Week 11: 3/12 – 3/18

Dateline: 2011
Daffodils give way to irises. Both the blue (lavender) and white cemetery irises are in full bloom. The ‘Ice Follies’ are finished but the ‘Trevithians’ are holding out.

Pink bluebonnets in full bloom. Some bluebonnets but overall this is a very poor year for them at Zanthan Gardens because of drought.

Dateline: 2009
It rained!

For the first time in 18 months Austin had a real rain; nearly 3 inches of rain spread over 5 cold and wintry days. From 3/4 to 3/10 the temperatures were in the 80s. Then on Wednesday (3/11), the front came in and settled. Temperatures dropped 40 degrees. On Thursday and Friday the thermometer barely moved from a low of 40 to a high of 45. On Friday (3/13), Austin’s high temperature was lower than Manchester, UK. Great for Austin. Disappointing for our visitor from the UK. The rain didn’t clear out until Sunday afternoon. I think that’s the longest stretch of cold we’ve had in the abominably hot winter of 2008/2009. And then, guess what. Right back up to the 80s Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. They were gorgeous days to be in the garden but that heat quickly dried out the soil and burn bans lifted one day were almost immediately reinstated. (Compare my glee about the rain and cold to my grumbling remarks in 1997 and 1998 below–ah, what a difference an 18-month drought makes!)

When I look at the photos for this week from previous years, it’s obvious that the drought has taken its toll. The Tulipa clusiana has not started blooming yet and there are no bluebonnets to provide a sheet of blue background for them in the meadow. The redbud pictured below died several years ago and the Texas mountain laurel had very few flowers this year–so the combination in that photo will not be repeated. There’s no sign of my usually dependable daffodil ‘Hawera’. The wisteria leafed out without flowering.

However, the white lantana is blooming wonderfully. The roses ‘Ducher’ and ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ are in glorious full bloom. (That observation needs a lot of exclamation marks because no photograph I’ve taken can do them justice.) The Meyer lemon has gone bonkers with flowers. The iris albicans and bridal wreath are also at their height this week. The sweet peas appreciate the cold and rainy weather. The cedar elm and red oak trees have all leafed out. After the rain, the leaves look so fresh and glossy and brilliantly green I spend all my time looking up at them. What comparatively few baby blue eyes there are have begun to bloom and fill out empty spaces. Same with the cilantro. Overall the meadow looks quite bleak. But the rain is nudging the most recalcitrant flowers into bloom.

Best rumor I heard this week: Austin’s La Nina weather pattern might almost be at an end. We are to expect a normal summer not the pits of Hell like last summer.

First flower: California poppy ‘Mikado’ (3/17); Engelmann daisy (3/17); Oenothera speciosa (3/17).

Dateline: 2006
photo: Tulipa Clusiana
2006-03-15: Tulipa clusiana and Texas bluebonnets.
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Week 06: 2/5 – 2/11

Dateline: 2009

I associate the first redbud blossom (my private official marker of spring) with Valentine’s Day but this year I saw my first redbud on Monday (2/9), almost a week early. Spring’s in Austin and there’s no holding it back.

As my son retorted, “Does this mean we’re going to have a month of 70-degree days and then a hard freeze during Spring Break?” Probably. Austin’s average last freeze is now February 26th (it used to be in March) so the period between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is always a bit chancy for tender new plants. He’s probably remembering when he was a boy and I took him camping at Enchanted Rock for his birthday. The temperature surprised us by dropping to 14 degrees that night. That was the same year as the latest freeze on record, April 3, 1987. As the Austin Climate Summary shows, Austin can be in the 90s or higher ANY month of the year; it can also freeze anytime between October and April.

Flowers were opening all over the garden. This is the most excitement we’ve had at Zanthan Gardens in about eight months.

First flowers: Prunus mexican (2/5); paperwhite Narcissus ‘Grandiflora’ (2/6); rose ‘Ducher’ (2/6); Mahonia bealei (2/6); Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’ (2/8); Leucojum asestivum (2/9); Cercis canadensis (2/9); Lantana montevidensis (2/9).

We had a bit of relief from the drought this week, too: about half an inch of rain in a slow, soaking drizzle on Monday (2/9) and then a bit less late in a 10-minute downpour (accompanied by high winds and hail) late Tuesday evening (2/10). The rain penetrated the first 4 to 6 inches of soil (depending on where it is in my yard–heavy clay or well-composted). Below that, the dirt is dust dry. It’s frightening to dig into it. I expect the spring weeds to kick into high gear now. Our weather has been so dry that even the chickweed was languishing. Some henbit has been blooming. I never weed it all out because the butterflies like it when nothing else is blooming.

I have been digging out nandina to make a bed for three raspberry plants I bought at The Great Outdoors. I didn’t think that raspberries would grow in Austin but they assure me that this variety, ‘Dorman’, will produce in a couple of years. We harvested an actual serving for two of the English peas and have been eating lots of salad trying to get the most out of the arugula before it bolts.

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Week 52: Christmas Day Roses

Dateline: 2008
Two out of three of my ‘New Dawn’ roses have been flowering all December. The flower above is from a bud I didn’t see and pick before our last hard freeze. It survived and opened but you can see from the brown spots that it is frost damaged.

After the droughts of 2006 and 2008, I don’t have very many roses left in my garden. The David Austin ‘Heritage’ rose which was blooming on Christmas Day 2007 died. However, ‘Blush Noisette’ is still going strong, blooming in what passes for cold in central Texas but also doing well in Austin’s summer heat. This Christmas Day her flowers are either bud or blown.
photo: Christmas rose
‘Blush Noisette’

I’m bending the rules this year to show you my newest amaryllis, ‘Amoretta’. It opened about a week ago and has had to be protected from two hard freezes and then be immediately uncovered as temperatures soared into the 70s. As such it is a bit battered. I notice with roses that cold weather tends to intensify colors and I wonder if this is true with this amaryllis or whether this is its true color.
photo: Christmas amaryllis
Amaryllis ‘Amoretta’

Dateline: 2007
photo: Christmas roses
2007-12-25. Roses blooming on Christmas Day in Austin, TX. ‘Blush Noisette’
This has been a very good year for December roses throughout Austin. Two light freezes, last weekend and this, haven’t damaged the roses much especially those growing in a protected area along walls or privacy fences. The white flowered China rose, ‘Ducher’, is my only rose that is covered with flowers. Looking over my history below, I see that ‘Ducher’ and ‘Blush Noisette’ are my most reliable Christmas roses. Around town ‘Mutabilis’ also seems to do very well in this cooler weather.

photo: Christmas roses
2007-12-25. ‘Ducher’ is the only rose in full bloom; the snowy white against the red of the nandina berries is about as close to Christmas colors as we get in Austin.

The freezing night temperatures intensify the colors of ‘Heritage’. The flowers also opens more slowly last longer than in spring or summer.

photo: Christmas roses
2007-12-25. Another flower opened on ‘Heritage’; this one is a little smaller and more ragged than the one that opened for GBBD.

The downside to winter roses is that the buds are vulnerable.
photo: Christmas roses
2007-12-25. Freeze-dried buds on ‘Blush Noisette’.

The ‘New Dawn’ rose that I started from a cutting has a bud.

photo: Christmas roses
2007-12-25. A cane of ‘New Dawn’ has sprawled across the pinks; this bud didn’t quite make it open for Christmas Day…but we have 12 days left of Christmas.

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Week 23: 6/4 – 6/10

Dateline: 2008

Every year there come a time when I must make Sophie’s choice, deciding which plants will live and which will die. I yanked out the last of the borage and the cornflowers this week. In the case of the unkillable Acathus mollis, I’m not letting it die, just go dormant until fall. It’s so pitifully sunburned and bug-eaten that I consider this a mercy killing. It doesn’t like the heat or the searing sunlight. (For the last couple of weeks, it’s been getting about an hour of afternoon sun a day because my neighbor lost some big limbs in the last storm.) In good years, I don’t have to make hard choices until after the 4th of July. Apparently 2008 is not going to be one of the good years.

The weather looks bad everywhere: 100 degree heat on the east coast, floods in the midwest, and late snow in Washington state. This afternoon when it was 101 degrees (tied the 1923 record) rain began falling although the sun was shining. It was so hot that almost none of the rain hit the ground and what did evaporated immediately. Little steamy droplets rose so that it looked like it was raining up at the same time it was raining down. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Nothing soaked in and the rain didn’t cool us off; we just went from dry heat to humid heat.

The oleander still looks stupendous. The duranta and the crape myrtle looked good at the beginning of the week but are starting to fade by today. We harvested four ‘Juliet’ grape tomatoes and various jalapeno peppers.

First flower: pomegranite (6/8).
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Week 21: 5/21 – 5/27

Dateline: 2011

Austin (Camp Mabry) records its first 100-degree day of the year, May 25th.

Dateline: 2008

As the temperatures climb, I find it hard to believe that by September I’ll look upon a 92F degree day as cool and fall-like. In the intervening months, summer will get a lot uglier. The days have been sultry. Someday, I’d like to spend this kind of week lying in the hammock sipping iced tea and enjoying the green shade. When it gets this hot, I don’t want any flashy color in the garden, just cool, refreshing green. This is the week that my resentment dissolves and I suddenly love my trees again; I forgive them for shading out the flowers in April.

I’ve been working hard to get everything mulched. I got a truckload of bark chips from a crew that was cleaning up after last week’s storm. That’s kept me busy running back and forth with the wheelbarrow refreshing the paths and putting a nice layer down in the woodland garden.

The nerium oleander and one of the duranta are in full bloom and look fantastic. The larkspur is all cleared out. A few bluebonnets bloom on (they last a long time if deadheaded.) The violas are mere crisps and the Confederate jasmine faded. The rose ‘Ducher’ is still blooming well. And ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ puts out a single flower or two. The borage is holding up fairly well under the heat.

I ate the last three strawberries, harvested some jalapeno peppers, and started in on the summer squash. Oh, and we ate a pitiful handful of potatoes I dug up Sunday (5/25). They were tasty but we harvested less than we planted.

First flower: canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’ (5/22); Lindheimer senna (5/25).
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Week 20: 5/14 – 5/20

Dateline: 2008


The week began promisingly, with a little rain. I was feeling on top of my gardening chores. I’d gotten most of the spring annuals pulled out and seeds harvested. I was sifting compost, top-dressing and mulching plants, and just about to finish off one compost pile and turn the other so I could start a new one. I was further along in tidying up than I’ve ever been this time of year and feeling quite satisfied with my labors. So it was no surprise to me, really, that the malicious Loki-spirit of my garden decided this was an auspicious time to slam hard and wipe that smug look off my face.

After hail, wind, and falling limbs (and ball moss!) my neatly mulched garden looked liked Christmas morning at my parents’ house after 15 grandchildren have shredded their Christmas present wrappings. Although we had a couple of clear dry days for the cleanup, we ended the week with August-like temperatures: two record-breakers, 98F/36C (5/19); 101F/38C (5/20). (Normal temps for this time of year are mid-80s.)

One of the three bushes of Duranta erecta is in full flower–the other two, nothing. The oleander is also flowering profusely, unfazed by the heat.

First flower: Echinacea purpurea (5/14); Malvaviscus arboreus (5/15); LA hybrid lily (5/19); Ipomoea quamoclit (5/19); Antigonon leptopus (5/19); Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’ (5/19); Vitus agnus-castus (5/20).

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Week 19: 5/07-5/13

Dateline: 2008
As usual summer arrives in Austin with a vengeance in week 19. Last Friday temperatures hit a muggy 97F (5/9), cooling of to a mere 95F on Saturday. We received a wonderful reprieve on Mother’s Day and yesterday the high was only 78. I spent all day in the garden, tearing out larkspur and cilantro and mulching the perennials.

Even without the larkspur and cilantro, the meadow is looking pretty good. I did better job this year of balancing the early and late bloomers so that there is still a lot of color from Engelmann daisy, pink evening primrose, and poppies.

The coral bean is in full bloom and the root-hardy perennials that had been smothered under the exuberance of the wildflowers are starting to grow: the purple coneflower, the butterfly bush, the black-eyed susan. These are blooming in other people’s gardens (probably because weren’t hidden from the sun all spring) while mine are just getting started. And unlike last year, my red yucca is blooming very well this year. It has two stalks.

First flower: Plumbago auriculata (5/8); Rudbeckia hirta (5/8); Acanthus mollis (5/11); Ruellia (5/11) the passalong; Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ (5/12); Zexmenia (5/12).

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Week 18: May Day Pinks

Julie @ Human Flower Project passed along poppy seeds which finally started blooming this week. (Everyone else’s in Austin bloomed throughout April.) She said the double-selection was salmon. In soft early morning light it looked more dusty rose; in glaring afternoon light, definitely salmon. (These two photos are of the same flower taken about six hours apart.)

Papaver Dorothy Cavanaugh passalong

My love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena had almost died out so, thinking I had enough blue flowers, I planted some ‘Mulberry Rose’ seeds from Renee’s Garden. The cilantro overgrew them and when I was clearing it out yesterday, I discovered these miniature nigella flowers, about the size of a dime, on teeny-tiny plants. (Seed packet: mature height 18-24 inches). Apparently they prefer room to grow.

Nigella damascena

On the opposite end of the scale, the unwieldy crinum (maybe Crinum bulbispermum) continue to flower. These large bulbs don’t like being moved and have taken about three years to settle in and start blooming.
Crinum

The pink rainlilies, Zephryanthes grandiflora opened all at once today. A single early flower opened on April 28th–but today is really rainlily day.

Zephyranthes grandiflora

Week 45: 11/5 – 11/11

Dateline: 2010
Temperatures have been quite chilly in the mornings, dipping to the high 30s and low 40s. Our coldest morning of the fall was Saturday (11/6) when our first freeze warning was issued. I didn’t even hear about it until after the fact but temperatures fell only 38 at Camp Mabry and 39 at Bouldin. After 10AM, it warms up to the 70s. The days are sunny and very clear with brilliant blue skies. Great weather for digging out horseherb and dividing the yellow heirloom irises. The bog garden is taking shape.

It continues to be very, very dry and I spend a lot time watering bluebonnet seedlings. I haven’t even started the larkspur yet. I’m waiting for the leaves to fall.

Some leaves have fallen from the cedar elms and pecans but I’m still waiting for some sunshine. The red oak in the back has had a bumper crop of acorns this year. They grind up well in the mulcher/grinder. The red oak in the front has dropped fewer nuts but those are twice as large. I find how different they are interesting.

Both ‘New Dawn’ roses have had excellent fall bloom this year. The ‘Red Cascade’ rose is also the best it’s ever been. Even ‘Mermaid’ (which I’m trying to hack back until some semblance of control) has a flower or two. Four years ago this week I bought my replacement ‘Ducher’. It was wonderful this spring and then it died of cane dieback, too.

We picked some cilantro for chicken tortilla soup (11/7). I haven’t planted the winter vegetable garden yet.

First flower: cat’s whiskers (11/7).

Dateline: 2007
At the beginning of the week it seemed that November weather had indeed arrived–cool, cloudy, dark, and gloomy. What lovely weather for snuggling under a blanket with a cup of tea and reading gardening books. The high temperature Tuesday (11/6) was actually 69F, but that was at 3AM. The temperature dropped during the day so that it was colder at 4PM (59F) than at 3AM (69F). Also it was a drop of almost 20 degrees from the previous day. As the week progressed, the sun came back and the high temperatures were back in the mid-80s. Warm air is blowing up from the Gulf, so the air is quite balmy. This is one of the features about Austin weather that I like. We have one or two days of cool weather so that we can work ourselves into a holiday mood and then it warms up again so that we can get some real work done.

Other signs of fall: the cedar elm leaves began falling in earnest. I’m going to have to buy a new mulching mower this week. The leaves on the Japanese persimmon and the ‘Catawba’ crape myrtles are changing color. The paperwhites began to nose up and by the end of the week, I saw some Narcissus tazetta x italicus sprouting. I better get those bulbs in the fridge planted. The banana plants are starting to yellow and I’ll need to wrap them up soon. The aloe vera by the front walk has some cold damage. I’ll have to bring the potted ones in. And this year, finally, one branch of the weeping yaupon holly has red berries.

I did manage to plant out some violas. The lettuce and swiss chard are up but the raccoons and squirrels keep digging in my seedbeds. More nasturtium is up. A lot of cilantro is sprouting but I’m still waiting on the larkspur, bluebonnets, batchelor buttons, and love-in-a-mist. We need rain for those to sprout. In fact, looking at last year’s photo, I can’t believe that the four o’clocks were still blooming this time last year. I tore those out last month with the tomatoes and cypress vine, all of which were dry and weedy looking and long past flowering stage.

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Week 44: 10/29 – 11/4

Dateline: 2007
I spent all week cleaning up and replanting the back especially along the chain link fence on the west side (back) of the yard. I cut back all the wild ruellia and composted it. Then I spaded (but didn’t turn over) the whole section so that the self-sowers wouldn’t be covered by mulch and would have a chance to sprout. I dug up the pitiful bearded iris which had withered in last year’s drought but survived. This year’s rain did them in. Most had rotted away. I replanted only about two dozen; they’re so small they probably won’t bloom for two years. I planted seeds for love-in-a-mist and nasturtiums. I cleared away the nandina along the new fence and remulched the small mahonia and buckeye that are there. I planted the maiden grass that Margaret bought me and two more that I bought in a nice clump of three. I bought some more pinks and some alyssum; I haven’t found any violas I like yet, though. Most of this work was undone by romping raccoons. So it’s hard to feel that I’ve made any progress. However, I’m happy to report that the four plants I bought from Barton Springs Nursery this time last year are still alive.

Preparing beds means turning the compost pile and sifting it. The fine compost goes into the beds and the gross compost goes around trees and larger bushes as mulch. Preparing beds also means digging out roots and rocks of which I have an endless supply. These are not new beds, by the way. But looking at the dry clods of clay you might think they were. In Austin’s hot and humid climate, organic matter decomposes almost as rapidly as I can add it. I had put mulch on top of most of these beds in early September, the last time I turned the compost.

The weather remains dry and sunny. A few leaves sift down but fall hasn’t really fallen yet. Toward the end of the week it began warming up to the mid-80s again. I saw two new flowers: a very early false dayflower and another tradescantia-looking flower that is quite tiny and white. The bush beans are finally flowering. I can see one tiny bean. AJM teases that we’ve never gotten more beans out of any planting than we’ve put into the garden. I did eat one persimmon (still hard), pick a few jalapenos and a handful of basil. And the very last oxblood lily faded on November 4th. That’s a record! Like last year, the red spider lily leaves are up; unlike last year I got 5 whole flowers this time. The grape hyacinths are pushing up but apparently we still need some rain to bring out the bluebonnets and larkspur. Or should I just give up on them and re-sow?

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