gardening, vintage

Potted doll heads…

My husband and I have been married for over 30 years, so he should know me, amiright? And yet we still have conversations like this…

DH: Whatcha doing today?

Me: Giving a doll a hair cut. And a lobotomy.

DH: Whyyyyyy?

Me: Why not?

I have been wanting to make potted doll heads for several years now… For the past three years, I would be busy right now potting up succulents for the local Master Gardener’s fall plant sale. Alas. Covid. Their wonderful event is canceled this year. Every year, ahead of their plant sale, I would ask myself… Is this the right crowd for potted doll heads? And every year, I would say to myself… Um… Maybe not. So I would stick with my tried and true. I would pot up vintage tea cups and McCoy pottery and all sorts of beautiful vessels. This year, I vowed I would do it. I would find some old dolls and cut open their heads and pot them up. But – No Master Gardener sale this year. (Imagine a great big frowning face emoji…) Thankfully, https://www.grapevineantiquemarket.com/, where I have a few booths, is having a super-fun event… Talk Like A Pirate Day! This Saturday – September 19th. Now I know. Pirates have nothing to do with creepy doll heads filled with succulents. But it gave me an excuse to finally lop off some doll heads.


Let me tell you… Finding the dolls was hard! I looked and looked at thrift stores and found nothing interesting. Then along came this auction. Not just any auction, either. A three day auction. In a massive house. One day was just…. the lady’s doll collection. Yes. A whole auction devoted to bidding on dolls.

So you enter the house… Which has been vacant for quite a while…. Go up a steep set of stairs…. Turn a corner and go down a short hall and enter… The Doll Room. A massive room. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall – Built in bookcases. With glass doors. And there on the many shelves….

Dolls.

Dolls.

And. More dolls.

I went for the vintage sewing notions, as this lady sewed many of her dolls’ outfits. I thought I would come home with a few boxes of wooden thread spools, some old buttons and a few dolls. Instead, I came home with… Dolls… And… More dolls. And doll pieces and parts. Yes. I am still sorting out heads and shoulders, and knees and toes. What a fun – yet downright creepy – auction!

Now… For the gardening part!

I gave the dolls a shave and a cut, then found a suitable base. The doll heads are glued to their base, then green moss was glued around the edges to make them look mossy and neat. I used long tweezers to attach the moss, to save my fingers from getting super-glued to the moss and the doll and everything else. If you don’t have long tweezers, you can use regular ones, but I happen to love long tweezers because… well, they are long. And big. And great for so many uses. I bought mine from a pet store many years ago. I think they were sold as “cricket feeding tweezers.” And. Yeah. That is what I initially bought them for. Back when we had an aquatic turtle who loved him some fresh crickets.

Aside from holding the moss, the tweezers were also great for pushing the small cuts of coco liner into the dolls heads. (I decided on coco liner as the best way to cover any openings in in the doll, like at her neck or mouth.)

I used a quality cactus potting mix to fill the heads. (And one leg… More on that later…) When transplanting succulents, it is best to knock off all the potting mix that is on and around their roots and give them fresh soil to grow in. Below are photos showing what a succulent looks like straight out of the container and the other photo shows what it looks like with its soil knocked loose. The goal isn’t to strip the succulent of all of its soil, but to break up the soil and encourage the roots to grow outward instead of the spiral they were used to growing in.

And…

After planting, I covered the soil with additional green moss. I normally top-dress my succulents with tumbled glass or pebbles. I am hopeful the moss won’t retain too much moisture. Potted succulents should always be watered in small quantities and at the soil level. Do not water from overhead.

Now… For the reveal…

Potted doll heads! And one leg…

As I mentioned earlier, I also got a number of doll pieces and parts, including this broken doll leg.

Most any item can be used underneath the potted head (or leg), as it just needs something to stabilize it… As you can see, I used a plate under the leg and this head…

an old canning jar lid…

a demi cup…

and a small vase…

All my pretties together…

They will be available at Grapevine Antique Market Friday afternoon, through Halloween or while available. Please drop by Saturday and talk like a pirate and shop for some super cool vintage and antique fall decor!

Be safe!

herbal fare

Lemon verbena scones (Gluten-free)

Lemon scones are perfect for so many occasions – bridal showers, baby showers, tea parties, quiet summer breakfasts on the patio, large family Sunday brunches. They are quick and easy to make – and beautiful on a serving tray.

If you have read my blog more than once or know me IRL, you know I add the herb lemon verbena to Every.Thing! Quick tip: For any recipe calling for lemon… Add some fresh or dried lemon verbena leaves to a food processor, along with the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. Give them a whirl together, until the leaves are minced finely. This releases the oils from the leaves into the sugar crystals. When added to the recipe, you will have an extra dose of lemon spread throughout!

lemon cutting board

Most of my baking these days is gluten-free. I was diagnosed with celiac back in the dark ages, long before there were good options for baking. I am so thankful today that there are gluten-free flours available at most any grocery. For these scones, I used a regular scone recipe, but exchanged the flour with Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour mix.

And! Did you see my new board, above?! I will give it it’s own post later on… I bought it from a local gentleman, retired military, that is making and selling amazing handmade woodwork items.

lemon scone1

Lemon verbena scones

For the scones:

1/3 cup sugar, whirled with a handful of lemon verbena leaves

Zest from one large lemon

2 cups gluten-free flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

8 tablespoons cold butter (freeze for a bit before or use straight from the fridge)

1 egg

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix sugar and lemon zest together in a bowl. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and mix well. Grate the butter into the flour mixture. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form.

In a separate bowl, mix together the egg and cream. Add to the flour mixture and stir until ingredients are combined. Make sure to scrape down sides of bowl to fully incorporate all ingredients.

Shape the dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll dough out into a 7 inch circle. Cut into 8 wedges.

Place the wedges on a parchment covered baking sheet. Separate the wedges, so there is a bit of space between each one.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until lightly brown.

Let scones cool for a few minutes, then transfer over to a wire cooling rack.

Make glaze (recipe below) and brush over cooked scones. Enjoy!

 

 

Lemon glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons melted butter

Mix all glaze ingredients together, making sure all powdered sugar is fully incorporated.

 

gardening, herbal fare

Lemon herbs… Lemon verbena and Lemon balm

I rave about lemon verbena most any chance I get.

Meet a new gardener? I am bound to ask them if they grow lemon verbena, then I will start into a five minute mini-lecture on why everyone should grow the herb.

Talking to an experienced cook about using fresh herbs versus dried herbs in the kitchen? I am likely to start talking about my passion for using lemon verbena.

Discussing flower gardening with a grower at the farmer’s market? Yes. Even then I will recommend lemon verbena.

If the botany world had Super Fans, I would be Lemon Verbena’s biggest fan.

But why lemon verbena when lemon balm is so readily available? Following is a bit of a compare/contrast of the two herbs… (I will leave lemon grass for another day, as that is in a league of its own.)

Let’s start first with a side by side look at the herbs.

lemon verbena and balm

This collection of potted plants is right outside my front door, where I can run my fingers through the leaves of the herbs or run outside to snip off a bit of herb for cooking. I grow both lemon verbena and lemon balm in containers, though I will also plant lemon verbena in the ground.

Lemon balm is in the mint family, which means… It would overtake the world if given the chance. I always, always, always plant lemon balm (and mints) in containers. For me, one lemon balm plant is sufficient. It has an impressive root system and will readily spread to fill a container. Or the neighborhood.

Lemon verbena is a woody annual herb, which grows and produces leaves along one central woody stalk. I generally plant half dozen plants each spring, some in containers and some in the ground. I don’t use all that I plant, but it is a lovely carefree addition to the garden. I love the way it tends to sprawl around other plants and I love brushing against its fragrant leaves whenever I am in the garden.

Lemon balm is extremely winter hardy and can survive temperatures up to 20 below. Lemon verbena, however, is frost tender around 30 degrees. I have had a few plants overwinter in sheltered locations in my zone 8a garden, but they are nowhere near as robust as they were the previous year. Likewise, I have overwintered the plants in a container in the garage during cold spells and it comes through just fine, just not as full and lush as a new plant.

The most important comparison, for me, is in the leaves…

lemon verbena and balm2

Lemon verbena has long, thin leaves with smooth edges. Pinch off a leave and crush it to release the oils and you will smell a cool, refreshing scent. Lemon balm has short leaves with scalloped edges. Crush a lemon balm leaf and you will smell warmth. To me, that is also a great indication of how I use the two herbs. If I want to make lemonade or iced lemon tea, lemon verbena is my go-to. If I want to make a warm cup of tea to soothe a sore throat, lemon balm is my first choice. I also prefer to bake with lemon verbena, as I find it brings a bright zest to most recipes.

Both lemon verbena and lemon balm can be easily dried for winter use. (My preferred lazy drying method is to put a baking rack over a cookie sheet and place the cuttings out flat to dry.)

Likewise, the leaves of both can be used in soap making, tea blends, baking, etc.

My preferred method for using their leaves in baking is to add several leaves (fresh or dried) into the sugar portion of the recipe. Whirl in a food processor to finely mince the leaves and release the oils directly into the sugar. The sugar is then incorporated into the recipe where the scent and taste can be enjoyed throughout.

lemon verbena1

Lemon verbena will flower, however I am always pinching leaves off so do not get any flowers on my plants. Lemon balm does freely bloom, which the bees and small butterflies enjoy. Lemon balm can and does spread through seeds, in addition to its spreading roots. The photo below shows, just above the center leave, where the lemon balm had earlier bloomed.

lemon balm

Lemon verbena and lemon balm grow in very similar environments. Both do well with adequate water and are not happy with dry conditions. Lemon balm would love an extra drink or two of water, but certainly does not need it. But it is forgiving to occasional over-watering. When grown in a container, allow for good drainage for both herbs. Both herbs prefer a sunny location, but are happy with some afternoon relief in the hottest of Texas summers. Mine are near a large bur oak tree and get bright light in the morning until early afternoon, then a bit of shade until evening.

Now… For the million dollar question… Why do I prefer lemon verbena over lemon balm? I think its leaves are prettier and I love the coolness of its scent. It has more of a crisp summer smell, in my opinion.

Whichever one you plant, I hope that you enjoy experimenting with herbs in your home.

herbal fare

Herbal Rhubarb Peach Crisp

My pandemic baking game started out strong. Apple cobbler. Pumpkin pie. Lemon pudding cake. Fun, fun times. Until it started to hit me in the hips. And thighs. The baking had to cease. For a while, at least…

This weekend, I was at the grocery store and found (cue angels singing and the planets aligning…) Fresh Rhubarb! In Texas! In August?!? During a pandemic?! We still can’t find dried beans or a can of Lysol, but we can find fresh rhubarb? Okaaay. I won’t look that gift horse in the mouth.

Now… What to do with the stalks of rhubarb? Something herbal, of course. Something gluten free. Semi healthy. Hmm… Herbal rhubarb crisp.

In more than a decade of gluten free baking, I have found crisps to the the easiest and most forgiving of gluten free desserts. Gluten free oatmeal is somewhat easy to find at most large grocery stores. And crisps only call for a bit of flour, so the often times gritty texture of gluten free flour is masked by the other ingredients.

Now… What herbs to use? Rosemary and thyme sound interesting. Earthy. Yet bold enough against rhubarb. And… available fresh in my garden year-round. Alas. I should have bought a bit more rhubarb… The stalks did not measure near as much as I though they would. A quick glance around the kitchen and I spied a bowl of fresh peaches. Peaches are heavenly with rosemary and thyme, so I decided to chop up a peach to up the fruit content of the crisp and off-set some of the tartness of the rhubarb. In looking for the oatmeal, I spied some raw hazelnuts – bought for snacking but too Meh for that. A bit of crushed nuts always, always is good in a crisp topping.

And there you have it… Herbal rhubarb peach crisp with rosemary, thyme and hazelnuts! This was either going to be an epic failure or a memorable recipe. Thankfully, it was the later. Very, very tasty. And “healthy” enough for breakfast tomorrow morning. Recipe to follow.

rhubarb with herbs

Rhubarb peach crisp with rosemary, thyme and hazelnuts

Filling:

5 nice size stalks of fresh rhubarb, sliced

1 large fresh peach, skinned and chopped up

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon each of minced rosemary and thyme leaves

Crisp topping:

1 cup gluten free oats

1/2 cup gluten free flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped raw hazelnuts

1 stick butter, melted

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8×8 casserole dish.

Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl. Evenly spread in casserole.

Combine oats, flour, sugar and hazelnuts in a large bowl. Add melted butter and mix until a crumbs form.

Evenly top the filling with the crisp topping, making sure all of filling is covered. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Allow to cool slightly before serving.

rhubarb crisp

gardening

Earth Day 1970-2020

Today my mind wanders back to Earth Day 1990… The 20th anniversary of Earth Day.

I was a young college student then, wishing to become an environmental writer. A local environmental group was hosting a bucket brigade from the Trinity River to City Hall in downtown Dallas. Bucket by bucket the water was passed from one to another, until it reached City Hall and was dumped in the fountain outside. My 30-year-older self now reflects back on how young and naive I was then. Have we made progress since that April day three decades ago? I would like to think that we have.  I see gains. I also see setbacks. But, just as we passed those buckets of river water from one to another in 1990, I hope we have passed from one generation to another that desire to do what we can – no matter how big or how small – to save our planet.

I have grown and matured a lot since that April day, but I still want to grow up to be an environmental writer and I am still passionate about saving the Earth, even if my acts are just one small piece of a much bigger need.

Following are just a few of my favorite gardening tips for a healthy planet.

1.) Compost your household and yard wastes, including your leaves in the fall. Build up your soil first and foremost and the rest will come.

“If healthy soil is full of death, it is also full of life: worms, fungi, microorganisms of all kinds… Given only the health of the soil, nothing that dies is dead for very long.” ~ Wendell Berry

I love this quote above. It reminds me of “the rotting log” science experiment that we did several times when my son was younger. Have you ever looked under a rotting log, either in your backyard or at a nature preserve? That dead log is so full of life! It is the perfect cycle of life, just as Berry said.

2.) Plant native plants and well-adapted plants. Avoid non-native invasive plants. Native and well-adapted are easier to grow, less prone to pests and drought conditions, plus feed native wildlife. A few of my favorite natives…

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) is not a true grass, but is a beautiful native wildflower with grass like foliage and light blue flowers.

blue eyed grass

Winecups (Callirhoe involucrato) is a sprawling native perennial that blooms in the spring.

winecup on sidewalk

Penstemon tenuis grows to roughly three feet tall and is attractive to pollinators. Here, it has seeded itself at the base of a holly tree and has grown up through the holly.

penstemon with holly

3.) Plant flowers, shrubs and trees that are beneficial to pollinators, birds and other native wildlife. Feed the birds! Research your local area and try to have a buffet available year-round. Plant a tree (or three) on your property. Avoid junk trees such as Bradford pear and opt for natives, such as oaks or redbuds. Research which native trees are best for your property. There is a tree perfect for any yard, whether large or small.

Below, just a few berries remain on the native shrub Beautyberry. The berries form a beautiful (!) purple cluster, which remain from summer until they are eaten by birds in winter.

beautyberry

Below, holly berries on a small tree.

holly

4.) Garden organically. Invest in a good insect guide book for your region and research insects before reaching for the insecticide. The majority of insects are harmless. The few that are harmful (such as aphids and hornworms) can generally be treated organically. Always try organic methods first and foremost. In our 26 years gardening on this property, I have yet to find a pest that I couldn’t eliminate easily and cheaply via organic methods.

I snapped this photo a few night ago of a tall bearded iris with this insect on it. Harmful? Nah.

bearded iris3

Avoid pesticides, insecticides and herbicides whenever possible. Research what weeds you have in your garden and look at natural remedies for them, if you can’t stand them. But know that even the hated dandelion (though not native) is a great food source for humans and a good source of nectar for bees and butterflies.

5.) Plant extra for those few “garden pests” that you actually want to attract. People are always amazed that I plant extra for caterpillars to munch down on, but planting host plants is the basis of a great butterfly garden. Last year, we had over 50 caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly on the fennel in my front garden. Decide what wildlife you want to attract into your garden and then plant for them. Plant it and they will come!

caterpiller june 1

6.) Reduce your lawn size. Expand your garden beds. In general, lawns are the biggest consumer of water and fertilizer in the world. This is the topic for a whole ‘nother post at a later date! Ditch the gas powered mower for a reel mower, which adds a zen-like ambiance to mowing. We have used the same reel mower for 26 years now! We have the blades sharpened every few years, which is the only upkeep it needs.

7.) Allow wild areas on the edges of your property whenever possible. This area is the perfect habitat for wildlife of all kinds.  I leave the stalks of coneflowers, penstemon and turk’s cap up through the winter, as songbirds use the stalks to land on them and feed on the seeds. I allow these plants to reseed along our back fence line as they are good cover for small mammals, birds, lizards and insects.

I will close with this pre-Earth Day quote…

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people” ~ Franklin D Roosevelt

I hope that each and every one of you can (safely) get out into nature this week.

Those are just a few things that I do at the melodious garden to lessen my impact on Earth. I hope that I have inspired you to look for options that you can implement on your own piece of Earth.

 

 

gardening

…I will always plant a large garden in the spring

” I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring. Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature’s rebirth?” ~ Edward Giobbi

My dear readers, I apologize for my long absence. As I was searching for a poem or some words of wisdom to come back with, I came across the above Giobbi quote and… How appropriate it is… I have been battling some chronic health issues for almost a year and am only now getting some answers and new medications and much needed relief… Infirm, I have felt it.

A month ago, as the global pandemic was closing down businesses and changing the face of retail, I decided to place a large order at one of my favorite independent garden centers for curbside pickup. I rang them up, told them – in a vague sense –  what I wanted. Several smaller size tomatoes, whatever you have. One of each variety of scented geranium. One each of whatever vegetable plants you have. Five lemon verbena plants. Five salad burnet plants. Five basil plants. New pruning shears.

My dear husband drove me to the garden center, as – at that time – I was still unable to drive myself anywhere more than a block or two from home. We were almost to the garden center before he questioned me… How do you think you are going to be able to plant all of this when you haven’t even been able to walk around the block? My answer was, ironically, very similar to what Giobbi said… I Must Garden.

How can I resist the pull of spring on my soul? I have to feel the hope and the joy that a spring garden brings.

“Even if I am not able to do anything other than lay in the driveway, absorbing the sun’s healing rays, and fondling my new plants, it will have been money well spent. Even if I only get one lone tomato and am able to eat it fresh from the vine, still warm from the sun, it will have been money well spent. Gardening heals the soul and the body,” I told my dear husband.

I, thankfully, have now started a new medication for yet another autoimmune disorder (my fourth autoimmune?) and am feeling so much better! I have been able to plant my summer vegetable garden and tend my garden, neglected most of the past year. Thankfully, gardens are forgiving.

winecup with rosemary

The native winecups returned, as they always do, to scramble up and around anything they can, such as the rosemary above and the fennel, below.

winecup with fennel

The Louisiana iris, always carefree and easy to grow, are still stunning.

la iris2

This velvety deep purple iris, unknown variety, is my favorite by far.

la iris3

Penstemon tenuis, another native… I scatter their seeds freely over the garden and allow them to grow wherever they want.

penstemon2

Although I didn’t capture any bees in either photograph, this patch of penstemon was covered in bees today… Such a welcome sight.

penstemon

So much is happening in the garden this April and I will save some to share over the next few days. But I wanted to leave you with this photo… Two baby tomatoes… Which I hope to eat ripe, straight from the garden, still warm from the sun.

tomato

Blessings to you. Be safe during this crazy time. Remember to stop and enjoy some nature each and every day, for nature truly is healing.

 

Uncategorized

Exciting news from the melodious garden

I am super excited to share two pieces of news with my readers.

 

One! I am now on etsy! Come check me out… This has been one of my long-range goals and I am finally in a place (semi-organized) that I am able to offer online shopping and shipping! Won’t you please check out my site? (No obligation to buy anything!)

Two! I am once again going to be a vendor at the Denton County Master Gardener’s Fall Garden Expo on Saturday, October 12th. If you are local to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, come check it out! This will be my third year as a vendor… The first year, we had gale force winds. The second year, we had a flood. So I am really wishing for some glorious fall weather in 2019! They always have amazing speakers, and their plant sale is awesome.

2019 Fall Garden Fest flyer

gardening, nature

The herbal way to attract pollinators

A year ago, I visited a Texas lavender farm for the first time. I was in awe at the number of bees buzzing around as I stooped to harvest some of the flowering stems. Until then, I had no idea what a bee magnet lavender was!

lavenderfarm7

I have long grown herbs in our North Texas garden. I have always planted at least one African blue basil plant each spring, as the bees are drawn to its blooms in droves. I have even planted fennel and parsley as host plants for butterflies. But beyond that, I never gave much consideration to planting herbs specifically for pollinators until the day I saw a lavender field alive with bees!

This week is National Pollinator Week.

There are many ways that gardeners can lend pollinators a hand. Some may prefer to use only plants native to their region, while others may be drawn to annuals such as zinnias and pentas. Still others may choose the herbal way – attracting pollinators to their garden with herbs and their fragrant blossoms. What a winning arrangement! Growing herbs for use in the home, while also benefiting the earth. (Just please be sure to plant enough to share and don’t use pesticides.)

Lavender (shown in photo above) does best in full sun, with well drained soil. There are over 400 varieties of lavender. Some are grown specifically for cooking or for crafting, for distilling into essential oils or for landscaping. The United States Lavender Growers Association is an excellent resource for researching which varieties may be best suited for your intended use. A few lavender varieties have white blossoms, while the majority are some shade of — lavender.

butterfly

Garlic chives (shown above and below) are somewhat invasive in my North Texas garden, but always a welcome sight. When other plants are slowing down in the late summer heat, garlic chives are only beginning to show their spectacular white blossoms. (Garlic chives can be contained by cutting off the spent blossoms before the seeds have had a chance to dry and spread about. I just never get around to deadheading it in time…)

I choose not to use garlic chives in my kitchen, as I find their flavor to be overpowering. I much prefer the milder onion chives, which have a small pinkish purple bloom in the spring. I do not personally find as many pollinators using  onion chives.

bee on chives

Fennel, as shown below, can be used as a host plant by the black swallowtail butterfly.

caterpiller june 1

The fennel blossom – large, flat and bright yellow – makes the perfect “landing pad” for pollinators large and small. Parsley and dill are also host plants to the black swallowtail butterfly. I have not had great success with dill in my garden, though fennel does extremely well. Parsley has lovely blooms but does not attract pollinators as well as fennel. (Fennel shown below.)

hairstreak on fennel

While Greek oregano does not have showy blossoms, bees and smaller butterflies can often be found on it. (Shown below. I personally think this oregano’s blooms look a mess!) Greek Oregano is evergreen in North Texas and can be harvested year-round for Italian cooking. Like lavender, oregano prefers well drained soil and a sunny location.

bee on oregano

Kent Beauty, an ornamental oregano with lovely cascading blooms, will also attract pollinators. What you give up in culinary use, you gain in beauty with this one… Kent Beauty is reported to be winter hardy to zone 9, though I have yet to have one make it through a winter. (I blame our wet winters…)

There are more than 50 varieties of basil, most grown for their wonderfully edible leaves. To keep a basil plant producing leaves, the blossoms need to be pinched off or it will put its energy into producing seeds. Simply snip off any forming blooms every time you harvest basil.

African blue basil, however, is not commonly used in the kitchen as it has a strong camphor smell that many dislike. It will continue producing blossoms – and attracting pollinators – all summer long. In fact, African blue basil (shown below, with okra) is often planted near vegetables to aid in pollination.

african blue basil with okra

This is in no part a complete list of herbs that attract pollinators, rather just a taste of the possibilities As you are celebrating National Pollinator Week, consider adding a few herbs to your garden. A treat for you and a treat for our pollinators.

 

 

gardening, nature

Native Host Plants for Texas Butterflies: A Book Reviewed

There are numerous books on the market for butterfly gardening, but Native Host Plants for Texas Butterflies (by Weber, Weber and Wauer) is the first one I have found dedicated exclusively to the butterflies that call Texas home and the native plants they require for their survival.

June 17th to 23rd is National Pollinator Week and what better time to research and plan your own butterfly habitat.

“The very nature of a healthy ecosystem is defined by the interrelationships and dependencies between species, and nowhere is this more evident than in the world of butterflies and their larval host plants,” the authors write in the book’s opening pages.

native host plants book

Indeed, the balance between the adult butterfly, the tiny eggs she will lay on a specific host plant and the growing caterpillars’ feeding requirements captivates us all, young and old alike. Texas has nearly 500 butterfly species that call it home and this book features more than 140 of them, along with the host plant that the butterfly needs for reproduction.

native host plants turks cap

Written as a field guide (and aptly subtitled “A Field Guide”), the material is presented in a clear and concise manner. The book is divided into sections: Wildflowers, Trees, Shrubs and Vines.

Each plant (such as Turk’s Cap, shown above) has two pages dedicated to it. The left page shows the plant – leaves, flower and seed – along with a map where this plant naturally occurs. The right side page includes both the common and Latin name, along with plant and flower descriptions and sizes. The book then shows at least one Texas butterfly – in both adult and larval (caterpillar) stage – that uses that specific plant as its larval host.

turks cap backyard

To  have that healthy ecosystem, one with interrelationships between species, it is important to remember to offer both foliage and nectar rich flowers. The adults need that foliage to lay their eggs on and for the caterpillars to feed upon, while flowers will attract the adults.

Turk’s Cap (shown above, in my backyard garden) is host to the Turk’s Cap White Skipper. If one is new to butterfly gardening, it is important to remember to plant enough that you can look the other way as the hungry caterpillars munch on the leaves, as those leaves are food for the future generations. Please remember – never use pesticides in a butterfly garden!

turks cap flower

Adult butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds will all appreciate the nectar from the blossoms on the Turk’s Cap (shown above).

Bluebonnets, the official state flower of Texas, are the host plant for the Gray Hairstreak and the Eastern Tailed-Blue. Bluebonnets can be started either by seed or by plants, which are available at garden centers that specialize in native plants.

burr oak canopy

Many of the plants featured in this book are attractive – plants the average homeowner would want to have in their landscape. Bur oak trees (two of which are shown above) offer a lovely shade canopy to our front garden. This oak, available at most garden centers, is the host plant to the Banded Hairstreak and the Juvenal’s Duskywing.

Some of the native plants featured in this book are becoming more and more common across the state, such as the Redbud (host plant to Henry’s Elfin), Black-eyed Susan (host plant to the Silvery Checkerspot) and Cenizo (host plant to the Theona Checkerspot.) Others may need to be purchased either through Native Plant Society’s plant sales or at wildflower centers. (Both The Heard Natural Science Museum and The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center have plant sales every spring and offer harder to find native plants.)

This book will appeal to anyone interested in either butterfly gardening or in native plants of Texas. It is easy enough for a beginner gardener to use, but extensive enough to satisfy even a more advanced naturalist. The reader may chose to stick with those native plants that are easier to find or may take the book as a challenge, as they seek out hard to find natives.

Please consider planting a native plant (or two or five) next week in honor of National Pollinator Week.

gardening, nature

National Pollinator Week (Bee Kind…)

Next week – June 17th through the 23rd – is National Pollinator Week.

Seven days to honor the pollinators that our food supply depends on 365 days a year…

Pollinators – bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and small mammals – are responsible for pollinating more than 180,000 plant species and 1,200 crops. Yet they are under threat world-wide due to loss of feeding and nesting habitat, pollution, pesticide use and many other factors.

Thankfully, gardeners and farmers worldwide are realizing that more can be done – needs to be done – every single day to assist the humble workers that pollinate as much as three-quarters of our food crops.

In Texas, gardeners often talk about planting for year-round interest, so their gardens have something in bloom every month of the year. This is actually the single best way to help out our pollinators, too! If you live in colder regions, the principle is still the same. Extend your season. Plan and plant to have something in bloom as much of the growing season as possible.

Coneflowers, shown below with a bumble bee, are one of my favorite native plants. They have a long bloom season, blooming roughly seven months of the year in my zone 8a garden. (From May to the first freeze in middle to late November.)  When researching new plants for your garden, make sure to look at the blooming season and include plants that bloom both early and late.

coneflower with bee

Native plants are very beneficial for pollinators, but one does not need to rely solely on native plants. In fact, I prefer to fill in my seasonal garden with non-native annual flowers, such as zinnias and pentas in the summer. Do include mostly plants that have not been hybridized heavily and avoid plants with “double” blooms as they often produce less pollen. Simple flat flower heads, such as the garlic chive bloom shown below, are best for larger pollinators, while small pollinators will crawl inside a flower bloom. Do plant a variety of bloom colors and sizes, as well as flower types.

butterfly

To specifically help butterflies and moths, plant “host plants,” the plants they will eat while in the larval (caterpillar) stage. Below is a swallowtail butterfly in the larval stage, eating fennel in my garden. Which brings us to the next important thing to do – or rather, not do – to protect pollinators…

caterpiller june 1

Do not use pesticides!

More and more studies have come out in the past few years showing how harmful pesticides are for all of our ecosystem, not just the pest they are intended for.

If you want to attract pollinators to your garden, you do need to adopt two very important rules. 1.) Overlook cosmetic damage done by insects in your garden. 2.) Plant extra for the insects to munch on. These two rules actually go hand in hand. The more you plant, the less you will notice a munch here and there…

There are organic methods to control many common garden pests, but I have found in  25 years of organic gardening that nature tends to balance itself out quite well when left to its own.

Pollinators prefer a sunny area, sheltered away from the north wind. (Below, butterflies on fall blooming Gregg’s mist flower.)

butterflies

Pollinators need habitat to roost and to nest, not just to feed. Leaf litter (unraked leaves) is a great place for pollinators to seek cover in the fall and winter. Dead trees, if they can be safely left to rot in place, are a great habitat for pollinators. If a dead tree does need to be removed, consider leaving a portion of it down on the ground. Even a small collection of tree branches and twigs can be beneficial to pollinators on a smaller property. Bee boxes or condos for our native bees can also be constructed from tree branches.

moth on coneflower 1

But… Most importantly… Bee Kind.

bee kind cup and tea towel

Be sure to check out your own local resources, whether an arboretum, a native plant nursery or a regional nature guidebook. The more one knows about gardening and nature, the more one can appreciate it.

winecup and mallow

Resources for Texas:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin, Texas)

Redenta’s Garden (Dallas, Texas)

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden