Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Changing Prairie

News Flash! Shirley and Neal of Rock-Oak-Deer in San Antonio were in town visiting relatives last weekend and asked if they could stop by for a tour of my prairie. Click here for their account of the visit. We now return to our irregularly scheduled blog post...

One of the best things about my prairie garden is that it is always changing. From season to season, month to month, week to week, and even day to day, there is always something new to see and discover. One of the most obvious changes is the change in colors as the native plants thrive and decline and their flowers open and fade.

At the end of March, the yellow flowers of Four Nerve Daisy, 
Tetraneuris scaposa, filled the prairie. 

A couple of weeks later in mid-April, the Four Nerve Daisies
 continued to bloom and the purple flowers of Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea, and the pale pink flowers of Husker Red Penstemon, Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red', began to join in the display.

Now, at the end of May, the Four Nerve Daisies are taking a break from blooming and the Echinacia flowers are quickly fading. Meanwhile, the reds of Rock Penstemon, 
Penstemon baccharifolius, Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, and Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, take over. 

Here is a closer view of the Rock Penstemon that is growing near a Pale-Leaf Yucca, Yucca pallida. In front of the yucca are the dried flowers of Four Nerve Daisy and, in the right corner, a few stems of Liatris that will fill the prairie with purple spikes of flowers in the fall.

Near the sidewalk, Indian Blanket and Horsemint, Monarda 
citriodora?, are in full bloom. Horsemint is a native annual beebalm. 

The winter and spring rains that "ended" our drought came to an end in April. Plants are beginning to show signs of stress due the dry soil and rising temperatures. The leaves of many plants are a noticeably duller green than they were a few weeks ago and some are beginning to wilt in the afternoon sun. According to yesterday's weather broadcast, we are over three inches below our normal rainfall for May, however we are still three inches above normal for the year, due to the rain that fell earlier in the year.

The next changes for my prairie will be a transition into a summer dormancy so the plants can survive the hot, dry weather. This is not the most attractive time for my prairie. If ever my prairie looks like a bunch of weeds, it is during the heat of the summer. 

Maybe this weekend I will tidy up the prairie by deadheading spent flowers and removing the tall growth of the Mealycup Sage and other spring bloomers. It will not be long before I turn on the sprinklers for the first time since last September. (That's over 8 months with no supplemental watering other than hand watering of new transplants and veggies!) The goal is to provide the plants with just enough water to keep them on the green side of dormancy until the first rains of fall bring life and color to the prairie once again.

Monday, May 21, 2012

For the Birds

What is the one thing you never knew your garden needed until you see one in another garden? What about a bird house? Maybe a giant bird house?

This giant bird house is built on a platform around a large tree and has around 80 square feet of floor space - minus the tree that runs through the middle.

This bird house is equipped with electricity, a ceiling fan, laminate floors, wood paneling, a desk and chair, and a place to nap.

Looking toward the other end of the bird house is a sink with running water and a small refrigerator. This giant bird house is a nice place to get away to think or relax, until you need some of the comforts of a human house, like a kitchen or bathroom.

This giant bird house was in backyard of the Price Garden, one of nine gardens featured in the White Rock East Garden and Artisans Tour yesterday.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Can I Look at Your Lawn?

Back in the days when I had a nice lawn (organically maintained, of course), no one ever asked if they could look at my lawn. I guess there was no point. With a lawn, you can pretty much see all there is to see from the street. There is no need to get out of the car for an up close look. A blade of grass at the street looks just like a blade of grass near the house.

That all changed after I removed the lawn and planted native prairie plants. This year, especially, there have been a surprising number of people that drive up to my property, stop and ask if they can look at my garden or ask if I can identify plants for them. I have not asked, but I think people are more interested in water conserving landscape options after last year’s drought (and the drought that may be shaping up for this year?). Besides that, I think my plants are more interesting than the plants in a typical suburban landscape.

Many of the visitors tracked me down as a result of this blog. (Even readers from Singapore!) Others live nearby or were passing through the neighborhood when the colorful wildflowers that fill my prairie caught their attention. I could make it easier for future visitors to find my prairie by giving my address or at least my street name like Scott at Rhone Street Gardens, but where would be the challenge and fun of the hunt if I made it so easy? I give the city in my blog name, so that should be enough.

Wildflowers are arguably the most important feature of my prairie. Not only because they are attractive, but they provide an oasis for the native wildlife in the lawn desert of my neighborhood. Many varieties of butterflies and bees visit the flowers for nectar. Some butterflies select specific wildflowers to lay their eggs (think of monarchs and milkweed as one example). Wildflowers also attract other insects, which will attract lizards and birds. Birds will also feed on the seed of the dried flowers. And I can’t forget the hummingbirds that drink nectar from many of the flowers. No plastic hummingbird feeders with sugar water are needed here. Every year I “discover” new birds, butterflies, and bees in my prairie garden that I have never seen before. And here I am in the middle of a sterile neighborhood in the ninth largest city in Texas.

This week, May 7 through May 13, is National Wildflower Week. In celebration, here are photos of just a few of the wildflowers blooming in my prairie garden.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of my house and looking to the left, a number of wildflowers are in full bloom. Beginning at the top center are the flower spikes of Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora. These flowers always have a hummingbird nearby, but I have not seen many yet this year. The blue flowers to the right are Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea. The larger yellow flowers on the right are a Coreopsis that appeared in the prairie after a two year absence. The smaller and more numerous yellow flowers are Four Nerve Daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa. The Four Nerve bloomed all through the mild winter and need a little dead heading to clean up the dried flowers. Off to the left is Salvia greggii and nearby are several similarly colored Rock Penstemon, Penstemon baccharifolius. Purple Winecup, Callirhoe involucrata, flowers are scattered throughout.

Here is a close up of the Rock Penstemon.

Looking to the right from the same spot on the sidewalk are more wildflowers. Clockwise from the upper left corner is a flower of the Black Sampson or Narrow Leaf Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia. There are several Coneflower plants just outside the left frame of the photo. Next to the Coneflower is a naturally occurring white seedling of the purple Mealycup Sage. To the lady that is a caretaker of a cemetery in Plano: I forgot to mention that this variety of Mealycup Sage was found growing wild in an unwatered  cemetery in Texas on the graves of Henry and Augusta Duelberg. The purple variety is sold as Henry Duelberg Salvia and the white variety is sold as Augusta Duelberg Salvia. If you only plant the purple flowered plant, I think you will eventually have some white flowered plants as well. Continuing on the right side of the photo and in front of the Salvias are more Four Nerve Daisies, the Mexican native Pink Skullcap, Scutellaria suffrutescens, Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, on the left side of the photo and more Winecup in the center of the photo.

Here is a close up of the Black Sampson Echinacea with an accompanying Painted Lady butterfly. 

Here is another shot. I like how the petals gradually get longer as the flower ages and droop down like a hula skirt. My plants came from two different sources. Assuming they were correctly labeled, I have two variations of Black Sampson because the flowers of two plants are almost white, while the flowers of another plant are a darker pink.

Here is a close up of the Mealycup sage with Painted Lady butterfly.

A honeybee collects pollen on an Indian Blanket.

This is American Basket flower, Centaurea americana. I don't have as many plants as I would like because this is an annual and I have to rely on the plants reseeding each year. I only have two plants this year. Birds are supposed to like the seeds.

Asclepias tuberosa is one of three types of native milkweed that I have growing in my prairie. I also have a Mexican milkweed variety. Milkweed is the host plant for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies. 

If you let the caterpillars munch on a few leaves, you may be able to observe the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, as I did this year.  Monarchs are never far away when the Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, is in bloom. Monarch and Queen butterflies love Gregg's Mistflower.

Horsemint, Monarda citriodora, is another annual wildflower in my prairie. Horsemint is pretty and attracts bees and butterflies, but, unlike the American Basketflower, its numerous seeds sprout everywhere. The extra seedlings are easy to remove and the leaves have an interesting fragrance.

This is a variety of Gaura that I acquired from a vacant lot a couple of years ago. The original plant died after the first season and this new plant appeared nearby two years later.

The flowers of Chocolate Daisy, Berlandiera lyrata, smell like a chocolate perfume. The scent fills the air around the plants on still mornings. An Orange Sulphur butterfly (looks yellow to me) enjoys the nectar of the flowers.

Mexican Hat, Ratibida columnaris, grows large in my garden. Maybe a bit too large. It also reseeds easily. It is also another great bee and butterfly plant.

Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine, is wrapping up its blooming season for the spring.

Meanwhile, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, a fall aster is blooming a few months early. A skipper enjoys the nectar of the flowers.

This is Snake Herb, Dyschoriste linearis. It is the one plant that every visitor to my prairie was most interested in this year. It is drought tolerant groundcover that grows in full sunlight in the parkway between the street and sidewalk. I will share more about this plant in a dedicated post soon. 

This is a Question Mark butterfly. One of the many butterflies found in my garden thanks to the wildflowers.