The Fennel Forest

by Donna Lewis

I know you all were wondering earlier this year what I was going to do to this small garden in my front pasture area.  The freeze took every single plant to the ground. Laid  to waste.   

I was not able to weed it, or really do any work in it like I always have for many years. Injuries, a few too many years…it all adds up. I have been 29 several times I think.

So, let’s talk about what the garden is right now.  It looks messy to us humans. But,  I didn’t plant it for us.  I planted it for the wildlife. This garden had lots of native plants in it and a perch I made for birds to rest on.

I planted zinnias, fennel, yarrow, sunflowers, sage, coneflowers, salvia, cowpen daisies, and a host of native things that just blew in. Freebies! And very important, I made a perch for the birds to sit on.

Many gardeners forget to put something for the birds to perch on and get off the ground where they feel safe. I cut a cattle panel in two, then took some hognose clips and made it to where it would open up.  The birds love it.

All those “native plants” I had put in for years came back after the horrible weather. Even the heat and too much water has not deterred them. But all the mess has lots of bugs in it.  Food for hungry birds. So, I may have just given you a reason to get out of all that work, trimming, weeding and other back breaking work.

Remember who we are gardening for…

Donna, the happy bird girl

Update on My Purple Martins

by Donna Lewis

I could hear the joy of singing this morning inside our house. Outside they were really loud and proud.

The new Purple Martin young are learning to fly, and take care of themselves.  In August, they will fly to Brazil, where they will stay till next February. Right now they are learning how to catch insects in the air and drink on the fly.   

Watching them put on the brakes as they near the gourd rack is very amusing. Sometimes they have to circle several times till they can stop.

Going fast is their thing; slowing down takes practice. I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to fly above the trees for hours.

I shall miss them when they leave.  I wonder if they sing in another language when they are in Brazil?

Hot Outside and the Butterflies Love It

by Donna Lewis

I was only able to catch two species because the rest were too fast for me.

The first is a Sulphur ( yellow) butterfly. It’s either a Cloudless Sulphur or a large Orange Sulphur.   Pretty hard to tell.  For sure it like’s my zinnias.

Sulphur butterfly


The next beauty is one of my favorites, it’s a Tiger Swallowtail, the yellow version. Notice it’s on a zinnia also.

Tiger swallowtail on a zinnia blossom


So…I wonder what would be a great nectar plant to put in your gardens? ZINNIAS.  They are so easy to grow and everyone likes them. How easy is that?

Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Roy would have loved this.

Fledging in Progress

by Donna Lewis

These are my ladies in waiting.

For those of you who don’t know what “fledging” means, its when the baby bird takes its first flight.

In purple martins this happens at or after it is 28 days old.  So it is good to know when the very first eggs are laid so you know when this will happen.

If you lower a house down to clean it or look at the nests, young who are close to this age can become scared and jump out. Not a good thing! I have had this happen to me, a long time ago before I was experienced with these birds.

This resulted in a frantic chase by me to catch them all, put them in a container, then replace them in the nest quickly. After that I had to close up the entrance hole with a bandana. Then I tied a long string to the cloth, and raised the house back up. After several minutes, I slowly pulled the bandana out. Luckily the babies stayed in their house.

Right now you can see the mothers and babies who are flying sit on the house and talk to the babies still inside the gourds. They try to urge them to come out and join the rest. They will circle all day and chatter until every young  martin has made it up to the skies.

It’s a wonderful and magnificent sound!  You won’t forget it.

I’m Watching You

by Donna Lewis

I bet most of you have seen these really big toads around your house. They will probably be near a faucet or anywhere it’s wet.  If you make any noise near them they, peak out at you. They are Gulf Coast Toads.

This one is a female, which can be figured out because she is really big. You can tell the Gulf Coast toad species because of the prominent cranial crests on her head, which you can see in Suna’s photo below. 

Gulf Coast toad, photo by SA Kendall

These toads live from Mississippi in the east down through Mexico. They are common in our gardens, and eat lots of insects. They come out at night to party, so those of you who are out late might see them.

I took a photo of one of their babies last year, I think they are so cute. There were lots and lots of them. [Suna’s roommate in Austin reports there were hundreds of babies in their neighborhood last week; the toads are very common near their creek.]

Something Else to Read

For more on fun with these toads, see Suna’s blog post about how a toad shot out of a water pipe and confused her dog.