Zanthan Gardens
I had a difficult time getting this rock out because of the tree root growing over it. After I did, I discovered another rock, even larger beneath it. This is why I asked for a post hole digger for my birthday one year.

November 30th, 2007

I was over at Pam/Digging‘s the other day picking up some purple coneflower that she graciously shared after dividing. Her front garden looks all new and tidy after the removal of the vitex. She explained that she had dug everything up and rearranged it. She said it casually, as if she were rearranging the knickknacks on a table. My mouth dropped in awe. “I can’t imagine moving big plants around.” “Really?” It was Pam’s turn to be surprised. “I would have thought you did it all the time.”

Not I. I love digging up bulbs or dividing irises. I have no problem transplanting self-sown annuals like larkspur and bluebonnets, even though they both have long taproots and aren’t supposed to like being moved. I mulled over it awhile and realized that my hesitancy does not spring from a fear of replanting a plant. It’s the digging it up that bothers me.

Many of the plants I grow are adapted to Texas’s droughts and soils by having a long taproot. Such plants, like Texas mountain laurel, are notoriously difficult to transplant successfully even when they are quite small. I prefer to sow a lot of seeds and hack out any plants that come up where I don’t want them to trying to transplant larger plants. Moving something that’s growing happily (or even unhappily) seems too risky. If it dies, I’m out a plant I’ve nurtured for three or four years. (Like my beautiful Fatsia japonica that had grown for ten years by the old shed.) Once a plant is rooted in place, rooted it remains until it dies or I chop it out.

My other problem is the soil itself. Take your spade out in my garden any day, even after a rain when the ground is fairly soft, and see if you can plunge it in more than six inches. Despite the truckloads of amendments (which rot away quickly in our hot humid summers), the ground is unyielding. It’s not just a problem of heavy black clay or rock, although I struggle with both. The real problem is with tree roots. In this regard, I hate the cedar elms particularly. They grow a matting root system close to the surface which persists years after the tree is dead. And then there’s the roots of English ivy, bindweed, poison ivy and smilax to contend with.

Zanthan Gardens
Can’t get a shovel in the ground for all the roots!

When I go out to dig a hole in my garden, I have to take more than a spade. My arsenal includes a garden fork, a post-hole digger, loppers for big roots, pruning shears for small roots, a bag for rocks, and (if it hasn’t rained in awhile) a pick-ax. I don’t have to be cautioned against the old practice of double digging. I’m lucky if I can get down more than a foot. I can show you the tines of a broken garden fork still stuck in the spot it broke off thirteen years ago. For large plants, I usually dig down a foot and then build a little planter that’s raised off the ground a foot.

Zanthan Gardens
Even under a mulch, tree root suck all the moisture and nutrients from the soil, leaving clumps of hard black clay.

I have considered the idea of using horticultural cloth to line new holes so that the roots won’t invade. I think that this would work best in places where I plant annuals or bulbs. I can’t see how it will work for larger plants, especially ones with long taproots. It seems almost like planting in pots in the ground. Won’t the plants be restricted by the cloth? To be effective, I think I will have to dig out a very large section, line it, and then fill it with trucked in soil. This is what I plan to do with the bog garden. Digging out the section, however, is taking a very long time.

Have any of you used horticultural cloth to block weeds? How did you use it and what were your results?

Another question–are there any gardening techniques that you shy away from? I remember being amazed, last year, by the number of people who said they wouldn’t grow plants from seeds. And then there are those gardeners who hesitate to take up their pruning shears. I never realized I had an animadversion to digging up plants until I talked with Pam.

Zanthan Gardens meadow
A gift from Pam/Digging, this zexmenia is a reminder of the sharing nature of this community of gardeners. It’s a little droopy because I just planted it yesterday afternoon when tempertures hit a record high of 89F/31C before dropping to 37F/3C this morning.

November 22nd, 2007

Today Americans celebrate our national holiday of giving thanks. One symbol of this harvest festival is the cornucopia, the horn of plenty overflowing with the fruits of the harvest.

That first Thanksgiving, native Americans shared a bountiful harvest with European settlers who were starving. They also shared their knowledge of the American flora, teaching the settlers how to grow corn, squash, and beans. Sharing the harvest–sounds like garden bloggers.

I’m grateful that you’ve chosen to share your gardens with me through your photos and your writing on your own blogs and your comments left here. I’ve learned about stringing up tomatoes, the possible danger of pecan leaves, how to adapt a power drill into a bulb-hole digger, and where to look for locally grown food. More importantly, I get a chance to peek into your gardens, celebrate your successes, and suffer with you through your disappointments. I feel lucky to have gardening friends all over the world. And, largely thanks to the efforts of Pam/Digging (Austin’s Garden Blogger booster), I’ve met a lot of new gardeners right here in Austin. Not only do I always have a blast when we get together, but I’m often the recipient of wonderful passalong plants. Your generosity is my horn of plenty, the cornucopia running over. My garden truly grows because I know you.

Special thanks this year:
* Pam/Digging (for sharing plants and her clever garden designs and for getting the Austin Garden bloggers together)
* Annie in Austin (for sharing plants and knowledge and wisdom and heart–her writing is the tops and she’s just as wonderful person)
* Yolanda Elizabet @ Bliss (for pure inspiration and gentle humor)
* Carol @ May Dreams Gardens (for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and Garden Bloggers Book Club)
* Stuart Robinson @ Gardening Tips ‘n’ Ideas (for the Gardening Blog Directory)
* Angelina @ Dustpan Alley (for exploring the politics of eating locally and sharing her adventures in canning and preserving and for writing that is brutally honest)
* Kathy Purdy @ Cold Climate Gardening (for giving me a thrill the day I read her “Today’s Gardening Quote” and saw she’d quoted me. It was great to finally meet in the flesh after years of knowing each other online.)
* Steve Mudge (who doesn’t have a blog, yet, but who usually leaves a comment)
* to all of the former lurkers who jumped into the conversation

Zanthan Gardens lawn
2007-11-16. Happiness is a lawn without leaves.

November 17th, 2007
More Leaves Than Lawn

Three years ago I replaced my old gas mulching mower with reel mower. Overall I’ve been pleased with it. I enjoy the quiet whirl of its blades as I mow and am happy not to mess with gasoline or breathe fumes. Keeping these benefits in mind I’ve tried to overlook how difficult I find mowing St. Augustine grass with it. St. Augustine is a running type grass with coarse blades that stick out in all directions. The reel mower is more suited to a fine-bladed grass which grows straight up. In the summertime, it’s best to cut St. Augustine very tall to conserve water. The blades on the reel mower couldn’t be adjusted as high as on the old gas-powered mulching mower.

Looking my evaluation of the reel mower in my original post, I see that the problem I tried to ignore and couldn’t is that I really need a mulching mower. My yard doesn’t have much lawn left but it is covered in large trees. I relied on my old gas mower to mulch the leaves into the lawn. Cedar elm leaves are small and break down quickly when mowed over. Later in the season when the red oak leaves fell, I’d rake them into piles and run the mulching mower over them before putting them in the compost pile. Without a mulching mower, trying to keep the garden looking tidy in autumn is a losing battle.

So this week I bought a electric mulching mower, a Black & Decker Lawn Hog from I chose the model without the flip handle as I don’t have the kind of lawn that can be mowed by walking in neat straight lines. delivered it the day after I bought it and although I’ve only used it twice and am pretty happy with it.

Many people in the review found avoiding the extension cord annoying. Certainly it’s something to be constantly aware of when you’re mowing but I didn’t find it any more difficult than vacumning. In fact, using the electric mower feels more like vacumning than mowing.

* quiet (Not as quiet as the reel mower but much more quiet than a gas-powered mower. It’s no louder than my vacumn cleaner.)
* easy to start (Pull the handle, it comes on. Release the handle, it goes off.)
* mulches
* no gas fumes
* easy to adjust the height from very low to very high

* heavier than the push mower (This is not a problem while mowing but it makes it harder to get it up the steps to the lawn.)
* very long length (The length of the mower from the front wheels to the back wheels is much longer than I’m used to and makes it slightly more difficult to maneuver.)

If anyone wants a reel mower, let me know. I even have the blade sharpening kit that goes with it.

2007-11-15. Do houseplants count for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day? The orchid Margaret gave me has opened all its buds…still going strong after a month.

November 15th, 2007
GBBD 200711: Nov 2007

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

A cold front blew in last night, dropping temperatures 20 degrees but not bringing any rain. Today is sunny and windy. It’s hard to take photos in the wind. Zanthan Gardens is looking like it’s ready for a new year. Leaves are dropping just enough to litter the lawn, paths, and beds and yet not enough to open up the yard to sunlight. The trees, perennials, and even grass looks tired and worn.

I’ve been planting out winter annuals these last couple of weeks and that’s where almost all the new flowers for this month come from.

Viola cornuta Sorbet Coconut Duet
The violas are one of my favorite flowers. I don’t really like their larger cousins, the pansies, maybe because pansies are ubiquitous in commercial plantings around Austin. I hate the way they are typically set out in as if they were floral color dots, all different colors and lined up in unnatural rows and columns. I prefer the diminutive violas. I like to plant them in winding drifts so that they look like they just sprung up on their own.

Lobularia maritima
I also like sweet alyssum, Lobulari maritima. I need to buy a lot more of it, though. In years past I’ve made containers out of rotted logs and the sweet alyssum looks very pretty draping down over the logs.

Dianthus chinensis
Pinks, Dianthus chinensis, are another common winter annual here in Austin. If the summer isn’t too hot, they will last and last. I managed to keep one group of so-called annuals growing for over 4 years. They finally died out so I decided that 2007 was a good year to plant out some more.

Among the vegetables, the jalepeno pepper is still going strong.The summer squash continues flowering but I don’t have much hope left for it because the plants look so sickly and ragged. On the other hand, the bush beans have finally decided to grow and are flowering like mad.

I don’t have any roses in bloom at the moment. ‘Ducher’ had been in full bloom last week but all the flowers faded by today. ‘French Lace’, which has been struggling all year, finally died. ‘Blush Noisette’ has buds that look like they will open tomorrow or the day after.

  • Antigonon leptopus (only a few flowers left)
  • Asclepias curassavica (mostly gone to seed)
  • Cosmos sulphureus (some very short ones, only a foot tall)
  • Aster ericoides (in full bloom)
  • Commelina communis or C. erecta (weedy dayflower)
  • Curcubita pepo (straightneck summer squash)
  • Dianthus chinensis
  • Dolichos lablab (suddenly flowered again after going to seed)
  • Duranta erecta
  • Lantana montevidensis
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Oxalis crassipies
  • Plumbago auriculata (still many flowers)
  • Lobularia maritima
  • Podranea ricasoliana (finally blooming all along the north fence)
  • Rudbeckia fulgida
  • Solanum jasminoides (new this month)
  • Tradescantia pallida/Setcreasia (purple heart)
  • Tradescantia–unknown white
  • Viola cornuta ‘Sorbet Coconut Duet’

summer squash Early Prolific
2007-11-13. Squash for dinner at last!

November 14th, 2007
Summer Squash ‘Early Prolific Straightneck’

Well despite massive losses to the squash borer, we finally managed to eat some summer squash from the fall garden. I harvested three squash between four and six inches long. Together they weighed a bit more than 3/4 of a pound. AJM wished he’d known how much squash there was as he would have made his favorite pasta dish with summer squash, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and olive oil. There are a few more squash out there so he might still have a chance.

‘Early Prolific Straightneck’ is open-pollinated, an heirloom vegetable which was an All America Selection in 1938. According to the seed packet, (from Botanical Interests), ‘Early Prolific Straightneck’ can be “…harvested very small for ‘baby’ vegetables. Can be steamed, grilled, sauteed, eaten raw in salads, made into relish, and made into bread. If left on the vine, (it) will grow so big that it will effect the orbital spin of the earth.” If this squash lives up to its marketing at all, it’s well worth growing. Because we ended up with so few squash, I let them grow a little larger than I like. I prefer to eat them very small when there aren’t too many seeds.The flavor was very good and the texture firm and creamy. I’m definitely going to try to grow ‘Early Prolific Straightneck’ again, maybe in the spring.

So far, my one night harvest ended up being 3/4 of a pound. The seed packet was $1.89. I’ll have to price summer squash at Central Market to see if the economics pan out (Update: summer squash at CM is $1.49 a pound.) The flavor was excellent. And I know there are no pesticides or anything nasty sprayed on them. And no fossil fuels were used to transport them to my kitchen.

Garden History

I’ve included the temperature ranges and rainfall to compare fall vegetable gardening in Austin to other times of the year and to other locations. Even for Austin 2007 has had a warmer than average fall. I find it difficult to keep seedlings going in early September when Austin temperatures can reach into the high 90s and even the 100s. It’s also been very dry. It rained once, about an inch, on October 22nd when a cold front dropped temperatures 20 degrees.

2007-09-09. Planted 3 seeds to a hole as directed. (45 days to harvest). Highs in the mid-90s, lows in the high 70s. Planted in the new berm made out of dirt dug excavated during the construction of the garden house. This “dirt” is mostly rock mixed with clay and caliche. I added three bags of Texas native hardwood mulch.
2007-09-16. Almost all the squash came so thinned and transplanted thinnings.
2007-10-23. As the first squash are beginning to form, plants are attacked by squash borers. They bore into all the existing fruit turning the squash into mush. I pick off the fruit and cut out all the borers I could and mounded dirt up over the vines where I cut off leaves. Some plants survive but about one-third don’t. Highs had climbed into the low 90s but just dropped to the mid-70s before the squash borer attack.
2007-11-13. First harvest. (65 days). High temperatures in the mid-80s, lows in the mid-60s. Almost no rain during the entire growing period so I had to provide supplemental water.

photo: maiden grass
Maiden grass. 2007 has been an excellent year for ornamental grasses.

November 13th, 2007
Week 45: 11/5 – 11/11

Dateline: 2010
Temperatures have been quite chilly in the mornings, dipping to the high 30s and low 40s. Our coldest morning of the fall was Saturday (11/6) when our first freeze warning was issued. I didn’t even hear about it until after the fact but temperatures fell only 38 at Camp Mabry and 39 at Bouldin. After 10AM, it warms up to the 70s. The days are sunny and very clear with brilliant blue skies. Great weather for digging out horseherb and dividing the yellow heirloom irises. The bog garden is taking shape.

It continues to be very, very dry and I spend a lot time watering bluebonnet seedlings. I haven’t even started the larkspur yet. I’m waiting for the leaves to fall.

Some leaves have fallen from the cedar elms and pecans but I’m still waiting for some sunshine. The red oak in the back has had a bumper crop of acorns this year. They grind up well in the mulcher/grinder. The red oak in the front has dropped fewer nuts but those are twice as large. I find how different they are interesting.

Both ‘New Dawn’ roses have had excellent fall bloom this year. The ‘Red Cascade’ rose is also the best it’s ever been. Even ‘Mermaid’ (which I’m trying to hack back until some semblance of control) has a flower or two. Four years ago this week I bought my replacement ‘Ducher’. It was wonderful this spring and then it died of cane dieback, too.

We picked some cilantro for chicken tortilla soup (11/7). I haven’t planted the winter vegetable garden yet.

First flower: cat’s whiskers (11/7).

Dateline: 2007
At the beginning of the week it seemed that November weather had indeed arrived–cool, cloudy, dark, and gloomy. What lovely weather for snuggling under a blanket with a cup of tea and reading gardening books. The high temperature Tuesday (11/6) was actually 69F, but that was at 3AM. The temperature dropped during the day so that it was colder at 4PM (59F) than at 3AM (69F). Also it was a drop of almost 20 degrees from the previous day. As the week progressed, the sun came back and the high temperatures were back in the mid-80s. Warm air is blowing up from the Gulf, so the air is quite balmy. This is one of the features about Austin weather that I like. We have one or two days of cool weather so that we can work ourselves into a holiday mood and then it warms up again so that we can get some real work done.

Other signs of fall: the cedar elm leaves began falling in earnest. I’m going to have to buy a new mulching mower this week. The leaves on the Japanese persimmon and the ‘Catawba’ crape myrtles are changing color. The paperwhites began to nose up and by the end of the week, I saw some Narcissus tazetta x italicus sprouting. I better get those bulbs in the fridge planted. The banana plants are starting to yellow and I’ll need to wrap them up soon. The aloe vera by the front walk has some cold damage. I’ll have to bring the potted ones in. And this year, finally, one branch of the weeping yaupon holly has red berries.

I did manage to plant out some violas. The lettuce and swiss chard are up but the raccoons and squirrels keep digging in my seedbeds. More nasturtium is up. A lot of cilantro is sprouting but I’m still waiting on the larkspur, bluebonnets, batchelor buttons, and love-in-a-mist. We need rain for those to sprout. In fact, looking at last year’s photo, I can’t believe that the four o’clocks were still blooming this time last year. I tore those out last month with the tomatoes and cypress vine, all of which were dry and weedy looking and long past flowering stage.

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mystery flower

November 6th, 2007
Cute Flower or Noxious Weed?

Here’s a couple of photos of the new flower I discovered in my garden last week. It looks a bit like a miniature tradescantia except that the flower sticks up on a thin stem. The flower is less than 1/4 inch (1 cm) in diameter and the stem about 2 inches (5 cm) long. The plant is a little more than a foot (30 cm) tall and a bit sprawling.

Should I be welcoming this stranger into my garden or weeding it out as fast as I can?

mystery flower

Annie, this isn’t the same white flower I’ve admired in your front lawn under the trees, is it? Seems to me the flowers on your plant are larger.
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Zanthan Gardens: Week 44
2007-11-05. Cleaning up and replanting. Still a pile of construction rubble. This probably looks like the “before” picture but it’s actually the “after” picture. I guess I should have taken a “before” shot to feel like I accomplished something.

November 5th, 2007
Week 44: 10/29 – 11/4

Dateline: 2007
I spent all week cleaning up and replanting the back especially along the chain link fence on the west side (back) of the yard. I cut back all the wild ruellia and composted it. Then I spaded (but didn’t turn over) the whole section so that the self-sowers wouldn’t be covered by mulch and would have a chance to sprout. I dug up the pitiful bearded iris which had withered in last year’s drought but survived. This year’s rain did them in. Most had rotted away. I replanted only about two dozen; they’re so small they probably won’t bloom for two years. I planted seeds for love-in-a-mist and nasturtiums. I cleared away the nandina along the new fence and remulched the small mahonia and buckeye that are there. I planted the maiden grass that Margaret bought me and two more that I bought in a nice clump of three. I bought some more pinks and some alyssum; I haven’t found any violas I like yet, though. Most of this work was undone by romping raccoons. So it’s hard to feel that I’ve made any progress. However, I’m happy to report that the four plants I bought from Barton Springs Nursery this time last year are still alive.

Preparing beds means turning the compost pile and sifting it. The fine compost goes into the beds and the gross compost goes around trees and larger bushes as mulch. Preparing beds also means digging out roots and rocks of which I have an endless supply. These are not new beds, by the way. But looking at the dry clods of clay you might think they were. In Austin’s hot and humid climate, organic matter decomposes almost as rapidly as I can add it. I had put mulch on top of most of these beds in early September, the last time I turned the compost.

The weather remains dry and sunny. A few leaves sift down but fall hasn’t really fallen yet. Toward the end of the week it began warming up to the mid-80s again. I saw two new flowers: a very early false dayflower and another tradescantia-looking flower that is quite tiny and white. The bush beans are finally flowering. I can see one tiny bean. AJM teases that we’ve never gotten more beans out of any planting than we’ve put into the garden. I did eat one persimmon (still hard), pick a few jalapenos and a handful of basil. And the very last oxblood lily faded on November 4th. That’s a record! Like last year, the red spider lily leaves are up; unlike last year I got 5 whole flowers this time. The grape hyacinths are pushing up but apparently we still need some rain to bring out the bluebonnets and larkspur. Or should I just give up on them and re-sow?

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Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

November 4th, 2007
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Still lots of butterflies in the garden. I’ve seen a couple of Monarchs, though not on the milkweed but on the orange cosmos which seem to be the favorite plant of all types of butterflies.

When Margaret and I visited the butterfly garden at the Natural Gardener last week, the blue mistflower was by far the most popular butterfly plant. A hundred butterflies must have been hovering about. Neither of us had ever seen so many butterflies in one spot before. It looked more like an anime than real life; a sad commentary on how little life we are used to seeing in our modern world.

I rarely see a yellow Tiger Swallowtail in my garden. Usually I see females in their dark black and blue phase (unless those are black swallowtails–I’m not very good at butterfly identification; my eyes just can’t focus quickly enough). So this was a special treat. It was huge, by far the largest butterfly I’ve seen around here.
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

raccoon footprints
In June, when the pond filled with rainwater, I noticed the raccoons (or possibly possums) were checking it out. I didn’t buy any fish for a long time. When I did I started very small–ten 12-cent goldfish.

November 3rd, 2007
Rascally Raccoons

If my neighbors were up at 5 this morning they might have wondered what I was doing bellowing sky-clad in my back yard while brandishing a broom. No, I’m not a practitioner of the craft. Nor was I cavorting with demons (hmmm, let me think on that). I had awakened from a strange dream, looked out my window, and saw two raccoons rolling on the lawn. For the last week something has been getting into the pond. I figured it was raccoons and here was conclusive proof. So out of the house I sprang to chase them off.

Unfortunately they ran straight for the pond, jumped in, and hid under the deck. I stood still and they came out, not the least bit afraid of me. I treed one and threw a stick at the other one which ran off.

I’ve long expected them to go after the gold fish but they’ve also shredded all the oxygenating plants and knocked over the plants in pots and dragged them under the deck. Not only have they been ravaging my pond they’ve been grubbing in the paths and lawns. Last night they decided all the freshly dug beds were irresistible.

The raccoons also dug up the bearded irises that I finally got around to replanting this week.
raccoon damage

And tore up the aloe vera in the front bed.
raccoon damage

And dug up all my newly seeded beds, including this bunch of swiss chard that was just starting to take hold.
raccoon damage

Amazingly, I saw four fish still alive in the pond today. So we put some barricades around the perimeter. It looks more like the trenches in a war zone than a garden pond. If camo can be a fashionable fabric, will barbed wire catch on in the garden?

Has anyone been successful deterring raccoons? If so, how? I see that there are all sorts of products out there but what really works?