Recognize this large and delicate yellow-colored flower that can stand even triple-digit heat?

July 24th, 2008
Abelmoschus esculentus

Sometimes gardeners need to be a little pretentious. Juliet might have thought that “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but she was blinded by love. Let’s be honest. Wouldn’t you pass the lovely Abelmoschus esculentus by without a second glance if you knew it was just plain, common okra?

Despite my 30+ years in the south, I’ve never become southern enough to enjoy eating okra. However, I do think it has a lovely flower–large compared with the other things which are flowering now (almost nothing) and a refreshing pale lemon color with a deep maroon eye. I planted a packet of okra seeds at the end of April. Most came up but only two seedlings survived the early triple-digit heat of May.

They must have been flowering before this because I picked the first okra yesterday. And yes, the flowers are covered in ants…meaning (the photograph revealed what I didn’t see with my naked eye) that the okra has aphids. Still I think it’s a pretty flower. And I’m going to be practicing so that the next time you visit my garden, I can say, “Oh, let me show you my Abelmoschus esculentus.”

Austin Pond Tour
Full sun demands bright colors in Linda and Rusty’s trim and tidy pond with fancy goldfish.

July 22nd, 2008
Austin Pond Society Tour 2008: 2

Annie and Philo were gracious enough to let me carpool with them for Day 2 of the Austin Pond Society 2008 tour: the north country ponds. Annie and I talked non-stop, often forgetting to provide directions to a very patient Philo. Amazingly we managed to see all fifteen ponds with time to spare. Early on, we both agreed we weren’t interested in giving a blow-by-blow account of the tour. I didn’t even take photos at every location. And then, as if to reinforce our resolve, technology failed us. First Annie’s camera stopped working and then I had problems posting photos to Twitter via Twitpic.

The theme of this year’s ponds tour was owner-made ponds. Some were tiny. Some were huge. And all were very, very personal. There was something for every taste and sensibility from trim suburban ponds in a lawn of grass so green that I bent down to touch it see if it were real to ponds that seemed to have evolved in situ. There were ponds built by koi fanciers and ponds that were an excuse for a plant person to explore bog and water plants. Many ponds were inhabited by fairies.

Austin Pond TourFred and Mary’s two ponds took up half their back yard which was covered with plants. They have lots of garden ornamentation but I liked these fairies cavorting in the waterfall best because they seemed like they might disappear if I blinked my eyes.

Even if you couldn’t be with us, you were in our thoughts. Throughout the day, Annie and I kept noticing little details that reminded us of y’all. On a window ledge we saw tiny flower pots and a child’s tea set which made us think of Carol’s fairies at May Dreams Gardens. And when we saw the decorated outbuildings, the grouping of plants, and garden ornaments around seating at Jody and David’s pond, we turned to each other and said, “Pam/Digging would like this garden!”

Austin Pond Tour

Jody’s mermaid collection called to mind Lucinda Hutson. Not only does Jody have the knack for arranging the pots and furniture in her garden, look at how beautifully she’s grouped the different shapes and textures of pond plants.

Austin Pond Tour

Austin Pond Tour

Kathy and Rick’s garden (which was featured on the Central Texas Gardener) is an oasis in the dry scrub and 100-degree heat. The size, of course, is astonishing. I especially liked their unusual sculptures. We sat to rest on their porch, looking down on the ponds and across the valley. I didn’t want to leave.

Austin Pond Tour

APS Tour 2008Cactus and water mix elegantly in Ray and Jeff’s garden. Jeff is the current president of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society.

July 19th, 2008
Austin Pond Society Tour 2008, 1

Just a preview post to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Day 1 of the Austin Pond Society’s 2008 pond tour. Central Texans, if you didn’t have a chance to check out ponds today, don’t despair. Wristbands are only $15 and there are 15 more ponds on the tour tomorrow, Sunday July 20th.

If possible, download the map before going because guide booklets were scarce today. The map comes in “groovy” and “uncool” versions. Sunday’s ponds are in north Austin, Cedar Park, Pflugerville, and Round Rock.

I didn’t get a chance to take a lot of photos today. I spent the afternoon under a huge shade tree at Frank’s garden in Sunset Valley, ticking off visitors as they came in and chatting with C., the daughter of the pond owners next door who were also on the tour. In addition to running into Annie and Philo from The Transplantable Rose, Bob from Gardening at Draco stopped by and introduced himself.

One of my favorite gardens contained “his and her” ponds. Thenell explained that his wife, Deborah, is a plant person. He’s a fish person. Their first pond got so crowded with plants he complained that he couldn’t see the fish. He suggested she remove some plants. She suggested he get his own pond. And that’s how they ended up with two stunning ponds in their back yard. This is “his”–it’s above ground and had many lovely fish. Lots, of plants, too, though, I see.
APS Tour 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

July 15th, 2008
GBBD 200807: July 2008

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

July 15, 2008

I seriously considered not participating in GBBD this month. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move along. Come back in the fall. Yesterday Austin temps hit 105F/40.5C and even the plants that had been holding tough against our 27 (who’s counting) days of triple-digit heat finally gave up. I have to remind myself that that’s no attitude to take. It’s GBBD, dammit. Something must be blooming and even death and decay have their own beauty, if we look for it.

New for July

Only one new flower opened in July, a perennial black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida. It’s not quite established yet and it’s had a few days when I wondered if it would make it. I don’t even like black-eyed Susans much. But since it’s the only thing growing, I have have to like it.
Rudbeckia fulgida

Between GBBDs

One flower bloomed between GBBDs and so didn’t show up in the inventory for either June or July. It was the last remaining bulb of some drumstick alliums–the little ornamental onion with the big name, Allium sphaerocephalon–that I planted years ago. It was a small pathetic flower and I might as well face the fact that they have bloomed themselves out. All that’s left are thousands of tiny bulblets.

Complete List for July

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

  • Antigonon leptopus
  • Canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Duranta erecta
  • Echinacea purpurea (doing well all month)
  • Engelmannia peristenia/pinnatifida (one flower)
  • Erythrina herbacea (coral bean) rebloom
  • Gaura lindheimeri (doing very well in a pot)
  • Hesperaloe parviflora (mostly gone to seed)
  • Hibiscus syriacus (flowering well)
  • Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’
  • Lantana montevidensis
  • Lavandula heterophylla ‘Goodwin Creek’ (a few tiny flowers)
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ (one flower left, needs to be cut back)
  • Oxalis triangularis (purple)
  • Polanisia dodecandra
  • Plumbago auriculata (one flower)
  • Rudbeckia fulgida (two flowers)
  • Ruellia
  • Tradescantia pallida/setcreasea
  • Vitex (a couple of flowers
  • waterlily ‘Helvola’ (a few flowers every day since June GBBD)
  • Zephyranthes grandiflora (one flower where I watered the other day)

Austin weather

July 12th, 2008
Forecast? Bleah!

So much for my resolve to write riveting thought-provoking posts.

What will your last post say about you?

July 10th, 2008
The Last Post

A friend of a friend died recently. I’d never met him, not in the real world, nor my friend either. And yet there is a hole left in my world marking his place in my life. Winston Rand…He was a pretty good guy.

Winston wrote vibrantly right up to the end. In the week before his death he wrote a post, “Fears of My Demise…” not about dying but about upgrading to the most recent version of WordPress. He was thinking about buying a cool little Honda scooter. One of his own favorite posts (and a favorite among his readers) was A Will to Live…Revisited written just two months before his death.

Reading through the archives of Winston’s blog got me wondering about all the blogs that will live on after their authors are dead. Will I have written something worth reading or will it be just an embarrassing mind dump, my usual litany of complaints about the weather? How much of this is just chatter? Shouldn’t I write every post giving it the attention I would if I knew it were my last?

photo by scyllarides via Flickr

July 7th, 2008

The bamboo leaves rustle, rustle,
shaking away in the eaves.
The stars go twinkle, twinkle;
Gold and silver grains of sand.

If I had some bamboo, I’d make a Tanabata “tree” today, write my wishes on paper and tie them to the tree. Then, if tonight’s skies are clear, those star-crossed lovers Altair and Vega could meet for their once-yearly tryst across the Milky Way and in their happiness grant my wishes. More about Tanabata.

What would I wish for? Rain. Cooler weather. A truckload of mulch. Some black bamboo. And a nice garden house to sit in to enjoy it all.

What would you wish for?

This ‘Green Pineapple’ tomato set only one fruit before the heat set in because I planted it much too late.

July 5th, 2008
Hot Tomato

On June 25th, Carol over at May Dreams Gardens in Indiana is rejoicing that her tomatoes are finally big enough to start tying up. In contrast, here in Austin, Lancashire rose is pulling hers out by June 21st. This is a fine illustration of what Austin gardeners face. While most of the world’s attention concerning tomato season is focused on first and last frost, worrying about setting plants out too early or being disappointed by an early freeze, we southern gardeners face another threat: heat.

If you measure the growing season as the time between first and last frost, then Austin has an incredibly long one. Our last frost is officially mid-March, although many Austin gardeners can’t resist a little gamble and start setting out plants a by Valentine’s Day. Austin’s first freeze often snarls Thanksgiving traffic. But yes, our freezes are short-lived. Our plants don’t go dormant. Our ground doesn’t freeze. So we can have flowers every month of the year.

However, it’s my experience that Austin doesn’t have a marvelously long growing season but two short ones, interrupted by that disaster known as summer. For example, tomatoes set fruit best if the day time highs are below 90F and the night time highs below 70F. Some research shows that “night temperature is the critical factor in setting tomato fruit, the optimal range being 59-68°F”.

In 2008, April was an ideal month for tomato fruit set. The high didn’t get out of the 80s and the lows ranged from 41-72. Within less than a month, the highs were in the 90s and 100s and the lows mostly in the 70s. If you didn’t have your tomatoes in and flowering by April, you missed out. Last year it was October before the temperatures fell into the correct temperature range for tomato set. That leaves a pretty small window before Austin’s first freeze.

I know from reading other Austin garden bloggers that there are a lot of successful tomato growers in this town. Will you share the secret of your success? Do you plant short-season tomatoes? Do you have some favorite heat-tolerant varieties (tomatoes that set fruit in temperatures higher than the average tomato can handle)? When do you put your plants in? And, do you pull them out over summer and start over in the fall? or do you try to nurse them through the heat?

Paul's Stone Sculptures

July 4th, 2008
Yard Art and Handmade Places: Extraordinary Expressions of Home

Update: 2008-07-04

Jill Nokes’s wonderful Yard Art and Handmade Places has proven so popular that a second printing is out reports Carolyn Lindell in the Austin American-Statesman. I missed the June 14th article but about the same time Jill emailed me to say that she had updated her website to tell what became of the some of the gardens featured in her book and it’s taken me this long to pass the message along. The most depressing story, for me, because it’s happened just around the corner, is Paul Schleising’s garden. Yes, this is what’s becoming of my beloved neighborhood.

Jill’s book makes good Independence Day reading. Every person featured displays a unique vision.

Dateline: 2007-12-09

For years the highlight of a stroll through my south Austin neighborhood was a visit to the stone sculpture garden on South 3rd Street. Paul Schleising stacked rocks, not into simple cairns but into evocative sculptures. They were not glued or held together with a rod. The rocks were perfectly balanced and frequently tumbled at the touch of a curious stranger, wily squirrels, or a strong wind. Thus the garden was always evolving as old pieces fell and new found objects were worked into the design.

Paul's Stone Sculptures
Read the rest of this entry »

A public service announcement. Austin gardeners can help make the 2008 Pond Tour a success.

July 3rd, 2008
Austin Pond Society Needs You

An announcement to my Austin readers: the Austin Pond Society needs volunteers to help with this year’s pond tour. The tour is July 19th and 20th.

You do not need to be a member of APS to volunteer. As the volunteer contact, Beth Zapata put it, “Volunteer duties are light and mainly involve greeting visitors and marking the visitor tally sheet, checking for wristbands and directing visitors to the pond. Everything you need will be waiting for you when you arrive at your volunteer station. A smile is all we ask you to bring. Volunteer shifts are either 8:30am-1:00pm or 12:30pm-5:00pm and are available for either Saturday, July 19th (our south day) or Sunday, July 20th (north).”

In return for your smile you receive free admission to the rest of the pond tour, a T-shirt, and invitation to the private Splash party on July 13th.

I enjoyed my first pond tour so much last year that I immediately joined the Austin Pond Society and am volunteering to help this year. As of today the APS needs ten more people. If you’re one of them, contact Beth Zapata at bzapata1 at sbcglobal dot net.