15 November 2015

Getting Rid of an Unwanted Guest

Years ago, I planted a small Asian xylosma tree that I purchased on a whim from the Natural Gardener (they have since removed them from their stock). At once, I felt some trepidation about planting it, but desire won over. As the years have gone by, the xylosma has grown into a lovely evergreen multitrunked tree that anchors the patio garden.

But still, I've often wondered if it was the correct thing to plant, and pondered as much here on this blog.

When I bought the tree, I was under the impression that it was "sterile." I should've done more research. I recently discovered that it is not, in fact, sterile. These berries... 

Turn into new little xylosma trees...

I knew it was germinating from seed, because from seed it reverts back to having thorns (see above). A deep search on the Google-bot led me to even find xylosma listed as an invasive on the Bayou Preservation Association site.  

Though the bees like the little flowers and the birds clearly like the little berries, I decided that it was time to remove it. I do not was to be ground zero for another non-native invasive species creeping across our vulnerable landscapes. They are in enough trouble, thank you very much. 

Here's my process from this weekend:

Ack! My garden is as nekkid as a jay bird.

Ultimately, it was very hard to cut down a tree that had grown for so long and was looking so developed, but I'm really happy to replace it. I've decided to go with a large native shade tree, a chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), purchased from Ted's Trees down the road.

It will eventually be much nicer because it will shade the house from the late (very hot) western sun in the summer. It's also deciduous, so we'll get some much needed light in the winter. The acorns will be great for wildlife, and the leaves will, too. Oaks are one of the nation's most important trees - host to hundreds of different insects that are in turn important food for birds.

I can't wait for the oak to be delivered in a couple of weeks! And then will begin the process of exploring what that patio garden should be.

25 April 2015

Our Yard Became a Jungle

Somehow, when we turned our backs, the garden became a jungle. Homogeneity this is not. I'm afraid that nature is in charge now, and we can merely assist.

14 December 2014

Garden from Above

It's this time of year that I end up on the roof cleaning gutters or hanging Christmas lights. I can't resist snapping some photos of the garden from up there, which provides such an interesting "plan view" of the space.

Bodi relaxes by the Ocular. A "plan view" of the front garden with yuccas, sedges, loquats and yaupons in view.

The garden has moved fully into its tan and green winter phase. I love the bright yellow color of this young Mexican buckeye, planted from seed a few years ago.

Sedges, pale-leaf yucca, Mexican buckeye and Lacey oak dominate this space.

In planning a garden, it's great to think first about what things will look like in the winter. We often think of blooms and summertime, but taking time to consider how plants will look in winter can go a long way to providing the essential structure of a landscape. What will stay green? What will have vertical form? What stem shapes will be around in the winter to provide geometry and form to your space? 

A grid of Carex retroflexis var. texensis creates anchors the back bed.

28 September 2014

Horseshoe Dillo

Pretty psyched to have this original from Bob at Draco, a 'dillo custom welded from horseshoes. He will enjoy hanging in the garden with several of our other steel critters. 

21 September 2014

Wasps and Rakes

I'm really glad that I found these before they found me.

Do you see them? Look close...

Gardening often has it's surprises, and wasps are one of the more common. Many folks are apt to pull out the bug spray and destroy the nests, but I encourage everyone to think twice.

Social wasps, like these Polistes paper wasps nesting in my American beautyberry, are important parts of the garden ecosystem. They are excellent predators, and particularly like feeding caterpillars and spiders to their developing young. They are also pollinators, and you can often find them rooting around inside flowers for pollen and nectar.

Of course, wasps can build nests in dangerous places and those need to be dealt with from time to time. I try to keep an eye out for the queens when they start  building their initial "seed" nests in the spring. Before the nest gets large and any of the workers grow, they are pretty vulnerable, and the queens aren't very aggressive either (generally). You can basically just sweep the nest away without harming her (or while she's out foraging), and she'll find another spot.

Just beware the hidden nests hanging under a leaf or on a branch in your garden!

Wasps are beautiful, complex creatures.

All this came about while we were cleaning things up a bit in the garden prepping for Fall. Weeding after these rains is super easy and good to take advantage of. It's a great time to pull all the little weeds (mostly straggler daisy on our property) growing in the pea gravel.

06 July 2014

Pruning with Compassion

Pruning is part of gardening. As the saying goes, we must prune to make things grow. So we deadhead flowers. We cut back unruly growth. We manicure our spaces to clean things up a bit and encourage growth the way that we want it.

The problem is, there's a community of living beings that depend on those plants that we choose to clip, and this is doubly or triply true if we have created gardens with native plants.

There are finches that grab seeds from echinacea and sunflower heads held aloft on black ugly stalks. There are giant swallowtails that love parsley that is past its prime for our palates. There are hawkmoth larvae on the coral honeysuckle. Lizards hunting for bugs on the kidneywood. Hummingbirds whose very life depends on getting enough nectar from the patch of turk's cap in the back corner.

This afternoon, I decided that it was time to cut the spent yucca stalks in my front garden. The beautiful cream colored flowers typically bloom in late spring, and they are long done. In their place stood spindly stalks reaching 8 feet or more high, slowly turning brown from the top down. They are ugly at that stage, and perhaps could give the impression that our garden is not, in fact, gardened, but has been left to wild abandon.

I garden for wildlife, so it was really no great surprise when I noticed mid-prune that the stalks were giving shape to the lives or other creatures, namely spiders. There were webs spanning the stalks between yuccas, and I found at least one beautifully grotesque pearl-colored spider hiding in the space where leaf meets stalk.

Now, I'm not a super huge fan of spiders, but I respect their existence. Who am I to swoop in and destroy their life and livelihood with the snip of a pruning shear, for no reason but my since of aesthetics and need to keep up appearances?

I recently noticed that I've developed a habit over the years that I've decided to call "pruning with compassion." It's a practice where I prune, but leave the pruned bits laying around the garden, so that any critters depending on those parts have time to either make their way back to the mother plant or find some new place to do their thing.

I can't do this every time I prune, but it's just an awareness that I try to have of the lives of creatures that I am altering by my actions. And full disclosure here: I do not profess in this post to be able to adore and save every creature. I've been known to squash bugs, throw snails across the yard, and pinch aphids. But sometimes, it just doesn't feel right to do so.

Take the grotesquely beautiful spider hiding in her yucca this afternoon. I became aware of her in mid-snip. Rather than stuff the yucca stalk and spider both into a compost bag, I snipped off the section of stalk in which she was spending her day and left it laying in the garden. When she wakes up to get her hunting duties started this evening, her home will not be the same, but at least she can wander off and figure something new out.

Likewise, when I snipped the coral honeysuckle vines that had overgrown our walkway, I left the cuttings there on the ground by the origin plant. There could be snowberry clearwing moth eggs or even tiny first or second instar larvae on those leaves that I can't see. If I leave them there for a while, those little lives might have a chance to find living plant parts to use. When I cut the parsley, I'm sure to shake it off into the remaining bunch, so any swallowtail caterpillars might fall off and find their way forward.

I'll go back later and grab those parts, or even better, leave them in place to compost naturally.

Like I said, it's hard to be completely aware of every life around me (I mean, do I really care about aphids? Not so much), but it's just a way of looking at things out there in the garden ecosystem. Our whims - like cutting a pretty flower and bringing it to a vase indoors - can complete destroy the life and habitat of some beautiful creature out there depending on it.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, when we garden, we create spaces for other creatures to breath, be born, struggle to survive, mate, raise young, grow old, and die. Just something I try to keep in mind when I'm out there with the pruning shears...