Horticultural Haven

Apparently, it’s well known that I like to have plants in my immediate vicinity. A coworker started a Slack channel to share our plants, because they miss the plants I used to have at my desk (which are now moved to the part of the office farthest from any natural light). But, the coworker was right. I do better with some plants around me. It’s one reason I found working in nothing but basements so hard. Only plastic plants thrive there.

The Pope Residence office does have one window that lets in natural light (yes, the Plant Lady managed to pick the office with the fewest views of the outdoors). That’s where most of my little collection lives.

Motley plant collection in weird lighting.

I’m sure the peace lily is fine in its corner, as long as I water it to death.

Peace lily crawling with scarecrows.

And I do try to supplement the ridiculous amount of fake roses with some real flowers. This tiny vase is perfect for things I find on my walk.

Oxblood lilies, Mexican hats, salvia and come Carolina snailseed.

Today I added what I hope will be a nice addition to the plant collection. I got a kit (yet another buy off The Grommet website, which has way too many Suna-esque products) to grow herbs in wine bottles. The seeds and stuff even came in a box so pretty I can’t throw it away!

The idea is they will grow in the potting medium that appears to be topped with spaghum moss or something, then the roots go down into the water.

Hmm, fascinating.

After planting the seeds, I put the little stickers they provided on the mouth of the bottle, to create a moist environment for germination. We’ll see what happens.

The germination sticker in extreme close-up.

I may not have enough light in this window, since it’s pretty shady in the mornings to mid afternoon. But, it should be a fun project to watch. I’m just happy to have any plants at all.

I have stuff for a third bottle, but I brought a clear one, then saw the instructions called for a dark bottle. I have a whole bunch at home, so that won’t be an issue.

Maybe when there is glass in my internal window rather than the rustic wood covering, I can put something low light on the hypothetical shelves that will be there.

The lamp, fake candles and real candle still don’t make it very bright over there.

Do you have plants in your environment, or would you prefer them outside? I’d like something outside my work window, too, but there’s not much space. At least I see a nice cedar tree!

Nature Endures and Brings Surprises

Happy Friday to all! I’m especially happy, because I slept like a rock last night and am taking the day off to just do whatever I want to do, as long as it isn’t in a crowd of people!

What I wanted to do this morning was go check out the flooding. It rained a good deal again last night, and the creek spilled its banks, the fields are all full of puddles, and happy egrets and herons are everywhere. I’m happy to report that since the little pond filled back up, there is at least one bullfrog remaining (heard it last night, saw it splashing into the pond this morning).

Still not finished, but it’s full again. Note willow tree already trying to grow on the banks.

It was good to see the front pond all full. The dogs will be able to swim in there now, since Chris mowed all the plants from around it. And the water is happily flowing through the arroyo and down to the stream. That always makes me happy.

Our gate had stopped working this morning, probably just ran out of juice from not getting much sun for a couple of days. I got it to open and made it stay open so our caregiver can get to Jim in the RV. Then I decided to take a walk, since there were no dogs outside and it was safe to go down the road. I was interested to see what was still alive and thriving after over a month with just a trace of rain. Here are some!

I continued walking, and enjoyed seeing all sorts of rain-laden clouds, and wet vultures drying their wings, chatting, or whatever they do on the fence.

The most exciting thing I saw was this:

Eggs!

Since they had obviously come out of a mound in the dirt, I figure these are turtle eggs that had recently hatched, perhaps prompted by the rain and lower temperatures. They are rubbery and soft, not like chicken or other bird eggs. I actually saw two nests with eggshells, and once I realized they are there, a few more nests that are still “cooking” (which I did not disturb).

Turtles like to lay nests on the sides of roads, because they tend to have loose and sandy soil for easy digging. I hope these little guys made it and are off swimming away to wherever the floods take them!

Speaking of the flooding, I got a couple of photos of the creek. The new fence technique the Vrazels used across the creek seems to have held up, and it appears no new giant logs came through. This is a fairly normal amount of flooding for our little creek bottom, so it mostly made me happy to know the weather cycle is normal this year.

I came back to check on the chickens, who all appear to have made it. They made four eggs yesterday, so the rain didn’t bother them too much. But, wow, the wet chicken area is stinky. I’ve got to get to work figuring out better ways to keep their food dry, too, especially the ones who aren’t free range (they all ran out yesterday while I was trying to cover the cage in the run where the new ones are, but in the end, they all ended up in the right place (though a couple of pullets lost their virginity, thanks to Bruce).

A symphony in gray, or hello from Gertie.

All in all, I think today is a good reward after working hard all week (and succeeding!). I’m glad I wasn’t too tired to go feed horses and check on them, too, because last night I had a good chat with the Ralph and the Vrazels, who were getting ready to harvest a couple of steers. It’s good to catch up on what’s going on, and being outdoors makes it a lot easier.

Self Care and Pottery

I had nothing on my agenda today, so rather than lounge around the house, I decided to do whatever I wanted to.

I went over and visited the calves, and got to feed Rip while the new guys were worked on. Then I just sat and watched the chickens. Why not? It’s fun. I got a few more portraits. Because it’s fun.

After that excitement, I drove off and daringly went to the local nursery all by myself. I wanted a few more little plants for the office. Instead I got two small plants and a monster. Meet Eduardo!

He’s a basket plant, I think. He will be spectacular in the window with the spider plant.

A tiny angel wing begonia and uh, a succulent rounded out the plant fun.

I’ll repot them tomorrow.

Look to the right of those plants and you’ll see I brought my stained glass windows over, too. I cleaned them all up so maybe Chris can hang them next week, if there’s time. I also brought down the hanging lamp to put up in the reading nook. It’s all clean and ready to go up, too!

I didn’t take pictures of those, so here’s the pothos I put in Tubby Jr. with some wandering Jew I found on the ground at the nursery. The guy laughed when I asked what it cost.

As if that wasn’t enough fun, I next went to my friend Pamela’s studio and had fun with clay. It’s hard to concentrate, though, because she has such cool stuff.

Ceramics and found objects combined.

Anyway, she’d made some soap dishes large enough to hold those huge Posh bars I have. She asked what colors I wanted, then suggested I come select my glazes. That sounded fun.

Little did I know that she was also going to let me glaze them myself! It’s been so long since I got to do that. So, I made one orange and gold and one red and pink. I did a bunch of layers, so we will see if they show up or not.

This is orange and gold, believe it or not.

In the past, I have failed as many times as I succeeded in my glazing, but I always do it that way, anyway. Besides, the soap dishes Pamela made are so pretty that my glaze won’t mess them up.

This is two shades of pink with red under it. Hope it comes out!

Well that’s self care. I got to see someone but not too close! The studio is open to the air, too. Fun times. Good for the soul.

That Didn’t Work as Planned

Two things didn’t work out quite as planned.

Freeing the Chickens

First, we decided it was time to let the chickens out to eat some bugs. You know, the whole free range thing. Of course the first thing happened was Clarence the super stud went after Bertie with a vengeance. What’s cool is that Bruce came to her rescue.

Bruce is about to go after Clarence for his unwanted advances.

That led to the two roosters going into the pen and chasing each other, flying around and such. All that got everyone in a tizzy. Poor Hedley the little Roo-ish one got chased outside and hid with Henley.

Hedley did manage to get some grasshopper eating in, along with Springsteen.

Eventually the three bravest birds started going after bugs, Bertie, Fancy Pants, and Gray Greta. The guinea just loves her fluffy, white buddy.

Fancy Pants finally has a chick to dote on, even though it’s her size.

They all went out some, but it wasn’t the mad dash to freedom I’d envisioned. Probably because it’s hot outside and the chicken pen has all the shade.

Free ranging, baby.

The part that DID turn out well was that when I got home from horse activity and went to shut them back in, everyone was roosting quietly. And! Clarence had gone to his outside roost! He thinks that’s his house! Hooray.

I’m not always chasing everyone under the henhouse so I can strut around crowing in victory. Just sometimes.

Walking the Calf

This afternoon Chris and I went out around the property looking for trees to potentially transplant near the house. We found some cool Osage orange trees we might take cuttings of, and lots of cedar elms.

Osage orange or bois d’arc (bodark)

We also enjoyed seeing herons and egrets, including a little night heron!

Blue heron and great egret.

We heard shouting. That’s weird around our house. It turned out Kathleen had come home from work and decided to take Rip for a walk after his bottle of milk. We finally saw them. It appeared a lot of his walking was lying down.

A girl and her calf.

We got back to the house and I went to check on them. Rip was ensconced in some tall grass, slowly munching.

I’m camooflaged.

I chatted a while, took pictures of some bugs and plants, and discovered it was time to go see Sara and feed horses. So I left them, right where I found them.

This dragonfly is camouflaged.

Just before I left the horses, I got a text. Kathleen never got Rip to move, so Chris came and got them. He picked up the calf and put him in the back of Hilda the utility vehicle.

My Uber is here.

Chris says Rip finished his milk and went to sleep in Hilda! They had to make him wake up to go back to his pen. Nope, that’s not how Kathleen had planned for their first walk to go!

But, I think we all actually had fun today.

Happiness Is New Life

As I was reading my morning news/opinion pieces, I was reminded by the Rev. Jim Rigby that it’s important to remember that there’s good stuff going on today. Go to his Facebook page to see his ten reasons to be grateful today. What struck me was this:

What a shame it would be if we forgot to celebrate the fact we are alive, that we are all connected to each other, or that underneath all our problems we are still expressions of a cosmic process. What a shame if, in the middle of this terrible storm we did not pause to appreciate the courage and nobility of those who struggle on our behalf. 

Jim Rigby, Facebook, July 27, 2020

To that I want to add that we continue to celebrate that life and death go on, regardless. While I heard of the death of an old colleague this morning, I also saw beaming baby photos from three other friends.

My morning also featured this new heifer, who doesn’t seem to understand that cars have the right of way! The old ones politely moved.

And last night, when I went out with Lee to look at the frogs, he asked me what a particular plant growing up out of the disturbed earth was. Usually what we see are the plants that typically come up in disturbed soil, but this one looked familiar.

It’s a leaf, all right. I didn’t take a picture of the whole thing.

It was not a hackberry or a cedar elm, even if the leaves have serrated edges. It looked like, hmm, what is that tree in the field on the other side of the woods? Thank goodness I have iNaturalist!

Sure enough, it’s a cottonwood, which is also a native tree, but we only have ONE on our property. We had just been talking about how we REALLY need some trees. And boom, we have one! New life to be happy about.

We may or may not move it. It might look nice next to the little pond. I know their seeds are a big messy, but I love the way the leaves shimmer in the wind and the seeds fly around like snow. We only have the one tree, because cattle eat up any saplings in the pasture. Now we have one with a chance to become a nice shade tree, eventually.

The rain that fell all over the county completely missed our ranch. There was a little peninsula of nothingness, and we were in it. But we got a nice sunset.

Now I just have to mark it so no one will weed-eat it or pull it up! I’ll just stay optimistic about this, and carry it into the rest of life today. Back to work on the ole kanban cards.

It Rained! And Other Signs of Life!

It being July in Texas, we are always prepared for a scarcity of rain and a lot of hot days. All we can hope for is to get some remnants or edges of a hurricane. Well, that seems to be happening right now, and since last night three bands of rain have come through our little ranch. The total rainfall so far is an exciting .15″ – not much, but it is better than nothing. We usually get about an inch per month, so we’re hoping that the big rain to the south of us sends us a bit more later tonight or tomorrow.

The third wave of rain as it approached. I could hear the thunder when I took the picture. The plant in the foreground is Lindheimer’s doveweed (Croton lindheimeri).
Root growth on the avocado “tree.”

The rain lowered the temperature, so I was able to get out and look around some today. Get prepared for a lot of pictures of things that are damp!

I’m always happy when there is new life. And even before I left the house, I realized that our avocado seed is getting pretty robust in the root department. Now we just need a stem!

Speaking of trees, we now have one in the back yard. I didn’t mention it earlier, because I was sad about it. You see, we bought a Shumard oak back when Kathleen and I bought those plants for our office. The guys had set it next to the RV, and I guess forgot about it. I watered it every few days, not realizing I’d needed to water it EVERY day, so by the time we went to plant it, it was mostly dead leaves.

It’s a tree. Not much of a tree, but a tree nonetheless.

But, Chris said its stem was still alive, so he planted it in the back corner (if I could use the backhoe thing, I’d have planted it). He then proceeded to set up a fine watering system that piggybacks on the chicken system and has been able to water it every other day or so.

Yep, those are new, non-dead leaves.
New leaves, and the life-giving water hose.

When I went out to say hi to the chickens to day, I looked over at the sad tree, and lo and behold, there are lots and lots of little new leaves appearing. It’s coming back! I’m so glad the rain is here to help out. It may even someday provide shade to the chickens and to the cattle behind us. That may be a while.

I found some other encouraging things as I was walking around today. I saw a young snake next to the tiny pond, and managed to get a picture of it before it dove underwater. As I patiently waited for it to come back up (with no success), I did notice a freshly shed snake skin near my feet. I bet I know who that belonged to!

I enjoyed looking at dragonflies, turtles, and bullfrogs in the rapidly shrinking pond. The rain will at least give it a bit of fresh water. I’m hoping that the tropical rain tomorrow or the next day will refill it and the other ponds.

This guy kept dipping into the water then zipping off. It was not easy to get a picture. Note dead boopie grasshoppers on the shore. It could explain why the bullfrogs don’t appear very hungry.

Maybe the grass will turn green again, too. The chickens will like that. By the way, they’ve all settled down now that Clarence is the guard rooster. He has figured out how to get to the food inside the chicken run, so all I have to do is make sure he has water every day (though Lee thinks he’s found the pond behind the house).

I got to watch this great egret snatch a fish out of the pond behind the house. This is where Clarence could be going if he runs out of my nice water in the dish.

New life always signifies hope for me. That little stick of an oak tree is my symbol of hope after adversity for now!

Book Report: The Hidden Life of Trees

Take a minute to look at things from a long point of view. Reading (or just looking at) this beautiful book lets you leave the now and enter the enduring. I’m so glad we still have trees around to take care of us and the earth long term.

I’ve been reading a lot of Peter Wohlleben’s books, such as The Inner Life of Animals, which I wrote about in April of last year, and The Secret Wisdom of Animals, which I wrote about in June 2019. This one, The Hidden Life of Trees: The Illustrated Edition, is not the entire original book, but long excerpts from the original, punctuated with beautiful photographs of trees around the world. I bought this version for those photos (and eventually will read the unabridged book).

I admit that I am really, really fond of pictures of trees. I usually have one in my immediate environment, like here in my office.

My main tree image in my office, by Sean Wall.

My whole life I’ve been drawn to trees. My mother used to tell me how she’d find me in the yard chatting away to the huge live oaks surrounding our house. And I remember when I was able to visit my home town again after moving away, I insisted on visiting certain trees in what is now Tom Petty Park and the Duckpond area in Gainesville, Florida. Yes, I was always this way.

So, this book gave me a lot of pleasure. It’s not like someone went out and took a lot of great photos to add to the book, because most of them are iStock photos, according to the credits. Nonetheless, the photos were well chosen to accompany the text, so they brought me joy.

Here’s one beautiful photo from the book.

Of course, Wohlleben does a great job presenting fascinating research about trees in a format that any lay person can enjoy and be amazed by. Now that I know how trees communicate, I don’t think I’ll be planting one all by itself ever again. And that’s only ONE thing I learned.

The trees (and bunny) in our woods have lots of friends, and the downed trees are allowed to go back to the earth and provide nutrients.

I found myself reading a bit, then just lingering in the photos, imagining myself in those places, smelling the earth, hearing the wind in the leaves, seeing all the creatures the trees support. That’s worth the price of the book, right there! You can bet I’m going to keep that book on my coffee table, which is part of a tree, to dive into whenever I need to.

My other tree art in my office. It’s a watercolor by LE Martin, from 1995, which we found in the Rattlesnake house, unframed, in a cabinet.

The Vines of Hermits’ Rest

I thought I’d take my own advice and get out in nature this morning, so I made up a project to see how many different vines I could see along the fence in front of and beside the ranch house.

Mustang grape. I know because it’s silver and hairy on the bottom.

It hadn’t gotten stifling hot yet, so Vlassic and I set off. I knew a lot of what I’d see, but figured I’d find at least seven different vines.

Vine
Looks boring, right? But if we hadn’t been aggressively mowing, it would produce cool little lanterns. It’s Cardiospermum halicacabum

I actually ended up with 12! At least I hope so. Most weren’t blooming, but I recognized them. The white morning glory had closed up and I couldn’t get to the flowers to photograph.

I was especially glad to see passion vines in more than one place, because I’d worried the poison ivy had crowded it out.

Passion vine with no beautiful flowers.

Also I was glad to confirm that we have sorrel vine here, since the Master Naturalist who lives not far from here has a lot of it.

Sorrel vine or Cissus trifoliata. It’s known as possum grape, too.

Otherwise, it’s the usual prickly, rash-inducing, invasive and/or pretty plants.

Of course I had to snap a few other pretty sights. Plus, there’s action around the hen house. There’s a new spider building a web right in front of where I get the eggs from. Luckily I have another way to get eggs.

And Chris put a live trap by the chicken run. We need to stop whatever took almost all the guineas and a hen! Hopefully, once it cools off, he will come up with more safety measures.

These are prettier than water hose, right? Lady Bird’s Centaury.

We do have a much more elaborate water system, though, since the other one was trying to make the hoses explode. Chris used new water hose/pipe and fittings to make a safer temporary setup until we make the fancy underground one. It’s also too hot to safely dig the trench for that.

At least the dogs are happy we’re inside all day. 102 is too hot for any of our outdoor projects! Happy July.

It’s weather fit for sunflowers!

Book Review: The Nature of Texas

A review of a field guide to the nature of Texas, suitable for beginning naturalists

Here’s a new book that some of you who live in Texas might want to order. It’s a field guide called The Nature of Texas: An Introduction to Familiar Plants, Animals and Outstanding Natural Attractions, by James Kavanagh and illustrated by Raymond Leung.

The cover of the book, The Nature of Texas
Any book with an armadillo on it is a book I like!

This isn’t one of those huge compendiums of every single living organism in the state; instead, it highlights plants and animals that an average person with an interest in the nature in Texas might run into. The descriptions are brief and in lay terms, and the illustrations are really lovely (good job, Raymond Leung).

It’s a bit too basic of a book for me to carry around, but I could easily imagine giving it to a teenager or older child who’s going camping and wants to know what they might find out there, or someone who just moved to Texas and wants a nice overview. It would be fun to put on the bedside table for your out-of-state visitors, or on the coffee table of your rental property.

an open page of a book, with information about fish
An example of the text and illustrations.

The back of the book has two handy features. One is a brief list of interesting places to go to see the natural wonders of Texas, with clear maps. The other is a series of checklists you can use to mark off wildlife and native plants that you see in your travels. That would be a fun family project (though I’d have to add a bunch of things, like more owls).

I do recommend The Nature of Texas, just for the beautiful illustrations alone. And the introductory essay, “But a Watch in the Night,” written by James Rettie in 1948 is a real treasure, too. It’s a great reminder of how little time humans have actually been present and messing around with our planet.

Thelma and Louise Do Gardening. Mostly Thelma.

It was a busy day. Much of Kathleen’s day consisted of planting and hoeing again. I did a great job picking things out. I am not a very energetic Louise to her Thelma.

Some of our haul.

This morning we went back to My Flea, in Milano, where I’d gotten these cute guys with Chris last week. Kathleen and I got Mexican pottery for each of our new plants, and I got some for plants I’m going to root or divide.

What I got last week, and the plant that goes in the chicken.

They are so festive, and the prices are really good. I broke down and bought the plant-holding donkey to go with the other one. And I had to get a little claw-foot tub, of course, for my bathroom.

What a cheerful guy!

Kathleen got a stand for our fern and a cute little cart that actually rolls. The plan is to put seasonal decorations in the cart. Fun!

We came back and used up all our potting soil to plant our three big plants. They look so pretty, especially the fern.

Fern and stand.

We will get more soil next week. In the meantime I’ll be rooting some pothos plants.

Corn plant. Isn’t the pot pretty?

The rest of the day, Kathleen was a bundle of energy in the yard. She’s going to get rid of the burr clover and sand burs. She’s going to encourage actual grass! And she’s going to plant lantana around the trees.

Clearing around the oak tree.

And what I find most ambitious is that she is going to plant things to disguise the giant gas line and old flagpole. She prepped for those today. Next comes weed killer and whatever else. I’ll watch.

Future former eyesores.