October 31st, 2009
Welcome, Central Texas Gardener

Last weekend, I had the privilege of touring some wonderful Central Texas gardens. Not only did I admire plants and plantings, I was inspired by the creativity of all our hosts and encouraged by what they had accomplished themselves on regular-sized lots. These were very personal gardens, each reflecting the unique vision of its gardener.

I’m always astonished at the courage gardeners hosting tours show inviting hundreds of strangers to tramp through their gardens. Even the most respectful visitors are bound to cause a certain amount of damage, grinding the lawn underfoot, walking into beds to snap photos and trampling on plants. I can only guess at the months of preparation required and the worry about the weather. These gardens had to survive two years of drought, one of Austin’s hottest summers ever, and then a sudden deluge of rain before the tour. I don’t think I could do it.

So, when Linda Lehmusvirta, the producer of Central Texas Gardener, asked me if she could film my garden last April 1st, I was dubious. Aside, from wondering if my garden blogger friends had put her up to an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke, I’ve seen the gardens featured on Central Texas Gardens. Some of them I’ve visited in life. Many of them are designed by landscape architects, or by people who write garden books, or by avid plant collectors active in various plant societies. You know, real gardeners. Me? I’m just a putterer who likes working in the garden and writing about it.

Besides, Linda had never seen my garden. Did she understand that it was just a messy collection of plants that had no structure or design, no interesting hardscapes, no garden rooms, no places to sit, no fountains or ornaments? Did she know my one major construction project had left a scar through my garden and a pile of building materials stacked on one side. Did she realize that I’d let the front lawn die during the drought and lost half my roses? Did she know that Zanthan Gardens is basically a one season garden and that most of the year it looks pretty unprepossessing? I invited her to come and preview it before making a decision to feature it. I just knew she would show up with her camera crew and be disappointed.

But Linda has something something gardeners wish all visitors had. She intuits the spirit of a garden and comprehends the intention of the gardener. Most gardeners don’t see their gardens in the present. We see its possibilities.Those 3-inch tall seedling, we see in full flower. We also know the entire cycle of bloom in our garden. We remember those nondescript Mexicans plums covered in the first white blossoms of the year. Gardeners know how to unsee, too. We look past a weedy spot because we know that next week we’re going to pull those weeds and edge that bed and plant it out. Our inner gardening eye skips over the weeds, the bare spots in the lawn, the tools left out, and the unswept walks.

In garden visit etiquette we are told it’s a no-no to say, “Oh too bad you didn’t come last week, when the tulips were in full bloom.” or “If you had only waited until next week, when the larkspur had filled out a bit more.” We can’t help ourselves. Gardeners are tormented by the one-time visitor. A photograph–that rigid snapshot in time–imprisons the garden. A garden is a living thing, ever-changing in the flow of time. Of course, I do take advantage of those fleeting moments of perfection. Every day I find new compositions in the garden to write about and photograph. But what’s there one day is gone the next and if you visit my garden, you’ll find it a very different place than the garden on this blog. It’s the contrast between the ideal and the real.

It takes a special kind of person to see more than what’s there, to understand the underlying intentions of the gardener, to see what is meant to be. Linda is one of those special people. I’m glad that you get to see my garden through her eyes.

photo: rose blush noisette
2009-10-29. Rose ‘Blush Noisette’. Zanthan Gardens

October 29th, 2009
Rose ‘Blush Noisette’

Update: October 29, 2009

After our month of rain, roses all over Austin are blooming in profusion. I see ‘Knockout’ roses on every corner. I’m not a fan of their cherry red color so I don’t have any. I much prefer the baby pink of my old-fashioned ‘Blush Noisette’.

‘Blush Noisette’ has survived both the 2006 and 2008/9 droughts and seems as happy as ever. However, 2009 was the first summer that it didn’t bloom much. I kept watering it and cut back some of the old growth to the ground. When the fall rains came, it tripled in size and this week has begun blooming profusely.

It has not quite reached the size or number of flowers that it did in rainy 2007 but it’s getting there. If you live where the water is plentiful, it will thrive. If you don’t, it will survive happily, not just grudgingly.

photo: rose blush noisette
April 23, 2007. This is the biggest ‘Blush Noisette’ has ever gotten.

The best thing about the fall bloom is that dry cool weather alternates with the rains–and so the flowers haven’t succumbed to their usual tendency to ball.

Dateline: November 9, 2003

photo: rose blush noisette

‘Blush Noisette’ has a baby powder fragrance that wafts on the breeze. It’s the only rose I have which surprises me with unexpected whiffs of scent that I can smell even if I’m digging weeds 10 feet away. In my garden, it’s is in bloom more than any other rose, even in the heat of summer.

The pale pink flowers bloom in little nosegays. Unfortunately they don’t open at once. And the individual blossoms frequently ball (turn brown before opening as shown in the photo below). They don’t seem to ball in wet weather like ‘Souvenir del Malmaison’. I think they do it if I haven’t kept up with my watering. This bunch opened over a week where it which began dry in the 90s and ended drizzling in the 40s. ‘Blush Noisette opened its biggest flowers ever in the cold drizzle.

photo: rose blush noisette

I grow ‘Blush Noisette’ as a freestanding bush rose. It has formed a nice vase shape about three feet cubed.

Cheryl Goveia
Cheryl Goveia’s garden

October 24th, 2009
Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2009

My favorite Austin garden tour each year is sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association. Not only are the gardens lovingly handmade (as opposed to contractor-installed) but gardeners and all the volunteers are full of plant knowledge. The plants are well-labeled and every site on the tour includes an extensive plant list. It’s a day-long field trip into what you can accomplish in a Central Texas garden.

I’m sure all the gardeners participating breathed a huge sigh of relief when the weather cooperated. Austin had a good rain on Thursday, it was clear Friday to dry out the gardens a bit and to allow for last minute straightening after the storm, and today we had the most perfect weather any garden tour could wish for: cool, dry, with beautiful blue skies.

Even more fun for me, I carpooled with Diana @ Sharing Nature’s Garden and Robin @ Getting Grounded. At lunch, we met up with Pam @ Digging. So, you can imagine it was six hours of non-stop garden talk. I’m sorry that we didn’t have time to see all of the gardens–but we really enjoyed the ones we did. Thank you, everyone of you who shared your garden with us.

Garden of Cheryl Goveia

I met Cheryl Goveia last year when a couple of carloads of Austin garden bloggers trekked to Peckerwood Gardens. Her blog is named Conscious Gardening and it’s obvious from the moment you step into her garden that she applies herself to everything with passionate and rapt attention.

Cheryl Goveia

The yard is an ordinary city lot but it feel huge for two reasons. It is partitioned into a series of small, garden rooms and every space is crammed with plants and ornaments. It doesn’t feel stifling or claustrophobic though. It feels like a garden layered in secrets. Everywhere I looked were little witty jokes (like the “snakes” made of strings of bottle caps in the beer garden). Or the metal rooster next to the bottle of tequila and a sake cup on a table made from a painted stump overseeing the henhouse (not in the photo).

Cheryl Goveia

Notice the painted hub caps on the fence. Mirrors, paint cans, and bowling balls were some of the other repurposed objects woven into the tapestry of the garden. Cheryl said that she didn’t follow any master plan for the garden as she transformed what had once been an empty St. Augustine lawn. The spaces grew naturally from how they were used–including the need to fence off areas from her dog.

Garden of Eleanor Pratt

Eleanor’s garden (in the same neighborhood and with the same sized lot as Cheryl’s) has a more conventional layout, a pecan-tree shaded lawn surrounded by borders. She had many plants that left us asking the volunteer Master Gardeners, “What’s that?” All three of us were particularly taken with the Chinese ground orchid. And where did she find this exotic beauty? On sale at Home Depot. Despite all the negative things I’ve read about shopping at the big box stores, one of the surprising things I learned on this tour is that there are some real plant bargains to be had there–not just in price but in unusual plants.

I especially liked the pigeonberrry and when Eleanor said that it reseeded easily and filled in any space, I bought one for myself. Unfortunately the light wasn’t very good for photographs when we were there, so I only snapped one picture…of the pigeonberry, of course.

Eleanor Pratt

Eleanor blogs at Garden of E.

Detour: Backyard Salvage and Gardens

As we drove east on Koenig headed for our next garden, we saw
Backyard Salvage and Gardens which Renee Studebaker had recently written about in her Statesman gardening column. It didn’t take a 1/10th of a second for the three of us to agree on a little detour. I immediately fell in love with the pallets of old brick and many types of stone. In addition to the architectural salvage materials, there were also piles of composts and gravels. And plants. After seeing the variety and number of plants at the first two gardens on the tour, I was feeling pretty plant-deficient–so I bought a pretty little succulent.

Garden of Randy Case

Randy Case

The first thing I fell in love with at Randy’s garden was the low stone wall in the front. Not only did it have plants tumbling over it it actually had little planters built into it. Next to the driveway, Randy had built three large wooden planters, sort of like inverted ziggurats. (He said he was inspired by the Guggenheim Museum although we all agreed that building an inverted spiral would have been a bit more complicated.)

Randy Case

Randy also makes good use of mirrors to provide the illusion of the garden beyond the fence. After seeing all the bamboo muhly, I finally succumbed to the plant that everyone in Austin has been gaga over and bought three.

Randy had a beautiful, ginormous ‘Double Purple’ Datura metel and was kind enough to share seeds with us when we asked for some. You can see some more of his many flowers at his blog Horselip’s Horse Sense. Scroll down to see the transformation of his garden from plain suburban lawn and the “Guggenheim planters”.

Garden of Gail Sapp

In the tour brochure, Gail Sapp writes, “I like my plans bright, bold and big.” She is not kidding. In comparison, my garden looks like a big space with a few Lilliputian plants scattered here and there. Gail’s yard is typical suburban lot. Her plants are huge and dramatic.

Gail Sapp
The bamboo which screened the garden was not your ubiquitous fishing rod type bamboo. It was the clumping Giant Timber bamboo. It was the most beautiful bamboo I’ve seen in Austin. The stems (trunks?) were thick and the bamboo towered over the two-story house. When the wind blew through them, the trunks struck each other musically sounding like a set of bamboo wind chimes.

In the front yard, Gail had a brugmansia twice as large as any we’d seen on tour and it was covered in yellow flowers. Behind it was a huge palm. The garden felt rich and full but the forms of the plant were distinct. To offset some of the lush wildness, several box shrubs were clipped into perfect globes. I liked the contrast between the constraint and the lush jungle-like wildness.

Gail Sapp

The real stop-dead-in-your-tracks plant was this pale silvery palm, a blue fan palm. None of us had recalled ever seeing anything quite like it. Where could she have gotten it? Home Depot, was the answer. Apparently it is highly adapted to desert-like conditions. In sharp contrast, was a diminutive dark-leaved ornamental pepper ‘Black Pearl’ with globular fruit which start out bright red and ripen to black.

Garden of Lindy McGinnis

Lindy McGinnis

When we were at the salvage store, Diana told Robin that she drew the line at having a bathtub in the garden. When she saw Lindy’s tub transformed into a pond covered with fig ivy, she stepped bravely over the line.

Lindy McGinnis

I was particularly drawn to the patch of chrysanthemum because they didn’t have any of the stiff formality of the potted mums you see everywhere this time of year. They were shorter, looser, freer–I didn’t even recognize them as mums at first.

Lindy McGinnis

Lindy’s was another garden just packed full a variety of plants. In the front were agaves, aloe, cactus, and other succulents mixed in with grasses and sages and a hundred things I’ve forgotten. In the back were more shade-loving plants. Diana pointed out a night-blooming jasmine, and I wanted one immediately.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to take more photos or do more justice to the myriad of confused impressions and inspiration I felt. You can see a video clip of Lindy McGinnis’s garden which aired on Central Texas Gardener.

The bottom line of the tour for me this year was to make me feel that I want more. I want more plants, more different kinds of plants, more garden ornaments, and sitting areas, and little secret spaces, and fountains. I want more mulch and more stone and more defined spaces.

I came straight home and got to work.

Related Posts

herb garden
2009-10-19. The herb garden: parsley, sage, basil, Mexican mint marigold (Texas tarragon), and lavender. The rosemary and thyme are elsewhere. The cilantro, everywhere.

October 19th, 2009
Herb Garden

I have a terrible time designing my gardens on paper. My garden practice is more opportunistic. I didn’t start with a blank slate; this yard had been here 50 years before I took a shovel to it. So, typically, I arrange the garden by walking around and seeing empty spots waiting for plants–often with said plant in hand.

Once a Tecoma stans and a beautiful David Austin rose ‘Heritage’ grew here. Then the trees grew up and shaded this spot and they died. Then I cut down the trees (invasive Chinaberry). Faced with a blank spot which gets lots of summer sun, I decided it was time to make a dedicated herb garden.

AJM is the resident cook and he likes to use fresh herbs. Fortunately many herbs thrive in Texas even as other plants are croaking. Most herbs like our poor soil, drought, sun, and heat. If just having plants that like Texas weren’t enough, fresh herbs are expensive to buy but cheap to grow. Every time I “weed” a handful of self-sown cilantro out of the paths and beds I think, “That would cost me 50 cents at Central Market” and into the fridge those “weeds” go.

Herbs require good drainage so I worked in several bags (about six inches) of Natural Gardener garden soil. I was inspired by the circular beds at Rock Rose. I didn’t have any bricks so I used pieces of wood from the failed garden house.

I started with some lavender that I’d grown from cuttings. I bought a 4-inch pot of culinary sage. It grew so well that I took cuttings from it and now have five plants. Last fall, I started some curly parsley from seed. It grew as well as the cilantro over the cooler months but was much more heat-tolerant. Some of it survived the summer and is growing well again now that it is cool. In the spring, I bought several fine-leaved basil plants and a couple of Genovese basil plants. The latter have self-sown and I’m potting up the new seedlings hoping to overwinter them indoors and plant them out next spring.

I tried some French tarragon which several people said won’t grow here. They were right. However, Annie @ The Transplantable Rose consoled me with some Mexican mint marigold, aka Texas tarragon, which began blooming this month.

This weekend I finally moved some bearded iris that had edged part of the herb garden, planted out an asparagus fern that had been in the pot I’d been wanting to put in the center of the bed, and decided that the sotol that I bought on impulse at the Wildflower Garden sale would look perfect in that pot–even if, botanically, it is not an herb.

No. I could never have designed my herb garden. It had to evolve.

Port St John's Creeper
Port St. John’s creeper is the kudzu of my garden. It has eaten my entire north border, swallowing a grape vine and a ‘New Dawn’ rose (which managed to thrust three flowers through the mad thicket). I never watered it. I hacked it back to the ground. And it keeps coming back. When it’s in flower, I can almost forgive it.

October 15th, 2009
GBBD 200910: Oct 2009

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

October 2009

What a difference rain makes! What a difference a year makes!

Last year, central Texas was a year into our drought and the season which usually brings a sense of renewal and hope to the garden had failed us. I was too discouraged to even write a post for GBBD last October. This year it began raining about a month ago and hasn’t let up. Yesterday was our first sunny day in almost a week. The garden is transformed. Everything that’s survived the drought and heat of summer is working overtime to put out new growth and flowers. The weeds (and mosquitoes) reign supreme. I don’t care about the weeds; I’d rather weed than water.

Datura inoxia

Unfortunately, many flowers are not camera-ready. The rain has left them a sodden, mud-spattered mess like the datura above (a passalong from Diana @ Sharing Nature’s Garden). This is why this post contains no rose photos, even though every rose except for ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ is blooming today.

New for October

Bulbine frutescens

Bulbine started blooming this month and this is the first time I’ve had it in my garden. I received it as a passalong plant from VBDB @ Playin’ Outside during this spring’s Austin garden blogger get-together. I’ve always wanted it and I’m so glad to have it.

Mexican Mint Marigold

Another plant new to my garden is Mexican mint marigold, a passalong from Annie @ The Transplantable Rose. She gave it to me as a substitute for French tarragon which won’t grow in Texas.

Allium tuberosum

Garlic chives is an old autumn faithful. It was here when I came and I bet it will still grow here when I’m gone. I like it best when it complements the oxblood lilies but most years it comes into bloom after they have finished. The garlic chives is just a little beyond its peak right now and beginning to go to seed. Like most alliums, it will take over the garden if you let it.

Fall Rebloom

Zexmenia

Pam @ Digging gave me this zexmenia two years ago. The day I picked it up turned suddenly warm. I put it in the ground immediately but it looked like it had died straight off. It hasn’t had an easy time of it. I cut it back hard in August. Now it’s about four times bigger than it was a month ago and covered in flowers.

Lindheimer Senna

Lindheimer senna self-sowed all over the meadow and began blooming with the first rains in the latter part of September. It’s mostly gone to seed now but one flower held out for GBBD.

Thymophylla tenuiloba

I was happy to see that the Dahlberg daisy I bought this spring survived and began flowering again. Jenny said it another profuse self-sower and I’m happy to report many new seedlings sprouting. I’m digging them up and tucking them in all over the garden. I love its clear yellow flowers and delicate foliage.

Summer Survivors

Not only the Port St. John’s creeper but every vine I grow has taken off running with all this rain. The morning glories, which I thought had died, came back from their roots. The potato vine, is conveniently covering the chain link fence next to the driveway.

Antigonon leptopus

Nothing attracts bees to my garden like coral vine. It struggled through this dry summer without any supplemental water but revived with the rains. It is currently trying to eat my husband’s car.

Cypress Vine

Once you grow cypress vine you will always have it. Every time it rains, more will sprout. In the rainy summer of 2007, it smothered my front yard. This year I kept transplanting self-sown seedlings next to my sweet pea trellis and now they are all blooming. Cypress vines is supposed to attract hummingbirds but I haven’t seen any yet. The little blue flowers behind it are the duranta–which has survived both winter and summer and never stopped blooming.

mushroom

With all this rain and damp mulch, a variety of mushrooms continue to spring up. Although not technically a flower, I couldn’t resist including this one.

October 15, 2009

The list of all plants flowering today, October 15th 2009, at Zanthan Gardens.

  • Abelia grandiflora (2007, 2009)
  • Antigonon leptopus (2007, 2009)
  • Allium tuberosum (2009): starting to go to seed
  • Asclepias curassavica (2007, 2009)
  • Bulbine frutescens (2009)
  • Calytocarpus vialis (2009)
  • Commelina communis (2009)
  • Datura inoxia (2009)
  • Duranta erecta (2007, 2009): overwintered and bloomed all summer
  • Eupatorium wrightii (2007, 2009): just starting to bloom
  • Hibiscus syriacus (2009)
  • Hippeastrum x johnsonii (2009)
  • Ipomoea quamoclit (2009)
  • Ipomoea tricolor ‘Flying Saucers’ (2009)
  • Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’ (2009): full bloom two weeks ago; now almost all faded
  • Lobularia maritima ‘Tiny Tim’ (2009) survived the summer
  • Malvaviscus arboreus (2009)
  • Mirabilis jalapa pink (2009)
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ (2007, 2009): full bloom
  • Oxalis crassipis
  • Oxalis drummondii (2009)
  • Oxalis triangularis, white (2009)
  • Pavonia hastata (2009)
  • Plumbago auriculata (2009)
  • Podranea ricasoliana (2009)
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette’ (2009)
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (2009): so heavy with new growth and flowers that it’s sprawling
  • rose ‘Mermaid’ (2009)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’ (2009): both plants
  • rose ‘Prosperity’ (2009)
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (2009)
  • rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (2009)
  • rosemary (2009)
  • Ruellia (passalong) (2009)
  • Ruellia viney type but not woody type (2009)
  • Senna lindheimeriana (2009): full bloom three weeks ago; now almost all faded
  • Solanum jasminoides (2009)
  • Tagetes lucida (2009)
  • Thymophylla tenuiloba (2009)
  • Zexmenia hispida (2009)

Too often I ignore the riches on my doorstep.

October 9th, 2009
Wildflower Center Plant Sale

I’ve been a passive fan of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for years. It’s high on my list of favorite destinations to take out-of-town visitors. However, I’ve never gone there just on my own or taken advantage of their many online resources.

After meeting some of the staff recently, I decided I needed to become a member. The real carrot in front of my nose was their fall plant sale this weekend. Members get in a day early, all the better to find just the plants we are looking for.

The Wildflower Center makes it easy to put together a shopping list by providing complete online and printable versions of all the plants on sale. The people standing in line behind me were consulting their list and comparing notes with their landscaper.

I know some of you think I’m little Ms. Organization but I came to the sale completely unprepared. Despite my general mania for lists and plans, often the first time I try something, I like to just go and scope it out. I do need new plants to replace a lot of what died over the last two years of drought. I do want to use more native plants. And I do want to try new things. But when it comes to the garden I don’t have a master plan. I just can’t (or don’t know how) to design and fill in with plants. I always buy plants because I fall in love with them and then take them home and figure out what to do with them.

When the opening ribbon was cut the sale area became a crush of gardeners pulling wagons and loading them up as fast as they could. These were purposeful buyers. They were also polite and friendly.

The sale area was extremely well-organized with volunteers answering questions and directing people to the plants they were looking for. The plants were categorized by type (shade, sun, succulents, grasses) and within each category alphabetized by botanical name. (I love these people!) All the plants were labeled. The plants had signs with detailed descriptions and often a photograph of what they looked like in flower.

I wandered around just picking up anything that struck my fancy. I had two limits that simplified my decision-making: I couldn’t buy more than I could carry and it had to fit into my Miata. I bought:

It’s not too late to take advantage of this great resource. The Wildflower Center plant sale is open to everyone this weekend, October 10 and 11, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.