Monday, August 21, 2017

Who Lives Here: Pretty Petunia

Part of our garden is actually a home for our tortoise Petunia.  He is a Testudo marginata or marginated tortoise.  this type of tortoise is unique looking due to its extremely flared marginal scutes from which it gets its name.  They are native to Greece, Italy and the Balkans in southern Europe and are the larges Mediterranean tortoises.  They can get up to 14 inches long and  8-12 pounds.  Petunia weighs about 1.5 pounds right now.

Petunia was actually almost named Lithops.  We thought the "Living Stone" reference was hilariousness.  Instead he was named after a petunia plant that was in his "happy place" when he first arrived in his garden enclosure.  "Petunia" started as a sort of nick-name place holder while we auditioned other names and it stuck.  Since he spent so much time under the Petunia and eating the Petunia, it just seemed right. Eventually Petunia's nibbling and the Texas summer heat killed the poor plant.

Marginateds eat dark leafy greens, weeds and some grasses.  They do not need to eat meat or fruit and consuming either can lead to digestive issues.  Fountain grasses, maiden grasses, sedum, spirea, hosta, knockout rose, hibiscus and stone crop are good choices for a tortoise garden.  Currently we have hibiscus, fountain grass, coleus, grasses, clover, sedum, mints, Lamium, and purslane in Petunia's garden.  We also have a few places for him to hide and climb.  We also give him a little tortoise salad daily in his food dish.  Variety is the key when feeding a tortoise.

A view of his garden
Marginated tortoises hibernate in the wild.  We still have not decided if we plan on hibernating his this winter or not.  The gentleman we got him from provides a heated hide for all of his tortoises and most do not hibernate.  We may create a little tortoise greenhouse hide in the enclosure before the cold weather arrives in November.  As a really bad weather back-up we always have the main greenhouse (that has a heater) or the garage.  Since the really cold weather never sticks around too long here that should serve as a good emergency plan.

The other side of his L-shaped garden enclosure

Petunia took a long time to settle in and is a very shy tortoise overall.  He is also reluctant to eat out of his food dish and enjoys grazing on the plants in his garden. He does seem to enjoy an evening soak with a tasty treat.  I am by no means an expert on tortoises, but we definitely are enjoying our new friend.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Folliage Follow-Up: August 2017

 Welcome to my Foliage Follow-up.  Normally I don't do a foliage follow-up but today, I really wanted to talk about my new favorite foliage in the garden....the Papaya (Carica papaya).  It all started with a meeting at work.  They had catered in snacks for us, which is very out of the ordinary.  On the one fancy fruit tray was half a papaya full of seeds.  I got it in my head then and there that I needed the seeds and needed to grow them.

So I talked to the event manager at work and took home a cup half full of fresh papaya seeds and went home to do some research on how to proceed.  I let them dry out and then turned them over to the true Plant Geek and he germinated them for me.  It took a little while, but we got quite a few to germinate and start growing, then they all sort of stalled out.  A few died and the rest were looking very pitiful.  We ended up adding a papaya tree (T. R. Hovey) onto a nursery order we were already making just in case.  As you can see below, some of our little seedlings made it and are doing great.  They will spend the winter in the greenhouse and be put out in the garden next spring.

The one we purchased online is planted out in the back row of the tropical garden.  It's taller than the fence and the leaves are enormous.  They really add some great texture to that part of the garden.  The Banana and Alocasia leaves are so smooth and solid compared to the open Papaya leaves.

We have a few buds forming so maybe we'll get flowers.  Through research I've learned that there are male flowers, female flowers, and hermaphrodite flowers.  T. R. Hovey has hermaphrodite flowers.  Hermaphrodite flowers are most sought after by growers as they are self pollinating and can give you a papaya fruit.

Papaya trees grow best in USDA growing zones 9 and 10

Read more at Gardening Know How: Papaya Tree Facts: Growing Info And Care of Papaya Fruit Trees
Papaya trees grow best in zones 9 and 10 and I live in zone 8a, so doubt I'll end up with any fruit.  Still it is a pretty neat plant in the garden.  Thanks for visiting for my August foliage followup.  If you want to see more fabulous foliage join up with Pam at Digging, for her Foliage Follow-up.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day August 2017

Welcome to Garden Bloggers Boom Day.  It's August in North Texas and like always, it's hot and pretty dry this time of year.  It isn't the best looking time of year for our garden.  Most gardeners in these parts are keeping things alive and the weeds at bay waiting for fall and the cooler weather.  We are no different (only we are not battling very hard against the weeds and they are starting to win a few places).

Right now our Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes) are blooming like crazy.  A bonus of a wet summer, well besides the bonus of water.  All of our Rain Lilies are in the Agave Garden in one of our "Hell Strips".  This is a particularly narrow one that only took two swipes of a mower to mow when we first moved it.  Now it's planted with Agaves, Sedums, and Rain Lilies.  All of the rain comes out of the backyard, down the driveway and into this bed.  We've capped off the irrigation, so it isn't regularly watered.

We have a few different kinds planted and since they self sow, they should increase in numbers each year.  This is their second summer being planted in this garden.

Ignore the purslane.  I know it's a weed, but it's also great tortoise food.  So it's slowly getting removed and fed to Petunia our male marginated tortoise.  Mediterranean tortoises eat a lot of weeds and grasses.  His favorites include dandelions and hibiscus flowers.  Purslane is not a favorite, but it is healthy, so it gets served regularly.

These orange ones are a favorite of mine.  I love the saturated color and the stripiness on the petals.  It's one of my favorite patterns flowers can have in my opinion.  I love unusual patterning and spotting.

An old topiary Hibiscus recently bloomed for the first time.  We overwintered it and then didn't have a good place for it, so it's actually in Petunia's enclosure.  He didn't get to eat this bloom, instead he got purslane for his evening snack (kidding, he got a pink hibiscus bloom).

We still have some plants around the pool blooming, though this is one of the locations where the mites did their dirty work. The hardy Hibiscus are still going strong.  I'm enjoying them so much during the heat of August, that I'm thinking of adding a few tall varieties to the barrier garden as a sort of backdrop when we re-do it this fall.

The Plumbago is enjoying it's new found freedom away from it's sweet potato vine oppressor and is blooming like crazy. 

We are also still getting to enjoy a bunch of re-blooming daylilies. Such a treat!  Since basically our entire daylily garden was transplanted from our old house to this garden, last summer's bloom season wasn't very spectacular.  It makes this year seem even better.

'Webster's Pink Wonder'

'Sweet Seneca Butterflies'
'Barbara Mitchel'
'Painted Trillium'

'Cobbs Hill Jester'

Finally we stop at the Butterfly/Pollinator garden.  It is still blooming, though it is starting to show some stress from the heat.  Both milkweeds are looking good.


 As are the random Rudbeckia we got on our Oklahoma Daylily trip and the lantanas that were added for summer color.  The Rudbeckia had been mislabeled so the nursery didn't know what it was exactly, only that it wasn't what they ordered.  We liked so we added it to one of our daylily purchases and brought it home.

Thanks for taking the time to see what we having going on in the garden!  If you are interested in seeing more gardens visit May Dreams Garden to see other's Garden Blogger's Bloom Day posts.

Monday, August 14, 2017

We Make New Plants: The Daylily Edition

Last year we got interested in daylily hybridizing.  Daylily plants do not come true from seed, so they are mostly propagated by division.  What we are doing is putting the pollen from one daylily onto a different daylilies stamen.  There's a little more to it that this (diploid vs. tetraploid, daytime temperatures, etc) but at it's core, this what hybridizing it.  If the cross takes the plants forms a seed pod, like the one in this picture.

Every cross doesn't take and even the ones that do sometimes stop growing.  But some make it all the way.  As the ripen they start to turn brown and crack open.  When they have cracked it's time to harvest the seeds.  We let them dry out for a few days on the kitchen counter and then bag them and store them in the fridge for a few weeks.

This is where we are at right now.  We have planted some of the earlier crosses, but still have some more in the fridge waiting their turn.  Tonight we saw the first few sprouts poking out of the soil.  I was honestly concerned that it would be really hard to get crosses to take, so I went with a little bit more of a shotgun approach this year than was probably useful.  It's really easy to get carried away with whatever is blooming and loosing site of any goals you have set.

Overall we are into large flowers, REALLY tall flowers, and bright colors.  I personally also like miniatures and have a few orders waiting to be shipped this fall that will add some minis to the collection.  Even with my rather random approach, I think I still made some great crosses.  I'll have to wait at least a year to see their blooms and even longer than that to really evaluate the vigor and habit of each plant.  Here are a few bellow.

This first cross this 'Velvet Eyes' with 'Velvet Ribbons'.    This was honestly not a very well thought out cross.  'Velvet Eyes' has 30" scapes with small 4.25" flowers.  I love it's color and it has great vigor, lots of scapes and reblooms in our garden.  'Velvet Ribbons' is a 44" tall and has an 11" flower.  I LOVE black daylilies and spider forms, so this is definitely a favorite of mine.  Both of these plants proved to be really good parent plants, assuming they make pretty, tall, and interesting babies.

This 'Sweet Seneca Butterflies' 'The Tingler' cross was something I had planned last summer.  'Sweet Seneca Butterflies has a 2-1/2" flower and a 18" scape, though it's flowers tend to be a little larger in our garden.   'The Tingler' has a 47" scape and 9" flower.  We purchased both on a trip to New York for a family wedding.  'Sweet Seneca Butterflies' came from Grace Gardens in Penn Yan, NY and was hybridized by Kathy Rood.  'The Tingler' was purchased at Cottage Gardens.  For whatever reason I have always wanted to cross the two.  One is a miniature and the other is a large unusual formed flower.  Now sure what will happen, but hopefully something interesting.

The final cross I'm going to talk about today was one between 'Euro-mazing' (another favorite of mine) and 'Velvet Ribbons'.  Euro-mazing was hybridized in 2003 and had no registered child plants.  Chances are there's a reason for that, probably one I'll see when these seeds germinate and bloom (assuming they do).  It has a 29" scape and 9" unusual form flower. Hopefully 'Velvet Ribbons'  will bring it's even taller and larger size to the party and I'll get some dark black/purples with unusual form.

Hybridizing, like a lot of horticulture, is a little science, a little art, and a lot of patients.  Hopefully these won't take too long to get to bloom size plants.  I hope you enjoyed my rambling about of new gardening obsession. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

John Bunker Sands Wetland Center

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to visit the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center in Seagoville, TX.  The center is located in the middle of the 2000 acre East Fork Wetland Project.  The great DFW area is growing rapidly and so is our need for additional water.  With the addition of Zebra Mussels into some of our local reservoirs and the drought we regularly experience, water is at a premium.  The East Fork Wetland Project provides the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) with over 102,000 acre-feet of water per year.  This project was completed inn 2009 and diverts water from the East Fork of the Trinity River and using the man-made wetlands to help clean the water.  It is one of the larges constructed wetlands at 1,840 acres.  Once the water works its way through the wetland, it is pumped through an 84" pipeline, 43 miles to Lake Lavon where it is stored.

A view of the wetlands and boardwalk at John Bunker Sands Wetland Center

The center was absolutely beautiful and we got lucky with the weather, it wasn't too hot, so we really got to enjoy our visit.  There is a large stone building with classrooms and offices that is the physical "center", but the true highlight is the actual wetlands.  What is really special is that they have a series of boardwalks that allow you to actually walk through the wetland, without walking in the wetland.  Such a great way to experience the site.

A view of the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center

I was actually visiting to attend a free training that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department held to teach educators about their Texas Aquatic Science curriculum.  Like many of these type of trainings, we got to participate in activities from the actual curriculum while we went over what it had to offer.  This is probably one of my favorite ways to lead trainings and I really enjoy participating in this style too.  Its so nice to walk out of the room at the end of a day knowing that you truly understand specific lessons.

The best part of the days activities (in my opinion anyway) was when we had the opportunity to go out into the wetland and do some aquatic invertebrate sampling.  With small nets, we swished throught the water at the base of the plants and tried to catch invertebrates.  They serve as an indicator of water health and can be a great part of a lesson.  We ended up finding freshwater shrimp, scud, water boatmen, predacious diving beetles, damselfly nymphs, and gilled snails.

Lotus at John Bunker Sands Wetland Center

We also got to enjoy some great plant life.  Check-out all of the lotus flowers where we were sampling.  All in all it was a great day spent learning about Texas watersheds and aquatic environments. 

Lotus Flower

Monday, August 7, 2017

RIP Super Sweet 100

Well, it was good while it lasted.  It finally got hot and we ended up with a mite problem.  We've never been able to control mites on a tomato plant long term.

They basically destroy the leave on the plant until there aren't any left.  Then we have a weird tomato stem.  It also gives the mites a place to live in our garden, since we never can seem to completely eradicate them.

You can see where the damage had gotten really bad.  It happens FAST and the mites are impacting a few different plants in the garden overall.

Admittedly we didn't let it get very bad prior to removing the plant.  It was right up on the patio, in our faces looking ugly and harboring the offenders.

It looks neater and less like a tomato jungle.  The citrus trees will definitely enjoy more space.  We're working on their form this year, so being able to see it from behind all the tomato foliage is a good thing.

Don't worry though.  I left myself a little gift for the future in the form of a ripe tomato in the back of the pot.  I have plans for a fabulous spring/early summer Super Sweet 100 next year!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wildlife Wednesday: August 2017

Welcome to my garden for Wildlife Wednesday!  We have had a great year for hummingbirds and bats so far.  I've even caught the hummingbird fighting over our Turk's Cap earlier this month.  Unfortunately, they always seem to catch me without a camera.  The bats are obviously a night visitor.  They swoop around us when we swim at night, slapping the water to get a drink.  The first time it happened it was a little startling, but now it's part of night swimming.

We have lots of dragonflies all around the pool this year.  I've left them some of the old daylily scapes and iris bloom stems since they seem to enjoy perching on them so much.  There going to need to find a somewhere more appropriate to lay any eggs.  My pool isn't going to cut it for any dragonfly larva. 

 Of course we have pollinators.  This year have had a wide variety of pollinators, including many of these black bees.  Anyone know what they are?  They aren't aggressive and just buzz around from flower to flowers.  I've seen them almost exclusively in our daylilies.

This year we've stepped up our pollinator game and added a solitary bee house.  Solitary bees are basically the superheros of all the pollinators and out pollinate honeybees.

It appears that someone has taken advantage of the house.

Finally we've had some awesome looking beetles in the garden this year.  Here is a close-up of them.  I don't know what they are (clearly my college Entomology class isn't cutting it), but their green metallic wing covers are stunning.  Here it's crawling around one of the hibiscuses in the tortoise garden.  Lucky for him, Petunia (our tortoise) is an herbivore and has no interest in him.

Thanks for visiting.  Wildlife Wednesday is a time for Garden Blogger to celebrate the wildlife in their gardens and community.  If you want to learn more visit My Garden Says.