Ipomoea tricolor Flying Saucers
‘Flying Saucers’ morning glory. I’m trying these new this year. So far this is the only plant with the variegated flowers. The others are pure blue or pure white.

May 15th, 2009
GBBD 200905: May 2009

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

May 15, 2009

Lupinus texensis
Fading bluebonnets. I’m not going to take photos of all the other dried and withered flowers that are “blooming” today.

Farewell, enchanted April. Hello, withering May. I used to think of May as the calm, deep green month. The meadow flowers had gone to seed but the lawns and more tropical plants burst forth in restful shades of leafy green. May used to be one of Austin’s rainiest months. In the last few years, we keep getting late July weather in early May. My pleasure in the garden has evaporated like the sweat on my brow. I’m already into countdown mode, wondering how many days until the fall rains. (The last two years we haven’t had much in the way of fall rains either.) As the drought continues into it’s third summer, each year finds me threatening to pack my bags and move into a high-rise downtown condo earlier an earlier in the season.

Still there are some pleasures. Two old favorites opened a flower today.

The ever-faithful (and only remaining) LA lily.
LA lily

A gladiolus that I bought many years ago which stopped flowering until today.

And the vitex, which has never bloomed well because of the shade is putting on its earliest and best show ever.
LA lily
Vitex castus-agnus.
The vitex is now out of favor in Austin and considered an invasive plant. Not ten years ago it was being pushed as a wonderful small flowering drought tolerant tree and marketed as “the southern lilac”. (Carol, you can start laughing now.) I guess the marketing ploy demonstrates how desperately northerners miss their lilacs–and with good reason, I understand–but you’d have to really stretch your imagination to consider a vitex any kind of substitute.

There are some other new flowers for May but really this end of the season in my garden. All my focus is on collecting seed and clearing out the meadow annuals and on trying to keep the squirrels off the vegetables. Tomatoes, tomatillos, and yellow wax beans are producing right now. The herb garden is doing well, too. I have the quartet: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Also French and Spanish lavenders, French tarragon and Mexican mint marigold. However, there’s nothing there to share on GBBD.

Speaking of marigolds. I’m still anxiously awaiting the day that the white marigolds Carol sent me will bloom. Five plants remain from the 24 I started from seed. I’m hoping to see at least one flower.

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: the bearded iris ‘Incantation’, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Rose Bon Bon’ (the C. bipinnatus did not do well at all but some C. sulphureus has self-sown), Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’, and Dutchman’s pipe vine.

There are several flowers that are still blooming but didn’t have flowers today. The rose ‘Mermaid’ opened a flower yesterday and has buds for tomorrow, but none for today. The white mistflower has gone to seed but will bloom again if I cut it back. Ditto for the datura.

Complete List for May

The list of all plants flowering today, May 15th 2009, at Zanthan Gardens. I’ve also noted if the plant was blooming on GBBD May 15th, 2007 or 2008. The list looks long but is misleading. Most plants only have one or a few flowers left.

  • Abelia grandiflora (2009)
  • Antigonon leptopus (2009)
  • Asclepias curassavica (fading) (2007, 2009)
  • Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (2009)
  • Boerhavia coccinea (2009)
  • Brugmansia (from Annie in Austin) (2009)
  • Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Magic’ (one faded flower) (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Commelinantia anomala (one flower) (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Commelina communis (2009)
  • Consolida ambigua (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Coriandrum sativum (2007, 2009)
  • Cosmos sulphureus (2008, 2009)
  • Crinum bulbispermum (2007, 2009)
  • Dahlberg daisy ‘Golden Fleece’ (2009)
  • Duranta erecta (overwintered) (2008, 2009)
  • Echinacea purpurea (from Pam/Digging) (2008, 2009)
  • Engelmannia peristenia/pinnatifida (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Eschscholzia californica ‘Mikado’ (fading) (2008, 2009)
  • Hesperaloe parviflora (2008, 2009)
  • Hibiscus syriacus (full bloom) (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Ipomoea tricolor ‘Flying Saucers’ (2009)
  • jalapeno (2009)
  • Kalanchoe daigremontiana (Mother of Thousands) (2009)
  • Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’ (2009)
  • Lantana x hybrida ‘New Gold’ (2008, 2009)
  • Lavandula heterophyla ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Lilium LA Hybrid ‘Spirit’ (one flower) (2007, 2009)
  • Lobularia maritima (2009) ‘Tiny Tim’
  • Lonicera japonica (2009)
  • Lupinus texensis (fading) (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Malvaviscus arboreus (2008, 2009)
  • Meyer lemon (rebloom) (2007, 2009)
  • Mirabilis jalapa pink (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Nandina domestica (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ (2008, 2009)
  • Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’ (2009)
  • Oenothera speciosa (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Opuntia ficus-indica (2009)
  • Orchid (from Dawn) (2009)
  • Oxalis crassipis (hot pink) (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Phaseolus vulgaris ‘Pencil Pod’ (2009)
  • Phlomis lanata (2008, 2009)
  • Polanisia dodecandra (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Proboscidea louisianica (2009)
  • Retama (2008, 2009)
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette’ (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (2008, 2009)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’ (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Ruellia (overwintered) (2008, 2009)
  • Sedum album (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Setcresea (both purple and green) (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • tomatillo (2009)
  • tomato (2007, 2009)
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides (fading) (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Tulbaghia violacea (society garlic) (2009)
  • Verbena canadensis (lavender wilding) (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Vitex agnus-castus (2009)
  • Zexmenia hispida (from Pam) (2008, 2009)

Victor Schrager’s portraits for “The Heirloom Tomato” inspire me to try photographing my own tomatoes. From left to right: Azoychka, Jeune Flamme, and Black Cherry.

May 10th, 2009
The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table

I check out garden books from the library every week. It’s rare that I open a book and just know I have to own it. Such was the case with Amy Goldman’s The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World’s Most Beautiful Fruit. I’ve been browsing it for less than a day and I’ve already ordered it from Amazon.

I wish I had read it a couple of months ago when I was In Search of the Perfect Tomato. At the time I was frustrated by my inability to find concrete information on various tomatoes. After awhile the catalog descriptions become mind-numbing in their sameness. How many ways are there to describe a tomato anyway? Besides catalog descriptions are written to sell a product. I wanted direction and objectivity from the garden blogosphere. Hanna @ This Garden is Illegal writes wonderfully detailed review of her tomato tastings but she is in the minority. My frustration is at an end. Now I have Amy Goldman’s The Heirloom Tomato.

In this book, Ms. Goldman evaluates tomatoes the way a wine reviewer writes about wine. She considers size and weight, shape, color, soluble solids (to get an objective measurement of sweetness), flavor, and texture. In looking at the plants themselves, she describes plant habit, leaf type, yield, and date to maturity. She explains her criteria in more detail before launching into the tomato descriptions.

Before I could settle into the text I was distracted by Victor Schrager’s tomato “portraits”. After feasting with my eyes on his photographs, I could understand why one might not stoop to calling them mere photographs. The Heirloom Tomato has page after glossy page of tomatoes arranged by size, shape, or color on milk glassware in the modern equivalent of a Renaissance still life painting. There are single tomato portraits, too, but I really appreciate contrasting the qualities of the many heirlooms featured. A tomato can be so much more than a smooth, round, red globe.

AJM actually picked this book up at the library, honing in on the final chapter “Recipes”. With our mere seven plants, I doubt that we’ll ever have the excess harvest required to think about eating tomatoes any other way than fresh off the vine. So I skipped back a section to the tomato descriptions. Whenever I read any reviews, (travel, wine, movie, books) I always look at things I’m familiar with first in order to calibrate the reviewer’s tastes and biases against my own.

So it was with great pleasure to turn to the very first tomato description and discover that it is of a cherry tomato I picked last week ‘Black Cherry’. Ms. Goldman approves of my choice: “This tomato tastes like plumstone fruit without the stone.; it bests any bigger black plum or beefsteak.” As if to demonstrate these descriptions are not just catalog marketing, on the same page she says of ‘Yellow Pygmy’, “…looks cute, but no one has ever accused it of being palatable.” That’s what I like! A touch of bitter to temper the sweet.

I have a couple of quibbles about the book design. The tomato descriptions begin with the data for each tomato followed by Ms. Goldman’s more subjective evaluation or some historical tidbits. The data section has headings in small caps but the data itself is in italics…of a very small size. Her description is in a standard font face. Those italics are very difficult to read. In some instances, the italicized part of the tomato entry is more lengthy than Ms. Goldman’s notes on it. All those italics make painful reading–they obscure the fascinating information. One thing I gleaned, though. Heirloom does not seem to be restricted to old varieties, just open-pollinated (that is, not hybrid) varieties.

Two other book design quibbles. In the section table of contents, the most important information is black small caps and italics against a dull green background. And it’s centered-space. This must look nice as design but it is unusable as a table of contents. The main text of the book could use a lot more subheading. Even I, who am very text-oriented, found the unbroken text a bit much. Ms. Goldman’s writing is well-organized into paragraphs and sections, but the book layout doesn’t reinforce this.

I continued reading “The Heirloom Tomato” backwards. In the early chapters Ms. Goldman explains how she grew 1000 tomato plant (two of each variety) for two years in order to write this book. The chapter on how to grow tomatoes, from seed, to seedling, to hardening off, to care and feeding, pruning and picking, and finally gathering seed for next year is a wonderful resource for new and longtime tomato growers alike.

Bottom line: Highly Recommended
This is a book that I not only just bought for myself but that I see myself buying as a gift for others in the years ahead. Now to check out Ms. Goldman’s books on melons and squashes.

An Aside
In the description of ‘Black Cherry’ Ms. Goldman indirectly references a quote thus, “If one of the greatest services a man can render his country is to add a useful plant to its agriculture…” Do you know who said that? I do. But only because I had read it somewhere else just last week. Is this such a common quote in garden writing that it requires no further explanation…that all of you just naturally know the reference? Or would you just assume that it was a phrase of the author?

Bluebonnet seeds are ripe when the pods turn brown and you can hear the seeds inside rattle.

May 6th, 2009
Saving Bluebonnet Seeds

I had a question recently on gathering bluebonnet seeds: how do you know they are ripe? It’s pretty easy to tell. When the shells turn brown, tap the shell. If you hear the seeds rattling inside, they are ripe. However, wait too long and the shell will explode when you tap it, throwing seeds everywhere. Lying in a field of bluebonnets on a hot May day, listening to seedpods pop is a classic Texas summer pastime.
photo: bluebonnet seeds
Ripe bluebonnet seeds open with a pop and a twist to disperse their seeds.

If you want to start bluebonnets in a new spot, you can cut whole ripe stalks (like the one above) and let them seed themselves in their new home. This is the easy-going natural method of seeding, great for wild areas. It might take several years to get a good stand going. That’s because bluebonnet seeds have coats of different thicknesses. Some wear thin and sprout the first year. Others take several years. This is a survival tactic to ensure that all the seeds don’t sprout at once, only to be lost to bad weather.

photo: bluebonnet seeds
Bluebonnet seeds ripe versus unripe. The green ones are NOT ripe and will rot if you try to plant them.

People tend to want all their seeds to sprout together, so commercial seed providers sometimes wear down the coat with an acid bath. People who gather their own seeds gently sand the outer coat down a little, just enough for water to soak in. I don’t do any of these things. Don’t need to. After a couple of years of growing bluebonnets, I’ve always had too many sprouts each fall. Individual plants (which contain multiple flowers) grow like small bushes to about 18 inches tall and two feet in diameter. In a small garden, you don’t need very many. I deadhead them to encourage more flowers and only let the best go to seed.

When you’re ready to clear out the bluebonnet plants, don’t pull them out by the roots. Cut them off at ground level. The roots are covered with nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Not only are bluebonnets beautiful, they enrich our soil.

ripe larkspur seed
The same seed-saving advice holds true for larkspur (pictured above), nigella, and poppies. Wait until the pods are brown and the seeds are hard enough to rattle when you shake the pods.

If you have meadow plants in your garden, letting them go to seed means letting the garden look a bit messy for a few weeks. You’ll quickly understand why the word “seedy” means shabby and squalid. The payoff is a hundreds of free self-sown plants next year.