Datura inoxia
Datura inoxia and Lindheimmer senna both in full bloom today.

September 15th, 2010
GBBD 201009: Sep 2010

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

September 15, 2010

First fall is firmly entrenched in Austin. Given that it’s hot and humid, how do I know summer has surrendered? When I go outside, it doesn’t feel like I’ve stepped into an oven. When I walk down the street, the heat no longer radiates off the sidewalks and buildings. If I’m unable to water the potted plants one day, they don’t immediately die. The plants don’t wilt after ten minutes of direct sunlight. I’m pretty confident if a plant has made it this far it’s survived summer. (I did lose a couple of things the week before the rain: my potted sweet bay and my second ‘Ducher’ rose.)

I’m surprised by people who can’t feel the 15-degree difference between 107° and 92. I’m not going to say it’s pleasant outside but it is bearable. The air is thick with humidity and mosquitoes the result of Tropical Storm Hermine. After an August with only a trace of rain, Hermine answered our prayers with a vengeance. Zanthan Gardens got about 6 inches of rain in one day; other places in Austin got twice that. Flooding ensued. Eight people died (not all in Central Texas).

The oxblood lilies had their day living up to one of their other common names, hurricane lilies. Their fleeting beauty is all but faded today. So the prize for most striking display for GBBD is a toss-up between the Datura inoxia and the Lindheirmer senna. Some of the latter is over six feet tall. I’ve never seen it so tall. It grew a lot during the wet early summer months.

Lindheimers senna
Lindheimers senna

Gardens everywhere in Austin are brimming with Pride of Barbados this year. I’m seduced by the clear orange/yellow combination. Usually I’m not a fan of orange–it has to be the right flower. I’m glad I bought one. I also managed to grow a Pride of Barbados from seed which I planted a couple of years ago. It died back to the ground during the January 2010 freeze but now it is almost as big as the one I bought. It still hasn’t flowered.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima
Pride of Barbados

Both the golden thryallis plants are flowering as is the ‘Bangkok Yellow” canna which I had to rescue from pond-trashing raccoons. September is a very yellow month at Zanthan Gardens.

Galphimia glauca
Golden thryallis

The garlic chives started flowering very early this year and are still flowering. I planted them to complement the oxblood lilies but they don’t always flower together.

Allium tuberosum
Garlic chives

The vitex, the retama, and the desert willow have all surprised me with flowers today. Even the ‘Catawba’ crape myrtle is reblooming. The coral vine is also pretty happy, sprawling over twenty feet into my neighbor’s cedar elms. A couple of four o’clocks opened, too. The ‘Starry Eyes’ nierembergia has been a winner throughout the summer. I definitely want more.

Nierembergia gracilis
Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’

After the rain the garden is really just a collection of moderately managed wildflowers. The ruellia (all three types) have taken over the back yard. It’s very obliging. I don’t water or feed it and it grows and grows and grows. Another native plant, scarlet spiderling has been very aggressive this year. I don’t mind it in small doses but this year the plants are huge. The flowers, although a very pretty color, are tiny.

Boerhavia coccinea
scarlet spiderling

Another native plant that I try not to let get out of control but which has this year is this mallow (maybe Indian mallow, Abutilon incanum). This isn’t a very good photo…it makes it look like horseherb. The flower of the mallow is much larger than that of horseherb; it’s about the size of a penny. It’s also a pretty pale, flat buttery yellow. The mallow is an upright bushy plant; the horseherb is a sprawling ground cover.

mallow
mallow

Eventually I’ll get the garden all under control again. Or maybe not.

Rhodophiala bifida

September 9th, 2010
Oxblood Lily Day

One day each year the oxblood lilies peak. Today is that day. A drenching from Tropical Storm Hermine last Tuesday brought forth the main display. I don’t know why I’m even inside writing this up. I could spend the whole day lying on my stomach in the grass reveling in the beauty.

Rhodophiala bifida

I say this every year, but…for Austinites, oxblood lilies are like daffodils for northern gardeners. They presage the beginning of the southerners’ gardening year. They trumpet the triumph of the garden over our worst and most dreaded season, summer. They are of similar size and form to daffodils. (I suppose technically they’re more lily-shaped, thus the name. No they are not related to lilies). They naturalize in lovely drifts. The only thing oxblood lilies lack is a scent.

Rhodophiala bifida

As you can see, I planned my garden house to overlook the oxblood lilies in the stump garden.

Rhodophiala bifida

Tatton Park
2008-08-22. The beech walk, Tatton Park.

July 18th, 2010
Tatton Park: Beech Walk

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence, depressed…
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
— William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book Twelfth

I have been holding the memory of this walk through Tatton Park in reserve, waiting for a miserable summer day in Austin to pull it out and use it like a charm against the heat.

I began at the Knutsford entrance and walked through the beech wood to Tatton Park garden. Almost as I begin my walk, a misty rain starts to fall. The trees are so dense that very little rain falls on me.

In Austin we are suffering drought but Cheshire has had a rainy summer. I enjoy the novelty of picking my way down the muddy track. Sometimes there are huge mucky puddles and I have to backtrack to get around them. The walk is so dark and wet that even though it is just two rows of trees lining a path, I can imagine that I’m lost deep in a forest.

Tatton Park

My only company is the sheep.

Tatton Park

I visit the gardens and have lunch the Stables Restaurant. They are promoting locally grown (Cheshire) food including vegetables grown at Tatton. This is the best meal I’ve ever had at an RHS garden. At other garden shops, it’s usually just a supermarket scone and teabag in hot water for “tea”.

I thought I’d be energized by lunch enough to tour the gardens more. I’ve been here so many times that after I visit my favorite spots I decide it’s better to begin the walk home.

Tatton Park
Of all the trees, I loved this one the best.

I linger. I loll. I meander. I soak up the impressions, stopping often to take photographs or to write. It takes almost three hours to get home: one hour down beech walk, and two hours from Knutsford to Mobberley.

Tatton Park
Melchett Mere

While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
— William Wordsworth, Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

Related

Tatton Park: The Italian Garden
Tatton Park: The Japanese Garden

Polanisa dodecandra
2010-07-15. When it’s summer, I can count on clammyweed (Polanisia dodecandra).

July 15th, 2010
GBBD 201007: July 2010

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

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

July 15, 2010

Although Austin’s heat index hit triple digit temperatures this week, our actual highs have remained in the 90s. The humidity is smothering. Being in the garden is miserable, even at dawn. If the humidity doesn’t drive me indoors, the mosquitoes do. However, looking at the garden from inside an air-conditioned house, I’m astonished at how green it still is, how lovely it appears from a distance.

I find it interesting to look back at previous years’ GBBD posts. Last July as we kept racking up our triple digit days on the way to 68 (not quite breaking the 1925 record of 69), I couldn’t bring myself to face the garden or to inventory my disappointment. Of course, now I wish I’d made the effort just to see what could bloom in a summer like last year’s. (And yes, a voice in my head told me as much at the time but for once the heart won out.) In July 2008 we were still at the beginning of the drought, suffering but still believing that fall rains would bring relief. The summer of 2007, however, was very similar to this summer.

The rain has encouraged the roses to bloom. All, except ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’*, have bloomed this month. ‘Red Cascade’ has been the real surprise. It sat there for years doing nothing and this year it’s hasn’t stopped blooming. It wants to be a ground rose though. Long canes snake out hugging the ground. They aren’t happy when I try to tie them up to the fence. The small fig tree I planted last year has doubled in size.

In the losses column another surprise: the gingko tree. It’s never been particularly vibrant but it held on through drought and freeze. It attempted to leaf out this spring, put out a few wan leaves, and then gave up. The rain also killed off my new sotol plant (planted in well draining soil amended with decomposed granite) and my thyme (potted in a deep herb pot).

Rain or drought certain flowers are dependable July bloomers at Zanthan Gardens: Antigonon leptopus, Hibiscus syriacus, Lagerstroemia indica, and Malvaviscus arboreus. Carefree self-sown flowers are Polanisia dodecandra, Ruellia (various), and Rudbeckia hirta. Perversely, given that I always have them, I don’t really want more of them. What I really want this year a Pride of Barbados. I’m almost content to enjoy my neighbor’s as I sit looking out the window from my desk. I could plant my own but when our low temperatures barely drop out of the 80s at night, I’m not highly motivated to work in the garden.

Noticeably absent from the list of dependable summer bloomers are the duranta and the plumbago. Neither has recovered yet from the Great Freeze of January 2010. The oleander is also slowing making its way back and has managed to put out a couple of flowers. I used to it being a huge wall of champagne-colored flowers.

New for July

I’ve tried growing crocosmia several times. This is my first success thanks to passalong plants from AnnieinAustin. They just began blooming yesterday.

Crocosmia
2010-07-15. Crocosmia. (Technically this won’t bloom until tomorrow.)

I first noticed the pigeonberry in Eleanor’s Garden of E on the 2009 Master Gardener’s tour. I liked it so much I bought a 4-inch pot of one on the spot. It died back to its roots during the January 2010 freeze and has remained quite small. It began blooming July 10th.

Rivina humilis pigeonberry
2010-07-15. Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis).

When I bought a Mexican buckeye tree a few years back, there were second small plant in the container. I planted it and it’s stayed about a foot tall, smothered under weeds. In late spring when I was cleaning up around the raspberries, I uncovered it. It appreciated either the attention or the rain and has tripled in size in a couple of months. Today I noticed it was flowering, something it’s supposed to do in early spring.

Ungnadia speciosa
2010-07-15. Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa).

Between GBBDs

Several flower bloomed and faded in my garden between GBBDs and so didn’t show up in the inventory for either June or July. Rainlilies: Zephyranthes grandiflora, Zephyranthes ‘Labuffarosea’ (another passalong from @AnnieinAustin), and the two different white ones. The Crinum bulbispermum rebloomed after the rain.

Update

* 2010-07-18. ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ produced one flower. That means every rose has produced at least one flower in July 2010…not all at the same time.

Complete List for July 2010

Zanthan Gardens

This is the list of all plants flowering today, July 15th 2010, at Zanthan Gardens. I’ve also noted if the plant was blooming on GBBD July 15th, 2007 or 2008. I have no notes for July 2009.

  • Abelia grandiflora (2007, 2010)
  • Antigonon leptopus (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • Antirrhinum majus (2010)
  • Aristolochia fimbriata (2010)
  • Asparagus densiflorus (2010)
  • Commelina communis/erecta (2007, 2010)
  • Crocosmia (2010)
  • Datura inoxia (2010)
  • Engelmannia peristenia/pinnatifida (2008, 2010)
  • Helianthus annuus (2010)
  • Hesperaloe parviflora (2008, 2010)
  • Hibiscus syriacus (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)
  • Lagerstroemia indica‘Catawba’ (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • Lantana ‘New Gold’ (2007, 2010)
  • Malvaviscus arboreus (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • Mondo grass (2007, 2010)
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’ (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’ (2010)
  • Oenothera speciosa (2007, 2010)
  • Origanum vulgare (2010)
  • Oxalis triangularis (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • Parkinsonia aculeata (2010)
  • Pavonia hastata (2010)
  • Rivina humilis (2010)
  • Polanisia dodecandra (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette‘ (2007, 2010)
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (2010)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’ (2010)
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (2010)
  • rosemary (2007, 2010)
  • Rudbeckia hirta (2007, 2010)
  • Ruellia (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • Setcresea (both purple and green) (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • Thymophylla tenuiloba ‘Golden Fleece’ (2010)
  • Ungnadia speciosa (2010)
  • Verbena canadensis (2007, 2010)
  • waterlily ‘Helvola’ (2008, 2010)
  • Zexmenia hispida (2010)

Zanthan Gardens privacy fence
The new fence. And a new bed to plant. Notice that it does not slope with the ground. Why is revealed below.

July 10th, 2010
Fenced In

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

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

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

Finding a Contractor

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

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

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

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

Prepping the Garden

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

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

The Process

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

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

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

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

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

The Result

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

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

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

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

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

tomato Red Zebra
Tomato ‘Red Zebra’. Maybe

July 2nd, 2010
Tomato Review 2010 Spring

Selecting a Site

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

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

Starting from Seed

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

Tomato Season

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

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

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

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

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

Soil Preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pests

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

Diseases

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

Tomato Varieties

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

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

Jaune Flamme

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

Arkansas Traveler

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

tomato Arkansas Traveler
‘Arkansas Traveler’ set fruit well.

Red Zebra?

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

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

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

Faribo Goldheart

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

“Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud-turtles elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, waterlilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries, and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education.” — Luther Burbank

June 27th, 2010
The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants

Recently someone asked on Twitter, “Why create hybrid tomatoes that mimic the look and taste of heirloom tomatoes when you can just grow heirlooms?” My answer (despite the fact that I do grow heirloom varieties). Early blight. Late blight. Southern blight. Verticillium wilt. Gray leaf spot. Septoria leaf spot. And improved yields. Even the heirlooms that are currently popular have been selected and saved because they had something special that caught human attention. We are always on the lookout for bigger, better, and more because our population keeps increasing while the amount of land available for food production decreases.

“The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” — Thomas Jefferson

By Jefferson’s measure, Luther Burbank stands head and shoulders above everyone. Burbank was not a plant explorer, scouring the new continent for plants unknown to European settlers. He was a plant inventor. He created more than 800 plants. Plumcot. Shasta daisy. Spineless prickly pear. Russet potato. Royal walnut. Elephant garlic. Stoneless plum. None of these plants existed 150 years ago and all of them are the results of his efforts.

Jane S. Smith has written a very readable biography–one that provides plenty of specific information and establishes the historical and social environment in which Burbank created.

As a young man, Burbank read Darwin’s Variation of Plants and Animals Under Domestication which sparked in him the idea that he could accelerate evolution by selection, crossing, grafting, and even changing the environment in which plants grow. And then he just went out and did it.

Burbank was not a scientist in today’s narrow sense of the world. He was not interested in theoretical knowledge, in controlled experiments, in keeping careful documentation in order to ensure reproducible results. He focused on the practical application of Darwin’s theories. Like his friends, Edison and Ford, he was an inventor and a businessman. However, unlike them, his inventions–new plants–could not be patented.

Immensely popular in his day, his name was good business for the seed companies and booksellers. Yet, he did not fit easily into other people’s schemes. The fledgling scientific community was baffled by his–what we’d call these days “New Age”–ideas. In order to protect his business, he was not open about his processes. And he did not keep precise records. He knew what he did and how he did it but he wasn’t anxious to share his methods with others and thus lose his competitive advantage. He also got into trouble with fundamentalist Christians for bold claims of improving on God’s creation and also for suggesting that we not “search the Bible for rules of blind obedience or…frighten children with visions of hell. The meaning of life was to be found in the flow of experience, not in any expectation of heaven.” He was “denounced in pulpits across the country” and received “hate mail, abusive telegrams, and threatening phone calls.”

Burbank’s practices of carefully breeding and ruthlessly selecting only superior plants did not extend to his ideas on improving the human race. He did not approve of eugenics in any of its forms. He lectured, “What we should do is strengthen the weak, cultivate them as we cultivate plants, build them up, and make them the very best they are capable of becoming.” He was an advocate putting off formal education until a child was at least ten, of a national system of non-sectarian relief to provide food and a healthy environment to children whose parents could not afford to provide for them. He believed investing in children was a shared investment in the future of the country, not charity.

In our century, plant invention has moved into what many consider the dark area of genetically-modified organisms. Jane S. Smith makes an insightful contrast to today’s patented monocultures.

“From the Plant Patent Act of 1930 to the contemporary battles over bioengineered crops, the history of modern agriculture is a record of increasing claims of property rights over what once was the common heritage of nature…Burbank and all his man plant-breeding brethren were dedicated to expanding the grower’s options, supplementing known varieties of just about every kind of plant with new ones that looked better, lasted longer, grew more lushly, tasted sweeter, could be shipped farther, and could be afforded by every consumer.”

Today the focus of the large plant breeder seems to be a desire to constrain natural biodiversity in order to give them a monopoly on their patented creations.

I really enjoyed The Garden of Invention. If you are interested in reading it, it’s on sale at Daedalus Books for $4.98. (No, I’m not getting a referral fee. I bought my copy at Half Price Books for $9.99).

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010
Water lily ‘Rhonda Kay’ at Mark and Debi’s garden.

June 23rd, 2010
Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Now on my fourth year of touring Austin ponds, I see that my eye has begun to wander. I snapped very few photographs of ponds. So, if this post leaves you wanting, head over to The Transplantable Rose where @Annieinaustin provides a more complete tour.

Jim’s Garden

The 10 x 25 foot pond fills the gap between the addition to the house and the fence. The room overlooking the pond is walled in glass so that you can sit in the comfort of the indoors and see nothing but waterfalls and plants. Now that’s designing for our Austin environment!

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

What I was particularly attracted to were these metal and concrete risers. I’ve been wanting to do metal enclosed terraces between our house and pond. I love these sinuous curves.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

The pond creator, Kevin Wood, was there showing before and process photos on his iPad. Unfortunately, he didn’t do the stairs.

Danette’s Garden

Kevin Wood also did Danette’s garden which I found quite peaceful.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

The waterfall muted the noise from the bustle of nearby South Congress. But the sense of peace came from something more than silence. Although filled with many interesting plants, the garden had a feeling of openness and space. One could breathe deeply in it.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

The plant that really caught my eye was a white, single Rose of Sharon. Most modern Rose of Sharon flowers are double and I didn’t even recognize it as the same flower. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it. I think I like Rose of Sharon even more than Austin’s ubiquitous crape myrtles (which do look fantastic this year). And they’re just as easy to keep alive in Austin.

Leeann’s Garden

Leeann’s garden was designed to be a delightful environment for children to play in. Even though the back yard was tiny, it was filled with places to explore and hide in. The garden was a natural playscape, both fun and beautiful. This tiny, imaginative space made me feel sorry for children doomed to grow up in the bland lawn infested suburbs.

golden lace Polish hen

The garden was filled with trees, water, and (of course) critters. A bunny. And four chickens. How could anyone resist the charms of a a golden lace Polish hen?

Mark and Debi’s Garden

We visited Mark and Debi’s garden on previous pond tour in July after two years of drought. Even then the pond and landscape were in good condition because they are watered from an artesian spring which provides 10,000-20,000 gallons of water a day. (Compare that to my usage in the worst heat of summer–10,000 gallons of water a month.)

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

All that water plus all the water from our wet winter produced one of the lushest gardens I’ve ever seen in Austin. I probably took more photos here than at any other garden.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

I overheard Mark say that before he became a doctor he was an engineer–which is why he likes to build things. I also appreciate that he labeled his huge collection of water lilies. Now I know the one I want to buy is called ‘Star of Siam’. I love its mottled leaves. However, I doubt that it will fit in my small pond.

Bud’s Garden

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

I had seen Bud’s garden before and, again, it was interesting to see it earlier in the season and after a rainy spell rather than in the drought. The plants had really filled in and I preferred the choices to the zinnias that were there when I last saw it.

Susan’s Garden

Susan’s garden is one of the best shade gardens I’ve ever seen in Austin. The backyard is just a typical-sized suburban yard but the entire space is filled with plants. To make it seem even larger, the path through the garden is a circle. You can’t see the entire garden at glance and you’re drawn along the circular path to find out what’s just out of sight.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Plant choices for dry, hot shade always seem so limited. But this was a very inventive garden. It had lots of whimsical garden objects and a really gorgeous wooden bench, too. If this garden hasn’t been on Central Texas Gardener yet, it should be.

Bill and Kharon’s Garden

The pond was small but deep and filled with fish. “Too many fish,” Kharon said. What I really liked about it was how the water plants were arranged. I wish I could have gotten a better photo but people were clustered around the edge looking at the fish.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

I really like the bald cypress in the pond–although I wonder what will happen to it when it gets too big for the pond.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Lisa and Donald’s Garden

This garden was such a surprise. From the street, I would never have guessed that such a wonderful place was hidden in the back. I loved all the woodwork in the fences, porches, and outbuildings–both the style and the colors really appealed to me.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

The Transplantable Rose has a photo of the deep green lawn with two tomato red chairs on a tiny patio. Perfect!

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Here’s an excellent solution to the fence height restrictions.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

raspberry Dorman
2010-05-30. After a good rainfall, the raspberries plumped up invitingly.

June 20th, 2010
Raspberry ‘Dorman’

Some of you have been waiting almost as impatiently as I have for the outcome of the great Austin raspberry experiment. In February, 2009 I dug deep and built a raised bed and planted raspberries. Raspberries are not recommended for Austin because our summers are too hot and our soil is too alkaline. But I had come across a variety, ‘Dorman’, which was supposed to be able to take our climate. And, well. I love raspberries.

Difficult as it was to wait for raspberries for an entire year, I followed the advice to pinch off the flowers the first year. Raspberries produce best on last year’s canes. Every year after the harvest, the old canes are thinned out to make room for the new canes on which next year’s fruit grows. The canes shot up to the top of the trellis, eight feet, and then curved down to the ground. Raspberries come in different forms and ‘Dorman’ is a rambling raspberry. Where the tip of the longest cane touched the ground it rooted. I now have a fourth raspberry plant (growing in completely unamended clay).

raspberry Dorman
2010-04-10. Raspberry flowers.

The raspberries survived the summer of second-most 100° days in Austin. They survived the big freeze in January 2010. They grew lush with all the extra rain and cooler days we had between September and April. On April 18th, they began flowering. I watched them like a bird for a month. Nothing. When we came back on May 25th from a week away, some raspberries had ripened. The birds had eaten most of the ripe ones. We covered the canes in netting. We tasted some raspberries the birds had missed.

As the Japanese say, “Suppai!” They were both flavorless and a bit sour at the same time. (Perhaps the flavor was more astringent/alum flavor, like green persimmons–“shibui” than “suppai”.)

raspberry Dorman

Perhaps we weren’t letting them ripen enough. Also, they hadn’t been watered the week we were gone. That week we had a nice rain and covered raspberries grew plump and deep red. The flavor did not improve. Over two weeks I ate raspberries every morning. I’m guessing I harvested about a quart of raspberries. And they were all bland and a bit sour. They were completely lacking in the unmistakable razzy raspberry flavor.

raspberry Dorman

So, yes. It turns out we can grow raspberries in Austin. But if you grow ‘Dorman’ they aren’t really worth the effort. Next I will try to find a variety that is known for its flavor and see if I can trick it into tolerating Austin.

Helianthus annuus
Wild sunflower.

June 15th, 2010
GBBD 201006: June 2010

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

June 15, 2010

Austin is in the glory of first summer now and its colors are like the chorus of that Pete Seeger ditty, Henry My Son, green and yeller. May, typically one of Austin’s wettest months, was unusually dry in 2010. However, June has made up for it with big storms bringing 2 inches of rain (June 2) and 4 inches of rain (June 9) to Zanthan Gardens. As a result, lot of fading spring flowers, like bluebonnets, larkspur, false dayflowers, nigella, and Confederate jasmine put out a few more flowers. And several of the roses are producing a second flush: ‘Blush Noisette’, ‘New Dawn’, and ‘Ducher’. ‘Red Cascade’ continues to have a few flowers from its first flush.

Lupinus texensis
Fading bluebonnet. Two new flowers opened today but all the flowers are very pale in the heat.

New for June

My old faithfuls for first summer are in full flower: Rudbeckia hirta, Hibiscus syriacus, Antigonon leptopus, various Ruellia, and Polanisia dodecandra.

All over town Austin’s ubiquitous summer flower, the crape myrtle, is laden with bloom. I don’t think I’ve ever seen with such huge flowers before–just like our spring wildflowers. I credit the incredible rain from September to April. The lesson I’m learning is that while these flowers may tolerate our heat and drought, they really love twice the water we normally give them.

Lagerstroemia indica Catawba
Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba.’

2010 was also the best year ever for my vitex (now fading). I have so much shade in my garden that both the crape myrtle and the vitex are pretty subdued compared to what you’ll see elsewhere in Austin

I’m still waiting for the oleander, duranto, and plumbago to flower. They are struggling back from their roots after Austin’s unusual big freeze in January 2010. I’m happily finding all sorts of plants I thought had died in the freeze springing back–the biggest surprise was new growth on the bottlebrush bush. And although I wasn’t surprised to discover a lot of self sown datura, I was to see new growth springing from the stump of one of last year’s plants.

I’ve had such good luck with the scraggly annual black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) that I thought I’d give the more impressive Rudbeckia maxima a try.

Rudbeckia maxima
Rudbeckia maxima.

Between GBBDs

Several flower bloomed and faded in my garden between GBBDs and so didn’t show up in the inventory for either May or June: Gladiolus ‘Flevo Bambino’, globe artichoke, Opuntia ficus-indica, and Callirhoe involucrata.

Complete List for June

This is the list of all plants flowering today, June 15th 2010, at Zanthan Gardens.

  • Abelia grandiflora (2010)
  • Antigonon leptopus (2010)
  • Antirrhinum majus (2010)
  • Aristolochia fimbriata (2010)
  • Asparagus densiflorus (2010)
  • Chilopsis linearis (2010)
  • Commelina communis (2010)
  • Commelinantia anomala (2010)
  • Consolida ambigua (2010)
  • Engelmannia peristenia/pinnatifida (2010)
  • Eschscholzia californica ‘Mikado’ (2010)
  • garlic (2010)
  • Helianthus annuus (2010)
  • Hesperaloe parviflora (2010)
  • Hibiscus syriacus (full bloom) (2010)
  • Lantana ‘New Gold’ (2010)
  • Lavandula heterophyla ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ (2010)
  • Lupinus texensis (a couple of fading flowers) (2010)
  • Malvaviscus arboreus (2010)
  • Mondo grass (2010)
  • Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’ (2010)
  • Nigella damascena (fading singles and doubles) (2010)
  • Oenothera speciosa (2010)
  • Origanum vulgare (2010)
  • Oxalis triangularis (2010)
  • Parkinsonia aculeata (2010)
  • Pavonia hastata (2010)
  • Polanisia dodecandra (2010)
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette’ (2010)
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (2010)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’ (2010)
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (2010)
  • rosemary (2010)
  • Rudbeckia hirta (2010)
  • Rudbeckia maxima (2010)
  • Ruellia (2010)
  • Sedum album (2010)
  • Setcresea (both purple and green) (2010)
  • Thymophylla tenuiloba ‘Golden Fleece’ (2010)
  • tomato (2010)
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides (almost finished) (2010)
  • Verbena canadensis (lavender wilding) (2010)
  • Vitex agnus-castus (2010)
  • waterlily ‘Helvola’ (2010)
  • Zexmenia hispida (2010)
  • unidentified white-flower (2010)

unidentified white flower
Unidentified white flower.