The Natural Garden Coach

Monday, December 29, 2008

Davis Mountains, Part 2 - The Plants


Because the Davis Mountains are in a unique part of Texas, one can see a wide variety of plants. These mountains are in the Trans-Pecos region and include one of the highest peaks in Texas, Mt. Livermore at 8,382 ft. The Trans-Pecos area also includes about 1/3rd of the Chihuahuan Desert. This desert surrounds the mountains and therefore the mountains have often been called a "sky island". Since I'm such a lover of arid plants, I was in my garden heaven. But there are numerous eco-systems in the area: desert scrub, desert grasslands, oak-juniper-pinyon woodlands, and even conifers. So the variety is huge and unfortunately, I didn't have a botanical guide by my side. No matter, I still enjoyed the scenery and took a few photos of some plants I thought interesting.

The photo below is a typical one of the oak-juniper-pinyon area. This was in a roadside park. I love the somewhat ordered array of oaks and junipers among the blond grasses.



Check out the bark on this juniper. It's an Alligator Juniper, Juniperus deppeana. Benny J. Simpson says the most attractive specimens of Alligator Juniper occur in the Davis Mountains.


It's a bit difficult to see in the photo below but can you see the two white rectangular things in the far distance? The things that kind of look like rectangular flying saucers on the desert floor? Well those are gigantic hydroponic greenhouses...in the desert!! I always get flipped out by them. Where the heck do they get the water to run those things? You can drive right by them on the road to Marfa and see what I think are tomato plants hanging in them. A more botanical aspect of this photo shows some type of yucca on the right and the lovely grasses that are everywhere.


Grama (Bouteloua spp.) and muhly grasses are common as is bluestem (Bothriochloa spp.). Here are some more grasses that I believe are a Muhlenbergia species.



And how about them desert plants, my favorites? Below you can see several of them: Prickly Pears (Opuntia spp.), Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), and Agaves.


I have rarely seen the Ocotillo in it's green stage or even in bloom. It gets lovely bright red tubular blooms in spring and/or summer. With rainfall it gets tiny little green leaves. Other times of the year they look dead but still beautifully sculptural.


The Agave pictured is right next to the lodges, to give you some perspective on how big it is. Two years ago when we were here I took way too many photos of Agaves. (I couldn't help myself since it snowed and they looked even prettier then.) But this time I took just this one pic!


Nothing like hiking on top of the world on Christmas Day!



Davis Mountains, Part 1

We're back from our 1600 mile loop through Texas for the holidays. The weather was pretty good although it started out frigid. A bitterly cold wind was blowing out of the north but that was okay because we had a toasty fire with family in Ft. Worth.



But then we had a long drive down to the Davis Mountains, a beautiful area of Texas near Big Bend. It's anchored by the small town of Ft. Davis, founded in the mid 1800's as a fort to protect the stagecoaches and mail heading west. It has a really interesting history. We stayed at Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park. The lodge was built during the CCC days of the 1930's and still retains a lot of the original hand crafted furniture and details.

In this blog I thought I'd show a few pictures of some of the wildlife we encountered. (When I get some more time I'll blog about the great plants down there.) Below is a common resident of the park, the javelina. They're NOT related to pigs but rather to the South American tapir and even the hippopatomus!



We also saw lots of deer. They're pretty tame in the park since there's no hunting there. I'm not sure if this is a white tail deer or a mule deer. Probably a white tail.




Way up in the mountains you can see sheep. I think these are Dall Sheep but I'm not certain. Update: I believe these are Barbary Sheep.



One of the birds I really wanted to see there was the Montezuma Quail. Once again, it eluded me. But I sure saw a lot of Pine Siskins!




Last but not least is the view from our room. Not bad, eh?



Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Case of the 6 foot Pancake







How does one take a picture of a plant that's only maybe 8 inches tall but has a flower spike over 5 feet tall?? I don't know, you'll have to tell me. This is some type of pancake plant, a succulent. It started to bloom this summer and it's still going. The bloom hits the top of the greenhouse! Anyone know how long this bloom will last and what happens with the plant when the bloom dies? I have no idea so let me hear from you if you do. (Wish I could get these photos in the right place!)




Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day - Dec 2008

A tad late for GBBD, I know. But it's been cold and dreary with inhospitable freezing rain. So spending any time outside right now is a chore. But here goes my rundown of what's managed to hang on bloom-wise.

Above, the intrepid rosemary, unknown variety. I haven't met a rosemary I didn't like, and this is one more proof of why. Through rain, sleet, snow, humidity, drought,...it never stops. And it blooms 3/4ths of the year!

And what about this pink geranium that sits outside in a pot all year long and never gets any protection from the freezes?

I love these little pansies - Imperial Antique Shades.

Lizard Lips aloe is blooming in the store room. It blooms constantly. Though they're small, they're very cute.



Though this isn't a bloom, I had to show off my one and only Meyer lemon that's about ready to eat. I repotted this tree last year so I think that's why I only had one lemon. The year before I had nine lemons at Christmas time so I made lemon marmalade as gifts. But in September, after all the rain we had from hurricanes, it put on a show of blooms and I once again have nine little lemons, about the size of little pecans right now.


I still have a few rose blooms. This is an unknown red variety, probably Cramoisi Superior or Louis Phillipe.


And this is the Fairy, a first year rose for me and so far, very hardy.

I was also going to post about the 6 foot tall bloom from my Pancake succulent. It's been blooming for months but it's so hard to take a picture of it. Maybe I'll try a post on it later.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Squirrels, squirrels, everywhere






This post was originally going to be about how (im)patiently I'm waiting for the American Goldfinches to show up in my backyard. But when I downloaded the pictures from my camera I realized I'd mostly taken pictures of squirrels. Well, not having any goldfinches to photograph may be one reason. But the other is that on that particular beautiful winter day, the squirrels were all over the place. I usually barely tolerate these guys. They get into everything and there are WAY too many of them. But that day the weather had me in a cheerful mood and I allowed myself to have a little fun with them.

Below you can see the lonely little goldfinch feeder just waiting for some activity. My friend across town has already seen the little winged ones but I haven't. One of the owners of the Wild Bird Center where I shop for bird seed said that this mix of sunflower seed hearts and niger seed is a good way to start with them. Last year I had so many that by March I was almost sick of them (and they were getting to be very expensive!). But now of course, I can't wait to see them again.

I've also just realized that today is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. The weather was not very conducive to photography but maybe after the freezing rain passes tomorrow I'll get out there and take some pics. But just so I can show at least one bloom today, here's a photo of some plants in my pop-up greenhouse and the geraniums in there that are still going strong.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter Clean-up


This week I managed to cut back or remove a lot of the freeze damaged plants. Unfortunately for us here, no dustings of snow are going to make these plants look picturesque. So out they go. This is the before shot of the pentas, sedums, salvias and miscellaneous. Not very attractive I think.


While cleaning up the garden I found these little cilantro plants coming up (note all the little frozen Sun Gold tomatoes that fell off the plant when I pulled it up). I sure wish cilantro would grow at the same time as my tomatoes and jalapenos so I could make some good salsa!



I have a little slice of Texas in my garden. (Well actually, probably more than a little since I buy a lot of plants from there.) But this is more symbolic. I planted some bluebonnets in a planter. I know they're a little crowded here but I'm trying this for the first time and hoping for the best. I was thinking/hoping that the good drainage from the pot would help them survive our wet winters. We'll see how they do. Last year they fizzled out in my damp ground. When the weather warms up I'll place this planting near my Texas stones.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Natural, Native, Sustainable, A Sense of Place

This Thanksgiving holiday we spent time at my brother's home, which is just west of Ft. Worth. They have a beautiful home and property on about 2 acres. The really cool thing about how they've landscaped it is that they've kept much of the native ecosystem intact. This property is in a suburban neighborhood of 1 to 2 acre properties, most of which have the traditional front yard of bermuda or, heaven forbid, St. Augustine grass. Now I have nothing against St. Augustine grass (I have some, actually way too much of it, myself). But the area these homes are located in is suffering from serious water issues and this past year they have been especially dry. Plus, this area is a beautiful ecosystem of hills, creeks, rocks (lots of them), and native plants like yuccas, cacti, and a multitude of different wildflowers.


So when my brother and his wife first moved in and started their "non-landscape", the neighbors were perplexed and some were none too happy. Where was the traditional front yard? Where was the grass and where were the foundation bushes? As you can see in this first photo, there has been some compromise. Buffalo grass was brought in and placed in large drifts from street level up towards the house. The other drifts are plants that were already existing on the property, like Little Bluestem grasses, yuccas, gayfeather, coreopsis, and other wildflowers.



As you get closer to the front porch and house, there are more non-native but well adapted plants. I think this is a key design point - plant what you like but marry it to the sense of place. In this photo you can see the retaining wall they built in front of the porch. It contains old garden roses, salvias, rosemary, artemesia, and other hardy but decorative plants.

There's a parking area/turn-around near the house made of gravel. Stepping stones lead to both the front porch and a "mud room garden". The entrance to the mud room garden has a gate and trellis with a climbing Old Blush rose. In the garden itself are herbs, roses, and flowering plants.

And of course, a little home made rain barrel tops off the mud room garden. All of these pictures were taken just last week but I wish you could see it in springtime. It's a fantastic riot of colorful wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. And most importantly, at least to my mind, it's a sustainable landscape that's well suited to the area.

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