Sago palm

September 28th, 2007
Sago Palm, Cycas revoluta

Once a year (although never at the same time of year in my garden), the Sago palm sends up new fronds.

Sago palm

Sago palms are VERY slow growing plants. As such, they are rather expensive.

Sago palm

I started out with a very small plant about ten years ago.

Sago palm

Sago palms are not true palms, but cycads–a very primitive type of plant which has survived a lot. We need survivors here in central Texas. Their deep green fronds give them a very tropical appearance but, in fact, these native of Japan do not like to be overwatered or have wet feet. I’ve found mine to be extremely drought-tolerant. However, if they are in full Texas sun and the temperatures are in the high 90s or 100s, the fronds tend to get sunburned. Mine is planted where it gets some afternoon shade.

Sago palms are often used as potted plants. They can stand temperatures as low as 20F degrees (some people say 15F) which means that they have no problem surviving outside in the ground during most Austin winters.

In a year of drought across the United States, Austin has received an unusual amount of rain. Zanthan Gardens has come back to life.

September 23rd, 2007
Paradise Regained

Commenting on the September Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day post, Yolanda Elizabet of Bliss said, “I’ve noticed that a little bit of rain makes all the difference in Austin, TX.” How right she is! Maybe some of you, especially those of you suffering from drought this year, are tired of hearing me exult in Austin’s rain this summer. Longtime readers of Zanthan Gardens might remember that a year ago, when Austin was in the middle of a devastating drought I posted a video of what was left of my garden. My garden was fried. Half my roses died. The fall rains had not come. Even my oxblood lilies were holding out for better times.

I look at that video now and want to cry all over again. I can’t believe I was able to go on, to walk back out in the garden and keep weeding and watering and tending and hoping.

Then in March 2007 it began raining and continued raining for the following six months. Austin’s lakes are overflowing. In the first six months of the year we had almost doubled the amount of rain we normally get. The 100 degree day was a rarity in the summer of 2007. This was the best summer in my memory of 30 summers spent in Austin.

Several people have encouraged me to make another video to show the rejuvenation of the garden and here it is. Pictures from September 2006 are followed by the same shot in September 2007. In both years the photos were taken in the second week of September.

Some notes. (Sorry no audio.)
1) I have not watered my lawn this year, nor do I feed it any commercial fertilizers. I give it coffee grounds from Starbucks and fill in any patchy places with Texas Native hardwood mulch.
2) I probably spent less than $50 on new plants in 2007. I bought 100 daffodil bulbs, a 4-inch pot of Lindheimer senna, a 4-inch rudbeckia, 3 4-inch pots of Mexican wire grass, a packet of orange cosmos, two packets of sunflowers and sweet peas, and 4 4-inch pots of summer vegetables. Since May my garden has been torn up in the construction of the failed garden house and so I’ve had neither time nor money to invest in new plants. I hope to do my main planting this fall which is the best time in to plant in Austin anyway. Thus, the growth you see is mostly from plants that survived the 2006 drought.
3) Not all plants liked the rain. Half the lavender died out and most of the bearded iris rotted away. I garden on the side of Austin that is over rich black clay. Xeriscape plants generally require very good drainage. Even without actual rain, many Mediterranean plants dislike Austin’s high humidity: they will wilt, mildew, and succumb to rot and bugs.
4) I need to do some serious weeding and pruning now, don’t I?

What will 2008 bring? The forecast for the last week of September in Austin’s predict that highs will remain in the low 90s and there will be no rain. For us that’s a typical beginning of fall.

Cosmos sulphureus
2007-09-21. Differing habits of Cosmos sulphureus despite being from the same seed packet and planted in the same site.

September 21st, 2007
Cosmos, the Tall and Short of It

I planted a packet of orange cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus, early last summer and the seeds sprouted and grew during our very rainy June. When I returned from vacation in July, the meadow was populated with lots of cheerful orange flowers growing on plants with a branching habit about three feet (1m) tall and wide. Those plants are just now starting to look a bit ragged.

In their place Super Cosmos has sprung up. These are orange cosmos on an incredibly thick stalk. The first one shot up to almost 6 feet before flowering. I had to stake it, as it was leaning precariously. I thought this was just a freak but all the orange cosmos coming up now are following the same pattern.

All these cosmos were planted at the same time from the same seed packet in the same location. I have not fed them anything. (Most wildflowers thrive on poor soils; feed them and you’ll get a lot of green and few flowers.) I have not given them supplemental water, as we’ve had so much rain this year. And yet they look like different plants. Were there different varieties in the seed packet? Did the early sprouting type have a different habit. Are they responding to the different amounts of rain we received at different times over the summer? Or did the ones that sprout earlier grow differently because of the time of year they were growing? I read once that cosmos grow best after the summer equinox. Certainly the plants that sprouted before the equinox behaved quite differently than these that sprouted after.

This is the first year I’ve grown orange cosmos. (Pam/Digging assures me it won’t be the last as they are prolific self-sowers.) So I have no basis for comparison. How do your orange cosmos grow? Short and wide? Or tall and straight?

Duranta erecta
2007-09-15. Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day in Zanthan Gardens

September 14th, 2007
GBBD 200709: Sep 2007

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


April and September are the two big months for bloom in my Austin garden. In September, hurricane rains alternating with cold fronts blowing down the plains states bring the garden back to life after summer, beginning with the oxblood lilies. If you missed the oxblood lily day here at Zanthan Gardens, look at yesterday’s post.

Rhodophiala bifida

This year we’ve had so much rain that the garden has been in high gear since March. The vines have been especially happy.

Antigonon leptopus
The coral vine has covered the fence and climbed over twenty feet into my neighbor’s cedar elm.

Four o'clock and cypress vine

Most of the four o’clocks died back in the heat of summer but the hot pink one is fighting it out with the cypress vine to see which is the most aggressive.

That honor goes to Podranea ricasoliana variously called the pink trumpet vine, Port St Johns Creeper, and desert willow vine, the latter because the flower looks similar to a the desert willow. This south African native is on the banned list in Australia. I think it should be in Texas, too. I see one flower about to open. I might have to wait until late afternoon to see if it will qualify for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day this September.

rose Properity

The rose ‘Prosperity’ looks almost ivory in the early morning autumn sunlight. This flower is barely an inch and a half (4cm) across. In the spring the flowers have more blush pink tones. I find that roses often have more intense colors in the spring when the highs are in the 60s and 70s than in the fall when they are in the 90s. She’s the only rose which got can dieback last year that I managed to save. She used to half a dozen arching canes and now is down to one scraggly one. But she’s been blooming for the last couple of weeks so I hope she’s making a comeback.

I’m disappointed that ‘Heritage’ isn’t blooming today; she looked so lovely at the beginning of the month. Most of the other roses are flowering or trying to.

Allium tuberosum

The garlic chives are still attracting wasps, bees, and moths. The orange cosmos are beckoning to the butterflies. As is the Duranta erecta.

Nerium oleander ‘Shari D.’ in full bloom.

  • Abelia grandiflora
  • Allium tuberosum
  • Antigonon leptopus
  • Asclepias curassavica
  • asparagus fern
  • Canna–unknown red from seed
  • chili pequin–very few flowers but covered in fruit
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Dolichos lablab
  • Duranta erecta
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Ipomoea quamoclit (cypress vine)
  • Lagerstroemia indica–both the watermelon pink and the ‘Catawba’
  • Lantana ‘New Gold’
  • Lindheimer senna
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Mirabilis jalapa pink
  • Oenothera speciosa (pink evening primrose)
  • Oxalis drummondii
  • Oxalis triangularis
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ — full, gorgeous bloom
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Podranea ricasoliana
  • Rhaphiolepis indica–Indian hawthorn
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette–smothered by the cypress vine
  • rose ‘Ducher’
  • rose ‘New Dawn’
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’
  • Rudbeckia hirta — fading
  • Ruellia (Mexican petunia)–dependable this time of year
  • Salvia farinacea–most rotted out this summer; one little sprout has a wan flower
  • Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage)–everyone in Austin has huge gorgeous displays; I have one sickly one trying to escape the clutches of the cypress vine
  • Tradescantia pallida/Setcreasia (purple heart)
  • Tulbaghia violacea (society garlic) Thanks, Pam!
  • widow’s tears
  • Zephyranthes grandiflora

Early Morning Updates

One flower on the Podranea ricasoliana DID open!
Podranea ricasoliana

One rainlily (Zephyranthes grandiflora) opened. Despite all the rain this year, 2007 has not been a good year for rainlilies at Zanthan Gardens. Either they need to dry out between rains or they are still suffering from last year’s drought.
Zephyranthes grandiflora

Most surprising of all is that the Indian hawthorn is blooming.
Indian hawthorn

Indian hawthorn is a spring blooming plant. I have never seen it bloom in the fall in my garden or anywhere else. Have you?

pecan firewood
2007-09-12. An afternoon of gathering pecan for the winter…well winter a year from now.

September 12th, 2007
Gleanings (or why I didn’t go to the gym)

I didn’t get much firewood out of last week’s tree-trimming project only a pile a intensely ammonia-scented ground up chinaberry which am using on the paths and to cover the bare spots in the woods. Unlike the Christmas tree mulch which makes my yard smell like the Christmas for a month into the new year, chinaberry mulch makes the yard smell like the alley behind a bar. It started rotting almost immediately and the mold spores that fly up when I shovel it–yikes! I find it wise to use a face mask. I hope the face mask helps because I’m pretty sure this is the kind of mold which put me in the hospital with pneumonia 5 years ago.

Well today I was distracted from my set task of painting the front bedroom by the sound of chainsaws in my neighbor’s yard across the street. She is having her pecans trimmed. And I lucked out with a nice pile of pecan for the lugging home. Yes, it was as heavy as it looks. I don’t think I need to go to the gym and lift weights today. But it’s a good thing I do sometimes, or I would never be able to take advantage of the opportunities to glean. I can’t stand any waste. I come from thrifty stock.

Despite the sweat and toil, I do lift my head at times to look at the garden. Last week’s oxblood lilies have faded but as I suspected, they were just a preview of the main attraction. Yesterday’s inch of rain has set off the second wave. I’m going to have to devote at least one day to inventory. And then you friends of Zanthan Gardens, it will be time to glean from my garden.

Rhodophiala bifida
2007-09-12. A second wave of oxblood lilies shooting up as the old ones fade.

As for gleaning, I think I’ve recommended the documentary The Gleaners and I. It’s about both rural and urban gleaning in France where Napoleonic law protects the rights of gleaners and enables them to pick through the orchards and fields after the main harvest. It is a little slow in spots but conceptually fascinating.

Zanthan Gardens: fall meadow
2007-09-04. The meadow is in full bloom with garlic chives, cosmos, and Lindheimer senna. Now all it needs is a Pride of Barbados.

September 10th, 2007
Week 36: 9/3 – 9/9

Dateline: 2007
All of you non-Austinites are probably tired of oxblood lily photos but they came on strong in Week 36 this year, thanks to rains the preceding weekend. We do love our signature flower, even though it’s not a native Texan. I’ll post a photo of the meadow instead. It rarely looks this nice in the fall.

Despite our very mild and wet summer this year, the signs of fall sends the blood quickening in the veins of us southerners–just like spring for you northerners. I still shudder thinking about that horrible year 2000, the hottest week on record. On September 5, 2000 we hit the highest temperature ever recorded in Austin, 112F degrees (44.4C). We broke records for five days starting 9/1 (107), 9/2 (107), 9/3 (108), 9/4 (110) and 9/5 (112). What kind of autumn weather is that! So you can see why I’ve been so happy with 2007. This has been the best summer I’ve ever lived through in Austin. Weatherwise.

I even had two new flowers open this week: the diminuitive Oxalis drummondii, and the Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage). The latter is hidden under a huge mat of cypress vine. I almost didn’t see it. It needs to be relocated to the new sunny back yard. Almost every rose had at least a flower or two. And for the first time since I’ve lived here (14 years) the pecan tree is heavy with pecans. Usually the squirrels eat them green in August. I guess they’re getting enough food and water not to resort to that this year. About five persimmons have survived and are starting to turn orange. I’ve covered them with net because last year something ate them before I could. I was devastated. I also have quite a few bluebonnets which survived the summer. They often sprout when the seeds drop in May but those early starters usually die in the summer heat.

I’ve been buying seeds for the fall garden. I planted squash and bush beans and sunflowers–which I should have planted in August. It always seems too hot then. These are all new to my fall garden so I don’t know how they’ll do this late. I bought varieties with short maturation time. Our first freeze usually isn’t until Thanksgiving. I find in interesting that both Angelina (Oregon) and Carol (Indiana) have said that they’re packing in their vegetable gardens for the year. In Austin, this is a good time to start fall crops like broccoli, cabbages, snowpeas, and lettuce. I want to try some chard. Even if we don’t eat it, it’s so beautiful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Zanthan Gardens Summer House
2007-09-09. What went up must come down.

September 9th, 2007
Razing the Roof

Saturday (9/8) scores of oxblood lilies were in full bloom in the stump garden and along the south border. Last April when we started this project, I envisioned having the Austin Garden Bloggers over for an oxblood lily fest, us sitting in the garden house, sipping wine and nibbling dainties as the garden talk flowed.

Rhodophiala bifida

At the very least, I would like to have a langorous Alicia Paulson weekend, where I could soak up the end-of-summer vibe in beautiful surroundings with congenial companions.

Instead, my lot in life seems to be to spend the rest of my days in the throes of one construction project or another. Will I ever live in a house that doesn’t look like a construction zone? I think not.

AJM spent Saturday unscrewing the panels off the back roof while I carted loads of chipped bark from last week’s tree-trimming from the driveway to the back yard. Slipping the panels off the roof was a bit unwieldy but not too difficult for the two of us. It felt good to be getting on with it after spending a month mulling over what we should do. The more we uncover, the more we discover. So we have to take garden house apart somewhat to figure out how to put it back together.

Someday, someday, though, I am going to sit back an enjoy my garden. Until I see a bed that needs weeding. Or some plants drooping from the heat and crying out for water. Or the compost pile which needs turning. Or leaves that need to be skimmed off the pond. Or some seeds I bought last month that should be started in the vegetable garden. Or that plant that Pam (Annie, Julie) gave me that I haven’t transplanted yet. Or those roses that should be pruned back. Or those tomatoes that should be tied up. Or that interesting wolf spider I saw that should be photographed and blogged.

No, really. Someday I’m going to sit back and enjoy it all.

wolf spider, I think
I’m painting the front bedroom and bathroom in anticipation of Margaret’s visit in late October and this is what I found behind the CD cabinets. I think it is a wolf spider. Maybe it’s one reason we’ve hardly had any cockroaches this year. After some shrieking, I captured it and released it in the mini-woodland.

structurally unsound
The construction problems were not as bad as I thought; they were worse.

September 9th, 2007
The $24,670 Debacle

“I was hired to create a quality, well built product that was my original design and my original build, not yours. You are not a builder nor are you an architect. I was not hired to build a design you concocted, I do not work that way, nor did I ever agree. You had some suggestions that we granted, but for you to claim ‘that you would not have done it that way’ or ‘why did you do it that way’ is preposterous.” — Ivan Spaller, Floribunda August 3, 2007

building inspection
2007-08-14. Building Inspection Correction Notice

building inspection

The framing of the garden house failed on four counts; the most disturbing news is that the back roof is not attached to the concrete wall. I can lift the roof off the wall with one hand. The inspector said that in the next big storm (and this is hurricane season) it could blow off like a giant kite. Not only could this destroy the garden house but it has the potential to cause harm to the lives or property of our neighbors.

The roof must come off. Whenever I tried to come up with solutions to the screen framing problem, I always came to the conclusion that the roof was on wrong and caused other problems. But I couldn’t begin to consider the time and expense of taking it off and solving the problems at the cause. Like everyone else, I wanted to see what we could do to band-aid the problem. Now that the building inspector has made the decision for me, my initial response is relief. There isn’t a choice now. No more torturing myself with what should be done. The roof must come off and the garden house can be fixed the right way, not just patched up.

Zanthan Gardens
2007-09-06. After the tree-trimming…the big sky and lots of sun in the lower meadow. I’ll finally be able to grow some native xeriscape flowers. (Yes those red blotches are oxblood lilies.)

September 6th, 2007
Let the Sunshine In

The effect of opening up the garden to the sky is a bit disconcerting (in a good way). Have you ever watched a cat enter a room where you’ve rearranged the furniture or put up a Christmas tree. They saunter in, notice the change, and then jump in alertness. “Hmmm. Something’s different.” That’s how I felt every time I wandered into the back yard today or looked out the kitchen window. The change is like a physical blow. Look at all that sky!

When I had trees trimmed last March, I saved some of the work for fall because the meadow was in full bloom and I couldn’t stand the thought of it being trampled on the one time of the year it looks really nice. (No matter how careful the workers, trying to maneuver huge tree limbs to the ground requires a bit of tramping through the flower beds.)

I created the first problem. Over 11 years ago, a cedar elm tree in the middle of our lawn fell in a storm. After the stump was cut down to the ground, it resprouted and I let the sprouts grow. First it was my bonzai project. Then it was a way of creating some privacy for the back porch. Several excuses and 11 years later it was a nuisance, shading the meadow and the iris bed, dropping leaves and seeds into the pond. In order to connect the back patio to the new garden house, I intend to make an entirely new garden. Now was the time to get rid of it.

Zanthan Gardens
The before shot…my bonzai project got out of hand. Lots of good firewood though.

Ever since last year when our neighbor to the north erected a privacy fence, effectively giving us a New Back Yard, I’ve had plans to transform the north border. The biggest problem is the amount of shade. Looking at all the lovely flowers in England this summer, I resolved that I was going to get rid of the weedy hackberry and chinaberry trees.

Zanthan Gardens

I’ve hated this messy chinaberry for years. It drops zillions of seeds, all of which sprout. And it arches over the meadow shading out all the flowers.

Zanthan Gardens

Now the ‘Heritage’ rose (that spindly bush on the right) should get enough light to thrive. And I can get ready for fall planting. Is it time to fall in love with roses again?

Allium tuberosum

September 2nd, 2007
Delights of Garlic Chives

In one of Pam’s recent Tales from the Microbial Laboratory she posted some gorgeous photos of the bug life on her garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). I’ve noticed that mine have been buzzing with bees for a couple of weeks. (What a nasty honey that must make!) But it wasn’t until I saw her photographs that I was inspired to take camera in hand.

The bees were plentiful but camera shy. In all my shots all I got was a blur. Still, as Pam showed me, there is an amazing diversity in the creatures attracted to garlic chives. I’ll add more photos as I take them.

Allium tuberosum

Allium tuberosum

Allium tuberosum

One of the things I love about garden blogging is comparing notes with other gardeners near and far. I had all this beauty in my garden but wouldn’t have given it a careful look if Pam hadn’t shown me what she saw in her garden.