LA lily
Apparently it’s a tradition that I take a photo of this lily in Week 20–at least every time I get a new camera.

May 21st, 2008
Week 20: 5/14 – 5/20

Dateline: 2008


The week began promisingly, with a little rain. I was feeling on top of my gardening chores. I’d gotten most of the spring annuals pulled out and seeds harvested. I was sifting compost, top-dressing and mulching plants, and just about to finish off one compost pile and turn the other so I could start a new one. I was further along in tidying up than I’ve ever been this time of year and feeling quite satisfied with my labors. So it was no surprise to me, really, that the malicious Loki-spirit of my garden decided this was an auspicious time to slam hard and wipe that smug look off my face.

After hail, wind, and falling limbs (and ball moss!) my neatly mulched garden looked liked Christmas morning at my parents’ house after 15 grandchildren have shredded their Christmas present wrappings. Although we had a couple of clear dry days for the cleanup, we ended the week with August-like temperatures: two record-breakers, 98F/36C (5/19); 101F/38C (5/20). (Normal temps for this time of year are mid-80s.)

One of the three bushes of Duranta erecta is in full flower–the other two, nothing. The oleander is also flowering profusely, unfazed by the heat.

First flower: Echinacea purpurea (5/14); Malvaviscus arboreus (5/15); LA hybrid lily (5/19); Ipomoea quamoclit (5/19); Antigonon leptopus (5/19); Lagerstroemia indica ‘Catawba’ (5/19); Vitus agnus-castus (5/20).

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coral bean
Coral bean, Erythrina herbacea, in the fiery colors of early summer. I think I finally got the tone right in this photo.

May 15th, 2008
GBBD 200805: May 2008

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

May 15, 2008

Austin has two summers. May marks our first early summer, when temperatures are in the low 80s to mid 90s and the humidity is off the chart. This is our old southern summer. As the meadow flowers go to seed, the sweet scents of four o’clocks, Confederate jasmine, crinum lilies, and magnolia hang heavily on the air. The humidity is oppressive but it typically means rain (often from violent thunderstorms). Generally May is wonderfully green. (The second summer is our southwestern summer which starts around the 4th of July. Then we expect long days of drought, temperatures in the 100s, water-rationing, and general misery. The color of second summer is brown.)

In my garden, May has the feel of winding down. I yank out the wildflowers, save seeds, and top dress and mulch all the plants I hope to keep through summer. This year, I think I’ll rename May “Pam/Digging” month. She’s given me so many passalongs that are in bloom right now, finally finding sunlight as I pull the exuberant growth of the wildflowers off them: white mistflower, purple coneflower, society garlic, and zexmenia. Pam has helped me extend the flowering season at Zanthan Gardens and May is no long just the month of green.

New for May

Acanthus mollis

Acanthus mollis
This very tropical-looking plant with the imposing flower stalk is one of my favorites. Apparently it can’t be killed. People from the Pacific northwest frequently write to me to ask how to get rid of it. In Austin, it dies down when temperatures hit 92F–so it’s not a problem. In fact, its habit leaves a disappointing hole in the border during the summer.

Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’

Magnolia grandiflora
Bruised, battered, and blooming–my ‘Little Gem’ magnolia is the perfect emblem for this May’s bloom day after last night’s very destructive storm.

Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta
I planted the annual black-eyed Susans the first summer I lived here and I’ve never been without them since. They self-sow, coming up the same time as the bluebonnets and the larkspur but not flowering until those spring wildflowers have died down. I don’t really love it but I’m always glad to see it because for years it was the only thing blooming in my garden at this time of year. Last year I bought the perennial Rudbeckia fulgida; they’re just coming up now.

Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower

coneflower
One of the passalongs from Pam/Digging. This is the first time I’ve ever grown purple coneflower and these are the first flowers that bloomed.

And also new for May…

  • Borago officianalis
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Dolichos lablab
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Malvaviscus arboreus Turks cap
  • Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ (3 miniscule flowers the size of a dime)
  • Papaver somniferum “Dorothy” selection
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • rose ‘New Dawn’ (back, north border)
  • Ruellia
  • summer squash
  • white mistflower
  • Zexmenia

Between GBBDs

Several flower bloomed and faded in my garden between GBBDs and so didn’t show up in the inventory for either April or May.

  • bearded iris ‘Champagne Elegance’
  • bearded iris ‘Silverado’
  • Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ (3 miniscule flowers the size of a dime)
  • rose ‘Mermaid’
  • Tulbaghia violacea (society garlic)
  • Zephyranthes grandiflora (some bloomed yesterday, some will bloom tomorrow, but none are blooming today. Killjoys.)

Complete List for May

The garden is not as flowery as this list might make you believe. About half these flowers are going to seed and about to get composted.

  • Acanthus mollis
  • Borago officianalis
  • Centaurea cyanus Black Magic’
  • Commelinantia anomala (a couple that resist my stamping them down)
  • Consolida ambigua (a few in the shade)
  • Cosmos sulphureus
  • Dolichos lablab
  • Dianthus chinensis (reblooming now that the wildflowers have been cleared off)
  • Duranta erecta
  • Echinacea purpurea
  • Engelmannia peristenia/pinnatifida
  • Erythrina herbacea (coral bean)
  • Eschscholzia californica ‘Mikado’
  • Eupatorium wrightii
  • Hesperaloe parviflora
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • Lantana montevidensis (a few tiny flowers)
  • Lantana x hybrida ‘New Gold’
  • Lathyrus odoratus ‘Perfume Delight’
  • Lavandula heterophylla ‘Goodwin Creek’ (a few tiny flowers)
  • Lupinus texensis (mostly going to seed; first plant now flowering since 12/15)
  • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’
  • Malvaviscus arboreus
  • Mirabilis jalapa
  • Nandina domestica
  • Nerium oleander ‘Turner’s Shari D.’
  • Nigella damascena ‘Persian Jewels’ mix
  • Oenothera speciosa
  • Oxalis crassipis (hot pink, full bloom)
  • Oxalis triangularis (only purple, not white)
  • Papaver somniferum “Dorothy” selection
  • Polanisia dodecandra
  • Phlomis lanata
  • Plumbago auriculata
  • Retama
  • rose ‘Blush Noisette (full bloom)
  • rose ‘Ducher’ (waning)
  • rose ‘New Dawn’
  • rose ‘Red Cascade’ (two small flowers)
  • rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (one flower opened today)
  • Rudbeckia hirta
  • Ruellia
  • Sedum album
  • Setcresea (both purple and green)
  • Trachelospermum jasminoides (starting to fade)
  • Verbena canadensis (lavender wilding)
  • Viola cornuta ‘Sorbet Coconut Duet’
  • Zexmenia hispida

In addition to the flowers, the following fruits or vegetables are also blooming: strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

Zanthan Gardens  meadow
2008-05-08. The meadow just before it’s put to bed for the summer.

May 13th, 2008
Week 19: 5/07-5/13

Dateline: 2008
As usual summer arrives in Austin with a vengeance in week 19. Last Friday temperatures hit a muggy 97F (5/9), cooling of to a mere 95F on Saturday. We received a wonderful reprieve on Mother’s Day and yesterday the high was only 78. I spent all day in the garden, tearing out larkspur and cilantro and mulching the perennials.

Even without the larkspur and cilantro, the meadow is looking pretty good. I did better job this year of balancing the early and late bloomers so that there is still a lot of color from Engelmann daisy, pink evening primrose, and poppies.

The coral bean is in full bloom and the root-hardy perennials that had been smothered under the exuberance of the wildflowers are starting to grow: the purple coneflower, the butterfly bush, the black-eyed susan. These are blooming in other people’s gardens (probably because weren’t hidden from the sun all spring) while mine are just getting started. And unlike last year, my red yucca is blooming very well this year. It has two stalks.

First flower: Plumbago auriculata (5/8); Rudbeckia hirta (5/8); Acanthus mollis (5/11); Ruellia (5/11) the passalong; Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ (5/12); Zexmenia (5/12).

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Tom Spencer's Garden

May 10th, 2008
Possumhaw Hollow

“That’s one of my favorite shots,” Tom Spencer said to me as he caught me pointing the camera at my feet to take a photo of his limestone pavers. “The arrangement is based on a pattern I saw in Japan.”

Tom Spencer's Garden

Of course, any photo I take of Tom Spencer’s garden is redundant. Few gardens I know are as beautifully photographed as his Possumhaw Hollow. Tom Spencer has been “exploring the garden of life” via his site Soul of the Garden since 2000. Looking at his year by year photo albums documenting the making of his garden from in an ordinary old suburban yard, I’m left awed. (Even AJM appreciates that here is a man with a plan.)

Tom Spencer's Garden

The strong geometry of the garden appeals to me. You see it both in the layout (a series of corridors connected like Tinker Toys with circular rooms at each junction) and in the grouping of smaller elements.

Tom Spencer's Garden

Each little garden room forms a kind of sacred space. There is a quiet, meditative feel to each of them. And they each contain their own set of relics.

Tom Spencer's Garden

I love all the different textures in Tom’s garden. The paths are decomposed granite sand, while chipped granite in the beds echoes the color but has a rougher texture. Contrast that with smooth river rock or metal edging. Pools of blue glass or pieces of pottery draw the eye like mini-oases in the sand.

Tom Spencer's Garden

coral bean
Erythrina herbacea. Austin, TX

May 9th, 2008
Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea

I no longer say things like “I don’t like red flowers” because I’ve realized that the color of a flower affects me differently depending on the texture and shape of the flower. When I think of marigolds, I don’t like orange. But when I think of California poppies, orange becomes my favorite color. And when I see coral bean, I suddenly love red flowers.

Coral bean, Erythrina herbacea, unfolds huge panicles of a satisfyingly deep red that makes the nearby red yucca look washed out. I find the color difficult to capture. Photos taken in the shade make the red too dull and purple. Photos, like these, taken in the sunlight turn the color more orange than they look to the naked eye.

coral bean

The coral bean is an undemanding plant. Here in Austin it dies down to the ground every winter but is root hardy. In the spring it grows fairly large (about the size of a duranta or esperanza) before flowering in late April or early May. The deep red flowers attract both hummingbirds and butterflies. The heart-shaped leaves are large and tropical-looking but it can take the heat. I bought mine in a 2-gallon pot in 2003 and it survived the drought of 2006.

Coral bean blooms better in sun. Last year the spot it was in was so overshadowed by trees that it didn’t bloom at all. Now that I’ve cut down the Chinaberry tree it’s getting both early morning and mid-afternoon sun and flowering better.

Coral bean is not a child-friendly plant. It is quite thorny and its seeds are poisonous.

Garden History

2009-06-10
Suffering from neglect. Cut back all the dead branches which is almost 2/3s at the top. There is some new growth near the base, with buds. Topdress with two tubs of sifted compost, an inch of Revitalizer, and 3 handfuls of bone meal. Fork in and pull up big dry clods of clay. After it is well worked in, water, and mulch with Texas native hardwood mulch.

2009-08-16
The coral bean looked like it was recovering but in the last two weeks it just died back. AJM cut it back to the ground with the reciprocating saw. I have a slim hope that, like in a hard freeze, it might come back from the roots. But, the stump looks pretty dead. R.I.P.

frog

May 2nd, 2008
Ode to Toad (or rather Requiem for a Frog)

AJM came in upset from his morning ritual of greeting the goldfish. “There’s a toad or something caught in the bird-netting and I think it’s dead.” I went to check and so it was. The poor thing had gotten its nose stuck in the netting and its own weight held just its nose under water and it drowned.

frog

Last night a second maker of ribbets joined the bullfrog. And then there was a distinctively different croak. Was it this frog? A Rio Grande leopard frog, Rana berlandieri perhaps. This one was large, (although I don’t know how frogs are measured), at least 4 inches from nose to anus not counting the legs.

frog

This is not the first time the bird-netting has caught something unintended. Durn raccoons. If it weren’t for the raccoons, I wouldn’t put the netting over the pond. If I take it off, then I chance waking to dead goldfish tomorrow. Is what differentiates humans from other animals the fact that all our interventions are fraught with anxiety? Or is that just a phenomenon of us city-bred moderns, we squeamish ones, who are out of touch with death?

Papaver Dorothy Cavanaugh passalong

May 1st, 2008
Week 18: May Day Pinks

Julie @ Human Flower Project passed along poppy seeds which finally started blooming this week. (Everyone else’s in Austin bloomed throughout April.) She said the double-selection was salmon. In soft early morning light it looked more dusty rose; in glaring afternoon light, definitely salmon. (These two photos are of the same flower taken about six hours apart.)

Papaver Dorothy Cavanaugh passalong

My love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena had almost died out so, thinking I had enough blue flowers, I planted some ‘Mulberry Rose’ seeds from Renee’s Garden. The cilantro overgrew them and when I was clearing it out yesterday, I discovered these miniature nigella flowers, about the size of a dime, on teeny-tiny plants. (Seed packet: mature height 18-24 inches). Apparently they prefer room to grow.

Nigella damascena

On the opposite end of the scale, the unwieldy crinum (maybe Crinum bulbispermum) continue to flower. These large bulbs don’t like being moved and have taken about three years to settle in and start blooming.
Crinum

The pink rainlilies, Zephryanthes grandiflora opened all at once today. A single early flower opened on April 28th–but today is really rainlily day.

Zephyranthes grandiflora

Zanthan Gardens bog garden
2008-04-27. Taken after much of the water had soaked in…poor light and a dead camera battery kept me from getting a good shot of how it looked at its worst–the lawn was completely under water.

April 27th, 2008
Bog Garden Comes to Life

Imagining the bog garden is a much easier when we get a month’s worth of rain in about 15 minutes. Even without any roof runoff the holes I’ve been digging to collect water fill quickly. The water overflows into the lawn and is slowed temporarily by the berm before rushing around it and flooding the garage.

Note to self: dig deeper holes.

This morning’s downpour was intense. I cringe to see all that precious water running off. My rainbarrels were already full from the rain the other day.

Note to self: get bigger rainbarrels.

My rain-catching terraces are having some effect in slowing down the runoff. The amount of rain pouring off the place where the roof forms a valley by the front door looked like someone had opened a fire hydrant. I think it would have overwhelmed any guttering system. Must check to see how VBDB’s new rainwater collection system handled this storm.

Stocker Garden
The strong underlying geometry of Jenny’s garden balances the exuberant plantings and keeps the garden from chaos.

April 20th, 2008
Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2008

I’m becoming more and more fascinated by people who make gardens–that is, in contrast to people like me, who merely grow flowers (and the occasional vegetable where sunlight permits).

I just realized that most of the gardens I’ve visited are private English estate gardens turned public, Hidcote Manor, Arley Hall, Tatton Park or civic gardens such as the instructive Springs Preserve in Las Vegas or the Japanese garden in San Francisco.

Japanese Garden San Francisco
Japanese Garden, San Francisco

These are gardens of extraordinary effort: to design, finance, construct, and maintain. As much as I love visiting these gardens, I don’t find lessons I can immediately apply to my garden. (The basic lessons in design are there, of course, but the scale of the gardens is such that it inhibits rather than inspires my creative urges.) I look at grand gardens the same way I do houses in Architectural Digest, admiringly yet outside my purview, beyond the range of possibility. I could never do something like that.

Yesterday I had the chance to visit the gardens of ordinary people. And when I say ordinary I do not mean it as a slight but as a compliment. Tremendous personal effort and vision went into each of the gardens I visited. My point is that these are personal not civic efforts. These private gardens were made by individuals, not teams of hired gardeners, by “plain folks” who transformed their typical city or suburban lots into extraordinary places. And just as encouraging, these gardens were built right here in Central Texas, gardens that suffer the same challenges of climate, drought, flood and scorching summers punctuated by thunderstorms, high winds, and hail as my own.

In short, these gardens excited and inspired me because they teemed with possibility. Maybe I could do something like that.

The tour was sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association and focused on sustainable gardening. The point we were supposed to take away, I think, is that sustainable gardening does not mean sacrificing pleasing design, beauty, or creativity.

Link’s Garden

Link’s garden is the closest to my own geographically in laid back south Austin. I’m guessing that most people will remember it as the “found objects” garden–an amazing collection of the mundane and the discarded reclaimed as garden art.
Davidson Garden
What’s a south Austin garden without painted tire planters? The unique touch is the cymbals on rebar sculpture.

What impressed me most was the creative use of space, the amount of garden packed into a tiny lot on a steep hillside. At the top of this narrow winding path, there is a deck with two chairs that look over the garden. The fence to keep you from stumbling over the edge is made from old seatless wooden chairs painted bright colors.
Davidson Garden
Rusting lawnmower as artistic statement in a garden where all the lawn has been torn out. And if you can’t grow barrel cactus in your climate, what about turbine fans?

Mary and Clark’s Garden

Mary and Clark’s garden astonishes on many levels. First it’s plopped right in the middle of bland suburbia…
Bakatsa Garden
…and stands out from its neighbors with an aggressively planted front yard herb and butterfly garden.
Bakatsa Garden

Mary and Clark have a completely lawn free yard. The house is topped with solar panels, they harvest rainwater, and have a huge compost pile. Way to go suburbia!

The length of back fence, a short fence providing little privacy with large bushes on the neighbor’s side seems like an impossible place to grow anything interesting. And yet roses bloom in what seems like too much shade and fruit trees line the path.

Bakatsa Garden

The garden celebrates edibles, providing food for the family with excess shared with neighbors and donated to charity. In addition to the all-season vegetable garden, Mary grows olive and apple trees and has harvested grapefruit from a tree grown from a seed. None of these trees are typically grown in Austin, which demonstrates that sometimes I need to break the rules and take more chances in my garden.

Bakatsa Garden

Walt’s Garden

Krueger Garden
Inviting entry. The garden is enclosed in the back away from the ravages of deer.

Walt’s garden, Serenity, is a collector’s garden. His plant list numbers over 300 and most of them are shade plants…just the kind of inspiration I need. Although he has lived in the house for over 20 years, building the stonework retaining walls and pathways really began when he retired in 2001. He terraced the entire hillside by hand, mixing concrete in a wheel barrow. He said that he was strongly influenced by Japanese gardens and it shows. Rather than relying on the flashy color of annual flowers for interest, Walt focuses on the textures and shades of green. The variety in Walt’s garden comes from the sheer number of different plants in his vast collection.

Lesson learned: I should stop complaining about my shade and do something with it.
Krueger Garden
Serene green refuge from an Austin summer.

Jenny and David’s Garden

Taken as a whole, Jenny and David’s garden borders outside the range of my potential. I can’t imagine a huge walled garden on my lot no matter how much I’d love to have one. However, if I could have any garden in the world, this is probably the garden I would want. It is the perfect blend of my mother’s New Mexican adobe house dreams and AJM’s mother’s English cottage garden. And it feels familiar because I love and I grow many of the same plants.

Stocker Garden

Because Jenny and David’s garden is divided into smaller rooms, it never overwhelms or seems inaccessible. Each room has such a friendly atmosphere that I can imagine just sitting and being almost anywhere here.

I took AJM to see the paving stone courtyard…David poured the concrete pavers himself. “See. We could do something like that.” I nudge AJM, encouragingly. “Couldn’t we?”

Stocker Garden

chocolate covered strawberries

April 17th, 2008
Garden Bloggers are the Nicest People

Maybe that isn’t headline news but I continue to be overwhelmed by the sweetness and generosity of all the people I met at Spring Fling. Today, I opened my door to this incredible present from Robin @ Bumblebee. A dozen of the most luscious chocolate-covered strawberries you can imagine.

 Spring Fling Presents

And so many people brought lovely little pressies with them, so unexpected and dear. Kathy @ Cold Climate Gardening gave me the coolest gardener’s key chain. VBDB @ Playin’ Outside made lemon ginger jam and shared her recipe. Elizabeth @ Gardening While Intoxicated presented a copy of her Buffalo Garden Walk book. Dawn @ Suburban Wildlife Garden, Vertie @ Vert and Nancy @ Nancy’s Garden Spot all shared seeds. Pam @ Digging surprised me with notecards made from photos of her garden. Carol @ May Dreams Gardens took me to lunch. Annie @ The Transplantable Rose had me and Carol to dinner and shared her signature cookie (and sent a bunch home with me to give to AJM who decided I must be friends with Annie forever just to keep those cookies coming.) And Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings has some surprise in the works.

Actually it’s all a surprise. I never expected anything from Spring Fling except the chance to meet up with some of the people I’ve corresponded online with for many years. It was my pleasure to have you all. I’m so touched and overwhelmed by your generosity. I can’t really express myself very well…so I hope you just know. Thank you for coming to Austin. Thank you for visiting my garden and writing about it and taking photos. And thank you for making Spring Fling an experience so unimaginably delightful. Never in my wildest dreams…