Bringing Nature Home + Oak Hill Elementary

November 20th, 2014 Posted in bees, butterflies, children, destinations, fall plants, garden bloggers, native plants, perennials, raised beds, school gardens, wildlife, young gardeners | 6 Comments »

One of gardening’s biggest thrills is growing food for friends, like beleaguered Monarch butterflies, here on Conoclinium coelestinum.

Monarch butterfly on conoclinium (eupatorium) Central Texas Gardener

John Dromgoole takes us on a stroll through the Butterfly Garden at The Natural Gardener to explain why to plant for all seasons.

John Dromgoole in The Natural Gardener's butterfly garden

Isn’t this just gorgeous? It’s also bountiful with lots of grateful creatures on the firebush, Conoclinium and Mexican bauhinia.

butterfly garden eupatorium, hamelia, bauhinia central texas gardener

Red Admiral tucked into fall-blooming Mexican bauhinia.

butterfly Red Admiral on mexican bauhinia central texas gardener

In winter, annual pansies, snapdragons and calendulas (not pictured) feed bees and butterflies that show up hungry on those warm days we always get. Great container plants too!  Those background pentas may be frozen after this week, so replace with more cold weather plants.

pansies and pentas for butterflies central texas gardener

We’ve got to accept some chomping since the little guys have to eat, too! Here’s a Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar merrily dining on pipevine. The plant will recover and the adults will stick around to nectar and lay more eggs.

pipevine swallowtail caterpillar on pipevine central texas gardener

Make a mini spa for male butterflies who like to puddle around and soak up salts in the decomposed granite we’ve all got handy.

butterfly puddling spot on decomposed granite central texas gardener

Bringing Nature Home author Dr. Douglas Tallamy, University of Delaware Professor & Chair of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, joins Tom to make the essential link between native plants and wildlife.

Tom Spencer and Douglas W. Tallamy Bringing Nature Home

Beautifully photographed where Doug’s personal stories mingle with illuminating (and sometimes scary) facts, Bringing Nature Home makes a powerful statement about the damage we wreak on our future with exotic plants, especially invasives.

Bringing Nature Home author Douglas W. Tallamy

At the same time, Doug Tallamy encourages us with simple ideas, including lists of host plants and plants by region like winecup, which we can plant now.

native plant winecup central texas gardener

Our food crops, like okra, support wildlife through their flowers. Viewer Picture goes to Grow Where You’re Planted Andrea Fox, ASLA, of transplant studio, College Station. Isn’t this wreath a charming way to use okra stalks when the harvest is over?

Okra wreath photo by Andrea Fox transplant studio, College Station

A warm weather herb for next spring: borage, Daphne’s Plant of the Week. Along with lovely texture, this annual herb’s young leaves perk up salads and beverages with a cucumber taste.  Best yet, charming lavender flowers bring on the bees to pollinate your summer crops.

borage flowers for bees central texas gardener

On tour, this garden’s got it all: wildlife plants, pond, hand-made bird houses, vegetables and even an orchard. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s really a ton of fun for its caretakers: the Gardening Club at Oak Hill Elementary.

butterfly garden at Oak Hill Elementary Gardening Club Central Texas Gardener

After school twice a week, teacher Paul Cumings, former teacher Sue Lagerquist and parent volunteers pass along adventures in food, wildlife habitat and conservation.

Gardening Club teachers at Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

This student documented plant info on his tablet. Great reference tool!

Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

The students really turned things around with a drought defiant perennial wildlife garden right out front.

Oak Hill Elementary butterfly and bee garden central texas gardener

On a scrappy patch of turf at the bus stop, they dug out Bermuda grass for a butterfly garden that fascinates everybody.

Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

Things might slow down a bit on route when the children spy a chrysalis on the fence or butterflies floating among the flowers.

Oak Hill Elementary butterfly garden central texas gardener

In their pottery class, Gardening Club made water dishes to give little critters a drink.

butterfly and water dishes from Oak Hill Elementary pottery class central texas gardener

Building bird houses (22 of them, for different birds) really made a hit, since what kid doesn’t have fun with a hammer and paint? They’re hoping to raise money to install web cameras inside to see who shows up.

bird houses built by Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

Gardening Club students voted on the design for the vegetable gardens they built. Each semester they renew them with compost and seasonal plants.

vegetable garden design built by Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

With seed donations from local nurseries, they’ve even ventured into new tastes, like arugula.

arugula grown by Gardening Club Oak Hill Elementary Central Texas Gardener

In their commitment to wildlife habitat, they add native flowers that encourage pollinators to stick around to help with the squash.

rudbekia and bee balm for pollinators central texas gardener

A super important lesson the kids are learning: why we grow without pesticides. “It’s about as organic as it gets here. You do see lots of bugs munching on vegetables, but it’s not just for human consumption, we’re trying to support the whole ecosystem,” notes Paul Cumings.

Oak Hill Elementary Butterfly Garden Central Texas Gardener

In 2013, 5th grader Ian McKenna wrote and received a grant as seed money for the Giving Garden to help feed families.

Oak Hill Elementary vegetable gardens Central Texas Gardener

Gardening Club students also feel a lot of pride in beautifying their school grounds.

Oak Hill Elementary Gardening Club Central Texas Gardener

After watching their energetic weeding, I simply had to jump in!

Linda Lehmusvirta at Oak Hill Elementary Gardening Club Central Texas Gardener

Meet them all now right now!

Thanks for stopping by. See you next week, Linda

Glorious grasses & updated garden style

November 13th, 2014 Posted in chickens, compost, fall plants, garden art, garden rooms, grasses, habitat, lawn replace, native plants, patios, perennials, raised beds | 2 Comments »

This guy’s the star for me this week, picked just in time to beat being freeze-dried. It’s all I got from my tiny first-year plant, but under that succulent peel lie big hopes for next year if I fertilize starting in February.

homegrown satsuma orange central texas gardener

Whew, it’s been busy! CTG’s been on the road meeting wonderful people, collecting lots of ideas to share with you. One stop was at East Austin Succulents Eric Pedley’s home garden.

stucco wall and planters from cinder blocks central texas gardener

More later, but check out how he and girlfriend Julie Patton jazzed up a cinder block structure with stucco, paint and tiles. As much as I adore an orange and blue combo, Eric’s succulents truly push this design over the top.

stucco wall and planters from cinder blocks central texas gardener

On my own, I headed to the Brazos County Master Gardeners tour in Bryan/College Station for head-spinning inspiration and such gregarious people. Here’s another eye-popping rendition of stucco over cinder blocks.

stucco wall and planters from cinder blocks central texas gardener

As some of our plants go dormant (perhaps a bit sooner than expected), it’s a great time to move them. Well, at least SOME of them. Daphne explains why we don’t want to move cold-sensitive plants like plumbago, yellow bells, lantana and Pride of Barbados.

bee on pride of barbados central texas gardener

It’s the BEST time to move roses, trees, and evergreen shrubs. We can move perennials like coneflowers along with asters and chrysanthemums once they brown up and form rosettes.  We can also move dormant freeze-proof plants like firebush (Hamelia patens) though Daphne notes that older plants with more stored carbohydrates would adjust more easily. If you have a first year plant, wait until early spring.

hamelia patens central texas gardener

Succulents and grasses: let’s wait until April to move them. For now, simply relish the grasses for their smoky flowers and seed heads. Here’s an outstanding display of Muhlenbergia x Pink Flamingo and M. sericea ‘White Cloud’ in a garden designed by Scott & Lauren Ogden and Patrick Kirwin.

Muhlenbergia x Pink Flamingo and M. sericea ‘White Cloud’

Muhlenbergia x Pink Flamingo, a cross between Muhlenbergia capillaris and Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, was discovered by John Fairey at Peckerwood Garden.

muhlengbergia pink flamingo central texas gardener

It’s one of several gorgeous grasses that Janet Rademacher from Mountain States Wholesale Nursery tells us about this week.

Tom Spencer and Janet Rademacher Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

A shorter more dense grass to 2½’ tall is Bull grass, Muhlenbergia emersleyi El Toro®. Its fluffy flowers turn from pink to tan in fall.

Bull grass, Muhlenbergia emersleyi El Toro® central texas gardener

One that’s been on my list for a while is Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’, a taller version of blue grama discovered by David Salman of High Country Gardens. It retains “blonde” seed heads over winter to wave at you drinking hot chocolate inside.

Bouteloua gracilis Blonde Ambition central texas gardener

Janet likes Nolina texana (bear grass) for its grass-like prostrate growth that needs no pruning.

Nolina texana bear grass central texas gardener

She includes a few Hesperaloes, too, including H. nocturna that sports creamy flowers at night in summer to attract pollinators by night. Find out more.

Hesperaloe nocturna central texas gardener

Before long, we’ll be raking leaves that fall faster than temperatures in Central Texas. John Dromgoole explains how even oak leaves turn into compost for free fertilizer.

leaves to compost john dromgoole central texas gardener

I often hear from folks about the giant rhinoceros beetle grubs that show up in compost piles. Don’t smash them! These guys are chomping those leaves and kitchen scraps to save you some time. They aren’t about to leave comfy quarters to bug your plants.

giant rhinoceros beetle grubs central texas gardener

On tour, compost was a salvation for Sara Breuer when she and husband Tim Mateer left glory gardening in east Austin for icky sticky soil in her new garden.

outdoor living deck replaces lawn central texas gardener

The grass in back had died after trees felled a few years before, so they ended that problem with romantic outdoor living to watch the wildlife in the greenbelt beyond. Tim and their son Henry devised a way to hang the sun shade sails without blocking their view with posts.

lifestyle deck with sun shade sails central texas gardener

lifestyle deck replaces lawn central texas gardener

On many levels, Sara surrounds them with structure and plants for wildlife, especially since son Henry certified them as a Backyard Habitat as a Boy Scout.

outdoor living patio central texas gardener

Henry also championed for chickens, who come to him on command when out for a brief walk.

backyard chickens central texas gardener

To keep a bit of lawn, Sara took it to another level.

raised patio round lawn central texas gardener

In front, she expanded raised limestone beds for herbs and perennials.

front yard raised limestone beds for flowers food and herbs central texas gardener

In late May, bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) add dramatic flower spikes to their standout foliage.

front yard raised limestone beds for flowers food and herbs central texas gardener

They dumped more lawn with raised vegetable beds, including this one that Tim built Sara for her birthday.

Front yard vegetables in raised beds central texas gardener

At the front door, Sara razed grass to extend outdoor living and chats with strolling neighbors.

front yard patio instead of lawn central texas gardener

She collects rain in a decorative urn and standard barrel for the vegetables and containers. Elsewhere, plants are pretty much on their own with handheld watering in driest times.

water collection and front yard patio instead of grass central texas gardener

Sara’s a creative person down to her toes. Now with Sol Marketing, I met her first when she helped brand CTG at KLRU! One clever garden idea is how she turned old bricks into plant labels with a Sharpie.

Brick used for plant label central texas gardener

Here’s another fun idea! Since Sara’s gotten into canning, she had some extra Mason jars. She removed the solar part of an inexpensive box store light for romantic glow lights.

mason jar garden outdoor light central texas gardener

See it all now!

Thanks for stopping by. See you next week! Linda

Tempting Trees and Fall Fun

November 6th, 2014 Posted in fall plants, frost protection, garden art, lawn replace, trees, water features | 5 Comments »

On the way to the recycling bin, I stopped in my tracks.  Wow, a Monarch butterfly chowing down on ‘Butterpat’ chrysanthemums! I dropped the stuff and slowly backed up to get the camera. Good luck to me that it wasn’t in a hurry to depart!

monarch butterfly on butterpat mum central texas gardener

All kinds of bees and other tiny flyers are covering my drought defiant aster and mum explosion.

asters and Country Girl chrysanthemums for wildlife central texas gardener

At Trisha’s Lake Austin Spa gardens, I love this wildlife duo: milkweed and aster.

milkweed asters wildlife duo central texas gardener

And check out her annual hyacinth bean that frames this charming LAS destination. Pollinators go for the flowers while the seed pods are fantastic in arrangements until we replant next April.

annual hyacinth bean vine at lake austin spa

Viewer picture goes to David Fuller with his clever companionship: twining hyacinth bean on his sunflowers.

sunflowers hyacinth bean by david fuller central texas gardener

Boy, my native Barbados cherries (Malpighia glabra) took a serious hit last winter. They’re back in the game, here with white ruellia and my bay tree in shadow beyond.

barbados cherry with white ruellia central texas gardener

Get ready for leaf-peeping as trees start their fall metamorphosis. Daphne explains why secondary pigments take over from chlorophyll as trees prepare to go on winter vacation, like bald cypress.

bald cypress leaves turning color central texas gardener

Daphne makes bald cypress Plant of the Week, since it’s one of our most outstanding for fall color.

bald cypress fall color central texas gardener

This stately deciduous conifer does get big and wide, though, so keep that in mind if your yard isn’t huge.

bald cypress central texas gardener

For the crafty among us, its seeds would well adorn wreaths and arrangements.

bald cypress seeds central texas gardener

Daphne explains why it may suffer from iron chlorosis in our alkaline soils. I’m always curious about why trees planted within 15 feet of each other vary in performance, like these. Find out more.

bald cypress iron chlorosis central texas gardener

Since it’s time to plant trees, Tom joins Crystal Murray from Far South Wholesale Nursery to meet a few to put on your radar.

tom spencer and crystal murray far south nursery central texas gardener

For sun, take a look at Chihuahuan orchid (Bauhinia macranthera) that blooms pink in fall against large clam shell leaves! It grows to 15’ and cold tolerant to 15°.

Chihuahuan orchid (Bauhinia macranthera) central texas gardener

In part shade, have you tried smaller Mexican bauhinia (Bauhinia mexicana)? The Natural Gardener even has it in lots of sun.

mexican bauhinia central texas gardener

Growing to about 8’ tall, its fragrant fall flowers attract butterflies.

mexican bauhinia fall flower central texas gardener

Also for shade, add understory red buckeye that drops its leaves in late summer. Bees love the spring flowers.

bee on red buckeye flower central texas gardener

In sun, native Goldenball leadtree likes dry rocky slopes. An airy multi-trunked tree to 12-15’ tall, it explodes with fragrant fuzzy balls in spring and summer after a rain.

golden leadball tree central texas gardener

Paloverde ‘Desert Museum’ is a thornless, sterile hybrid that sports the same distinctive green bark as our native Paloverde, also called Retama and Jerusalem Thorn.

paloverde desert museum central texas gardener

This one blooms long after the typical spring performance, even now in early November.

paloverde desert museum flower central texas gardener

And, super exciting, Crystal brought along a canby oak. Like live oak, it drops its leaves in late winter as it puts out new growth. Best yet, it gets to about 30’ tall, so works in smaller gardens.

canby oak central texas gardener

Now, with nips on the way, is your row cover ready? John Dromgoole shows how to make a hoop house for vegetable beds, with rebar underground and PVC on top.

PVC hoop house for cold protection john dromgoole central texas gardener

PVC hoop house for cold protection john dromgoole central texas gardener

Plus, see how to wrap containers to protect cold tender plants like citrus. Get ready now since last-minute plastic bags are not a good option!

row cover on container john dromgoole central texas gardener

On tour in Liberty Hill, April and Cliff Hendricks bought land with wide open spaces, framed in back by the San Gabriel River.

april and cliff hendricks new garden central texas gardener

April’s from the desert, so she wanted color, water and framed-in spots close to the house. On a budget, they created a patio paradise with recycled materials and passalong plants.

patio on a budget central texas gardener

They built their 1200 gallon pond with scavenged rocks and advice from the Austin Pond Society.

pond on a budget central texas gardener

Artists both, April fancied up a boring concrete table with colorful mosaics to tie into their pond patio.

mosaic on standard outdoor table central texas gardener

In back, with help from her dad, they built their cozy deck to watch the wilds along the river while tending plants for wildlife and food for them.

backyard cozy deck central texas gardener

Get inspired right now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Plants that Multitask

October 30th, 2014 Posted in bees, bulbs, butterflies, destinations, fall plants, garden bloggers on tour, garden structure, healing gardens, herbs, lawn replace, master gardeners, native plants, ponds, rain water collection, wildlife | No Comments »

We know it’s not good to multitask, though plants do it all the time without winding up in a straitjacket. This firebush, (Hamelia patens) gladly screens a patio, feeds all kinds of bees—including carpenter bees—and sustains hummingbirds, too.

carpenter bee on firebush hamelia patens central Texas Gardener

Everybody’s thrilled that white mistflower (Ageratina havanensis) is finally blooming. This winter-dormant perennial multitasks as a part-shade shrub for us, a fall nectar source for butterflies and bees, and a larval host for Rawsons Metalmark butterfly.

native white mistflower central texas gardener

Garlic chives, Daphne’s Plant of the Week, provides strappy green texture all year to flavor our recipes. Drought & freeze tough in some sun to part shade.

garlic chives central texas gardener

In October, its edible flowers (great to dry for flower arrangements or wreaths) are equally nutritious for pollinators. Find out more.

garlic chives edible flowers central texas gardener

Summer annual pentas get raves from us who want non-stop color and lots of butterfly and bee activity. Viewer Picture goes to Brien Parker who spotted these pentas at a mobile home park!

summer annual pentas for butterflies and bees

Forced amaryllis bulbs charm our holiday interiors. Trisha shows how to do it and then replant outside.

forcing amaryllis bulbs plant outside central texas gardener

And about those fall-blooming bulbs, like Oxblood lily. A viewer asked how soon she could move them since neighbors were trampling them on a common strip.

when divide oxblood lily central texas gardener

Daphne explains why it’s best to wait until the foliage has yellowed (same deal with spring bulbs) and why they may not bloom the next year.

when divide oxblood lilies central texas gardener

If you must move them now, here’s the word from Chris Wiesinger, The Bulb Hunter at The Southern Bulb Company: “If you’re quick enough, you can move bulbs just about any time of the year, but I mean QUICK.  Oxblood lilies have set out their roots for the growing season, and this is the absolute worst time to move them.  If you must move them, prepare the site to which they are going so you can quickly get them planted back in the ground.  Don’t dig too much. Start in smaller chunks until you eventually have the clump moved.”

Now, did you know that some of our favorite plants can help what ails us? Tom meets with Gayle Engels from The American Botanical Council to pick a few.

Since 1988, Mark Blumenthal has directed the American Botanical Council in east Austin to report research and educate us about responsible use of plants and their benefits.

American Botanical Council Central Texas Gardener

ABC is open to the public Monday – Friday or you can schedule a special tour. Demonstration gardens group plants by purpose and/or origin with creative designs to try at home.

American Botanical Council tea garden

Human systems garden.

Americal Botanical Council Human Systems Gardens web

You’ll pick up lots of creative ideas, too.

American Botanical Council mullein and rock sculpture

sculpture in dead tree american botanical council

On CTG, Gayle explains how lemon verbena assists digestion.

American Botanical Council benefits of lemon verbena

‘Kapoor’ holy basil multitasks: analgesic, anti-anxiety, and tea for colds and flu. In their experience, this is the best holy basil for us to grow.

American Botanical Council 'Kapoor' holy basil

Hibiscus sabdariffa is a natural refrigerant to cool us down, even though this perennial likes the sun!

American Botanical Council Hibiscus sabdariffa hedge

It’s the calyces that make hibiscus tea which helps hypertension–like if you’re overloaded on multitasking.

American Botanical Council  Hibiscus sabdariffa calyces

Bacopa from India, a trailing plant covered with flowers in summer, assists cognition and memory. Find out more.

American Botanical Council bacopa summer flowering plant

They’re always looking for volunteers, a great way to learn so much. And you won’t want to miss their fabulous May plant sale and educational tour!

succulent garden at American Botanical Council

On tour, we visit Vicki Blachman, Master Gardener, culinary expert, blogger at Playin’ Outside, and writer for Texas Gardener magazine.

vicki blachman reduced lawn garden central texas gardener

When she married Steven and moved to the grassy grounds of suburbia, she whittled the lawn a few feet of house brick edging every year. When she’s happy with the placement, she digs them in so you don’t see the holes. A great technique, since she keeps on moving them out more!

vicki blachman reduced lawn garden central texas gardener

To dress up their fence and the new strip bed, artisan Bob Pool designed a trellis, here with yellow flowering cestrum.

bob pool metal trellis with yellow cestrum central texas gardener

They’ve kept some grass for their fun loving dog. Lots went away, though, for herbal beds and the patio pond, which she and Steven, confirmed DIYs, dug into really hard soil.

Vicki Blachman pond and patio central texas gardener

The soil was so bad that they joked: “Forget a liner. Just glaze that stuff!”

Vicki Blachman DIY pond central texas gardener

At first, she simply added compost when she added plants, like the Peggy Martin rose. Quickly, she discovered her error. Why would roots want to leave that comfy spot? Gradually, she turned in compost everywhere.

Peggy Martin rose and insect hotel vicki blachman central texas gardener

Below it is her 4-star insect hotel for Mason and leaf cutter bees installed into an old soda bottle holder. Fellow Master Gardener Sheryl Williams and husband Ed Kimball helped drill holes to the right sizes.

insect hotel vicki blachman central texas gardener

As Vicki created a haven for her family, she realized that more beneficial wildlife was joining them.

birdbath bubbler vicki blachman central texas gardener

Now a Certified Backyard Habitat, Pollinator Habitat and Monarch Waystation, she devised a bubbler fountain attached to a rain barrel to refresh small insects and creatures. (They have a 1660 gallon DIY install on the other side of the house).

wildlife water bubbler on rain barrel vicki blachman central texas gardener

Throughout the garden, Vicki’s installed Mason bee (solitary bees) houses that you can buy.

mason bee houses vicki blachman central texas gardener

A confirmed recycler, though, she repurposed this tub into even more housing.

bee house from recyle vicki blachman central texas gardener

Vicki’s a great chef, so she’s always cooking up places to add food in the garden, even on the patio. An allium peeks up against a potted passalong kumquat.

allium with kumquat vicki blachman central texas gardener

She kept grass in the side yards to slow down runoff from the street. In this sunny spot, she harvests annual and perennial herbs and vegetables.

vegetable beds vicki blachman central texas gardener

Bob Pool improved that entrance with a gate and trellis where Lady Banks rose invites another reason to hang out there in spring when it’s  showered with tiny yellow flowers.

bob pool trellis gate vicki blachman central texas gardener

In front, just this year Vicki took the plunge to remove all the grass. It’s still growing in, but already she’s created another habitat under shady conditions. Plus, she’s given the front so much more dimension and fascination with plants that require less maintenance than mowing.

no more lawn front yard vicki blachman central texas gardener

And don’t you agree that Bob’s address sign is a lot better than those curb spray-painted versions?

bob pool metal address sign no more lawn front yard vicki blachman central texas gardener

Garden beneficial predators green lacewings like it so much that they laid their delicate eggs on it.

green lacewing eggs bob pool metal address sign vicki blachman central texas gardener

So, take a look for yourself!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda