Friday, May 23, 2014

Rugged late spring beauty at Inks Lake

This week, the family and I took a much-needed mid-week break from our daily routines to soak up the lovely natural surrounding at Inks Lake State Park. The weather remains unseasonably cool this year in Austin, which means it is downright perfect for camping. Temps ranged from upper 60s in the early morning to upper 80s at the peak of the afternoon. Great swimming weather, very enjoyable in the shade.

A dry creek on the way to Devil's Waterhole, as seen from the wooden bridge on the trail. My 4-year-old was looking for wildlife footprints and hoping to find some here.
Our one family hike this time was down to Devil's Waterhole and back. Last time we camped at Inks, we lugged our then 3-year-old and 15-month-old up the steep ridge of the Valley Creek trail that starts from Devil's Waterhole. This time, being 8 months pregnant, the walk down to the waterhole and back was enough for me! Our kids probably would have handled more of a hike.

I wish I was able to snap pictures of the ample and diverse wildlife at this park. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Roadrunners appeared several times. Ducks and geese abound at the lake. Cardinals flit in male/female pairs among the oaks and brush. They were too fast for my iPhone camera.

We saw a skunk poking around near our cabin on our first night, and took great care to pack away all traces of food from then on.

White-tailed deer made several appearances, too.

My crew, headed for the playscape, as was our evening routine.  The sticker burrs out there make the ones at my parents' place in Dripping Springs look like marshmallows by comparison. Yowza!
A bed of xeric perennials was one of the few obviously human-influenced touches to the landscape. Autumn Sage, Blackfoot Daisy and a couple of others dressed up this dry, sunny spot.
This was our little lakefront beach spot for the trip. My husband and I parked our camping chairs in the generous shade of this Mexican Sycamore and took turns playing with the girls in the water. My 4-year-old pointed out that the water shines with gold glittery particles, thanks perhaps to the fine granite sand at the bottom.

I took a solo walk early on our last morning in the park, to soak up the pretty pink granite/green foliage contrasts, enjoy everything bathed in yellow sunrays, and try to capture a striking purple bloom I'd seen on the little barrel cacti surrounding the park headquarters.

Mesquite trees are just perfect in this rugged landscape, no?

Pencil cactus caught my eye, adorned with charming red fruits at some of its joints.

Granite + cactus + sunrise = a little bit of heaven

They have rain lilies at Inks Lake, too. These were smaller with spikier petals than the ones I see in our Austin neighborhood. I like the pink tips of the petals.

Another of the rare human-orchestrated vistas: Softleaf Yucca (or is it some variety of Sotol?) getting ready to bloom, anchored by granite boulders.

I did find the purple-blooming barrel cactus, though it wasn't until later in the day, on our way home, that I could catch the flowers starting to open.

These eye-catching flowers made the cacti look like a bunch of little flashlights in the evening sunlight. The flowers weren't fully open in this picture, but you get the idea. The combination of this with yellow Prickly Pear blossoms was just lovely--wish I had caught it on camera!

Inks Lake, like most of Texas I imagine, is a little different every time you visit. A month ago, I'm sure bluebonnets would have made for dazzling photos.  I delighted in seeing the array of blooms and colors this time around.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May Foliage Follow-Up

After a belated Bloom Day post, here comes the belated Foliage Follow Up. Thanks, as always, to Pam Penick at Digging for hosting this monthly tribute to all things leafy.

Starting in the backyard, I've shuffled the succulent pots around a bit, since they didn't seem to get enough sunlight in their previous corner. Either the neighbor's towering Cedar Elm is offering deeper shade than it did last year, or the angle of the sun isn't quite right at this time of the season. They are still vulnerable to attacks by my #1 biggest and most beloved pest, my 3-year-old daughter. They'll just have to find a way to survive her. She can't seem to stop herself from plucking off leaves and stems.

Here's the fairly healthy Catmint, along with the Sedum/Kelanchoe combo succulent pot. My 3-year-old really loves those Kelanchoe leaves--she can't stop collecting them.

In the firepit planter, the sedums are coming back nicely. A little sprig of this one migrated to the shady Purple Pocket Garden somehow, and is doing surprisingly well there. Sedums in the shade?
I wish I could remember the name of this one. Some sort of Mangave? It looked great last year, before it got hit with multiple frosts. This is actually the best it has looked so far this year. I'm still hoping for a full recovery.

The "Rainbow Bed" isn't quite as vibrant these days, since the Knockout Roses stopped blooming and Pavonia/Rock Rose hasn't quite started yet. But the contrasting foliage is fun to look at. In the back, Blanc Du Bois grape is making do with the overly-vertical trellis I gave it. There are aphids and tiny ants at the growing tips, and something has munched holes in a lot of the leaves, but it seems to be surviving. I tell myself I'm not doing anything about the aphids and ants, not because I'm lazy, but because I want to see if the local ladybugs will come along and let their larvae loose on the aphids. But I'm probably just lazy.
To my astonishment, grapes have appeared at the base of the Blanc Du Bois! They're tiny. I tried one the other day, knowing they weren't really ready, but fearing I wouldn't otherwise have a chance. It was sour, but satisfying.
Hidden among the Blanc Du Bois leaves are the hand-like leaves of the Cardinal Climber vine. There are a pair of these Cardinal Climbers weaving their way up the trellis, right along with the grape. Poor planning on my part, but those little hands and tendrils are surprisingly tenacious.
Here you can see the mingling of leaves - the wide grape leaves and the dainty, spiky Cardinal Climber leaves. Whatever is munching on the grape doesn't seem at all interested in the Cardinal Climber.

A couple of wide views: Here's the view from the Rainbow Bed looking East toward the neighbors towering Cedar Elm. The two biggest crape myrtles ('Natchez') look pretty good this year, and even have some new buds on them.

Here's one of the "medium-sized" crape myrtles, also looking fairly content this year. Fully leafed out, no buds yet... all the crapes in my yard seem to bloom later than their local brethren, perhaps because they're in part shade. Now that the Chinese Tallow is gone and no longer blocking significant sunlight, I'll be curious to see how this crape reacts.

One of the smallest crape myrtles on utility box screening duty in the NW corner of the backyard, flanked by two ligustrums we planted before we knew better. I gave the ligustrums a hearty chop early this spring.

Pampas Grass fills in behind the Crape Myrtles.

 Not much to see here yet, but there is foliage... Wisteria, Tropical Milkweed (coming back from the dead of winter), Purple Coneflower/Echinacea and Cardinal Climber.

Another wide shot--looking Westward towards our younger, more diminutive Cedar Elm. This would have to be the official tree of the neighborhood--I think the Cedar Elms outnumber the oaks here, and that's saying something.

The Purple Pocket Garden is thriving, and volunteer Wild Morning Glory / Purple Bindweed is beginning its annual climb up the trellis. This is one of the plants that came with the house, and was probably a volunteer in the first place.

There it goes!

Looking back toward the deck, another old friend, Asparagus Fern, has clearly bounced back again after dying back completely this past winter. Catmint and succulents adorn the pots on the steps.

Oh, that's where I put the other succulent pot--on the West side of the deck, where there's now ample afternoon sun, now that the Tallow is gone. Hens-and-Chicks seems to have brought along a non-succulent stowaway from the nursery. I'm waiting to see what it is before I pluck it out. "Dragon's Blood" sedum is thriving. Graptopetalum is barely limping along, thanks to damage by the aforementioned preschooler. If it can survive her, it can stay.

Moving to the front yard, it's almost all foliage right now in the pea gravel bed. The wind was really whipping the Methley Plum around.

Looking Eastward in the front yard--the freshly-trimmed Arizona Ash, the never-trimmed Loquat, and the gradually returning bed of Plumbago.

Another shot of the Plumbago.

Here's the bed I formerly called the Jungle Bed, until everything but the Texas Mountain Laurel died back over the winter. It's all coming back nicely, though not quite back to Jungle status yet. (Ginger, Flax Lily, Liriope and Turk's Cap.)

Lovely, lush loquat. The girls enjoy riding the lower limbs, pretending they're riding horses. So far, the loquat is tolerating the abuse.

 Happy May Gardening!

Friday, May 16, 2014

May Bloom Day

I'm a late to the party, but I am happy to post Bloom Day pics anyway. Weather has been strange this year, and over the past week we've had 3-4 inches of rain (yahoo!!!), a cold snap cold enough to require light jackets all day (very weird, though refreshing, for this area in May), and temperatures rebounding into the pleasant upper 60s - mid 80s.

My favorite native flower, the Rain Lily (Zephyranthes species), is putting on a spectacular show in the neighborhood park right now. 3-4 weeks of dry weather followed by a big honkin' thunderstorm is just what these beauties live for.

My pictures don't do justice to the loveliness of a rugged green field with a thousand of these dainty white blossoms afloat at sunset. But I had to try.

Here's a smattering of things blooming in my yard:

Annual Torenia 'Kauai Deep Blue' is still going strong in this shady corner.

Crookneck Squash is a monsterous spreader, with lots of cute little squashes and giant flowers. These tiny ants seem to like it.

The Meyer Lemon is blooming for a second time, after my kids picked off most of the baby lemons (except the ones too high for their reach.)

Cardinal Climber blooms during the sunny part of its day.

At last, all of my 'Red Lanterns' Columbine plants are blooming. I think "lanterns" is a fitting description for the way those flowers dangle, don't you?

Heartleaf Skullcap is blooming its heart out.

Blurry close-up of HS blooms. A real camera is on my Christmas list for this year...

Tropical Sage--most of the growth lately has been the leafy, bushing-out variety, but it still sports a few lively red flags.

The Yellow Shrimp plants give the one-finger salute. They look like candlesticks to me. I wonder if they'll drape over like the more typical (and aptly named) pinkish Shrimp Plant.

Close-up of the Yellow Shrimp (or candlestick) Plant. It's a jolly canary yellow.

Also in the yellow-orange section of this bed, the Lantana has come into bloom over the past few weeks.

Twin Sunflower blooms are hanging in there, despite ant damage. I'm thrilled that the flower seeds I planted with my 4-year-old daughter early this Spring have bloomed, even after the seedlings sat under my makeshift grow light in the garage for too long.

The last of this round of Knockout Rose blooms.

Geraniums in hanging baskets still look pretty, especially on their sunny sides.

My girls picked out a Gerbera Daisy from the grocery store for Mother's Day. So sweet. I love that they know I would rather have a plant I can put in the ground than cut flowers.

More yellow--this seems to be the color of the month in my garden. This is a volunteer False Dandelion. My neighbor probably cringes when he sees it, weedy looking as it is with the flowers closed up for the day, but I like it too much to discard it. I might try to transplant it to the backyard.

Also up front, Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) is coming back so nice and bushy, and is giving me a sneak peek of its cherry red blooms.

What else is blooming? I saw the very first Turk's Cap bloom peeking out today, but didn't manage to snap a photo. Pavonia (Rock Rose) isn't blooming yet, but it will be any minute now. Blackfoot Daisy, Caradonna Meadow Sage, Lavender and Martha Gonzales Rose have all petered out from their first bloom cycles of the year, but they'll be back.

I've seen so many pretty yuccas in bloom around town, and I have zero yuccas in my yard. Someday this will be remedied. The tallest Crape Myrtles in the sunniest spots around the neighborhood are blooming, which means mine are about a month or so away from catching up.

Happy Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, and a big thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting!
P.S. How could I forgot? This was the bouquet my oldest daughter and I put together for my mom for Mother's Day. Happy belated Mother's Day to all you gardening mamas out there!

Knockout Rose, Sunflower, Salvia 'Mystic Spires' and Texas Lantana