Great horned owls on the nest at the Wildflower Center

With family in town last weekend, smack in the middle of wildflower season, we made a visit to one of my favorite places in Austin: the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Sure, I wanted to see bluebonnets and other spring flowers, but I also knew a secret that not everyone who visits knows.

A great horned owl nests each year in a planter niche on the stone walls of the entry garden (officially known as the South Texas Mission Garden), by the Wetland Pond. She’s there right now. Do you see her?

How about now?

A telephoto lens or a pair of binoculars will give you a better peek. She’s found the perfect, protected spot under a spiny Wheeler sotol but still enjoys a commanding view.

I don’t know if it’s the same owl that returns every year or maybe a descendant, but she’s raising three fuzzy chicks in the sotol niche.

The chicks were a little shy on this day, but here you can see one amid the sotol leaves, with the same lamp-like eyes as Mama.


Edging around to the left, I spotted a more curious sibling on the other side of the sotol. Adorable!

For comparison, and for owl lovers, here are my posts about great horned owls at the Wildflower Center in previous years:
Blossoming spring morning at the Wildflower Center, part 1, April 21, 2013
Winter into spring at the Wildflower Center, February 20, 2013
Great horned owl chicks growing up fast, May 2, 2011
Great horned owlets nesting at Wildflower Center, April 20, 2011

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Nursery visit: The Arbor Gate near Houston

My sister, who lives in Houston, expressed amazement at how many gardens I managed to squeeze into my visit to her city a couple of weekends ago. It’s true. I’ve shown you four Open Days tour gardens, plus four drive-by gardens that were pretty fabulous, plus a nursery visit to Thompson+Hanson, plus wildflowers in Brenham along the way. Whew!

But I have one more nursery visit to share with you, The Arbor Gate in far northwest Houston (Tomball, to be exact), a lively, customer-oriented, garden-art-packed destination nursery for Houston-area gardeners.

I was touring with my friend Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, and we popped into the shop first just to say hi and make sure they were OK with us taking photos. I spotted this congregation of bluebirds on the porch rail. It was my first taste of the fun garden art placed whimsically and en masse throughout the nursery and display gardens.

Like these ceramic koi splashing through the chard.

See how they color-coordinated the orange and red fish with the hot-colored stalks of the chard?

And the poppies

Painted metal birdhouses and flying pigs were hung from seemingly every tree and arbor.

Signs, suns, and winged hearts galore decorated a painted fence.

A whole flock of parrots and cockatoos festooned the nursery aisles.

This is the place to go if you need to brighten your garden with art…

…or give a bird a home.

The pottery selection is nice too, with shade from the intense Texas sun.

A ceramic owl stool amid the blue pots

There were, of course, plenty of plants tucked among all the garden art, like these azaleas, which grow well in East Texas.

Plus lots of flowering perennials…

…and hanging baskets. The sales staff was helpful when needed, and Diana and I found a few new plants to bring home. Not azaleas though.

The Arbor Gate offers lots of talks, and I think this elaborate copper arbor is probably where speakers are set up.

Two gift shops at opposite ends of the nursery offer housewares, books, and gifts of all kinds. The front shop, pictured here, is packed with home accessories and garden-related goodies.

Even table settings

This was a fun stop on the way into Houston, requiring only a slight detour to the north as we drove in via Hwy. 290. So, would any of the garden art have tempted you? I loved those ceramic koi but resisted — this time anyway.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Wildflower season in Texas, a magic carpet of color

A red, white, and blue patriotic spring is in full swing in the fields of east-central Texas.

Guessing that the early wildflowers were in full bloom east of Austin, I made a wildflower run right after school dropoff yesterday — a little late for the golden hour of sunrise, but what the heck. You grab a moment when you can find it. And boy am I glad I did.

I headed out Highway 71 to FM 535, southwest of Bastrop near Rockne — about an hour’s drive from central Austin — and found Texas bluebonnet and Indian paintbrush mixing it up in a magic carpet of color.

Not everything is bigger in Texas. How did these diminutive wildflowers come to occupy such a large place in our hearts?

Winter is not onerous here. We don’t really require cheering up after our mild, evergreen winters.

And yet this tapestry of spring color makes our hearts sing. All along the roadsides you’ll see people hunched over to take photos of the wildflowers, recording the beauty of the season.

Yesterday it was me!

Wildflower photography rules to live by in Texas: don’t cross fences or otherwise enter private property; don’t trample a good stand of wildflowers but leave the show for others to enjoy; and watch out for fire ants and snakes. And take time to breathe deeply because a field of bluebonnets smells like heaven.

Just down the road from the Persian carpet of bluebonnets and paintbrush I found an even bigger field of solid bluebonnets — and this water tower smiling as if pleased to see them too.

I gasped to see so many — bluebonnets spreading out to the horizon.

Pure magic! The white tips of the thickly clustered bluebonnets created the illusion of snow-covered ground, at least from certain angles. A few red paintbrush have invaded, but the field is mainly blue, blue, blue.

Along the fence, a few more paintbrush are sprinkled in. But what do I see in the midground?

Pale pink bluebonnets! A little surprise from Mother Nature.

I hope you enjoyed the show. Have a great weekend, and if you live in central Texas, get out there and enjoy those wildflowers.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.