Zanthan Gardens meadow
The upper meadow bed is now clean and tidy for summer–and mostly brown. The overcast day creates an illusion of serenity. Usually the plants are drooping under a burning sun–the contrast between sun and shade too intense to photograph well.

June 21st, 2008
Putting the Garden to Bed for the Summer

The official beginning of summer arrived on the heels of a cold front breaking our 32-day heatwave. Rain skirted Austin but none fell in the city. Still the temperatures felt cool, with a high of mere 91F degrees.

The dead of summer–that’s what I call it–the summer of our discontent when I’m counting the days to fall’s reviving rains and cooler temperatures. And playing with that theme, I put the garden to bed for summer. Where my analogy breaks down is that we don’t really get to put the garden completely to bed. Although plant growth slows and lawns don’t need much mowing, the remaining plants aren’t dormant. They need water and more water and cutting back.

I pull out the spring annuals that have gone to seed and mulch, mulch, mulch. Still I don’t mulch as much as I should. I’d have to buy a couple of yards of mulch to do it right and I haven’t done that since we sold our pick-up. I was lucky this year to get a free truckload of chips for the asking after our big windstorm of May 15th from one of the clean-up crews. I laid them on the paths and in the mini-woods and it’s done a lot to making the garden look tidier.

I thought I was on top of things this year, ahead of schedule. But summer was ahead of schedule too. It hit us this year like an early frost, two months early, with triple-digit highs reducing many plants to brown crisps of their former selves. Despite water and mulch, the plants droop every day when the sun shines directly on them. Every morning I perform a little triage to see if there are any plants in immediate need of attention, any plants that didn’t recover from sunstroke overnight.

I pay for breaking one of the basic rules of garden design. My plants are tucked here and there all over the yard rather than in just one bed that I could water easily with a soaker hose. In addition to the two meadow-type beds pictured here, there are two 12×12 beds in the front, some foundation plants, and beds around the perimeters of the yard. A lot of these spaces are still being replanted after the 2006 drought. I just don’t have the resources (mental, financial, or physical) to replant and maintain all these spaces in one go.

This year I’m moving a lot of smaller plants into pots where I can nurse them over the summer more easily. That’s my plan anyway. I’m known death to potted plants so it’s a gamble either way.

Zanthan Gardens meadow
Looking the other direction–much work left to do. Usually summer annuals like cosmos and sunflowers fill in. I need to completely rearrange the perennials that anchor the annuals. I could try for some more variety, too, I suppose. Don’t the Chinese chives look pathetic?

cactus ball

June 19th, 2008
Cactus Ball

Those of you familiar with my penchant for barrel cacti will not be surprised to learn that I could not resist this plastic ball in the shape of one. Although the “spines” are soft plastic, when it’s thrown to you, the instinctive reaction is NOT to catch it.

I bought it for my niece and nephews in England. (I like to play up our Texas stereotypes.)

From Play Visions. Made in China. Available in Austin at Whole Earth Provision Co. for $5.95.

Nigella damascena
Devil in the bush, Nigella damascena seedpod. Brown summer has arrived.

June 15th, 2008
GBBD 200806: June 2008

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

June 15, 2008

Brown summer came early to Zanthan Gardens this year. With temperatures hovering around 100F degrees for the last four weeks, I decide to focus all my resources on the plants (like roses and fruit trees) that I want to keep. So out go any marginally attractive plants or plants that will never make it through the summer anyway.

We aren’t burnt entirely to a crisp yet. Here and there are some bright spots.

Nerium oleander Shari D

One plant continues to defy the heat and put out extravagant flower pom-poms that are beautiful both in daylight and moonlight; that is the oleander ‘Shari D.’ It overflows on the path, crowds out the duranta and flowers without a care.

The plumbago also always looks cool and crisp like a sophisticated woman in a linen dress. I’ve always loved its sky blue flowers. The leaves are a bright glossy green that don’t look droopy, wilted, or sunburnt.


New for June

Only four plants that began flowering since last GBBD and are still flowering today, June 15th.

Antigonon leptopus (Coral Vine)
Antigonon leptopus

The coral vine was here when I bought the house. Every year it freezes back to the ground. Every summer it shoots up through the nandina and starts smothering the fence. Last year, when it was so rainy, it climbed to the top of a 30 foot cedar elm. This year, the flowers are small but its blooming and growing. I never water it. I never feed it. I’ve learned to love the electric pink because at times like these, we have to learn to appreciate what we’re given and not pine after what we aren’t (like lilacs and peonies).

Canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’
Canna Bangkok Yellow

I reader told me that ‘Bangkok Yellow’ did well in a pond and when I finally got a pond it was one of the first things I planted in it. The canna in the pond are much happier than the ones in the ground at the moment. Unfortunately, they are tangled in the temporary netting we use to keep the raccoons out of the pond.

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’ (Crape Myrtle)
Antigonon leptopus

Summer in Austin means crape myrtles. I’m not a fan of a lot of crape myrtle colors but I liked this plummy red. They were looking better a couple of weeks ago but now the flowers are dry and shriveled. I’m going to cut them back and hope for another round.

Finally the desert willow, Chilopsis linearis, has a few flowers at the very top that I couldn’t get a photograph of. I didn’t even notice them until I went hunting for GBBD flowers. (One of the reasons I love GBBD is that it makes me really look into the nooks and crannies of the garden.) Desert willow is one of those small trees, like vitex, which bloom like crazy all over Austin except in my garden. Too much shade? Not enough water? Or just bad gardening?

Late Breaking Update

Two more plants flowered this afternoon. The waterlily that Pam/Digging gave me.
And a white butterfly gaura that I just repotted.

Between GBBDs

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

  • LA lily
  • Ipomoea quamoclit, cypress vine
  • Lindheimer senna
  • Opuntia ficus-indica, spineless prickly pear cactus
  • nasturtium
  • pomegranite
  • Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree

Complete List for June

The list of all plants flowering today, June 15th 2008, at Zanthan Gardens.

  • Acanthus mollis
  • Antigonon leptopus
  • Canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’
  • Chilopsis linearis, desert willow
  • Commelina (common dayflower)
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Dianthus chinensis (1)
  • Duranta erecta
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Engelmannia peristenia/pinnatifida
  • Erythrina herbacea (coral bean) rebloom
  • Eschscholzia californica ‘Mikado’ (on this year’s plants)
  • Gaura lindheimeri
  • Hesperaloe parviflora
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’
  • Lavandula heterophylla ‘Goodwin Creek’ (a few tiny flowers)
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Mirabilis jalapa (magenta only)
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ (full bloom)
  • Polanisia dodecandra
  • Phlomis lanata
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette’
  • rose ‘Mermaid’ (a few flowers)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’
  • Rudbeckia hirta
  • Ruellia
  • waterlily ‘Helvola’ (first flower ever)

Acanthus mollis
Why Acanthus mollis isn’t invasive in my garden.

June 10th, 2008
Week 23: 6/4 – 6/10

Dateline: 2008

Every year there come a time when I must make Sophie’s choice, deciding which plants will live and which will die. I yanked out the last of the borage and the cornflowers this week. In the case of the unkillable Acathus mollis, I’m not letting it die, just go dormant until fall. It’s so pitifully sunburned and bug-eaten that I consider this a mercy killing. It doesn’t like the heat or the searing sunlight. (For the last couple of weeks, it’s been getting about an hour of afternoon sun a day because my neighbor lost some big limbs in the last storm.) In good years, I don’t have to make hard choices until after the 4th of July. Apparently 2008 is not going to be one of the good years.

The weather looks bad everywhere: 100 degree heat on the east coast, floods in the midwest, and late snow in Washington state. This afternoon when it was 101 degrees (tied the 1923 record) rain began falling although the sun was shining. It was so hot that almost none of the rain hit the ground and what did evaporated immediately. Little steamy droplets rose so that it looked like it was raining up at the same time it was raining down. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Nothing soaked in and the rain didn’t cool us off; we just went from dry heat to humid heat.

The oleander still looks stupendous. The duranta and the crape myrtle looked good at the beginning of the week but are starting to fade by today. We harvested four ‘Juliet’ grape tomatoes and various jalapeno peppers.

First flower: pomegranite (6/8).
Read the rest of this entry »

tomato Juliet

June 8th, 2008

Is there any truth in the saying that a watched tomato never ripens?

Strybing Arboretum
The Oudtshoorn pincushion, Leucospermum erubescens, is just one many exotics from South Africa to be found at the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

June 6th, 2008
Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Three out of the four days I was in San Francisco last week I managed to visit the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. The first day I got there about 3PM, after my visit to the Conservatory of Flowers and window-shopping in the Haight. I’ve visited the Strybing several times before and was tired out from walking around, so I went to rest in one of my favorite spots, the coastal redwood glen. I lay there for a very long time, looking up at the redwoods, the illusion of being deep in the wood disturbed only by traffic sounds (well, that and the fact that I was lying on a park bench).

Strybing Arboretum
Coastal redwoods at the Strybing Arboretum. Can you see my bench, almost in the middle and a little to the right?

Shortly after 5, I felt rested and ready to takes some photos. First I had to find the facilities. When I did, they were locked. I dashed to the other side of the gardens. Those were locked, too. Turns out that the Strybing closes at 4:30. If I left now to find a restroom, I wouldn’t be able to get back inside. I was disappointed but I had no choice.

I decided that I was going to feel cheated if I didn’t go back to take some photos. I’ve done my sight-seeing on previous trips and shopping does not entice me. So the next morning I got to the Strybing first thing after breakfast. It was a rare sunny morning. Morning is definitely the best time to visit (if it’s a sunny day) because the garden is better lit than even mid-afternoon when the tall trees put all the understory plants in shade.

The only problem is that the rainbirds are going. So you have to be careful to dodge them or risk getting drenched.

Strybing Arboretum
Dodging the rainbirds during morning watering.

Given how very dry the climate is, I was surprised that the Strybing used rainbirds instead of drip irrigation to water. San Francisco is a gardeners’ paradise. The temperatures are cool but there is plenty of sun. The only problem is water.

The Strybing is huge, 55 acres, and it seems larger because the beds are laid out in a very, naturalistic way with small paths that seem to wind every which way and lead you in circles. Even with a map in hand, I always get turned around. Collections are grouped by place of origin so that the climatic conditions can be mimicked. Rather than create geometric garden rooms, hills, berms, and trees isolate each area and obscure most views.

Strybing ArboretumLooking toward Friend Gate over Wildfowl pond.

There are only a couple of open places in the garden. On entering the Strying the first thing you see is the Great Meadow, which is just a lawn with a small fountain at the far end. This is the least interesting space to a gardener. It is the people place, where people to go and lie on the grass and read or watch their kids run free among but away from the valuable plants and trees. The paths lead you to the right, to the other open space of the Wildfowl pond.

Strybing ArboretumLooking toward the Zellerback Garden of Perennials.

Perversely (given the design of the garden) my favorite view is a long unbroken one looking either toward (or from) the Zellerback Garden of Perennials. I like to sit under the arbor (which was drenched with white wisteria, this trip) and write. When I consult the map, I discover that the entire garden is built on an axis that goes from the entry to the arbor in the Garden of Perennials. One would never guess that being in the garden.

As natural as it seems, the Strybing Arboretum (and the entire Golden Gate Park) is a made place, built on wind-swept sand dunes. The designer, John McLaren, spent 56 years acquiring plants from all over the world and arranging them in natural-looking landscapes. According to a sign in the park, “When he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1916, pressure from voters resulted in a city statute giving him life-tenure. He died on the job at the age of 96.”

The Strybing is a plant collector’s dream. Want to know what you might stumble across? The pdf listing the 7,000 species currently at the Strybing is 115 pages long! Here’s just a few that caught my eye.

Aeonium tabuliformeWhen I walked into the Strybing, the first thing I saw was this dinner plate aeonium and thought, my goodness, it’s like all the plants are on steroids. Related to sempervivum, the common name suggests that dinner plate aeonium just grows big. But I don’t know…all the plants I saw in San Francisco seemed huge.

Strybing Arboretum
The Australian bottlebrush is apparently well-adapted to San Francisco. I saw huge tree-sized specimens blooming everywhere, even some interesting weeping forms. However, I’m a little tired of red flowers in my own garden because I have so many of them and they all clash with each other. So imagine my delight when I saw this lemon bottlebrush, Callistemon pallidus. The pale yellow inflorescences seemed to glow in the twilight. Several cultivars have been introduced in Australia. One is called, appropriately, ‘Austraflora Candle Glow’. I hope they will become available in Texas soon.

Gingko biloba
I grow a gingko, too, but mine is only about six feet tall with a trunk so thin I can wrap my thumb and finger around it. I was astonished to see that someday it might become a very large tree.

Psoralea pinnate
The flowers of Psoralea pinnata, blue broom, had almost the same color and grape soda scent as Texas mountain laurel. But instead of dark round glossy leaves, it had soft, needle-like leaves (which is probably why one of its common names is Dally pine). A native in South Africa it has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand where it is considered an invasive weed.

I’m amazed that two plants on either side of the world, could have flowers so similiar in shape, color and scent, and yet completely different leaves. Don’t things like that just make you want to be a taxonomist, to study the similarities and difference among plants and figure out a way to classify and group them? When I visit a place like the Strybing, it kills any desire to grow only native plants. I want to embrace a world of plants. Life on earth is more fascinating than our wildest imaginings.
Strybing Arboretum

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers
The Victorian Era Conservatory of Flowers is one of the jewels of Golden Gate Park.

June 1st, 2008
San Francisco: Conservatory of Flowers

During the four days I was in San Francisco, I read that the weather back home in Austin was like a hothouse. That analogy provided a chuckle as I sat in the Aquatic Plants wing of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and listened to visitor after visitor exclaim, “Oh! It’s hot in here!” Compared with the misty 55-degree weather in San Francisco, the room did feel a bit sultry. However, the Conservatory provides protection that my garden does not receive. Its panes of glass have been whitewashed to prevent the sun from searing the plants. No, Austin weather was not like a hothouse; it was like an oven.

The Conservatory of Flowers is one of those magnificent relics of the Victorian Age. Wandering throughout its rooms (each emulating a different climate), marveling at its architecture or reading its history, I find myself caught up in that thrilling age of discovery and collection. If, as some claim, science is just another religion, then the Conservatory of Flowers is certainly one of its cathedrals.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers
Plants from all over the world were collected, preserved, examined, and cataloged.

The wood and glass structure is the oldest public conservatory of its type in North America. It opened 1879 and survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. However, it almost didn’t make it to the 21st century. Funding for maintenance was a low priority during the Great Depression and the Conservatory was closed in 1933. In the decades that followed the Conservatory was reopened and underwent various renovations. Then major damage from a windstorm forced it to close in 1995 and it was listed as one of the 100 most endangered world monuments. Had it not been for the efforts of the National Trust’s Save America’s Treasures and then First Lady Hillary Clinton it might have been lost forever. The conservatory reopened in 2003 after a $25 million restoration effort.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

During restoration the 100-year-old Philodendron speciosum could not be moved. It remained in the ground and a special structure was built around it to protect it. The 14.5 ton upper dome was lowered down on a crane over it. Special watering systems installed near the ceiling mist the tropical plants at regular intervals.

Even before I began pond gardening, the Aquatic Plants room was my favorite. (This is my third visit to the Conservatory of Flowers). This time I paid special attention to how plants were arranged in the ponds. Although some plants (like the white ginger or the elephant ears) are familiar, I wasn’t making a shopping list. I don’t really want a hothouse of my own.

The huge platters of Victoria amazonica can grow up to six feet across. Even if I could grow them, I can’t imagine them in my pond.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

I am satisfied being astonished at the variety of plants that exist on our planet. Dr. Seuss couldn’t make this stuff up.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

And, of course, it was fun to look at the various Nepenthes, those carnivorous pitcher plants that resort to eating insects because they grow in soil too poor to support them.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

I easily spent the morning in the Conservatory. I could not begin to photograph or even mentally digest the over 1,750 species of plants on display. I also enjoyed just sitting and watching the various children on school trips troop by trying to find answers for their worksheet questions. Every once in awhile they would look up from their assignments and let their sense of wonder carry them away.