Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Enchanted Garden is Back!!

I'm back! Just a little hiatus from blogging. But, never fear The Enchanted Garden is here with bits of wisdom about gardening, nature and dumb stuff I do. Lets get right to it. Lets talk about feeding the birds.

In the winter, feeding the birds can be a matter of life and death for them. Natural food supplies such as insects and fruits are non-existent so setting out food for the birds provides the ticket to their survival.

If you have started feeding the birds, or if you are frustrated by a lack of success in attracting winter birds to your feeders, the first thing you need to do is determine whether you are feeding the right foods for the birds of the area. If you are not giving the birds what they want, you might not have many birds.

Here are the top ten foods for winter bird feeding:

·       Black-oiled Sunflower Seeds
·       Niger Thistle
·       Peanuts
·       Suet
·       Safflower
·       Cracked Corn
·       Fruit
·       Meal Worms (dead or alive)
·       Good Mixed Seed
·       Homemade treats

    Is there such a thing as BAD mixed seed? Heck ya! Bad mixed seed has lots of filler in it—junk seeds that most birds won’t eat. Bad mixed seed can include dyed seed meant for pet birds, wheat, and some forms of red milo. Good mixed seed has a large amount of sunflower seed, cracked corn and perhaps some peanut hearts or safflower. The really cheap bags of mixed seed sold at grocery stores can contain the least useful seeds. If you want to try different types of seed, may I suggest visiting Lost Creek in Mineola. Sandy Tibbs has a wide variety of seed just for the birds in our area and she is very knowledgeable!

If you are lazy like me, you can try one of my no fail methods. Smear peanut butter on a tree trunk, and poke some peanut bits into it. Try feeding suet and offer it all winter long. Suet attracts many insect-eating birds, such as woodpeckers. But nuthatches, juncos, chickadees, wrens, cardinals, sparrows and jays will also stop at backyard feeders for a high-fat treat. True suet, and especially the kind made with animal fat, provides a good source of energy and builds fat reserves needed during the cold.
Be sure to fill your feeders daily, preferable in the late afternoon to give the birds a boost before they roost at night. A few days of empty feeders means the birds will quickly disappear.

Place your feeders at varying heights and locations especially near trees and shrubs. Trees and shrubs provide protection from predators.

Provide a variety of foods.

Be sure to keep your feeders clean.

Now, lets talk gardening. I am happy to report that I am now taking Master Gardening classes. Hopefully the Enchanted Garden blog will take on more of a garden flavor but will keep nature posts too! We will see. Our first two classes are on soil. What? How long does it take to learn about dirt????

Ann Reynolds

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Things Aren't Always As They Seem

You remember all those funny “why” questions? Why isn't 11 pronounced onety one? Why do you park in a driveway and drive on a parkway? Why are a wise man and a wise guy opposites? Why do croutons come in airtight packages when they are just stale bread? Why are boxing rings square? Why is it called a Confederate Rose when it is neither Confederate nor a Rose? Maybe it is a stretch on the last one . . . . 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

One of the South’s most beloved plants, the Confederate Rose, is actually a native of China and it belongs to the Hibiscus family. The botanical name for this blooming beauty is Hibiscus mutabilis. So how did this plant acquire its name? Legend is that a wounded Confederate soldier spilled blood at the foot of the plant and the flowers soaked it up. The flowers have the remarkable ability to bloom pure white and the next day turn to pink. . .hence the romantic legend.

The blooms (are often mistaken for peonies which only bloom in the spring) can be single or double and also bloom pink or red. By the way, how do you pronounce peony? Is it pee-oh-knee or pee-uh-knee? I digress.


Confederate Rose

The Confederate Rose is difficult to find in nurseries and is now generally a pass-along plant. You can start it from seed but the easiest way is to find someone to give you a stem cutting and root it in water. It likes full to part sun and fertile soil. It blooms in the fall and comes back in our area from the roots. It will grow into a woody shrub or small tree.

The most popular plant is the Confederate Rose called Plena. The big double blossoms open white, change to pink the next day and end up red before falling. Often, you will see all three colors on the same plant.

If you are a member of Holly Gardeners here at Holly Lake Ranch, you are fortunate to have several folks that will give you a cutting in the fall. You don’t even have to ask. . pass-along plants are brought to meetings and are free!

Now maybe someone can tell me why the cereal is called Grape Nuts when it is neither grapes nor nuts? 

Ann Reynolds

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Haint - Southern colloquialism def., ghost, apparition, lost soul. Haints are supposedly restless spirits of the dead who, for whatever reason, have not moved on from their physical world. Ann, “what do haints have to do with nature and gardening?” Well, paint color has a lot to do with mud daubers. So there really is a segue!

Have you ever hear of Haint Blue paint? The original Haint Blue paint creators were Gullah or Geechee people, descendants of African slaves, who worked on rice plantations. They preserved their African heritage more than any other African American community by keeping alive traditions, stories and beliefs of their ancestors, including fear of haints. The first painted strokes of Haint Blue adorned the simple shacks of African slaves.

After noticing the blue paint and hearing the stories of haints, many Southerners also began painting the porch ceiling blue out of fear of haints. This color was thought to protect homeowners from being taken or influenced by haints or to protect the occupants from evil. This blue paint can be found on window and door frames too. The soft blue color, common in the historic homes around Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, is now referred to as Haint Blue.

Over the years, people began to notice that these painted ceilings appeared to repel insects. Most credible sources discredit this. However, this belief could be seated in historical truths. Milk and lye paints were first used on ceilings. Lye is a known insect repellent. Some folks think that insects will not nest on blue ceiling because the insects think the blue ceiling is the sky.
So I decided to conduct my own experiment. I do not like to destroy mud dauber nests because the dauber is a beneficial wasp. But, the mud nest stains the wood on my porch. So I thought of giving the Haint Blue paint a try.

So what color is Haint Blue? Most paint experts agree that the best shade of blue is the one that fits the look of the house. You don't want a blue ceiling to look like an afterthought or like it came out of nowhere.

My front porch
Unpainted area
So I picked my Haint Blue color (a soft blue-green) and my hubby bent over backward (literally) to paint the ceiling. Over the summer I watched and watched to see if the paint deterred the mud daubers and I am happy to report it did. I also noticed I did not have the big nests of daddy longlegs. More importantly, I was concerned that it would also send my little wrens packing for a different porch but it did not. 

There goes the theory of the Haint Blue being the sky. I did not notice if I had more or less ghosts.

So during your spring cleaning, you might want to try painting your porch ceiling Haint Blue. Whether the choice is based on superstition, getting back to nature or just because you think it's a lovely color, blue porch ceilings are a wonderful way to add visual interest to your outdoor space. 

Ann Reynolds

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Get to Know the Creatures in Your Yard

Have you ever just sat in your garden and looked at the world of the insects, bees, reptiles, birds and the plants? I mean, get down on their level and see the world as they see it. My favorite thing to do is to take a cup of coffee and go to the garden just as the sun comes up. The smell of the flowers and herbs is almost overwhelming. Last week I sat and watched, for the longest time, an Anole and his antics sparked my curiosity.

The Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) is indigenous to the southern United States. With a dorsal coat of lime to emerald green (very rare and gorgeous specimens are tinted blue), the green Anole is an agile climber and dines on spiders, grasshoppers and other insect prey. These green guys are personable little lizards that seem to enjoy being hand-fed too. That is if you like picking up spiders and grasshoppers.

These little herps (slang for reptiles and amphibians) are also sometimes referred to as the American chameleon due to its ability to change color from several brown hues to bright green. However, it is not a true chameleon. The color changes are caused by hormones, background color or mood. Anoles also do push-ups to regulate their inner temperature. They are ectothermic which means their environment determines their body temperature. On a hot afternoon if you see a male Anole doing push-ups and there is no female around, chances are he is cooling off. Green Anoles tend to remain green when temperatures are more than 70 degrees F., whereas they tend to remain brown during cool weather conditions or when stressed.  And get this - its toes have adhesive pads to facilitate climbing.

This little green guy that I observed was doing push-ups all by himself. I was saddened. I’m sure you’ve seen them where you live.

 Video courtesy of Courtney Neumeyer

This behavior is to catch the female Anole’s eye. Which leads to this.

Females pay attention to this display of fitness, sort of like watching Chippendale Dancers (not that I have ever seen any Chippendale Dancers).

Female lizards rate their guys by the size of their. . . .wait for it. . .dewlap. It is the bright-colored patch that the male lizard sports on their necks or on their bellies. Doing these push-ups is much like a body builder flexing his muscles.

So once in a while forget your gardening to do list and slow down, rest, relax and discover the soap opera that goes on daily in your garden. You may not get ahead of those weeds, but you will find unexpected drama unfolding. A leisurely pace has its rewards!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Pickles?

Holly Lake Ranch’s Pickleball Association has grown drastically since it was organized here in 2014. Back then, Holly Lake Ranch pickleball only had a handful of members and they played their games with portable nets on one tennis court (which equals two pickleball courts).
But, as membership grew, the homeowners' association had four new courts built and now, the game is truly booming. Holly Lake Ranch has outdoor pick-up games seven days a week, three leagues, and boasts membership of 100+ players. The age range is 19 to 80+ years.
So what is pickleball? The hybrid game, played with an over-sized ping pong paddle and whiffle ball, was born in 1965 in Bainbridge, Washington, as a cure for children’s summertime boredom. Despite its name, the only thing the game has in common with dilled cucumbers is a dog named Pickles. It earned its name when the dog would steal the founder’s game ball.

It is a sport created for all ages and skill levels, the rules are simple and the game is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players. Most players compare pickleball to tennis, played on a badminton-sized court that’s roughly one-half of a tennis court. Scoring is similar: two bounces in the play area or one bounce outside of it results in a point for the other team. The game is primarily played as a doubles game in recreation play. It requires little running; instead it places more emphasis on hand-eye coordination and dexterity. These aspects make it a life-long sport, one that can be easily learned at almost any age.

A year ago, I decided to play in one of these pick-up games to see what all the hoopla was about. I have played USTA tennis for the last fifteen years so I thought this should be a no brainer.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Ross

Photo courtesy Chris Waddell
I started in the novice group and was welcomed by all. This group was taught the basics of the sport. I never felt intimidated. . .well maybe, by the sheer number of players on the courts at all the times; but, what struck me, was the laughter, “good dig” comments, willingness to help and general friendliness of the group. As I started to play, I found the game easy to learn. Slowly, I started to understand the allure of a sport named after a bumpy green vegetable.

I would like to hit the person
who took this photo
As a newcomer to pickleball, I found that my tennis background did not help as much as I thought. I was under-striking the ball with the paddle and constantly hitting the net, even though the net was still shorter than those in regulation tennis. Argh! Even with the frustration and lack of a good serve, I still enjoyed pickleball. I never suspected that such a humorously-named sport would require not only physical but mental agility as well. A slight tilt of the paddle drastically alters a shot, which can give players an astonishing advantage. Also, when positioned close to the net, the game becomes very similar to ping-pong, with quick volleys that are often won on an unexpected spike.

The avid followers of pickleball at Holly Lake Ranch are a reflection of its budding popularity worldwide. It is one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation. Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2015 Participant Report reported pickleball currently has 2.46 million players. According to United States Pickleball Association, there are over 15,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the United States; and at least one location in all 50 states. Plus there are 138 places to play in the state of Texas. The game’s easy accessibility has gained a foothold with many folks.
I can say, now that pickleball is my favorite sport to play. With each game and practice I get better and better. The game is played to the score of 11 (only the serving team scores points) so a game can be short or go on what seems like forever. You can sit out one game and play the next. It is a great workout too!

If you are interested in taking up this new sport check out this useful web site. http://www.pickleballchannel.com/

You will love it!!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Getting Caught Up in the Garden

You have seen it if you live at Holly Lake Ranch. That vine with the shiny green leaves, beautiful red or black berries, and thorns, prickles or spines (depending on species). Like you care if it is a prickle or thorn when the vine is stuck in the middle of your leg!! We are talking about Smilax or Greenbrier.

Run-in with Smilax

If you are curious, a prickle is a sharp outgrowth from the plant’s bark. A thorn is a modified stem. A spine is a sharp pointed modified leaf. Even more confusing is all true Greenbriers are Smilax but not all Smilax species are Greenbriers. Here is east Texas we are “blessed” with many species of Smilax but suffice it to say, we will call it Smilax.  

The red-berried Smilax (Smilax walteri) creeps over bushes at the edges of sandy swamps or near streams. It is a thin woody vine, which may be spiny or nearly spineless. Its leaf surfaces are shiny green and it bears red berries during the winter. It has long underground runners, but is not tuberous.

Walteri - photo courtesy of Benny Simpson's Texas Native Shrubs
Sarsaparilla Vine (Smilax pumila) can be found growing in the open sandy woods of east Texas. This weak, “unarmed” vine has few tendrils at the nodes and prefers to climb over low plants. The young leaves and stem are densely pubescent (having fine hairs), becoming lustrous and smooth as it ages. It, too, has red berries but in the spring.
Pumila - photo courtesy of Benny Simpson's Texas Native Shrubs
China-root smilax (Smilax tamnoides) likes the damp woods and low areas near creeks. It has knotty rhizomes, while the vine runs over bushes and climbs into trees using its tendrils. The lower part of the stem is covered with needle-like spines. The shiny leaves are of different shapes.
Tamnoides - photo courtesy of Benny Simpson's Texas Native Shrubs

There are other species of Smilax: laurifolia, bona nox, routunifolia, smallii, and glauca, lasioneura that grow in Texas. One species is enough for me!

The one redeeming quality of this plant is that parts are edible. **DO NOT EAT ANY PLANT UNLESS YOU ARE 100% SURE WHAT THE PLANT IS.** On Merriwether’s blog "Foraging Texas", he states that tender vines, tendrils, tubers, leaves and berries are edible. He even makes vegan jello shots from this plant. Here is his blog: http://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/08/greenbriar.html.

You may not want this vine in your garden or yard and are having trouble getting rid of it. No amount of cutting or spraying will do the trick. The problem is tubers! Digging out the tubers is the only way to do away with this leg-eating vine. But if you read Merriwether’s blog, the tubers are high in starch and edible. Wonder if I can substitute tubers for potatoes in my diet?

Tubers from one plant
Baby Smilax - photo courtesy of Sonnia Hill

So, if you are out working in the woods, be sure to wear leather gloves, long sleeves and jeans. Be sure to tell your family where you are. If you should go missing, they will know you are being held captive by the thorns, prickles, and spines of Smilax!

And, as always, things could be worse. . . . 

Ann Reynolds

Monday, June 27, 2016

Gators Everywhere!

We have all read and seen the news reports of the death of the child being attacked by an alligator. It was such a very sad, sad thing. People never expected that creature to be in that location. For us in East Texas, alligators are a familiar sighting in ponds, streams, lakes and even the water hazards of the golf course. But, knowing they are here does not mean we humans are safe. Our HOA has had signage for years stating our swimming areas are also alligator habitats. I began thinking "do I really know much about gators except the meat tastes good at Rodney's Circle M Crawfish?" Since I like to be out on the water here, I decided  to brush up on these dinosaur-like creatures to be safe.

Alligators, crocodiles and gharials are in a group of animals known as crocodilians. Crocodilians are the world’s largest reptiles – yipes!! The American alligator (Alligator mississippenisis) is the least aggressive crocodilian – I guess that is a good thing. . . maybe.

Crocodile (Wikipedia)
Gharial (Wikipedia)

Alligators normally avoid humans but become nuisance animals when they establish territories where there are humans. As we begin to move into their territories here in east Texas, there have been increased encounters between humans, pets and alligators. The current legal definition of a nuisance gator is “an alligator depredating livestock or pets or a threat to human health or safety.” The definition of all of this is located in the Texas Administrative Code (Title 31, Part 2, Chapter 65, Section 65.352) if you are in want of a little light reading.

Gators are ectothermic meaning the air temperature around them determines their body temperature. When the temperature reaches 60 degrees or less they burrow in the ground and remain dormant (mid-October to early March). This period is called brumation. March through May is their breeding season. During this time females stay close to home territories while male alligators can occupy ranges up to ten square miles.

They are active dusk-dawn and feed in the evening hours. In the summer a large alligator may only eat once or twice a week. Alligators have excellent sight, smell and hearing. They are very good at stalking their prey without being seen. They are carnivorous and will eat anything they can catch including fish, turtles, lizards, snakes, small mammals, waterbirds, crustaceans and other alligators. Alligator jaw muscles have little strength for opening their mouths, but the muscles that shut them are very strong and have awesome force, about 300 pounds per square inch in an adult. 


Other interesting facts are:
  • Large gators can hold their breath for 45 minutes.
  • Females seldom reach lengths of 9 feet but males can be 14 feet.
  • In captivity, female alligators may reach 30 years of age, however, males can live past 60!
  • They are very vocal and make sounds like a bark, bellow grunt or hiss depending on the circumstances.
  • They are very quick on land and are capable of running quickly over short distances. Generally, alligators will not flee when on land.

**Except when engaged in hunting, it is against the law to intentionally feed a free-ranging alligator.**

Texas Parks and Wildlife has a great article called “If You See an Alligator” that you may want to read. The URL is: http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/alligator/safety/index.phtml

If you do not live in gator country and want to see them up close, visit Charlie Harris' East Texas Gator Farm which is located between Grand Saline, Van and Lindale, Texas. Charlie is an animal rehab person and has a small zoo on the premises. Call first and find out when he feeds them. You won't be disappointed in the action. 


Charlie at feeding time