photo: Crocus Speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus speciosus. November 25, 2008

November 26th, 2008
Crocus speciosus

Dateline: 2008
I finally followed through on my resolve to buy more fall crocuses and purchased 96 Crocus speciosus bulbs from McClure & Zimmerman ($23.95) and planted them on September 6, 2008. This time I bought the Crocus speciosus speciosus which the catalog assured me was the “earliest autumn flowering crocus to bloom…” with a “profusion of deep violet-blue flowers”.

The first six bloomed on November 23, 2008. I’m not sure what happened to the other 90. I suspect squirrels. I did cover them with wire after I noticed that the squirrels had been digging them up, taking a bite, tossing them to the side and digging for more. Hmmm. $23.95 for 96 teeny-tiny bulbs seems economical; for 6, not so much.

In Adventures with Hardy Bulbs, Louise Beebe Wilder is enthusiastic about the autumn flowering Crocus speciosus. It “is infinitely worth growing, all its ways are seemly, all its forms lovely.” For color in the garden, she much prefers it to the saffron crocus, C. sativus.

The flowers of [C. speciosus] are distinguished by their remarkable (for a Crocus) blue tone–it is the bluest of all the Crocuses–and they are very large, the outer segments marked with fine veining, while the stigmata are conspicuous for their size, and the fact that they are divided into a mass of orange-scarlet threads. It is the first autumnal species to flower, and it is always startling when it comes bubbling through the earth, innocent of leaves, usually after a warm rain in late September.” — LBW

Dateline: 2007
Despite my failing to buy more fall-flowering crocuses, as I vowed to do four years ago, two little blue jewels revealed themselves among the orange cosmos today.

photo: Crocus speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus. December 4, 2007.

In my garden, the autumn crocuses usually bloom, not in September but, in mid-November. I was disappointed when none did this year and thus even more delighted than usual when a late bloom surprised me today. Despite being described as the largest fall crocus, they are a tiny delight. I’ve never had any luck with the far showier spring-blooming crocuses.

photo: Crocus speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus. Austin, Texas. December 4, 2007.

Dateline: 2004
photo: Crocus speciosus Conqueror
Crocus speciosus. November 11, 2004.

This one has different petals than all the others I’ve photographed. One is ‘Conqueror’ and the other is ‘Cassiope’. I know longer know which is which. When I buy more I’ll have to buy some of each and keep them in separate parts of the garden.

Dateline: 2003
One little crocus opened today, and four more promise to follow tomorrow. I must remember to buy some more next year. Even though, they disappear (maybe stolen by squirrels?), they bring unexpected pleasure every November.
photo: Crocus speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus. November 11, 2003.

I remember telling a coworker once that I had planted 100 crocuses. He thought I must have a yard full of flowers. But they are only about four inches tall. It would take 1000 of them to make a drift that anyone other than a gardener, who is always looking for the little things under leaves and among the weeds, to notice.

photo: Crocus speciosus Cassiope
Crocus speciosus. November 10, 2003.

Dateline: 2002
One of the first bulbs I bought for the meadow garden was a type of fall-blooming crocus, Crocus speciosus. In the fall of 1996, I planted ‘Cassiope’. And later I planted ‘Conqueror’. They both bloomed beautifully in their first years and have waned in each succeeding year. However, every fall a few return to surprise and delight.

photo: Crocus Speciosus CassiopeCrocus speciosus. November 6, 2002

Today, five bloomed. I think they are the ‘Cassiope’ since those have yellow throats. They have been described variously as sky blue, pale blue, and aniline blue.

photo: Crocus Speciosus CassiopeCrocus speciosus. November 6, 2002

Aster ericoides
wild fall aster

November 15th, 2008
GBBD 200811: Nov 2008

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

Second fall has finally come to Austin. Temperatures were in the 80s yesterday and will be in the 30s tonight. We’ve had a few cool spells this month and the leaves are finally beginning to turn color. The Japanese persimmon is a deep gold, the crape myrtles a dull red, and under cover of a bright green canopy the red oaks are are changing. That surprised me because they are usually the last to color and lose their leaves, often not until the New Years. But the pecans remain stubbornly green and leafy still shading my winter garden. (This is an improvement on last year when they were shrouded in webworms.) The cedar elms remain green, too, but at least they are finally dropping leaves. The leaves on the bananas are looking ragged and yellow.

By the way, first fall is when the hurricane rains break the summer heat. We had a chance of that happening on September 13th when Hurricane Ike was forecast to dump six inches of rain on Austin. It veered to the east and north and we got zero. We had one rain in mid-October. Since then, no rain has fallen on Zanthan Gardens. Although some lucky Austinites benefitted from scattered showers earlier this week, we did not. So the garden is left high and dry. I don’t so much reap what I sow but reap what I water and that, the last six months, has been very little.

The only obvious flowers in the garden at the moment are the two rabid pink vines, the coral vine and the Port St Johns creeper. Everything else you have to hunt for. There is also a stand of wild white asters along the front fence.

The St Joseph’s Lily is blooming out of season. It sent up a stalk after that October rain, began blooming on sometime in November (did I Tweet it?) and the last flower is just fading today. I’m glad it lasted long enough to get count for GBBD.

November 15th, 2008

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

  • Abelia grandiflora (can’t see it because it’s under the coral vine)
  • Asclepias curassavica
  • Antigonon leptopus (still rampant over the chain link fence)
  • Cosmos sulphureus (one plant in flower)
  • Curcubita pepo (straightneck summer squash–has been flowering but really put on a show today)
  • Duranta erecta (small flowers but doing well; one bush covered with golden berries, too)
  • Hippeastrum x johnsonii
  • Malvaviscus arboreus (flowering but the leaves look terrible)
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ (a few flowers)
  • Oxalis crassipes
  • Oxalis drummondii
  • Oxalis triangularis
  • Podranea ricasoliana
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Rose ‘Blush Noisette‘ (a couple of flowers)
  • rosemary (just starting to bloom)
  • Ruellia
  • Setcreasea pallida (quite a few flowers)

Peckerwood Gardens

November 8th, 2008
Peckerwood Garden

Visiting Peckerwood Garden leaves me examining, once again, what a garden is. The first thought that springs to mind, and what I find most around the garden blogosphere, is the ornamental garden. For many of us gardening is about growing pretty flowers. Some are talented enough that they also design with plants, arranging flowers and foliage in complementary ways, considering not only spatial relationships among plants but changes over the seasons and over years.

Peckerwood Gardens

People who design ornamental gardens often complement the plantscapes with hardscapes, with garden ornamention and furnishing to create outdoor living spaces. All that can be found at Peckerwood but it was not the essence of the garden.

Peckerwood Gardens

Others turn to gardening to grow their own food. I do a little of both but neither is the primary reason I garden. I am among the group that finds gardening restorative. I’m not a garden maker; I’m a garden putterer. I like to be in the garden because I need to touch the dirt, to crumble it in my hands, to ground myself in silence and the physical world after hours spent at the computer.

As we move across the gardening spectrum from those who design with plants to those who collect them, there is one category that I don’t come across often either in gardens blogs or in my other garden reading: the experimental garden. And that, I think is what Peckerwood Garden is—an experimental garden.

Peckerwood Gardens

Which is not to say that Peckerwood is not ornamental. It is. Not only are the beds laid out in pleasing ways but there are sculptures, a fountain and reflecting pond, a wisteria trellis, and great tree-lined walk bordered one side by a spring-fed creek and punctuated on the far end by the only live oak on the property.

As natural as the scene below may look, it is a made garden. All these trees were planted by John G. Fairey who began the garden in 1971. In 1983, a tornado swept through Peckerwood Garden destroying all the old trees.

Peckerwood Gardens

There is even a formal, yew-hedge encircled space, a memorial to an old friend. Despite all this, it did not seem like a “designed” garden in the same sense as Powis Castle, Arley Hall, or Tatton Park. I think the main reason for that is that, except quite near the house, it is relatively free of hardscaping. As our wonderful guide, Chris, said, the shapes and sizes of the beds change as the trees grow and the shade alters the understory plantings. The design is extremely fluid and curvaceous.

Peckerwood Gardens

Peckerwood is also obviously a collector’s garden, filled with rare plants collected from all over the world, many plants and trees propagated from seed. Yet it is not a garden of rarities for the sake of possessing what others do not have. Quite the opposite. The beating heart of this garden is its quest for biodiversity and conservation of the world’s treasures in the face of habitat destruction and the American suburban predilection for monoculture.

Peckerwood is a garden laboratory devoted to collecting, propagating, experimenting, and sharing. John G. Fairey brings the spirit of Thomas Jefferson to the garden.

Peckerwood Gardens

I learned at the garden that Mexico has a tremendous biodiversity and that plants from Mexico are extremely adaptable to extremes. Plants that have been gathered from 6000 feet adapt to the almost sea-level altitude of east Texas. Plants that we think of as desert-born thrive on the extra water as long as they are planted in well-drained soil.

The tree above and the tree below are both oaks from Mexico. The dense, shrubby one above looks almost like a weeping yaupon holly and the one below has an open willowy look. Chris not only encouraged us to examine some acorns but to take them home; then he told us how to sprout them. When I looked at my acorns closely, I notice they were all beautifully mottled, quite different than the chocolaty dark acorns of my red oaks.

Peckerwood Gardens

At Peckerwood Garden, they propagate plants, grow them on in the nursery for a year or two, set them out with shade cloth and irrigate them for another year, and then they are on their own. (Only 3 of the 21 acres are under irrigation.) Can they stand the alternating drought and flood, heat and cold that makes gardening in Texas such a challenge? The search is on for plants that can. And it is not limited to Mexico or the Americas. Complementary trees of the same species are sought out from China, Japan, or South Africa for comparison. Although careful not to introduce invasive species, Mr. Fairey does not feel constrained to stick just to local species either. Like the plant explorers of earlier centuries (including Thomas Jefferson), he is most interested in experimenting, making scientific comparisons, and finding out what works than promoting either local or exotics for philosophical reasons.

Peckerwood Gardens

Peckerwood is having open days this weekend. They had begun setting out plants to sell. None of us could resist, of course.

Peckerwood Gardens

Diana at Sharing Nature’s Garden organized a group of us Austin garden bloggers for this private guided tour. I’ll update this post with a link to the others as they become available.

  1. Conscious Gardener @ Conscious Gardening
  2. Libby @ Aurora Primavera
  3. Lori @ Gardener of Good and Evil
  4. Pam/Digging
  5. Vertie @ Vert

Thanks, again, Diana! And to John Fairey who came out to greet us, and to our wonderfully informative, friendly, knowledgable and tireless guide, Chris.

dead raccoon

November 2nd, 2008
Sorrow for my enemy

I rounded the corner of the failed garden house and was stopped cold in my tracks by this sight.

dead raccoon

I held very still, thinking I’d just come upon him unawares but then I realized he was lying on the ground and flies were hovering. I knew he must be dead.

He cannot have been dead very long because I didn’t notice him at noon when I took the compost out to the pile. Nor have the ants found him yet.

But how did he die? There isn’t a mark on him. And no, for all my railing against the raccoons, I didn’t kill him by poison or any other means. There is nothing in my own back yard to have poisoned him accidentally either.

dead raccoon

I don’t rejoice in his death. I didn’t wish him harm. I just wished him life elsewhere.