Zanthan Gardens Week 21
2008-05-27. A reason to have a little lawn–90+F degree days. This photo makes the garden look cool and refreshing but it’s actually oppressively muggy and hot.

May 27th, 2008
Week 21: 5/21 – 5/27

Dateline: 2011

Austin (Camp Mabry) records its first 100-degree day of the year, May 25th.

Dateline: 2008

As the temperatures climb, I find it hard to believe that by September I’ll look upon a 92F degree day as cool and fall-like. In the intervening months, summer will get a lot uglier. The days have been sultry. Someday, I’d like to spend this kind of week lying in the hammock sipping iced tea and enjoying the green shade. When it gets this hot, I don’t want any flashy color in the garden, just cool, refreshing green. This is the week that my resentment dissolves and I suddenly love my trees again; I forgive them for shading out the flowers in April.

I’ve been working hard to get everything mulched. I got a truckload of bark chips from a crew that was cleaning up after last week’s storm. That’s kept me busy running back and forth with the wheelbarrow refreshing the paths and putting a nice layer down in the woodland garden.

The nerium oleander and one of the duranta are in full bloom and look fantastic. The larkspur is all cleared out. A few bluebonnets bloom on (they last a long time if deadheaded.) The violas are mere crisps and the Confederate jasmine faded. The rose ‘Ducher’ is still blooming well. And ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ puts out a single flower or two. The borage is holding up fairly well under the heat.

I ate the last three strawberries, harvested some jalapeno peppers, and started in on the summer squash. Oh, and we ate a pitiful handful of potatoes I dug up Sunday (5/25). They were tasty but we harvested less than we planted.

First flower: canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’ (5/22); Lindheimer senna (5/25).
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Zanthan Gardens meadow
2008-04-08. The meadow in full flower. You can’t see the garden for the flowers.

May 24th, 2008
Meadow Progession

Thanks to my visitors during Spring Fling and the article on garden blogging in the Austin American-Stateman, the image most people have of Zanthan Gardens is the meadow. The meadow defies all rules of garden sense. In a world seeking low-maintenance gardens with year-round interest, the meadow is a high-maintenance garden which has only one good season: from mid-March to mid-May. Although it has some Texas wildflowers in it, it is not primarily a native plant garden. As gardens go, the meadow does not have strong bones. You can barely see the garden for the flowers. There is little ornamentation. And despite photographic evidence to the contrary, there’s no place to sit in it–yet.

As I’ve often said, when it comes to the garden, I’m more of a plant person than a designer. Yet the meadow has both a design and a plan. The design is constrained by shade and one of the reasons I like an garden of annuals is because it’s easy to move the plants around as the light/shade conditions change.

December 18, 2007

Zanthan Gardens meadow

By mid-December I have already been working in the meadow for over a month. First I have to clean out the summer weeds (mostly horseherb) and rake up all the leaves. As self-sown annuals sprout all over the yard, I transplant them in drifts. I make mini-beds in the buffalograss, add sifted compost, and then transplant larkspur, bluebonnets, and cilantro. People might think a wildflower meadow can be made by just broadcasting a few seeds and letting nature take its course but that doesn’t work effectively in a urban space–at least not for me.

I’ve designed the view so that it incorporates, rather than hides, the back yards of my two neighbors. I try to balance the drifts of flowers so that there is a back and forth rhythm–like a series of S-shaped switchbacks, or the flow of a meandering river, or something from Andy Goldsworthy. Trying to get the right balance of color and height blooming together and in succession is the challenge of the meadow garden–what keeps it interesting and fun year after year.

February 4, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

Two months later and I’m still transplanting. The rosettes of the larkspur, bluebonnets, and Engelmann daisies are big enough to mulch around. Because this fall and winter were so dry, I did more mulching of the meadow than I’ve ever done before. I start poppies and cornflowers in seedbeds and then transplant them into the meadow. Cilantro is filling in on its own.

March 5, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

A month later and larkspur is shooting up flower stalks. Bluebonnets are one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom. We had a mild summer in 2007 but a dry, hot fall. Almost all the bluebonnets that made strong plants this year actually sprouted last May and over-summered. The bluebonnets that came up when they’re supposed to in the fall, were small and had few flowers. Usually this time of year, the meadow is a sheet of blue.

Self-sown baby blue eyes and false dayflowers grow up along the back fence with no help from me at all. All I do to help it look more like a garden than a patch of weeds is weed out anything else so that flowers of one type are massed together. Drifts are the key.

April 3, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

All the anticipation is rewarded with a riot of color: blue from the bluebonnets, pink from the pink evening primrose, white from the cilantro, yellow from the Engelmann daisies, maroon from the cornflowers. If I’m lucky, the roses, crinum lilies, and irises are blooming too.

May 12, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

Even in while the garden is in full bloom I’m out “editing” it–pulling out flowers that have gone to seed, dead-heading to prolong the life of others, marking plants I want to save seeds from, and ripping out the ones I don’t so they won’t cross-pollinate. As the season winds up, the yellows take over.

May 15, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

This year, just as I had cleaned out most of the meadow, the top 20 feet of that cedar elm in the middle of these photos fell on the meadow. I’m lucky that it missed the retama (in full bloom with yellow flowers), the sago palm, and the roses and Japanese persimmon (not in this picture). The variegated agave, the Lindheimmer senna (which was just filling out) and the crinum lilies were somewhat crushed but the damage relatively minor.

May 24, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

Cleaning up the fallen tree limb put me a week behind on my tidying and mulching the meadow. A few stray spring flowers continue to bloom. The self-sown cosmos, annual black-eyed Susans, and clammy weed get along without any help from me–which is great because the heat and humidity are oppressive right now.

Extending the Season

I do have strategies for extending the season. I’ve tried planting sunflowers and morning glories but I they get too late a start to bloom well before the heat. I have better luck planting them in the fall.

I’ve had several trees removed so that there is more light in the meadow again. Now I’ll be able to replace several roses I’ve lost. Also I’ve been planting more ornamental grasses, succulents, and perennials (like Lindheimer senna). Pam/Digging has been passing along her sun-loving plants, zexmenia, perennial black-eyed Susans, and purple coneflowers. This year I decided that the hot, sunny meadow might be the best place for some summer vegetables. Peppers are my favorite because the plants are so attractive. But during the suffocating heat of summer, I prefer to keep the planting airy and open; I need room to breathe.

raccoon damage

May 22nd, 2008
Rage Against the Raccoons

The raccoons have been frolicking in the pond all week but this is the fourth day in a row that they’ve knocked over the pots and shredded plants. And that’s it. The net is going back on the pond. Sorry toads and frogs.

My primary concern is not the fish, it’s the plants. That one calla lily cost ten times more than all the cheap comet goldfish in my pond. The waterlily that Pam/Digging shared with me was just about to bloom. Now it’s partially torn from the pot and the bud has been bit in half. And the raccoons ripped through the canna leaves that the hail left undamaged.

raccoon damage
Shredded calla lily.

Ultimately, though, what I can’t put up with is the way the raccoons stir up the pond and turn the water all mucky. After we bought the bio/mechanical filter and the water cleared, we discovered how much we really enjoyed the water and being able to watch the fish in it. Now it’s murky and dank. If there are any fish left, I can’t see them. Sitting by the pond has lost its charm.

Related Posts

Poor Richard’s Almanac: Raccoon 1, Gardeners 0

LA lily
Apparently it’s a tradition that I take a photo of this lily in Week 20–at least every time I get a new camera.

May 21st, 2008
Week 20: 5/14 – 5/20

Dateline: 2008

The week began promisingly, with a little rain. I was feeling on top of my gardening chores. I’d gotten most of the spring annuals pulled out and seeds harvested. I was sifting compost, top-dressing and mulching plants, and just about to finish off one compost pile and turn the other so I could start a new one. I was further along in tidying up than I’ve ever been this time of year and feeling quite satisfied with my labors. So it was no surprise to me, really, that the malicious Loki-spirit of my garden decided this was an auspicious time to slam hard and wipe that smug look off my face.

After hail, wind, and falling limbs (and ball moss!) my neatly mulched garden looked liked Christmas morning at my parents’ house after 15 grandchildren have shredded their Christmas present wrappings. Although we had a couple of clear dry days for the cleanup, we ended the week with August-like temperatures: two record-breakers, 98F/36C (5/19); 101F/38C (5/20). (Normal temps for this time of year are mid-80s.)

One of the three bushes of Duranta erecta is in full flower–the other two, nothing. The oleander is also flowering profusely, unfazed by the heat.

First flower: Echinacea purpurea (5/14); Malvaviscus arboreus (5/15); LA hybrid lily (5/19); Ipomoea quamoclit (5/19); Antigonon leptopus (5/19); Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’ (5/19); Vitus agnus-castus (5/20).

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Barite rose
Barite rose on a bed of recycled glass mulch.

May 19th, 2008
A Rose Even I Can’t Kill

Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings recently sent me the perfect rose: it doesn’t require any water or fertilizer. I don’t have to worry about black spot or mildew or the flowers balling in Austin’s humid heat. I never have to contemplate spraying poison on it, or be wake up one morning to find that it has been eaten by caterpillars, beetles, or covered with aphids. I don’t have to dread rose dieback.

This perfect rose is a barite rose and it is the state rock of Oklahoma. Dee wrote how moved she was by Tom Spencer’s talk on gathered stones during Spring Fling. Our gardens become reliquaries for those objects (stones, shells, bones, and figures) which have personal meaning to us.

My little pot of everblooming barite roses will always remind me of meeting Dee and all the other wonderful garden bloggers who came to the first Spring Fling.

Barite rose

coral bean
Coral bean, Erythrina herbacea, in the fiery colors of early summer. I think I finally got the tone right in this photo.

May 15th, 2008
GBBD 200805: May 2008

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

May 15, 2008

Austin has two summers. May marks our first early summer, when temperatures are in the low 80s to mid 90s and the humidity is off the chart. This is our old southern summer. As the meadow flowers go to seed, the sweet scents of four o’clocks, Confederate jasmine, crinum lilies, and magnolia hang heavily on the air. The humidity is oppressive but it typically means rain (often from violent thunderstorms). Generally May is wonderfully green. (The second summer is our southwestern summer which starts around the 4th of July. Then we expect long days of drought, temperatures in the 100s, water-rationing, and general misery. The color of second summer is brown.)

In my garden, May has the feel of winding down. I yank out the wildflowers, save seeds, and top dress and mulch all the plants I hope to keep through summer. This year, I think I’ll rename May “Pam/Digging” month. She’s given me so many passalongs that are in bloom right now, finally finding sunlight as I pull the exuberant growth of the wildflowers off them: white mistflower, purple coneflower, society garlic, and zexmenia. Pam has helped me extend the flowering season at Zanthan Gardens and May is no long just the month of green.

New for May

Acanthus mollis

Acanthus mollis
This very tropical-looking plant with the imposing flower stalk is one of my favorites. Apparently it can’t be killed. People from the Pacific northwest frequently write to me to ask how to get rid of it. In Austin, it dies down when temperatures hit 92F–so it’s not a problem. In fact, its habit leaves a disappointing hole in the border during the summer.

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’

Magnolia grandiflora
Bruised, battered, and blooming–my ‘Little Gem’ magnolia is the perfect emblem for this May’s bloom day after last night’s very destructive storm.

Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta
I planted the annual black-eyed Susans the first summer I lived here and I’ve never been without them since. They self-sow, coming up the same time as the bluebonnets and the larkspur but not flowering until those spring wildflowers have died down. I don’t really love it but I’m always glad to see it because for years it was the only thing blooming in my garden at this time of year. Last year I bought the perennial Rudbeckia fulgida; they’re just coming up now.

Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower

One of the passalongs from Pam/Digging. This is the first time I’ve ever grown purple coneflower and these are the first flowers that bloomed.

And also new for May…

  • Borago officianalis
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Dolichos lablab
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Malvaviscus arboreus Turks cap
  • Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ (3 miniscule flowers the size of a dime)
  • Papaver somniferum “Dorothy” selection
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • rose ‘New Dawn’ (back, north border)
  • Ruellia
  • summer squash
  • white mistflower
  • Zexmenia

Between GBBDs

Several flower bloomed and faded in my garden between GBBDs and so didn’t show up in the inventory for either April or May.

  • bearded iris ‘Champagne Elegance’
  • bearded iris ‘Silverado’
  • Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ (3 miniscule flowers the size of a dime)
  • rose ‘Mermaid’
  • Tulbaghia violacea (society garlic)
  • Zephyranthes grandiflora (some bloomed yesterday, some will bloom tomorrow, but none are blooming today. Killjoys.)

Complete List for May

The garden is not as flowery as this list might make you believe. About half these flowers are going to seed and about to get composted.

  • Acanthus mollis
  • Borago officianalis
  • Centaurea cyanus Black Magic’
  • Commelinantia anomala (a couple that resist my stamping them down)
  • Consolida ambigua (a few in the shade)
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Dolichos lablab
  • Dianthus chinensis (reblooming now that the wildflowers have been cleared off)
  • Duranta erecta
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Engelmannia peristenia/pinnatifida
  • Erythrina herbacea (coral bean)
  • Eschscholzia californica ‘Mikado’
  • Eupatorium wrightii
  • Hesperaloe parviflora
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Lantana montevidensis (a few tiny flowers)
  • Lantana x hybrida ‘New Gold’
  • Lathyrus odoratus ‘Perfume Delight’
  • Lavandula heterophylla ‘Goodwin Creek’ (a few tiny flowers)
  • Lupinus texensis (mostly going to seed; first plant now flowering since 12/15)
  • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Mirabilis jalapa
  • Nandina domestica
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’
  • Nigella damascena ‘Persian Jewels’ mix
  • Oenothera speciosa
  • Oxalis crassipis (hot pink, full bloom)
  • Oxalis triangularis (only purple, not white)
  • Papaver somniferum “Dorothy” selection
  • Polanisia dodecandra
  • Phlomis lanata
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Retama
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette (full bloom)
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (waning)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (two small flowers)
  • rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (one flower opened today)
  • Rudbeckia hirta
  • Ruellia
  • Sedum album
  • Setcresea (both purple and green)
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides (starting to fade)
  • Verbena canadensis (lavender wilding)
  • Viola cornuta ‘Sorbet Coconut Duet’
  • Zexmenia hispida

In addition to the flowers, the following fruits or vegetables are also blooming: strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

Zanthan Gardens storm damage

May 15th, 2008
Missed it by that Much

…as Maxwell Smart used to say. This medium-sized limb fell right next to my bedroom window and landed on the winter vegetable garden. Luckily nothing is growing there right now and the trunk missed my new pots. More importantly, it missed our new metal roof. (A tree fell on our old roof in 2001 and we had to replace it then.)

Zanthan Gardens storm damage

Shortly after 11:30 last night we were awakened by large hail. We took refuge in the hallway away from all the windows because hail was flying off our metal roof and bouncing against the windows. The trees were waving wildly in the wind and when we saw green light and sparks flying, we guessed one of the limbs had fallen on the power lines. The power went out. The storm was fast and furious and it wasn’t very long before we were outside with our flashlights.

The cedar elms next to the driveway had two large limbs whip around and fall against the power lines. Anticipating this, we had paid to have this tree trimmed back two years ago. Just a couple of months ago, in preparing to put in new taller electric poles, the city had trimmed all my trees away from the lines again. But the cedar elm limbs are pretty big. The city crew arrived at 3:30 to cut the limbs off the lines. The mailbox and some of the rails in the picket fence were damaged while the crew worked in the dark. But no biggie–they have a tough job restoring power every time one of these storms hits. This tree is almost split in half and I’ll have to have the rest of it taken out.

Zanthan Gardens storm damage

In the back, the top of another cedar elm sheared off. Half landed in the meadow and half landed and snapped the cherry laurel. Overall, the damage was minor. One tomato crushed. Two pepper plants. The cherry laurel was split in half, as was the chili pequin. But the roof and the cars and all the potted plants escaped damage.

Our neighbors were not so lucky. Next door, recent arrivals from Maine were dismayed to wake up a tree limb on top of their car. “We don’t have tornados in Maine.” It wasn’t a tornado, though. Just high winds. Storms like these are the reason that it was imperative we remove the unattached metal roof from the garden house.

Bouldin Creek storm damage

And on the corner, a huge old tree completely uprooted, taking the curb with it, and fell on the cute little cottage. The house is empty right now. The old woman who lived there died recently. I’m told her husband planted that tree when they first moved into that house in the 1940s. When the city put in the bus stop and wanted to build a sidewalk, she fought them to save the tree and won.

Zanthan Gardens  meadow
2008-05-08. The meadow just before it’s put to bed for the summer.

May 13th, 2008
Week 19: 5/07-5/13

Dateline: 2008
As usual summer arrives in Austin with a vengeance in week 19. Last Friday temperatures hit a muggy 97F (5/9), cooling of to a mere 95F on Saturday. We received a wonderful reprieve on Mother’s Day and yesterday the high was only 78. I spent all day in the garden, tearing out larkspur and cilantro and mulching the perennials.

Even without the larkspur and cilantro, the meadow is looking pretty good. I did better job this year of balancing the early and late bloomers so that there is still a lot of color from Engelmann daisy, pink evening primrose, and poppies.

The coral bean is in full bloom and the root-hardy perennials that had been smothered under the exuberance of the wildflowers are starting to grow: the purple coneflower, the butterfly bush, the black-eyed susan. These are blooming in other people’s gardens (probably because weren’t hidden from the sun all spring) while mine are just getting started. And unlike last year, my red yucca is blooming very well this year. It has two stalks.

First flower: Plumbago auriculata (5/8); Rudbeckia hirta (5/8); Acanthus mollis (5/11); Ruellia (5/11) the passalong; Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ (5/12); Zexmenia (5/12).

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Tom Spencer's Garden

May 10th, 2008
Possumhaw Hollow

“That’s one of my favorite shots,” Tom Spencer said to me as he caught me pointing the camera at my feet to take a photo of his limestone pavers. “The arrangement is based on a pattern I saw in Japan.”

Tom Spencer's Garden

Of course, any photo I take of Tom Spencer’s garden is redundant. Few gardens I know are as beautifully photographed as his Possumhaw Hollow. Tom Spencer has been “exploring the garden of life” via his site Soul of the Garden since 2000. Looking at his year by year photo albums documenting the making of his garden from in an ordinary old suburban yard, I’m left awed. (Even AJM appreciates that here is a man with a plan.)

Tom Spencer's Garden

The strong geometry of the garden appeals to me. You see it both in the layout (a series of corridors connected like Tinker Toys with circular rooms at each junction) and in the grouping of smaller elements.

Tom Spencer's Garden

Each little garden room forms a kind of sacred space. There is a quiet, meditative feel to each of them. And they each contain their own set of relics.

Tom Spencer's Garden

I love all the different textures in Tom’s garden. The paths are decomposed granite sand, while chipped granite in the beds echoes the color but has a rougher texture. Contrast that with smooth river rock or metal edging. Pools of blue glass or pieces of pottery draw the eye like mini-oases in the sand.

Tom Spencer's Garden

coral bean
Erythrina herbacea. Austin, TX

May 9th, 2008
Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea

I no longer say things like “I don’t like red flowers” because I’ve realized that the color of a flower affects me differently depending on the texture and shape of the flower. When I think of marigolds, I don’t like orange. But when I think of California poppies, orange becomes my favorite color. And when I see coral bean, I suddenly love red flowers.

Coral bean, Erythrina herbacea, unfolds huge panicles of a satisfyingly deep red that makes the nearby red yucca look washed out. I find the color difficult to capture. Photos taken in the shade make the red too dull and purple. Photos, like these, taken in the sunlight turn the color more orange than they look to the naked eye.

coral bean

The coral bean is an undemanding plant. Here in Austin it dies down to the ground every winter but is root hardy. In the spring it grows fairly large (about the size of a duranta or esperanza) before flowering in late April or early May. The deep red flowers attract both hummingbirds and butterflies. The heart-shaped leaves are large and tropical-looking but it can take the heat. I bought mine in a 2-gallon pot in 2003 and it survived the drought of 2006.

Coral bean blooms better in sun. Last year the spot it was in was so overshadowed by trees that it didn’t bloom at all. Now that I’ve cut down the Chinaberry tree it’s getting both early morning and mid-afternoon sun and flowering better.

Coral bean is not a child-friendly plant. It is quite thorny and its seeds are poisonous.

Garden History

Suffering from neglect. Cut back all the dead branches which is almost 2/3s at the top. There is some new growth near the base, with buds. Topdress with two tubs of sifted compost, an inch of Revitalizer, and 3 handfuls of bone meal. Fork in and pull up big dry clods of clay. After it is well worked in, water, and mulch with Texas native hardwood mulch.

The coral bean looked like it was recovering but in the last two weeks it just died back. AJM cut it back to the ground with the reciprocating saw. I have a slim hope that, like in a hard freeze, it might come back from the roots. But, the stump looks pretty dead. R.I.P.