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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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).
Read the rest of this entry »

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.

ice-encased violas
2007-01-18 Two things to remember about Austin’s occasional confrontations with icy weather. Our plants don’t go dormant. Our cars don’t have chains or snow tires.

November 21st, 2010
Austin’s First and Last Freeze Dates

This post was published originally on November 23, 2006. It’s been updated to include data from Winter 2006 to Spring 2010.
Tamara up in Plano and I both have been eyeing these gorgeous October days with suspicion. It is after all November. As memory serves, Thanksgiving week is cursed with ice storms to frustrate all the Austinites trying to make it back to their parents in DFW or Houston or Lubbock. (Austin has a population of about 60,000 students from 5 universities. Many, like me, stay after graduation and make a trek out of town for holidays. The Friday after Thanksgiving, downtown Austin is so void of people you’d think the rapture had hit, except that this is Austin and if the rapture hit we probably wouldn’t notice anyone missing.)

But does memory serve? or does it distort? I decided to troll though my garden journal and the KXAN Weather Diary for data. These go back only to 1997 not enough to make out any trends except the already known: Austin’s weather is unpredictable. We get 8 to 15 days of freezing weather but rarely at one time. The all-time record low? -1F in February 1899. I’m glad I didn’t live through that!

Typically we have a week of bad weather (yes, Kathy, just one) in mid-January or early February. But in 1998, the only pre-spring freeze was on March 10th. The peach growers weren’t too happy. We also usually have a winter storm sometime in December.

A lot of our freeze dates are just light frosts with temperatures brushing 32F. Our hard freezes (28F or below) are the result of arctic fronts. Even then, freezing temperatures last only three or four days. It’s unusual, even in our worst winters, for the daily high temperature to stay below freezing. (This happened in 1997 on January 13th and 14th). The record for consecutive hours below freezing at Austin was 140 hours from December 21-27, 1983. The water main on South 1st St near my apartment broke. Also the rubber connectors on the fuel line of my Spitfire cracked and a month later my car burst into flames as I was driving down Anderson Lane with my kid in the car seat.

Due to the general mildness of our winters, any time Austin does get freezing rain or sleet, the town shuts down. Schools and stores close. Hundreds of people get into traffic accidents. Airline flights are delayed. And the power goes out. Northerners are agog. The answer is simple. For a once-a-year winter storm, why invest in infrastructure? So our cars don’t have chains or snow tires.

Our ground never freezes. Our plants don’t go dormant. A bad freeze is often preceded or followed by record high temperatures.

Last Spring Freeze

Looking back to 1997, the last freeze before spring in Austin was March 10th, 1998.

January February March
1/05/2000
1/10/1999
1/24/2005
1/29/1997
 
 
 
 
2/03/2009
2/07/2004
2/13/2006
2/16/2007
2/17/2001
2/25/2010
2/26/2003
2/27/2008
3/04/2002
3/10/1998
 
 
 
 
 
 

If it’s 81F in January, wouldn’t you plant out your tomatoes? That’s what happened in 2002. Then March brought the coldest mornings of the year (and two of the colder days in this little study) when it got down to 24F on March 3rd and 4th.

First Fall Freeze

As for the answer to the question that started this research–When should Austinites expect our first frost? Anytime now.

November December
11/17/2005
11/28/2001
11/29/2003
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
12/01/2004
12/01/2006
12/01/2010
12/05/2009
12/06/1999
12/06/2008
12/07/2000
12/13/1997
12/16/2007
12/21/1998
12/25/2002

A Summary of Winter in Austin Over the Last 14 Years

Note: In 1999 the weather service begins reports from both Camp Mabry and the airport (ABIA). I stuck with the Camp Mabry statistics to be consistent. The weather in my garden is closer to Camp Mabry’s than ABIA’s. ABIA is often 3-5 degrees colder than downtown. As I’ve learned from my gardening friends, your results may vary. One part of Austin may freeze and another not. Even within your yard, the microclimate varies.

1997: 16 days freezing temperatures.

Austin gets all our winter in one week and then have ten frost-free months. The coldest part of winter was a week in January from 1/7 to 1/14: 1/7 (32F); 1/9 (30F); 1/10 (30F); 1/11 (25F); 1/12 (24F); 1/13 (23F) high (27F); 1/14 (26F) high (32F); 1/15 (30F); 1/17 (26F). 1/28 (27F); 1/29 (29F). Not another freeze until December: 12/13 (29F) and a few snow flurries; 12/15 (32F); 12/28(32F).

1998: 3 days freezing temperatures.

This is the kind of winter that lulls gardeners into putting out the tomato plants too early and peach trees into bloom. The first freeze of 1998 was in March, 3/10. It was also the last freeze until December when we got our one week of winter 12/21 and 12/26. The temperature dropped from 74 degrees at 5pm to 38 degrees at 8pm and continued to drop. The weather service notes, “Freezing drizzle creates early morning chaos. All area bridges and elevated roads become iced over. 400+ Austin accidents. 64 car pileup on I-35 at 290 kills 2. 1 other fatality in area, 16 total in Texas ice-related accidents. Many businesses open late or close. Occasional freezing drizzle continues through evening. A few snow flurries reported at airport. Winter storm warning thought tomorrow A.M. Christmas travelers stranded as many flights into and out of Robert Mueller Airport are delayed and cancelled, mainly due to delays elsewhere, including DFW.” The lowest temperature of this storm was 25F on 12/26. The next day the high was 72F.

1999: 5 days freezing temperatures.

Cold the first week of January. For three days in a row the nighttime lows dip below freezing with the lowest temperature of 27F on 1/5 and then again on 1/10. However, we also have a record high of 81 on 1/17. (The tulips hate that!) The only other freezing day of the year is 12/6 when it drops to 32F.

2000: 11 days freezing temperatures.

Cold the first week of January: 32F on 1/4 and 27F on 1/5. Next freeze on 12/7 (31F). A couple of days later on 12/11 an arctic front moves in. 12/11 has a low of 31F. 12/12 has a high of 31F and the low for the year of 26F. Icy conditions result in more than 300 auto accidents. It continues to be really nasty on 12/13 “90,000 lose power in Austin as heavy freezing rain downs trees and powerlines. More than 288,000 without power statewide, mainly in Dallas-Fort Worth, Tyler-Longview, Waco-Killeen and Austin areas. Record daily rainfall at ABIA. It dips to 28F on 12/17; 31F on 12/22; 32F on 12/27 and 12/28 and 28F on 12/30. December was an unusually cold end to a year of warmer than average months through November.

2001: 12 days freezing temperatures.

The cold weather continues into January of the new year. 1/1 (31F), 1/2 (30F), 1/3 (32F) 1/4 (32F). We are teased with a chance of snow on 1/19 but it is much too warm. When the front moves through leaving clear skies it drops to 27F (1/20). February has two freeze dates: 2/3 (32F) and 2/17 (32F). Then Austin’s frost-free until November: 11/28 (31F) and 11/29 (30F). December is rainy and fairly mild: 12/10 (32F), 12/24 (32F) and 12/31 (32F).

2002: 15 days freezing temperatures.

1/2 (30F); 1/3 (26F); 1/4 (28F); 1/13 (32F); 1/15 (31F) and then a record high of 81F on 1/29. A colder February than in recent memory: 2/2 (32F); 2/7 (30); 2/26 (30); 2/27 (25F); 2/28 (30F). And a cold start to March: 3/2 (29F); followed by the coldest morning of the winter 3/3 (24F) and 3/4 (24F); 3/5 (31F). That’s it until Christmas: 12/25 (32F).

2003: 14 days freezing temperatures.

In 1999 Austin had a record high of 81 on 1/17. Four years later, we get our first freeze on 1/17 (29F), followed by freezes on 1/18 (27F) and 1/19 (28F), followed by a record high on 1/21 (82F). Two days later it’s cold again: 1/23 (30F); 1/24 (26F). 2/17 (31F). Temperatures drop from 78F on 2/23 to 26F on 2/24. Camp Mabry report .6 inch of snow! Then the usual power outages, school closings and traffic tie-ups on 2/25 (24F) which posts a high of 30F. 2/26 (29F). No more freezes until November: 11/29 (30F). December: 12/6 (31F); 12/14 (31F); 12/20 (32F); 12/30 (30F).

Scenes from late February’s winter storm.

2004: 14 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/6 (29F); 1/20 (32F); 1/27 (29F); 1/28 (30F). February: 2/7 (30F). December: 12/1 (31F); 12/14 (31F); 12/15 (25F); 12/22 (32F); 12/23 (24F); 12/24 (26F). A historic Christmas Eve snowstorm drops snow to the north of us and 12″ of snow to the southeast of us and ZERO snow in Austin. I have never had a white Christmas. 12/25 (25F); 12/26 (27F); 12/27 (31F). We began the year with a high of 74F and ended it on a high of 78F.

2005: 9 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/16 (30F); 1/17 (29F); 1/23 (30F); 1/24 (32F). November starts with highs of 88F on 11/7 and 11/8 before our first freeze on 11/17 (31F). Then it’s back to record highs of 87F on 11/23. I think this is when I gave up gardening that year. And suddenly it’s winter: 12/6 (27F); 12/7 (25F) and freezing drizzle and hundreds of car accidents.; 12/8 (23F); 12/9 (27F).

2006: 7 days freezing temperatures.

February: 2/12 (29F); 2/13 (31F). High of 82F on 2/16 preceding an arctic front: 2/18 (28F); 2/19 (28F) which results in more than 400 accidents as freezing fog ices up bridges and overpasses.

December: 12/1 (29F); 12/4 (29F); 12/8 (31F).

2007: 16 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/15 (29F); 1/16 (29F); 1/17 (29F); 1/18 (32F); 1/29 (31F). A high of 81 on 1/5 is followed by some of our nastiest cold weather of the year. In the middle of a nasty 4-day storm, Austin has a rare day (1/16) where the temperature never gets above freezing. The low was 29F and the high was 31F. Bonus. Snow!

Austinites were excited by a dusting of snow.

February: 2/3 (28F); 2/4 (32); 2/14 (30F); 2/15 (29F); 2/16 (24F).

December: 12/16 (30F); 12/17 (30F); 12/23 (28F); 12/24 (29F); 12/27 (30F); 12/29 (31F). What’s a gardener to do? December 2007 had four days in the 80s and 6 days at 32 or below.

2008: 12 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/2 (30F); 1/3 (29F); 1/17 (32F); 1/19 (30F); 1/20 (25F); 1/30 (32F).
February: 2/1 (28F); 2/27 (31F). This month opens with a hard freeze but then temperatures soar to 92F on February 25th. Seven other high temperature readings this month were in the 80s.
December: 12/6 (29F); 12/15 (31F); 12/16 (29F); 12/22 (28F).

2009: 13 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/12 (30F); 1/14 (30F); 1/21 (31F); 1/27 (32F); 1/28 (28F); 1/29 (28F). Two days of hard freeze on the 28th and 29th but by the 31st the high has rebounded to 71F.
February: 2/3 (30F). We’re still in the drought and like 2008, this February starts with one cold day but ends with a temperature in the 90s: 91F on 2/27.
It starts raining in September 2009 and we have a much wetter winter than in the previous two years. The cloud cover and the soil moisture keeps the temperatures more constant and cooler. Winter begins with a hard freeze causing many trees to drop all their leaves in a few hours.
December: 12/4 (29F); 12/5 (25F); 12/9 (32F); 12/10 (31F); 12/25 (31F); 12/26 (28F).

2010: 17 days freezing temperatures in spring.

January 2010 brings the most miserable winter weather in most Austin gardeners’ memories. We hope never to see its equal in our lifetimes. Five hard freezes in a row and temperatures in the teens! The official Camp Mabry temperature dropped to 17F but it was lower at ABIA and in many of my friends’ gardens.
January: 1/2 (29F); 1/4 (32F); 1/5 (27F); 1/7 (28F); 1/8 (21F); 1/9 (17F); 1/10 (20F); 1/11 (27F); 1/29 (32F); 1/30 (30F); 1/31 (30F).
February: 2/13 (30F); 2/15 (32F); 2/16 (30F); 2/17 (30F); 2/24 (32F); 2/25 (32F).
December: 12/1 (32F)

We got a wonderful snowy day (but no freeze?) on February 23rd. The snow didn’t stick and alternated with rain, sometimes freezing and sometimes not.

Although two freeze warnings have been issued for Austin, we’re still waiting for our first freeze of this winter.

Update: December 1, 2010

This morning Camp Mabry registered its first freeze of winter 2010/11. Many Austin gardens already experienced light frost damage from cold temperatures last week.

Salvia madrensis
Salvia madrensis.

November 19th, 2010
Salvia madrensis

I notice Salvia madrensis (Forsythia sage) for the first time last fall when some Austin garden bloggers make a field trip to the San Antonio Botanical garden. I was surprised to see a yellow salvia. I fell in love on the spot. It was blooming in dappled shade so I thought maybe I could grow it. When Renee (Renee’s Roots) heard I wanted one, she shared a plant from her garden.

I plant it in a new bed by the driveway with another acquisition from that trip, an Italian stone pine from Dan Hosage’s Madrone Nursery.

Salvia madrensis
2009-11-19. Plant the passalong from Renee.

I protect it during freezes and it survives even Austin’s big freeze in January 2010. After that, however, I get careless and forget to cover it in a later milder freeze. It responds by freezing to the ground. I fear I’ve lost it. During the spring that bed was a mass of Nigella damascena from Lancashire Rose. When the Nigella dies down and I clear it out, I’m happy to see three salvia plants coming up from the roots.

Salvia madrensis
2010-07-12. Three plant sprout from the roots.

Salvia madrensis struggled a bit in our very dry August 2010. Every day its large leaves wilt. I was relieved it was getting only morning light. I baby it with water more than most plants that month.

Now that it’s blooming, I know that it was worth the little extra effort.

Salvia madrensis
2010-11-17. Almost a year later, looking fantastic and producing new sprouts.

Salvia madrensis is said to grow in part to full shade. Just this week, the tree it was growing under was cut back severely resulting in much more sunlight in this spot. In order to help it survive next summer, I’m going to transplant the offsets in another part of the garden. It’s great to find a flower that I like that is happy in shade.

Salvia madrensis

Updates

Dateline: 2011-02-20.
I was afraid I’d lost the Salvia madrensis because (despite being covered) all the fresh new growth that had sprouted after I’d cut down the fading flower stems froze to the ground. Today, scores of little sprouts are coming back from the roots.

Dateline: 2017-07-17
They freeze back in a hard winter and die back in the heat of summer, but they have come back reliably every spring and fall.

Aloe Grassy Lassie
Hybrid aloe ‘Grassy Lassie’.

November 15th, 2010
GBBD 201011: Nov 2010

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

November 15, 2010

The day began gray and gloomy, real November weather. Mid-afternoon it finally cleared a little but the chill remained. We built our first fire of the season tonight.

Lots of forward-thinking Austinites are scurrying around preparing for our first frost. One of the earliest freezes in recent years was on November 17, 2005. I’m hoping this will be the warm, dry winter forecast; I have a lot of tomatoes hanging in the balance. The ‘Gold Rush Currant’ tomatoes open scores of flowers every day even though I pinch them back daily.

The leaves of most of the trees are beginning to turn. They aren’t dropping off fast enough to suit me, though. I’m anxious for the leaves to drop, so I can clean up, and plant my meadow flowers out.

Almost everything flowering today is new for this month. The Pacific chrysanthemum and the butterfly weed started opening today.

Pacific Chrysanthemum
Pacific chrysanthemum, Ajania pacifica

Asclepias curassavicaScarlet milkweed, Asclepias curassavica

The ‘Elves Blend’ sunflowers are in full bloom now. So is one wild sunflower. I planted another variety for fall but it hasn’t bloomed yet. Last year, Austin got its first freeze before the sunflowers opened.
Helianthus annuus Elves Blend
Elves Blend sunflower, Helianthus annuus

I planted some other flowers for fall color but I forgot how bad the shade is still in November. The zinnias and cosmos were a complete failure.

The rest of today’s flowers were brought to me by other Austin garden bloggers. The white cat’s whiskers are a passalong from Robin at Getting Grounded.
Cats Whiskers
Cat’s whiskers, Orthosiphon stamineus

The stunning Salvia madrensis is a passalong from Renee at Renee’s Roots.
Salvia madrensis
Salvia madrensis

And now in its second year, the Mexican mint marigold is a passalong from Annie at The Transplantable Rose.
Tagetes lucida
Mexican mint marigold, Tagetes lucida

November 15, 2010

The list of all plants flowering today, November 15th 2009, at Zanthan Gardens.

  • Abelia grandiflora (2010)
  • Ajania pacifica (2010)
  • Aloe ‘Grassy Lassie’ (2010)
  • Antigonon leptopus (2010) almost all gone to seed
  • Antirrhinum majus (2010) rebloom, survived summer
  • Asclepias curassavica (2010)
  • Dianthus ‘Fandango Crimson’ (2010)
  • Duranta erecta (2010)
  • Galphimia glauca (2010)
  • Helianthus annuus ‘Elves Blend’ (2010) wild
  • Helianthus annuus (2010) wild
  • Lantana montevidensis (2010)
  • Lantana ‘New Gold’ (2010)
  • Nerium oleander (2010)
  • Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’ (2010)
  • Orthosiphon stamineus (2010)
  • Pandorea ricasalonia (2010)
  • Parkinsonia aculeata, Retama (2010)
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette’ (2010)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’ (2010)
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (2010)
  • rosemary (2010)
  • Salvia madrensis (2010)
  • Setcresea (both purple and green) (2010)
  • Tagetes lucida (2010)
  • tomato (2010)

datura

November 14th, 2010
Datura, a Mystery

Thanks to rains through July this year, a lot of self sown Datura inoxia (I think) sprouted. Most of these were seedlings from plants passed along from Diana at Sharing Nature’s Garden. One of the plants she gave me survived two winters in the ground. It didn’t even die back in the warm winter of 2008/9. However, it froze to the ground in the severe freeze of January 2010. I wasn’t too disappointed because it had sown plenty of seed. I knew there would be no shortage of plants this summer. I was very surprised, though, when it came back from its roots.

In October, I was watering when I noticed a lovely lemon scent. I followed my nose to this datura. None of the other datura flowers had a scent. I looked more carefully and noticed that the flowers on this one plant were larger and that the petals curved back at the lip.
datura
2010-10-04. The lemon-scented flower.

The flowers on the other datura plants did not open as fully and the petals didn’t curl back as much.
datura
2010-10-04. The unscented flower.

The leaves were different, too. The leaves of the scented datura were much wider at the base. The leaves of the unscented datura were more lanceolate.

As the seedpods formed, I could see more differences.
datura

The seeds from the scented plant were fat, round globes. When they split to drop their seeds, the bottom fell out of the globe.
datura

The pods from the unscented plant were more elongated, more egg-shaped. When they split to drop their seeds, the four sides curled back like a banana skin.
datura

The seeds inside differed as well. The seeds from the unscented flowers (left) were smaller and slightly darker brown than the seeds from the lemon scented flowers (right).
datura

I’m not that surprised to discover a lemon-scented datura in my garden. Ten years ago I bought seeds for Datura metel ‘Belle Blanche’ because it was described as having the scent of lemon chiffon pie.

Note: Wikipedia says that Datura metel has fruits that are “knobby, not spiny”. Both of these seedpods look pretty spiny to me. So I’m still not sure I can tell the difference between Datura inoxia and Datura metel. And I don’t know where Datura meteloides comes into it. But at least I can see the difference between these two datura in my garden. If my eyes fail me, the nose knows.

Update: March 1, 2011

The lemon-scented datura is sprouting back from its roots after freezing to the ground during Austin’s two hard freezes in February 2011.

Update: April 5, 2011

First flower.

Zanthan Gardens larkspur

November 11th, 2010
Password to Larkspur Lane

Do you have a signature plant? I always thought oxblood lilies were mine but quite a few people have told me that when they think of Zanthan Gardens, they think of larkspur. I grow a lot of larkspur because it grows itself. If larkspur put out a resume, it could justifiably claim, “independent self-starter and good team player.” Larkspur is a rampant self-sower (hundreds of free plants every year) and yet it has no bad, weedy or invasive habits. It blooms and is gone.

I picked up a packet of larkspur from Wildseed Farms the first spring I began my meadow. I didn’t know anything about larkspur. I’m not sure I’d even seen it growing. Larkspur is native to Europe, not Texas so it’s not a plant you see in roadside wildflower plantings. It has a long taproot and so isn’t a good candidate for a six-pack at the big box store either. So why was I drawn to larkspur? Credit Nancy Drew.

Zanthan Gardens larkspurMy introduction to larkspur was as a child in one of my favorite Nancy Drew volumes, The Password to Larkspur Lane. Ever since, I’ve associated larkspur with old-fashioned, slightly run-down mansion grounds full of mystery and perhaps a little danger.

Larkspur is the distinguishing characteristic which enables Nancy to find the hideout in the woods where the bad guys carry out their evil plans. Thinking about it now, it’s a good thing that the mystery presented itself to Nancy at the right time of year or she never seen the larkspur or found the mansion.

Nancy, who is always best at anything she tries, is an avid gardener in this book. It begins with her in the garden, cutting larkspur for “the annual midsummer flower show held for charity each year at the estate of some wealthy River Heights resident.”

“Why do they call them larkspurs?” Tommy demanded.
“I don’t know, I must admit,” Mr. Drew replied. “Nancy is the gardener. Perhaps she can tell you.”
“Why, I don’t know either,” Nancy exclaimed. “They are also called delphiniums, and I know why that is their name. They were the favorite flowers used by the Greeks to decorate the altar of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Larkspur is a quaint name, but I can’t figure out why it was given the flowers.”

If only the 1932 Nancy Drew had had access to Wikipedia which explains, that the spur on the back of the flower resembles the spurred claw of the lark. It’s also called lark’s claw or knight’s spur.
Zanthan Gardens larkspur
What Nancy calls larkspur, however, seems to be delphiniums. Larkspur has a fine, feather leaf compared to delphinium. Delphinium is perennial; larkspur, annual. As such, larkspur is sometimes regarded as the poor cousin to delphinium. Cheap and easy-to-grow larkspur is the flower of poor cottagers while perennial delphinium graces the more stately houses.
Zanthan Gardens meadow
This year I’ve experimented with how I use larkspur in the garden. Rather than just plant it in drifts in the meadow, I created a new bed (where the front lawn died last year). The beds are rectangular and formal and the only thing growing in them are larkspur. These larkspur were all grown from saved seeds and transplanted into rows. There are almost 400 plants. Despite the more formal setting, the larkspur manages to look blowsy, wild and free. And that’s what I love about it.
Zanthan Gardens larkspur

Elves Blend sunflower

November 8th, 2010
Helianthus annuus ‘Elves Blend’

I like to try new ornamental sunflower varieties every year. No matter how the breeders try to “improve” sunflowers, they remain an unfussy, straightforward flower. There’s something very egalitarian about sunflowers. This fall I was attracted to ‘Elves Blend’ (from Botanical Interests) because it was advertised as a dwarf variety, growing only 16-24 inches tall.

Elves Blend sunflower

I planted them on September 13th in one of my future larkspur beds. I planned on them blooming in the fall to provide some interest until I could get the larkspur planted. Then after the sunflowers were felled by freeze, I’d put the larkspur seedlings in. I completely miscalculated when the leaves would fall. Here it is two months later, the leaves are still on the trees, and the sunflowers are in shade most of the day.

This is probably why they are only 6 to 12 inches tall! They aren’t happy but they’re trying their darnedest.They began blooming on Halloween.

If you like sunflowers but feel like you just don’t have the space for huge towering ones, ‘Elves Blend’ is just the ticket.

Elves Blend sunflower

recycled glass
Mountain of glass bottles waiting to be crushed and ground into processed glass aggregate (the sandy looking stuff in front.)

October 29th, 2010
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.