In an ideal world, where you knew your yard like the back of your hand, and every plant you ever wanted was readily available, and the weather didn’t swing merrily between a wetter than average year (2010 with over 26″ of rain) and the worst drought on record with just under 6″ of rain, planning would be a bit easier (best solution — plan for the extremes i.e. driest/hottest/coldest and allow the biomass to build up during the more moderate years).

Maps display the 2010 and 2011 year precipitation totals in the TX Panhandle. Created with data gathered from the NWS Cooperative observers and the West Texas Mesonet. Source:

One might even be able to sit down and make a beautiful organized plan, such as this one from Native Texas Plants (although I don’t know why they put a cottonwood in this plan):

High Plains plan from the indispensable “Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region By Region” by Sally and Andy Wasowski.

That further assumes you are the organized planning sort. I quite like planning, but it is a little more reactive, and dependent upon what I’ve been able to buy recently. That said, a “good first step” is to round up your back-seat gardener (Danny in my case) and get some help to  map out your yard (note we measured to key features which is why some of the distances seem a bit strange):

The backyard. Now I tend to work it as the East and West components, as they are at different stages of conversion

I used this plan, with sketches of the sunny and shade areas to zone where to put my seed mixes, which for the East side of the lawn were a mix of Native Trail Mix; Texas-Oklahoma Native Roadside Mix (which is almost the same as the Native Trail Mix, but without the grasses); Shade Friendly Wildflowers; Shade Friendly Grass Mix; and the Western Wildflower Mix which used to be called the Llano Estacado Mix as it is inspired by this area. This was a pretty good approach, because you can plant in keeping with broad microhabitat requirements (shade/sun), and then allow selection to take its course and weed out the species that are least suited to your yard’s conditions on a smaller scale. It of course doesn’t allow for planning on a species by species basis — but I like the diverse meadow/prairie look — it seems more like a habitat than a yard.  Having mapped your yard also enables you to work out the area of each zone (if you can do the horrible math — I have problems working with the non-metric system and tend to resort to online calculators to get my square footage), and this helps plan how much seed to buy, as you are usually told in lbs or oz per square foot. I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to germination and survival rates up here, so tend to over-seed.

The seed mixes are a mix of annuals and perennials; most of the additional shopping has been for perennials, shrubs, and trees. So when I have a new haul of these, its time to settle back in view of the yard and start planning (this is very enjoyable for me):

Time to plan! Yard map, species list, books, a view of the yard and beer are the essential components of this stage.

Here are some of my plans (not quite like the book ;-)):

Of course, when it comes to actually planting them out, I don’t always follow my plan; I like to have a little bit of wiggle room for last minute adjustments, but at least having some sort of plan means you aren’t wandering around the yard with armloads of plants trying to work out where to put things.

Generally I mark existing plants in solid shapes on the map and possible locations for newbies with open shapes and a label (ingenious I know). I do know my yard quite well now, and generally the challenging part is to deal with the full sun “zones of death”, which I’m trying to slowly fill up with xeric perennials. Much of the East side is quite shady because of a huge pecan tree.

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Blooming Heaven Part II

As promised, nice pictures of things blooming.

Blanket flowers were out in force at the end of April, just now getting the second flowering

The evening primrose (Oenthera speciosa) started blooming the very end of March in the backyard, and this is when they were at the peak in mid-late April.

What good Texan doesn’t love her bluebonnets? (Lupinus texensis). These started the end of March, like the evening primrose, but last only a few weeks. I left them alone thereafter, and the seed pods started to dehisce the last couple of weeks, so I’m hoping this delightful annual will reseed itself.

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Blooming Heaven

All this talk of flowers but where are the pictures of this beautiful yard I hear you ask? I have yet to devise an organized way to photo the yard (from particular view points etc) so that I can track progress/blooming across time, so for now I’ll stick up a couple of photos a day, starting with fairly recent ones.

Coneflowers, Indian Blanket, Lemon Mint (or Beebalm)

Oh Plains Coreopsis, how I adore you – they are now all over the yard, but they are just so happy and colorful

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American Basket Flower gets a visitor

Danny and I were sitting on the porch after a hard day’s planting (for me anyway, bit of a spectator sport for Danny), when I was very gratified to see this Lubbock visitor flit around the yard and finally settle on one of the Basket Flowers.

Monarch butterfly on American Basket Flower

Not the best photo as it was across the yard, but I was happy 🙂  Brings my 2012 butterfly and moth species list to 8, although there are some I’m still trying to identify from my blurry photos.

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Goodies from Canyon’s Edge

I came back with some plants from Canyon’s Edge as you can see below. They are all rather wee, so lets hope most of them make it once they are planted out.

The Canyon’s Edge Haul 🙂

Pretty much everything is found on the Panhandle, aside from the coral honeysuckle. The haul comprised: Antelope horns (Asclepias asperula) – pretty small and not sure of their chances of survival, but worth a go; Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata); Toothed Sundrops (Calylophus serrulatus) – I got a lovely mature plant at LBJ in April and it is a delight (although the newbies are quite a bit smaller!):

Calylophus serrulatus

Also pretty tiny are the Winterfat (Ceratoides lanata  aka Krascheninnikovia lanata) – you need males around for the females to flower so got three and have to hope for the best. I’ve  been obsessing over Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus var argenteus) for a while (all part of my fixation with shrubs and trees that will work up here), and picked up a couple of juveniles (seedlings? – not sure what the cut-off is for being a seedling – have to stick with vertebrate terminology with appologies), which I transferred to a 1 gallon pot as they probably need another year before I let them loose in the yard.  Also got a couple of Rubber Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus graveolens aka Ericameria nauseosa ssp. nauseosa var. glabrata (not even trying to keep up with plant nomenclature)), Illinois Bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoisis), Bush Morning Glory (Ipomea leptophylla), some more gayfeather  (Liatris punctata), more Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) — one of the ones from last year is looking very crusty (i.e. more or less dead), Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa missouri), Shell Leaf Penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus), and some Prairie Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)

Needless to say, I had a busy time planting them all out. So far, so good, just one obvious casualty (a chocolate flower that I planted when it was too hot).

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Plant Shopping

Tomorrow I am heading up to Canyon with Danny and Nancy to go to Canyon’s Edge Plants to see what additional plants I can find for the yard. What is cool about this place is that have Panhandle natives. For those not familiar with this area, the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle (Llano Estacado) is fairly inhospitable — cold winters (for TX), hot summers, low rainfall (semi-arid), and high winds. So the true Panhandle natives are pretty tough. I have downloaded their spring sale list and have some things on my “wish list” that I hope they still have in stock. I will report back on that next week.

Back in April, Danny and I hired a big white van to go down to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center  Spring Sale, where I did very well rounding up things on my list (more on how the newbie transplants are doing another time) and then filled up the rest of the van with vegan products and decent beer as they are in limited supply here in Lovely Lubbock. Anyway, I love the LBJ Wildflower Center, and amusingly Danny and I were treated as heroes for coming all the way down from Lubbock. The wildflowers along the way (especially on TX-71) were absolutely stunning, so it would have been worth the trip anyway.

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American Basket Flower

Centaurea americana

I’ve been keeping a date record of when things are starting to bloom (i.e. I have a spreadsheet), and today is the first official day of the American Basket Flower (Centaurea americana), just beginning to bloom. I’ve been wondering what these mysterious thistly things were, and I only had one flower last year and it was all of about 5 inches tall.  This year’s crop are 1-2 feet tall.  Some good links here and here. The seeds were planted in the spring of 2011 as part of the Native Trail Mix from Native American Seed.  Lots of species are blooming right now – so far this year I’ve recorded at least 19 native flowers.

American Basket Flower (Centurea americana) – blooming day one.

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