Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
On Sunday, my wife and I drove up to Uvalde. My parents and grandparents each own two acres next to each other on the Nueces River northwest of Uvalde. I hadn't visited the property since the mid-1980s when we tubed down the Nueces as a family. The property was quite difficult to find. Access to it was by a measly dirt road that had several side roads, and the end that I needed to get to was blocked by a gate. I eventually found the property on Monday with the help of the people who sold the property to my parents. Whew. It was quite a relief to finally find the spot. It was so beautiful. It is amazing what nature can do when humans don't interfere. I don't think my parents had been there in close to 15 years. The terrain was full of mountain laurel, Texas persimmon, oaks, an occasional pecan, Texas walnut, cenizo, sotol, agarita (one had berries 1/2-inch long!), prickly pear, Ashe juniper, a few oaks, little-leaf sumac, flax-leaf bouchea, coreopsis, prairie larkspur and many others. The riverbanks were in such good condition. There were no invasives in sight. It was mostly carex and desert willow holding up the integrity of the banks. The river was quite swollen and moving fast because of all of the recent rains. I saw so many colorful birds. I'm not a birder. The only one I can tell with certainty that I saw near the property was a vermillion flycatcher. In Laredo on the way up, we saw a hooded oriole and and Western kingbird. I posted many pictures around the property below. Each are titled "In Uvalde."
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
After getting between 6-7 inches of rain on Friday, I thought surely, this is it with the rain for a while. Nope. On Sunday, we got another 2 inches of rain, and I had some more mulch and compost loses for my plants along the street. Since the streets don't have drainage underneath them, the roadway can become a small river with enough rain. This is getting ridiculous. We live in an semi-arid climate with an average of about 27 inches of rain a year. In a three-day period, we got a third of our yearly allotment of rain? Most of that water was simply runoff. The ground can only absorb so much in a short period of time. Sigh. Anyway, on the positive side, I didn't lose any plants -- yet. Our Zephranthes sp. "Labuffarosa," as you can see from the picture above, is going nuts over all this extra moisture.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
When I left for work on Friday, I was ecstatic. We got just less than 1.5 inches of rain after months without much. I left the water in the rain gauge to see if we collected any more during the day. Boy, did it ever! The gauge reads up to 5 inches, and it overflowed while I was gone. At Valley International Airport in Harlingen, they recorded 6.73 inches. I'm sure it was pretty close to that total at the house. My plants fared pretty well considering. The street in front of our home became a small river for a while, ripping off the mulch and some top soil of the plants along the curb. The recently planted roses (pictured above) used to have a nice layer of mulch and compost around them. I had to make an emergency visit to the home improvement store to buy mulch. The pond overflowed, but it is fine. Lizard tail (Saururus cernuus) can be seen blooming in the pond. Overall, I'm glad it rained, but why do we need a fifth of our yearly total in one day? At least we weren't in Central Texas. Many lost their lives there from the flooding.
Friday, May 25, 2007
We finally got our first decent rain in months in the wee hours of this morning. I can't tell you how relieved I am. It's so hard getting used to only sporadic rain in the springtime at best. This is when the plants want the moisture most -- at least the plants not indigenous to this area. I have five recent rose transplants and several others, including a few natives, that I'm trying to get established. The ground has been so hard and dry lately that I feel like when I'm watering those new plants, I'm just barely keeping them going until a refreshing rain comes along. Now, I'm breathing a little easier. I was so excited when I woke up. I rushed to the rain gauge, and it registered almost 1 1/2 inches -- a very good pour indeed! Since the rain lifted my spirits, I got out my camera and took a few shots before I had to head off to work. The top picture is of an Amorpha fruticosa bloom. The middle picture of Salvia darcyi, which is growing beneath an Acacia wrightii, and the last one is a papaya.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Long before I started to become aware of the names of plants and before I ever started growing them myself, I dreamed about the Texas madrone, Arbutus xalapensis var. texana (Pictures above are from Big Bend National Park.) This striking tree can be found in the Texas Hill County and in the hills and mountains of West Texas. It’s related to the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo of Europe, and the Pacific madrone, Arbutus menziesii. Texas madrone has been called naked Indian or lady’s legs because its reddish bark peels back showing a pinkish to whitish inner bark depending on where you see the tree. The peeling bark of the madrone is perhaps one of the most beautiful displays in nature. Its light wood is extremely strong, which might explain why it used to be harvested for tool handles and for saddles. The berries are red, and they are edible. I haven’t tried them, so I can’t tell you how good they are. I’ll do that one of these days if I can beat the birds to one. Years after I had seen my first madrone, I had no problem identifying in a plant book what took over my imagination. The leaves are tropical in appearance, and the creamy white flowers look like tiny bells, which illustrate its membership in the blueberry or heath family of plants. It can grow in some tough places, often poking right of rocky locations, but usually can be found near its nursery plant, the juniper, Juniperus ashei. While the Texas madrone is notoriously tough, nurserymen have a hard time selling them because of their high transplant failure rate. I’ve tried to grow a few of them. No matter what strategy I took, the plant just ups and dies on me. They are obviously sensitive to the level of moisture in the soil, and some speculate that there is a special mycorrhizal fungus in the soil that forms a symbiotic relationship with the tree’s roots to supply it with a necessary amount of nutrients. Natives of Texas near Medina sells madrones, and they tell you to cut the pot away from the plant so you don’t disturb the root ball. They also tell you to put some juniper mulch to increase its chance of survival. The hope is to inoculate the plant with that special mycorrhizal fungus and to provide it with some nutrients it prefers. I’ve been a highly successful gardener, but I’ve yet to elevate myself to the challenge of a madrone. I will try again, and I’m plotting some new strategies. I want to build an elevated bed with juniper mulch on top of a limestone undersoil. I just have to convince my wife to let me fork out the big bucks for another madrone seedling. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’m dreaming of going back to West Texas to see the madrones growing amongst the junipers, the big tooth maples (Acer grandidentatum), agave havardiana, sotol (Dasylierion leiophyllum), Thompson yucca (Yucca thompsoniana) and many others.
Friday, May 18, 2007
When I moved to South Texas, I dug up my cherished Zephranthes sp. lilies in my old garden in Central Texas and moved them to my new garden. I gave the lilies prestigious locations in the new garden. I expect the lilies to blow people's minds with their their frequent blooming habit and amazingly beautiful flowers. Instead, I noticed a rapid decline in the lilies' health. I suspected the salt content in the soil was the culprit. It could have been something else, but I wasn't prepared to fool around with potentially losing these garden gems. The solution I came up with was these metal tubs (pictured above). I punctured many holes in the bottom of the tubs for drainage, and I filled them up with good quality soil. As you can see, the lilies are quite healthy. Unfortunately, it is dry, dry in South Texas right now, so I don't have any blooms to show you right now. Next time they bloom, I will give an updated picture.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I decided to walk around Brownsville with my brand-spanking new camera. The following "Tour of Brownsville" pictures gives you an idea of the plants you may see around Brownsville. Why South Texas is not ever mentioned along with Hawaii, South Florida and Southern California as one of the tropical areas of the United States is beyond me.
There are a lot of colorful birds in Brownsville, but the grackle is king. For Texans who think pecans only grow in Central, North and East Texas, this grackle is perched under a wild pecan. Unfortunately for us humans, the parrots love to eat the nuts and often get to them before we do.
Monday, May 14, 2007
When I first moved to South Texas in October 2005, I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into as I prepared to start my new garden. Coming from the Austin area of Central Texas, I had grown used to a certain way of gardening. There, I knew how much I had to water plants to get them started, and I knew how much water some plants would need to keep them going as 100 degree temperatures and a relentless sun beat down on them during the high part of summer. When I first started gardening in Central Texas, I thought I was cursed with the worst soil. I had five feet deep of clay. This former prairie had been abused, first being over farmed and then being compacted as heavy equipment established a new subdivision. Once I had started adding compost and green sand, the soil burst to life. By the time we left, I could stick just about anything anywhere in the garden, and it would more likely than not thrive. When I first started my garden in Harlingen, I began by gardening like how I did when I left Salado. It should not have been a big surprise when my stingy watering habits and austere soil supplementation practices killed more than a few plants. I had to begin from ground zero in building up a good soil. It needed lots of compost and green sand. Plants needed a little more water to get going than in Salado. Another big change for my new garden was the absence of spring rain. In Salado, the spring rain would send everything into a growing frenzy. In this part of South Texas, spring is a dry season. Plants want that springtime boast, but they never get it. It was shocking to me when I realized I would have to work for what I had taken for granted in Central Texas. Slowly, but surely, the garden is taking shape, and it looks better each bag of compost is dumped on it. The soil and plants act like the Cookie Monster on "Sesame Street" and hungrily slurp up whatever nutrients I provide.