My February-blooming Christmas Cactus.
Things are coming along in the garden.
So yesterday, I used my State Holiday Comp Time (thanks, LBJ!) and went to Enchanted Rock, outside Fredericksburg. I hadn’t been there in about 15 years; I need to go more often. A lot of people come to Austin to do the hipster stuff, but it really is worth it to take a day and go out there – an easy 90 minute trip. I’d been to the Steely Dan concert two nights before, so I was jamming out to those tunes on the way down. That was my first ‘pop music’ concert – very interesting experience. I really enjoyed it except the woman behind me who almost perforated my ear drums with her whistling. But I digress…
I got there about 9:30 and essentially had the park to myself until about noon. Unfortunately, it was an ozone-action day, so a bit hazy, but otherwise very nice. I did the four-mile loop trail first, with a detour down the Turkey Pass Trail, and then did the summit climb – 425 feet ascent in about 0.6 miles. That was a killer. It reminded me of when we hiked Croagh Patrick in Ireland, except that Croagh Patrick kept going on, and on, and on, and on.
Anyroad, here are some of the sights.
The Flora I was surprised to find lots of things blooming. We’d just had several days of rain in the Hill Country, so perhaps these plants were taking advantage of it. Lots of cactus with ruby red tunas; it reminded me of the southwest version of the poppy fields in The Wizard of Oz. Apart from the cacti, I don’t know what any of these are.
Loop Trail This is a mostly flat area around the granite dome that is Enchanted Rock. This is what Central Texas and the Hill Country is supposed to look like – a mix of prairie and various scrub oaks. My third great uncle, James Phillips Hudson, was the State of Texas surveyor in the 1830s and 40s and surveyed most of the land that is now Gillespie, Blanco, and LLano counties, including the Enchanted Rock area. He was also a member of the 1st Texas Legislature, representing Fayette County. It was interesting to think I was walking in his footsteps almost 200 years later.
This is Moses Lake.
The Summit After I caught my breath after getting to the top, I got some great panorama shots.
I managed to get a photo of one of the buzzards at the ‘water holes’ on top.
Also at the top are chasms where several of the larger boulders have crashed together as well is little ‘islands’ where yuccas and cacti have taken hold.
So last week, I went hiking in the Barton Creek Greenbelt behind the house. I still forget how lucky I am that I can just step out my back gate and be on the trail. A bit like Bilbo Baggins.
It was one of those “Chamber of Commerce” weather days – amazing for mid-August – low 90s, a light wind from the north and no humidity at all. You could smell the heat – cedar. There’s a great map you can get from the Save Our Springs Alliance – Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail Map and Recreation Guide.
So this is what it looks like just a bit further down from the house.
About 2 miles along the trail, you come to this great vista. I think the houses are in Lost Creek, but I’m not quite sure. (I’m horrible with directions.)
Another picture from the same area – mostly scrub cedar here.
This is one of my favorite places on this hike. The stream that made this must have been pretty substantial at one time. I saw two deer back in the woods, but of course I wasn’t ‘camera ready.’
This tree is about 5 miles in. I really like the way this is shaped.
An interesting barbed-wire fence.
And then back home again – 10-mile roundtrip in about 2 hours, so not bad for an old man. (At least Starflight didn’t have to come get me.)
I’ve been pretty busy lately so haven’t had much time to post anything. Brian’s parents are on their grand tour of Europe; six weeks and more countries than I can keep count of. Each afternoon we look forward to his mother’s recap of the day. They make me want to pack my bags. She’s an excellent observer and I hope she takes up blogging when they return – she’s a natural.
Am still playing around with the camera – hopefully I’m getting better. So this is just a lazy-man’s post…throwing up some recent photos. These are mostly of the yard, but some odds-and-ends as well.
A couple of weeks ago, we made beer-can chicken. I’ve always wanted to do that. It came out great, but the rub was ‘blow-your-head-off’ hot; not for the faint of heart!
- 1 can light lager
- 1 3 1/2–4-lb. chicken
2 tablespoons 4-3-2-1 Spice Rub (4 tablespoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, 2 tablespoons paprika, and 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper)
- A foil baking pan (for drip pan)
Pour out (or drink) half of beer.
Prepare grill for high, indirect heat and fit with grill pan (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on 1 side of grill and put drip pan on empty side; for a gas grill, leave 1 burner turned off and place drip pan over unlit burner). Add water to pan to a depth of 1/2 inch.
Season chicken with 4-3-2-1 Spice Rub. Place cavity of chicken, legs pointing down, onto open can so that it supports chicken upright. Place can, with chicken, on grill over indirect heat (and above drip pan). Grill chicken,
covered, until cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of thigh registers 165°, 45–60 minutes. (If using charcoal, you may need to add more to maintain heat.) Let chicken rest 10 minutes before carving. Serve with pan drippings.
* Wing tip *Use a can opener to remove the entire top of the beer can (pour out half). It’ll maximize the boozy vapors that make it to the chicken.
My Evergreen Wisteria (Millettia reticulate) is blooming again. I love this flower – it’s almost purple-black.
My Mexican Firebush (Hamelia patens); plumbago (Plumbaginaceae); lantana (verbenaceae); and shrimp plants (Justicia brandegeeana) are all doing very well. Shrimp plant is another great garden workhorse I highly recommend. It does very well in shade and blooms a dark strawberry colour during December.
This was one of my inspiration pieces for the garden design – the “Provence meets Austin backyard” theme. Just a simple fleur de lis garden hose guard, but it really is one of my favourite things.
Out front, this is one of my other inspirations…apparently it’s called an armillary sphere – before Google, I suppose these were just thing-a-ma-bobs or doohickeys.
I really liked these photos of my meditating Buddha and one of my Indian stone wall lamps.
I can never, ever remember the name of this shrub. I’ve taken heaps of pictures of the label when I see it at ‘The Natural Gardener,’ but somehow, the name just doesn’t stick. The blue glass is a shade from the old kitchen light fixtures we had; I love this colour combination.
Yesterday, I hung a newly acquired suet feeder. This one has a copper roof. I’ve gone to great lengths to squirrel-proof it. So far, so good. A few days ago I saw a woodpecker in the tree; I hope this feeder keeps it around.
And to conclude… A few days ago, my mother and I went on a driving tour through Fayette County. In Flatonia, I finally found the house my grandmother was born in. The fascinating thing about this house is that the chimney has a rock from each of the states (at that time).
I don’t think I’ve written about the birds in the garden yet. I’m pretty lucky to live on the edge of the Barton Creek Greenbelt which is a nice mix of trees (a gigantic live oak; cedars; Houston Yaupon hollies; a Texas persimmon; etc.) and meadow land. The ecology provides abundant nesting opportunities as well as great feeding. To encourage them to visit the garden I have seven various types of feeders (two tube feeders; a thistle feeder; a suet feeder, a humming bird feeder; a corn-cob feeder; and an English titmouse feeder) and four water features. (I get all my seed (Supreme and No-Mess) from Wild Birds Unlimited – they’re great. And if you use their ‘seed bank,’ you can buy in bulk and just stroll into the store and pick up a bag without having to worry about storing it. ) I used to have a Purple Martin house, but I never had any luck with it. I’ll publish an inventory of birds I’ve seen, but this is a general overview of the standard visitors.
I actually have a murder of crows living behind the house. I heard them at dawn a couple days ago and got a picture of one today. I like them much better than grackles.
Like every back yard in Texas, I’ve got cardinals. I like this time of year – midsummer – because you can see different generations. The newly fledged ones waiting for their crests to come on look like British punks with the spiked hair. The juvenile males are really interesting because they often look like they have blue heads!
Perhaps my favorite birds are the blue jays. From their colours to their screeching to their thrust-and-parry feeding methods, there’s nothing subtle about blue jays at all. One of the best descriptions I’ve ever read of them is from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:
“…and the blue jay, that noisy coxcomb, in his gay light blue coat and white underclothes, screaming and chattering, nodding and bobbing and bowing, and pretending to be on good terms with every songster of the grove.”
This morning I saw a woodpecker. These are pretty infrequent visitors, but I love them. It’s amazing to watch them feed upside down from the suet feeder.
The black and yellow finches are fun to watch. They’ll swarm around the feeders and the shallow ‘bird-bath’ fountain. They’re definitely not intimidated by any of the larger birds.
While I really enjoy their calls, I’m not overly fond of the white-wing doves. They’re a bit like flying pigs that gang up on the other birds and drain the feeders pretty dang quick. They also have a tendency to fly into the side of the house; not an attractive sight.
This summer, I have whippoorwills living in the grove behind the house. I love their calls but don’t ever expect to see any.
Who doesn’t like humming birds? But I never realized how territorial they can be. The most I’ve ever seen is four, but there always seems to be a bully that’s keeping the others from the feeder. That one sure seems to spend a lot of time and energy guarding that feeder.
Other birds I’ve seen in the past: a red-tailed hawk sitting on the fence; a painted bunting; mocking birds; grackles (filth, filthy birds); screech owls (again, no success with an owl house); tit mouse; chickadees; and Carolina wrens (such a loud call for such a little bird). My neighbor said he once saw a wild turkey in the back yard. I’m really sorry I missed that. Probably the most unusual though, was a road runner. It was during the extreme heat wave in 2011. This road runner hopped over the fence from the desiccated green belt; drank from one of the small bird baths; hopped/flew to the neighbors giant live oak; and then climbed the thing to the telephone wires behind. It was amazing!
And here’s the promised lizard…
So it’s the 4th of July – one of my favourite holidays. Didn’t do much today but putz around the garden, rearranging and pruning a bit. I’ve been practicing with the camera; here are some odds-and-ends that came out half-way decent. Gotta go fire up the grill in a minute – we’re having fajitas and beans…woo hoo! (Last year when we were in Toronto on Dieciséis de Septiembre, we went to a Mexican restaurant. The food was pretty good , but I nearly spit up my margarita when the table next to us ordered “fa-JEYE-tas”)
I’m nothing if not patriotic.
So I’m a complete luddite – technology is definitely not my thing. I don’t believe I qualify to have a smartphone. I find it fascinating when folks are always chasing down the latest gadget/upgrade/app. App-shcmapp, give me low-tech any day. These for example…clay pot feet shaped like reposing lions. I just love these things but have never been able to find more like this.
They’re supporting a pot of caladiums I got yesterday.
I also spruced up and put out more of my tchotchkes. I did realize how many Buddhas I had.
This is my pink ‘Rose of Sharon’ – it’s doing exceptionally well; much better than the ones on the Capitol grounds.
This bird house reminds me of 4th of July at my great grandparents’ house in San Antonio when I was a really little kid. My great grandfather, Hugh Brunnemann, made this out of bits of quartz and a roof shingle when he was little – more than 100 years ago.
And here’s my attempt at ‘sunrise.’ I’m probably better at ‘Tequila Sunrises,’ but I’ll keep trying.
Hope everybody has a great 4th and wakes up on the 5th with all fingers in tact…
So yesterday was my annual mulch day. I usually do that in late April/early May when the oak process – old leaf drop; tassles; pollen – is completed, but I was exceptionally busy with the Legislature this year and the oak process seemed to go very late. Anyroad, this was the first weekend I could get to it. Note to self – Never wait this long again!
This year, it was 70 bags. Usually, I go to Lowe’s and collect the stuff myself, but somebody kept saying I was too old for that sort of thing, so I had it delivered. Hopefully I don’t look 49, but this afternoon I feel like 149. If I’d’ve picked up the mulch myself, I’d probably be dead now. I didn’t realize what a chore that was. The Highlander can only hold 24 bags, so that’s three trips where I load the bags on the flat-bed cart; push with all my might to overcome inertia; and pray there’s a straight shot to the cashier. Then it’s unloading the cart into the car; schlepping them home (looking like a low-rider in the process); unloading them out of the Highlander; then repeat twice. Of course, the folks at Lowe’s think I’m either a gardening god or a complete freak. I missed that attention this year.
On Friday morning, a huge truck pulled up with a folk lift and quicker than you could say ‘Jack Robinson,’ I had two pallets of mulch in the driveway. Yesterday morning was unloading the pallets and distributing the bags. Then the work began.
Here are some photos – mainly as evidence that I do this crazy thing every year.
Here’s the front – before and after:
And the back:
During the day I stopped a couple of times – when I thought I was going to keel over and die – and got some fairly decent photos. I’ve seen a lot of dragon flies this year. This one was particularly colourful – orange wings and a crimson abdomen.
My white Rose of Sharon (hibiscus syriacus) is doing very well.
I’ve noticed that the crepe myrtles (lagerstroemia) in Austin seem to be doing exceptionally well this year. The ones I planted behind the fence started blooming about a week ago.
For some reason, my clematis (ranunculaceae) is blooming again. That’s always been my biggest complaint about it; there seems to be an exceptionally short blooming season. It might be getting more light this year than in the past, so perhaps that’s it.
And I noticed that a titmouse has build a nest in the hollow part of this wrought-iron bear – extremely ingenious!
Well, that’s another mulch day for the history books – Oy gewalt…