Week 05: 1/29 – 2/4

Dateline: 2012

The week ended with rain and a cold front but the contrast with last year’s snow and horrendous freeze couldn’t be greater. We’ve been enjoying March weather. Temperatures climbed to 82°F on Wednesday (2/1). We’ve had only two freezes so far this winter. Some plants like the Port St. John’s creeper and ruella haven’t died back. The combination of warm temperatures and rain after the long drought has tricked many plants into blooming out of season. I’ve seen Texas mountain laurel blooming along Lady Bird Lake. But no redbuds yet (which I always think bloom first.

Mermaid
2012-02-02. Rose ‘Mermaid’ between light showers.

Other out-of-sequence blooms: Larkspur began blooming before the bluebonnets. The roses began blooming before the Mexican plum trees. The hot weather roses, ‘Mermaid’ and ‘Blush Noisette’, began blooming before the queen of early roses, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’. Roses of all kinds are blooming all over town. Tradescantia and false dayflowers also began blooming this week at Zanthan Gardens. The rosemary, the winter honeysuckle, the lantana, and one clump each of Narcissus italicus and Narcissus ‘Grand Primo’ are still in flower, rounding out the in bloom list.

The wet and warmth have made the salad greens happy. We’ve been eating large salads out of the garden almost every evening. I’ve planted more. The leaves of the cilantro are glossy and green. We can’t use it fast enough. Of course, the unofficial salad greens are also rampant: chickweed, goose grass, and henbit. I can’t keep up with weeding the henbit and it’s smotherered out the bluebonnet seedlings. I like to keep some henbit around for the butterflies but so far I’ve seen only two so I’m regretting it.

Dateline: 2011

Friday February 4, 2011.
We wake up after record-breaking snowfall at Camp Mabry today. The old record for daily snowfall was 1/2 inch in 1906. 105 years later, a whole inch!

snow bluebonnet
2011-02-04. Snow covered bluebonnet.
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Week 25: 6/18 – 6/24

Dateline: 2011

Gardening in Austin seems almost predictable when the most remarkable thing that can happen in Week 25 is rain! The sound of it pouring off my roof onto the air conditioner next to my bedroom window woke me up, and I dragged myself out of bed at one in the morning just to smell it…and pump the water into the pond. The rain barrels can’t handle that much rain at once and the pond acts like a 1000 gallon holding tank.

Before the storm, we had a solid chunk of 100-degree days behind us: ten from 6/12 to 6/21. At Camp Mabry, the temperatures topped out at 106°F on 6/17 and 6/18, cooling slightly to a mere 105°F on 6/19. After the storm, the high plummeted to a mere 90°F. Sixteen degrees feels cooler no matter where you’re starting from. I spent the rest of Wednesday (6/22), cleaning up the garden a bit, mowing the lawn, and pumping water into the pond.

The rain is nothing but a brief respite from the continued exceptional drought in Texas. Lake levels are almost half what they should be. Austin looks more and more like the landscapes of my childhood that I had hoped to leave behind.

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Week 22: 5/28 – 6/3

Dateline: 2011

According to the National Weather Service, “The warm spring from March to May was the 10th driest ever at Camp Mabry and the warmest since 1854.” Worse than the heat, the drought is now exceptional. Most of May felt like August. We did get one lovely heavy rain two weeks ago but my rain barrels are already empty and the pond is quickly evaporating.

Speaking of the pond, Monday (5/30) AJM noticed a heron stalking around. The fish are in hiding. Or eaten. We can’t tell yet how many fish have been taken. We didn’t see any for a few days. Then a couple peeked out. We’ve put the netting up again until they have a chance to recover and the pond water clears up again. When critters chase the fish, they stir up the water and the pond gets all mucky.

First flowers: Asclepias curassavica (6/1); water lily ‘Helvola” (6/1).

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Week 16: 4/16 – 4/22

Dateline: 2011

We travelled back in time this week. In New England, spring is just beginning to win the battle against winter. Forsythia is in bloom everywhere as are daffodils and a few tulips. For the most part, April still wears bare trees against bleak gray skies. We saw several flowering trees and plants that I’m unfamiliar with; I love how alien new landscapes seem even those on the same continent. We wear hat, gloves, and windbreakers over sweaters the whole time we are there. In contrast, temperatures in Austin soar into the mid 90s (the forecast I saw was for 97 but the actual high was 95 on 4/18), wildfires burn across drought-stricken Texas, and Governor Perry offers Texans a faith-based solution: we should all spend three days praying for rain. Rain was a problem in Connecticut, too–not a lack but a surfeit. The Connecticut River was over its banks in East Haddam. 2011 reminds me of 1993: severe drought in Texas; severe flooding along the Mississippi.

Zanthan Gardens made a big leap forward in our short week away. Yellow rules. The retama is in full bloom. The prickly pear cacti have their first flowers as does the rose ‘Mermaid’. The sago palm is putting out new fronds. The bluebonnet seedpods are dry and ready to pop. The coral vine is flowering. The ‘Angel’s Choir’ and ‘Lauren’s Grape’ poppies have put out a few wan flowers, mostly drained of color. The pomegranate has beautiful double flowers. (I think this is the first ever.) I’m happily surprised to see the Pride of Barbados coming back from its roots. I’d given up on it. The only big disappointment is my horsetail. I had nursed it back to health over the winter and it was looking better than it ever had. Now it looks mostly dry, brown and crispy. All the other potted plants, which I’d brought inside out of the sun, survived–even two pots of mint. The other plant I’m worried about is the allspice. It was so big and healthy and now the leaves are simply drying up and dying and there is no new growth. I think it might be getting too much water and rotting.

Looking over the history below, I see that it’s not unusual for Austin to hit the high 90s or even the 100s this week in April during a La Niña year. Facts are no comfort. I’d prefer my delusion that these temperatures are outrageous not typical.

I was expecting the garden to be toast on my return. It did better than I expected. The larkspur and nigella are short and already dry so they are dying out gracefully. I do regret that the flowers on the confederate jasmine have already turned brown and stopped giving off their scent. Had I been here to water them, they might still be in full bloom. Now I have to wait a whole year to smell them again.

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Week 13: 3/26-4/1

Dateline: 2011

Austin hit its first 90 degree day last week (3/23) and by Saturday night (3/26) it was so hot and muggy we turned on the AC for a few hours. Sunday (3/27) the high dropped 13 degrees to a seasonable 73 and by Monday (3/28) another 9 degrees to a high of 64. Lovely. All the trees except the pecans have their brilliant spring green leaves and these dry days provide an equally brilliant desert blue sky. Dry. Dry. Dry. The larkspur are sending flower stalks which droop before opening in the afternoon sun.

The wild garden blooms despite my neglect. It’s overwhelms the paths. I don’t think I’ll ever manage the strength to get it sorted out again. The pink evening primrose is one of the few flowers that really prefers this drier spring. As does the Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’. The Engelmann daisy and cilantro make a fair showing, too. The Jerusalem sage is in full bloom but the leaves droop when the temperatures reach the 80s. The weeping yaupon which isn’t weeping is covered in tiny flowers and bees. The larkspur and poppies are just beginning to flower. The pathetic bluebonnets are going to seed. The baby blue eyes are also tiny and wizened. I don’t doubt they’ll be back when the weather is more favorable.

Now that the trees have leafed out, the green worms have begun to descend their silken threads. I’ve killed a few but the infestation is mild compared with earlier years. I’m hoping it’s because I’m kind to wasps.

First flower: Ungnadia speciosa, Mexican buckeye (3/26); Hyancinthoides hispanica (3/26); Aristolochia fimbriata dutchman’s pipevine (3/30); Echinacea purpurea (3/30); Papaver ‘Dorothy Cavanaugh’ (4/1), honeysuckle (4/1).

Dateline: 2010

photo: Texas bluebonnets
2010-03-30. Ubiquitous photo of Texas bluebonnets three years later at the same spot. With all the rain this year they are three times as big as in 2007 and the nasty yucca is gone.

A perfect spring week here in central Texas. A big storm front blew through last Wednesday night (3/24) dropping half an inch of rain in an hour. So the plants were well watered going into a week of sunny deep blue skies brilliant behind the bright green of all the freshly leafed trees. Yes. It’s suddenly shady. Austin’s starting to hit temperatures in the 80s consistently: 82 (3/26), 83 (3/27), 81, (3/30), 85 (3/31), 82 (4/1). I’d be just as happy if the 80s held off for another month so that all the flowers now in full bloom could look fresh for more than a few days.

My dependable spring favorites, Tulipa clusiana and the rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ are in full bloom. So are the bluebonnets. (Two whites and two pinks appeared this year.) The rose ‘Ducher’ grew so fast and tall that it fell over on itself in a high wind and is now commandeering the path. The cilantro forms a misty white cloud over the meadow where it completely dominates. (All the larkspur are in the front yard this year and they haven’t started the big show yet.) The baby blue eyes, tradescantia and its cousin, the false dayflower, are hip high and taken over most of the yard. I must remember to keep the false dayflowers out of the bluebell bed as the bluebells have been completely smothered this year.

All the flowers on everything are huge. I can’t remember ever seeing flowers so big here. So all they needed was twice the water they normally get. Hmmm

The list of things blooming is too long to keep track of: white, blue, and yellow irises; ‘Hawera’ daffodils and the single ‘Grand Monarque; white sweet alyssum and yellow snapdragons, the last of the summer snowflakes and the beginning of the Spanish bluebells; Mexican buckeye, cherry laurel, Indian hawthorn, and bridal wreath. But no wisteria in my yard. Elsewhere, yes. But not mine.

Speaking of elsewhere…the Lady Banks roses are as beautiful as I’ve ever seen them all over Austin. I’m sorry that mine died several years ago as did my neighbor’s that used to droop over my back fence.

We’ve eaten salads every night but these 80° days are starting to turn the arugula and lettuce bitter. Our English peas are full of pods. We harvested 5 oz (shelled) tonight and each had a big bowlful for supper. I can tell we’ve had an 80° day by the drooping of the peas. The artichoke, now in its second year, has a flower bud. I just planted potatoes. This time in 2000 we were already eating potatoes.

First flower: Hyacinthoides hispanica (3/26); Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’ (3/26); Engelmann daisy (3/31); yellow heirloom iris (3/31).

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Week 12: 3/19 – 3/25

Suddenly, the yard is plunged into shade. The morning sun stops shining through my bedroom window and plants that have grown all winter in the full sun, plants about to flower, are now in the shade. The cedar elms have leafed out and transformed the landscape. I’m not as fond as cedar elms as I once was, as they are the trees that tend to fall in high winds. But this week, they are gorgeous. They leaf out a chartreuse green that deepens to a bright green. The red oaks and live oaks are leafing out too. Only the pecans are still bare.

Dateline: 2011
Spring will not be ignored. It rushes into the garden whether or not I’m there, just not in the way I would have planned it. The pink evening primroses smother the path while the areas I consider my meadow are bare. I’m not blind to the lesson.

This is the week that something new opens every day. All of spring’s bounty comes just as the yard is plunged into shade. The weather continues dry and hot. The toads and mosquitoes have returned. Temperatures rise into the 80s and the larkspur, just sending up its flower stalks, droop. The Tulipa clusiana and the Muscari racemosum have also faded quickly in the heat. A whole year of anticipation…and then they whither as they open.

If you don’t look too closely the garden is filled with swathes of Easter basket colors: yellows (Engelmann daisy and Jerusalem sage and some snapdragons that have finally recovered from the freezes); pinks (pink evening primroses, pink bluebonnets, Indian hawthorn, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, ‘New Dawn’, ‘Blush Noisette’); white (bridal wreath spirea, cilantro); blues (bluebonnets, baby blue eyes, starch hyacinths) and purples (false dayflowers, Nierembergia gracilis, tradescantia, prairie verbena). There is also one jarring red, the St. Joseph’s lily.

So much needs to be done which will be left undone. Right now the garden is blooming on the strength of previous years. It really is a garden wild.

Dateline: 2008
This is the week I both look forward to and dread. On the one hand the garden finally looks like a garden. I take pleasure just walking around in it and frequently forget to do anything but just stare. On the other hand, the shade has descended which means the sun-loving flowers will soon turn sulky and I’ll soon be counting the days until fall.
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Week 10: 3/5 – 3/11

Dateline: 2011
Cool nights but pleasant days in the 70s. Occasional showers. Windy every day except Sunday (3/6), the day of the Zilker Kite Festival. The cedar elms are threatening to leaf out.

The bluebonnets are opening. This is a poor year for bluebonnets and only the ones I hand sowed (pink and white) and the two giant oversummering ones are doing well. The Mexican plums faded almost as they opened. However, the breadseed poppies are sprouting strongly. I thin and transplant some ‘Lauren’s Grape’.

The ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils are fading but the ‘Trevithians’ are flowering well this year. They have the most lovely scent, although I have to put my nose right in them to smell it. No sign of the ‘Hawera’ which used to open so consistently this week.

About a dozen tomatoes sprouted but have yet to get their first leaves. I’m behind on tomatoes this year!

First Flower: Commelinantia anomala (3/5); Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ (3/6); Engelmann daisy (3/6); Nemophila insignis (3/9); Oxalis crassipes (3/9); Oxalis triangularis (3/9).
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Week 48: 11/26 – 12/2

Dateline: 2010


Zanthan Gardens north back border
2010-11-25. Much drier than 2009. The garden is bare of self-sown cilantro and baby blue eyes which were a foot tall this time last year. The Japanese persimmon is in full color but the umbrella tree has already shed its leaves. The exuberant rose ‘Ducher’ died suddenly of cane dieback over the summer.

Austin gets its first official freeze early Wednesday (12/1) morning. But Zanthan Gardens experienced some frost damage last week (11/27). That front blew the leaves off the pecans and cedar elms, making for golden December days in the garden. I spend Monday (11/29) mower mulching the fallen leaves. The air is so incredibly dry that they are easy to clean up; they just crumble. The garden is pleasingly tidy for a change.

I’ve been frantically busy planting ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils and spring annuals. I enjoy being in the garden now more than any other time. The days are clear but the temperatures cool enough that it’s a pleasure to dig and rake. The bluebonnet seedlings are still quite small and requiring supplemental water (or else they shrivel under the glare of the sun when temperatures top the 70s.) I also have to keep all the seed beds moist. 2010 is such a contrast to 2009. Very few self-sown seedlings have sprouted, only those that get a bit of water when I’m watering other plants. Rain is promised with each cold front but none has fallen. We are on our way to becoming a desert again.

Dateline: 2009

History repeats itself. A gloomy week is forecast and I spend today tidying up the mud room (aka the entryway) and bringing in aloe, kalanchoe, and golden thryallis which I’ve potted as backup plants. Just in case. I planted out my Meyer’s lemon, my cutleaf philodendron, and my ‘Ming’ asparagus fern because they got too big to lug in and out. If I installed grow lights in the mud room, I wouldn’t have to cart the pots in and out. But that room doesn’t have any electrical outlets so this probably won’t happen anytime soon.

The leaves are all turning color. I always think this is late until I look at my notes. The umbrella tree is a brilliant yellow. The Mexican buckeye and the pecans are a mottled, muddy yellow. The Mexican plum trees are a bit more golden. The Japanese persimmon is just turning orange and red. And the red oaks are blushing a deep red from the top down. Once again the ginkgo is a dud; it lost all its leaves before they turned yellow. [2010-12-02. The ginkgo finally died in Spring 2010.]

All the rain has fooled the cilantro and the false dayflowers into thinking it’s already spring. The whole yard is thick with both of them. The cilantro will be flowering soon and the false dayflowers have been flowering for a couple of weeks. Yesterday, (11/28), AJM and I trimmed back the fig ivy on the chimney so that we’d be able to have a fire inside without starting one outside. We found some “figs”, too. A first.

The cuttings of culinary sage, Jerusalem sage, licorice plant, and rosemary all seem to be rooting. The English peas are up. I continue to dig out the nandina roots from the front north border where we want to make our screened in tomato patch next spring. Like 2002, I’m madly trying to plant narcissus bulbs I dug up in the summer. This is very late as some of the Narcissus italicus are already sending up scapes. Lots of paperwhite foliage but no flowers.

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Week 47: 11/19 – 11/25

Dateline: 2007
When I lived in Japan, the weather was pretty consistent. When summer started cooling off, it just colder and colder each day through winter and then it started warming up until it was spring. Once winter arrived, there was no relief from the cold. I much prefer Austin’s weather pattern. For example, Wednesday (11/21) temperatures hit a record high of 89F ahead of a cold front that dropped temperatures overnight to near freezing. The entire Thanksgiving holiday was gray and cold and windy–perfect for baking and feasting but not much fun for the boys who wanted to spend their time off hiking and biking. Saturday we got our first good rain since October 22nd. You northerners will laugh, but after four days of cold, I’m tired of winter. Luckily next week the sun and temperatures in the 70s return.

Even Austin’s idyllic approach to winter has some drawbacks. I spend a lot of time covering plants up if a freeze threatens only to uncover them the next day when temperatures soar. The potted plants get trotted into the house and then trotted back out again. I watch the roses anxiously wondering if this latest flush of new growth will freeze before it can flower. (‘Ducher’ and ‘Blush Noisette’ are blooming this week; ‘Heritage’ and ‘Prosperity’ have buds.) Our plants don’t go dormant, so they are very vulnerable to the half-dozen or so hard freezes we get each winter. But this is a small price to pay to enjoy a string of warm, sunny days between winter storms.

Looking over the notes from previous years I’m happy to see that I finally DID get my mulching mower–it took almost a year but I finally followed through.

First flower: Helianthus annuus ‘Moulin Rouge’ (11/20).
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Week 17: 4/23 – 4/29

“The flowers that bloom so sweetly wither and fall. Our human life, too, is fleeting. Today, again, I will cross the mountain pass of this uncertain world, and will not entertain shallow dreams or give away to drunkenness.” Iro no Ha. Translated by Francis G. Drohan. A Handbook of Japanese Usage. p. 90.

Dateline: 2010
The scent of honeysuckle and jasmine pervades the garden. The week began hot and sticky with a 90°F temperature recorded at the Bouldin station (4/23) and worse, overnight temperatures barely dipping below 70°F. Then a couple of fronts blew in bringing cooler temperatures but no rain. It was a beautiful week for spring cleanup.

I spent all week cutting back bluebonnets and cilantro. I let too much cilantro bolt and it dominated the meadow. As I cut it back, I reveal drifts of yellow (Engelmann daisy), pink (pink evening primrose), and blue and white (Love-in-a-Mist). The last I love best in white because at dusk it looks like little stars are floating in the meadow.

The oleander damaged in January’s freeze is producing new shoots from the ground. Some new shoots are also sprouting from old stems but I probably should cut them all the way to the ground so that it looks compact and bushy. The opuntia is putting out new pads but I don’t care if it never comes back. Both are a long way from flowering unlike this time last year.

The tomatoes are all setting fruit. The biggest and most prolific so far are ‘Jaune Flamme’. Both plants are waist high.

First flower: rose ‘Red Cascade’ (4/23), Trachelospermum jasminoides (4/25), Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ (4/29), rose ‘Mermaid’ (4/29), amaryllis ‘Black Pearl’ (4/29).
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