blue iris
Unidentified bearded iris.

December 15th, 2009
GBBD 200912: Dec 2009

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

December 2009

The last couple of Decembers, I managed to sneak in a flowery GBBD before winter’s first hard freeze. This December the hard freeze came first to Austin and so there is very little blooming in the garden today.

New for December

Only two plants began flowering since November’s GBBD: one passalong blue bearded iris and the winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima. That’s a long name for an insignificant flower. It’s power is in its scent. Both began blooming yesterday (12/14).

Lonicera fragrantissima
Winter honeysuckle.

I also bought a tray of yellow snapdragons. They hardly seem like real flowers since I bought them in bloom and they look more or less the same weeks later. I usually buy violas but I couldn’t find a color I liked this year.

The white marigold ‘Kilimanjaro’ bloomed just days before the freeze and then died. The paperwhite narcissus, the first of all the narcissus to bloom, are usually flowering in my garden by now. They are flowering elsewhere in Austin but not here. Mine need dividing, I think.

Hanging on

Pacific chrysanthemum caught the fancy of several garden bloggers during our field trip to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. I picked up a plant at the Antique Rose Emporium that same trip. The flowers are a pretty gold but I’m more attracted to the foliage.
Ajania pacifica
Pacific chrysanthemum.

Snow fell in Austin since November’s GBBD but it didn’t stick. The closest I have to a carpet of snow is a little clump of sweet alyssum which survived the heat of summer.
Lobularia maritima
Sweet alyssum.

The roses ‘Ducher’ and ‘Red Cascade’ which were in full bloom before the freeze have survived. Some of the smallest buds froze and never opened but the larger flowers still look pretty from a distance. On closer inspection you can see they were nipped by the cold but unlike so many other flowers, they didn’t turn to much and go brown.

December 15, 2009

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

  • Ajania pacifica (2009)
  • Antirrhinum majus (2009)
  • Aster ericoides (2007, 2009)
  • Commelinantia anomala (2009) a few flowers, most froze
  • Galphimia gracilis, indoors (2009)
  • iris, unidentified blue bearded (2009)
  • Lobularia maritima ‘Tiny Tim’ (2007, 2009) survived the summer
  • Lonicera fragrantissima (2009)
  • parsnips (2009)
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (2007, 2009)
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (2009)
  • rosemary (2007, 2008, 2009)
  • Setcreasea (2007, 2009) green
  • Tagetes lucida (2009)

Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners
Margot Rochester
Garden columnist 20 years. Lugoff, South Carolina.

December 12th, 2009
Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners

People have told me that I should write a book. After reading Margot Rochester’s Down to Earth, I don’t feel the need to. I turned page after page and thought, “Hey, that’s exactly what I’m always saying.” I knew I’d found a true kindred spirit. And she’s written my book for me.

Of course, the title clued me in. I’m both passionate and practical, a combination which confuses those who think every choice is an either/or choice.

From the first line in her preface, “Ruth, Henry, and Allen…My Gardening Gurus” Ms. Rochester had me hooked. Ruth Stout. Henry Mitchell. Allen Lacy. They were among the first garden writers I read and are still among my favorites. (I’d add Elizabeth Lawrence.)

Down to Earth is a book of short essays. Like Mitchell, Lacy, and Lawrence, the essays are part informational and part philosophical, all written from personal observation. They could easily have been blog posts. Although arranged by topic and season, the essays can be read in any order whenever you have a moment. Then you can think about the couple of pages you’ve just read as you spend the rest of the day in your own garden. There’s an index. This is not specifically a how-to book although there is a lot of how-to information.

There are no glossy photographs in this book. There are no pictures at all. The focus is on the writing. And on the gardening. I appreciate this more and more. I grow so weary of books and blogs which are nothing but pretty photographs. Eye-candy is very sweet but you can’t survive on a diet of sugar. I need some meaty thoughts. I need substance. I needed to get Down to Earth. Here are some tidbits.

“A garden is not a matter of space. It is a matter of pleasing yourself with plants that speak to you. Fill your garden with color and texture and mass and, most of all, with memories of people who have given you plants and shared your passion.” p 49 Top Tens

“As your old wood bloomers finish up, make a note to yourself when this happens so you can compare flowering times from one year to the next. With your old-and-new-wood bloomers, make notes to yourself about when they bloomed so that you can think about them over the winter. I am shamefully hit and miss with my own record keeping, but it is a habit that I mean to develop.” p. 62 Queen of the Climbers (clematis)

“When a plan is more trouble than it is worth, get rid of it.” p 141 Knowin’ When to Fold Em

“I know I should think about design before purchasing plants, but that is not my nature. I do not have a design. I have earth to be filled with plants that speak to me.” p 166 Container Gardening (filling in and moving plants around…an intuitive approach to design).

“Ten invasive plants were listed…and six of them are in my garden, invited there by me. An invasive plant, by definition, spreads aggressively and is especially problematic when it spreads into a new habitat and overwhelm the native plants growing there.” p. 180 “Thugs in the Neighborhood

“…I have to be honest. I am a loose gardener.
When I am asked to make suggestions about other people’s gardens, I recommend that we go inside the house an look out from the kitchen sink, the dining areas, the home office, the family room…the places they lie and look out windows. Doing this not only allows us to design pleasant views, but it ties the garden to the house.” p 201 Intimate Spaces

I originally checked this book out of from the library. I fell in love with it and bought my own copy.


In looking for more information about Margot Rochester on the web, I came across this tribute. She died in October, 2008..

Cosmos sulphureus
2009-12-05. Cosmos sulphureus frozen after last night’s hard freeze in Austin.

December 5th, 2009
Hard Freeze

Dateline: 2009

2009-12-05. Per the Weather Underground: Bouldin station. Hard freeze (28°F or below) from 2AM-8:30AM. Freeze 9:30PM-9:15AM

I felt giddy and full of energy today because of (rather than despite) the hard freeze last night which laid to rest half my garden for the year. The garden was full of fresh greenery and bursting with flowers from this year’s weekly fall rains. My regret at seeing so much die back or die outright lasted only while I took my inventory. What I felt instead was freedom and a sense of new possibilities.

Zanthan Gardens didn’t get a hard freeze at all last year. Back in 2006, I was ready to start the year afresh and wishing that last year’s annuals would Just Die Already. The worst kind of winter we can have in Austin is mild in December and January followed by a big winter storm in February or even March. By then, you’ve spent countless hours covering and uncovering plants and bringing pots in and taking them out again. You’ve babied the garden and pulled it through a few light frost or short freezes and then, wham! an ice storm.

So if Austin is going to have a hard freeze at all this winter, I’m glad it was the first winter storm and not the last one of the season. As @AnnieinAustin remarked, “better swallowed by whale than nibbled to death by minnows!”

Now I can really look forward to my spring garden. It helps that the pecan and persimmon trees dropped all their leaves in a matter of hours. (Quite a few Austinites tweeted about this phenomenon this morning.) The front yard is back to being in full sun and I can transplant my larkspur seedlings. The Port St. Johns creeper which smothered the back fence, the grape, a ‘New Dawn’ rose, and a stand of yucca can be pulled out.

I’m still assessing the damage so I’ll be updating this list. Sometimes, it takes several days for freeze damage to become apparent.

basil, cosmos, datura, tomato

Damage on some growth
aloe vera, amaryllis, jalapeño, Meyer lemon (covered), Salvia madrensis (covered),
Meyer lemon
2009-12-05. Although frost tolerant to 22°F, the Meyer lemon showed damaged to new, tender growth even though it was covered.

Died back
fig, banana trees, coral vine, cypress vine, duranta, elephant ears, kalanchoe, Port St. Johns creeper, purple Wandering Jew, turks cap,

Not affected
asparagus fern, cilantro, larkspur, lavender, love-in-a-mist, oregano, parsley, roses, sage (culinary and Jerusalem), sweet alyssum, snapdragons,
Read the rest of this entry »

white marigold Kilimanjaro
2009-12-03. The best bloom from the ‘Kilimanjaro’ white marigold.’ It opens very yellow green and hasn’t turned white yet.

December 3rd, 2009
Tagetes erecta ‘Kilimanjaro’ (white marigold)

I love white flowers. In the heat of summer, they look so crisp and refreshing like wealthy women who never sweat in their white gloves and linen dresses. In Austin’s summer, it’s hard to be out in the garden when the sun is. White flowers, which reflect the most light, make wonderful twilight or moonlight gardens.

Marigolds are one of the easiest heat-tolerant annuals available. They are so easy to grow that they are often included on plant lists for children’s gardens. And they make good companion plants in the vegetable garden because the distinctive smell of the leaves throws off the bugs looking for tomatoes and other goodies.

If bluebonnets can come in colors other than blue, can’t marigolds come in colors other than gold? (Clearly the marketing name for screaming orange). I’m not the first gardener to wish for a white marigold. Others have been obsessed by the idea. For over 20 years Burpee offered a $10,000 prize to the breeder of a white marigold. 80,000 people tried for the prize. In 1975 Burpee awarded it to Alice Vonk. They called the new marigold ‘Snowbird’.

Garden History

Tweeted @MargaretRoach that I always wanted to try white marigolds but that I wasn’t sure about ordering seeds from Burpee.

Receive a packet o white marigold seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds a gift from @indygardener who says life is too short not to try what you want to try.

Seed packet description: Vanilla white 2″ flowers on 18″ tall plant.

Plant the marigold seeds in a flat of 2″x2″ cells.

Marigold seeds sprout. (4 days). Almost every seed sprouted.

Plant out 9 marigold plants. Out of 24 which sprouted, 15 damped off. I plant these marigold in prime garden real estate next to my tomatoes. This raised bed is filled with bought soil from the Natural Gardener and gets a lot of sunlight with some afternoon shade. Because I water the tomatoes every day, I’m reminded to water the marigolds.

Pillbugs eat 2 of the marigold plants, leaving 7.

In May, we go to San Francisco for several days. When we return, only 5 plants have survived the heat without being watered. In September, we are gone for another week and on our return only 2 plants have survived. In the drenching rains that follow the penultimate plant dies, leaving a lone survivor. It is about 20 inches tall but has fallen on its side. Along the horizontal stem, new growth and buds spring. But the buds never seem to open.
white marigold Kilimanjaro
2009-12-03. The remaining plant on its side.

I send @indygardener a photo of a bud I hope will open for GBBD. It doesn’t.

The first bud which has almost formed a flower opens, although some petals are dwarfed or missing. It is not a clear white or even pale ivory (or vanilla, as the seed packet describes it, which I assume means it is supposed to be a bit yellowish). It is a greenish tint.
white marigold Kilimanjaro
2009-12-03. More than a week later, this first bloom finally looks white.

The first flower which opened finally looks white. New opening flowers still look greenish yellow. Tomorrow (12/4) a possibility of snow is forecast for Austin and then by Saturday morning we will flirt with our first hard freeze with temperatures around 28°F. So I despite half a dozen buds, I think this is the last day for white marigolds.
white marigold Kilimanjaro
2009-12-03. The remaining buds will probably never get a chance to open.

In Other People’s Gardens

Carol @ May Dreams Gardens (aka @indygardener) also planted some ‘Kilimanjaro’ marigolds.

A contributor to Dave’s Garden had a negative rating for ‘Kilimanjaro’. Even though she grew them in Madison, WI she experienced many of the same problems I did.