Week 10: 3/5 – 3/11

Dateline: 2011
Cool nights but pleasant days in the 70s. Occasional showers. Windy every day except Sunday (3/6), the day of the Zilker Kite Festival. The cedar elms are threatening to leaf out.

The bluebonnets are opening. This is a poor year for bluebonnets and only the ones I hand sowed (pink and white) and the two giant oversummering ones are doing well. The Mexican plums faded almost as they opened. However, the breadseed poppies are sprouting strongly. I thin and transplant some ‘Lauren’s Grape’.

The ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils are fading but the ‘Trevithians’ are flowering well this year. They have the most lovely scent, although I have to put my nose right in them to smell it. No sign of the ‘Hawera’ which used to open so consistently this week.

About a dozen tomatoes sprouted but have yet to get their first leaves. I’m behind on tomatoes this year!

First Flower: Commelinantia anomala (3/5); Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ (3/6); Engelmann daisy (3/6); Nemophila insignis (3/9); Oxalis crassipes (3/9); Oxalis triangularis (3/9).
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Week 48: 11/26 – 12/2

Dateline: 2010


Zanthan Gardens north back border
2010-11-25. Much drier than 2009. The garden is bare of self-sown cilantro and baby blue eyes which were a foot tall this time last year. The Japanese persimmon is in full color but the umbrella tree has already shed its leaves. The exuberant rose ‘Ducher’ died suddenly of cane dieback over the summer.

Austin gets its first official freeze early Wednesday (12/1) morning. But Zanthan Gardens experienced some frost damage last week (11/27). That front blew the leaves off the pecans and cedar elms, making for golden December days in the garden. I spend Monday (11/29) mower mulching the fallen leaves. The air is so incredibly dry that they are easy to clean up; they just crumble. The garden is pleasingly tidy for a change.

I’ve been frantically busy planting ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils and spring annuals. I enjoy being in the garden now more than any other time. The days are clear but the temperatures cool enough that it’s a pleasure to dig and rake. The bluebonnet seedlings are still quite small and requiring supplemental water (or else they shrivel under the glare of the sun when temperatures top the 70s.) I also have to keep all the seed beds moist. 2010 is such a contrast to 2009. Very few self-sown seedlings have sprouted, only those that get a bit of water when I’m watering other plants. Rain is promised with each cold front but none has fallen. We are on our way to becoming a desert again.

Dateline: 2009

History repeats itself. A gloomy week is forecast and I spend today tidying up the mud room (aka the entryway) and bringing in aloe, kalanchoe, and golden thryallis which I’ve potted as backup plants. Just in case. I planted out my Meyer’s lemon, my cutleaf philodendron, and my ‘Ming’ asparagus fern because they got too big to lug in and out. If I installed grow lights in the mud room, I wouldn’t have to cart the pots in and out. But that room doesn’t have any electrical outlets so this probably won’t happen anytime soon.

The leaves are all turning color. I always think this is late until I look at my notes. The umbrella tree is a brilliant yellow. The Mexican buckeye and the pecans are a mottled, muddy yellow. The Mexican plum trees are a bit more golden. The Japanese persimmon is just turning orange and red. And the red oaks are blushing a deep red from the top down. Once again the ginkgo is a dud; it lost all its leaves before they turned yellow. [2010-12-02. The ginkgo finally died in Spring 2010.]

All the rain has fooled the cilantro and the false dayflowers into thinking it’s already spring. The whole yard is thick with both of them. The cilantro will be flowering soon and the false dayflowers have been flowering for a couple of weeks. Yesterday, (11/28), AJM and I trimmed back the fig ivy on the chimney so that we’d be able to have a fire inside without starting one outside. We found some “figs”, too. A first.

The cuttings of culinary sage, Jerusalem sage, licorice plant, and rosemary all seem to be rooting. The English peas are up. I continue to dig out the nandina roots from the front north border where we want to make our screened in tomato patch next spring. Like 2002, I’m madly trying to plant narcissus bulbs I dug up in the summer. This is very late as some of the Narcissus italicus are already sending up scapes. Lots of paperwhite foliage but no flowers.

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Week 47: 11/19 – 11/25

Dateline: 2007
When I lived in Japan, the weather was pretty consistent. When summer started cooling off, it just colder and colder each day through winter and then it started warming up until it was spring. Once winter arrived, there was no relief from the cold. I much prefer Austin’s weather pattern. For example, Wednesday (11/21) temperatures hit a record high of 89F ahead of a cold front that dropped temperatures overnight to near freezing. The entire Thanksgiving holiday was gray and cold and windy–perfect for baking and feasting but not much fun for the boys who wanted to spend their time off hiking and biking. Saturday we got our first good rain since October 22nd. You northerners will laugh, but after four days of cold, I’m tired of winter. Luckily next week the sun and temperatures in the 70s return.

Even Austin’s idyllic approach to winter has some drawbacks. I spend a lot of time covering plants up if a freeze threatens only to uncover them the next day when temperatures soar. The potted plants get trotted into the house and then trotted back out again. I watch the roses anxiously wondering if this latest flush of new growth will freeze before it can flower. (‘Ducher’ and ‘Blush Noisette’ are blooming this week; ‘Heritage’ and ‘Prosperity’ have buds.) Our plants don’t go dormant, so they are very vulnerable to the half-dozen or so hard freezes we get each winter. But this is a small price to pay to enjoy a string of warm, sunny days between winter storms.

Looking over the notes from previous years I’m happy to see that I finally DID get my mulching mower–it took almost a year but I finally followed through.

First flower: Helianthus annuus ‘Moulin Rouge’ (11/20).
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Week 17: 4/23 – 4/29

“The flowers that bloom so sweetly wither and fall. Our human life, too, is fleeting. Today, again, I will cross the mountain pass of this uncertain world, and will not entertain shallow dreams or give away to drunkenness.” Iro no Ha. Translated by Francis G. Drohan. A Handbook of Japanese Usage. p. 90.

Dateline: 2010
The scent of honeysuckle and jasmine pervades the garden. The week began hot and sticky with a 90°F temperature recorded at the Bouldin station (4/23) and worse, overnight temperatures barely dipping below 70°F. Then a couple of fronts blew in bringing cooler temperatures but no rain. It was a beautiful week for spring cleanup.

I spent all week cutting back bluebonnets and cilantro. I let too much cilantro bolt and it dominated the meadow. As I cut it back, I reveal drifts of yellow (Engelmann daisy), pink (pink evening primrose), and blue and white (Love-in-a-Mist). The last I love best in white because at dusk it looks like little stars are floating in the meadow.

The oleander damaged in January’s freeze is producing new shoots from the ground. Some new shoots are also sprouting from old stems but I probably should cut them all the way to the ground so that it looks compact and bushy. The opuntia is putting out new pads but I don’t care if it never comes back. Both are a long way from flowering unlike this time last year.

The tomatoes are all setting fruit. The biggest and most prolific so far are ‘Jaune Flamme’. Both plants are waist high.

First flower: rose ‘Red Cascade’ (4/23), Trachelospermum jasminoides (4/25), Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ (4/29), rose ‘Mermaid’ (4/29), amaryllis ‘Black Pearl’ (4/29).
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Week 14: 4/2-4/8

Dateline: 2010
I can’t see the garden for the flowers anymore. I can’t get into the beds to weed them; I can barely find the paths. I guess it really is a meadow now, rather than a garden. Compare this photo with last year when we were in our second year of drought. Last year the cilantro was knee-high. This year it’s up to my shoulders, towering over and obscuring the bluebonnets and yellow irises. The yellow irises are all tall and twisty–just like in 2007, they really took off this week just as the Iris albicans faded. This year the bluebonnets are large and numerous–one of the best years ever for bluebonnets. Spring has been cooler and later this year. The larkspur and the Engelmann daisy (well-established last year by this time) are just beginning to open. The Naples onions are finally opening up but their white is indistinguishable from the white cilantro.

The roses, especially ‘Ducher’, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, and ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ are covered in flowers. In the shady parts of the yard, the spiderwort, false dayflowers, and baby blue eyes have hit their peak and just starting to get a bit leggy and collapse.

The damage by January’s hard freeze is clear in the brown fronds of the sago palm, the collapse of the spineless prickly pear, and the rotting leaves of the Agave americana variegata.

Early spring is over. The Texas mountain laurel no longer smells like grape soda. The spring bulbs, Tulipa clusiana, Spanish bluebells, summer snowflakes, daffodils, and grape hyacinths have faded. We’ve started having 80° days again and worse, above 60° nights. Sunday (4/4) I was too hot to sleep for the first time this year and Monday (4/5) we hit the week high of 87°. Wednesday (4/7) a front came in and it was dark with a promise (unrealized) of rain all day. The lack of rain was disappointing but least temperatures dropped back into my favorite 40-70 range again.

From the vegetable garden we’ve been eating English peas almost every night. After a few days in the 80s, they are no longer producing flowers. The lettuce and arugula are also getting a bit past their prime. Now that the trees are leafed out the winter vegetable garden is once again in full shade so it’s finished for the year. The pecans, the last trees to leaf out, finally are. Still sunny beneath them for a week yet. The tomatoes are enjoying their new home next to the driveway. On Sunday (4/4), AJM constructed a frame for us to put netting over it in hopes of foiling the squirrels this year.

First flower: Allium neapolitanum (4/2); tomato ‘Jaune Flamme’ (4/2); California poppy ‘Mikado’ (4/3); poppy not ‘Lauren’s Grape’ (4/3); amaryllis ‘Amoretta’ (4/4); rose ‘New Dawn’ (4/4); weeping yaupon holly (4/4); Meyer lemon (4/5); tomato ‘Azoychka’ (4/6); Oenothera speciosa (4/8); rose ‘Prosperity’ (4/8)–still not looking very healthy.

Dateline: 2009

2009-04-10. A view of the meadow from our roof. A lot less larkspur in the meadow this year and almost no bluebonnets.
One week out of 52 my garden looks just about as perfect as a dream and this is that week. I spend all my time wandering up and down the paths just looking at it. And smelling it. It’s a heady, dangerous feeling because it fools me into thinking that gardening in central Texas is like gardening in Eden. I forget about summer. I forget about 50 days of 100 degree weather. I forget about Austin’s 19-month drought. Instead I get sucked into bigger, more elaborate plans for future gardens and seduced by visits to local nurseries, other people’s gardens, and garden talks.
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Week 11: Wearing the Green

Almost every tree began leafing out this week. For many gardeners, daffodils and crocuses speak the language of early Spring. Redbuds and bluebonnets shout out this is Spring in central Texas. For those of us who suffer through Austin’s hot, dry, dusty summers that blinding green of unfurling leaves leaves us a little breathless. Spring green. Nope it’s not all cacti and cattle drives down here.

I’m never ready for the trees to leaf out in my yard. I can’t imagine life without them in July but in mid-March most of my annual are just sending up their flower stalks and the roses are budding. I want another month of sunlight. I want full sun all day at least until the nights stop dipping into the 30s.

Austin Spring March 17
2010-03-17. I never manage to clean up all the leaf litter from the red oaks before they start leafing out again. In the lower right hand corner you can see the severe freeze damage to my sago palm.

The red oaks and the cedar elms compete for first. The smaller trees–fig, Japanese persimmon, pomegranate, loquat, and vitex–all are sprouting new growth. Laggards include the ginkgo, the crape myrtles, and the pecan. The Texas persimmon, which lost its leaves for the first time in 14 years, is leafing out. Only the live oaks are marching to a different tune. They are “evergreen” but turn a disturbing brown in Spring as their new leaves push out the old, like a child losing milk teeth.

The trees aren’t the only ones wearing the green. Root-hardy perennials are finally proving that they survived January 2010’s hard freeze. Fresh little shoots appear at the base of the duranta, Mexican mint marigold, zexmenia, crocosmia, and gladiolus. Only the bulbine remains silent.

Week 07: 2/12-2/18

Dateline: 2010

Austin’s unusually cold and wet winter/spring seems even more so in contrast with the last two drought years. Both the garden and I have been under the weather all February. The sun came out for a couple of days this week but I didn’t get much done. I lacked the stamina to deal with the cold and wind. Although I’m way behind in my chores (this is normally my busiest season), I feel that this drizzly weather has given me permission to take a break. A season of rest and reflection is something I often envy. So rather than fret about what isn’t getting done in the garden, I’m cultivating other pleasures.

This has been a slow spring. The big freeze of January 2010 killed the buds or flowering stalks of the various paperwhite and tazetta narcissus which would normally be in flower. It killed off the already flowering false dayflowers and snapdragons. And what I thought would be very early flowering cilantro and larkspur also froze (not the whole plants, just the bloom stalks). The mahonia didn’t flower this year at all; I think bud formation fell victim to the drought. The only flowers happily on schedule are the common selfsown: henbit, chickweed, dandelions, and sow thistles.

To compare, this week in 2009 I had roses and narcissus blooming at the same time. The arugula was bolting and the English peas about to give into the heat. The Jerusalem sage was flowering and the the duranta was still flowering from 2008.

The Mexican plums which have bloomed as early as January 29th, finally opened one flower (2/18). That tied the date for 2004 and missed the all time record for the latest first flower (2/19) made in 2002. I haven’t seen any sign of my most reliable harbinger of spring, the redbuds. I always look for them on Valentine’s Day.

I’m still cleaning up freeze-dried plants. I cut back the duranta which flowered throughout last winter and had reached a height of about 8 feet. They are dead to the ground now. Whether they will resprout from their roots is yet to be seen. The leaves on the oleanders are completely dead but the branches feel flexible and springy. This is a good opportunity to cut them back to size which I find hard to do when they are green and covered with buds. I also cut back the leafless vitex last month. I still need to prune back the crape myrtles, the rose of Sharon, and the Texas persimmon (which has never lost all its leaves before).

The roses, especially ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ and ‘New Dawn’ are covered with new leaf buds. They love this extra moisture; unfortunately so does black spot. I stripped last year’s leaves off the roses and cut back old canes.

In the vegetable garden the first English pea flowered. Last year at this time, they were producing well and by the end of February I had to pull them out because temperatures hit the 80s. I just got around to ordering my tomato seeds this week. This is much too late and I’ll probably have to buy tomato starts, too. Now that Gardens has closed, I’ve lost my favorite source of unusual varieties.

First flower: Pisum sativum ‘Progress #9″ (2/16); Prunus mexicana (2/18).

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Setsubun, Halfway Through the Season

Dateline: February 2, 2008

Anemone coronaria
The Anemone coronaria has sprouted adding to my anticipation of spring. This is the first year I’ve grown them.

In the days when people spent more time observing nature than television, this week marks a significant moment in the year, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many cultures celebrate this turning point in winter as the beginning of the new year, the beginning of spring, even though for many the worst of winter is yet to come. For Christians, the end of the Christmas Season and the liturgical year is celebrated at Candlemas. Americans try to forecast the weather on Groundhog Day. The Chinese New Year (based on a combination of solar and lunar calendars) begins. And the Japanese celebrate setsubun, literally halving the season, driving evil spirits from their house while inviting good ones to stay on the eve of spring.

Anticipation of spring is running high here at Zanthan Gardens. The Spanish bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, are nosing up. Spanish bluebells
I planted them to remind AJM of home. Traditionally the English have used Spanish bluebells in their gardens because they are larger than the native English bluebells of the woods. However, recent worries about non-native plants have created controversy over Spanish bluebells. I’m surprised they do so well in Texas. They’ve come back every year neither increasing much nor diminishing.

I was very excited to step out into the garden after a few cold wintry days and see the Tulipa clusiana. I was afraid that with all of the rain last summer that these species tulips had finally rotted away.Tulipa clusiana
Tulipa clusiana likes hot baking summers and doesn’t require any chilling period to bloom. As such, it is the ideal tulip for Austin, where most tulips are difficult to naturalize.

I worried that last summer’s rain might have also done in the delicate triandrus daffodil “Hawera”. This is one of the few daffodils I’ve grown which has come back reliably over many many years and flowers without any chilling.
Narcissus triandrus Hawera

Like Yolanda Elizabet at Bliss, I’m excited to see the summer snowflakes coming up. Unlike many bulbs, they don’t mind Austin’s clay soil.
Leucojum aestivum

The overwintering annuals have put on lots of growth–or at least the ones that I managed to thin and replant during December have. Batchelor buttons

This is the second year I’ve grown bachelor buttons, Centaurea cyanus. In fact, these plants are from the seeds I had leftover from last year’s seed packet. I’m so pleased with their perfomance (and how easy they are to grow) that they have one a place in my permanent repertoire. Behind the bachelor buttons in this photo are the baby blue eyes, Nemophila insignis, which desperately need to be thinned.

This weekend promises to be beautiful, sunny and in the 70s. I have loads of pruning, weeding, and transplanting to do (and watering because it’s been so dry). What joy it will be to be out in the garden, though, checking over all the plants just waiting to burst forth in bloom.

Update: February 2, 2010

In some ways, Spring 2010 couldn’t be more different than Spring 2008. Then we were at the beginning of the drought and now we’ve had 5 months of cool, rainy weather and a killer freeze. All the overwintering annuals are large and plentiful and trying to bloom well ahead of schedule. Because this winter has been cloudier and cooler, this copious tender growth keeps getting nipped back by weekly freezes.

The Anemone coronaria did not survive the drought. Nor did my narcissus. But the Tulipa clusiana, Spanish bluebells, and Leucojum aestivum carry on rain or shine.

Consoloda ambigua
2010-02-02. Larkspur buds. The larkspur, which are usually in full bloom in April, keep sending up flower stalks that are cut down with each freeze.

While the rainy weather has allowed the self-sown annuals (including weeds) to proliferate, it has kept me from most of my gardening chores. I haven’t even sown many new packets of seeds such as the bachelor buttons yet. I have a short window of opportunity in which to sow seeds around Christmas after the leaves fall. If the weather is not encouraging or I’m too busy with the holidays, then I miss my chance before the heat sets in. Not that I won’t try anyway. This year might be a long cold spring letting us have flowers into May. Well, we can dream.

Week 01: 1/1 – 1/7

Dateline 2010
The first week of the new year has been blackened by the ominous forecast of the coldest weather since the big ice storm of the first week of February 1996 (when AJM and I were marooned together). Not only will this freeze plunge Austin temperatures to the teens, it will be cold for several days: too long and too cold for plant covers to help much. While the first freeze of the season cleared the garden of overgrown annuals this one threatens to kill long cherished tender perennials. Cue much moaning and gnashing of teeth in the Austin garden blogosphere/Twitter.

I spent Wednesday (1/6) ahead of the front digging up what tender perennials I could: the amaryllis (all but the butterfly amaryllis had died down anyway in lighter freezes), scores of aloe vera, and the largest banana. All these plants needed dividing or moving to a sunnier spot. Nothing like the threat of disaster to focus and motivate.

Some losses will really hurt. I’m going to hate to lose plants I’ve grown over many years from very small plants especially the lemon tree, asparagus fern, and the philodendron–all which I planted out last year after they became too big for pots. I will be sad to lose my rosemary which I was training into a weeping tree form. I lost my first big rosemary in a similar freeze years ago.

Other plants I’m not going to be sorry if they get cut down to size because they’ve been unruly, overcrowding and shading the neighbors: the variegated Agave americana, the three Duranta erecta, the Port St. Johns Creeper (which had already frozen to the roots in earlier freezes). I’m very bad at pulling out something that survives because so little does. So I’ve let these run wild even though they’ve overstayed their welcome.

This hard freeze is particularly frustrating because so many plants put on a lot of growth since September during the rainy period Austin’s had after our 2-year drought. The cilantro and some larkspur are already sending up flower stalks and have buds–two months before normal. The Acanthus mollis has early summer growth already, its new leaves a fresh bright green and glossy. Worst, the fall vegetables were just starting to get growing in the last month after the pecans and oaks finally shed their leaves. We’ve harvested one cutting of Mesclun and that’s it. Goodbye English peas, swiss chard, and various other greens. Luckily these are easily replanted. Also agonizing will be the loss of many plants that I’ve struck from cuttings.

First flower: Narcissus italicus, (1/1). Only one flower. It’s been a very disappointing year for N. italicus and not a single paperwhite bloomed this year.
Blooming (very little after a couple of hard freezes): Lobularia maritima, Lonicera fragrantissima , Oxalis triangularis (white), Narcissus italicus.

Related

If you’re preparing for the oncoming winter storm, read Frost and Freezes from the Travis County Extension Agent.

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Week 35: 8/27 – 9/2

Dateline: 2009
A garden pulls me into it because it is always changing. The light, the colors, the shapes, the scent are always shifting. That’s the reason I enjoy observing the garden and writing about my observations. And the reason I’ve hardly written at all this summer. It comes as no surprise that the last week I updated my week-by-week in the garden posts was 18 weeks ago, before our summer of 100° days began. As @gettinggrounded describes it, Austin has had three months of August. The relentless searing sun. The oppressive heat radiating from every surface like the inside of a brick oven. The dried and roasted plants. The cracked black clay ground.

But this week, change. Last Thursday (8/27) it rained. Zanthan Gardens received an inch of rain over several hours of scattered showers. We were much luckier than many in Austin who received less or none at all. In the days that followed, temperatures dropped temporarily out of the hundreds. And flowers burst forth. The garden awakened from its summer slumber.

The rain brought out the first oxblood lily (8/31) and the usual rainlilies. The pale pavonia and the Port St. John’s creeper began blooming again. The crape myrtles perked up. An odd black-eyed susan, growing in the fig’s pot, opened some flowers. The datura unfurled. The tough standbys (ruellia, duranta, devil’s claw, rose of Sharon, oleander, plumbago) seemed to lift up their leafy branches as if they could finally stretch and shake out their flowers unbowed by the heat.

And even AJM remarked (as I do every fall), how strangely cool 94° feels at the end of summer compared with the beginning of summer when we groan and complain how unbearably hot 94° feels.

I think it’s sad and not a little frightening reading my old notes and realizing how quickly 2009 broke all the records of the horrible summer of 2006. For 50 years the hottest August on record was 1951 with an average temperature of 87.6°. This record was broken in 1999 (88.3°), then 2006 (88.5°), and now 2009, (89.1°). Even Austin’s native trees are dying, unable to adapt quickly enough to this changing weather pattern.

In 2006, we lifted our heads and pressed on, thinking we had survived the worst. Have we? Or will the worst just keep getting worse?


Dateline: 2006
Let’s sum up August so that we can be through with it. August 2006 in Austin was the hottest on record: the average daily temperature was 88.5F and the average high temperature was 100.7. Unlike 2000 (see below), we didn’t receive a lot of record breaking high temperatures. Instead it was hot every day; 24 days reached 100 degrees or higher.

Luckily, this week we got our first taste of fall. On Tuesday (8/29) morning rush hour started with rain. (Bewildered motorists crashed left and right.) In my garden it was barely enough to soak in 1/32 of an inch, but it did fill the rain buckets. I opened all the windows to smell it. Nighttime temperatures which had been in the high 70s all month dropped to a chilly 67 on Thursday (8/31). However, the high that day climbed back to 102.

With Tuesday’s temperature barely reaching 90, I was in the garden all afternoon. I dug up the daylilies, which hadn’t flowered this year. The leaves had withered and I worried that they might be rotting under the mulch. They weren’t. They were withered. I think I can revive the daylilies; it’s the dirt that’s dead.

blackland prairie clay
2006: The garden has died–not just the plants, but the soil. This is the bed that I dug the daylilies out of.

When I planted these daylilies four years ago, I amended the soil with peat moss, bought compost, and compost sifted from my mulch pile. This bed has always been mulched. All the organic material has since been sucked dry. All that’s left is dry lumps of baked blackland prairie clay. There’s no earthworms–probably no micro-organisms. The soil is as dead as a rock. If this is the condition of the rest of the yard (and there is every reason to think that it is), I can see why even drought-resistant native plants are giving up the ghost this year.

My problems with my little patch of Texas are minuscule compared with those people around the state who farm and ranch for a living.

Billions of dollars have evaporated, even more than the $2.1 billion lost during a 1998 drought, Texas Cooperative Extension economists reported in August. Crop losses have been estimated at $2.5 billion, and losses from livestock, underfed and rushed to market, are pegged at $1.6 billion. Wheat yields per acre in Texas have been the lowest since the 1920s.

Although it is the nature of gardeners to complain about the weather, Henry Mitchell said that what sets gardeners apart is defiance. So now that August is over, I’m gritting my teeth and donning my gloves. If I’m doomed to start completely over after 13 years, so be it.

First flower: Rhodophiala bifida (8/30).
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