2007-10-24. Lost Maples. No fall color yet in the trees here or at home. However, the colors of the grasses and sky epitomize the Central Texas autumn palette. It’s not all cactus in Texas.

October 29th, 2007
Week 43: 10/22 – 10/28

Dateline: 2010

The weather remains unseasonably hot, high 80s and into the 90s. Normal for this time of year is high 70s. It remains very dry. Anywhere I water, seeds sprout. Only the false dayflowers and the baby blue eyes put in much of an appearance. On the one hand this is good because I can get ahead of the self sown seeds and sow my saved seeds instead.

The white boneset is in full bloom and the flowers attract bees and small butterflies so that the bush looks animated. The rose ‘Red Cascade’ finally put a cane over the fence (it prefers to creep on the ground) and is blooming just as I pictured it years ago.

I’ve mowed back the ruellia and horseherb. I beginning to see the bones of the garden again and this makes me all excited about building new beds and planting.

Dateline: 2007

I haven’t updated my Week by Week in the Garden for almost six weeks primarily because nothing much has happened lately. The weather dried out by the second week of September and Austin has been left hot and dry. The blue skies have been great but the temperatures were above normal and the garden soon got a dusty, withered look; my allergies are acting up. The cedar elms have not yet turned color and dropped their leaves. The self-sown overwintering annuals haven’t sprouted. (This time last year I was digging up scores of bluebonnet seedlings to share with my neighborhood elementary school.) Finally Monday (10/22) a cold front came through, a blessed rain fell, and autumn arrived in Central Texas. The high temperatures dropped from the mid-90s of the previous week to the mid-70s. I could barely refrain from dancing a little jig and must confess that once or twice I burst into song.

This has been the perfect week to be working hard in the garden. Morning temperatures make me want to snuggle under a blanket but as soon as I’m out digging in the garden I feel great. Everything perked up with the rain and it is so much easier to prepare the beds for fall and turn the compost piles. AJM’s mother is visiting from England and almost every day we’ve visited some nursery where she always insists on buying me something. She’s bought me strawberry plants at Gardens, a pomegranate at The Great Outdoors, maiden grass at Barton Springs Nursery, and pinks and wintergreen at The Natural Gardener.

AJM took off work on our anniversary and the three of us drove to Lost Maples. Unfortunately, none of the trees had changed color but we were all excited to see some longhorn steer and a herd of bison on the drive out.
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squash borer damage

October 23rd, 2007
Bored Squash

I was so excited when the weather cooled down below 60 at night a couple of weeks ago and the summer squash began flowering. Every day I’d check to see if any squash were forming. I’d chosen an heirloom squash (Early Prolific Straightneck) from Botanical Interest which is supposed to be tasty both quite small as baby vegetables and larger. AJM makes a great ratatouille and we also like summer squash lightly steamed.

Then the other day, I noticed that some of the plants look like they had “wilted” on the upper leaves.

squash borer damage

Since the entire plant hadn’t wilted, I suspected some nasty critter. I noticed one squash was all squishy. When I picked another to examine it, I saw some telltale holes.
squash borer damage

Dissecting the deceased revealed the extent of the problem.
squash borer damage

Plants are falling right and left. Every squash I’ve picked is infested. Squash vine borers have burrowed into the stem, the leaves, and the fruit. Not only are the plants infested with the typical white bodied, brown headed squash vine borers, but this bright green caterpillar is also horning in at the party.
squash borer damage

My attempts to eat fresh from the garden is stymied once again.


October 22nd, 2007
It’s A Jungle

When I wrote a post on local nurseries for Metroblogging Austin last spring, I missed several nurseries that I’d never personally visited. Eager to make amends, I’ve since been to Red Barn, Emerald Gardens, Hill Country Water Gardens, and It’s a Jungle.

I had tried to find It’s a Jungle, which specializes in roses and orchids, a couple of times before; this time, armed with better directions from its website, I succeeded. Located in a converted suburban house on Kramer Lane, it’s easy to miss. The tiny parking lot was almost full when Margaret and pulled in although there didn’t seem to be anyone about. We peeked in the back yard which is completely filled with potted roses and one very prolific pear tree. We wandered up and down aisles of roses in containers grouped by type. I spotted quite a few that I was unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, some of the labels were difficult to read, faded by Austin’s glaring summer sun. Few things irritate me more in a garden center than poorly labelled plants. So I was beginning to feel dismissive until the owner came by to see if we had questions.

In Austin, most local nurseries get their roses from The Antique Rose Emporium. I didn’t see their labels on these roses so I asked who supplied them. “Oh. We grow them all ourselves. Except the ones that are patented. We get those from Jackson and Perkins.” I just stood there with my mouth open. “You grow all these yourself?” “Most of them. And we have free classes so you can learn how to propagate them yourself, too. We use the same “bag” method that the rose rustlers use.” Now I was suddenly very impressed.

We wandered around the grounds with a new appreciation for what we were seeing. Then we decided to check out It’s A Jungle’s other specialty, orchids. I’ve never been the least bit interested in orchids or houseplants of any kind. But I do like visiting greenhouses and orangeries. The first hothouse we went into seemed to be a working greenhouse and many of the orchids were out of flower. Still Margaret and I both saw things we liked.

Then we entered the main hothouse and were stopped stunned in our tracks.

It really was a jungle.

We wandered around and around enchanted by flowers each more exotic and beautiful than the next. How could anyone decide among them? I can see why orchid people become fanatical. The owner was at the potting bench repotting several orchids and Margaret said that she could tell by the way he lovingly cradled each plant that he absolutely loved them. She insisted on buying me one. And, indeed, we could hardly walk away from such a personally tended collection without supporting it in some way. But was I ready for the commitment? Me, who’s never met a houseplant that’s survived the experience. Aren’t orchids horribly fussy? Maybe I should read some books on them first.

Within a few minutes I was walking out the door with a little dendrobium and a pamphlet from the American Orchid Society on how to take care of it. “Come to the class next month and learn how to repot it.” the owner said as he rung up the sale. I promised I would. Is this the beginning of a new passion?

Do you remember when you stopped being a citizen and became a consumer? In the United States, at least, we the people are almost always referred to as consumers by the media and government officials. Thinking about it a bit, I have to admit that I personally produce almost nothing but waste which is so […]

October 15th, 2007
Blog Action Day: The Environment

Do you remember when you stopped being a citizen and became a consumer? In the United States, at least, we the people are almost always referred to as consumers by the media and government officials. Thinking about it a bit, I have to admit that I personally produce almost nothing but waste which is so conveniently flushed away or hauled away that I never face the consequences of it. Can you imagine the change to packaging or even the materials from which things were made if we had to personally confront all the trash we produce? I don’t have a garbage disposal and I do compost my kitchen and yard waste. I reuse when I can and recycle when I can’t reuse. And I frequently reuse other people’s stuff, buying most of my clothes and many of my books and DVDs at second hand stores. I haven’t forgotten my mother’s lessons in saving paper, string, and rubber bands. Nor have I forgotten my own childhood observation when I lived in the Philippines and observed Filipino children sifting through American trash–because they could make a living on what we threw away.

Ultimately though I am a consumer, not a producer. This bothers me. Despite my garden in an unusually large yard for this urban area, I couldn’t survive a day on what I grow myself: my single tomato, a handful of pecans, and half a dozen jalapeno peppers, or 8 precious persimmons. I couldn’t even grow those without having water piped in, or being able to drive to the nursery for manures and amendments. Suddenly left without the cheap foodstuffs I take for granted, I’d quickly starve.

I’ve been very interested lately in following the Angelina Williamson’s experiment over at Dustpan Alley. She has taken the challenge to eat locally-grown foods (food grown within 100 miles of where she lives) as much as possible over the next year. She lives in Oregon and has been busily preserving the bounty of local farms. And she has her own hens. In sharp contrast, I don’t even have a pantry (much less a nicely stocked one) and I’m excited that living in a town that has both Whole Foods Market and Central Market that I’m able to buy beer from Belgium and sparkling water from Italy. Ouch! Leaving that kind of carbon footprint I might as well be driving a SUV and living in a McMansion.

Angelina got me wondering exactly what I could find to eat in a 100-mile radius from Austin. Texas is a big state after all and 100 miles won’t even get me to the coast to get seafood from the Gulf or to the valley for oranges and grapefruit. Off the top of my head I could think of deer, pecans, and wine. Maybe goat cheese.

Looking into it some more, I discovered Andy and Julia at Eating Austin who are also challenging themselves to eat locally-grown foods. Jumping from one of their links I came to the Edible Austin resouce page, which lists all sorts of locally available foods and where to get them, including a list of farmers markets and CSAs. (I was a bit surprised to find apples on the list. Apples in central Texas. Who is growing those?)

I also came across Local Harvest, a site which helps you find growers by ZIP code.. There’s a lot more growing on in my area than I’d have guessed.

I’ve been meaning to check out Boggy Creek Farm for a long time. It’s quite famous in Austin. But, oooh look! What about Angel Valley Organic Farm. Or Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Or Green Gate Farms. Here’s a cool place I’ve never heard of Barnison Farm. They sell through the Austin Farmers’ Market. We sometimes shop at the Austin Farmers’ Market because it’s just a stroll across the river. It’s a growers-only market which includes supplies within 150 mile radius of Austin.

After browsing 10 pages of local growers, I’ve discovered that there is a lot more food available in and around Austin than I ever dreamed. I just need to follow Angelina’s example and think a little more about what I eat and where it comes from and try to make better and more informed choices. I do it with other things (like conserving and recycling). But despite years of following the organic movement, I discover that I am horribly complaisant about my food supply. Angelina, thanks for setting an example, for nudging me out daily habit and piquing my curiousity. Curiousity is always a good first step.

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

October 15th, 2007
GBBD 200710: Oct 2007

October 15, 2007

I don’t think it’s rained in Austin since the last Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. After our glorious summer, we are having a hot dry fall, with temperatures well above average. My lawn is getting crispy. Just this last week, the highs dropped out of the 90s and the lows reached into the 60s. Lots of plants, even heat lovers like tomatoes and peppers, won’t bloom if the low temperatures are above 70F. The drop in temperature encouraged four new plants to bloom.

The summer squash…
summer squash

White mistflower (a gift from Pam/Digging)
white mistflower

Aster ericoides, a tiny native aster.
Aster ericoides

And Callisia repens, which has a flower so small that I can barely see it without my camera eye.

Another new flower blooming since last month is the elegant, red spider lily, Lycoris radiata (known in its native Japan as higanbana, literally equinox flower).
Lycoris radiata

Being dry and dusty, the garden looks ragged. The trees are just now starting to drop a leaf or two; except the pecans which are swathed in webworms, dressed up for All Hallow’s Eve. A few oxblood lily stragglers march on. The summer flowers are past their prime and I haven’t put in the winter annuals yet. This is not how I wanted the garden to look for Margaret’s visit (which begins tomorrow). But I’m sure it will be fun hitting the nurseries together and buying some new plants to liven things up.

  • Abelia grandiflora (only a few flowers)
  • Antigonon leptopus (still going strong)
  • Asclepias curassavica (mostly gone to seed)
  • Cosmos sulphureus (some very short ones, only a foot tall)
  • Aster ericoides
  • Callisia repens
  • Curcubita pepo (straightneck summer squash)
  • Dolichos lablab
  • Duranta erecta
  • Eupatorium wrightii (white mistflower, Wright’s boneset)
  • Ipomoea quamoclit (cypress vine)
  • Lycoris radiata
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Mirabilis jalapa pink
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ — full, gorgeous bloom
  • Oxalis triangularis
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Podranea ricasoliana
  • Rhodophiala bifida
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (happy now that it’s in the sun)
  • Ruellia (Mexican petunia)
  • Tradescantia pallida/Setcreasia (purple heart)


October 13th, 2007
I Hate Horseherb

One of the first books I bought when I began gardening in Austin was Sally and Andy Wasowski’s Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region. I believed that one should garden where one is and was interested in discovering native Texas plants that would, not only survive in Central Texas, but thrive. However, Ms. Wasowski totally lost me on page 99 with this ode to horseherb, Calytocarpus vialis.

This plant illustrates how prejudices can cloud the mind. It is described in botanical literature as a “noxious lawn weed.” Why? Because it outcompetes grass in the shade. Funny, that’s what I thought everyone wants a shady ground cover to do.


Well, honey, call me prejudiced but I’m here to tell you that horseherb is a noxious weed. It’s right up there with bindweed in my book. It will grow in your lawn. It will grow in your paths. It will smother the buffalograss. It will climb over the agave. It will suck the life out the species tulips. It will crowd out the bluebonnets.

In short, if you have it, you will never be rid of it. Try pulling it up, and it will snap off at the ground and resprout again in a few weeks. Dig it up and every little root will start a new plant.


Still, I’m resigned to the digging out method. Here I am, digging up the meadow and adding compost. The meadow needs to be disturbed a bit this time of year so that the self-sowers (larkspur, bluebonnets, cilantro, and nigella) will sprout. Unfortunately to get out the horseherb, I’m also digging up rainlilies and tulips and buffalograss and the nice gravel mulch I have around the agave. What? You can’t see any gravel mulch around the agave? Now you know why I hate horseherb.

spider attacks crab spider
A shy arabesque orb weaver.

October 10th, 2007
Life and Death Struggle [Updated]

Dateline: October 9, 2007

I was distracted by violent movement from the web of a spiny-backed orb weaver. These little fellers have been very active this year and walking through the garden lately is like walking a spider obstacle course. Going over to investigate, I saw the spiny-backed orb weaver struggling with something much larger. At first I thought it was a red wasp. I went to get my camera which sees much better than I. As I crept in closely for a photo, the larger creature ran nimbly up one of the threads holding the web to the tree. I held still and it ran back down to finish off its dirty deed, for it had attacked the smaller spiny-backed orb weaver and rent its web in the struggle.

Update: October 10, 2007

I sent some photos to Jerry Cates of Bugs in the News and he identified the spider as an arabesque orb weaver, Neoscona arabesca. As it turns out I completely misread what I had observed. The web belongs to the arabesque who builds it every night and dismantles it every morning when it is light. The small object is most likely not another spider but just a nasty bug that the spider is cleaning up for me.

I confirmed his hypothesis by going out this morning to have another look. The web that had completely disappeared by mid-morning yesterday had been rebuilt. And there was the arabesque orb weaver curled up in the center. It is very camera shy and every time I tried to get close to it to get a photo in the low light of dawn, it would run up a thread to the tree above. I have to say that I wish the spinyback orb weavers would take a page out of their cousins book and dismantle their webs every morning!

arabesque orb weaver, Neoscona arabesca

Isn’t it amazing to believe one’s own eyes and then discover that one is completely wrong. I have to learn to see with better eyes than this.

oxblood lilies Zanthan Gardens
2007-10-06. Oxblood lilies sit in glasses of water on the kitchen windowsill waiting to get replanted.

October 6th, 2007
Cultivating Friendship in the Garden

Before I met the Austin Garden Bloggers I didn’t have any gardening friends. For years my gardening has been a solitary pursuit. The only person I knew who shared my passion was AJM’s mom, and she lives in England. AJM admires the garden and will pitch in with big projects like cutting up tree limbs but in his spare time he’d rather be training for triathlons or programming or cooking.

The community I found among garden bloggers has been very encouraging. Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening and bill of prairie point were among the first people to leave comments on my blog and we’ve maintained a dialog across our blogs for years. Last week (as most of you already know), I had the privilege finally to meet Kathy in the flesh, reconnect with some of the other Austin Garden Bloggers and meet the latest addition to our informal club. Maybe coming down off all the excitement of last week’s socializing contributed in part to the grumpiness in my previous post. Annie of the Transplantable Rose, intuitive that she is, might have sensed it because she volunteered to help me out in the garden yesterday.

I’ve never had anyone garden with me before. I’m hoping Annie, who brought her garden fork, wasn’t too disappointed when I relegated her to the position of under-gardener. I was just so pleased to have someone to talk to while I was working that I would have been happy she done nothing but sit in a chair and keep me company. Instead she handed me tools and buckets as I gingerly made my way through the stump garden trying not to step on any plants and teased bulbs out of holes filled with rock, clay as hard as adobe, and tree roots. And she wrote down the harvesting stats. After four hours, we had dug up only two clumps of about 150 bulbs (60 of which were too tiny to flower). This is not particularly faster or slower than I work alone; however, it was a lot more fun.

You might reckon that we were easily distracted by:
1. conversation
2. my difficulty in keeping on task
3. my temporarily losing the map which shows where each clump is planted
4. my inability to finish a thought without interrupting myself with five other thoughts
5. a break for cake and coffee

And you’d be right on all counts.

PS. Annie, thanks for the chocolate cookies. They were yummy.

oxblood lily bulbs
Inventorying the oxblood lilies and digging up bulbs to replant is usually one of my favorite garden tasks. So why is this year different?

October 3rd, 2007
When Gardening’s A Chore

I don’t really think of myself as a gardener, not in the sense of designing with plants or creating beautiful garden spaces. I just like to putter around outside, especially if it means digging in the dirt. I’m turned on by turning compost. I like growing plants from seeds and collecting seeds from plants. Most of all I like harvesting crops from the earth, like potatoes, or flower bulbs. My most extensive collection of bulbs is my oxblood lily, Rhodophiala bifida, collection. Someone called it my signature flower. I like that.

In 1995, I dug up 64 bulbs in my front lawn, 28 of which were flowering size and the rest which were very small and took several years to flower. Today, as near as I can make out, I have over 1400 bulbs in about 64 different clumps. The growth is, well, exponential. And that was great when I had only 100, then 200, then 400. But this year I’ve reached the breaking point. Not only do I not have enough room in the garden to plant them, I don’t have the time to dig the holes, to divide them, count them, catalog them, and find people to take them. (Calling Austin bloggers. Also, Steve and Bill. Will they grow up in North Texas?)

oxblood lily bulbs
Clump 2002e-13 was in serious need of dividing. From 13 bulbs to 128 bulbs in five years: almost a 10-fold increase.

I read somewhere that oxblood lilies don’t need dividing. Although it is true they will continue to live for years with complete neglect, the bulbs will get smaller and smaller crowding each other out and eventually the flowers will decrease. That’s one reason I take counts and keep records– to track when I planted each clump and how big the bulbs were and how many flowers each produced and the habits of the plants (multi-stems, seeds, more offsets than flowers). This year I lost track. I don’t like not knowing. It makes me feel uneasy and not in control. I even had four clumps left over from last year I never got replanted. That’s bad management! This year I’m going to have to be brutal. In the past, I saved every sliver of a bulb and put it in the nursery where it might take four or five years to reach flowering size. Today, into the compost pile. (Oh! that hurt!) I must focus my attention only on the clumps that need dividing most desperately.

Where to begin? Instead of anticipating my inventory and looking forward to dividing my bulbs and multiplying my holdings, I just stare at the faded flower stalks with a heavy heart. The task at hand seems overwhelming. I attribute my garden grumpiness to the weather. We’ve gone from an unusually cool and rainy summer to an unusually hot and dry fall. Temperatures are still in the 90s and we haven’t had a good rain for three weeks. It’s hot out there and I’m not having any fun tackling fall gardening tasks. I admit that I was completely spoiled by our great summer. But this is October and I get cranky when the grass dries up in the heat and none of the self-sowers have sprouted and the pecans are filled with webworms and the caterpillars are attacking the roses and I haven’t finished turning the compost pile or weeding the meadow. I don’t have time to deal with any of it because I have all these bulbs to divide. Yep, I’m cranky and tired of the heat and wanting a little breath of crisp northern air to liven me and the garden up.

Does this mean I threw in the trowel? Indeed it does not. We gardeners are made of sterner stuff. We press on. Bad moods pass and when the weather turns so will my mood.

small toad
Teeny tiny toad (about the size of my thumbnail) presses against the side of a jar, impatient to get the photo shoot over. Doesn’t it look like something from ‘Alien’?

October 1st, 2007
Teeny Tiny Toads

Last week I was alarmed when all the tadpoles disappeared from the pond what seemed like overnight. This happened about the same time the water suddenly cleared and I wondered if a chemical imbalance had occurred and killed off the tadpoles. Would dead tadpoles float to the top of the pond or sink to the bottom? Was it possible that the tadpoles had morphed into toads and hopped out of the pond? Maybe some of them, but they were all of different sizes so it seemed, to me, unlikely that they all turned tail at once.

This morning while watering the squash and beans I noticed a little movement in the dark mulch. Cricket? No smaller. I got down on my hands and knees and there were several teeny, tiny toads. (At least I assume they’re toads.) Are these my little tadpoles all grown up? If so, what a proud nursemaid am I!

People often tell me that I’m observant and keep good records. I feel that it’s just the opposite. I never seem to catch the significant details. And I always end up with more questions than answers.