Prickly Pear is Buzzing with Blooms

I noticed the other day that my spineless prickly pear was just about to bust into full bloom. The combination of the baby spikes (that it loses) the flower bids and the purple tunas is pretty awesome looking.  Well, bloom it did and as I approached this morning I noticed a low humming. Hundreds and hundreds of bees were having a flower celebration jumping from flower to flower.It was quite the sight- check it out.

Diving right in- DSC_0033



Mexican stand-off-



Multiple levels-








Heavy load-


How many bees can you fit in a photo?


Prickly pear cactus blooming times can vary by the specific variety you have, but I see a lot blooming in this wet spring we have been having.  The flowers can be red, orange or yellow according to variety as well.  But no matter what, the bees love it.   The flowers are  filled with pollen and  easy to locate. I love the spineless variety even though they are not truly “spineless” so you have to be careful of the small, almost invisible, spikes that still exist and can be a nuisance if they embed in your finger.



Inside Austin Garden Tour 2014- May 3

Next week is the Inside Austin Garden Tour, put on by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association and the Texas A&M Agrilife Service of Travis County.  The Inside Austin Gardens Tour happens this Saturday, May 3 from 9 to 4.  For $15 you can tour six gardens selected by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association.  These are gardens cared for by everyday gardeners, and they all have very different feelings to them depending on the challenges met in each garden.  From contemporary to cottage, from sun to shade, from flat to hillside, there are ideas for every visitor.  I won’t cover garden by garden but I’ll show you some ideas that caught my eye – just a little spoonful of the many delights you can see.

First, I love the creativity of these gardens.  Gardeners making bold choices with garden art, pots, bottle trees, fountains etc.




I love this idea for s succulent gutter garden to jazz up an otherwise unexciting wall.  This would be fun for a “kids garden wall” as well.



Look for those bold mixtures of texture.  Notice when you’re touring the gardens how mixing leaf sizes and textures catches your eye.  DSC_0167

Look for fun ways to upcycle – find shapes in everyday objects that can then be used in unconventional ways.  I love the way this simple roof tile is used as a fun succulent container next to a fence.    DSC_0146

Finding ways to repeat bold touches of color help carry the eye along the garden path.

DSC_0129Water features are wonderful-find ways to incorporate them whether it is a simple fountain or a pond.  Water adds a lot to a garden.






Finally, don’t feel like your garden has to be like everyone else.  Make some bold choices that make it completely yours.


I hope you’ll find inspiration in these gardens as well.  A map and all the details can be found at

Fall (sigh)

Ahhh Fall, you come upon us just when we cannot take any more of the blasting furnace of summer.  You tease us with a taste of cool evenings andImage sprinkle a hint of fall weather here and there where we don’t have to shower 3 times a day.   But we really know it is fall when the plants breathe a sigh of releif Imageand suddenly burst into bloom, not needing to save up their energy for survival through lonfgImage hot days and nights.    Then we truly see the beauty of fall is when Mother Nature once again is able to show off all of the beauty and we are able to enjoy.


2012 Inside Austin Gardens Tour: Studebaker Garden

The final garden on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour that I will be previewing is Renee Studebaker’s garden.  The tour is coming up on October 20.  More information can be found at

The Studebaker garden is a garden of creation and repurpose.  Renee has done a great job of incorporating many found objects that she has created new uses for in her garden, whether it be for a grape vine to climb on, a welcoming entrance to a new section of the garden or a cool spot for birds to perch.

DSC00125And Renee has created a garden that shows off its small spaces, areas to explore, sit, share a meal with friends. And by the way, all of the gardens on the tour feature small education sessions happening at scheduled times during the day. Renee Studebaker herself will be teaching a session called Grow Your Own Party Appetizers. If the amazing ratatouille she served us from her garden harvest is any indication, I would make sure you’re there for this short session. Times can be seen at


This garden is a festival for pollinators.  I spied these two on the basil happily moving from flower to flower with plenty to go around.


Passion vine is always an eye catcher and this one was no exception.  Passion vine supports the gulf fritillary butterly’s life cycle. 


Repurposed lion’s heads greet you entering a new section of the garden. 


Lion’s tail offers fun texture, color and shape. 


And a pond with a resident Buddha offers a cool place for visitors, both birds and people.  Birds kept constantly slitting down during our visit to splash around. 

Renee Studebaker’s garden reinforced to me the idea that gardens don’t have to be huge to be useful.  And they don’t have to have a traditional feel.  But they do need to reflect a personality of the gardener- it seems that those gardens are some of the most impactful to their visitors.  And I think all of the gardens on this tour do a great job of creating that impact. 

Inside Austin Gardens Tour  sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners and Texas Agrilife Extension of Travis County
Date: October 20, 2012
Time: 9 am to 4 pm
Tickets for the tour (all of the gardens) are $15 in advance, or $20 on the day of the tour ($5 for individual gardens).

2012 Inside Austin Gardens Tour preview: Matthews and Doyle gardens

As I continue the preview of 5 of the gardens on the Inside Austin Gardens tour, I want to point out that there are 7 total gardens on the tour.  The two I won’t be covering are the Kastl garden and the Demonstration Garden maintained by the Travis County Master Gardeners.  Both gardens showcase wonderful example of smart gardening techniques such as Firewise considerations to minimize the risk of fire promotion by the landscape surrounding a home and water-wise gardening techniques including rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation.  More information on garden locations, tour hours and tickets can be found at

When you visit the side-by-side Matthews and Doyle gardens, you’re struck by color and shapes.  Everywhere you look, bold color is utilized and shapes are carved out of the landscapes or integrated into them.  These gardens are playful and full of whimsy. Just the kind you want backing up to a school- which both do.  I can imagine those kids looking through the fences and wishing they could pay a visit. 



Here, a bottle tree centers the wheel-shaped garden with a Mexican bush sage performing beautifully to the side. 


A blue gate continues the hit of color through the garden. 


The colors continue in the Doyle garden with a bottle-and-everything-else tree. 


Geometric shapes form a path through decomposed granite in the lawnless front yard.  Rosemary creates a gorgeous edging all around this space. 



Fun additions like these lanterns draw your eyes up, down and all around. 


Stars add even more pizazz to the Doyle outdoor area. 

These two gardens play off of each other in their love for anything fun.  They are wonderful gardens to visit if you need to break out of feeling constrained by normal gardening techniques and design.  You can’t help but want to add a bit more color and fun to your own garden once you explore all the inspiration these two gardens have to offer. 

Inside Austin Gardens Tour  sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners and Texas Agrilife Extension of Travis County
Date: October 20, 2012
Time: 9 am to 4 pm
Tickets for the tour (all of the gardens) are $15 in advance, or $20 on the day of the tour ($5 for individual gardens).

Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2012: Phillips Garden

This week, I saw a preview of the Inside Austin Gardens Tour sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners in cooperation with Texas AgriLife Extension of Travis County.  The tour is coming up on October 20.  More information and tickets can be found at

The second garden we saw on the tour was the Phillips garden.  This was such a great garden to see because to me it rambled through the landscape, taking heed that it was out in forested land, but also tamed some areas to work for the owners such as the vegetable garden area.  But the materials looked as if they had just been reshaped from the landscape, which many of them no doubt had been.


What at first looked to be just a dry stream bed actually was a water feature which the owner could turn on and run water through in dryer times for the aesthetic and for the positive addition to the habitat.  Native perennials dotted themselves along the rockwork, softening the hardscape.

Once we were past the entrance area, we entered in through a wonderful gate covered with snail ivy mixed in the blue sky vine and were greeted by a landscape of galvanized feeder raised beds with a variety of edibles growing in them.  The look was minimal so that it was functional but still went well with the surroundings.  All of the raised beds are fed by drip irrigation.

I liked the aesthetics that the owner had selected, mixing the textures and looks of metal, wood and rock with the foliage of perennials and annuals.  This garden speaks strongly to the hill country style of gardening where you don’t try to reclaim and tame your natural surroundings.

Inside Austin Gardens Tour  sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners and Texas Agrilife Extension of Travis County
Date: October 20, 2012
Time: 9 am to 4 pm
Tickets for the tour (all of the gardens) are $15 in advance, or $20 on the day of the tour ($5 for individual gardens).

Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2012: Williams’ Garden

The Inside Austin Gardens Tour is fast approaching on October 20th.  Sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners, this tour is near and dear to me because…well, I’m a Master Gardener and I try and do my part every year to help shape a great tour.  These aren’t the highly manicured gardens that you might see on other tours where you sigh and dream of what you could do with a million dollars, a professional landscape designer and a gardener on staff to pull any leaf which might look out of place.  I ‘m always intrigued because the gardens on the IAGT are so accessible in terms of design but also inspiring in the way that each reflects the vision and personality of their owner.

I got a sneak peek of the gardens ahead of the tour and wanted to share them with you.  The post today will look at Carolyn and Michael Williams’ garden.  Carolyn is a Master Gardener, rose lover, grandmother, and has deep ties to Central Texas.  And I can see all of these things reflected in her garden.  She has transformed what was lawn and lots of shade into lovely roaming pathways with plant mixtures that blend naturally.

DSC00074Here, we see a beautiful blue sage blooming but it is the blues and greens of the foliage that really stand out.  These plants border an herb wheel in Carolyn’s garden.  I love the hardscape and how it breaks up the garden into sections and I am a big fan of special herb spaces like herb wheels and spirals.


Here’s a shot of the herb wheel- beautiful in its simplicity.


The herb wheel path leads right under a trellis with a climbing rose.  Carolyn has also featured, for fun with her grandkids, a wheelbarrow where she has built a keyhole garden.  For those who don’t know, keyhole gardening is where you build a garden- usually circular in shape with a wedge shape cut out- and then have a small compost pile held by wire plopped right in the center.  By placing compostable materials there and watering through, the garden is both watered and leeches nutritional goodness through this compost basket.  Carolyn has created a very cute version in a wheelbarrow and she says her grandkids love to take care of it.


Carolyn has also converted an old shed on the property into an outrageously cute garden cottage. Her grandkids must love it and I could just imagine them having their garden treats in there. But it also serves as her garden work area with running water and a work table.



Along with other charming touches, Carolyn has a bottle tree (bottle bush?) positioned to perfectly reflect in a mirror and multiple statues including St. Michael and St. Francis.


Carolyn has beautiful choices in plants and some very creative touches, including an insectary area stocked with plants specifically chosen to attract insects to her garden.  This garden is stocked full of ideas that will give inspiration to the tour visitors.

Inside Austin Gardens Tour  sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners and Texas Agrilife Extension of Travis County
Date: October 20, 2012
Time: 9 am to 4 pm
Tickets for the tour (all of the gardens) are $15 in advance, or $20 on the day of the tour ($5 for individual gardens).

The hardest season I know…

This time of year is my favorite.  I’ve always been a fall weather girl.  I like the colors in nature and in fashion.  I love the cooler weather.  And cozying up with soups and stews is right up my alley.  But it is also the hardest season of the year for me.  The warm season vegetable garden is not only hanging on but much of it is downright gorgeous right now and the cooler season vegetables need to go in.  So where do you draw the line?  When is it time to call it quits on warm and move to cool?

And that’s where I have trouble.  I HATE pulling out anything that is alive.  At the school garden the other day, I physically could not pull out a tomato plant that was still alive.  I had to ask another volunteer to do it for me.  She just laughed, counted down and yanked it out.  I had hemmed and hawed for weeks about whether I should do that.  But here we had it, an empty patch of dirt now just waiting for the lettuce seeds to be planted by lots of tiny hands.  A perfect time to plan to give them warmth and moisture with no danger of frost. 


But I am determined to become better at it, watch the calendar, not hang onto things because the might still produce.  Make way for better things and start my seasons off strong.  And why not, if it gives me fresh lettuce for my salad to accompany that delightful chilly day pot roast!

We want more!


It’s the end of summer and a lot of the warmer season vegetables are winding down here in Texas.  The constant heat sometimes gets them, giving them little time to rest, even at night.  Or the hot and dry weather often brings on infestations like spider mites that stress out the plant. 


But one of the nice things about living here is that we have TWO warm vegetable seasons- one from March-July and another starting in August until it freezes.  So right now is a great time to re-plant those warm season veggies.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, peppers… 


And once the stress of the summer heat lets up a bit, those fall crops can really take off and produce like crazy.  If my tomato plants are still going strong, sometimes I will cut them back by half and they’ll get more energy for the fall.  But many times, the plants are so stressed and spent by August, I find it best to just replace them 

And who can say no to another crop of tomatoes?


Flutters and flutters and flutters…


Stopped up at the Titan Garden today and I was immediately struck by how much movement there was in the garden.  Then I noticed it was all centered around the Blue Mistflower plants.  I found a perch and sat really still and soon enough, I had wings flying all around me.  Queen butterflies.  They love the blue mistflower.  Monarchs do to but they are not on their way back from Mexico yet. 


There were about 5 Queens on our mistflower at one end of the garden.  Then I walked to the other end and saw 6 butterflies all around the mistflower at the other end.  So happy they have found our garden and decided to make it their home.