Week 29: 7/16 – 7/22

Dateline: 2007
I planned to take a photo of my fingernails (long, clean, and even) before I got back to sticking my hands in the dirt but…

The garden remains strangely green for July in Austin. A lot of the green is weeds which I’m trying to deal with in an orderly fashion by focusing on one bed a day rather than running around in a panic.

Crape myrtle and some roses continue to bloom. There’s a lot of rot and mold in the garden, too. Rather than fresh and green everything smells sodden and musty. My salvia (indigo spires) up and died after 12 years of spreading itself around the stump garden. It had always been such a trouble-free plant, sprawling and layering itself to make baby plants. Many irises are rotting away.

I’ve mowed the lawn three times since I returned from England a week ago. After my three week absence the grass was over a foot tall and I worried about it going into shock even though I set the mower at the highest setting. However, I have a reel push mower and it’s very difficult to cut St. Augustine grass with it as the blades of grass grow in all angles rather than straight up. So I made one pass which left a lot of tall grass standing, then another a couple of days later, and my final pass today. I think I can report that it’s back to normal now.

(Aside: AJM reported that the grass was “about 4 inches” tall. He’s the only man I know who would estimate a 12 inches as four. Most men get it mixed up the other way around.)

The freakish rain continued this week. In addition to almost daily showers it rained hard on Wednesday and hard and long on Friday and then hard again early Saturday morning.

Rainfall totals graphic exaggerates
Although we’ve gotten almost double our normal rainfall this year, we haven’t gotten quite as much as Austin newspaper’s graphic would lead you to believe. Those are the normal and 2007 year-to-date totals in inches, NOT the total rainfall received in July 2007.

First flower: cypress vine (7/22). The rose ‘French Lace’ is blooming for the first time in two years. I’m not sure of the date because it had flowers when I returned.
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Week 18: 4/30 – 5/6

Dateline: 2008

The last reprieve before summer. When Vertie and I went to get the glass mulch on Friday (5/2), it was a hot 88F and muggy. Saturday was dry and cooler by 10 degrees. The lows over the weekend seemed comparatively chilly at 59F. Big storms for Monday and Tuesday didn’t pan out which means will be facing temperatures in the 90s next week without a reserve of rain.

This is confederate jasmine week. It has been in full bloom for the last couple of weeks everywhere…a really good year for confederate jasmine. My sweet peas are also finally blooming. Caterpillars ate all the buds right before they were going to flower and it’s taken them a couple of weeks to put out more.

The ‘Mermaid’, ‘Red Cascade’ and ‘New Dawn’ roses have all been blooming very well. ‘Blush Noisette’ is trying but is balling terribly this year. ‘Ducher’, ‘Prosperity’, and ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ are still putting out a flower or two. I did lose the ‘Penelope’ rose that had me worried this time last year.

The California poppies surprised me with a second flush of flowers. The others are finally blooming, a month behind everyone else’s in Austin. In a way it’s nice because they fill in the spots left empty by the larkspur and cilantro. Speaking of which, I decided to fill in empty spaces in the meadow with bought pepper and tomato plants. The problem is remembering to water them regularly when they’re scattered all over the yard. The pink evening primrose and Engelmann daisy are still flowering well.

Getting busy gathering seeds of larkspur, bluebonnets, and cilantro.

First flower: Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ (4/30); bearded iris ‘Silverado’ (5/1); white mistflower (5/4); Dolichos lablab (5/5); summer squash (5/5).

Dateline: 2007


Zanthan Gardens
2007-05-06. 2007-05-06. Rather than a pretty flower photo I thought I’d focus on the most memorable sight in the garden at the moment: the old shed in rubble and larkspur blooming in the meadow to the north.

Spring Fling is over and, May, the month of green is upon us. That’s how I think of May. This is a transitional week, a transitional month. Most of my flower spectacle is over until fall. I put all my effort into early flowering plants because once my trees leaf out there isn’t enough sun for the warm weather flowers. I’ve had to learn to stop envying other Austinites’ vitex, lantana, butterfly bushes, and salvias. Besides when the weather turns muggy, I can’t stand the press of all those plants that make March and April shine. I just want to clear everything away.

May is typically one of Austin’s rainiest month. We’ve had almost two inches just this week as thunderstorms keep rolling through. On top of that, we’ve more than average rain this year since the middle of March. May is living up to its lush green promise. We expected the cloud cover to burn off this week and the temperatures to hit 90. Instead it remained drizzly and in the low 80s all week. And a bit muggy! The 90% humidity makes it as steamy as a jungle. A mustiness pervades my house and there are small snails on every plant. The mosquitoes and the cockroaches have decided summer is here. And I heard the toad last night. That makes it official.

The ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Blush Noisette’ roses have bowed out and now ‘Mermaid’ and ‘Red Cascade’ are in full bloom. I’m worried about ‘Penelope’. She was covered in flowers last month and suddenly all the leaves turned yellow. Is she going to succumb to dieback like ‘Buff Beauty’ and ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’?

First flower: chili pequin (5/2); Hibiscus syriacus (5/3); Abelia grandiflora (5/4); Cosmos bipinnatus (5/5) one self-sown.

Dateline: 2006

Rain, rain, and more rain. I’m still looking for the official rainfall totals but it seems south Austin got about half an inch on Tuesday, 3 inches on Thursday, 2 inches Friday, 2 inches Saturday, and possible another inch Sunday. I wish I had about 50 more rainbarrels.

The spring flowers (bluebonnets, larkspur, evening primrose) are going to seed. The roses, except for a flower here and there, may be finished until fall. The irises were noticably absent this spring. Now the flowering perennials (esperanza, four-o’clocks, crape myrtle, oleander, rose of Sharon, red yucca, various salvias, and plumbago) are moving into the spotlight. Even so, with all this rain, the overwhelming impression of the garden this week is green.

There was a time when I first began gardening that I said all that these desert-bred eyes craved for in a garden was a green shade. Now I’m less easily satisfied.

First flower: Mirabilis jalapa, RHS red (5/1); plumbago (5/4); crape myrtle ‘Catawba’ (5/5).

Dateline: 2004

Following killer-flood rains last Saturday, the week opened with two perfect days. The nights were cool, the temperatures tying with record lows set 50 years ago. And the days were dry with brilliant blue skies usually seen only in the fall.

My neighbors behind me cut down a huge oak tree that had its top sheared of. in a storm seven years ago (but was still growing strong). They also removed a hackberry and other brush along our fence line. Now, what had been my shade garden, is in full afternoon sun. 2007-05-06. Note: They’ve planted a butterfly rose over the fence and some other plants. I think they have a landscaping service or something because it looks like a nursery back there.

photo: tree
2004-05-06. What remains of my neighbor’s tree. Bill might notice that the bindweed is quite rampant.

First flower: rose ‘Red Cascade’ (5/3); first cherry tomato (5/5); rose “Caldwell Pink” (5/5).

Rebloom: rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (5/7); rose ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ (5/8).

Dateline: 2002


In my garden, March is wildflower month, April is iris month, and May is the month of green. The spring flowers are cleared away and the trees and grass have deepened into a rich green. This is the one month where it summer looks pleasant, before the heat and drought of real summer turns everything brown and dusty.

We began this week with a momentary break in the heat. A front came in on the 3rd and cooled temperatures down by at least ten degrees. So I spent all Friday morning reading in the garden in my new Adirondack chair…a very Martha Stewart moment. It didn’t last long enough. Very quickly we returned to hot, humid weather.

The bad news this year is the lack of rain. May is supposed to be one of our rainiest months. We are already behind for the year and it doesn’t look like any relief is on the way. The worst part of this heat is the realization that although 90 feels hot now, sometime in August, 90 will feel cool. When it’s 90 in August, you know Fall is on the way.

On the plus side, the cannas and banana are taking off. And we ate the first cherry tomatoes this week. The black-eyed Susans are blooming. And there are still plenty of larkspur to attract the butterflies. A stray bluebonnet still blooms, where I’ve watered and dead-headed them. And the last iris, ‘Silverado’ bloomed. Clammy-weed is popping up everywhere, a nice bright green. It grows to almost two feet in the garden beds where it gets water. In the meadow, though, it is much shorter.

The confederate jasmine is in full bloom. I love its glossy, deep green leaves and thickly sweet scent. I rooted a runner last year and transplanted it this spring and it’s blooming, too. The lavender I rooted is also blooming. It’s a good thing I’m having some luck with rooting and divisions because my attempts to grow things from seed have not been very successful this year. Although a couple of things have popped up from seeds I planted last year. One is an Apple of Peru. I don’t know what the other one is. Maybe cuphea. Maybe some new weed.

The violas, sweet peas, and columbines have succumbed to the heat. The Dianthus chinensis is looking a little seedy, but what amazes me is that this is their second year. They are usually considered only winter annuals. [Note: These plants persisted in the garden until 2005 when they finally succumbed to the drought.]

Week 09: 2/26 – 3/4

2002. Arctic front brings killer cold.
2003. Ditto.
2004. Rain. Rain. And more rain.
2005. Very average weather.
2006. Spring sprung. Record highs.
2007. Spring sprung. Very, very dry.
2008. Very dry. Six months into drought.
2009. Parched. Very hot. First 90-degree day. Very dry. Eighteen months into drought.
Dateline: 2009
rose Souvenir de la Malmaison

Dateline: 2007
The garden woke up this week. (You could argue that in what passes for winter in Austin it’s never been asleep, merely cat-napping.) Still, on Wednesday (Feb 28th) all the Mexican plums and the redbud behind my neighbor’s house burst into bloom overnight. And the cedar elms were clouded with a mist of bright spring green. I cut some branches of Mexican plum to bring inside and I feel like I’m living in a Japanese sumi-e (ink painting). Lots of new plants in bloom this week.

First flower: Coriander sativum (2/26); Narcissus ‘Trevithian’ (3/1); Muscari racemosum (3/2); Cercis canadensis (3/2); rose ‘Ducher’ (3/3); Sedum palmeri (3/3); Narcissus ‘Quail’ (3/4).

In Bloom: Prunus mexican, viola, Leucojum aestivum, rosemary, tradescantia, Commelinantia anomala, white oxalis, purple oxalis, henbit

We continue to have very dry weather this spring as we did last spring which results in desert like extremes of temperature: highs in the 70s, lows in the 20s. Do I cover the plants or uncover them? move the potted plants out or bring them in?

I bought two tomatoes “Black Krim” and “Persimmon” (said to be grown by Thomas Jefferson) from Gardens because they always have interesting and unusual tomatoes. They had already sold out of our favorite, “Carmello” though. I also bought a Listada de Gandia eggplant because it promised to be mild.
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Week 08: 2/19 – 2/25

Dateline: 2007
This is the first week of 2007 that temperatures hit the 80s. Wednesday (2/21) the high was 82F and Thursday (2/22) it was 83. Compare that to a week ago Friday (2/16) when we woke up to the coldest morning of winter and all the plants frozen solid.

A few daffodils are struggling to bloom. When it’s very hot and dry, they tend to blast; that is, the outer papery sheath turns brown and the flower inside can’t break through. I want to ask you northern gardeners, what are the temperatures like when daffodils bloom for you? These balmy days are great for gardening outside (at least out of direct sunlight) but the cool weather flowers like the sweet peas seem unhappy.

I cut back perennials (salvia and lantana) and cleaned and mulched beds. I haven’t started hacking out the weed tree seedlings or finished transplanting the roses and duranta I meant to do earlier. The lettuce came back quickly after last week’s freeze and I’ve been eating more salads.

First flower: Leucojum aestivum (2/22), Tradescantia (2/23), Commelinantia anomala (2/23).

Still blooming: Viola, Narcissus ‘Grand Primo‘ Mexican plum, rosemary, a single larkspur, Mahonia bealei, oxalis. The early spring weeds (henbit, goose grass, and chickweed) are everywhere at once.

I still haven’t seen a single redbud in bloom anywhere in Austin. Have you?
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Week 04: 1/22-1/28

Dateline: 2007
Sunday (1/21) was the first sunny day Austin’s seen in about 9 and everyone was out on the hike and bike trails, packing the parks, or sunning themselves at Barton Springs Pool. This is not a population that could stand winter in the normal sense of the word. I managed to transplant some more sweet peas and rake some more oak leaves (will it never end!) but after all the rain and ice last week our black mud is too mucky to work.

The rest of the week, save Thursday, was gray and dreary. Despite last week’s downpours, lake levels remain low so it’s hard to find fault with more rain.

The ice storm didn’t cause much damage to my plants, as the temperature was never much below freezing. However, bitter record-breaking cold is looming on the horizon. It may be in the mid-60s today but will it be in the mid-20s next Saturday?

The violas, Narcissus tazetta, mahonia, and mealy sage continue to bloom but really there isn’t much flowering in the garden. Both the Tulipa clusiana and the ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils are nosing up this week. The ‘Ice Follies’ are the last daffodils to show themselves.
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Week 03: 1/15 – 1/21

Dateline: 2007
The garden is a bit under the weather, literally. All the shrubs and shrubby trees are prostrate with ice. The 20 foot cherry laurel is lying across the path and I wonder whether she’ll get up again. It will take a few days to know the damage under the ice. Cabbages? Snow peas (which began blooming last week)? Banana plants (covered with cedar elm leaves)? Sweet peas (just transplanted)? Lettuce? The temperatures never got very cold at Zanthan Gardens, hovering around 30 throughout Tuesday.

The mahonia began flowering during the ice storm. I first noticed it on Thursday (1/18). It really does look similar to its cousin, nandina.

Sunday January 21, 2007
The week ended with a warm sunny day and it seemed that the entire population of Austin was outside.

First flower: Mahonia bealei (1/18).
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Week 52: 12/24 – 12/31

Dateline: 2007
This week is clear, dry, cold and windy. As sunny as the days are, the garden is not very inviting. My garden chores this time of year are focused on transplanting self-sown seeds and these are the worst conditions for doing so. I’m busy enjoying the domestic comforts of the Christmas season so I don’t mind being indoors.

I did call in TreeMasters to take out the chinaberry along the west fence on Thursday (12/27). So the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me another pile of wood chip mulch and a pile of firewood from the cedar elm branch which was overhanging the garden house. I waited until all the leaves had dropped so this pile of mulch is clean and white wood chips for the paths.

On Saturday (12/29), I climb up on the roof to do battle with the fig ivy which is smothering the chimney. It’s going to be in the 20s next week and I want to be able to build a fire. I noticed that the fig ivy near the top of the chimney was turning brown from the heat. I feel lucky that we haven’t had a very hot fire or it might have caught fire and we wouldn’t have known it until it had spread and caught the house on fire.

On New Year’s Eve, I watch the fireworks on Auditorium Shores from the backyard. Now that the chinaberry and hackberry trees are gone from the north border, we have a perfect view of the fireworks.

No new flowers this week. The lawns have not frozen, yet, and are still green and much neater this year now that I have a mulching mower again.
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Week 50: 12/10 – 12/16

Dateline: 2007
First flower: Lupinus texensis (12/15).

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Week 46: 11/12 – 11/18

Dateline: 2006
I think I should always expect Week 46 to be blustery. A cold front blew in Wednesday (11/15) with a dessicating wind, gusts up to 50 miles per hour–more wind than we’ve seen in awhile but nothing as severe as 2001 when the tree fell on our garage. The banana plants looked disheveled even though these particular bananas, Musa lasiocarpa, hold up to wind, rain, occasional hail, and drought better than most of their kin.

Temperatures dropped 20 degrees after the front, from near-record highs in the 90s to lovely clear sunny days in the 70s. Nighttime temperatures keep dipping into the 30s. I always thought our average first freeze was around Thanksgiving (from a memory of snow on Thanksgiving Eve, 1980) but KXAN weatherman, Jim Spencer, said Austin’s average first freeze was December 2. Has it changed?

These are beautiful afternoons to spend in the garden. It is dry, dry, dry though. What happened to El Nino? The bluebonnet seedlings, especially, are curling up for want of moisture. And, yes, for a change I’m being a conscientious gardener and attending to my watering–even though our wastewater averaging has kicked in and water spent on the garden now will result in higher utility bills all next year. Pam/Digging has convinced me that my meanness with water is false economy. A look at the price tag on the replacement plants I’ve had to buy this month has also been motivating.
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Week 39: 9/24-9/30

Dateline: 2010
A cold front settles in and we wake up Monday (9/27) to a mere 58°. Second fall has arrived with its dry air and icy blue skies.

I begin sowing greens in the winter vegetable garden.

The Lindheimer senna, the coral vine, and the four o’clocks are the most striking flowers. Quite a few oxblood lilies are still blooming. The red spider lilies are coming up all over the yard. Unfortunately I dug up most of them in the last year because they hadn’t flowered well in years–not even in rainy 2007.

We had a tremendous Mexican plum crop this year. I should have done something with it.

Bluebonnets, baby blue eyes, and false dayflowers are popping up everywhere. So are the less desirable plants like horseherb. I’ve seen a few cilantro, too.

Dateline: 2006
We fast-fowarded from August to October, with only one day of September weather two weeks ago Sunday (9/17) when it rained. The October weather (lows in the 50s, highs in the 80s, dry and perfectly blue skies) is gorgeous. I’ve been busy in the garden every day dividing irises and oxblood lilies and generally setting the garden right. But (the gardener’s lament) we need more rain. By the end of this week, the rain-softened iris beds were already becoming dusty dry.

During this exhilarating week I wondered what happened to me last year? Why did I wait so long to divide the irises? Why are the roses just inches from death? Why have I been so neglectful?

Then I looked at last year’s stats: the hottest day of the year was September 25th…we hit 108. Hurricane Rita swung east and drowned east Texas but left us with out a drop of water. And afterward, no rain. Not in September. Not in December. It was pretty much a downward spiral of drought for an entire year now and I gave up. For awhile…

I’m typing this with dirt under my fingernails. Yep. I’m back in the garden.

First flowers: Oxalis drummondii (9/25); crape myrtle (9/25) fall rebloom; Oxalis regnellii (9/27); Lantana montevidensis (9/27); Mirabalis jalapa (9/28) fall rebloom; Salvia greggii (9/28) fall rebloom.

The crape myrtle, cypress vine, and plumbago are fighting it out for the honor of most flowers this week. Still a lot of pink rainlilies and garlic chives blooming in the meadow, but the oxblood lilies are almost at an end.
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