May 21st, 2008
Week 20: 5/14 – 5/20
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.
Rain, rain, and more rain. The ground is drenched. The bluebonnet seeds are sprouting or turning moldy in their unopened pods. I don’t have many this year, mostly the bed of white and pink ones I’ve saved over the years and several blue-flowering ones in the back. I’ve heard reports of fireflies elsewhere in Austin but I haven’t seen any.
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).
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).
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’.
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).
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.
2003-05-20. LA hybrid lily
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.
2002-05-19. LA hybrid lily
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.
First flower: Cosmos bipannatus ‘Sensation Mix’ (5/19); Pavonia hastata (5/19), black-eyed Susan (5/19).
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.
First flower: Plumbago auriculata (5/19); Hemerocalis ‘Gentle Shepherd’ (5/20).
First flower: Malvaviscus arboreus (5/19).
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.
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