Garden Bloggers Spring Fling

This weekend I attended the Garden Blogger’s Spring Fling. It was my first time going to meet other bloggers of any sort. It was great fun to be surrounded by other gardening geeks and to listen to talks and tour some wonderful gardens in Austin.

We heard a talk by Tom Spencer, of Soul of the Garden that was wonderful. I took a fair bit of notes and hope it’ll help my garden writing. I was also able to sit in on a group talk with May Dreams about social aspects of blogging ( clearly not one of my strong points ).

Most fun of all was a tour of The Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center ( photos ) which I had not yet seen and James David Private Garden ( photos ). The pictures do not come close to doing the James David garden justice. Be sure to visit it if you are in Austin. Austin has a much cooler, drier climate than Houston and the plants were more of what you’d expect to see in a Texas garden, unlike our little tropical rain forest climate in Houston which allows us greater diversity in plants.

The bloggers from Digging, Sharing Nature’s Garden, Kiss of the sun, and Zanathan arranged the whole affair and what an amazing job they did. Everything was planned, we had speakers, lovely gardens to visit and no awkward standing around wondering who to talk to.

Austin is colder, drier and a whole lot hillier than Houston. I enjoyed wandering about the city a bit before the get together and catching the feel of the place. Austin feels very much like Providence RI. The city is both large enough and small enough to have active groups in many areas including gardening.

If you haven’t already totally blown your plant budget at the Extension office and March Mart sales remember that the Cockrell Butterfly center is having its sale this Saturday, and the Lady Bird Wildflower Center is having its sale this coming weekend.

Hawaii – Oahu plants and gardens

Oahu was very different than I expected. I thought the whole island would look like it does on ‘Lost’ which is filmed there. Instead there are dozens of tiny micro climates.  The mountains get 160″ of rain a year. The rainfall drops 10″ for every mile you head away from the mountains. So there were tropical rain forests all the way to desert climates.  Temperature is between 70’F-80F year round and day length only slightly varies.

I spent most of my time there hiking and most of my hiking was done in botanical gardens.  About half of the plants I saw are plants common to Houston. It’s just the ones in Houston are about half as large as the ones in Hawaii.

Ficus trees are amazing. I’d only seen them indoors and what a difference outside. They are huge, some of the canopies were more than 100′ across. The roots drop down from all parts of the tree. When you get into a cluster of them you can believe you are in a Grimm brother’s fairy tale.

I was happy to note that they too grow their plants on sand, clay or some mix of the two. So I still have high hopes of turning my yard into a tropical jungle.

There was far less wildlife than I expected. No squirrels, instead they have mongooses. They slither by and you can hear them catch some poor unsuspecting bird. They were brought in to control mice and rats, but the mice and rats are nocturnal and the mongooses are not.

The birds we saw and heard the most were wild roosters and chickens. They are quite pretty and make the most amazing collection of sounds. Not at all like their tame cousins.

Almost all the wildlife is black, grey, white and bright red.

There are lots of notes with the plant photos, many of the plants you’ll recognize, many were truly strange.

South Texas trip

We went down to South Padre Island for a few days visit. There are several wildlife sanctuaries in the area we wanted to visit. Because south east Houston is so much greener and tropical than my end of Houston I was expecting it to be more tropical down there. Instead it was quite a bit drier.

It may just be the time of year, or they may have had a few dry years but even so it is much drier there than here. Along the Rio it is more lush and tropical. Even a short distance of a couple hundred feet away it is more like desert than tropics. The gardens in the homes we saw were pretty barren. There were oleanders, prickly pears, fan palms, and possibly bouganville in people’s gardens.

The Spanish moss in the park along the Rio is fantastic. There is so much it gives a fairy tale feel to the place. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a wizard or two hanging out.

I haven’t seen any Spanish moss in The Woodlands here, I don’t think it is quite humid enough for it. I have a small cluster on a tree outside I’m trying as an experiment. It’s been there about 4 months and still alive but not thriving either.

The fan palms along the Rio were also amazing. The stems and leaves are so much larger than the ones growing up here. I’m not sure if they are a slightly different variety or not? Interestingly when the fan palms get taller they don’t remove the dead leaves like we do up here. Once I’d several I decided I think I like them better that way.

No id on this cactus yet, I’m working on it. Lots of prickly pears down there too.

The wildlife sanctuaries were great, more on those on my personal blog if you are interested.

San Antonio Botanical Gardens

San Antonio Botanical Gardens are only a few miles from downtown. To my regret I only had an hour to spend there, I could easily and happily have spent half a day there.

There are several theme gardens, five green houses with different gardens inside and several small cottages set up with different ‘water wise’ gardens. I highly recommend a trip if you are out that way.

San Antonio Botanical Gardens