Monday, June 28, 2010

Gulf Frittilary Time

Dates rattle by at a calculated pace.  But time...time speeds or creeps in the flow of life.

Today I'm thinking in butterfly time.


Newly emerged 

Spreading wings.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hummingbird Bush (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii)

Is anyone immune to the magic of hummingbirds?

Next week I'm giving a presentation to our neighborhood gardeners group on attracting hummingbirds.  Few words, lots of pictures, useful plant list.

And it seems a shame not to share the plants with you, even if you don't live in the Texas Hill Country.  We're not all privileged to live in the center of the universe, but many plants are adaptable and you might find a few that like your yard.

I've written occasionally about hummingbird plants in past posts, including my favorite, Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), native to 27 states.   Starting today, I'll share some of the others.

Hummingbird Bush, AKA Flame Acanthus, is native only to south-central and west Texas down into northern Mexico.  But it's commercially propagated and reported hardy from zones 7a - 10b, with happy gardeners in states as diverse as California and Virginia.  Adaptable to a range of soils from sand to rocks and clay, if well-drained.

This cheerful 3'x3' bush (reported to 6 feet, but not in my thin-clay-over-limestone garden) sports red or orange tubular flowers June through October, attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Although the bushes are drought tolerant, my plants bloom more with a weekly watering.

Hummingbird Bush thrives in full sun but adapts to light shade.  Leaves fall at first frost.  In light winters it may remain evergreen, but a severe winter pruning will encourage summer bushiness.

Mine were slow to establish, maybe due to our thin soil, but reseed with abandon and deer take a pass on the plants. 

The hummingbirds and I dream of seeing Hummingbird Bush thick as a hedge.  The birds will nest in nearby junipers and lead their young ones to the red-flower table.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tomato Summer

We all have favorite summer foods.  Last year I couldn't get enough organic nectarines and peaches.  Denny loves red grapes.  My mother likes watermelon.

But I'm thinking this is the year of the Tomato.  I'd like to say I have a wildfire-sized harvest from my garden, as opposed to last year, but I'd be telling a tall tale.

Tall tale is what Texans say when they don't want to use a hard-edged word like lie.  The Texas code reserves hard-edged words for major events, such as catching someone cheating at cards.  A Tomato story is clearly in the tale category.  Unless the tomato in question was thrown at a politician and the squashed pulp splattered his face and stained his shirt.  That would likely be an occasion for a hard-edged word but I bet 'lie' wouldn't be the first one that came to the recipient's mind.

No, I'm glorying in Tomatoes this year from my friends' gardens. Heirlooms, experimentals, old favorites. Sweeter for the thoughtfulness of the giver.

What's your favorite taste of summer?

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oh Deer

The cycle of life is whirling here.

The sun was setting as I walked out on my front porch on June 2, 2008, to snip some basil. I was thinking about my recipe and bending over the basil, sharp scissors in hand, before my brain clicked.

I don't know who was more startled, but I do know who blinked.  And it wasn't the fawn.

She was so small.  See the 4" pots next to her? ------>

I ran back into the house, snapped a picture through the kitchen window and shut off all the lights.  A doe hides her newborn in a thick stand of grass or a thicket, the safest place she can find, and then goes off to feed, not returning for perhaps a day. 

I made dinner in the dark and we ate in the dark. I didn't want anything to discourage Mama from retrieving that baby.  What would we do if the doe didn't come back?  We couldn't abandon a baby.  I pushed away a vision of a full-grown deer sleeping on my doormat.

When we blinked the porch light at midnight, the little one was gone.

Then last summer, a young doe brought her fawn to our gardens.  Drank from our bird baths, ate birdseed from the rocks, made herself to home.  Grand-fawn?

This summer, if I look out the window, any window, I'm likely to see a doe and twin fawns.

Or a pregnant doe, due any day now, noshing in the flowers.  I suspect she's the one bedding down in the swath of Mexican Hat

<-----See her belly?

I don't go out snipping herbs at sunset now.  I don't want to know.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Boots' Sweet Pickles

When my niece married several years ago, she asked my mother to create a cookbook of family favorite recipes. 

Mom gave us each a copy of Family Favorites for Christmas that year.  One of the things I love about the book is the provenance...Aunt Flossie's Jalapeno Cornbread,  Granny's Chocolate Pie.  I can hear the voices of the cooks in the words Mom recorded as they told her their recipes.  

Boots' Sweet Pickles recipe is from that book. The pickles make an appearance at every family BBQ, and they disappear fast.  Mom got the recipe from a childhood San Marcos friend, Boots Dunn, whose name came from her favorite footwear.  Yes, we're in Texas.

1 quart Kosher dill pickles (whole)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon celery seed
3 tablespoons white distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon horseradish

**Drain pickles, discard liquid, save jar.  
**Using food processor, slice pickles into thin rounds.
**Mix sugar, celery seed, vinegar & horseradish in a bowl.
**In the jar the pickles came in, alternate adding a few slices of garlic and pickles and a bit of sugar mixture.  Put the lid back on and shake until sugar melts.
**Repeat process until all slices and mixture are used.
**Keep shaking up jar from time to time to help ingredients mix well.
**Pickles will make their own juice from the mixture and from the moisture in the pickle slices.
Pickles need to set at least 24 hours (refrigerated) before eating.  They get better every day.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Wildflowers & Weeds

We're known in our neighborhood as the 'wildflowers and weeds' house. 
For the first couple of years it was more weeds.  But at the end of the first torrid summer, I hacked the weeds from a swath of baked clay across the front and scattered wildflower seeds.

That fall, it rained.  Once, in November; the first rain in 4 months.  In January, a 3-day ice storm.   

The following spring, wildflowers.

The swath has had ups and downs in the years since, depending on rain.  

This year, we're more wildflowers than weeds.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Guadalupe River Flood 6-9-2010

 July 5, 2008 Guadalupe River aerial view, note Gruene bridge at left and adjacent Rockin' R River Rides' parking lot and buildings.

The weather prediction Tuesday night was 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms.  Out here in the country the night sky was a wee-hours spectacular.  Lightning striking thousands of times.  Thunder.  Rain; pounding, sheeting, coursing, assaulting rain.

When we got up in the morning, late because the alarm had gone to blink in a power outage, I checked the rain gauge.  3 1/2 inches.  Good for the property.

But a ways from here, in the space of the roughly 15 miles between big Canyon Lake and the town of New Braunfels, 10-12 inches fell in the wee hours, drenching the Guadalupe River drainage area. Rain rolled off the hills, funneling into creeks, until runoff grew to torrents knobby with rocks and branches, sweeping to the Guadalupe.  In the dark, while riverside campers slept, the clear green Guadalupe piled into a brown foaming flood, scouring trees, trucks and people from its path.  

The Fire Department managed 89 high water rescue calls from people in trees, trucks and homes.  And one recovery, the body of a man swept from sleep in an RV, recovered miles downstream near Gruene.

I drove to New Braunfels yesterday afternoon.  I know how a place feels after a disaster. When I walked out of my cottage in Coconut Grove after Hurricane Andrew, debris was piled two stories high in the street.

But I wasn't prepared for the height and width and suddenness, the totality of the Guadalupe's rush.

Try to picture the river flowing across the parking lot and into the first floor of the Rockin' R building, seen here from the Gruene bridge, which would have been invisible underwater.

Entrance to Rockin' R.  The sign decoration at left courtesy of Mother Nature.

Buses don't swim...and neither did the house in back.

See the weed hanging from the top of Common Street bridge, and the railing pushed over by the flood? 

High-water line marked in red.

 Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


On my last jaunt to Austin , I stopped by the cafe and took a seat next to the older-middle-aged-men's table 

I think the guys have begun to draw an audience; I had to squeeze between a bearded student and a suit-and-tie type. As I stirred my cup of black-beans, eggs and pico de gallo, I hoped for a saucy Hill Country story to share here, maybe something like the tale about tent sex.  

They faked me out on my last visit.  Just as I was standing to leave, the goateed guy referenced a bar he'd owned near the state capitol and went on to say, "Well, you'd be surprised at the politics that happened in the urinal."  The musician answered, "Oh, are we telling urinal stories this morning?" 

Have you ever heard a more promising story lead?  I put my bag back on the bar and returned my bottom to the stool.  But the conversation took a detour and I took my leave shortly after.

While I waited this time to hear something worth retelling, I looked out the window.

In front of the cafe, a redheaded, mid-30's woman in an aquamarine tank top and driving gloves was leaning out the side doors of her dark Toyota Sequoia.  She lifted a folded wheelchair to the ground and clicked it open and upright.  Then she inserted a seat pad, tucked in a pocketbook, grabbed the arms of the chair and in one motion, swung herself out and into the seat, twisting her legless body in the air to settle facing the van.  

As she wheeled around and rolled herself toward the door, the voices droned on at the table behind me but I didn't hear the words.  My eyes were focused on my paddle-shaped feet and creaky knees, my heart thankful.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


 My mother grew up in San Marcos, on the cusp of the Texas Hill Country.  The house she grew up in, a block from the clear, spring-fed San Marcos River, has been a bank parking lot for decades now, a few old oaks the only remnants there of my grandmother's landscape.

But when my grandmother left that house, she took some of her daylillies with her.  And later, when my grandmother moved to my mother's home, my mother transplanted some of those daylillies to her flowerbed.

Last spring (2009), Mom gave some to me.  I'd admired them in her garden, the variegated leaves a living green fountain.  I built a raised bed for my generation of daylillies in sight of my bedroom window.

The daylillies didn't bloom, and I put that down to  shock. Last summer was torrid, an epic of drought and heat.  The daylillies looked puny. Then the foliage failed in November. My raised bed was a patch of bare ground.  I didn't tell Mother.

This spring, soft green leaves emerged from the soil. I finally told Mom about the death, and the resurrection.  She laughed.  If I'd told her last fall, I wouldn't have spent the winter thinking I was a daylilly failure.  

All of that time and effort and worry and I'd never even seen the flowers.  Until today.  

I knew that planting living history was good.  I didn't know it would be so beautiful.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Antelope Horns (Asclepias asperula)

 And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud 
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.--Anais Nin 

For most of the year,  Antelope Horns lie close to the ground, nondescript green leaves in meadows and roadsides.  Until Spring, when a stalk of buds rears, opening multi-blossom heads of otherworld beauty, March - October.  This member of the milkweed family, poisonous to animals and people, is host to monarch and queen butterflies and banquet to bees.  

The native range is from central Kansas south to Texas and Mexico, west to southern Idaho and southeast California.  The plants prefer moderate water, sporting more blooms in the Hill Country in years with rain.  Sunny locations are best, in well-drained caliche, loam, sand, and clay.  

Eventually aphids will colonize and Monarch caterpillars consume but the plant endures and flushes again when nature blesses.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.