Category Archives: Plants and Shrubs

Berries and birds

I am almost, but not completely, compelled to camp next to this chokecherry (?) tree in my front yard to watch the birds (juncos, etc.) strip the tree and come back time and time again.

Last year I saw the flock of birds that stripped the tree and identified them, but I did not write down my observations, so, here I go again and I will record this time.

I write this nature post and I do not have either bird or berry tree identified. But, so, I adore berry and bird regardless.


Filed under Birds, Field Log, Life in Balance, Nature Writers, Nature Writing Series, Plants and Shrubs


Your Guide to Planning Drought Friendly Landscaping

By Mary Sauer

[I now have a house in the city and may apply these techniques to the landscape.  I still have 29 acres of farmland and pasture near Mingus, Texas.  Check out the links to this company.  Full disclosure:  I am not getting any monetary compensation from re-publishing Mary Sauer’s article.  I find it helpful in saving water and, as Frank Waters wrote, “living with the land” respectfully.]

When you live in an area prone to droughts, the decisions you make regarding your landscaping can either promote water conservation and sustainable living or they can promote water waste. Specific areas of the country experience months of dry weather, with very little rain providing natural hydration for lawns and landscaping elements. The good news is, there are plenty of attractive and ecologically responsible landscaping options that are perfect for areas prone to droughts.


Alternatives to Lawns of Green

One of the biggest challenges faced in areas that experience droughts is finding an alternative to lawns comprised largely of grass. Green lawns require a large amount of water on a daily basis. In some areas of the country, city governments are placing strict regulations on the amount of space that can be occupied by grass in hopes of lessening water waste and promoting more sustainable landscaping.

Xeriscaping is a popular landscaping practice that completely eliminates landscaping elements that require water beyond what their environment naturally provides. These options include the use of stones, ornamental grass, native flowers, succulents, and plants with a reputation for surviving with very little maintenance.

When it comes to landscaping, stones are as drought friendly as it gets. Obviously, stones require no water. With the countless shape, color, and size options occurring in nature, it is easy to create a beautiful and visually interesting space. Additionally, with a little research, you should be able to find stones that have been harvested with minimal negative impact on their environment.

Certain flowers and plants need very little water to thrive in areas prone to drought. The simplest place to start is with flowers that occur naturally in your region. Native flowers will thrive, even during a drought, and won’t require you to indulge in wasteful water use habits to keep them alive. One of our favorites is the Lewisia Cotyledon, or Sunset Strain, a dainty, pink flower with evergreen foliage that is native to California and Oregon. Certain ornamental grasses also do very well during droughts, and many are larger enough to take the place of thirsty shrubs. Lastly, succulents actually do best with just a small amount of water, and are ideal for use in areas that regularly deal with droughts.


Use Grey Water to Hydrate Your Landscaping

If you do have certain elements in your landscaping that require regular hydrating, there are alternative methods for watering that are less wasteful. Grey water is any water that you are already using during your day-to-day life that you are reusing a second time. Consider catching the water used while showering, washing dishes, or doing laundry and reusing it to water your lawn.

 At Modernize, we are passionate about empowering homeowners like you to find beautiful yet sustainable ways to create a home that truly captures your personality and meets your needs. Just because you live in a region that receives very little rain doesn’t mean you have to give up on having a beautiful lawn—by using these tips, your new landscaping will be more unique and exotic than ever before!



Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs

Rosemary and Star

IMG_3308Here in central Texas, Erath County, we remain in a drought.  Since Christmas, however, rain has fallen and we do not have to boil our water before drinking.  The date for near-complete water extinction has been extended into the future.  No specific date for extinction has been given, but the February 15th date for extinction is no longer in effect.

In the photograph above, I hold a rosemary blossom, indicative of moisture in the air and soil about the large rosemary bush on the west side of the ranch house.  The scent of rosemary lingers on my fingers as I type.  I use the rosemary for several recipes, but I favor its use when I prepare a sauce for steaks or lamb chops.

* * *

Before Christmas, my good horse Star died of colic.  The old boy was fourteen years old and in his becoming ill, the first veterinary I called to the ranch said he was a strong, stoical horse in that he did not lash out at us, his handlers.  Star was diagnosed at six in the evening and had to be put down at two o’clock the next morning at the Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery compound in Weatherford, Texas, where he was surrounded by three female veterinarians who took control and managed his passing.  Without being sentimental, I still look out my porch windows, even today, to see where Star is in the pasture.  Is he loafing under the mesquites?  I know he is not there, but I still look.


Star Bars Moore will be just fine.

Star Bars Moore APHA 808164, loafing in arena pasture under mesquites.

Star Bars Moore APHA 808164, loafing in arena pasture under mesquites.



Filed under Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Star

Sage blossom and sky noir


A mid-morning rain fell on the place. The air is cool, almost cold, and the sky has not cleared and probably will not this day. This photograph shows a break in the clouds towards the south, the town of Stephenville, lying about nineteen miles away. My mother came to Stephenville–I tagged along–and bought plants at Wolfe Nursery. The nursery had a large sign of a wolf that signaled the entry to the nursery that encompassed acres and acres of tended trees and several hothouses.


The rain caused an eruption of this blossom upon the sage near the house.

Fall has come to the place, the farm, the ranchito, the people of Sims Valley, and all the wildlife abounding.


Filed under Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966, Uncategorized

Prickly pear fruit

There is a super-abundance of prickly pear fruit this year. I have never seen the eruption of fruit like this year. I buy an Italian sweet soda made of prickly pear. ‘Tis the season! It is 102F in field at 7:04 p.m.




Filed under Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Salt Creek, Succulents

Yucca morning

Pale-leaf Yucca on Terraces with Fog, Flying Hat Ranchito, March 30, 2012

In walking down to the stables to feed Star this morning, I paused and looked towards the east, the rising sun flared by fog, and I shot this photograph of yucca, fog, dew and a couple of blossoms of verbena (click the photograph to enlarge). Three terraces gird the ranch house and each level has families of yucca that hold the soil about the landscape and prosper in well-drained soil for their health.

The temperature briefly holds in the middle 60s as I look at this scene. I dwell on it as I write this post and think of the moisture upon green grasses and yucca.  So different from this time last year as fires broke out across Texas, consuming dried grasses, brittle brush and wildlife unable to flee.  Today is different, substantially so, with recent rains and low temperatures. The fire ban is off for Erath County. I see an abundance of wildflowers and I inhale the air suffused with humidity and perfumed with fresh grasses.

This ‘yucca morning’ will last in my senses for a long, long time, and I possessively want the moment to stand still as I look east towards the rising sun, flared by fog, that shall warm the day and send fresh grass shoots skyward.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, Plants and Shrubs, Succulents

Frosty tumbleweeds in a Texas corral

Frost in Broke Tree Corral (October 29, 2011).

For the first time since last April, frost rests upon the Broke Tree Corral!  The temperature at the ranch house read 35 deg. F., but when I walked down to the corral, I saw frost.  Then I photographed frost on the horse apples and soil (I could have photographed frost on the trailer, but this was a neat pic with green tumbleweed).

This weather event is worthy of a separate post — should have made it on Saturday — because, well, it’s cold for a change, and we have been sweltering, perspiring, cussing, finding shade, digging caves and seeking the earth’s innards for cool places like Sonora Caverns or Carlsbad Caverns.  Many of us in the Southwest have even constructed wine cellars for cool comfort even though many Texas vaqueros  prefer Shiner or Casa Blanca beer and won’t use the cellars for anything but a cool getaway.  River bottoms at night also offer pleasant temperatures.  Bear Creek and Palo Pinto Creek near my ranchito are cool at night.

I like the tumbleweed and frost.  Yesterday I had to shred tumbleweeds in the Broke Tree because when they dry up the tumbleweeds will detach from the soil, roll around and scare the horses at night — yes, tumbling tumbleweeds.  I am not going to ever use tumbleweeds for Christmas trees.  Too fragile, smell funny.  The way this economy is going, however, I may cut the tumbleweeds and go to the Metroplex and purvey to florists!  I am getting a mite desperate.

Tumbleweed courtesy of


Filed under Plants and Shrubs

Grass: a side of oats with music

Back-lighted side-oats gramma grass in the far field (October 2011).

With recent rains, grasses re-sprout. Side-oats gramma grass yields its oats along the stem and when the sun back-lights the plant the seeds appear as golden beads hanging about a string. I see several broad patches of gramma in my far field. The gramma seems to congregate as a family, moving over the years a few yards to the northwest as if on slow journey to Salt Creek, a tenth-of-a-mile away.  I hear wind sough* through grass as it does through mesquite and oak.

When I shred brush in the far field, I cannot — though I thought I would — mow the gramma.  Gramma is now family, a natural plant that has created an art space in the far field, a sentient being that propagates and rears its young in front of me.  I see Star, my paint gelding, browse through the family, munching on a few stalks and oats, but not many stalks, for the far field is lush and verdant and full of life.

In the 1950s, as a high school student in agricultural classes, we identified gramma, johnson and bluestem grasses, among many others.  Above all, I remembered the gramma and bluestem, dreaming that someday I would have a field of these species that I could see and touch.  At the time I took the high school classes from Mr. Bell who could hold a scorpion by the tail, I thought I would use grasses entirely for grazing purposes.  That was then.  I now want to see the grasses first, and then allow a brief grazing of cattle and horse upon the gramma that blows in the wind and provides reeds for wind-music that I hear and golden beads that droop and sway with southern winds out of Mexico.

Odd it is, I think, that I have golden-beaded grass with a side of oats that sings.


Notes, corrections and additions:

*sough (suf, sou), Middle English is swough, Anglo-Saxon is swogan meaning to sound.  Definition is a soft, low, murmuring, sighing or rustling sound.  I can’t remember where I picked up this word way-back-when, but lately my reading of Patrick Leigh Fermor brought it up again.  The definition herein comes from my first collegiate college dictionary, c. 1960.  I still have the dictionary and it is taped up with duct tape about the binding.  I must do a post on my old books someday.


Filed under Plants and Shrubs, Recollections 1942-1966

Sage blooms in Abilene

Sage blooming in Abilene, Texas, September 20, 2011.

This late summer, thundershowers fall infrequently around Abilene, Texas.  Yet, some showers do fall about this west Texas city that lies close to the Brazos River and Buffalo Gap, a niche in the hills that allowed buffalo to migrate from north to central Texas in the nineteenth century, following the shortgrass and bluestem in their casual browsing.

Two days ago as I worked late at my office at Cisco College, I walked by three large sagebrush by the back entry door.  A monarch butterfly floated by, floating and fluttering as if they are playing, and landed on one of the blossoms.  But before I could draw my iPhone from my coat pocket, it flew away and out of my range to snap a picture.  Alas, I was too slow on the draw.  I followed it to a green clump of slender grasses and lost it, despite my intent search.  The monarch had buried itself from my eyes, thinking me a raptor?

Yesterday, following the blooming sagebrush and my failure to photograph the butterfly, it rained about the city, to the north and west particularly.  A rainbow emerged with the sun setting to the east.  And, this morning, the temperatures were the coolest since May, a 61 degrees before sunup.

I think, if sagebrush blooms, can rain be far behind?  And playing monarchs about the purple sage?  Not far behind either.

Three sagebrush with blossoms at the back door of Cisco College, September 22, 2011. The monarch flew and hid in the bushes to the upper right of the photograph.



Filed under Monarch Butterfly, Plants and Shrubs, Sagebrush

Field gifts in July

At 3:30 a.m., with such dignity as I can muster of a July morning, I step from my cabin door, bearing in either hand my emblem of sovereignty, a coffee pot and notebook.  I seat myself on a bench, facing the white wake of the morning star.  I set the pot beside me.  I extract a cup from my shirt front, hoping none will notice its informal mode of transport.  I get out my watch, pour coffee, and lay notebook on knee.

Aldo Leopold’s early morning field method, A Sand County Almanac, pp. 41-42.

This July morning, a warm morning that will expand into hot, I walked the one-half mile of Salt Creek on my 53 acre ranchito.  Salt Creek is an intermittently-flowing creek that twists and curves through the forested grove in the middle of the 53 acres.  During heavy rains, the creek reaches ten feet high and lays flat the water-gap fences on the east and west ends of the property.  This summer, waiting out the worst drought since 1895, the creek remains intact, its bed dry; yet elms, junipers (beautiful they are), cottonwoods, oak and pecan trees uplift subsurface moisture, retaining their leaves and shade for owl, redbird, bluebird, sparrow, deer, armadillo, skunk, coyote and fox.

Salt Creek on this day holds one watery seep, fifteen feet in length of oblong, deep water.  Flush against the shady side, this watery seep encapsulates water three-feet in depth, the water flowing from the native grass field I have tended these last four years.  I discovered on my walk, along the one-half mile of the creek bed, it is the only source of water in the bed.  Wildlife track abounds around the water cache, and it is supplemented by my stock pond — amply full — a quarter-of-a-mile away to the northeast.  Animal tracks puncture the wet soil of both seep and pond.  Trails radiate in all directions from these water pools, life-sustaining hubs among tens of thousands of water holes in west Texas.

Walking, ambling really, I kept watch for the unanticipated field discoveries that, without fail, always occur; and if none appear, I have not looked upon, within and close enough, the land upon which I trod.  I wrote in my field notebook the jack rabbit, woodpecker, roadrunner and fertile pond algae as they appeared in good order from the house.

As I turned in the creek bed at the last big U-turn loop, I gazed upon color, flower color, I had never seen before: the Clammyweed.  Not exactly the classiest of names, but it is what it is.

Clammyweed (Polanisia dodecandra), Salt Creek, north Erath County, Texas (July 27, 2011).

Clammyweed grew on a sand bar in the middle of the dry creek bed.  Seven blossoms on three plants taunted the drought in all its brazen heat, stating in siren tones that shade, moisture and sand can bring forth purple and white, stamens a-blazing, here in July.  The heat be gone for the moment.  Hooray!  for Clammyweed!

I was already dizzy from the heat and lack of air circulation, but this discovery boosted me out of the spell.  I read later in field manuals that Clammyweed is a derivative of the caper family, one of my favorite garnishes, and that if one rustles the flower or plant, an odor emits that clams to the skin.  I must go back and find out for myself this attribute.

The second field gift on this July day came near the end of my one-and-a-half hour field trip.  Walking gingerly in the middle of the creek bed, avoiding large sandstone rocks, I looked down and saw a dark, flat-shaped, lithic object of iron ore that is abundant about the place.  Thinking it a natural chink or large piece of rock, I kicked at it with my boot.  Instead of a natural formation, it showed signs of flaking and abrasion — a lithic tool, used by Native Americans before the onslaught of mining, farming and ranching.

Abraded and flaked lithic tool (4'' x 2.5"), Salt Creek, north Erath County, Texas (July 27, 2011).

I noted the location, picked up the tool and continued my ambling to the west water gap, the end of my walk.

Returning to the house, I sat down, not with coffee but with a Dr. Pepper, and wrote out the rest of my field notes.  My observations had begun at 8:14 a.m. and concluded at 9:45 a.m.  The temperature by ten o’clock was 86 degrees, headed upwards to 105-107 degrees by the late afternoon.

The grove remains green.  A water seep looks healthy in the creek bed.  Wildlife track abounds.  Cultural artifacts appear, attesting to man’s continuing occupation of the surrounds.  The day will be hot.  Gifts, of a sort, have fallen in my path and I gain a sense of continuity with nature reviving itself in Clammyweed blossoms, bursting in color, a natural goddess emerging from the earth in July, glimmering in fertility.  Paradise regained.

* * *

The water cache and seep along Salt Creek, north Erath County, Texas (July 27, 2011).


Notes and corrections:

The photograph of the Salt Creek water cache was appended.

The sentence, “Paradise regained,” was added in the last paragraph of the essay.


Filed under Field Log, Plants and Shrubs, Wild Flowers of Texas