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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Monarchs are a-mating

Since we got back from vacation this weekend, I have seen a Monarch butterfly floating from bloom to bloom, enjoying the nectar.

I remember commenting to my husband that it would be sad if only one Monarch came by and this one didn't find a mate.

 Just now, as I was belatedly putting some birdseed in the feeders, my heart flipped as I saw something I couldn't quite explain. It was a Monarch flying around, but it appeared to have another, seemingly lifeless, Monarch attached and dangling from its body.

As I watched, it headed for our young pine tree and settled on a branch. Then I realized that the seemingly dead one wasn't dead after all and what I was seeing was, to coin a phrase used by another Houston area garden blogger, Dorothy at The Nature of Things, a little backyard porn.

I'll admit, this is something of which I haven't ever pondered the mechanics. 

Now I know. 

I'll leave it at that :-)

My recently planted native milkweed probably isn't big enough to sustain Monarch cats at the moment, but I do have some healthy tropical milkweed.  So she should have enough locations to lay her eggs.

I'll keep a lookout for them and keep you posted :-)

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Back from vacation - How has our garden grown?

Eric and I were on vacation for two weeks, taking a road trip across Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, up to Montana and Wyoming where we visited the very moving Battlefield at the Little Bighorn, Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons.

While we were away we were hearing about the torrential rains and flooding our area was receiving. I could only imagine what the garden looked like, especially as we have some serious drainage issues  since the house next to us was built.

But as it happened, things were looking pretty good. Okay so of course the grass and the weeds needed taking in hand, but generally speaking, if one doesn't look too closely in between the flowers, the effect is quite pleasing :-)

One of our island beds has a volunteer Vitex bush growing in it.  I was going to take it out, as we had a River Birch growing there.  But the River Birch never really thrived and ended up getting snapped in two in a windstorm, so I decided to let it stay.  I will just be more vigilant about keeping it pruned back to shrub form (if I can) rather than letting it grow tree sized like I did with the one behind it.

The daylilies are blooming beautifully.  I had meant to divide them but never got around to it.  I think late winter is the time to divide and replant them, so I will put some in the other island bed and I will probably have some to share.

The little Sam Houston Peach has some nice sized fruit on it this year, but unfortunately many of the fruits got damaged in the hail storm we had before we went on vacation.  They may still be edible, but just blemished.

 The other island bed had millions of zinnia seedlings which I thinned out before we went away. I also planted some native milkweed and some liatris,which are coming up, and some coneflowers, which didn't do anything. Last year's tropical milkweed, which I had trimmed back, is looking good, and the New Gold Lantana are flowering.  I also noticed lots of little Cleome seedlings coming up around the waterfall.

By the bird bath against the back wall, the Angel Trumpet that I keep giving up on has once again returned. I doubt I will see flowers on it, but I like the different texture of the big leaves against the holly.  In the containers, last year's Gaura and lantana have come back and some violas are still going from spring time.  There are self seeded zinnias in this area too and I've thinned them out and kept them where I want them for some color.

This has been a basic overview to catch up after our vacation.  I'll be back on my usual blogging schedule now and hope to take time to visit my blogging friends and see how your gardens are growing.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Bees are Buzzing

Down in the corner of our garden, by the birdbath and the wall where I put the bird seed, I've got two Savannah holly bushes.  I planted them when I moved in and haven't touched them since.  They're about 12 - 15 ft tall now and at this time of year, they are covered in tiny little blossoms.

When I went down to sprinkle bird seed on the wall this morning, the first thing I noticed was a happy buzzing sound that took me right back to my childhood.  I turned to look, and the Savannah hollies were alive with busy bees. 

Naturally, I grabbed the camera and took photos.  Most of them ending up being not very inspiring photos of a bee's back end with the rest of it hidden behind a leaf, but I did get a couple of decent shots to show you.

And, upon looking around the garden, I found that my little bluebonnets were popular with the bees this morning too.

Never let it be said that we aren't doing our part for pollinators :-)

Have a great week, everyone.   

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Plant Markers from Mini-blinds

I've been building up a little stockpile of "things that need to be planted" over the past few weeks.

Namely, some bulbs and roots such as Liatris, Echinacea purpurea and Rudbeckia.

I'd been putting it off because planting these also involved doing some serious weeding in the island beds.  But I've been tackling the weeding a little at a time when I get home from work in the evenings.

There are about a zillion seedlings coming up and I'm getting to the point now that I think I can reliably determine which are weeds and which aren't.  Some I'm letting grow a bit more before I yank some perfectly good zinnias or whatever out of the ground!

Another reason I had been putting off doing the planting was that I didn't have any plant markers.

Then I remembered a trick I had been given by Ursula, who used to blog with us on Houston Grows a few years ago.  I have since lost touch with her, but this great idea for plant markers came back to me and I decided to do it this year.

It involves an inexpensive mini-blind -- this one cost me $3.25 in Walmart.  All I had to do was snip the threads and remove the hardware and then I could trim each slat into three or four sections, depending on how long I wanted my markers to be. 

One end is trimmed into a point to make it easy to poke in the ground -- et voila!  Instant plant markers.  All you have to do is write on them with a Sharpie and you're all set.

I've got enough plant markers to last me a few seasons at least :-)

So I spent a pleasant morning trimming my plant markers and then planting the roots.  And I finished just in time.  And just as I was cleaning up and putting my tools away, it started raining.  Not a deluge, but enough to water in my new plantings.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The April Garden - and a new garden journal tool

I've been meaning to write another blog post for well over a week, but can never seem to get round to it.

So tonight's post is a bit of a hodge podge of thoughts and observations from the last couple of weeks.

First of all, let me tell you about a great tool I have just re-purposed for keeping a garden journal - Evernote.

Evernote Logo

It's an app that allows you to take notes, keep lists, jot down reminders and a lot more.  I have it on my iPad, my iMac and also my Android phone.

A couple of years ago I used it to keep a diary/journal when my husband and I went on a road trip across the American West, taking in Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Lake Tahoe and San Fransicso.

I'm a great one for taking photos in the garden, but I'm bad about keeping notes of what happens when.  Every year I start a garden journal, only to have it sit untouched after a month or so.  This year, I didn't even start one.

But with Evernote I was able, for example, to take a photo with my phone of the island bed when I planted some native mikweed and then post it as a note in my Garden Journal notebook on Evernote.

I did the same a week later when I noticed the milkweed was sprouting, and also when we laid new stepping stones in the garden.

I can also hand write notes using a stylus on my phone or iPad, and I can clip articles from garden websites and add to Evernote.

Once something is posted to one of your Evernote notebooks, you can view it on any device that has Evernote on it.

Evernote is free in the Apple store and on Google Play.  You can also upgrade if you wish to the Pro or Business versions.

Anyway that's enough of that, back to my garden blog :-)

I mentioned above that I had bought some Asclepias Tuberosa (native milkweed) and that it was sprouting already.  I'm thrilled they are taking off so quickly and hope to have a good supply of milkweed in time for the arrival of the Monarchs.

I've also got quite a few Tropical milkweeds coming back up, both in the back and front gardens.  The Monarch Waystation is on it's way to being stocked and ready!

I was amazed at how the Achillea (yarrow) was unfazed by the freezes we had this winter.  It stayed fluffy and green all winter and is now putting out lots of clusters of tiny white flowers.  I had thought the Homestead purple verbena next it it had died over the winter, but it was just dormant and is now covered in beautiful purple blooms. 

I've already seen a Swallowtail butterfly on it, but wasn't able to grab my camera in time to snap a photo.

I never had any luck growing anything in front of this trellis which hides the utility boxes because the soil is like concrete and I can't dig there because of the utility lines.  But at some point I planted the verbena nearby (I have long since forgotten when I did that) and for at least the past couple of years, it has happily crept across and bloomed in this unlikely area.

A couple of weeks ago we were thrilled to notice new candles of growth on "Junior", our Loblolly pine. This photo was taken March 28th and the candles are at least twice as big as this now. "Junior" obviously appreciates the spring fertilization he got at the beginning of March.

In my last blog post I showed you the Sam Houston peach tree covered in blossoms.  Well now look at all these tiny little peaches! I hope they actually grow big enough to eat this year!

I bought this nesting shelf from Duncraft at least three years ago, but although we always have pairs of cardinals around, they've never used it.  We're trying a new location this spring, tucked in behind the Savannah Holly bushes/trees.  Hopefully, in a year or two, a cardinal family will decide it gives them the cover and shelter they need and nest there.

The hanger came off this little birdhouse and I was wondering what to do with it.  I had an idea and now it's lodged in among the scentless Star Jasmine.  There's nesting material in there now but I haven't seen which bird is using it.  

Of course, it could be the mouse that Eric got a photo of, helping itself to birdseed on the patio the other night.

And finally, look who is making a home underneath the Wax Myrtle...  a cute gnome couple.  I found the tree stump fairy house in Hobby Lobby first and had to get it.  But then decided it needed occupants and that's when I found the gnomes.  I would have got fairies, but they didn't have any in the right size ratio to the fairy house.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Signs of Spring

I had mentioned last week that I'm starting to see signs of spring in our back yard.  It's a dreary, dismal sort of day here in Texas but I got out with my camera this morning, to see what was going on.

First of all, here are some of the weeds - um, "lawn companions" - I was complaining about last week.

I *think* this is wild strawberry.  It grows rampantly along the side of the house in the soggy area that gets run off from our neighbor's roof.

Here's another photo - you can see just how rampant it is.  I don't mind it though, the birds seem to enjoy the teeny tiny berries it eventually gets on it.  

I'm not sure what this grassy plant is.  We only have it in the corner of the back garden closest to the bird feeders, so I think it may be growing from seeds that have either blown off the wall or been dropped by birds.  It's tufty and very fine and you can see here, it has lots of seed heads.  In fact, last weekend when it wasn't raining, there was a flock of sparrows out there, pecking the seeds from it.  it keeps coming up in the borders and containers too, but I just pull it out by hand before it gets out of control, as it has already done in the lawn.

On to more cheerful subjects, I'm letting this bramble type vine grow along the back, underneath the Southern Wax Myrtle.  Just recently it's become covered in pretty white flowers and I hope that berries will follow.  I'm sure the birds will enjoy it.

The native honeysuckle, Lonicera sempiverens, still looks rather puny but at least it's blooming.  I had thought it was too early for it to bloom, since it's a major hummingbird magnet, but I had forgotten about the hummingbirds' spring migration.  So really, it's right on time.

I haven't seen any hummers out there yet, but I'm going to put up a feeder this weekend and start keeping a watch for them.

The "Sam Houston" peach is blooming and beginning to leaf out.  I hope we don't get another freeze, like we did last year, and that we might be able to enjoy a peach or two this summer.

This is the original cutting of my Rose of Sharon that I bought over from my previous house.  I was happy to see green leaves sprouting all over it.  I have two others in different parts of the garden that are also starting to leaf and I'm especially pleased to see that the cutting I took from this one last year, and planted further along the wall to fill in a gap, is leafing too.  It's got a long way to go, being only a foot high, but I'm pretty confident that will grow well in the spot I chose for it (probably better than this one, which is getting crowded by the Wax Myrtle)

My husband's grape vine, a "Mars" table grape, is leafing out.  Eric pruned it back last year, so we're hoping for some vigorous growth and lots of grapes this year, as last year was very disappointing.

Other than this, we've got daffodils blooming, there's new growth appearing at the base of the Tropical Milkweed, the New Gold and White Gold lantana and the St. Bernard's lily by the waterfall.

And if it stops raining this weekend, I have some Purple Coneflowers and Black-Eyed Susan's to go in, as well as four new native milkweed plants that just arrived yesterday. 

Have a great weekend everyone.  I hope you're enjoying the Signs of Spring in your garden too. 

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Digital Paintings from the Garden

I'm sure I'm not the only gardener who finds this time of year both exciting and frustrating. Exciting, because I'm starting to see small signs that spring is on it's way, but frustrated because other than those few little signs, the garden just looks dreadful.

The St. Augustine lawn (love it or hate it, that's what we have to deal with) is still dormant but hey, the weeds are growing rampantly, showing up as bright patches of green in our otherwise yellow lawn.

I made the commitment not to use chemicals of any kind on the lawn, so we have to live with the results.  It doesn't look bad in summer as the weeds blend in with the green lawn and mowing can keep everything looking neat, but at this time of year, the weeds have a head start.

I can handle the individual weeds like dandelion etc. but great spreading mats of unnamed weeds drive me nuts.  

How do other gardeners handle them without resorting to herbicides?

Anyway, since I have nothing to show you from the garden today, I thought I would show you something different I have been working on in recent weeks.

As you know, I enjoy taking photographs of the flowers and birds in our garden and elsewhere.  You may not know that I am also a digital artist ( and over the winter I have been making some digital paintings from some of my photographs.  

These are fun to do and quite addictive and involve using digital paint brushes, textures and filters to give photographs a painterly look.

 This is a digital painting made from a photo of our island bed last summer.  If you click on it to see a larger image, you will see that it has a sort of impressionistic look to it. 

I've shown you these beautiful Cleome before.  They were blooming against a lovely stone wall created by Edward Lutyens at Hestercombe in Somerset, England.  This digital painting has the feel of a pastel painting, don't you think?

This digital painting is based on a photo I took of our other island bed last year -- the one that literally filled itself with Profusion Zinnias. The butterflies certainly loved them, including this Gulf Fritillary.

I love this digital painting of a Blue Jay in the Southern Wax Myrtle bush for two reasons.  Firstly, we really haven't seen many blue jays around recently.  They used to be here in abundance when we were surrounded by trees. It was a pleasant surprise to see a flash of blue in the garden and get a good photo of him.  Secondly, I love the way this digital painting makes the ugly cinderblock wall at the back of our garden look more like stucco.  If only it looked like that in real life!

I look forward to seeing the garden start blooming again so I can get outside with my camera and get started on some more digital paintings.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.