Port St John's Creeper
The Port St. Johns Creeper, Podranea ricasoliana has eaten the north border, smothering a grape vine, a ‘New Dawn’ rose, and attacking the raspberries. The raspberries looked like they might not survive August–all the leaves browned–but they seem to be forming new canes. I guess this is their spring. Self-sown datura is also rampant but welcome.

September 29th, 2009
On Returning Home

The week before we went on vacation, Zanthan Gardens got 7 inches of rain in less than three days. The week we were gone, we got another 3.5 inches and temperatures dropped enough that my Austin garden friends on Twitter were talking about drinking hot tea and putting on sweaters.

In our absence the garden was transformed. It was green. (Mostly weeds.) Bluebonnets, cilantro, and Love-in-the-mist had sprouted. The rosemary was blooming. Half the lavender had rotted away. A large aloe vera had collapsed and a wooden retaining wall had fallen over.

The spineless prickly pear cactus which withered in the drought has become so bloated with rain that it had collapsed under its own weight. I hated it before and I really hate it now. So most of it will be removed to the city’s composting collection.

Crape Myrtle Catawba
The crape myrtles would have bloomed better all summer if I had watered them. I saw them blooming all over Austin. However, they are a rather low priority plant in my garden when it comes to precious summer water so they had to wait for the rains. I think I cherish them even more now for missing them over summer.

St Joseph's Lily
Some oxblood lilies were still flowering on my return. However, I was surprised by this red giant blooming: the St. Joseph’s Lily. Maybe it wanted to join in the red revelry. It’s supposed to bloom in the spring, on the saint’s feast day, March 19th.

Sweet Alyssum
I also was surprised to see the Sweet Alyssum blooming. It’s never survived the summer before and 2009 was the worst of summers. About half the plants have survived even though sometime in August I stopped watering them. Such tenacity!

Curly Parsley
The curly parsley was another surprise. Last fall was the first time I grew it and found it as easy to grow as cilantro but when the cilantro faded in the heat the parsley soldiered on. I lost most of it but a few hardy stems which had died almost completely to the ground came back. I’ve decided that the intense bright green will make a perfect low hedging for my winter garden. I’m going to plant a lot more this year.

Allium tuberosum
Some things are just as expected. The garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, are dependable fall flowers and a nice complement to the oxblood lilies. Over the years, they do tend to take over like all their allium kin. I’ve been pretty brutal the last few years yanking them out where I didn’t want them and not replanting them. Still, I’m happy to see them when they do bloom. It makes fall feel complete.

bluebonnet seeds

September 28th, 2009
Bluebonnet Seeds

If you’ve ever bought bluebonnet seeds, you might have noticed that they looked like varied multi-colored pebbles. But if you collect your own seeds, you might notice that all the seeds from the same plant look alike.

When the bluebonnets are blooming in my yard, I go around marking plants from which I want to save seeds. I’m a bit of an extremist so I tend to mark plants with the deepest blue flowers and the palest blue flowers. Every once in awhile a pale pink bluebonnet or white bluebonnet will appear but these rarely set many seeds. I saved seeds from the child of my oversummering, December-blooming bluebonnet and notice how pale beige they are compared with the others.

bluebonnet seeds
I saved these seeds not because the plants were remarkable but because the seeds themselves were so pretty.

The week before we went on vacation seven of inches of rain fell and immediately the bluebonnets began sprouting. The week we were gone, we received an additional 3.5 inches. I returned to find my yard covered in bluebonnet sprouts of the seeds I didn’t save. I’m going to have to hustle to get my saved seeds in the ground somewhere.

Zephyranthes grandiflora
Zephyranthes grandiflora, a large deep pink rainlily.

September 15th, 2009
GBBD 200909: Sep 2009

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

September 2009

It rained. And rained, and rained, and rained. Between Thursday (9/10) and Sunday (9/12), Zanthan Gardens received over 7 inches of rain. We didn’t get much during the day on Friday (9/11) when it seemed to rain all around Austin but not in the center. But finally it began raining in the early evening and rained on and off all night. Then Saturday between 2:30 and 3:30 in the afternoon it suddenly poured and we got 2.6 inches in just that hour.

The skies remain gray and gloomy, the temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Summer’s grip is broken. Like a woman giving birth, we quickly forget the pain of delivery as we embrace this new life.

So much has died over the summer that my usually floriferous September has very few different kinds of flowers. It’s mostly the bulbs that stay dormant during the heat and only peek out after a rain. I’m starting to think this is the only kind of sensible plant to grow in Austin’s summer.

The rain brought out the rainlilies. I have four kinds, now: two pinks and two whites.

Zephyranthes labuffarosea
Zephyranthes ‘Labuffarosea’, a slightly smaller and paler pink rainlily. A passalong from Annieinaustin @ The Transplantable Rose

This thick-stemmed and thick-petaled white rainlily grows wild in my yard.

This small and more delicate white rainlily is a self-sown newcomer. It opened yesterday and is already beginning to curl its petals and fade today.

Podranea ricasoliana
The Podranea ricasoliana is a rampant vine which smothers everything in its path–but it’s hard to find fault with it when it’s in flower.

Podranea ricasoliana
Especially when the flowers look like this.

Pavonia hastata
Transitioning from the pinks side of the yard to the red side of the yard is the pale pavonia.

Rhodophiala bifida
But there is only one reason to visit my garden in September–oxblood lilies.

Rhodophiala bifida
And more oxblood lilies.

Rhodophiala bifida
And more oxblood lilies. I couldn’t be bothered to do anything else today but lie around looking at them.

Complete List for September

The list of all plants flowering today, September 15th 2009, at Zanthan Gardens. You can compare with GBBD September 2007 which was Austin’s unusually cool and rainy summer. I didn’t do a GBBD post in September 2008 because I was busy with work and the garden had already suffered the effects of the drought, even a year ago.

  • Duranta erecta
  • Hesperaloe parviflora
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Lindheimer senna
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’
  • Oxalis (purple)
  • Pavonia hastata
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Podranea ricasoliana
  • Rhodophialia bifida
  • Ruellia, the woody and the viney kind but not the passalong
  • rose ‘Ducher’
  • Tradescantia pallida/Setcreasia (purple heart) both colors
  • water lily
  • widow’s tears/true dayflower–some type of commelina
  • Zephyrathes grandiflora
  • Zephyranthes ‘Labuffarosea’
  • Zephyranthes (tiny white)
  • Zephyranthes (large white)

Austin rain
2009-08-27. We get some rain. The “bog” garden on the right of the patio, fills up with water as designed.

September 3rd, 2009
Week 35: 8/27 – 9/2

Dateline: 2009
A garden pulls me into it because it is always changing. The light, the colors, the shapes, the scent are always shifting. That’s the reason I enjoy observing the garden and writing about my observations. And the reason I’ve hardly written at all this summer. It comes as no surprise that the last week I updated my week-by-week in the garden posts was 18 weeks ago, before our summer of 100° days began. As @gettinggrounded describes it, Austin has had three months of August. The relentless searing sun. The oppressive heat radiating from every surface like the inside of a brick oven. The dried and roasted plants. The cracked black clay ground.

But this week, change. Last Thursday (8/27) it rained. Zanthan Gardens received an inch of rain over several hours of scattered showers. We were much luckier than many in Austin who received less or none at all. In the days that followed, temperatures dropped temporarily out of the hundreds. And flowers burst forth. The garden awakened from its summer slumber.

The rain brought out the first oxblood lily (8/31) and the usual rainlilies. The pale pavonia and the Port St. John’s creeper began blooming again. The crape myrtles perked up. An odd black-eyed susan, growing in the fig’s pot, opened some flowers. The datura unfurled. The tough standbys (ruellia, duranta, devil’s claw, rose of Sharon, oleander, plumbago) seemed to lift up their leafy branches as if they could finally stretch and shake out their flowers unbowed by the heat.

And even AJM remarked (as I do every fall), how strangely cool 94° feels at the end of summer compared with the beginning of summer when we groan and complain how unbearably hot 94° feels.

I think it’s sad and not a little frightening reading my old notes and realizing how quickly 2009 broke all the records of the horrible summer of 2006. For 50 years the hottest August on record was 1951 with an average temperature of 87.6°. This record was broken in 1999 (88.3°), then 2006 (88.5°), and now 2009, (89.1°). Even Austin’s native trees are dying, unable to adapt quickly enough to this changing weather pattern.

In 2006, we lifted our heads and pressed on, thinking we had survived the worst. Have we? Or will the worst just keep getting worse?

Dateline: 2006
Let’s sum up August so that we can be through with it. August 2006 in Austin was the hottest on record: the average daily temperature was 88.5F and the average high temperature was 100.7. Unlike 2000 (see below), we didn’t receive a lot of record breaking high temperatures. Instead it was hot every day; 24 days reached 100 degrees or higher.

Luckily, this week we got our first taste of fall. On Tuesday (8/29) morning rush hour started with rain. (Bewildered motorists crashed left and right.) In my garden it was barely enough to soak in 1/32 of an inch, but it did fill the rain buckets. I opened all the windows to smell it. Nighttime temperatures which had been in the high 70s all month dropped to a chilly 67 on Thursday (8/31). However, the high that day climbed back to 102.

With Tuesday’s temperature barely reaching 90, I was in the garden all afternoon. I dug up the daylilies, which hadn’t flowered this year. The leaves had withered and I worried that they might be rotting under the mulch. They weren’t. They were withered. I think I can revive the daylilies; it’s the dirt that’s dead.

blackland prairie clay
2006: The garden has died–not just the plants, but the soil. This is the bed that I dug the daylilies out of.

When I planted these daylilies four years ago, I amended the soil with peat moss, bought compost, and compost sifted from my mulch pile. This bed has always been mulched. All the organic material has since been sucked dry. All that’s left is dry lumps of baked blackland prairie clay. There’s no earthworms–probably no micro-organisms. The soil is as dead as a rock. If this is the condition of the rest of the yard (and there is every reason to think that it is), I can see why even drought-resistant native plants are giving up the ghost this year.

My problems with my little patch of Texas are minuscule compared with those people around the state who farm and ranch for a living.

Billions of dollars have evaporated, even more than the $2.1 billion lost during a 1998 drought, Texas Cooperative Extension economists reported in August. Crop losses have been estimated at $2.5 billion, and losses from livestock, underfed and rushed to market, are pegged at $1.6 billion. Wheat yields per acre in Texas have been the lowest since the 1920s.

Although it is the nature of gardeners to complain about the weather, Henry Mitchell said that what sets gardeners apart is defiance. So now that August is over, I’m gritting my teeth and donning my gloves. If I’m doomed to start completely over after 13 years, so be it.

First flower: Rhodophiala bifida (8/30).
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