pink bluebonnet
2011-03-16. Second generation pink bluebonnets. Austin, TX

March 16th, 2011
GBBD 201103: March 2011

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites us to tell her what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month.

March 2011

The paperwhites and kin got frozen out in February but the other classes of narcissus have had a great year. I planted 100 new ‘Ice Follies’ bulbs and they did not disappoint. Even some old clumps of ‘Ice Follies’ that haven’t bloomed in the last few years threw out a few flowers.

This week the daffodils turned center stage over to the irises. Unfortunately I wasn’t home during daylight hours so I missed getting a photo when they were at their best. The grape hyacinths hit their stride and the cherry laurel is loaded with flowers. The Texas mountain laurel is a making a good show, especially on the east side of tree where visitors can be surprised by the scent of grape soda as they walk down to Auditorium Shores for SXSW concerts.

Because of the drought, this has not been a good year for bluebonnets (especially when one contrasts it to 2010, the best year ever). My experimental stand of pink bluebonnets is very healthy only because planted them early and kept them watered. Self-sown bluebonnets are small and few in my meadow this year. The cilantro and arugula were both barely up before they bolted. The roses haven’t started yet. I think ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ will open her first buds tomorrow.

All the trees decided to leaf out today: cedar elm, oak, and Texas persimmon. I’ll be thankful for the shade in July but as long as the temperatures remain in the 70s, I wish the yard was sunny and the flowers had a chance to show their stuff.

bridal wreath spiraea
2011-03-16. Bridal wreath spiraea. Austin, TX

Complete List for March 15, 2011

  • Bridal Wreath spirea
  • Commelinantia anomala
  • Coriandrum sativum
  • Dianthus chinensis (a single flower)
  • henbit
  • Eruca sativa (arugula already bolted but the flowers are yellow not white)
  • Iris (unnamed blue)
  • Iris albicans
  • Leucojum aestivum (fading)
  • Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’
  • Lupinus texensis (both pink and blue)
  • Muscari neglectum/racemosum (full bloom)
  • Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ (one late flower)
  • Narcissus jonquilla ‘Trevithian’ (fading)
  • Narcissus triandrus ‘Hawera’ (one flower)
  • Nemophila insignis
  • Oxalis crassipes
  • Oxalis triangularis (purple)
  • Prunus caroliniana (Full Bloom)
  • Prunus mexicana (a handful of flowers on smallest tree)
  • rosemary
  • Solanum jasminoides (potato vine)
  • Sophora secundiflora (full bloom)
  • Tradescantia

photo: Narcissus jonquilla Trevithian
2011-03-07. Narcissus jonquilla ‘Trevithian’.

March 8th, 2011
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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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 […]

February 20th, 2011
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!

Ice Follies daffodils
2011-02-15. Ice Follies daffodils.

February 15th, 2011
GBBD 201102: Feb 2011

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites us to tell her what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month.

Feb 15, 2011

Valentine’s Day always marks the beginning of spring in Austin for me. The shocking pink of the redbuds seems appropriate to the holiday. Although it is in the 70s today, the previous two weeks Austin has experienced what is shockingly cold weather for us; two separate fronts brought night after night of temperatures in the low 20s. Very little has survived in my garden and cold damage reveals itself daily. So there are no redbuds for Valentine’s Day, no Mexican plums, no roses, or irises. Some early greens (henbit and chickweed) have survived as always but even they seem subdued.

Practically the only flowers in my garden are three ‘Ice Follies” daffodils. They started to shoot up before the freezes, froze solid in the bud, and opened on dwarfed stems.

The only other new flower in my garden this month is the winter honeysuckle. I didn’t notice when it started to flower in the rush of activity that accompanied my having the house painted. Then the first big freeze was upon us and as I was running around with a flashlight covering plants, I saw that it had burst into bloom. I was disappointed that it was going to freeze before I even got a chance to sniff at it. The freezes didn’t seem to bother it much.

winter honeysuckle2011-02-15. Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle).

Between GBBDs

An early oversummering bluebonnet was flowering before the freeze. It’s not the earliest I’ve ever had bluebonnets flower but it was out of season. The flower froze but the plant is fine, as are all the bluebonnet plants whether large or just sprouting. Some false dayflowers had also opened in response to much needed rainfall in January before the freezes.

Feb 15, 2011

Complete List for February

The list of all plants flowering today, February 15th 2011, at Zanthan Gardens. The most meager February list ever! Compare February 2009 or February 2008.

  • henbit
  • Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’
  • Lonicera fragrantissima
  • rosemary

 

January 1st, 2011
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.

Ivington Diaries book cover

December 7th, 2010
The Ivington Diaries

A reader left a comment on my review of another Monty Don book, The Sensuous Garden that the two of us obviously have personality differences and that I should just leave it at that. What? Not me! I really don’t see any point in reading only people I agree with because I learn so much more from people I don’t agree with. If someone shows me a demonstrably better approach, I’m always open to changing my mind. Besides, I don’t think our differences are irreconcilable. Monty Don and I just are reacting to different environments. I live in a land where expertise is a dirty word. He lives in one where pedantry drains the passion from the art of gardening. See how alike we are.

“My second [New Year’s] resolution is to make a point of learning something new…if you have been gardening for awhile it is easy to become fixed in your likes and dislikes and to dismiss things of which you are ignorant. I want to challenge my own ignorance…”

I’m glad I didn’t give up so easily because the third time’s a charm. The Ivington Diaries is just the kind of gardening book I find to be the most readable: a personal adventure in creating a garden. Monty Don moved to a new house in 1991 and the book draws on journal entries written over the subsequent 18 years. There is one entry per day, beginning with January 1st, for almost the entire year. The interesting twist is that the years are not in chronological order. The first entry is January 1, 1998, then January 4, 2004, followed by January 5, 2002.

I really like this layout because it focuses on the gardener’s year rather than on the chronology of building the garden. I received this book as a Christmas present last year and I have read it bit by bit as the seasons changed in my own garden, comparing observations and differences in climate with Monty Don’s. The book has color photos of the garden every few pages which help the reader to visualize the layout and special features of the garden. The photos aren’t glossy printed so they never distract from the text. This is a very readable book, not just a flipping-through-the-pictures book. (That is, it’s meaty not just eye-candy.)

Like a garden blog, the journal entry for each day has a theme and a title. The themes are quite varied. Sometimes Monty Don details some project, problem, or success in the garden. Sometimes, he muses on his observations of the nature and the garden. Often he describes people who have influenced him over the years as he became a gardener. He describes in detail his experiences with many plants, his desires, his trials, his successes and his failures.

I marked scores of passages in this book and will go back and dip into it again and again. Because the entries for each day are fairly short and because chronology is not important, The Ivington Diaries is an ideal book for delving into at odd moments when one wants to be entertained and informed by someone who really thinks about and is passionate about gardening.

 

December 6th, 2010
Five Books: Essential Reads for Gardeners

Genevieve at North Coast Gardening wants to know what five books do we think are a must for every gardener. Creating a book list was one of the first things I did when began this blog almost a decade ago. I’ve read hundreds of gardening books since then and yet these few are always at the top of my list.

Karel Capek: The Gardener’s Year

Find out if your favorite gardener has this book, and if not, make a present of it. This has to be the funniest book ever written on gardening, more so because it is all true. To give examples, I’d have to quote long passages. Don’t give this book to a beginning gardener, though. The reader should have gardened through at least one year to really appreciate Karel Capek’s observations.
Read more about it

The Elements of Organic Gardening

What can you learn from a prince about growing veggies? Quite a lot, actually, even if your suburban lot is nothing like his castles. This looks like it might be just another gorgeous coffee table book (and it is beautiful) but it is also full of information, written intelligently, clearly and compellingly. This is my favorite gardening book of the last couple of years.

Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners

People have told me that I should write a book. After reading Margot Rochester’s Down to Earth, I don’t feel the need to. I turned page after page and thought, “Hey, that’s exactly what I’m always saying.” I knew I’d found a true kindred spirit. And she’s written my book for me. Of course, the title clued me in. I’m both passionate and practical, a combination which confuses those who think every choice is an either/or choice.
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Passalong Plants

Offbeat, wacky, outrageous…words not normally associated with gardening books. I love these guys! I’m also pretty sure that my Bouldin Creek neighbors take landscape design advice from these two southern plantsmen. An antidote to English gardening books from a couple of good ole boys who garden in the south and understand our weather and our ways. Descriptions of each plant run about a page, accompanied with a memory, and a color photo.
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Tottering in My Garden

If Midge Ellis Keeble lived now, she would have been a garden blogger. She writes delightfully the various gardens she had over her life and the lessons she learned from each. The focus is foremost on the stories: the thrill and the trials that face all gardeners. But like talking with any experienced gardener, there is so much to learn. When I reread it years later, I was amazed to discover that many things I’d done and learned in my own garden were from seeds planted in my mind from this lovely little book.

Zanthan Gardens north back border
2009-11-29. The north back border from the roof and some fall color. The Japanese persimmon is in the lower right-hand corner. In the center, the ‘Ducher’ rose can be seen taking over the path.

November 26th, 2010
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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acorns
2010-11-24. Ground acorns.

November 24th, 2010
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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acorns and oak leaves

November 24th, 2010
Acorns

I have two oaks in my yard. At a glance they look identical to me. Both are beginning to turn a deep red.

The tree in the back yard has been dropping acorns like crazy this year. I don’t remember ever seeing so many acorns. Viewing each one as a potential sprout I’m going to have to pull up next spring, I’ve been raking them up and grinding them into meal with the chipper grinder.

The tree in the front yard hasn’t produced as many acorns. However, they’re almost twice as large. When they drop on our metal roof it sounds like someone’s throwing rocks at my house. They usually fall with their caps on. The leaves on this tree are larger, too.

Comparing them side by side, I now recognize each tree as an individual.