rain garden

February 21st, 2008
Rain Gardens Gone Wrong

Living for a time both in the American desert southwest and Japan, I’m quite attracted to the aesthetic of gravel gardens and dry creek beds. As there is no shortage of rocks of all sizes in my yard, I group like rocks together in various configurations. Because I live on a slope, I often arrange rocks to follow the topography, creating an informal dry stream.

This year rain gardens seem all the rage (4,080,080 hits on Google or check out Pam/Digging). And they always look so clean and tidy when first installed, while at the same time looking natural. However, in my experience, they don’t remain clean and tidy very long. My biggest problem is leaves. In Austin, leaves can start falling in September with the cedar elms (if it’s a typical summer–2007 was wet and the leaves held on until October) until February with the live oaks (which haven’t started dropping their leaves yet). In my yard I also had hackberry and chinaberry trees (which I cut down this year) and red oaks. So for five months, leaves are clogging my dry creek beds and I can never keep them clean. The cedar elm leaves are the worst because they are small and break down quickly. They mess up my gravel courtyard and my gravel walks, too.

rain garden

Then there’s the weeds. Gravel is an excellent medium for sprouting seeds. It doesn’t matter if you put landscape fabric underneath the gravel (I did on my paths but not in my garden which is more free-form). The seeds fall on top of the gravel, work themselves down, and then sprout. I spent all afternoon digging that hated horseherb and spiderwort out of this small section of the meadow so that I could replant it with larkspur and California poppies.

So what’s the secret to maintaining gorgeous rain gardens? Do I have to move back to a treeless landscape? I guess I’ll start reading some of those 4,080,080 articles…but I’ll have to finish weeding first.

Natural Gardener

February 16th, 2008
Natural Gardener

We’ve watched the weather reports all week long as it threatened possible sleet for the weekend. The forecasted temperatures kept getting revised upward but predictions of severe thunderstorms, high winds, hail and even tornadoes amended our usual prayers for rain to something like, “Please let it rain (on my garden), but spare us the tornado.” By Friday it was muggy and warm, the air heavy with pre-storm moisture, and the clouds gray and roiling.

I’ve been working so hard these last few weeks with the chore side of gardening that I decided I needed a little treat before the bad weather set in. So I took myself to the Natural Gardener purposefully to buy some organic fertilizer but also just to see what I could fall in love with this year.

Natural Gardener

Most of the display gardens have been cut back and cleaned up. Some are being remade and it looks like there are some new ones in the works. Everything should be beautiful for our Spring Fling. The herb garden looks quite nice pared down to its bones, nicer than it did when MM and I visited last October. One of the things I notice about these boney geometric gardens–they are built on a flat surface. The other is that any trees are well beyond the perimeter. If I wanted a garden like this, I’d have to cut down all our trees and bulldoze my yard. Even if I had the money to do that, I’d be reticent. I’m trying to compromise with little terraces.

The garden I am really inspired by at the Natural Gardener is the winter vegetable garden (see photo at top). Look at the size of those cabbages! The hoops are for row covers during Austin’s occasional freezes. I do better with winter vegetables than summer ones because I have a lot more sunlight in the winter and because the temperatures are more temperate. A lot of vegetables, even heat-loving tomatoes, don’t like it when nighttime lows are consistently above 70F/21C. Also the winter vegetables don’t contend so much with insect and viral pests.

The Natural Gardener has a lot of new perennials in. I keep saying that I need to plant some shrubbery and I was very taken with a white viburnum. Still, I walked away. I couldn’t imagine it in my garden–it seemed more suited for a Deep South or east coast garden. It seemed like it would stand out unnaturally. I’m going to have to read up on them first.

Of course, I walked around the rose section three times visiting all my old friends. I’m clearing space where I cut down the chinaberry tree last fall for some new roses. I haven’t decided what to get yet although I’m leaning heavily toward replacements for ‘Sombreuil’ and ‘Gruss an Aachen’.

This trip I was most impressed with the seed section. The Natural Gardener carries seeds from quite a variety of suppliers near and far: Renee’s Gardens, Botanical Interests, Territorial Seed Company, Seeds of Change, Lonestar Seed Company, Thompson & Morgan, and Baviccchi (I think). As usual, I’ve been too busy to send of a seed order and now it’s so late. I was hoping I’d find some of the things I circled in the catalogs. I’ll have to bring my list and make another trip next week.

I didn’t walk away without making a purchase of course.

Natural Gardener

I spent $36.08 as follows.: $11.95 on organic fertilizer (this is mainly for the potted plants); $9.99 on a fancy new oxalis, Oxalis pre-caprae, ‘Scotty’s Surprise’ (rumored to be discovered by and named after Scott Ogden); $6.99 on blood dock, Rumex sanguineus, because I fell in love with the foliage and need plants for my future bog garden; $1.59 on a packet of borage seed; and $1.62 and $1.19 on some of last year’s sunflowers seeds marked down 40%.

I got home in time to plant the borage and the oxalis. At 4:11 p.m. the wind shifted to the north, relieving our muggy 77.4F/25.2C high with a blast of cold air. About 20 minutes later it began to rain. Between 3:57 and 4:57 temperatures dropped 12F/6.7C degrees.

Now I can enjoy this nice rainy weekend catching up on some inside work…like reading more blogs.

Narcissus Grand Primo
2008-02-15. Narcissus ‘Grand Primo’ blooming in the back.

February 15th, 2008
GBBD 200802: Feb 2008

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

February 15, 2008

Just after January’s GBBD, Austin got a hard freeze which wiped out all the late hangers-on that I had written about. So everything new for February is new for the year. Austin’s spring is slowly unfurling, and like a new bride is dressed in white: paperwhite narcissus, summer snowflakes, and the Mexican plum blossom. However, the overriding color in the garden in February is the spring green of all the little overwintering annuals and spring bulbs, putting down their roots and gathering strength for their big show next month.

Narcissus Grand Primo
2008-02-15. Narcissus ‘Grand Primo’ blooming in the front, too.

The roses are about as dormant as they get any time of the year. None are blooming today and I had only two flowers since last GBBD, both on ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’. But all the roses are budding out. Unless we get a hard freeze, I think I’ll have roses before the next GBBD. The same is true of the Indian hawthorn, Rhaphiolepis indica. It had a few early flowers, isn’t blooming today, but is full of buds.

New for February

Leucojum aestivum
2008-02-15. One summer snowflake began blooming. I think it was dug up by a squirrel and replanted because it’s off by itself.

Paperwhite narcissus Grandiflora
2008-02-15. My only bought and named paperwhite, ‘Grandiflora’. The flowers are twice as large as the naturalized ones. (The tiny ones by the mailbox are still blooming, too.)

Prunus mexicana
2008-02-15. The largest of the three Mexican plum trees is just starting to open its flowers.

Still Blooming

Lantana montevidensis
2008-02-15. The lantana is still blooming even though it’s leaves are frost-bitten.

Lupinus texensis
2008-02-15. The amazing bluebonnet that began flowering on December 15, 2007 hasn’t quit yet. In fact, it’s just getting going. Quite a few other bluebonnets have buds now and will probably bloom within a week.

The List for February

  • Dianthus chinensis
  • Lantana montevidensis
  • Leucojum aestivum
  • Lobularia maritima
  • Lupinus texensis (another bloom on the plant that flowered in December)
  • Mahonia bealei
  • Narcissus papyraceus (small ones by mailbox)
  • Narcissus papyraceus ‘Grandiflora’
  • Narcissus tazetta italicus
  • Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’
  • Oxalis triangularis (purple only)
  • Prunus mexicana (The large one from Gardens
  • rosemary (Even more flowers than last month.)
  • Viola cornuta ‘Sorbet Coconut Duet’

Souvenir de la Malmaison buds
2008–02-10. A couple of weeks after stripping off the old leaves, new buds form.

February 10th, 2008
Stripping Roses

In Austin winters are sometimes so mild that we can have roses blooming all year long. December is often a very good month for roses. January less so. By February the roses are gearing up for a big spring show. I always try to have my roses pruned, fed and mulched before Valentine’s day, especially during a particularly mild winter as this one has been.

The problem in Austin is that it doesn’t get cold enough for many of the roses to drop their leaves and go dormant.
Souvenir de la Malmaison leaves
Last year’s leaves are ratty and prone to disease.
Souvenir de la Malmaison leaves
The new buds are forming but the old leaves haven’t fallen off.

Therefore, I follow a process suggested by rosarian Ray Reddell (I can’t find the link online anymore). I strip last year’s leaves off the roses, wait a couple of weeks to see where the new buds are forming, and then prune accordingly.

Souvenir de la Malmaison new growth
Stripping off the old leaves forces growth on the new leaves into overdrive.

As usual, I’m behind. For example, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ is already putting out new buds. I spent part of this weekend stripping off the old leaves, pruning, and to re-tying the new canes to the trellis. I also did ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, and ‘Heritage’. The ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Red Cascade’ roses lost their leaves naturally but still require pruning. ‘Ducher’ is always bushy and full this time of year and doesn’t need stripping.

Of course, the biggest gamble is timing. A hard freeze is still possible for another month in Austin. Is winter really over for 2008 or is worse yet to come? And will it come just as the roses are putting out their tender new growth? Although I’m sure we’ll have a few more freezes, I’m betting that the we’ve seen the worst of winter this year.


February 9th, 2008

I gave up seriousness for Lent. Or so I’d like to say. Actually lolweedz is the brainchild of AJM who has been tapped for undergardener duties this weekend because the weather is so nice and there is so much to do in the garden. He screened off the vent that the raccoons were using to slip under the house after ravaging the pond. He built some more mini-planters for the Tulipa clusiana. And he helped me reposition the rain barrel so that it is high enough to drain properly. This left me free all day to weed.

Which of us has not felt, at one time, that the weeds are laughing at us. Laughing maniacally. With temperatures in the 80s in Austin for most of this week, the weeds have burst on the scene: chickweed, henbit, wild onions, and sow thistle. Sometimes I save a little henbit for the butterflies but this year I’m trying to stay on top of the weeds and pulling everything out as soon as I see it.