Zanthan Gardens: four o'clocks cross
2007-05-30. The two parent four o’clocks on either side of their offspring. I like the new flower color best.

May 30th, 2007
Four o’Clock Surprise

A few years ago Valerie @ Larvalbug gave me some seeds for the wild magenta four o’clocks that you see growing all over Austin. These things are monsters and once they get hold, they don’t let go. Not only do they profusely set seed but they create deep tuberous roots that are don’t take any efforts to remove them seriously.

One year when I participated in the RHS seed exchange I got some more refined four o’clocks. The plants were much smaller, only about a foot high and wide. The leaves smaller and deeper green. The flowers were cherry red, although in photographs I can see a little magenta star inside. Unfortunately the scent was bred out of them.

Mirabilis jalapa
The RHS reds have a magenta star in the center.

Last year I dug out the corner of the bed where the red four o’clocks had lived. I didn’t see any roots so I thought they were gone. But no. I’m talking about four o’clocks here. They came back just as strong.

I try to keep all of one kind together but there were two plants I couldn’t tell whether they were red or pink. Turns out they were neither–or both depending on how you look at it. My two four o’clocks had crossed and produced a third type which I like better than either parent.

Zanthan Gardens: four o'clocks cross
2007-05-30. New flower in the middle.

The flower is frilly and has the scent (although less strong) of the magenta type. I like the color, a cerise pink, much more. The plant is somewhat bigger than the cherry red type but not as large or aggressive as the magenta. The flowers are larger and more frilly than its parents’ flowers.

Defying their name, the four o’clocks all open at different times, too. The original magenta flowers open first around 5PM. The new cerise pinks open around 7PM. And the RHS reds don’t open until past 8PM.

photo: Rose Penelope
Hybrid Musk Rose ‘Penelope’ Austin, TX 2003-11-03. ‘Penelope’ is no blushing, virginal rosebud, but a fullblown, dowager beauty.

May 25th, 2007
Rose ‘Penelope’

Dateline: 2007-05-25
I had to pull up ‘Penelope’ today and put it a plastic bag in the trash. I never put my rose cuttings on the compost because it is too easy to spread diseases and ‘Penelope’ succumbed to rose dieback.

I’m really surprised because last fall when ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’ struggled and died and ‘Prosperity’ held on by one cane (and has now sprouted a second), ‘Penelope’ was growing strong. She had gotten huge and her leaves were large and a deep healthy green. This spring she bloomed more profusely than ever before.

photo: Rose Penelope

Then as soon as the flowers faded she showed the tell-tale signs. All the leaves on a cane turned yellow overnight.

photo: Rose Penelope

I tried stripping the leaves and cutting back the canes to green wood. But it didn’t help. In three weeks she went from looking gorgeous to dead.

photo: Rose Penelope

In A Year of Roses Stephen Scanniello says that dieback is a fungal disease and can be spread by allowing water to splash on the leaves when watering or a stressful situation (like last year!) when the roses don’t get enough water. Insects can also spread dieback as the gardener by pruning one rose and then another without sterilyzing (dipping in bleach) the pruning shears.

photo: Rose Penelope
2007-05-25. Tell-tale signs of cane dieback.
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2007-05-22. First milestone complete: foundation laid.

May 23rd, 2007
Set in Concrete

At 6:45 we were awakened by a screeching truck. I thought we’d missed the garbage collectors again but it turned out to be the pump truck for the concrete pourers. The cement mixer arrived shortly afterward. Then Ivan and crew came rushing on the scene.

Concrete begins pouring into the forms.

By 8:35 the concrete was pouring out into the mold, all wet and sloshy. The noise was extraordinary but it was all over in about an hour and a half.

Then Ivan and crew had the task of meticulously tamping and smoothing the cement flat. This took them the rest of the day.

Ivan doesn’t just sit at his design table and leave the hard work to others. He’s, obviously a kindred spirit, one of those people who isn’t afraid to jump right in and get his hands dirty.

Zanthan Gardens
2007-05-20. After a long week of trenching and rebar bending…

May 20th, 2007
Taking Form

Monday and Tuesday of this week are dedicated to hauling off all the caliche and rocks that the trenching unearthed. Ivan has to bring in his Bobcat and it requires two loads to the dump. (I put a call out to the neighborhood to see if anyone wanted free fill dirt but didn’t have any takers.)

Rain falls hard after midnight and continues until about 4AM. So Wednesday it is too muddy to work in the trenches. (Great weather for clearing out the spring flowers in the meadow which I did all day.)

Thursday and Friday are dedicated to bending the rebar. Ivan modifies the shape of the pond (so that it no longer runs completely under the deck). This is more what I had in mind anyway; however, I’m concerned that it is too shallow. So we dig it out a bit more…we dump the extra dirt in the now available spot that will be under the deck and the rocks in what is now a non-supporting footing.

I’m surprised that the guys show up Saturday morning. (We aren’t up and dressed.) They have to finish because the concrete pourers are scheduled for Tuesday. I detect a note of urgency whenever I speak to Ivan. I sense that making an effort to preserve the garden by doing all the digging and hauling by hand took much longer than he anticipated in his scheduling. I do appreciate it and am trying to stay out of the way. (Although eyebrows were raised when I suggested that the pond should be deeper. I worked alongside them digging out rocks and raking dirt as fast as we could to get it the way I wanted it.)

Zanthan Gardens
2007-05-20. The deeper pond and the pile of dirt we dug out of it. The pond slopes at the far end to make it easier to drain and clean.

The guys on his crew are incredible; I can’t remember when I met such cheerful and hard-working guys. They don’t seem fazed by any change and go after their work with gusto. It’s catching!

Zanthan Gardens: Crinum bulbispermum

May 17th, 2007
Crinums Gone Wild

I don’t know for sure whether the crinums growing in the meadow are Crinum bulbispermum or not because I rescued them from a construction site several years ago. They have glaucous (grey-green) leaves and the flowers are not as showy as the other crinum I have (which I think is Crinum gowenii). C. bulbispermum is said to bloom earlier than other crinums and these began blooming on April 16th after a wet spring. (Last year, one bloomed in late June–so go figure.)

The first had medium-sized flowers with a pale pink stripe.
Zanthan Gardens: Crinum bulbispermum

The second one to flower was pure white. The third one had a shorter stalk and smaller flowers. But the stripes were dark pink.

Zanthan Gardens: Crinum bulbispermum

As the seeds form, the stalk becomes top heavy causing it to fall over a distance away from the mother plant. The seed pods are larger than a golf ball but not quite as large as a tennis ball.

Zanthan Gardens: Crinum bulbispermum

When the seed pods burst open, the seeds (called stones) fall to the ground, and if it is damp begin sprouting. This huge collection of seeds was obtained from just two stalks. Notice the ones sprouting?

Crinums take up a lot of space so I don’t know what I’m going to do with all these seeds.

Zanthan Gardens bluebonnet seeds
Brown hard seeds are ripe. Mushy green seeds are not ripe yet.

May 15th, 2007
Collecting Bluebonnet Seeds

Several people have asked me how to propagate bluebonnets…how to tell if the seeds are ready. It’s easy. Don’t cut back the bluebonnets or mow until the seed cases are brown and you can hear the seeds ratttling inside. If you tap the seed case and it pops open, you know they’re ready.

Zanthan Gardens bluebonnet seeds
To release their seeds, bluebonnets pop open with a little twist.

You can let the seeds reseed on their own (a bunch will anyway, as long as you don’t mow). With this method, some will be lost to birds, fire ants, and hot weather. Or you can collect the seeds, store them in a cool dry place, and sow them where you want them in August before the fall rains. If we have a rainy early summer, some bluebonnets will sprout now but, unless you baby them through the long, hot summer, they probably won’t survive until fall.

Bluebonnets naturally sprout in the fall, grow all winter, and flower the following spring.

You’ll find all sorts of advice for nicking the hard seed coats or rubbing them with sandpaper. This might be necessary with old dry seeds that you buy. I never do it because my own seed is fresh. Sometimes I soak them overnight or until they plump up. I did this the first couple of years to get started but now I have more sprouts than I can deal with an so I don’t need to go to any extra trouble. I let them sprout and transplant them where I want them.

Bluebonnets have hard coats so that they don’t sprout all at once if it rains. In Texas, it might rain and some sprout, and then die off in a long dry spell. But since they don’t all sprout at the same time, some are kept in reserve until more favorable conditions present themselves.

Zanthan Gardens
Larkspur in May at Zanthan Gardens.

May 15th, 2007
GBBD 200705: May 2007

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

Despite the list of flowers, the garden is mostly green this time of year. A lot less is flowering than in April. The only flowers in any number today are the rose ‘Red Cascade’, two different four o’clocks, batchelor buttons, clammy weed and some larkspur. Everything else has just a flower or two, fading under the last few day’s 90 degree temperatures. All I’m doing in the garden now is pulling out spent flowers and digging up bulbs.

May 15, 2007

This is the fourth day of temperatures hitting 90 degrees–and the spring flowers are drying up and falling over.

  • Asclepias curassavica
  • Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Magic
  • chili pequin
  • Commelinantia anomala (false day flower)
  • Consolida ambigua (larkspur)
  • Coriandrum sativum (cilantro/coriander)
  • crinum
  • Engelmann daisy
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Lathyrus odoratus ‘Regal Robe’ (sweet pea)
  • Lathyrus odoratus ‘Velvet Elegance’ (sweet pea)
  • Lavandula heterophyla ‘Goodwin Creek Grey
  • Lilium LA Hybrid ‘Spirit’ (one flower)
  • Lupinus texensis (a couple of faded flowers)
  • Meyer lemon (rebloom)
  • Mirabilis jalapa pink
  • Mirabilis jalapa RHS red
  • nandina
  • Nemophila insignis (mostly gone to seed)
  • Nigella damascena (one flower)
  • Oenothera speciosa (evening primrose)
  • Oxalis crassipes
  • Oxalis triangularis
  • Polanisia dodecandra (full bloom)
  • Pyrrhopappus multicaulis Texas dandelion
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’
  • rose ‘Scott’s Ruston’
  • rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison”
  • rose ‘Mermaid’
  • Salvia farinacea ‘Indigo spires’
  • Salvia greggii ‘Raspberry’ (one flower)
  • Sedum album (white stonecrop)
  • tomato
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides (Confederate jasmine)
  • Tradescantia pallida (purple heart)
  • Verbena canadensis
  • viola

I’ve been keeping (rather erratic) records on what blooms in Zanthan Gardens since 1995 in the In Bloom Calendar.

Zanthan Gardens
The pile in the driveway has doubled in size since I took this photo. I’m still trying to get it out of the lawn.

May 12th, 2007

Angelina (of fab Dustpan Alley fame) asked me what caliche is. As it turns out, I’m not actually sure that I’m using the correct term but I refer to the yellow hardpan layer of clay that’s beneath our more benevolent blackland prairie clay as caliche. It’s common in all the places I’ve lived in the southwest US. My mother grew up in New Mexico and that’s what she called it. Maybe it’s just hardpan, which my online dictionary defines as “a hardened impervious layer, typically of clay, occurring in or below the soil and impairing drainage and plant growth.”

The University of Arizona has an informative article on conquering home yard caliche. In it they describe it as, “a layer of soil in which the soil particles have been cemented together by lime (calcium carbonate, CaCO3). Caliche is usually found as a light-colored layer in the soil or as white or cream-colored concretions (lumps) mixed with the soil.”

Yep. That sounds just like the awful stuff that I have been fighting all week to keep out of my garden.

Zanthan Gardens
When damp, the texture is like brown sugar.

Zanthan Gardens
When you walk on it, caliche flattens and hardens like cement. Can you make out the footprints?

Zanthan Gardens
When it dries out, caliche forms clods as hard as rocks.

Zanthan Gardens
2007-05-10. Thursday morning. Still more digging to do. Much more.

May 10th, 2007
In the Trenches

I’m really too tired to write, so this may be incoherent. On Monday, digging the trenches for the concrete foundation beams commenced. You’d think we were building a skyscraper. The old shed/garage (which stood for almost 60 years) was built on a 4 to 12 inch slab, depending on the slope of the hill. The trenches along the edges of our new walls are 3 feet deep and the slab itself about a foot deep. I didn’t realize that the new concrete foundation would be so deep, so much more engineered than the old one. We’re nothing if not safe in the 21st century.

Now that I’ve seen the enormity of it all, I wonder, was pier-and-beam construction ever an option? I assumed not because of the existing slab. I didn’t understand that it probably could have been removed more easily than all this dirt.

Day 1. Monday.
We couldn’t get (by that I mean, I wouldn’t allow) any heavy equipment into my backyard and so all the digging has to be done by hand. As the dirt comes out, I get to direct where it goes. I marvel at having two men to move dirt around. Mounds of good black dirt begin filling various depressed areas of my yard. I rake and dig and take out rocks and throw them back on the fill pile.

Zanthan Gardens
2007-05-09. A 3×15 foot section is topped up with about 2 feet of good dirt from the original vegetable garden. I had just moved part of my mountain of mulch here and now the dirt is on top of it. Perhaps the worms will sort that out.

Then we hit caliche. And there’s no place for that anywhere in the garden. Wherever some drops it forms an instantly impervious layer. Yikes! We start to dump it on the west side of the little house, but that is uphill and will only compound the existing drainage issues.

Day 2. Tuesday.
A third man is added to the digging crew. Caliche is piled on the lawn and in the back where it will cause further drainage problem before we decide that this won’t do.

Ivan suggests building some sort of sculptural mound of dirt on the back lawn, like a big gum drop. . tentatively agree and then discover that it blocks the carefully made view of the south border from my bed. And it gets caliche all in the lawn.

We are running out of places to put dirt.

Day 3. Wednesday
We solve the caliche problem by deciding to haul it away. The men dump a mountain of it on the driveway. I spend most of the day dismantling the sculptural mound and trying to get caliche out of the lawn.

Zanthan Gardens
2007-05-09. More good dirt is piled on the low end of the lawn. I’ll probably take out that tree…where I let a fallen cedar elm sprout out of the old trunk.

A lovely rain about 10:30 pm–not enough to make things mucky or fill up the trenches.

Day 4. Thursday
A beautiful morning after last night’s rain. I take a break from moving dirt and rocks because the garden needs some work. I do manage to transplant a clump of society garlic (thanks, Pam) and dig up some bulbs that need dividing (or rather, need moving to a sunnier location).

Around 3:30, the digging is finished. On the northwest corner and the southeast corner the building is level with the ground.

Zanthan Gardens

The northeast corner, where the pond is, juts 22 inches above ground level. This makes a convenient perch to sit and dangle one’s hand in the water. But on the southwest corner, we are 16 inches underground. Hmmm. Just like the main house. As the Japanese say, Komatta, desu ne.. (This could be a problem.)

Zanthan Gardens

Zanthan Gardens Floribunda Ivan Spaller

May 8th, 2007
We Have a Plan

Zanthan Gardens Floribunda Ivan Spaller

Ivan delivered the plans this morning. The gray rectangles are new beds to plant. Hmmm. They get a fair amount of sunlight….

Zanthan Gardens Floribunda Ivan Spaller

I’ll have to look at this pictures every day to keep me going. Right now there is a small mountain of dirt and nowhere to put it.