of leaf litter and evolving soil, only now unearthed and soon to be added to the garden as an interesting flavor of "driftwood".

The soil is also often littered with fragments from the greater stones: small rocks and pebbles that can easily be removed.  But sometimes, amongst these lesser pieces, if one is watching and not fooled by the layers of grime adhering to its surface, a real treat may be found.  Crystals of quartz (or other minerals), once washed, will sparkle in the light.

Of course, there are also the man-made objects which we ourselves have placed into the soil and then forgotten, if not their existence, at least their location.  These are the items which, if not discovered in time, often end up causing us grief.  "Oh, so that 'thunk' was my garden pitchfork precisely impacting the underground pipe of my sprinkler system.  And look, isn't that small hole in the dead center so cute.  I've always wanted a fifteen foot geyser to erupt in this precise location each time I water my plants."  And thus gardening leads to plumbing.

We gardeners abhor a blank spot, to our eyes it cries out for a stunning shade of green or a vibrant flash of color.  Into the dirt we go, preparing it for that exact plant we have carefully selected for just this location.  But what is this...why, it appears to be some type of bulb or underground rhizome.  Strange, I didn't recall having planted anything in this particular spot.  This whole dormancy thing can be quite confusing.  Looks like I'm going to have to dig another hole for this little fella...I wonder what it could be.  Hope this doesn't start a whole chain reaction of digging and bulb discoveries and more digging and more discoveries and so forth and so on...

As we gardeners delve into the ground, disturbing both soil and leaf litter, we occasionally!  Certainly ants will get one's attention and test one's reaction time.  And there's those grubs that elicit our grumblings (though I'm sure they are absent from your garden).  But my favorite has to be the pupa - one of the most amazing transitions found in the animal kingdom.  That quiet stage that exists between what was and what will be; a door not yet opened.  What will emerge from this plain brown-wrapped package?  Will I later marvel at its beauty as it flits about from flower to flower?  These are the types of surprises I enjoy quite a bit.

I wonder what I'll find in the dirt tomorrow...right after I repair the sprinkler pipe.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Begonia Bed Planted

Not much time or excitement in the garden today.  Managed to fill in one of my front beds with a double row of the bronze-leafed Begonias (Begonia semperflorens; same as I previously placed in the driveway bed).  The pink flowers should fill in nicely in front of the dark green Cast Iron Plants (Aspidistra elatior).

Other tasks call today, but at least got to spend a little bit of time amongst the plants.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Planting Plants

The day was warm, the sun was shining & my small patch of Tulips (Tulipa clusiana) continued to catch my eye.  And I finally worked up the courage to check the birdhouse which seemed to have the Chickadee's interest and discovered five eggs inside. 

Thus started another day of putting plants into the ground.  I planted three variegated Abutilons in various locales around the yard. I'm not sure of the specific variety as they were not marked at the nursery, but I'm suspecting Abutilon pictum 'Thompsonii'.  If anyone can accurately identify, please let me know.

And this is the year I throw caution to the wind with plants labeled as invasive. I'm thinking my plant choices might need a little "invasiveness" in their lives - I'd like to see more green and less soil & leaf litter. So with that thought in mind, I planted the following:

Five Fuzzy Wuzzy Lamb's Ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’) spread along the back garden path,

Three White Oxalis (Oxalis crassipes 'Alba') amongst the 'Burgundy Glow' Ajuga,

And three Pink Oxalis (Oxalis crassipes 'Rosea') around the base of the Mountain Sage (Salvia regla).

I also put in a second Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) - yet another adventure in rock removal.  Ended up with 3 dense, heavy chunks of limestone, each slightly larger than a shoebox, along with several smaller pieces.  Of all the rock in my landscape used as stepping stones, waterfall ledges, borders or simply points of interest, 95% of it actually came from the yard itself.

Tired but content, I got to finish the day's work sipping iced water and enjoying the blooms of the Orange Kaffir Lily (Clivia miniata) that have slowly begun opening.  Looking forward to what the season brings...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Aloe 'Fire Ranch', Lady Tulips & Labrador Violet

Finally got around to putting my new Aloe 'Fire Ranch' into a pot. The friendly people at Green N' Growing Nursery said that some of theirs actually survived outside unprotected in this winter's teen low temperatures (though with significant damage). Not sure that I'm willing to take that chance (thus the pot).

This was my first year to attempt the Lady Tulips (Tulipa clusiana).  I placed 7 bulbs in one of my small sunlit patches.  Since they sprouted from the ground a little over a month ago, I have been enjoying its blue-green vegetation.  A while back, the unopened blossoms began rising from the center.  And, as of yesterday, some of the blooms have finally opened, with a few more on the way.  The blooms close overnight, then open wide the next day to follow the sun.

And yet another of my small Violets, this time the Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica), has produced a tiny blossom.  Don't know if these Violets will ever be showy (considering their flower is the size of a dime), but I do like finding the tiny treasures when I'm walking about.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Catlin's Giant Ajuga, Sweet Violet, Missouri Violet & Friendship Plant

Planted five Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant' in an empty patch along a path at the back of the garden.  Have been wanting to try this larger flavor of Ajuga for quite some time.

And dropped five Sweet Violet (Viola odorata 'Royal Robe') around my relatively new Dwarf Barbados Cherry (Malphigia glabra; planted just this winter).  Some reports indicate this Viola could be invasive, but this is a rather restricted bed so I'm thinking it can't go too far (and I'd be happy if it at least filled in the area!).

Two of my yard plants are actually in bloom.  Of course, for the Missouri Violet (Viola missouriensis) you almost have to get down on your hands and knees to get a good peek at the blossom.  But its a flower, by golly (those of us in the shade celebrate small victories).

Whereas my two Friendship Plants (Billbergia nutans) have several flower stalks that are even visible from a non-prone position.  The stalks have a vivid red color and the actual blossoms are quite beautiful when seen up close (i.e. back down on your hands and knees).

[Grower Jim of Garden Adventures also has a recent post about another Billbergia (B. windii) that looks quite interesting.]

Monday, March 22, 2010


Have always heard that if you have lichen growing on your trees or rocks, it indicates that your air quality is good. So I thought I'd look about the yard and see if the air is fresh in Austin, Texas.
Alien structures...

And diverse coloration...

Strange protuberances...

And whip-like appendages...

Fireworks displays...

And little flower gardens...

Even the "Octopus' Garden"...

And paint-like lichen on bark makes interesting patterns...
I'm thinking the air is just fine down here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Being relatively new to the whole gardening blog scene, this will be my first entry into the monthly Picture This photo contest sponsored by Gardening Gone Wild.  The March theme is "Awakening" and several outstanding entries can be viewed on their site.

Just a few days ago, these mushrooms made a surprise performance.  I always enjoy discovering mushrooms in the garden - they appear overnight seemingly from nowhere and then are usually only a memory within a few days.  And it all happens without my involvement.  I just have to be around for the show.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Texas Betony, Texas Gold Columbine, Foxtail Fern, Oxblood Lily & Pink Crinum

Another day of digging holes, excavating rock, adding sand & peat moss to existing soil, then putting plants into the ground.
Added two more Texas Betony (Stachys coccinea) to go with the existing one. Decided that the original plant was being successful enough to warrant company; the eventual red blossoms in front of the Sago Palm should be quite nice.

This will be my second attempt at Texas Gold Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana). The plants I tried a few years back simply disappeared within 1-2 years. Not sure of the cause (not enough water, root competition from trees, soil too heavy, too much shade, Columbines don't like me). Planted a trio as a backdrop to Forsythia Sage (Salvia madrensis) which will (hopefully) end up towering above them later in the summer.

Not too far away, added a Foxtail Fern (Asparagus densiflorus 'Meyersii'). In another part of the yard, have previously had the looser, more open Asparagus Fern. But it doesn't seem to have the "presence" of the Foxtail.

Scattered about in three different locations, I added the Oxblood Lily (Rhodophiala bifida). Have been on the lookout for these and finally found them for a price I was willing to pay. My understanding is that they'll be going dormant in a few months (as the weather heats up), so I tried to locate them near a plant that would help buffer the empty area that their absence might create.

Of the two new Pink Crinums (no species or variety listed at nursery, only color!), I was able to get one in the ground without difficulty. But the second one took three attempts. First spot abandoned due to a solid layer of limestone that laughed at my sledgehammer and rock bar attempts. Second spot led to the discovery of a buried drainage pipe. Both locales will likely work with a shallow-rooted plant, but wasn't confident enough for the Crinum (especially since its future size is a complete unknown).

But the third attempt near the base of some Possumhaw worked fine.  Thank goodness, my energy was waning, the sunshine was beckoning, my near future involved stretching out on the deck & listening to birdsong.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Begonia, Purple Shamrock, Friendship Plant

Typically, I use the three tiered bed between my driveway and the neighbors as my annual bed - almost always some flavor of Begonia (Begonia semperflorens).  Tried Impatiens once, but they tend to get droopy unless they receive a fair bit of water.  The Begonias have proven to be less thirsty - and still put on a good show.  Last year I tried the green-leafed variety, but they didn't perform as well as previous red-leafed flavors.  So I'm back with the darker leaves and trying pink blossoms (instead of red).

I'm lining the front of the second tier with Purple Shamrock (Oxalis triangularis 'Atropurpurea'); will have to get some more to finish the job.  The top tier also has a row of Purple Shamrock from previous years, but since their winter slumber, their only appearance thus far has been a small leaf here and there - but I have faith for their return.

On the top tier, in addition to the flower spike from the Soap Aloe (Aloe maculata) that continues its vertical stretching, I also have a few blooms on the Friendship Plant (Billbergia nutans).  These will be its first blossoms for me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Beefsteak Plant

Last year, I really enjoyed the Beefsteak Plant (Perilla 'Magilla') I had planted near our front yard driveway.  Its multicolored foliage created a bright spot in the shade of the Red Oak tree.  Of course, our below freezing winter temperatures killed it back down to the ground, and its future is still uncertain (as nothing has yet made an appearance).  However, I successfully rooted several cuttings over the winter (quite easy to do with this plant).

So today, between the twin waterfalls in my backyard, I planted two of the smaller and one of the larger cuttings.  Have yet to be satisfied with any plant I have tried in this location - but hoping that its bright colors will be an attractive centerpiece to the pond.  And I still have more cuttings to try in other locales (including its original front yard location if it is does not reappear from the roots).

As I worked to put the cuttings into the ground, I kept hearing buzzing near my ears.  Glancing around, I discovered my first blooms of this year: the tiny blossoms of the Dwarf Buford Hollies (Ilex cornuta 'Burfordii Nana') were making the bees quite happy.  Not particularly showy (not really even visible unless you are within inches or you happen to be a honeybee) - but they are the promise of winter's red berries to come.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Autumn Fern, Soap Aloe, Orange Kaffir Lily

In my front yard, I expanded the existing row of Autumn Ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) by adding five more.  These ferns are amongst my favorites: they are evergreen (easily surviving this winter's 18 degree lows), handle filtered light (a must for my yard), withstand the Texas heat (multiple 100+ degree days), don't require high moisture (different than a lot of ferns) and its new growth initially has an eye-catching burgundy coloration.  Hard to beat that combo.

So far, likely due to all my shade, I have lacked any blooms from plants that actually spent the winter outside in the ground.  Striving to be my first bloomer of the year, the flower stalk on one of the front yard Soap Aloes (Aloe maculata) continues to stretch skyward.
Also racing to the bloom (though doing so from a potted advantage that got to spend the winter inside the garage) is my Orange Kaffir Lily (Clivia miniata).  I'm looking forward to seeing some color.