The Gardener’s Year.
Karel Capek.
Illustrated by Josef Capek.
Originally published in Czech in 1929. Translated into English in 1931.
ISBN 0-299-10020-0.

March 27th, 2007
The Gardener’s Year

Note: This review is for the Garden Blogger Book Club over at Carol’s May Dreams Gardens. The Gardener’s Year is one of my favorite books and I’m glad Carol pushed me to finally review it.

In this small book, with chapters not much longer than the average blog post, Karel Capek speaks the universal language of gardeners, a language that connects us across the decades and continents. What does it matter that he wrote 80 years ago and tended his plot in Prague, or that he introduced the word “robot” into our vocabularies? If you are a gardener, you will see yourself on every page, nod your head in agreement, and spend a lot of time laughing.

Your relation toward things has changed. If it rains you say it rains on the garden; if the sun shines, it does not shine just anyhow, but it shines on the garden… p 10

The chapters for each month are intertwined with essays on what it means to be a gardener, how one becomes a gardener, the gardener’s complaints on the weather, searching for signs of spring (crocuses and seed catalogs), the trials of gardeners on vacation, how a gardener’s physiology should have evolved, the envy and lust of gardeners, the importance of soil, the gardener’s prayer for rain (gently every day from midnight until 3AM but not on the drought-loving plants), the pain of choosing among the offerings in seed catalogs, the restlessness to be doing something in the garden in winter, and the miracles of seeds.

The Gardener’s Year is a quick and easy read. You will breeze through it. Maybe you won’t think much of it…until you are attacked by your garden hose, or waiting for the grass to sprout, or sifting through conflicting advice in gardening books. Then you’ll realize that almost every sentence is a gem. So, although it is small, don’t rush through it. Or read it once and then go back and read it again, savoring it.

I find that a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil…the gardener is not a man who smells a rose, but who is persecuted by the idea that “the soil would like some lime”…A rose in flower is, so to speak, only for dillittanti; the gardener’s pleasure is deeper rooted, right in the womb of the soil. After his death the gardener does not become a butterfly, intoxicated by perfumes of flowers, but a garden worm tasting all the dark, nitrogenous, and spicy delights of the soil.–p. 34-37

snake in her hand

Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation. It is an insatiable passion… –p. 13

There are times when the gardener wishes to cultivate, turn over, and compound all the noble soils, ingredients, and dungs…Only cowardly shame prevents the gardener from going into the street to collect what horses have left behind; but whenever he sees on the roadway a nice heap of dung, he sighs at the waste of God’s gifts. –pp 31-33

This is one of Nature’s mysteries–how from the best grass seed most luxuriant and hairy weeds come up; perhaps weed seed ought to be sown and then a nice lawn would result. –p. 9

We gardeners live somehow for the future; if roses are in flower, we think that next year they will flower better…Each successive year will add growth and beauty. Thank God that again we shall be one year farther on! –p. 160

Central Park, New York
2007-03-18. Snow in Central Park.

March 23rd, 2007
From Winter to Spring

I never thought I’d say this about Austin but it’s so GREEN here! I’ve just returned to the garden after a week in New York City. This was my first trip to New York and we arrived the day after a massive storm shut down jetBlue. The streets wer. snowy and then slushy and then just a mess. But I loved the novelty of snow. We threw snowballs at each other and I built a snow sculpture. I thought snow enhanced the romance of the city and it was nice to walk around without immediately breaking into a sweat. (I was back in the Austin’s muggy 70 degrees only 20 minutes before I smelled like I hadn’t had a bath in a week.)

Zanthan Gardens
2007-03-23. The bluebells are blooming in the south border. They don’t mind the shade. All the work I did lugging the Christmas tree mulch paid off. The path looks neat and woodsy, doesn’t it?

Austin had heavy rain last week and which obviously continued in our absence. The garden is transformed into intense green. The cedar elms have completely leafed out and at this time of year their green is dark and deep. Sitting at my kitchen table you’d think we lived in a tree house. The weeds in the lawn are a foot high. The tradescantia has taken over the back. The bluebonnets, baby blue eyes, and cilantro are in full bloom. The ‘Quail’ daffodils provide a bit of yellow to brighten all my blues and purples.

Zanthan Gardens
2007-03-23. The meadow looks like a meadow now.

I knew I was going to miss a lot of first flowers. The Tulipa clusiana is in full bloom. The bluebells finally opened. The rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ is full of huge flowers. She has a tendency to ball when the weather is humid and the day before I left I had to strip the outer petals of three buds that looked like they were about to open. I come home and she is blooming her head off. Other roses with their first flowers: ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, ‘New Dawn’, and ‘Blush Noisette’. The new ‘Ducher’ has been blooming for awhile and continues to look nice.

No sign of the spring cankerworms yet. Hmmm. They usually show up when the trees are leafing out. (One hour later: Ah ha! Found one.)

sweet pea Velvet Elegance
‘Velvet Elegance’ sweet peas are good for southern gardeners who need to grow them when days are short but before it gets too warm. Most sweet peas bloom only when the days are lengthening.

March 15th, 2007
GBBD 200703: Mar 2007

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites us to tell her what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month.

March 15, 2007

March is one of my bloomingest month. You can see all my bloom dates on my In Bloom calendar. (I notice that both Carol and I quoted Elizabeth Lawrence, who inspired me to keep track of when things bloomed–but we chose slightly different quotes). Usually I have more varieties of roses and daffodils blooming now. And where are those tulips and bluebells?

  • Cercis canadensis (redbud)
  • Citrus x meyeri (potted)
  • Commelinantia anomala (false day flower)
  • Consolida ambigua (larkspur)
  • Coriandrum sativum (cilantro/coriander)
  • henbit
  • Iris albicans
  • Lantana montevidensis
  • Lathyrus odoratus ‘Velvet Elegance’ (sweet pea)
  • Leucojum aestivum (summer snowflakes)
  • Lupinus texensis (Texas bluebonnet)
  • Muscari racemosum (starch hyacinth)
  • N. jonquilla ‘Quail’
  • N. jonquilla ‘Trevithian’
  • N. triandrus ‘Hawera’
  • Oxalis crassipes
  • Oxalis triangularis
  • Prunus caroliniana (cherry laurel)
  • Rhaphiolepis indica (Indian hawthorn)
  • rose ‘Ducher’
  • rose ‘Heritage
  • rosemary
  • Sedum palmeri
  • Solanum jasminoides (potato vine)
  • Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain laurel)
  • tradescantia
  • Verbena canadensis
  • vetch
  • viola

Zanthan Gardens mulch pile
2007-03-14. Pile of wood chips. I see an aching back in my future.
Zanthan Gardens mulch pile
2007-04-23. Finished! Now for the pile of wood.

March 13th, 2007
Bring in the Professionals

Not very much ever seems to get done around here. I do almost everything myself and I’m not a very focused worker. However, there are times when I call in the pros, one of those being when I need to have trees trimmed.

I have ten trees over 30 feet tall in my yard. Most of them are 50 year old cedar elms which like to drop limbs on my roof or crush fences. I also have a difficult pecan tree which grows into the electric wires. The city came out about six years ago and hacked it back but in such a way as to make the problem worse–cutting it to encourage thin waterspouts to grow into the wires.

So I called Tree Masters because I was pleased with work they did for me before. Miraculously, the hour and a half that they were here this morning was the sunny period in this couple of days of torrential rain we’ve received. They dealt with the pecan tree in the electric wires and one large limb from a cedar elm with ease. I was making the bed when I saw the limb come down. They roped it first and it seemed to float down to the guys below who maneuvered it away from my flower beds without dropping it.

In the short term, Tree Masters is not as cheap as hiring two guys with a chainsaw off the corner but in the long term it is a much better deal. They are insured. They don’t free climb or balance on long ladders. Their people are experienced, efficient, and neat.

I wanted to keep the mulch but the arborist who’d come out to spec the job last week said that if they already had chips from a previous job that they’d have to dump them first because they wouldn’t want to infect my trees with oak wilt from another job. (One thing I like about professionals is the attitude that the customer is not always right; sometimes the customer needs to be educated so that she understands the ramifications of her choices.) As it turned out, the previous job was pecan, so I got to keep my wood chips plus what they had in the truck.

They warned me that there were some huge tree stumps in the back of the truck, but…greedy, greedy me! I just can’t turn down free mulch. I now have a pile of wood chips the size of a Hummer sitting in my driveway. What with the rain and all, I’m as happy as I can be.

Maybe I should have a mulch moving party. Everybody bring a wheelbarrow.

Zanthan Gardens mulch pile
2007-03-14. The sight that greeted us as we walked out the door this morning. AJM dubbed it “Mulch Mountain”. Gee. Those stumps do look big.

Zanthan Gardens Mexican Plums
2007-03-09. Can you find the anole hidden among the plum blossoms?

March 9th, 2007
Where’s Waldo?

Saturday morning the designer from Floribunda is coming over to assess whether we can afford his services to design and construct a screened-porch house to replace our falling down shed. After booking the appointment, I looked around my yard and panicked. I haven’t mown the lawn yet this year and the weeds are about a foot high. Garden tools and hoses are scattered about giving witness to my short attention span. Only the imaginative eye can discern the wildflower garden hidden in the among the dandelions, thistle and chickweed.

And inside the shed! Of course he’ll have to go in the shed to measure and check the foundation. Myself? I haven’t been in the shed in over a year. During our kitchen remodel we just kept stacking boxes and torn out pieces of house in there until it was impossible to get one more thing in. Last summer the paper wasps took over and we let them have their way with it.

So, I spent the day trying to make the place look less like we lived here and more like “important clients whom you might want to include in your portfolio” lived here.

I didn’t get much done though because I kept getting distracted by spring. I spent a lot of time taking photos of the Narcissus ‘Hawera’ in bloom. Then I had to lie down on my belly and admire the Muscari racemosum (or is it M. neglectum?)

Muscari racemosum replaced with 20070314. Not my garden.
Grape hyacinth aka starch hyacinth aka M. racemosum aka…

I found one bluebonnet bud that had finally blued up and opened. And lastly when I was watering the magnolia (which you might notice is not cleaning the shed) I saw another anole, the third this week, basking itself among the Mexican plum blossom. Trying to get a photo of the anole ate up a good portion of an hour. (Mostly I just sat and talked to it.)

I stopped and looked at everything so the garden doesn’t look like much of anything–I did manage to build a garden sculpture out of bricks I found in the shed. I’d been meaning to do that for several years now.

nursery The Great Outdoors

March 8th, 2007
Grow Local

Note: I originally wrote this post for Austin Metblogs.

When the redbuds are in bloom and the skies are blue, loft-dwellers and suburbanites alike feel the pull of spring. Instead of heading over to the big box store to pick up a flat of petunias, check out Austin’s local nurseries. Not only does buying from local entrepreneurs support fellow Austinites but in the plant and garden business, local advice is best. Austin has challenging conditions to garden in and the local nurseries can help you find plants best suited for our climate.

Austin is fortunate to have many and varied local nurseries. Most of them are interesting destinations in themselves with quite distinct personalities. Check them out!

Barton Springs Nursery. Out in West Lake on Bee Caves Rd, Barton Springs Nursery is my prime source for native plants. They have a very helpful, knowledgeable staff and extensive shaded grounds. They also carry an assortment of planters, garden decorations, bird baths and fountains.

Big Red Sun. (Annoying Flash site but great real-world site.) On East 1st Street, Big Red Sun has a modern, urban feel. It carries very architectural plants (lots of succulents and cacti) and unusual planters. Their gift shop also sells apparel and housewares. A great place for integrating your indoor/outdoor lifestyles–even if all you have in terms of outdoors is a balcony. If you have no design sense, they can help you make something striking.

Floribunda. Formerly located on South Lamar, Floribunda has just lost its lease as South Lamar is being transformed to “SoLa”. However, their garden design business is still going strong and they do some of the most eye-popping designs in Austin. The owners hope to find a new location and reopen the nursery this fall.

Gardens. Near the Mo-Pac off the 38th St exit, Gardens is Austin’s high-end nursery and landscape designers. The plants are sometimes exotic and the gift shop always is. You’ll find plants at Gardens you won’t find elswhere. They are THE nursery to go to if you are looking for heirloom tomatoes and eggplants. They also carry unusual seeds that you can typically get only through mail-order, as well as a varied supply of bulbs suited for the south.

The Great Outdoors. On South Congress near St. Ed’s, the Great Outdoors is a green refuge in the middle of the city. It has magnificent live oaks, a huge water feature, and a coffee shop—oh yeah, and lots and lots of plants. The gift shop is filled with playful garden accessories.

It’s About Thyme. If you live in far south Austin, or north Buda, here’s an alternative to the Lowe’s and Home Depots that dot every corner. Located on far south Manchaca in what was once a ranch, the grounds of It’s About Thyme flow seamlessly into the fields beyond. They have all the typical nursery fare but what distinguishes them is the number of greenhouses with a varied assortment of ferns and palms.

John Dromgoole’s The Natural Gardener. Located in southwest Austin, the Natural Gardener has extensive grounds with many different show gardens to provide inspiration of what you can do with native and xeriscapic plants. Not only is this a great source of ideas and information and native plants, it is the place to go to get a wide variety of composts and mulches, either by the bag or the pickup load. Truly an Austin gardening institution.

Shoal Creek Nursery. Off the Mo-Pac on Hancock, Shoal Creek Nursery has a good selection of roses, shrubs and trees—their focus is the suburban gardener. Importantly, Shoal Creek Nursery sells only plants raised by regional growers, which means they will be more adapted to our harsh climate than plants shipped in by out-of-state growers like Monrovia.

Sledd Nursery. Located in Clarksville, this small nursery has been in Austin for almost three decades. If you like azaleas, this is the place to go. Sledd Nursery is my shrub and tree source but that’s not all they carry. They pack an amazing variety of annuals, veggies, bulbs, and roses into a very small space.

Where do you get your plant fix, and why?

Zanthan Gardens Winter Vegetable Garden
2007-03-07. In a couple of weeks when the trees leaf out my sunny vegetable garden will mostly be in the shade.

March 6th, 2007
Hanna’s Tomato Patch

After I bought my eggplant and two tomato plants, I faced the Gardener’s Dilemma. Where would I plant them? Not in the vegetable garden. I don’t think that a tomato has produced anything in the vegetable garden this millenium.

I put the vegetable garden on the south side of the house where the grass died because of a slope. When a friend of mine was building a house in Steiner Ranch, I carted several RX-7 car-loads of limestone blocks and built a small wall to form a terrace. Then I hauled in horse manure from another friend’s horse ranch near Hamilton Pool. AJM put in a timed drip irrigation system for me.

In the intervening years, trees have grown. A pecan and red oak have shot up on either side of the vegetable garden. In the summer, any spot gets only 3 hours of sunlight if I’m lucky. Not enough for summer veggies. This year I stopped fighting the obvious and renamed it the winter vegetable garden.
Read the rest of this entry »

2002. Arctic front brings killer cold. 2003. Ditto. 2004. Rain. Rain. And more rain. 2005. Very average weather. 2006. Spring sprung. Record highs. 2007. Spring sprung. Very, very dry. 2008. Very dry. Six months into drought. 2009. Parched. Very hot. First 90-degree day. Very dry. Eighteen months into drought. Dateline: 2009 Dateline: 2007 The garden […]

March 5th, 2007
Week 09: 2/26 – 3/4

2002. Arctic front brings killer cold.
2003. Ditto.
2004. Rain. Rain. And more rain.
2005. Very average weather.
2006. Spring sprung. Record highs.
2007. Spring sprung. Very, very dry.
2008. Very dry. Six months into drought.
2009. Parched. Very hot. First 90-degree day. Very dry. Eighteen months into drought.
Dateline: 2009
rose Souvenir de la Malmaison

Dateline: 2007
The garden woke up this week. (You could argue that in what passes for winter in Austin it’s never been asleep, merely cat-napping.) Still, on Wednesday (Feb 28th) all the Mexican plums and the redbud behind my neighbor’s house burst into bloom overnight. And the cedar elms were clouded with a mist of bright spring green. I cut some branches of Mexican plum to bring inside and I feel like I’m living in a Japanese sumi-e (ink painting). Lots of new plants in bloom this week.

First flower: Coriander sativum (2/26); Narcissus ‘Trevithian’ (3/1); Muscari racemosum (3/2); Cercis canadensis (3/2); rose ‘Ducher’ (3/3); Sedum palmeri (3/3); Narcissus ‘Quail’ (3/4).

In Bloom: Prunus mexican, viola, Leucojum aestivum, rosemary, tradescantia, Commelinantia anomala, white oxalis, purple oxalis, henbit

We continue to have very dry weather this spring as we did last spring which results in desert like extremes of temperature: highs in the 70s, lows in the 20s. Do I cover the plants or uncover them? move the potted plants out or bring them in?

I bought two tomatoes “Black Krim” and “Persimmon” (said to be grown by Thomas Jefferson) from Gardens because they always have interesting and unusual tomatoes. They had already sold out of our favorite, “Carmello” though. I also bought a Listada de Gandia eggplant because it promised to be mild.
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Zanthan Gardens North Border
2007-02-24. A new privacy fence gives me a new garden.

March 2nd, 2007
New Back Yard

I suddenly have a new back yard to garden in. I haven’t moved but I’ve got a new neighbor. He’s renovating the duplex to the north of me, living in one side of it and looking to rent the other. He approached me a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I would mind if he removed the chain link fence which divides our yard (and is on my side of the property line) so that he could put up a wooden privacy fence. After dancing a little dance of joy, I calmly agreed to his plan.

Unlike some people, I’m happy that none of my other neighbors choose to spend any time in their yards. Looking west towards the back, my view crosses four yards which are green and woodsy and almost always empty. Once in awhile someone will bring his boom box outside and throw back a few beers with friends but those incidents are few. If my new neighbor finds a privacy fence necessary, is it because he’s going to be outside a lot? Or is our shed really that tacky? (Definitely a factor.) Or does he come from a neighborhood (Boulder, CO) where people just have privacy fences as a matter of course? Whatever the reason, I hope my new neighbor is going to enjoy his yard (and his newly-installed hot tub) quietly and without pesticides.

Very quickly he had men out to tear down the fence, chop out the hackberry trees which grow in the fence (and which I try to kill every year) and erect the new fence. My back yard looks completely different. And it’s motivating.

First of all, the visual boundary makes the yard look more like a garden. Even my son, who isn’t at all interested in my outdoor projects, was amazed at the transformation. “Wow. It really looks like something.” “A garden?”

Secondly, the transformation allows me to see the garden with new eyes. Instead of seeing the same old border and the same old chores, I see possibilities! I can get rid of a lot of the nandina and make a nicer perennial bed. This is one of the best spots in my yard to garden because it gets southern winter sun. The privacy fence makes it protected and cozy both for me and the plants. In fact, the little bend in the path would be a perfect spot for a garden had I not just spent a couple of days transplanting my ‘New Dawn’ rose which I grew from a cutting. (It’s seems to be thriving. Well, when it dies I’ll put a seat there.)

Zanthan Gardens North Border
2006-12-15. When I planted my rose bush, I was already itching for ways to improve the north border.

Many of you gave me suggestions to improve the north border and block my view of the duplex. And now I don’t have to do anything (but I’m able to do the fun stuff). This is the second time procrastination has paid off.

I’m learning the wrong lesson.