February 24, 2018

Birding on a soggy day

It's been a soggy drizzly and occasionally cold string of days, which means my bird feeders have been busy with birds hungry for an easy meal. When I looked out the window and saw all of the activity had ceased, it seemed odd, but then up in the bare crepe myrtle, I spotted a red-tailed hawk.

His size and sharp beak make him look fierce, and the other birds got the message, but at the same time, his soppy head feathers made him look a little off his game.

Strangely a lone dove sat in same tree with the hawk (just above and to the left). The dove seemed to be aware of the hawk but didn't leave abruptly, although the dove did eventually fly off. 

 Probably a good strategy because I'd imagine hawks are extra hungry on cold days too.

A few minutes later two backyard policemen, the blue jays, showed up to heckle the hawk and send him on his way.

February 16, 2018

February Foliage

A parade of blooms will begin very soon, but for now in mid-February, foliage is the focus.
Angelina sedum set against a wall of fig ivy, each with their own fine-leafed foliage.

Proof that my midnight aloe lives despite being left outside in freezing temperatures.

A feathery larkspur volunteer hugging the edge of the vegetable garden.

Spinach sprouts that have managed to survive my kids' outdoor play. (Others were not so fortunate.)

Contrasting shades of winter vegetables: blue green broccoli, chartreuse mesclun lettuce and Oscar-The-Grouch-green arugula.

Spring bulbs (I can't remember which) and hundreds of sprouts from fallen birdseed.

A few weeks ago, I noticed the tiniest green shoots coming up from the inland sea oats and turks caps, and I took that as my queue to cut back the freeze-burned foliage. Otherwise, I was afraid I wouldn't have time to get to the task before the the brown and green were intermingled, necessitating precision pruning.
There could still be a few blasts of winter headed our way, but I'm ready to declare that spring is here in South Central Texas.
Find out what the foliage looks like right now in other parts of Texas and beyond by linking up with Pam Penick's monthly Foliage Follow Up.

January 16, 2018

Winged Winter Residents

I got to see two interesting warblers in our yard on this icy day.

Orange-crowned warbles: Male eating mealworms, female eating suet.

Male orange-crowned warbler
Female orange-crowned warbler. You can see the faint streaking on her breast.

My shutter speed wasn't set correctly, but I did mange to capture the streak of the orange crown on the male.

Male yellow-rumped warbler. He doesn't have the dark cheeks so I think he's a non-breeding/first winter one.  

Confirmation this is the male: the yellow crown
Aptly named yellow-rumped warbler.

Two days ago when the weather was much warmer this American goldfinch visited. I've set up our nyjer seed feeder in hopes of attracting his friends and hopefully the black-back lesser goldfinches too.

In addition to these special winter residents, we also had our usual residents: Carolina wren, Cardinals, Blue jays, White-wing dove, Mockingbird, Golden-fronted woodpecker, English sparrows and squirrels – all happy to have an easy, high fat meal on a cold day.

December 31, 2017

Fall Tomatoes End Their Run

The first hard freeze of the season means that's it for fall tomatoes. Ruby Crush turned out to be an easy, sweet fall producer staying mostly disease and pest free from July - December. I'll definitely be planting it again in 2018.

October 22, 2017

Finally, my fountain!

I have been looking for a deal on a fountain for the front yard for years, literally YEARS. I kept telling myself that there's no other way for someone who is downsizing to get rid of a heavy fountain than to sell it on Craigslist and that eventually one that met my specifications would turn up. Well, finally it did!

My goal with the fountain was to add some sculptural structure and a year round focal point to the front yard. That's a tall order (literally) since I can only think of one shapely, evergreen that's around 4-feet tall and can grow in dry shade. Sago palm is all I could come up with, but I wanted something that was a little narrower. (Do you know of anything?) With those challenges, I turned to an inanimate garden accent, and began my search for a fountain.

Over the course of my patient search, twice I showed up at the buyer's property with some cash and muscle prepared to haul my treasure home, but it wasn't meant to be. The first time, the fountain looked convincingly like concrete in the online photos and was priced accordingly, but it turned out to be resin. I'm dubious about the durability of plastic in the yard so I passed. It was hard to walk away because I reasoned that I could have used that fountain as a placeholder while I continued my search, but it didn't feel right and I apologized for taking the seller's time and not clarifying the material in advance.

The second fountain I almost bought was A-MAZING. It was from Massarelli, beautifully cast with a classic shape and only $100! The photos in the ad were of the fountain disassembled so I could see why other would-be buyers would have passed it over. The trouble was, when we went to look at it, it was gigantic, at least 10-feet tall and 5-feet wide! It was a fountain for a grand estate or for the circular driveway of a hotel. There wasn't anything else in the online photos to provide scale so it was a reasonable mistake. Still, it was an incredible deal on a fountain that should have cost thousands, and I thought about buying it, taking proper pictures and reselling it for what it was really worth. But it would have taken a lot of muscle, and I'd probably have had to wait a while to find the perfect buyer. I've thought about that fountain many times since, but I know I made the right decision.

In the last year, I expanded my search to other resale apps, and that's where my fountain finally popped up. It was not a second hand purchase as I had expected, but rather it was hand made by a guy who probably makes one or two concrete pieces a week and sells them to earn some extra money. He wanted $200 and that included delivery, set up and the base so I went for it.

The style is more ornate than I'd prefer but still somewhat classic, especially in San Antonio where you can see these fountains in a fair number of yards on the south side of town. I made a few modifications like staining it with a concrete stain and removing one of the bowls that was more ornate than the others and made the fountain just a bit too tall for the scale I wanted, and now I'm happy with it. My next goal to troubleshoot my low voltage landscape lights and illuminate the fountain at night.

October 17, 2017

Shady Combination Inspiration

At the newly renovated San Antonio Botanical Garden I spotted this inspiring combination of plants next to the gift shop. A silver and green Sansevieria + Diamond Frost Euphorbia.

Here's a pull back. I love the structure of the sansevieria, also known as Mother In Law's Tongue, contrasted with the foamy, delicate look of the Diamond Frost. This would be an easy combination to replicate in a pot on a partly shaded patio.
I wish I'd taken more pictures at the gardens, but I was busy wrangling three kids under 3 (two of my own, plus a cousin). Trust me, it was beautiful. So many plants were in bloom and the weather was perfect! We're looking forward to the kids' garden opening there next year.

August 1, 2017

Getting Organized

We've been needing a storage solution for our outdoor and gardening supplies so I pulled inspiration from several Pinterest images, and my husband brought my ideas to life in this multi-purpose storage and work area. Isn't it great! Firewood, an empty work bin (with a laundry basket of kid toys inside too), potting supplies and birdseed (in 5 gallon buckets behind a latched gate) all neatly corralled.

If you look below the firewood, you'll see that the bottom supports are made of medal conduit tubes to allow debris to easily fall through and keep the collection of spiders and other outdoor creepies to a minimum. We left enough of a gap along the bottom of the bench to easily stick a leaf blower nose under and do a quick clean up. 

Additionally, the tabletop is made of wooden slats, again to keep make it easy to manage the debris and dirt that inevitably ends up on workbenches. 
Even then ends of the bench are functional holding hanging tools. Yes, these tools and gloves get wet in the rain, but these are not my "nice" tools, just some that I can grab for a quick garden touch up. Plus, the whole bench is under the eve of the house so it's a little sheltered.