Powis Castle Gardens
Powis Castle looms over the terraced borders in one of the UK’s few remaining formal 17th-century gardens.

August 30th, 2008
Powis Castle Garden

After the wedding, we stayed a second night in Welshpool because Margaret knew I would want to spend an afternoon visiting the gardens at Powis Castle. After lunch, AJM and I drove over. We did not have far to go. Powis Castle is just across the valley, visible as one exits the track up to the house.

Imagine looking up to see this whenever one dashed out to run errands.

Powis Castle Gardens

The main borders are laid in a series of four terraces on a steep hillside. The castle is at the top and at the bottom a great lawn provides a flat, green foundation–a restful counterpoint–for the Welsh equivalent of the hanging gardens of Babylon. At one time in the Powis Garden’s 300 year-old history, the great lawn was a water garden in the style of St Germain-en-Laye but the waterworks were demolished in 1809.

Powis Castle Gardens

I’m cheating a little, showing you the whole from the bottom, which is not how we experienced the garden. We entered at the Top Terrace. One of the famous features at Powis is the yew topiary…which is purposely “lumpy”. If you are wondering how long it takes to grow something like this, these yew (and the 30-foot hedge and the east end of the terrace) were planted around 1720.

In the Top Terrace a brick wall partially obscures the castle above, giving an illusion of a more intimate space. The niches once contained busts but now are showcase for arrangements by the head gardener. Below, the wall is edged with Powis Castle artemisia. This wormwood hybrid was first introduced at Powis Castle in 1972. Note to self: start with tall, old brick wall. Hire head gardener.

Powis Castle Gardens

The hillside is so steep that one cannot take in the garden all at once, or even see the level below without leaning over the rather scary edges. Most of the terraces have no guardrails; you are expected to be careful.

Here, we’re on the Top Terrace, looking to the right over the Aviary Terrace, across the wild lawn (where naturalized daffodils bloom in the spring) to the large wood (The Wilderness) which acts as a buffer against winds blowing up the valley.

Powis Castle Gardens

Then we descend a level and look left over the broad Orangery Terrace and the electric green of the Great Lawn. Powis Castle Garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of a 17th century formal British garden. In the 18th century, many formal gardens were made over in the naturalistic English landscape style of Capability Brown. Luckily for Powis Castle Garden, its steep terrain did not lend itself to the new “gardenless” style of landscape architecture.

Powis Castle Gardens

The Orangery Terrace is flanked on either side by two long double borders. Playing off against the rigid formality of the layout, the planting is exuberant. The “hot” border shown below can be seen in the upper left-hand corner of the photo above.

Powis Castle Gardens

The terraces are the most dramatic part of the garden, but there’s a lot more to be seen. Here we look past the lumpy yew hedge, down to the Formal Garden, Croquet Lawn, and Fountain Garden. AJM’s sister lives on that hazy hillside in the distance.

Powis Castle Gardens

Before 1912, the Formal Garden was the kitchen garden. But the sight of all those lowly veggies viewed from the castle or the terraces repulsed Violet, the wife of the 4th Earl, the person most responsible for saving Powis Castle Garden from deterioration and making it what it is today. I wish she had like vegetable gardens more. However, the trees in the Formal Garden are fruit trees (covered in moss!) and it includes a long grape arbor.

This is the companion shot from the bottom, looking up toward the castle and the terraces. Although the flower borders were all very nice, I found myself most impressed with the tapestry effect of the trees and shrubs. They varied in size, shape, color, and texture…and yet, the contrasts were woven together in a very pleasing way that never looked like an ill-planned patchwork.

Powis Castle Gardens

Just before we left, the sun came out and lit up the garden, giving some hint of what the fall color must be like. (The weather was perfectly comfortable the entire afternoon we were there–neither too hot or too cold for walking around and just enough but not too much sun for taking photographs.) If I’m lucky, I’ll have the opportunity to see Powis Castle Garden in many different seasons.

Powis Castle Gardens

I have about 100 more photos…but I think you get the gist of the experience. The only way I could tear myself away was to keep reminding myself, “Winters are cold, wet, dark, and miserable.”


August 24th, 2008
Sun Dried Tomatoes

AJM thinks I have the concept wrong.

Zanthan Gardens
As my garden is currently a garden only in theory, I decided to post this abstract photo montage of my oxblood lilies created by Dreamlines.

August 15th, 2008
GBBD 200808: Aug 2008

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

August 15, 2008

I have often quoted Henry Mitchell on the idea that it is defiance that makes gardeners. The corollary being that those who give up aren’t true gardeners. With my defiance gone, I find myself among those winnowed out. I can barely muster the interest to walk around and inventory what’s blooming today. Well, I’ve always said that I was not a gardener who likes to write but a writer who likes to garden. Today, I’m a writer who would prefer to be doing something else.

New for August

There are no new plants blooming for August.

Between GBBDs

Two flowers bloomed between GBBDs and so didn’t show up in the inventory for either July or August: okra and datura. There was a small flower on the ‘New Dawn’ rose in the back which I have grown from a cutting.

Complete List for August

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

  • Antigonon leptopus (not as rampant as last year but dependable, even without supplemental water)
  • Cosmos sulphureus (a few flowers where the plants are near something getting watered)
  • Duranta erecta (small flowers but doing well; one bush covered with golden berries, too)
  • Echinacea purpurea (doing well all month)
  • Hesperaloe parviflora (mostly gone to seed)
  • Hibiscus syriacus (flowering well; a champ this summer)
  • Malvaviscus arboreus (flowering but the leaves look terrible)
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ (a few flowers)
  • Polanisia dodecandra (doesn’t mind the heat and blooms with the slightest water but looks very weedy)
  • Plumbago auriculata (doing well with supplemental water)
  • Ruellia (all three types)
  • waterlily ‘Helvola’ (a few flowers every day since June GBBD)

cactus and succulent garden
Jeff and Ray’s garden is below street level made of terraces built into steep hillside.

August 12th, 2008
Can a Prickly Garden Be Inviting?

I grew up in two extreme climates: the desert of the American southwest and the tropics of the Philippines (and semi-tropics of Okinawa). On the various Air Force bases on which I lived, we had no gardens. The aesthetic (quite similar to modern American suburban) was what I call “parade ground aesthetics”; it consisted of large expanses of short mown grass (for parades) ringed by white painted rocks.

My idea of a garden came solely from books. I’m a woodland sprite at heart and in my mind a garden is enclosed by tall mossy stone walls, draped in green ivy and ferns, filled with white heavily-scented flowers, with some small water feature and a place to read or write or meet one’s lover by moonlight.

The reality of my garden in Austin is none of those things. We must garden where we are. Still I’ve always pushed the limits (and paid the price) in my plant choices. I’m too much a lover of the exotic to ever be a dedicated locavore. I grow plants because I find them interesting and not because I’m sensible. Austin has a split-personality climate-wise. If we plant bananas, cannas, and elephant ears in a wet year like 2007, they’ll sear in a dry hot year like 2008. If we plant Mediterranean-style plants, like rosemary and lavender, they get mildewy or rot in really wet years. On a really hot, dry year, desert plants look more and more like an interesting alternative.

Too bad I’ve never been fond of cactus and succulents. Looking out at my prickly pear cactus just depresses me. I detest my yuccas and am fond of only a few agaves. And yet, I’ve visited two gardens this year that have made me look at cactus and succulents with a more forgiving eye. The first was my visit to the Spring Preserve, which I wrote about here and here.

cactus and succulent garden

The second was on the 2008 Austin Pond Society Pond Tour. The garden of Jeff and Ray was my favorite on the tour and not because of the pond. Jeff is the current president of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society. Not only does he have an amazing collection of plants but he has that ability to arrange them in pleasing ways (a knack I lack and covet).

Look at that top photo again. I love the curves, the balance of forms, shapes, textures and colors of the plants. I think that the problem with most cactus and succulent gardens is that the plant materials require a really strong underlying design. The plants themselves are so architectural and spare. They need an expert designer to arrange the pieces in a pleasing way. I have absolutely zero design sense but with my floppy, cottage garden I get away with a lot because the exuberance of the plants hide the lack of design (when they’re in bloom, anyway).

I’m actually drawn more to the geometry of this garden than I am to the careless approach of my own. I would like to live in this garden but I can’t imagine making it.

cactus and succulent garden

The terrace with disappearing fountain is a very pleasant spot to read a book over morning coffee.

cactus and succulent garden

The entire garden is below street level. It is surprising shady for a cactus garden. I’m guessing that the huge terraces provide the appropriate drainage. Descending the driveway is one of pleasantest approaches to an Austin house I’ve ever seen. To answer my own question, some prickly gardens are inviting indeed.

cactus and succulent garden

di•lem•ma a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, esp. equally undesirable ones

August 9th, 2008
Our Summer Dilemma

When I asked Austin gardeners to commiserate about our miserable summer, I got an earful. Despite AJM rolling his eyes and sighing that he’s heard it all before, 2008 has been no ordinary Austin summer. We do not normally have 45 100°+ days in a year. We do not usually start our 100° temperatures in May. We do not always head into summer on the heels of a winter/spring drought. And, despite rumors to the contrary, we do not spend all summer complaining. Complaining is mostly limited to a few weeks in mid-August.

I had already planned to revive my tradition of August water bill comparison. But several comments urged me to do it now rather than later.

Bonnie @ Kiss of Sun wondered: “when you have a choice of paying to water and keep plants alive or cutting back on water and having to replace all of your landscaping because it dies, which road do you take?”

Carol @ Lost Valley Gardens made her choice, at quite a cost. “In order to keep my plants and trees alive this summer, I am averaging about 5000 gal usage per week. That means my water bill for a month is about $1000.”

Lori @ The Gardener of Good and Evil and I think a lot alike. It’s not just the money, it’s the time spent trying to pull the plants through, knowing that we have at least another month, the hottest month, to go. Lori says, “I’m so friggin’ sick of watering, and it would be so much less time-consuming if I just could focus on the big trees and roses and screw all the filler. Everything else still looks like crap anyway. I’d love to compare water bills with other Austin gardeners to see where I fall on the scale. I was just under $100 last month, which I thought was a lot, but apparently not.”

After a pleasant introduction to gardening in the 1990s, I struggled through 2000 and 2006. Determined not to let summer beat me down this year, I started off quite strong applying the lessons I learned after letting my garden succumb to the drought of 2006. In May, I watered early and often. I stuck with it through the hottest June in history. By July 4th (when it normally begins to get hot), my garden already looked like it had been through August.

At that point, I realized that plants which wilt if I’m out over a weekend, would never survive my absence for a week in August. So, like Lori, I decided to “screw all the filler”. I stopped watering everything except the largest perennials I had which had already survived 2006 and showed their worthiness.

Perhaps, because I’m desert born and bred, I’ve always been extremely conservative with my water. When we remodeled our kitchen a couple of years ago, we bought a water saving dishwasher (which uses about 1/4 of the water we used when we washed dishes by hand) and a water saving washing machine. Despite the pond (which requires topping up frequently as it is broad and shallow) and not letting the back lawn die completely, my latest water bill was low, I think–but not much different than other summers. I actually use more water in a dry winter because that’s when I’m growing my annuals, both in the meadow and in the vegetable garden.

So, the envelope please…

From June 17 – July 18 (daily temps in the 100s), we two adults consumed 5,500 gallons of water at a cost of $15.72.

Yep, that’s it. Less than the price of a rose bush. So, to answer Bonnie’s question, I take the path of conserving water at the expense of the landscape. I’ve just been down this dusty summer road once too many times. I’m not going to keep pouring water on plants that can’t survive our summers nor am I going to keep replacing them. Something is going to change.

I’m not willing to pay $1000 a month for water like Carol, or even $100 a month like Lori. And it’s not just about money. I’m not willing to consume huge amounts of water at the expense of my neighbors who rely on wells for theirs. We are draining our lakes and aquifer at an alarming rate. (And I don’t mean just us gardeners because lawn-bound surbanites and people with swimming pools share the responsibility.)

But Bob @ Draco Gardens, spoke to my heart about the seriousness of our dilemma. “I feel your pain, especially about the water. I just spent $3740 to replace the pump in my well because the water table had dropped 240′.” Read Bob’s story, Yikes! No water.

Your Turn
How much did you consume and what did it cost you? I’m also interested in knowing how much supplemental water gardens require in those parts of the country (and world) where temperatures are more pleasant. So, if you could include where you live and what the average high temperature was for the period of usage, I’d be very interested.

Austin heatwave 2008
August 4th was day 42 this summer of 100+ weather. Now in a tie for third place with summer 2000 for summer of most 100 degree days.

August 5th, 2008
Losing My Passion

Have you wondered why I don’t write much about gardening anymore? No I haven’t been away. And I haven’t run out of things to say. (I have 50 posts in draft.) I’m simply cranky from the heat and don’t have the energy, or the desire to put a happy face on this miserable summer. AJM just rolls his eyes and says, “Oh, it’s just your usual summer SAD.” “No. It is NOT.” I reply testily. “Every summer you want to throw in the trowel and move to a condo.” I glare. “This is not your usual summer.”

This summer just tied the third-place record set in 2000 for the most 100 degree days. After Tropical Storm Edouard moves through and brings (we hope) a little relief, we will break that record. That would make 2008 worse than 2000. And 2000, all Austinites should remember, was the year we set the all-time high temperature ever recorded in Austin. In SEPTEMBER. 112 degrees. In 2000, the heatwave didn’t break until September 24th.

I’m not looking for encouragement or sympathy. I don’t need uplifting speeches from people who live in more temperate summer climes. You have horrible winters to even the score (Although your plants go dormant in your dead season. Ours don’t. They just die.) Yes, I know that someday fall will come and the oxblood lilies will bloom again. Nor am I looking for strategies to garden in this heat. There are many gardeners in Austin who are more successful than I am. Good for you. I admire you. I do.

If, on the other hand, you want to tell me how miserable you are, please join in. Misery does love company. I took a little walk around my neighborhood to see how other people were coping, or not. And it cheered me up.

Some of my more whimsical neighbors have responded by eschewing plants altogether. This old bicycle has a bed made especially for it. A perfect water wise solution to our drought.
Austin heatwave 2008

Even professional garden designers who don’t live in South Austin are not above the impulse to border and mulch an area and call it a garden. I like how Tom Spencer recycled fallen limbs to make this bold statement about gardening in Austin.
Austin heatwave 2008

Why are Austinites into extreme gardening? Well, between heat and drought, the leaves are falling off the trees…
Austin heatwave 2008

…even attractive plantings of Texas natives look peaked and sunburned…
Austin heatwave 2008

…ornamental grasses are suffering…
Austin heatwave 2008

and people new to the neighborhood have learned why Austinites don’t plant trees and bushes in the spring.
Austin heatwave 2008

That little patch of bright green is an affront to nature, isn’t it? Nature is on the left side of the photo. It wins.