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latest wildflowers

Too much rain! It created: 1. mud everywhere in our driveway, which 2. washed and eroded much dirt off of the already struggling slope that edges our lawn and once which was covered with St. Augustine and now is a few straggling runners, and 3. large 6-inch deep puddles that took a day to evaporate in our dog run. Which reminded me again how much drainage trouble my hard clay has.

In spite of the problems it caused, as usual everything responds to rain like crazy. My purple passionflower vine is about to explode. There are buds everywhere, just waiting to open and the various vines grow like a foot a day, it seems. I’ve realized now I’m going to have to keep it in check if all those fire ants and caterpillars don’t get to it first.

But the rain has definitely brought out a few mystery flowers. In my odd tiny little wildflower meadow, there are more Indian Blankets, which I love but now realize I may have sown too many. An obedient plant peeped out last week. And now this mystery patch of sage-smelling plants have finally bloomed: Lemon Balm. I had forgotten I sowed this, too, in my mad wildflower sowings last fall. It started to come up in late March, smelled like lemony sage, so I thought perhaps some herb had been sown there, and despite its weedy appearance, left it in, since there were tiny blue flax seedlings there as well. (Also another wildflower which I thought hadn’t germinated.)

I wasn’t drawn to lemon balm in the first place but back in October when I ordered a ton of seeds from the Native American Seed company I was sure to include lots of annuals so that I might have some feeling of success. It’s a bit ratty looking, and sprawling, but the flowers are cute and look a little like henbit, but smell nice.

lovely, quirky columbine

I don’t know much about columbines, other than that they are now famous for Colorado. But when I started hunting for seeds, I suddenly saw the name everywhere. In spring many nurseries were carrying small starter plants of columbines and I had no idea what the flower even looked like. I asked my favorite nurseryman about them and he said he’d always had trouble with columbines so this made me think right away that they were fussy plants from another part of the country, or the world.

I was pleased to discover there are a few kinds that are native to Texas. I found one of them, “Hinckley’s golden columbine”, which grows in the southwestern woodlands and ravines between New Mexico and Texas. The other was a lovely pink and yellow kind which I forgot to write down but from pictures might have been what’s known as “Wild Columbine”. Thankfully I found them on a day I was shopping specifically for shade and part-shade plants. I have this awkward space in an already awkward large bed that gets almost no sun until the late afternoon when it is all sun, of the worst kind, especially in summer.

The bed has become a series of flowers, some short-lived and some not, that can take the heat and sun of the summer. This one awkward part of the bed, however, gets no sun, since there is a large pecan tree right in the middle which shades this one corner.

Heck, why not a columbine, which I read was made for woodlands and shade. I could kill myself for not taking photos of these while they were blooming; now they’ve gone to seed in the last 2 weeks and I won’t see them again (hopefully) till next year. They certainly have personality. No one ever knows what they are, but are always drawn to them with their spiky crowns (or sometimes they look like wings) and weird floating papery blooms.

Since I can’t put my own photo up, here are links to some lovely photos of the two varieties I planted:

Hinckley’s golden columbine

Wild Columbine

The 2nd is a lovely yellow flower with light red wings. Neither of these are anything like the hyped-up columbines of catalogs. As with anything, the originals are usually not as big, not as vibrant, not as not as… but I am quite happy with them.

I bought two different varieties, and have since read that columbines freely inter-pollinate, so who knows what kind of flowers I’ll get from the seeds which fell to the ground. Today I went out and cut off the seedpods, which look like baby twirly horns (not out of style with the rest of the flower).

It’s easy to pull off each pod and crumble the seeds out. Who knows what color these will produce but now I have my very own seeds for next year. Maybe I’ll have orange? hmmm.


Otherwise known as Vinca, I happen to like the name “periwinkle”. When searching for some kind of annual flower that would possibly make it through the summer–through heat and drought–there were very few possibilities. The two options pointed out to me at my favorite nursery were zinnias and gomphrenas. I went back a couple weeks later and the tables were scattered with periwinkle, which I had read would take the heat. (The periwinkles in the photo below are from the “Pacifica” series.)

I gathered up a tray full of light pinks, some with lighter centers and others with a bright pink center, and planted them straight away for fear that my mid-May plantings might be a bit late anyway. Thank goodness we’ve had a mild and rainy spring (2007)… it might give them a chance to establish.

I’m still trying to figure out how to fill in my front bed which wraps around our porch. It gets shade almost all morning and into the early afternoon, but especially in mid-to-late summer gets all late afternoon direct sun. A very bad situation for most plants (and people) but thankfully there is a large pecan over this bed which is growing a new big branch that will probably one day shade the bed all day.

Anyhow, I don’t like a lot of annuals… perhaps I’ll change my mind some day. I don’t like petunias or marigolds much. But I do like these periwinkles–they’re dainty, small and delicate. I’m realizing my need for annuals because there are just some places that will always look scanty, especially between seasons.

Update November 2008: The vinca planted in 2007 looked pretty straggly by the end of that summer. Although it rained quite a bit the plants languished in the shade. I’m still on a hunt for good summer annuals, and ones that do fine in shade. That may be a losing battle, and even annuals can be a losing battle in summer, especially after this one, where the only survivor after 3 months of drought and intense heat was the gomphrena.

learning about bulbs

I’m new to the world of bulbs. But enticed as usual by beautiful pictures in catalogs and memories of certain flowers from childhood, I’ve thrown research to the wind and bought bulbs of many kinds. In fact, probably too much bulb buying. I bought a bunch of cannas before I knew how big they got, without having the space (or sunshine) to plant them. They are towering plants, sometimes 7 feet tall, and certainly not a plant I want to put around a border.

Such is the life of my experiments. Buying things without a vision of where to put them. I’m particularly drawn by all the ‘heirloom’ bulb sites. The idea of having old fashioned flowers that were grown 100, 200, 300 even 400 years ago in some mediterranean climate, is so romantic.

My house was built in the 1930s, and we were able to meet the daughter of the man who built the house for his family. Many flowers which surround our house (such as the huge line of oxblood lilies down the driveway and the crowded clump of daffodils near them) had been planted in the 40s and 50s. I love that my doorknobs are from the 40s, and that my flowers may be, too. So anything that says “old-fashioned” “heirloom” or “antique” already draws my attention. (And thank goodness there are few “vintage” flower sites, a word which in fashion design is quickly becoming meaningless. The “new vintage”–whatever!)

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Square Bud Primrose

A pretty little primrose that stays very close to the ground. For lack of anywhere else to plant it, I plopped it in my vegetable bed next to the peppers. It was one of a few single plants I bought at the spring sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, just to see what they would do, in case I want to plant more next year.

Scarlet Sage

This native Texas plant came up in an area that I sowed various wildflowers, to see what would happen. It is a fairly shady area, and these were the only flowers that seem to like this kind of shade and moistness. I didn’t do much to the soil, and many flowers sulked at the clay they were thrown in but not this flower.

Update: November 12, 2008. I sowed these indoors of December 2007, and most were up and nearly outgrowing their 4-inch pots by February and by March they were blooming. They are very easy to germinate so I’d suggest if you do sow them indoors, do so a little later in the winter, since they grow fast and are tender to frost. I planted them anyway in March and they bloomed and grew in my front shade bed like crazy.

By the end of the summer Scarlet Sage can look a little ratty and formless but my patch of them was still blooming last week when I pulled them all out to re-do the bed. I still think these behave more like annuals in Austin, because I have yet to see them return in spring but perhaps I haven’t given them a chance as I tend to change my beds around in spring quite a bit. (Mealy blue sage, Salvia farinacea, has suffered the same problem in my hands; after looking scraggly in late fall, I tend to pull them all out.)

Nevertheless, Scarlet Sage blooms happily and fully in full shade all summer long. And that’s a very very rare plant. Having a garden that is almost 80 percent shade with trees and buildings around me, I am constantly having to replace ‘full sun’ plants with something a little more forgiving.

le grande wildflower experiment

Since starting this blog, I realized I’ve not written one single thing about wildflowers. My secret passion. Wildflowers are what started my interest in gardening. I’m now about 17 months into my gardening adventures. This makes me still a very new gardener. I realized this week with all my mistakes, and attempts to make something out of the extremely hard and dry clay soil of most of the land around my house, that I need a tiller, and not the little $20 hand tool, but something with a motor. That must make me an official gardener.

Or could it be the fact that I spent about 10 hours earlier this week making compost? Surely that makes me an official gardener. And officially obsessed.

What really got me obsessed are wildflowers. It all started when I drove by this strange little bird-flittering, butterfly-twirling patch of wildflowers, dead trees and half-grown grass in a neighborhood north of mine. I had to stop and turn around. It was mystery itself, contained in about a 50 square foot area. It looked wild but carefully wild. Someone had made it that way, and the life in it just buzzed. I do not like formal gardens, and maybe that is what I thought gardens had to be. And now I saw something that made me want to put life in my yard. (By now I have tried all sorts of plants and design arrangements but for the first 6 months I remained totally obsessed with native wildflowers and grass.) Just one month earlier I had decided that it was time to do something about the barren back yard of mine. I had never planted a flower in my life. Really.

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Indian Blanket

Along with bluebonnets, these are the most common flowers along Texas highways and also super easy to start from seed. As I write, in May 2007, the highways are covered with a red and gold blanket. Like most wildflowers, I think these look best en masse. My little wildflower experiments have left me with occasional Indian Blankets here and there and just look weird on their own. They can get quite tall, too, which I didn’t realize until a group of these in one of my beds were almost 3 feet tall before they started forming buds. The tallest is almost 4 feet, up to my chest. I know there are other cultivated varieties of this that are tall and dwarf varieties, but as far as I know, I planted the native Texas seed from Native American Seed.

I just really love them, though. They look tough and they also signal the coming of summer. Whereas in March and April, the cool fields of bluebonnets have the center stage, they are gradually replaced by the warmer tone of Indian Blankets. Rarely have I seen them together except this year for a few short weeks in April they were side by side. Mine, however, didn’t bloom until May, although some started appearing in Austin in early April.

Pink Evening Primrose

May 3, 2007. These lovely little pink flowers are quickly becoming my favorite of the Texas wildflowers. I’m partial to simple cupped flowers–winecups or California poppies–and like they way they just drape in the wind. These primroses first started appearing in early April on roadsides and margins of gardens. They blanket whole areas and seem to make for a good groundcover. Some seem taller than others, some grow in full sun, others under the slight shade of a tree, but for such delicate flowers they appear to be sturdy. It has been said that these are the favorite of Lady Bird Johnson, and it’s no wonder. They are wild but elegant. Read more