May 21st, 2008
Week 20: 5/14 – 5/20

LA lily
Apparently it’s a tradition that I take a photo of this lily in Week 20–at least every time I get a new camera.

Dateline: 2008


The week began promisingly, with a little rain. I was feeling on top of my gardening chores. I’d gotten most of the spring annuals pulled out and seeds harvested. I was sifting compost, top-dressing and mulching plants, and just about to finish off one compost pile and turn the other so I could start a new one. I was further along in tidying up than I’ve ever been this time of year and feeling quite satisfied with my labors. So it was no surprise to me, really, that the malicious Loki-spirit of my garden decided this was an auspicious time to slam hard and wipe that smug look off my face.

After hail, wind, and falling limbs (and ball moss!) my neatly mulched garden looked liked Christmas morning at my parents’ house after 15 grandchildren have shredded their Christmas present wrappings. Although we had a couple of clear dry days for the cleanup, we ended the week with August-like temperatures: two record-breakers, 98F/36C (5/19); 101F/38C (5/20). (Normal temps for this time of year are mid-80s.)

One of the three bushes of Duranta erecta is in full flower–the other two, nothing. The oleander is also flowering profusely, unfazed by the heat.

First flower: Echinacea purpurea (5/14); Malvaviscus arboreus (5/15); LA hybrid lily (5/19); Ipomoea quamoclit (5/19); Antigonon leptopus (5/19); Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’ (5/19); Vitus agnus-castus (5/20).


Dateline: 2007


Zanthan Gardens Week 20 2007
2007-05-17. I continue clearing out the spring flowers that have gone to seed and decide to plant some Mexican wire grass to take their place.
I can’t believe that the weather continues to be so perfect. Our highs continue in the low 80s. About 1:30 AM Wednesday (5/16) it begins raining heavily. Then it rains lightly until about 4:30. Wednesday is clear and rain-washed fresh. I spend all day clearing the coriander out of the meadow. On Thursday, I clean out the bluebonnets that have gone to seed. I love being outside right now.

The weather is so cool and wet and lovely that I can’t resist planting things. I buy three 4-inch containers of Mexican wire grass, which is very popular in Austin currently. I see it everywhere. I’ve killed it before in my mucky black clay but in this kind of weather hope springs eternal. I added in a lot of compost. I also got a perennial black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), a guara, and a Lindheimer senna. I’ve been planting orange cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) in the meadow where I’m pulling out bluebonnets. Some self-sown pink cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is already blooming. The bananas are finally starting to put out new leaves.

The cooler, wet weather revived the viola, the sweetpeas, and a few bluebonnets…I will probably pull them all out next week.

The rose ‘Penelope’ which was doing so well this same time last year, turned suddenly completely brown. Another case of dieback. I pulled off all the dead leaves and cut it back but the prognosis is not promising. The crape myrtles don’t enjoy this wet weather as much: the ‘Catawba’ both got powdery mildew on their new growth and I had to cut it all off. They haven’t started flowering anyway.

First flower: Asclepias curassavica (5/14), Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ (5/17).

Dateline: 2006


photo: Lower Slaughter
2006-05-19. I spent a lot of time admiring other people’s gardens in the Cotswolds where it was rainy and only in the 50s. People kept apologizing for the foul weather, but I enjoyed it while I could, knowing that it was hot and muggy back in Austin. Imagine. We were wearing sweaters and having tea next to a wood-burning fire.

We were in England this week and on our return I play detective to try to see what’s happened. An empty wheelbarrow tells me there hasn’t been any rain. The absence of fallen branches and ball moss means it hasn’t been windy. The sunburned leaves of the magnolia and lemon trees are clues that it’s been sunny and with highs in the mid-90s. The magnolia tried to open its first flower, but it turned brown without opening. The lemon tree, which was covered in flowers when we left looks like it might die. I should have moved it under the shade of the porch while we were gone. The acanthus seems ready to give up the ghost for summer without flowering…a first in all the years I’ve had it.

All the roses need to be dead-headed. ‘Penelope’ is putting out a lot of healthy new growth. ‘Heritage’ surprises me with a few small flowers. As usual ‘Blush Noisette’ is thriving in the heat and covered with small, heavily-scented flowers.

The crape myrtles in the back and the oleander and four o’clocks in the front are heavy in flower. My neighbor’s morning glory is smothering the chain link fence in electric blue flowers. The spring wildflowers in the meadow have gone to seed and need to be cleared; the Engelmann daisy is still flowering, although it has sprawled. Likewise, the salvia which was beaten down by heavy rain looks quite floppy but is flowering well. The lavender continues to flower reliably. The cannas and the bananas are taking off. And the yearly webworm infestation is getting started on the pecan tree. Overall, this looks like a very average middle of May for Austin.

First flower: crinum, Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’.

Dateline: 2004


This year I can go back to remarking about the strange weather. It remains wonderfully cool. We haven’t reached 90 degrees yet, which is unusual but not unheard of. The record for the latest 90 degree temperature is May 30, 1979. We just turned on the air conditioner on May 18th and I haven’t started watering the lawns yet. The ‘Spirit’ lilies haven’t started blooming yet, but a new planting of LA hybrid lilies is producing some beautiful long-lasting stems. (These were planted last year. In my experience, lilies are shipped to late for the south. I always have to wait a year for them to adjust to our southern climate.)

I’ve almost finished clearing the seedy meadow of larkspur and bluebonnets. Now the black-eyed Susans and Tecoma stans are ascendant and the garden is clothed in yellow. There are swallowtail caterpillars in the fennel.

First flowers. canna ‘Bangkok Yellow‘ (5/17).

Dateline: 2003


How often I say, “What strange weather we’re having.” But it seems this week we’re having exactly the same weather we we’re having this week last year, even to the cool front and the unfulfilled promise of rain.

And here I am taking exactly the same photo of the same lily. Ah the comfortable, cyclical nature of gardening.

photo: Asiatic lily
2003-05-20. LA hybrid lily

Dateline: 2002

May is usually our rainiest month. May is usually the month where the plants build up strength to face summer. This May, however, the rain that has fallen is measured in the 100ths of an inch. This May is the second driest on record in 150 years.

The rain promised last Friday never materialized, but a strong cold front dropped the temperature and humidity. Being outside felt wonderful again and we were able to turn off the air conditioner and enjoy some fresh air indoors, too.

I finished cleaning up the spring flowering annuals out of of the rose beds in the front and started mulching them. The plan, eventually, is to fill in these beds with perennials. But since we’ve been having our July weather since April, I must draw the line and say that there will be no more planting until Fall. My water consumption is already at August levels. So I’ll just clean up, mulch, and wait summer out.

Not much change this week. The cooler weather enabled the lilies to look crisp and white for almost ten days. Some larkspur is still blooming. The rose “Caldwell Pink” is still in full bloom.

photo: Asiatic lily
2002-05-19. LA hybrid lily

Dateline: 1999

Monday May 17, 1999
Oppressively hot and muggy all day; then, about 9:30pm, a severe thunderstorm rolled in. We sat out on the patio and watched it. Almost constant sheet lightening was punctuated by tremendous bolts of lightening. We got quite a bit of rain. It was sheeting off the roof over the rain gutters. The rock garden held up well where I’ve worked on it. So the plan has proved itself. I was worried about the Spirit lilies, which are in full bloom–I thought they would be shredded. But they held up to the rain and the wind very well. I only wish that I’d gotten the lawn mowed and fertilized over the weekend.

Dateline: 2001

First flower: Cosmos bipannatus ‘Sensation Mix’ (5/19); Pavonia hastata (5/19), black-eyed Susan (5/19).

Dateline: 2000

Friday May 19, 2000
By noon it is cooler as a front blows in. It sprinkles, but not much. I try to lay down as much Texas Native mulch as I have strength for, which is not as much as yesterday. I mulch around the Shasta daisies, the cosmos, the shoofly plants, and the Tecoma stans, the palm grass and around the Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) and around the marigold in the vegetable garden. By 6PM we are under a flash flood watch and there is much thunder. It rains, but not violently. We got perhaps a quarter to a half inch.

Dateline: 1999

First flower: Plumbago auriculata (5/19); Hemerocalis ‘Gentle Shepherd’ (5/20).

Dateline: 1998

First flower: Malvaviscus arboreus (5/19).

Dateline: 1997

Sunday May 18, 1997
We spend the afternoon in the hammock reading. It is the perfect hammock day: not too hot, not muggy, very blue skies with fluffy white clouds.

Shirley poppies, cosmos and larkspur dominate the back yard. The black-eyed Susan, now nearly up to my shoulder, is longing to take over. I continue to cut them and the gallardia for the house, as I don’t care for their golden yellows and reds; at least not now when the garden is full of blue-ish pinks. But perhaps I will appreciate them more in the heat of summer, although I seem to remember that the black-eyed Susans drooped miserably while the cosmos stood unfazed.

Dateline: 1995

Thursday May 18, 1995
A thunderstorm woke us at 2:30. It drizzled for awhile before the downpour. I think we got at least half an inch of rain.

by M Sinclair Stevens in Austin, Texas

16 Responses to post “Week 20: 5/14 – 5/20”

  1. From Margaret:

    Based on the photograph, it would seem that the LA lily is worthy of a place at the R.H.S. show at Chelsea. Beautiful.

  2. From Sheryl:

    I just came upon this Web site – I am truly intriqued. What is Zanthan Gardens? – your “About” page is not clear to me. What a wonderful world.

    Zanthan Gardens is a virtual garden filled with flowers unbothered by insects, baking sun, sudden frosts or lack of rain. It is weedless and a gentle rain falls every evening so that I never have to water. Zanthan Gardens is the garden I see in my mind’s eye when I look at my yard here in Austin, Texas. It is all my projects realized. Sure it has some basis in reality, but it is also a garden of my imagination. — mss

  3. From bill:

    I like the “description” of your garden. I hope to have a garden like that someday too.

    (and thanks for the Spam Guard)

  4. From r sorrell (Austin):

    You know, a couple of my roses are starting to look pretty shabby right now, too. Maybe it’s something soil-borne that’s been caused by the wet weather?

  5. From Mary:

    Would you mind telling me where you got the Lindheimer Senna. That’s one I’ve wanted to try, and, like you…I can’t resist planting more stuff with this great weather that we’ve been having here in Austin!

    At Bartons Springs Nursery on Bee Caves Rd. — mss

  6. From Angelina (Oregon):

    I’m keeping my eyes glued to my garden for signs of volunteer cosmos. My corn flowers are popping up everywhere, but even though I had tons of volunteer cosmos last year, I have seen nary a trace.

  7. From Annie in Austin:

    Those old climbers on the south fence look like heck – just about every leaf gone and some stems turning dark. That area is sunny in winter, but gets shady when the pecans leaf out, and the roses stay damper when it drizzles.

    The other roses in the sunny part of the garden are looking okay so far, with some new buds forming on ‘Julia Child’.

    The pink crepe myrtles are moldy as usual, my ‘Little Gem’ has a few buds, and the cosmos I planted have soared to 5-inches tall.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  8. From Amy:

    What a gorgeous lily photo! I’m so sorry your garden was damaged after all that worked getting is cleaned up.

    Tidiness is not the natural order of things. — mss

  9. From bill / prairie point:

    I like these macro photos.

    Thanks. They’re fun to take but I don’t know if they communicate much about the garden. — mss

  10. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    I was under the impression that the weather is always strange in Texas. I also find myself taking the same photos year after year at the same time, but that’s in summer. Spring around here is always so variable.

    I take comfort in the cyclical nature of the gardening year, the rhythm of the garden. Like Chicago, spring is Austin’s most volatile season. — mss

  11. From Frances:

    Hi MSS, your weather does seem strange. The LA hybrid lily is a beauty. We have many LA Royal Fantasy, and love its creamy honey color. It is the best lily variety here, will bloom soon. We also have Penelope, but it is looking good so far. It was moved from it’s original spot several years ago, and three more bushes have sprouted from the original roots. What a rose! Hope your makes a recovery. Your post makes me want to look for cosmos seeds. Thanks.

    I went and looked at your lilies and that buff-colored one is a knockout. — mss

  12. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Your 2006 picture of a garden in the Cotswolds makes me want to start planning a trip to England. I’m thinking 2014. And your picture of the lily this year is outstanding, and so now I think I want more lilies in my garden!

    But the topper on this post for me, other than my overall amazement at your record keeping, is your writing and how you describe your garden this spring. Such a visual it created in my mind, I can imagine the mess it must have been after the storm.

    My dad always said that our house looked like a storm had blown through. After the storm, I saw just what he meant–it looked as if us kids had blown throw. — mss

  13. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    So how did your wire grass (feathergrass) hold up after a year?

    It lives! And so does the Lindheimmer Senna (which was only slighly mushed under falling branches.) We had that unusually wet, cool summer in 2007 and almost everything I planted last year is doing very well. I did lose the ‘Persephone’ rose, though. — mss

  14. From Gail:

    Your photo of the Coral Bean was fabulous and this one of the Lily is right up there with it! The orange pollen is vibrant. It seems to me that you and your new camera are getting along very well.

    You do have some interesting weather going on in Austin.

    I never understood how people could coordinate the colors in their gardens. Only a few plants I have bloom predicatably every year…everything else about gardening in Austin is a toss-up. — mss

  15. From Diana Kirby - Austin:

    Mother Nature has a wicked streak sometimes, doesn’t she?! Sorry you had to deal with that clean-up mess. I had it last year with straight line winds two days before a party for 100! No fun, that. I empathize with you. Hope all is back in order. My duranta aren’t blooming yet. Your lily shot is lovely, by the way.

    Yikes! I’m glad I didn’t have to do clean up while worrying about hosting a party. Everything is getting back in order. The best part is that AJM was working with me. — mss

  16. From kate:

    I like your Lily photographs. It is a good tradition and I especially like how we can follow along through the years … sorry to hear about the mayhem in your garden. And yes, just when we feel like we have things well in hand, then little – or big – gremlins decide to spring into action.

    We should never start feeling too self-satisfied. — mss