Oxalis drummondii
2006-09-26. The diminuitive Oxalis drummondii is another sign of fall. Only one bloomed this year.

September 29th, 2006
Week 39: 9/24-9/30

Dateline: 2010
A cold front settles in and we wake up Monday (9/27) to a mere 58°. Second fall has arrived with its dry air and icy blue skies.

I begin sowing greens in the winter vegetable garden.

The Lindheimer senna, the coral vine, and the four o’clocks are the most striking flowers. Quite a few oxblood lilies are still blooming. The red spider lilies are coming up all over the yard. Unfortunately I dug up most of them in the last year because they hadn’t flowered well in years–not even in rainy 2007.

We had a tremendous Mexican plum crop this year. I should have done something with it.

Bluebonnets, baby blue eyes, and false dayflowers are popping up everywhere. So are the less desirable plants like horseherb. I’ve seen a few cilantro, too.

Dateline: 2006
We fast-fowarded from August to October, with only one day of September weather two weeks ago Sunday (9/17) when it rained. The October weather (lows in the 50s, highs in the 80s, dry and perfectly blue skies) is gorgeous. I’ve been busy in the garden every day dividing irises and oxblood lilies and generally setting the garden right. But (the gardener’s lament) we need more rain. By the end of this week, the rain-softened iris beds were already becoming dusty dry.

During this exhilarating week I wondered what happened to me last year? Why did I wait so long to divide the irises? Why are the roses just inches from death? Why have I been so neglectful?

Then I looked at last year’s stats: the hottest day of the year was September 25th…we hit 108. Hurricane Rita swung east and drowned east Texas but left us with out a drop of water. And afterward, no rain. Not in September. Not in December. It was pretty much a downward spiral of drought for an entire year now and I gave up. For awhile…

I’m typing this with dirt under my fingernails. Yep. I’m back in the garden.

First flowers: Oxalis drummondii (9/25); crape myrtle (9/25) fall rebloom; Oxalis regnellii (9/27); Lantana montevidensis (9/27); Mirabalis jalapa (9/28) fall rebloom; Salvia greggii (9/28) fall rebloom.

The crape myrtle, cypress vine, and plumbago are fighting it out for the honor of most flowers this week. Still a lot of pink rainlilies and garlic chives blooming in the meadow, but the oxblood lilies are almost at an end.
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photo: Rhodophiala bifida
Photo: Oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida). 2006-09-21. Austin, Texas.

September 23rd, 2006
Week 38: 9/17 – 9/23

Dateline: 2006
Summer hung on tooth and claw with Friday’s (9/22) temperatures near 100. Despite a lousy ending, the rest of the week was everything we can hope for this time of year. The week began with a drenching rain which interrupted Tom Petty’s set at the ACL finale but left gardeners cheering. We received upwards of 1 1/2 inches–we haven’t seen rain like this since the 4th of July when towns all around Austin were forced to cancel their firework displays. The early part of the week, the lows were in the 50s, highs in the upper 80s, low 90s and gorgeous blue October skies.

The garden responded immediately. By Wednesday (9/20) the oxblood lilies were opening en masse. The meadow was covered in rainlilies. (I usually have them throughout the summer and even after the flowers fade, their leaves tell me where they are. But this summer there has been no sign of them.) Bluebonnets began sprouting everywhere in the meadow. The salvia began reblooming. The rose ‘French Lace’ (which had no leaves whatever) put out a flush of new growth). They hyacinth bean vines are about 5 feet tall. The esperanza and plumbago are heavy with flower. The chili pequin is bursting out with tiny white flowers.

I’ve been rushing around all week dividing irises and oxblood lilies and transplanting cosmos in the meadow. More rain is forecast for the weekend and even better, El Nino is coming our way for the fall and winter. That means more rain for Central Texas and a good year to get those replacement bushes and trees in.
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Rose Gruss an Aachen
‘Gruss an Aachen’ is just one of roses I’ve managed to kill off. Although Austin’s heat and drought combined with humid air can be challenging to the rosarian, one payoff is that we often have roses blooming at Christmas.

September 19th, 2006
6. For Love of a Rose

September 19, 2006
I suppose that even when non-gardeners think of gardens the first flower that comes to mind is the rose. As a teenager I used to help my mother with her roses and I still remember that she had ‘Mr. Lincoln’, ‘Tropicana’, and ‘Queen Elizabeth’. Every Easter morning before Mass she took a photo of us five girls standing in front of the roses in our spring finery.

However, I did not plant roses at Zanthan Gardens for many years. I had tried growing roses when I first moved to Texas and compared with Las Vegas, I found it difficult. In Austin the ground might be dry but the air is often humid causing the roses to be easy prey to black spot or mildew. And here the bugs are terrible. Plus, in my garden there is the ever-present issue of the trees. I didn’t have enough sunny spots for roses–they were all being used by tomatoes.

Eventually both sunlight and roses came into the garden. Influenced by a Christmas present I received from AJM’s mother, For Love of a Rose, the story of the family who developed the ‘Peace’ rose, the first rose I planted was ‘Peace’. It remains the only hybrid tea rose in my garden.

Austinites are lucky to be near the Antique Rose Emporium. Most of our local nurseries carry their roses. So I had plenty of opportunity to become familiar with heirloom roses while reading owner G. Michael Shoup’s Landscaping with Antique Roses and Roses in the Southern Garden. If you live in central Texas, it is well worth a trip to Brenham or San Antonio to visit the wonderful display gardens at the Antique Rose Emporium.

Given that I could buy an entire rose shrub for the same price as one iris rhizome, I found it easy to abandon my former passion for a new love. In addition to their scent, I loved the way roses could be integrated into hedgerows, as I’ve seen in England. I have chain link fencing on two sides of my yard and I wanted to cover them with roses. So I don’t have a rose garden or a rose bed–almost all my roses are shrubs or climbers and integrated into some other planting.

I seem to have begun my rose kick in 2000 and killed quite a few right off. I planted ‘Sombreuil’ in May 2000; it was poorly sited and never did well but took several years to die. I planted ‘Marie Pavie’ in June 2000, three months before we hit a string of all-time record-breaking highs which she did not survive. (Yes, I know better than to plant in June but sometimes I succumb to impulse. I planted “Caldwell Pink” at the same time and it didn’t die until 2005.) I planted ‘La Biche’ in November 2000 and she did not survive a year.

The rest of this entry I wrote in February of this year. We were already six months into the drought with six even worse months to come. Since then I’ve lost ‘Ducher’ and the prognosis for ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’ and ‘Buff Beauty’ is questionable. However, I’m not the least put off growing roses. There is so much variety and each rose is so individual in its personality that I will run out of time and garden space long before I’ve had a chance to try all I want to grow.

Pam/Digging asked me if I had ever tried to propagate roses from cutting. The answer is yes…and three of them are still alive!
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bearded iris Silverado
2003-04-25. Pale lavender ‘Silverado’ and yellow heirloom irises edge the meadow of Love-in-a-mist and larkspur.

September 14th, 2006
5. Worshipping the Rainbow Goddess

AJM’s mother has a photo of ‘Champagne Elegance‘–the first named iris I ever grew successfully–in her guest room so that I feel at home when we visit. Our older neighborhood is filled with heirloom irises that bloom every year any apparent effort on the part of most homeowners. I have a pale yellow variety that blooms later than the white and purple flags–usually in mid-April around tax day. This iris is unkillable. I have seen small ones left in a pile (because I’ve never gotten around to replanting them) send down roots and plant themselves. They lead me down a pretty path thinking irises are a breeze to grow.

And so they can be. Bearded irises are drought-tolerant, lime-tolerant plants. They need little attention except keeping the rhizomes free of weeds (and in my yard leaf litter). Let their rhizomes get covered and you’re asking for rot when Austin’s weather turns hot and humid. When it’s hot and dry their fans brown and they look messy. They have a fairly short bloom period and individual flowers last two days at most in our heat. In bloom they have no scent (connoisseurs will disagree) but when the blooms fade they give off a somewhat unpleasant scent of ammonia.

Despite this I fell hard for irises. They come in every color except true red (which is why they are named after Iris, the goddess of the rainbow). They have more variety of blue flowers than any other species I can think of. I’m a sucker for blue flowers.

In 1997 I sent off to White Flower Farms for three rhizomes of ‘Champagne Elegance’. I don’t remember the price but at the time it was the most I’d ever paid per single bulb. When they bloomed the following spring, the flowers looked like something from a catalog shoot–not something I’m used to seeing in my garden.

I found Schreiner’s Iris Gardens online and began a buying spree that lasted four years. I amazed a friend once when I showed her Schreiner’s glossy print catalog (the large one they send you if you’ve ordered from them before). She pointed out one she liked and I glanced over and said, “Oh, ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Yeah. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it.” She thought I had the name of every iris in the catalog memorized…I almost did.

I fell in love with an iris called Seakist which was selling for $35.00 a rhizome at the time. I bought other things while waiting for the price to come down and when it selling for $15.00, I bought three.

Unlike my heirloom irises, my bought irises increased for a year or two and then waned. They want to be divided more frequently than I have time for and they demand the best spots in the garden then spend 50 weeks of the year not in bloom. The number of irises that I bought that never bloomed at all or only bloomed once, give me pause. I notice now that my extravagant iris buying stopped the same year I lost my job. If I were wealthy and if I had hired men to dig deep trenches for my picky plants, I’d keep trying iris after iris. As it is, I moved on to something that gave me a lot more flower for the same amount of money…roses.

Question for central Texas gardeners: if you have bearded irises do you divide them after they bloom in the spring or do you wait until fall when they start growing again?
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photo: meadow wildflowers
2005-04-17. The one year the meadow came together: white from cilantro, purples (and height) from larkspur, dark blue from bluebonnets, pink from pink evening primrose, and yellow from Engelmann’s daisy.

September 10th, 2006
4. Wild for Wildflowers

That first year, after a 40 foot cedar elm split in half during a summer thunderstorm, we saw something in our yard that we’d never seen before. Sunlight. The entire north third of our backyard (about 30×60 feet) received glaring afternoon sun. I transplanted some canna near the house. They baked to a crisp in the reflected heat off the wall. The St. Augustine lawn died.

I decided to fill the space with annuals until I could think of what to do. Bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas, were a natural first choice. Drive the highways of Central Texas in March or April and you can’t help but be amazed by the carpets of blue planted by the road crews after construction and then left to reseed on their own. (Thank you, Lady Bird Johnson). Bluebonnets belong to the lupine family which means they have nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots–they enrich the soil.

Yes, I thought. If those roadsides can grow beautifully on their own, then I need to do something similar; provide the correct conditons to get a meadow established and then sit back and watch it grow. So grows the theoretical landscape. Are you laughing yet?

At least I wasn’t silly enough to buy one of the “meadows in a can”. Wildseed Farms is only 90 miles west of Austin in Fredericksburg and they supply all the local nurseries with wildflowers seeds. I’ve had the best success with bluebonnets, larkspur which come back every year. I planted short flowering bulbs, rainlilies, fall crocus, and species tulips. For a meadow to be meadow it has to have grass–so I planted the buffalograss ‘Top Gun’ which greens up early and stays green long into fall.

From the beginning the meadow suffered from two big problems. First, I considered it a garden and other people considered it a lawn. Other people were always stepping on seedlings and bulbs that they did not recognize as flowers about to make their entrance. I made paths based on where we walked, first with hay and then with mulch. I didn’t want it to look too defined, too artificial. When mulched paths didn’t work I began defining the beds with wood from a demolished privacy fence and rocks.

The second problem was that the meadow looks fantastic in April and May. In June it looks weedy as the seeds for next year mature. The other nine months of the year it looks like a vacant lot. I wouldn’t mind the lack of flowers but the buffalograss has been shaded out.

photo: meadow wildflowers
2003-09-16. Fall rains bring out the flowers on rainlilies and garlic chives but otherwise the meadow looks like a vacant lot. In the photo, I’m trying to decide whether to plant out the potted sago. I did.

photo: meadow wildflowers
2006-04-16. Notice how the original back half of the meadow is plunged into deep shade when the cedar elms leaf out in March.

To deal with the death of the buffalograss I turned the far end of the meadow into flower beds lined with irises. Again, borders of the beds and the paths through them change as the light changes over the years. It’s amazing to watch plants jump a path and establish themselves where they’re happiest. I try not to fight them.

photo: meadow wildflowers
2006-04-24. By 2006, what had been the upper meadow was coming into its own as a perennial bed. Unfortunately, it gets too much shade most of the year except July when it’s in full sun all afternoon.

In the midst of my meadow adventures I began receiving print catalogs from Marilyn Barlow’s Select Seeds. About the same time I was reading about Celia Thaxter’s Island Garden and I met Felder Rushing and bought his book (cowritten with Steve Bender) Passalong Plants. I could not resist the charms of those cottage garden plants which Marilyn Barlow referred to as the flowers grandmother grew.

I became enamoured of sweetpeas, poppies (corn, Shirley, California, and Icelandic), hyacinth bean vine, moonvine, morning glory, selected daturas, apple of peru, black-eyed Susan vine, feverfew, heliotrope, four o’clocks, clammy weed, clove pinks, viola, love-in-a-mist, amaranth, cosmos, and sunflowers.

The ones that succeeded best over the years were the overwintering annuals…in the south flowers planted in the fall that grow through the winter and bloom in the spring.

My one complete failure has been ornamental grasses. I love the look but I can’t keep them alive for more than a year or two. I even killed Mexican feather grass which seeds like a weed for everyone else.

Lessons Learned

I am already in the process of changing the meadow. Because the garden elsewhere has grown and grown, I’ve spent less and less time experimenting with plants I have to grow from seed. However, I’d like to go back to that approach. I miss the sweetpeas, especially and there are many flowers still to try. In fact, two weeks ago I sprouted some hyacinth beans and they are already two feet tall. I’ve seeded some cosmos in hopes of having some flowers in the meadow this fall.
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oxblood lily
2006-09-10. Despite my many dead-ends in bulb trials, I can always count on the original cast to pull through for me when the going gets tough.

September 8th, 2006
3. First Love–Southern Bulbs

In one of Allen Lacy’s books he recalls how bearded irises awakened his passion for plants as a child. Later he says that he no longer grows bearded irises and explains the reasons for giving them up. I read this when I was in love with bearded irises myself and so I was shocked that anyone could be so fickle.

Now years later with several love affairs under my belt, I can understand better how plant passions rise and wane. Annie in Austin reminds me that I’m not the gardener I was when I began 13 years ago; might I be looking for change? Before I answer, let me look back and recall those first loves, not just for the sake of nostalgia but to see what I can discover about this garden and this gardener.

I inherited a well-established landscape and so I felt no requirement to design a garden. My approach was to tweak and twiddle. I’d look out the window while doing the dishes and watch where the light fell at certain times of the day and think, “What would look good there?”

Beginning in fall the first year my garden revealed its secrets, heirloom bulbs: oxblood lilies, red spider lilies, garlic chives, oxalis, paperwhite narcissus (two kinds), ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils, summer snowflakes, starch hyacinths, bearded iris, and rainlilies. Bulbs appeal to my acquisitive nature. It’s hard to know whether I get more pleasure from watching them bloom or digging them up.

The farthest north I’ve lived in America is Las Vegas so I knew I couldn’t grow the traditional spring bulbs hyped in catalogs and garden books. A friend attended a lecture by Scott Ogden at Barton Springs Nursery and brought me a three page list of “Garden Bulbs for Central Texas”. Excited by the possibilities of bulbs suited to our clime but completely ignorant of any of the bulbs on the list, I bought Scott Ogden’s Garden Bulbs for the South; it was my bible for years.

I felt fortunate to have a yard which already had so many heirloom bulbs. I had a difficult time (in those days before the internet) finding sources for the bulbs I was falling in love with in print. I received a catalog from McClure & Zimmerman. Here, described in straightforward text in pages 3 columns wide, listed alphabetically were all the bulbs I’d ever wanted. (I still prefer their print catalog to their online catalog which I find annoying to navigate.)

Over the years I’ve purchased Acidanthera bicolor, Crocus speciosus ‘Cassiope’ and ‘Conqueror’, Crocus tommasianus, ‘Angelique’ tulips, the daffodils ‘Quail,’ ‘Trevithian’, ‘Jetfire’, ‘Triparite’, and ‘Minnow’ and the Alliums neopolitanum and sphaerocephalon. These all bloomed beautifully and came back for a year or two. But unlike my dream of bulbs naturalizing and my collection growing exponentially, these bulbs decreased year after year and I no longer have any of them. Then there’s the true lilies; I never expected them to survive Texas.

Should I also mention the caladiums, gladiolus, amaryllis, sprekelia, hymenocallis, crinum and canna here? They aren’t completely dead but neither are they thriving.

I did successfully introducing five bulbs: Tulipa clusiana, Hyacinthoides hispanica, Zephyranthes grandiflora, St. Joseph’s Lily, and the diminuitive daffodil ‘Hawera’ (which was packed as a bonus from McClure & Zimmerman.)

So I’m basically back where I started with bulbs. Okay, my oxblood lily collection has expanded from 30 bulbs in the front yard to over 1000 in a special garden made just for them. But when those other bulbs I bought disappeared, I became frustrated with the effort especially since most bulbs bloom only a couple of weeks out of the year. My attention was drawn to more showy flowers and I stopped buying bulbs.

Lesson Learned
Bulbs (rhizomes, tubers, and corms) are my stealth success. They make a big splash in the design only once in awhile. All my bulbs benefit from lifting and dividing. Not all of them require it but the soil they grow in does. Tree roots again. So my dreams of naturalized drifts of species bulbs never materialized.

As I looked over my bulb lists and photos while writing this post, I could feel the old longings stirring. If I reset my expectations and think of bulbs like other short-lived perennials, then I could consider buying bulbs again. I would love to reacquaint myself the daffodil ‘Quail’–it has a luscious orange scent and was the most vigorous of all the daffocils I tried. I think it might have rotted in one of our very wet years rather than withered in one of very dry years.

I’d also like the fall crocuses again. They are very small but they are charming in the buffalograss.

Despite my many dead-ends in bulb trials, I can always count on the original cast to pull through for me when the going gets tough.

If you live in central Texas, I’d love to know what bulbs you’ve grown and which ones failed or succeeded for you and over what period of time. I’m particularly interested in bulbs which have lasted more than 5 years.

If you are looking for a source for southern heirloom bulbs there is a new company in north Texas, The Southern Bulb Co which has been in the news lately. I haven’t ordered from them yet but their catalog has all the tried and true bulbs in my back yard. However, if you live in Austin, I can make you a better deal on oxblood lilies than $9 a bulb.
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“It has not been all success. I have had to learn the soil and the location best suited to each plant; to know when each bloomed and which lived best together.” — Helena Rutherford Ely. A Woman’s Hardy Garden. 1903.

September 6th, 2006
2. Evolutionary Design

Annie in Austin asked me, “With a chance to redo beds and plan anew, are there parts of the garden that you were unhappy with anyway?”

I guess my initial reaction is to think that I hadn’t really finished implementing my plans for the garden. So I haven’t had a chance to get tired of it yet or long for a change. The garden was still growing into my vision for it. Not that I have any grand design. I’m not a good designer. More specifically, I don’t implement well from a design. I have a tactile approach to gardening.

Although I imagine I’d love one of the fab designs from Floribunda (Aren’t they the coolest!?! Most of these are in my neighborhood. I’ve been intrigued by them and was happy to discover they were all done by Floribunda.) or a lovely cottage garden like Pam’s at Digging, the reality is I’m a plant person. (I’m not saying you can’t be both, just that I don’t have the talent for pulling a design together–and not just in gardening. I’ve never owned a matching purse and shoes in my life, or even matching bras and panties.) I’m a hodgepodge and so is my house and so is my garden. And it shows!

Due to constraints of both time and money, I rarely buy more than one plant at a time. I was full of wonder and envy when some friends of mine recently had their garden designed by a professional. The cost of the plants alone was $1,000. The only plants I’ve bought this year were the three Duranta erecta that I bought on sale for $4.99 each (Still alive!) and an anemic basil which I’ve had in a pot for summer pesto but will be planting in the fall garden soon. Dirt gardener describes me pretty well.

Despite the dreary drought photos, there are only two beds that I feel that I need to tear out and completely replant: the two 12×12 beds on the south side of the house that I started as a winter garden. However, I don’t really know what to do with a blank slate. My usual habit is to watch how parts of the garden grow and change and then nestle in a new plant here and there.

I’ve tried designing on paper but it doesn’t work for me. I design in four dimensions (time is very important and frequently ignored in garden design I think). My approach to design, if what I do can even be called design, requires a lot of walking around and looking at the garden from various angles.

I was working in the garden all day today (not a fingernail left unbroken) clearing out dead plants. When I was finished and saw that newly turned dirt in one of the front beds, I thought, “If I’m going to have tomatoes this fall, this is probably the best place to plant them…it’s the only spot getting sun this time of year.” It’s precisely this kind of thinking that results in the odd combinations in my garden. I look primarily for conditions where I think a plant will survive and don’t worry much about the effect of my plant combinations.

Has this summer taught me anything? Have I learned my lessons? Will I reform? Or will I be at Gardens tomorrow checking whether they have their fall tomatoes in? Stay tuned…

What went wrong?

September 5th, 2006
1. Mistakes Were Made

Fall has fallen. I woke up this morning and the entire front yard (and my car) were covered in the buttery yellow leaves of the cedar elms. A light rain was almost falling–just enough rain to drip off the roof but not enough to get me or the ground wet as I spent all day playing in the dirt. (Camp Mabry measured almost 1/2 an inch but we were closer to ABIA’s 1/10th of an inch.) And the temperature, wow! On September 5, 2000 Austin hit it’s all time high of 112 degrees. Today the high was 81. 81! Eighty-one.

Pam/Digging and Annie of Austin have asked me some thoughtful questions. Credit the cooler weather but my mind has been going 100 miles a minute analyzing and theorizing. I began writing a response but it grew so long, I’ve decided to break it up into more digestible pieces.

I think the best way to figure out where to go from here is to determine where I’ve been. Pam gardens nearby and although her garden suffered in Austin’s drought, it does not appear to be as devastated as mine. So where did I go wrong?

1. I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew
My yard is pretty large for its location. The house was built on two lots totalling 15,000 square feet. Almost 90% of that is yard. In 1993, when I moved in, the landscape was well-established; it was already 50 years old. I’ve never really started a garden from scratch–I simply carve out a space or a place for a plant that I’ve fallen in love with.

Although I try to put plants with like requirements together, that doesn’t always happen. So plants requiring special care are scattered all over the yard. And though I began the garden with native and drought-tolerant plants, over the years I’ve expanded my interests. My idea, which has worked for many years, is that the natives take care of themselves leaving me time to take care of the special needs plants.

I do all the work myself but, in the garden, I’m not a very focused worker. (This is leisure, dammit!) Nope. I’m one of those gardeners that’s easily distracted by tasks as I walk from a bed I’m weeding to the mulch pile. Sometimes I spend an inordinate amount of time just smelling the dirt or watching clouds drift by or taking photographs. I can spend all weekend in the garden without anyone being able to see what exactly it was I accomplished.

And over the years I gave up three of my most useful tools. 1. A chipper/grinder. 2. My mulching mower. 3. AJM’s pickup truck. I miss the truck the most. Every birthday and holiday I used to get a cubic yard or two of mulch (AJM does know the secret workings of my heart). Do you know how many bags of mulch you can fit into a Miata? (Three.)

The bottom line is that over the years I’ve expanded the number of beds, the realm of the garden, with the expectation that the established beds would require less attention. That expectation has been disappointed.

2. I Forgot That Trees Grow
I always hate comparing garden design to interior design. Can you imagine a finding the perfect coffee table to complement your sofa only to have it grow disproportionately large and crowd out the sofa so that one side turns brown and withers? I’ve always thought it ridiculous to treat a landscape as something that can be installed as if it were furniture. Furniture is static. Plants change. Being aware of this, I’m rather surprised that the trees were able to sneak up on me.

When I moved here in 1993, my lot was covered in large trees: cedar elms, a couple of pecans, two weedy chinaberries and a sickly young live oak. That June the largest cedar elm split in half. On September 7 1995 Austin experienced 70 mile an hour winds and every tree in my yard lost major limbs. And I was one of the lucky ones. My neighbor had a huge live oak completely uprooted. Another neighbor’s tree had the top sheared off.

I was just beginning to garden then, and the tree disaster had a silver lining. For the first time there was sunlight in my garden. We could see the sky. I planted crepe myrtles, esperanza, salvias, and plumbago. Over the years, the shade has crept back in, slowly taking over beds planned for full sun.

My real problem, however, is with tree roots. I try as much as possible to make raised beds. Even when I can’t, I conscientiously amend the soil with compost before planting. However, when I later dig up plants to divide them, the tree roots have invaded. If I don’t redo a bed every couple of years or so, the tree roots suck all the moisture and tilth from the soil. When I look at the garden I think the hardest hit spots are beds that I haven’t dug up in more than three years.

I’d hoped that once I got those beds established I’d be able to move on to new beds. I don’t have the time, energy, or money to rework every bed every couple of years. I’m thinking of using horticultural cloth to keep out the tree roots but I don’t think it will work with the kind of planting I do. Which is more labor intensive? Which is more expensive?

3. I Was Complacent
I moved to Austin over 30 years ago. Austinites expect summer to be miserable and are happily surprised the few years it isn’t. Grousing about the heat is a city-wide sport. Every summer around the fourth of July I brace myself for two months of misery.

This was just another summer right? Wrong. Although the daily high temperatures were not as high as in other summers, they were consistently high for almost seven weeks. The real problem was that my plants were already stressed going into summer; the ground already parched.

Ever since last September when Hurricane Rita swerved east of Austin, we’ve had unusually dry conditions. Last fall, noticeably few self-sown overwintering annuals sprouted. Some, like love-in-a-mist, didn’t come up at all–for the first time in all the years I’ve had it.

I spent some time every weekend providing supplemental water but last spring I was in school and beginning the kitchen remodel so I put the garden on the back burner. (And you know what happens when you forget a saucepan of milk on the stove.)

4. I Ignored Early Warning Signs
Several bulbs (gladiolus, daylilies, sprekelia, irises) began withering and going dormant much earlier in the summer than usual. I should have dug them up right away but I just didn’t feel like being in the garden during our 100 degree days. I put in my couple of hours in the early morning watering but that was it.

Plants that rarely have problems with a dry spell turned brown (nandina, yaupon holly, English ivy, monkey grass). Except for the yaupon holly, I consider these plants friendly weeds; that is, I let them grow and fill in the gaps without any care from me until I can get around to planting that section of the yard.

I guess my biggest mistake was thinking that this summer was like other summers–that established drought-resistant native plants would pull through on their own. I believed that because the history of my garden told me so. And as we all know from watching politics, belief often clouds our eyes to the evidence in front of us.

This isn’t exactly a vlog…I don’t talk to the camera. Now that I have my video camera back and a larger disk drive on my computer, I’m looking forward to exploring a new medium for communicating what’s happening in the garden.

September 4th, 2006
Vlogging the Drought of 2006

The last question on Kathy Purdy’s panel discussion on garden blogging asks us what we see for the future of gardeners on the internet. Well, I’m addicted to YouTube, so I see vlogging in our future.

A vlog, or video log is just that…a blog entry via video. The best vlogs have people talking to you right into the camera. It’s incredibly intimate. You feel like their secret confidant. As some of you have inferred, I’m a rather private person. This site’s not about me, but my garden. So in this video (not strictly an example of a vlog) I keep behind the camera and let the garden speak for itself.

Oh, yes. Most videos have sound and this one doesn’t. I’m pretty new to making videos and this already took far more time than I wanted to invest in it.

Rhodophiala bifida
I’m cheating a bit because this is a photo from last September…anticipation.

September 1st, 2006
It’s Official–It’s Fall in Austin

Just as gardeners who I read about in books anxiously look for spring in the first buds of crocuses pushing through the snow, we Austin gardeners look for the first sign of fall in the buds of the oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida). Last Sunday (8/27) I noticed some buds in a bed I was watering and thought, “Summer can’t last much longer now.”

And then Tuesday morning (8/29) a front pushed through and it rained. The rain wasn’t much; it barely soaked in a 1/32 of an inch. But when you haven’t had rain in almost two months every drop is glorious. And the temperatures! The high was only in the 80s. The low dropped into the 60s. Oh it really did feel like fall, for a day.

Wednesday morning I looked out my bedroom window and saw the first oxblood lilies in bloom. I jumped up and ran out to look at them. It wasn’t the rain that caused them to flower; it was because they were near some lavender I was watering. (As usual, they flowered for Rantor first, who reported first flower on 8/23–and also that the Spanish name is azucenita roja.)

Never mind that on Thursday Austin was back to 102, Friday 100. This weekend rain is in the forecast. And next week our highs will only be in the 90s. Yep. Fall is here. An oxblood lily told me.