Finally, an owl in the owl box in the garden!

I’ve watched the owlettes in their nest at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for many years. I’ve seen photos of owls and their owlettes on the blogs of several of my garden blogging friends and wished for a resident in our owl box.  I put it up about two years ago, but I think it was too far into the wooded area and it was difficult for us to see it.  So last year, we moved the box to what we hoped was a better spot.

Lo and behold, the other night at dusk, I thought I saw something in the entrance to the box.  I corralled my family & my neighbors and we all quietly watched this beautiful animal.  She (I’m assuming) just sat and watched us through her little eye slits, undisturbed by the activity below her.

Isn’t she adorable?

Now we’ll have to keep an eye out to see if there are some little ones in there with her.

By | 2017-11-29T23:26:56+00:00 March 18th, 2016|Blog, Sharing Nature's Garden|0 Comments

Plant This: Esperanza is a garden showstopper


In spite of our schizophrenic weather extremes, many native and adapted plants perform beautifully in Central Texas gardens. One of my favorite showstoppers is Esperanza, Spanish for ‘hope,’ also known as yellow bells. It comes back reliably year after year — a dramatic garden showstopper that doesn’t mind the abuse our gardens suffer with periodic drought, heat and floods.

Native to Mexico, the tropics and West Texas, the variety Tecoma stans ‘Gold Star‘ thrives in our 100+ degrees and produces masses of large 2 – 3 inch blooms that look like yellow bells. This medium-sized shrub is xeric, low maintenance, and relatively pest free. This is the variety you see most around Central Texas.

They are generally cold hardy to zone 8b or 9; for most of Central Texas, they are perennial and reliably return from the roots. They thrive in hot sun and can tolerate a variety of soils, particularly our alkaline limestone. They typically begin blooming in the spring and bloom non-stop until late fall. Depending on how much sun they get, here they can grow as high as 6-8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Although they go dormant in the winter, they shoot up quickly when the weather warms and consistently reach that height for me, in spite of being cut back completely at winter’s end. And, they are of no interest to the deer that like to browse my landscape beds.

Very popular with pollinators, bees and hummingbird are drawn to their nectar. I love watching them disappear into the deep throats of the bright yellow blooms to get a drink.

In the last few years, growers have developed a number of new Tecoma hybrids that give gardeners more choices in color and growth habit.


Last year, I tried one of the newer varieties of Esperanza, ‘Bells of Fire.’ With high expectations, I found the perfect spot for this reddish-orange blooming sun lover. Like its yellow cousin, the new ‘Bells of Fire’ didn’t let me down. It didn’t bloom as early in the year as the yellow bells, but came into its own in early summer. Unlike ‘Gold Star,’ its blooms are slightly smaller; it is shorter, and more compact, reaching only 3-5 feet tall and wide so it can serve a different role in the landscape.

Also available at nurseries around Austin is the variety, ‘Orange Jubilee’ which is a lighter shade of orange, more like a creamcicle.

According to Michael Cain, owner of Vivero Growers Nursery, this orange variety is more like the ‘Gold Star’ in its growth habit.

“‘Orange Jubilee’ is more upright and sends up shoots up to 7 feet tall, “ said Cain. “It blooms a little later than the ‘Gold Star’ and does very well here – it’s really tough.”

Another variety new to the market is ‘Lydia,’ which has a more compact form and brighter yellow flowers. It grows to 5-6 feet tall and wide and blooms from early spring through fall. It’s a sterile variety, so it has fewer seedpods than the ‘New Gold.’

If you were thinking of including more heat and drought-tolerant plants to your garden this fall, any one of these Tecoma bells would be a great addition.

Local Landscape Designer and Garden Coach, Diana Kirby, provides landscaping tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs, at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com and writes a garden blog at www.dianasdesignsaustin.com.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:00+00:00 September 16th, 2015|Articles|Comments Off on Plant This: Esperanza is a garden showstopper

March Tip: Keep animals from eating your prized plants and vegetables.

Now that you’ve planted your vegetable garden, how do you keep animals from eating your prized plants and vegetables?

For varying periods of time, plastic owls and inflatable snakes can be a deterrent. Hawk-like balloons that appear to be alive, bobbing about in the breeze also scare them away, too. Animals are easily spooked by flashing lights, so hanging a few aluminum pie plates or CDs in the garden can help, too.

See the full article, click here.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:19+00:00 March 3rd, 2012|Tips|0 Comments

Keeping critters, even family pets, out of garden is a challenge

Tanner, Diana Kirby’s dog, liked to eat tomatoes, fresh from the garden. A wire fence can keep dogs out.

Gardening can be inspirational and fun. Gardening also can be challenging.

With the weather, the pests, the diseases, sometimes gardeners get frustrated. And then there are the animals.

There are wild animals — those whose habitat we’ve invaded and who try to continue to share that space with us. And there are domestic animals — furry family, like cats and dogs — that we’ve actually invited into our gardens. Tomato-eating, bulb-digging, plant-destroying animals.

How can you deal with animals messing (sometimes literally) in your garden? Let’s start with the tame ones.


Dogs like to dig. It’s what they do. My dog, Dakota, is particularly fond of bulbs and grubs.

The most obvious way to keep dogs out of your plants is a barrier. Different kinds of small fencing actually can be attractive and not very noticeable, like thin wire fences that fold up and allow you to adjust them to the shape of your bed and stick the wire in the ground along the border. Chicken wire provides for a temporary fix until the dog loses interest. These small fences usually are sufficient to keep dogs from lying down in or snooping around your beds.

For vegetable gardens, more substantial fencing might be needed — after all, food is a powerful enticement. You also can try bird netting in front of or over delicate plants.

Many pet repellents on the market are safe for both dogs and plants. However, cayenne pepper isn’t recommended because it can get in your pet’s eyes.

You also can set aside a specific area in which your pet is allowed to dig. Fill the area in with half sand and half mulch. With some dog toys and a little time spent playing with your pet in that area — doing a little digging yourself — your dog might shift his focus.

Burying some chicken wire under the mulch in your beds also can be a deterrent because dogs and cats won’t like touching it with their paws.

Most dogs like to run along their fence line, and no amount of planting there will deter them. Accepting that behavior will make your life so much easier. Think of that as a permanent garden “condition” and either plant well in front of the space to hide it, or plan a pretty path that both you and the dogs can enjoy.

Dogs also might be less likely to pace and dig around a solid fence if you create cutouts so they can easily look out and see passers-by, instead of being agitated.


Cats like to use the garden to do their business. You can encourage them to remain in a specific area if you plant some catnip or catmint and provide them with a natural kitty litter area nearby. Keep it clean and they’ll have less reason to go elsewhere in your garden.

In areas where cats like to explore, keep your plants close together. Pets like to have room to roam around.

Place twigs or semi-prickly stems around your plants. You want to make it uncomfortable for the animal to walk on, but not harmful. Don’t use anything with actual thorns that might get lodged in their paws.

Cats generally do not like the scent of citrus. To see if it’s true for your cat, offer him a piece of orange. If your cat runs, you can then put orange and lemon peels in your beds as a deterrent. You also can plant things that have a natural animal repellent scent, like citronella or scented geranium.

Motion-sensor sprinkler heads also can successfully keep dogs, cats and wildlife out of the garden.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:19+00:00 February 12th, 2012|Articles|0 Comments

Help small creatures make home in your backyard

As the cold weather descends upon normally temperate Austin and the surrounding Hill Country, food, water and shelter become scarce for our furry and feathered wildlife friends.

While many people hang bird feeders or houses in their yards, a little garden habitat planning can bring a whole new variety of birds and other wildlife to your yard.

Birds, bats, toads, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and many other small creatures can bring great enjoyment into your landscape.

While some people might not care to invite all of these animals into their yards, most of them are harmless.  Many even eat destructive insects or rodents.

Supporting wildlife in your garden can help maintain the balance of nature in an urban setting.  Watching or photographing the antics of wildlife creatures can provide hours of enjoyment for children and grown-ups alike.  And listening to the songs and chirps of birds, toads, frogs and others will be music to your ears. It can be like having the National Geographic channel in your own back yard.

How do you go about creating a friendly and successful habitat for wildlife?  There are four primary elements necessary to help wildlife survive in your garden.

  • Shelter
  • Food
  • Water
  • Places to raise young


For wildlife to thrive, animals need shelter from predators and weather extremes – the blazing summer heat, winter’s cold and rain, and our central Texas droughts.

Many garden plants can provide both food and shelter. Trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, groundcovers and vines can all provide protection.

For example, some birds thrive in the underbrush and like small, dense shrubs for shelter, while others prefer wide-open spaces in which they can keep an eye out for predators.

Frogs, toads and lizards like rocks, piles of leaves, stumps and logs.  If you don’t have an area in your yard to leave wild or natural, you can pile some leaves and rocks in shady parts of a flowerbed to welcome these creatures.


Native plants can provide food for all kinds of wildlife with their nuts, berries, foliage, fruits, sap, and seeds.

Different species like different sources of food. Flowers are nectar sources for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Beautyberry, coral berry, holly, juniper, sumac, wax myrtle, viburnum, native Texas persimmon, oak, pyracantha, nandina, yaupon holly and fruit trees are just some of the things you can plant in your garden to support wildlife.

In addition to seed (from native wildflowers or pre-packaged), birds also eat insects, worms, nectar, fruits, nuts and berries.  While many birds eat sunflowers provided in feeders, there are other kinds of seeds you can provide to entice many new species of birds into your back yard.

Some birds, including titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers and mockingbirds will eat bits of fruit like oranges, apples and raisins.  Woodpeckers and chickadees also like suet blocks, which is birdseed in a block of rendered fat and provides extra energy – an excellent source of winter food.

Small frogs and toads eat insects, worms and snails.  Lizards, like our native Anoles and Spiny lizards eat crickets, spiders, roaches and grubs.  We know squirrels eat nuts, but they also like seeds, grains and fruit.  Rabbits will eat many different plants, so while you want to keep them out of your vegetable garden, they will also eat berries, flowers shrubs and grasses.


We all need water to survive, and animals in central Texas have greater needs than some because of our frequent and severe drought conditions.

In addition to ponds and standing birdbaths, shallow birdbaths or saucers on the ground can help provide water to many other species.  Logs, rocks and other shallow structures are good water sources for turtles, frogs, toads, lizards and even butterflies.

Water should be changed frequently to keep it fresh and clean and to prevent mosquito breeding.

Places to raise young

Most habitats that provide adequate cover also provide animals with the right conditions for raising their young.

Small mammals will burrow in areas ranging from wildflower beds to basic garden undergrowth.  Frogs, toads and lizards need groundcover and moisture. They like a carpet of leaves and groundcover to shield the.  And the nesting preferences of birds are as varied as the species themselves, including dense shrubs, trees, birdhouses and even potted plants.  Because birds use many different materials to build their nests, you can help by hanging a mesh net or something similar with fiber scraps, wool, or lint in a tree.

To provide a safe habitat for wildlife in your yard, it is important not to use insecticides, pesticides, and other chemical products like lawn weed & feeds or weed killers, as these can kill both the animals and the food sources on which they depend in the wild.

Already providing a safe habitat?

If you already provide food, shelter, water and nesting places for wildlife in your yard, or you want to start creating a wildlife habitat, you can be certified by the National Wildlife Federation or the Texas Parks and Wildlife Backyard Habitat Program.

National Wildlife Federation: http://www.nwf.org/

Texas Parks and Wildlife: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/

Once you have applied and met the requirements, each of these organizations, for a fee, will provide you with a plaque,  designating your space as a wildlife habitat.

By | 2017-11-29T23:27:25+00:00 January 15th, 2011|Articles|0 Comments