44 Bags of Mulch Later

Update: 2017

In 2017, rains delayed the Christmas tree mulch by a week. However, waiting made the realization more sweet. In 13 trips made over two days, I scored an all time record haul of 61 bags. I can fit four in my Mini Cooper, so I’m a bit more efficient than in 2008 when I had the Miata. The weather was sunny and cool. The atmosphere one of camaraderie and glee. The scent, delightful.

Dateline: 2008

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday I hauled Christmas tree mulch from Zilker Park. I hauled 44 paper lawn and leaf bags in my Miata, two at a time. I figure I got at least a pickup truck load’s worth, maybe two. I worked hard to beat last year’s haul of 32 bags. A personal best. Some people with pickups gave me a wry smile. One lectured me at the expense of using paper lawn and leaf bags. (In fact, I only bought 15 at less than $1 apiece and will reuse them all when we begin pruning nandina and shrubs next week. This is a lot more economical than buying a pickup or paying for the gas to run it.)

As for those 22 trips. It is about 3.5 miles round trip and in the Miata I probably used less than 3 gallons of gas for the entire escapade. Nor was I the only person with a small car. I kept runnng into a couple with matching Honda Accords who stuffed their cars with every kind of container they could find and then lined the trunks and filled those up. Among the many people I talked to in those 22 trips to the mulch pile, there was a shared sense of glee.

Miata and 17 bags of Christmas tree mulch
Tuesday some much needed rain was in our forecast and so I spent all day hurrying to dump the final 17 bags of mulch where I needed it. If the bags get wet, they tear easily and I can’t reuse them. The last hour I was working it drizzled lightly. Austin got .09 of an inch, enough to make working in the cold miserable but not enough to do the garden any good.

The last trees (the red oaks) have finally shed their leaves. My strategy is to rake the leaves into future beds and pile the Christmas tree mulch on top. I think this is a type of sheet composting. Or in the case of the old winter vegetable garden, I raked the leaves out of the beds and used the Christmas tree mulch to make paths. I don’t have anything growing in the winter vegetable garden yet this year because it has been in the dark until just last week. Last week I finally planted some lettuce and salad greens. At least it’s all neat and ready now for me to start seeds.

Christmas tree mulch in the vegetable garden

Continuing west from the vegetable garden, I refreshed all the paths I’ve done in earlier years. I noticed that the Spanish bluebells are nosing up. This is a shot at the end of the path looking back toward the vegetable garden and front yard. I didn’t have time to spread the mulch in this section so there are mounds of it all along the path.

Christmas tree mulch and south border

If you turn around again and continue west, you come to the wildest section of my yard. I had made a stab at weeding it last August. But there was still a lot of bindweed and ragged turks cap along the west fence. I spent an afternoon and the next morning weeding it and still have more to do (as you can see at the far end of the bed in this photo). I filled one of the bags with all the vines I pulled out. Once I cleared the fence of vines, I could see my neighbor’s garden better. He has a landscape business and keeps a lot of plants in pots lined up against the fence. It’s my borrowed view.

Christmas tree mulch and west border

Along the front fence, I continued a project I started last year, trying to level the slope in my yard. I had put leaves and mulch from tree trimmings here last year. That was topped with some of the better dirt excavated when the foundation for the garden house was dug. This is another very dark corner ten months of the year where only bindweed and turks cap seem to thrive. I haven’t decide what to plant to replace the lawn. Probably the only thing that will survive in the hot dry shade is monkey grass or liriope.

Christmas tree mulch

After another successful year of gleaning, I’m feeling tired but happy. I can’t help but wish that I had made just one more trip. Or two.

Tomato Review: 2011 Spring

When Gary Ibsen at TomatoFest tweeted a sale last fall, I thought I’d get a jump on my spring tomatoes by having the seeds in hand when they were ready to sow. I received them in November but still didn’t manage to start planting them until February 20, 2011.

My fall 2010 tomato crop was almost a total bust as we got a freeze the week before they ripened. We made green tomato chutney for the first time using Jenny’s recipe. It was great!

Tomato Season

2011-02-20. I started planting seeds after we had a week of humid weather with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. In the two weeks preceding, we had some of the coldest nights and longest-lasting cold for the winter. Night after night with the temperatures in the low 20s.

Tomato Varieties

Blondkopfchen

TomatoFest Description: An heirloom tomato from eastern Germany. Big, leafy, indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants yield a phenomenal amount of 1/2″, grape-sized, brilliant yellow/gold, cherry tomatoes in clusters of 20-30. The vines are large and sprawling, so give them plenty of space.The name of this adorable heirloom cherry tomato means “little blonde girl”. Deliciously sweet with a slight citrusy tart finish.

I seem to remember that the number of tomatoes on Blondkopfchen was fantastic when I grew them in Fall 2010. Beautiful trusses of tomatoes. Do I have photos?

Gold Rush Currant

TomatoFest Description: This strain was a selection by a Dutch seedsman. Our TomatoFest organic tomato seeds produce large, indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants with wispy foliage that yield excellent, heavy sets of ¼-inch tomatoes borne in trusses of 10-12. Excellent sweet tomato flavor. A perfect snacking tomato or to adorn salads and culinary creations.

Fall 2010. Teeny tiny tomatoes but lots of them. These plants could not be stopped. I pinched them back and pinched them back and they survived the first light freezes and kept producing flowers.

Mandarin Cross, OP

TomatoFest Description: Wonderful plant from Japan producing 6-10 oz., orange, round fruit with sweet (low-acid) flavors. I de-hybridized this variety over 7 years of my growing it out. A winner!!

Texas Wild

TomatoFest Description: All I really know is that the original seed of this tomato was collected from a patch of apparently “wild” tomatoes in southern Our Tomatofest organic tomato seeds produce huge, sprawling, indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants that copiously yield hundreds of 1/2 to 3/4-inch, red, cherry tomatoes with a delicious, sweet-tartness to them. A really decent snacking tomato for all you Texans and wanna be Texans.

Wapsipinicon Peach

TomatoFest Description: From Dennis Schlicht. Named after the Wapsipinicon River in Northeast Iowa. Similar to Peche Jaune. Our TomatoFest organic tomato seeds produce indeterminate, regular-leaf wispy, tomato plants that yield a tremendous amount (thousands) of 1 1/2 to 2-inch, delicate, fuzzy-like-a-peach, pale-yellow (with a tinges of pink), juicy, tomatoes with wonderful, slightly-spicy, very fruity-sweet flavors. Harvest is good all the way to frost. A novelty tomato that is sooo sweet, it begs for eating right off the vine. A Gary Ibsen ‘personal favorite.’ They won’t be able to keep from smiling after tasting this!

Fallow

fallow 1 |ˈfalō|
adjective
(of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production; incentives for farmers to let the land lie fallow in order to reduce grain surpluses.
• figurative inactive : long fallow periods when nothing seems to happen.
• (of a sow) not pregnant.

I’m delighted with the definition of fallow. I’ve intended to let my garden and garden writing go fallow for some time. I have not abandoned them, nor are they left entirely untended. During this period of resting, I’m also making preparations for renewal. I’m emotionally plowing and harrowing.

My taking a year off from gardening did not begin today with the chronological year but last fall, with the beginning of Austin’s gardening year. For many reasons, I feel the need to let go of the garden and stand back and observe it. When I first began this garden in 1995, I had already spent 1994 observing it through all its seasons. Over the years I’ve spent so much time with my nose in the dirt, focusing on this task or the other, that I have let lapse my old habits of careful observation. For me, observation precedes inspiration.

Recycled Glass Mulch

Friday Followup

This is one in a series of followup posts. We bloggers often write hopefully about new garden projects; I always want to know, “So how did it turn out?”

Dateline: May 4, 2008

Last Friday Vertie invited me along on her first trip to pick up recycled glass that the City of Austin has made available free to customers who want to use it as decorative mulch, for lining French drains, or to create a drainage layer under a raised bed.

I had seen pelleted glass mulch at the Springs Preserve and on the Travis County Master Gardeners tour and was interested in trying it–especially for free. The City of Austin doesn’t separate the glass by color so what you get is a mosaic of brown, green, and clear glass with the occasional blue shard and a lot of sand mixed in.

recycled glass

When we first saw it, we were both a bit surprised and disappointed. It seemed to be more sand than glass. We were told that over time the larger pieces rise to the top and the sand to the bottom. The photo below is how it looks two months later.

recycled glass

Although the glass has been tumbled in sand, there are still sharp edges. I hesitate to use it anywhere I’d have to weed and dig later (especially since I don’t wear gloves). I think in the future I will use it primarily in places I need to create good drainage.

The decorative glass mulch smells like a stale garbage can. A good rain should wash the scent and sand away.

How long do you think this will stay weed and leaf-free? At least when the revelers walking up from concerts at Auditorium Shores throw their beer bottles in my yard, it will blend in with the landscaping.

recycled glass
2008-07-05. The morning after Fourth of July celebrations at Auditorium Shores.

Followup: October 29, 2010

2008-05-02. I decided to put this batch along the front walk where I tore out the Spanish bayonets last January. I weeded the area and then put down weed blocker cloth before pouring about 3 inches of glass mulch on top. The yard drops sharply at one end and I rearranged the chunks of concrete I recycled when we remodelled our kitchen on the slope.
recycled glass

2009-05-03. A year later. The sand has settled and the large glass pieces risen to the top. I’m happily surprised that it does not collect leaves as much as rock mulch does. Generally it stays much cleaner looking.
recycled glass

2009-12-22. The agave is one of the most beautifully shaped ones in my yard. In the background, some recently-planted opuntia is already getting out of hand and flopping. Bluebonnet seedlings are salad plate sized.
recycled glass

2010-03-21. We had so much rain this fall and winter that the bluebonnets were spectacular. However, the agave was heavily damaged by the massive freeze Austin had in January 2010. It looks terrible and I’m so disappointed.
recycled glass

2010-10-03. The agave has recovered from the freeze damage ten months ago far better than I expected. The opuntia has grown and I’m now struggling to weed around the plants, put weed barrier down, put glass mulch around them. I know it’s much easier to put the weed barrier down first (really!); I just didn’t think the opuntia would be a permanent planting.

recycled glass

To sum up my experience, I like recycled glass mulch a lot. I’m no longer afraid of cutting myself on it. I use it to top off a lot of my potted plants. It has worn well and looks good even after a couple of years–which I can’t say for any other mulch, not even granite sand or decorative rock mulch.

How to Get Glass Mulch in Austin

Note: The location has changed since my original post.

“Color-mixed processed glass aggregate. Generated from the sorting of commingled materials picked up from the City of Austin’s curbside recycling program. Contaminants: Approx. 5%; includes paper and caps.”

1. Check out the website.

The City of Austin has moved the glass mulch from the Burleson Road location to the FM 821 Resource Recovery Center (south of ABIA). The city will load the glass mulch into a pickup for $9.64 per ton (no cash or credit cards, checks only). You can load it yourself for free.

2. If you are self-loading, be prepared.

Vertie and I brought every bucket and plastic container we could load into her car, our own shovels, and gloves. We brought a couple of containers that were almost too large for us to lift out of her car together when they were filled. Wet sand and glass is heavy! Also, we both foolishly wore our gardening Crocs. Wear tough boots! There is lots of large pieces of sharp glass all over the loading area.

3. Check in on arrival.

You will be asked to sign a waiver before entering the landfill.

Fenced In

Zanthan Gardens privacy fence
The old fence. Part of it collapsed and is leaning against the section still standing which is covered in ivy.

Born and bred in the American Southwest, I have a longing for wide open spaces but given my urban reality I appreciate how fences make good neighbors. My garden is bordered by six neighbors and the resulting fence line is a patchwork of picket, chain link, and wooden privacy fences (each of a different design). I’ve been lazy about fence maintenance and twice my procrastination has paid off.

Half (about 40 additional feet) of the same fence that one neighbor replaced in 2003 bordered another neighbor. After seven years, the fence finally collapsed under the weight of the ivy. I decided to take on my share of neighborly obligation and replace it.

Finding a Contractor

My biggest hurdle was a mental one. After my last unsuccessful dealings with a contractor, I was very reluctant to go through the process of interviewing and hiring anyone.

The first person I talked with took measurements and wrote up an estimate. He was professional, but (I felt) impersonal. He didn’t have any questions about the quirks of the site. He didn’t offer me any options, outline alternatives, or discuss anticipated issues. He didn’t explain the process or ask about my questions or concerns. This one-size-fits-all solution just didn’t fit me.

The second person I talked to stood me up three times–and that was just to give me an estimate. Each excuse was valid and apologetic. However, it bothered me that he called to cancel at the moment he was supposed to be meeting me, not when he first realized that he couldn’t make the appointment. I understand that the unexpected happens. What I evaluate is how someone responds. Taken as a whole his responses seemed to indicate someone disorganized who didn’t think things through. This might not be a fair assessment but all I had to go on was three phone conversations. First impressions really do count.

I appealed to the Austin garden blogger network and Pam/Digging came to the rescue. When I met with R. I was impressed by two things: he was attentive and he was observant. He listened to what I wanted and he looked at the site. He paced back and forth as he imagined the process of putting up the fence and as he mentally discovered issues asked me questions about how I’d like them handled.

Prepping the Garden

I had known this fence was going to be replaced for years, so I had already moved the bulbs that were originally there. The English ivy smothered everything else. The most difficult plant to deal with was the ‘Mermaid’ rose which had threaded itself through the fence and trees. ‘Mermaid’ is one prickly rose! I cut off an older section which was tangled in a crape myrtle that was going to be removed. I moved all the new canes over to one side and tied them out of the way. I flagged the whole rose with ribbons of orange construction tape–not so much for the protection of the rose but for the protection of the workers.

One thing I’ve learned about workers: they’re efficient because they’re focused on getting their job done. That focus is so narrow they don’t “see” a garden. So I marked off the path through the garden beds with more orange construction tape. This is an edging that speaks to construction workers: it says, “Don’t take a shortcut through here. Don’t dump materials here. Don’t pour cement here.”

The Process

Zanthan Gardens privacy fence
Robert Frost might have wondered if good fences make good neighbors. I don’t.

The fence came down quickly. The bigger part of the job was hacking out of the ivy and removing a few spindly trees (hackberry, redbud, and crape myrtle) growing up through the fence. As you can see in the photo above, what I took for saplings were actually the suckers from the stump of what had once been a huge redbud. Unfortunately, this stump was where an old post was and where a new post hole had to be dug–a lot of hard work for the crew. They dealt with it without shirking.

After further consideration, we agreed to leave the largest hackberry. I’ve tried for years to remove it from my side and what’s left is a rather large tree overhanging my neighbor’s yard. To cut it down now would require professional tree people and consultation with my neighbor who wasn’t around. Besides with all the little trees around it gone, it now looks rather graceful.

Zanthan Gardens privacy fence
After the post holes were dug and the posts set in concrete.

The next day, the fence took shape. I am so impressed at how straight and true all the lines are. My yard slopes from the SW corner to the NE. A horizontal line is such a relief.

The Result

I had an unusual requirement. Both my neighbors on this south side are uphill from me. A line of huge blocks of stone divides our properties. I wanted to be able to see the stones under the fence. I wanted air circulation so to prevent plant diseases. And I wanted to have access all the way to the stones so that I could cut out any seedlings that the birds and squirrels and wind plant there.

Zanthan Gardens privacy fence
The hackberry that grew up in the fence line and the beautiful old stone boundary marker.

The solution was to make the top of the fence horizontal and let the bottom be open. This way the height of the fence matches the height of the fences each of my neighbors built.

Zanthan Gardens privacy fence
I hope my neighbor is pleased with how well the new fence matches his.
Zanthan Gardens privacy fence

From my neighbor’s side, the fence is the standard height. From my side (downhill), it appears taller.

Tomato Review 2010 Spring

Selecting a Site

All through last summer I watched the sunlight and shadows in my yard and concluded that the consistently sunniest spot was alongside the driveway. Ever since my neighbor’s installed a privacy fence, I’ve been removing the invasive nandina. Now I was more determined than ever to turn this spot into our new tomato bed. This would be the fifth spot I’ve tried.

Zanthan Gardens tomato vines
2009-11-22. I spy a good spot for the tomatoes.

Starting from Seed

My favorite store for unusual tomatoes, Gardens, closed this year so I decided (at the last minute) to start tomatoes from seed. I received my order on February 25th. When I worked in an office with good lighting and warm rooms, I had great luck growing tomatoes from seed. I used to put my seed tray on top of my computer monitor and they’d pop up in days with that bottom heat. However, my house is cold and dark in the winter and my computer doesn’t have one of those old-fashioned monitors. The sad ending to this story is not a single seed came up.

Tomato Season

I went to the Sunshine Coop sale on March 6th and got six starts. This might seem early but in 2009, I already had all my tomatoes planted by this date.

Zanthan Gardens tomato vines
2010-03-11. The tomatoes are planted.

As always, I’m running behind and I have not gotten the tomato bed built before I have to get the tomatoes in the ground. In Austin, we have a very short window of opportunity. Plant too early and face a late freeze. Plant too late and face early high temperatures which prevent the tomatoes from setting fruit. Because I live downtown which is usually a few degrees warmer than the suburbs and because this spot is protected from north winds and gets full summer sun, I plant early.

When I planted the tomatoes on March 11th, the daytime high was 74° and the nighttime low 45° (a bit chilly for tomatoes). The first 90° day was April 23rd (compared with April 9th in 2009).

We picked our first tomato, a small “Jaune Flamme” on May 17th. It wasn’t entirely ripe but we were leaving for a week out of town and we couldn’t resist. From May 25th to June 30th, we picked tomatoes almost every day. Now in July, there are a couple of tomatoes still ripening. The tomatoes are still flowering but the nights are too hot for them to set fruit. The 2010 tomato season was almost 2 weeks longer than in 2009. We still haven’t had any triple digit highs. In 2009, by July 2nd Austin had had twelve triple digit days…what we average for an entire summer. (This week temperatures have dropped and we’ve had four straight days of rain. Maybe they’ll start setting again.)

Soil Preparation

I dig down about a foot and still pull out another bag full of nandina and snailseed vine roots. I dig in about a foot of Natural Gardener Hill Country garden soil as well as the three inches of leaf mold that has rotted down in this spot for the last 20 years. The soil is pretty nice black clay. When I get down below a foot, the clay is still damp from our generously rainy winter and a little cold.

I plant all the tomatoes in the warm amended soil. I put dolomite lime (magnesium and calcium) in each hole and plant them with a water bottle just as I did last year. I believe that the steady moisture reduces problems with blossom end rot. I put toilet paper roll collars around the stems to foil the cutworms.

Zanthan Gardens tomato vines
2010-03-11. I hill the dirt up but can’t build a raised bed until the peas come out.

At this point I don’t mulch. I use the water bottles to get water directly to the roots. I never spray the plants or the dirt around them. For now, the dirt is acting like a 4 inch layer of mulch. And because it’s dark, it’s soaking up the sunlight and quite warm.

However, I can’t build the raised beds for the tomatoes because I planted the English peas along the chain link fence and they are at the height of their production. It will be another month, April 3rd, before the raised bed is installed and two more weeks, April 18th, before the netting is put up to keep out the squirrels. The tomato fortress successfully foiled the squirrels right up until the last week of harvest. Then they managed to shake tomatoes loose and roll them towards the netting and eat them. Overall we lost only half a dozen tomatoes to the squirrels. Last year we lost more than half of the total tomatoes.

Zanthan Gardens tomato vines
2010-05-13. All the tomatoes are flowering and setting fruit.

The weekend before we leave town for a week, Austin gets a good soaking rain. Afterwards, I mulch the tomato bed with several inches of composted pine needles from this year’s Christmas tree mulch.

Pests

Early in the season, I found four tomato hornworms and picked them off by hand. They did only slight damage. When temperatures climbed into the 90s, I noticed more stink bugs. I’d pick them off every morning. They were more of a problem in the last couple of weeks of June. Our biggest pest, the squirrels, managed to broach our defenses but we lost only four tomatoes to them. We already have plans to refit the tomato fortress and make it even more secure next year.

Diseases

This year only a couple of tomatoes developed blossom end rot. I attribute it to uneven watering; they didn’t get any water the week we out of town and then we came back, it poured. Only one tomato cat-faced. One variety, (red Zebra?) consistently split.

Tomato Varieties

Zanthan Gardens tomato vines
From left to right: Faribo Goldheart, Arkansas Traveler, Jaune Flamme.

All six plants were grown in the same conditions. They were grown in the same soil, received the same amount of sunlight, were watered and fertilized the same. This year we had two winners and two losers. ‘Jaune Flamme’ and ‘Arkansas Traveler’ produced well and consistently. ‘Red Zebra’ produced moderately well but every tomato was cracked. ‘Faribo Goldhart’ produced only four tomatoes and only one of them was edible.

Jaune Flamme

We loved ‘Jaune Flamme’ so much last year that I bought two plants this year. They got off to a quick start and were the first to produce fruit. The tomatoes average about 2 ounces–larger than a cherry tomato but not a full-sized tomato. They are tangy and juicy. When fully ripe, the interior is a blush rose. The vines reached the top of the tomato fortress (which is 8 feet tall).

Arkansas Traveler

I bought one ‘Arkansas Traveler’ but it had two plants growing in the pot. They’re said to love the heat and the plants didn’t seem to get going until it warmed up a bit. At one point they were half the size of the ‘Jaune Flamme’ vines. However, once they started growing, they set nice trusses of red, blemish-free fruit. They averaged four or five ounces each. Even when fully ripe, ‘Arkansas Traveler’ is a somewhat pinkish, rather than bright red. They were firm and meaty. They weren’t flashy but they were dependable.

tomato Arkansas Traveler
‘Arkansas Traveler’ set fruit well.

Red Zebra?

I bought ‘Azoychka’ but as soon as the fruits of this tomato starting turning color, it was evident that it wasn’t the yellow Russian tomato I’d enjoyed last year. It looked like it was going to be ‘Green Zebra’. Then the green turned to red. They skin was glossy and on the vine they looked gorgeous. But when I picked them, they were all cracked. And in some cases ants would get in the cracks. I learned to pick them a little green and slice off the tops. The bottom two-thirds of the tomato was fine. But I don’t think I will grow them again.

The ‘Red Zebra’ tomatoes were slightly smaller than the ‘Arkansas Traveler’. The taste was a bit more tangy.

tomato Red Zebra
Red Zebra? Beautiful on the blossom side but not on the stem side.

Faribo Goldheart

‘Faribo Goldheart’ was the biggest disappointment of the bunch. First of all, it set only 5 fruit. The first one was cat-faced. The next one was perfect. The next one ripened on one side but was shrunken on the other. The last two rotted on one side–like blossom end rot but on not on the end. (I have a photo but it was taken in very poor light so you’re spared the horror.)

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.

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.

cactus
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

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.

August Water Usage

Update: August 2009
Worst summer ever. However, this year’s August water bill is somewhere in the middle of my highest and my lowest years, mostly because so many plants died last summer that I don’t have as much to water.

I gave up on the garden somewhere in early July when we hit 30 triple digit days. We are now at day 64 and expected to break the all time record of 69 days set in 1925. Stage 2 water restrictions go into effect today, August 24th. I have already been following those stricter restrictions, so I do not expect to be able to conserve water much more than I’m doing now.

Unlike 2005, my lawn no longer looks like dried hay. It looks like dirt.

1. location: Austin Texas
2. August consumption: 6500 gallons (07/17/2009 – 08/17/2009)
3. cost: $19.87 (water only; not wastewater charge)

Update: August 2005
Wow! This August my water consumption was low. I was in England the first two weeks of August, so used no water at all. Luckily, it was cool and rainy. These last two weeks of August should make next month’s bill skyrocket. My lawn looks like dried hay.
1. location: Austin Texas
2. August consumption: 3500 gallons (07/19/2005 – 08/18/2005)
3. cost: $9.16

In today’s bill the City of Austin included a brochure reminding us to check for leaks, especially if our consumption is above 25,000 gallons. 25,000 gallons! Hey! Save some water for the rest of us. What are you guys doing? Bathing in the stuff?

Update: September 2005
September was hotter than August and I used twice as much water. We reached our high for the year of 108 and we had 8 record-breaking highs in a row, all above 100 degrees. The rains never came this far west. I’ve lost two or three rose bushes. Most of the garden looks terrible. This is the first time I’ve ever seen nandina wilt.
September consumption: 8200 gallons (08/18/2005 – 09/19/2005)
cost: $19.92

Update: August 2004
1. location: Austin Texas
2. August consumption: 5600 gallons (07/19/2004 – 08/17/2004)
3. cost: $12.66

Original Post: August 2003
I try to be conservative in my water usage, but I don’t have any idea if I’m using more or less water than the average homeowner, or the average gardener. Sometimes I think I’m a little “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” After ten years of gardening, I have a sizeable investments in plants. It doesn’t make sense to skimp on water if I end up losing that investment.

So how much water do you use? Would you leave a comment and leave this information? I’ll do mine as an example.

1. location: Austin Texas
2. August consumption: 9,600 gallons (07/17/2003 – 08/15/2003)
3. cost: $20.82

I put the cost of just the water, not the wastewater charges which are figured separately on the Austin utility bill.

Related

Zanthan Gardens: Our Summer Dilemma The post I wrote last year generated a lot of discussion.