Zanthan Gardens
2011-03-24. Pink evening primroses insist it’s spring despite a poor showing of bluebonnets.

March 25th, 2011
Week 12: 3/19 – 3/25

Suddenly, the yard is plunged into shade. The morning sun stops shining through my bedroom window and plants that have grown all winter in the full sun, plants about to flower, are now in the shade. The cedar elms have leafed out and transformed the landscape. I’m not as fond as cedar elms as I once was, as they are the trees that tend to fall in high winds. But this week, they are gorgeous. They leaf out a chartreuse green that deepens to a bright green. The red oaks and live oaks are leafing out too. Only the pecans are still bare.

Dateline: 2011
Spring will not be ignored. It rushes into the garden whether or not I’m there, just not in the way I would have planned it. The pink evening primroses smother the path while the areas I consider my meadow are bare. I’m not blind to the lesson.

This is the week that something new opens every day. All of spring’s bounty comes just as the yard is plunged into shade. The weather continues dry and hot. The toads and mosquitoes have returned. Temperatures rise into the 80s and the larkspur, just sending up its flower stalks, droop. The Tulipa clusiana and the Muscari racemosum have also faded quickly in the heat. A whole year of anticipation…and then they whither as they open.

If you don’t look too closely the garden is filled with swathes of Easter basket colors: yellows (Engelmann daisy and Jerusalem sage and some snapdragons that have finally recovered from the freezes); pinks (pink evening primroses, pink bluebonnets, Indian hawthorn, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, ‘New Dawn’, ‘Blush Noisette’); white (bridal wreath spirea, cilantro); blues (bluebonnets, baby blue eyes, starch hyacinths) and purples (false dayflowers, Nierembergia gracilis, tradescantia, prairie verbena). There is also one jarring red, the St. Joseph’s lily.

So much needs to be done which will be left undone. Right now the garden is blooming on the strength of previous years. It really is a garden wild.

Dateline: 2008
This is the week I both look forward to and dread. On the one hand the garden finally looks like a garden. I take pleasure just walking around in it and frequently forget to do anything but just stare. On the other hand, the shade has descended which means the sun-loving flowers will soon turn sulky and I’ll soon be counting the days until fall.
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moss
2010-02-18. Here’s something you don’t see often in our drought-stricken land: a mossy bank. We are on heavy clay which is now saturated with rain.

February 19th, 2010
Week 07: 2/12-2/18

Dateline: 2010

Austin’s unusually cold and wet winter/spring seems even more so in contrast with the last two drought years. Both the garden and I have been under the weather all February. The sun came out for a couple of days this week but I didn’t get much done. I lacked the stamina to deal with the cold and wind. Although I’m way behind in my chores (this is normally my busiest season), I feel that this drizzly weather has given me permission to take a break. A season of rest and reflection is something I often envy. So rather than fret about what isn’t getting done in the garden, I’m cultivating other pleasures.

This has been a slow spring. The big freeze of January 2010 killed the buds or flowering stalks of the various paperwhite and tazetta narcissus which would normally be in flower. It killed off the already flowering false dayflowers and snapdragons. And what I thought would be very early flowering cilantro and larkspur also froze (not the whole plants, just the bloom stalks). The mahonia didn’t flower this year at all; I think bud formation fell victim to the drought. The only flowers happily on schedule are the common selfsown: henbit, chickweed, dandelions, and sow thistles.

To compare, this week in 2009 I had roses and narcissus blooming at the same time. The arugula was bolting and the English peas about to give into the heat. The Jerusalem sage was flowering and the the duranta was still flowering from 2008.

The Mexican plums which have bloomed as early as January 29th, finally opened one flower (2/18). That tied the date for 2004 and missed the all time record for the latest first flower (2/19) made in 2002. I haven’t seen any sign of my most reliable harbinger of spring, the redbuds. I always look for them on Valentine’s Day.

I’m still cleaning up freeze-dried plants. I cut back the duranta which flowered throughout last winter and had reached a height of about 8 feet. They are dead to the ground now. Whether they will resprout from their roots is yet to be seen. The leaves on the oleanders are completely dead but the branches feel flexible and springy. This is a good opportunity to cut them back to size which I find hard to do when they are green and covered with buds. I also cut back the leafless vitex last month. I still need to prune back the crape myrtles, the rose of Sharon, and the Texas persimmon (which has never lost all its leaves before).

The roses, especially ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ and ‘New Dawn’ are covered with new leaf buds. They love this extra moisture; unfortunately so does black spot. I stripped last year’s leaves off the roses and cut back old canes.

In the vegetable garden the first English pea flowered. Last year at this time, they were producing well and by the end of February I had to pull them out because temperatures hit the 80s. I just got around to ordering my tomato seeds this week. This is much too late and I’ll probably have to buy tomato starts, too. Now that Gardens has closed, I’ve lost my favorite source of unusual varieties.

First flower: Pisum sativum ‘Progress #9″ (2/16); Prunus mexicana (2/18).

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Zanthan Gardens Week 6 Narcissus Grand Primo
2000-02-11. Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’.

February 12th, 2009
Week 06: 2/5 – 2/11

Dateline: 2009

I associate the first redbud blossom (my private official marker of spring) with Valentine’s Day but this year I saw my first redbud on Monday (2/9), almost a week early. Spring’s in Austin and there’s no holding it back.

As my son retorted, “Does this mean we’re going to have a month of 70-degree days and then a hard freeze during Spring Break?” Probably. Austin’s average last freeze is now February 26th (it used to be in March) so the period between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is always a bit chancy for tender new plants. He’s probably remembering when he was a boy and I took him camping at Enchanted Rock for his birthday. The temperature surprised us by dropping to 14 degrees that night. That was the same year as the latest freeze on record, April 3, 1987. As the Austin Climate Summary shows, Austin can be in the 90s or higher ANY month of the year; it can also freeze anytime between October and April.

Flowers were opening all over the garden. This is the most excitement we’ve had at Zanthan Gardens in about eight months.

First flowers: Prunus mexican (2/5); paperwhite Narcissus ‘Grandiflora’ (2/6); rose ‘Ducher’ (2/6); Mahonia bealei (2/6); Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’ (2/8); Leucojum asestivum (2/9); Cercis canadensis (2/9); Lantana montevidensis (2/9).

We had a bit of relief from the drought this week, too: about half an inch of rain in a slow, soaking drizzle on Monday (2/9) and then a bit less late in a 10-minute downpour (accompanied by high winds and hail) late Tuesday evening (2/10). The rain penetrated the first 4 to 6 inches of soil (depending on where it is in my yard–heavy clay or well-composted). Below that, the dirt is dust dry. It’s frightening to dig into it. I expect the spring weeds to kick into high gear now. Our weather has been so dry that even the chickweed was languishing. Some henbit has been blooming. I never weed it all out because the butterflies like it when nothing else is blooming.

I have been digging out nandina to make a bed for three raspberry plants I bought at The Great Outdoors. I didn’t think that raspberries would grow in Austin but they assure me that this variety, ‘Dorman’, will produce in a couple of years. We harvested an actual serving for two of the English peas and have been eating lots of salad trying to get the most out of the arugula before it bolts.

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Antigonon leptopus
Bees love coral vine, Antigonon leptopus.

October 25th, 2008
Lurid Fall Pinks

Antigonon leptopus
None of my specially selected four o’clocks come back. But there’s no getting rid of this common one. It seeds prolifically and forms huge tuberous roots as well.

Aren’t those two colors just scary together?

lurid: very vivid in color, esp. so as to create an unpleasantly harsh or unnatural effect

I’m not, nor have I ever been, a fan of pink. Apart from a very pale ice pink of some roses—like my beloved ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison)—I don’t choose pinks on purpose. (And I’d love SdlM just as well if she were pale apricot–because what really I love about her is the quartered form of her flowers, not the color.)

I can admire the warming pinks of late spring and early summer. The colors of the meadow evolve with the season from the cool bluebonnet blues of March, to the larkspur purples of April, to finally the various warm May Day Pinks. Pink seems very seasonal–for Spring.

But Fall’s colors should be fiery.

Instead my garden is currently drenched in gaudy, garish pinks. And yes, these pinks have been blooming at the same time as the oxblood lilies, the turk’s cap, and the red spider lilies against a background of indifferent purple heart. The result is a garden colorist’s nightmare. Add in some orange cosmos and butterfly weed to complete the chaos.

Pandorea ricasoliana
Podranea ricasoliana is called desert trumpet/willow vine in Austin because the flowers look strikingly similar to the desert willow’s.

And what am I doing to resolve this problem? Nothing. Because these plants survive. They survived the entire summer without any attention at all. Not one drop of supplemental water. Although the coral vine did not climb 30 feet into a tree this year as it did in the rainy summer of 2007, it has covered my entire driveway fence (while trying to eat my husband’s car). And the bees love it. It drooped in the heat but never succumbed. Coral vine is just one of those plants I associate with old Austin. I’d as soon cut it out as move to the suburbs.

The four o’clock plants died all the way down to the ground during the summer but at the first hint of rain they shot up a couple of feet in a couple of weeks and have been flowering ever since. I like the scent and the plants get big only after most of the spring wildflowers are finished. So we have a truce.

Not so with the P. ricasoliana. I spend hours hacking back the Port St. Johns creeper (aka desert trumpet vine). The vines are voracious, swallowing up a large stand of yucca, taking over the entire north border by self-layering. They also form huge tuberous roots. There seems no way to get rid of them. I started out with three plants in 4-inch pots and they have swallowed up the north side of my yard, even though frost cuts them to the ground every year. Apparently they only get enough sun in my yard to flower about three weeks of the year, in late October. I think I could like them if they were less vigorous and flowered in spring. As it is, I regret I ever introduced them.

cactus and succulent garden
Jeff and Ray’s garden is below street level made of terraces built into steep hillside.

August 12th, 2008
Can a Prickly Garden Be Inviting?

I grew up in two extreme climates: the desert of the American southwest and the tropics of the Philippines (and semi-tropics of Okinawa). On the various Air Force bases on which I lived, we had no gardens. The aesthetic (quite similar to modern American suburban) was what I call “parade ground aesthetics”; it consisted of large expanses of short mown grass (for parades) ringed by white painted rocks.

My idea of a garden came solely from books. I’m a woodland sprite at heart and in my mind a garden is enclosed by tall mossy stone walls, draped in green ivy and ferns, filled with white heavily-scented flowers, with some small water feature and a place to read or write or meet one’s lover by moonlight.

The reality of my garden in Austin is none of those things. We must garden where we are. Still I’ve always pushed the limits (and paid the price) in my plant choices. I’m too much a lover of the exotic to ever be a dedicated locavore. I grow plants because I find them interesting and not because I’m sensible. Austin has a split-personality climate-wise. If we plant bananas, cannas, and elephant ears in a wet year like 2007, they’ll sear in a dry hot year like 2008. If we plant Mediterranean-style plants, like rosemary and lavender, they get mildewy or rot in really wet years. On a really hot, dry year, desert plants look more and more like an interesting alternative.

Too bad I’ve never been fond of cactus and succulents. Looking out at my prickly pear cactus just depresses me. I detest my yuccas and am fond of only a few agaves. And yet, I’ve visited two gardens this year that have made me look at cactus and succulents with a more forgiving eye. The first was my visit to the Spring Preserve, which I wrote about here and here.

cactus and succulent garden

The second was on the 2008 Austin Pond Society Pond Tour. The garden of Jeff and Ray was my favorite on the tour and not because of the pond. Jeff is the current president of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society. Not only does he have an amazing collection of plants but he has that ability to arrange them in pleasing ways (a knack I lack and covet).

Look at that top photo again. I love the curves, the balance of forms, shapes, textures and colors of the plants. I think that the problem with most cactus and succulent gardens is that the plant materials require a really strong underlying design. The plants themselves are so architectural and spare. They need an expert designer to arrange the pieces in a pleasing way. I have absolutely zero design sense but with my floppy, cottage garden I get away with a lot because the exuberance of the plants hide the lack of design (when they’re in bloom, anyway).

I’m actually drawn more to the geometry of this garden than I am to the careless approach of my own. I would like to live in this garden but I can’t imagine making it.

cactus and succulent garden

The terrace with disappearing fountain is a very pleasant spot to read a book over morning coffee.

cactus and succulent garden

The entire garden is below street level. It is surprising shady for a cactus garden. I’m guessing that the huge terraces provide the appropriate drainage. Descending the driveway is one of pleasantest approaches to an Austin house I’ve ever seen. To answer my own question, some prickly gardens are inviting indeed.

cactus and succulent garden

di•lem•ma a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, esp. equally undesirable ones

August 9th, 2008
Our Summer Dilemma

When I asked Austin gardeners to commiserate about our miserable summer, I got an earful. Despite AJM rolling his eyes and sighing that he’s heard it all before, 2008 has been no ordinary Austin summer. We do not normally have 45 100°+ days in a year. We do not usually start our 100° temperatures in May. We do not always head into summer on the heels of a winter/spring drought. And, despite rumors to the contrary, we do not spend all summer complaining. Complaining is mostly limited to a few weeks in mid-August.

I had already planned to revive my tradition of August water bill comparison. But several comments urged me to do it now rather than later.

Bonnie @ Kiss of Sun wondered: “when you have a choice of paying to water and keep plants alive or cutting back on water and having to replace all of your landscaping because it dies, which road do you take?”

Carol @ Lost Valley Gardens made her choice, at quite a cost. “In order to keep my plants and trees alive this summer, I am averaging about 5000 gal usage per week. That means my water bill for a month is about $1000.”

Lori @ The Gardener of Good and Evil and I think a lot alike. It’s not just the money, it’s the time spent trying to pull the plants through, knowing that we have at least another month, the hottest month, to go. Lori says, “I’m so friggin’ sick of watering, and it would be so much less time-consuming if I just could focus on the big trees and roses and screw all the filler. Everything else still looks like crap anyway. I’d love to compare water bills with other Austin gardeners to see where I fall on the scale. I was just under $100 last month, which I thought was a lot, but apparently not.”

After a pleasant introduction to gardening in the 1990s, I struggled through 2000 and 2006. Determined not to let summer beat me down this year, I started off quite strong applying the lessons I learned after letting my garden succumb to the drought of 2006. In May, I watered early and often. I stuck with it through the hottest June in history. By July 4th (when it normally begins to get hot), my garden already looked like it had been through August.

At that point, I realized that plants which wilt if I’m out over a weekend, would never survive my absence for a week in August. So, like Lori, I decided to “screw all the filler”. I stopped watering everything except the largest perennials I had which had already survived 2006 and showed their worthiness.

Perhaps, because I’m desert born and bred, I’ve always been extremely conservative with my water. When we remodeled our kitchen a couple of years ago, we bought a water saving dishwasher (which uses about 1/4 of the water we used when we washed dishes by hand) and a water saving washing machine. Despite the pond (which requires topping up frequently as it is broad and shallow) and not letting the back lawn die completely, my latest water bill was low, I think–but not much different than other summers. I actually use more water in a dry winter because that’s when I’m growing my annuals, both in the meadow and in the vegetable garden.

So, the envelope please…

From June 17 – July 18 (daily temps in the 100s), we two adults consumed 5,500 gallons of water at a cost of $15.72.

Yep, that’s it. Less than the price of a rose bush. So, to answer Bonnie’s question, I take the path of conserving water at the expense of the landscape. I’ve just been down this dusty summer road once too many times. I’m not going to keep pouring water on plants that can’t survive our summers nor am I going to keep replacing them. Something is going to change.

I’m not willing to pay $1000 a month for water like Carol, or even $100 a month like Lori. And it’s not just about money. I’m not willing to consume huge amounts of water at the expense of my neighbors who rely on wells for theirs. We are draining our lakes and aquifer at an alarming rate. (And I don’t mean just us gardeners because lawn-bound surbanites and people with swimming pools share the responsibility.)

But Bob @ Draco Gardens, spoke to my heart about the seriousness of our dilemma. “I feel your pain, especially about the water. I just spent $3740 to replace the pump in my well because the water table had dropped 240′.” Read Bob’s story, Yikes! No water.

Your Turn
How much did you consume and what did it cost you? I’m also interested in knowing how much supplemental water gardens require in those parts of the country (and world) where temperatures are more pleasant. So, if you could include where you live and what the average high temperature was for the period of usage, I’d be very interested.

Acanthus mollis
Why Acanthus mollis isn’t invasive in my garden.

June 10th, 2008
Week 23: 6/4 – 6/10

Dateline: 2008

Every year there come a time when I must make Sophie’s choice, deciding which plants will live and which will die. I yanked out the last of the borage and the cornflowers this week. In the case of the unkillable Acathus mollis, I’m not letting it die, just go dormant until fall. It’s so pitifully sunburned and bug-eaten that I consider this a mercy killing. It doesn’t like the heat or the searing sunlight. (For the last couple of weeks, it’s been getting about an hour of afternoon sun a day because my neighbor lost some big limbs in the last storm.) In good years, I don’t have to make hard choices until after the 4th of July. Apparently 2008 is not going to be one of the good years.

The weather looks bad everywhere: 100 degree heat on the east coast, floods in the midwest, and late snow in Washington state. This afternoon when it was 101 degrees (tied the 1923 record) rain began falling although the sun was shining. It was so hot that almost none of the rain hit the ground and what did evaporated immediately. Little steamy droplets rose so that it looked like it was raining up at the same time it was raining down. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Nothing soaked in and the rain didn’t cool us off; we just went from dry heat to humid heat.

The oleander still looks stupendous. The duranta and the crape myrtle looked good at the beginning of the week but are starting to fade by today. We harvested four ‘Juliet’ grape tomatoes and various jalapeno peppers.

First flower: pomegranite (6/8).
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Strybing Arboretum
The Oudtshoorn pincushion, Leucospermum erubescens, is just one many exotics from South Africa to be found at the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

June 6th, 2008
Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Three out of the four days I was in San Francisco last week I managed to visit the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. The first day I got there about 3PM, after my visit to the Conservatory of Flowers and window-shopping in the Haight. I’ve visited the Strybing several times before and was tired out from walking around, so I went to rest in one of my favorite spots, the coastal redwood glen. I lay there for a very long time, looking up at the redwoods, the illusion of being deep in the wood disturbed only by traffic sounds (well, that and the fact that I was lying on a park bench).

Strybing Arboretum
Coastal redwoods at the Strybing Arboretum. Can you see my bench, almost in the middle and a little to the right?

Shortly after 5, I felt rested and ready to takes some photos. First I had to find the facilities. When I did, they were locked. I dashed to the other side of the gardens. Those were locked, too. Turns out that the Strybing closes at 4:30. If I left now to find a restroom, I wouldn’t be able to get back inside. I was disappointed but I had no choice.

I decided that I was going to feel cheated if I didn’t go back to take some photos. I’ve done my sight-seeing on previous trips and shopping does not entice me. So the next morning I got to the Strybing first thing after breakfast. It was a rare sunny morning. Morning is definitely the best time to visit (if it’s a sunny day) because the garden is better lit than even mid-afternoon when the tall trees put all the understory plants in shade.

The only problem is that the rainbirds are going. So you have to be careful to dodge them or risk getting drenched.

Strybing Arboretum
Dodging the rainbirds during morning watering.

Given how very dry the climate is, I was surprised that the Strybing used rainbirds instead of drip irrigation to water. San Francisco is a gardeners’ paradise. The temperatures are cool but there is plenty of sun. The only problem is water.

The Strybing is huge, 55 acres, and it seems larger because the beds are laid out in a very, naturalistic way with small paths that seem to wind every which way and lead you in circles. Even with a map in hand, I always get turned around. Collections are grouped by place of origin so that the climatic conditions can be mimicked. Rather than create geometric garden rooms, hills, berms, and trees isolate each area and obscure most views.

Strybing ArboretumLooking toward Friend Gate over Wildfowl pond.

There are only a couple of open places in the garden. On entering the Strying the first thing you see is the Great Meadow, which is just a lawn with a small fountain at the far end. This is the least interesting space to a gardener. It is the people place, where people to go and lie on the grass and read or watch their kids run free among but away from the valuable plants and trees. The paths lead you to the right, to the other open space of the Wildfowl pond.

Strybing ArboretumLooking toward the Zellerback Garden of Perennials.

Perversely (given the design of the garden) my favorite view is a long unbroken one looking either toward (or from) the Zellerback Garden of Perennials. I like to sit under the arbor (which was drenched with white wisteria, this trip) and write. When I consult the map, I discover that the entire garden is built on an axis that goes from the entry to the arbor in the Garden of Perennials. One would never guess that being in the garden.

As natural as it seems, the Strybing Arboretum (and the entire Golden Gate Park) is a made place, built on wind-swept sand dunes. The designer, John McLaren, spent 56 years acquiring plants from all over the world and arranging them in natural-looking landscapes. According to a sign in the park, “When he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1916, pressure from voters resulted in a city statute giving him life-tenure. He died on the job at the age of 96.”

The Strybing is a plant collector’s dream. Want to know what you might stumble across? The pdf listing the 7,000 species currently at the Strybing is 115 pages long! Here’s just a few that caught my eye.

Aeonium tabuliformeWhen I walked into the Strybing, the first thing I saw was this dinner plate aeonium and thought, my goodness, it’s like all the plants are on steroids. Related to sempervivum, the common name suggests that dinner plate aeonium just grows big. But I don’t know…all the plants I saw in San Francisco seemed huge.

Strybing Arboretum
The Australian bottlebrush is apparently well-adapted to San Francisco. I saw huge tree-sized specimens blooming everywhere, even some interesting weeping forms. However, I’m a little tired of red flowers in my own garden because I have so many of them and they all clash with each other. So imagine my delight when I saw this lemon bottlebrush, Callistemon pallidus. The pale yellow inflorescences seemed to glow in the twilight. Several cultivars have been introduced in Australia. One is called, appropriately, ‘Austraflora Candle Glow’. I hope they will become available in Texas soon.

Gingko biloba
I grow a gingko, too, but mine is only about six feet tall with a trunk so thin I can wrap my thumb and finger around it. I was astonished to see that someday it might become a very large tree.

Psoralea pinnate
The flowers of Psoralea pinnata, blue broom, had almost the same color and grape soda scent as Texas mountain laurel. But instead of dark round glossy leaves, it had soft, needle-like leaves (which is probably why one of its common names is Dally pine). A native in South Africa it has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand where it is considered an invasive weed.

I’m amazed that two plants on either side of the world, could have flowers so similiar in shape, color and scent, and yet completely different leaves. Don’t things like that just make you want to be a taxonomist, to study the similarities and difference among plants and figure out a way to classify and group them? When I visit a place like the Strybing, it kills any desire to grow only native plants. I want to embrace a world of plants. Life on earth is more fascinating than our wildest imaginings.
Strybing Arboretum

Zanthan Gardens Week 21
2008-05-27. A reason to have a little lawn–90+F degree days. This photo makes the garden look cool and refreshing but it’s actually oppressively muggy and hot.

May 27th, 2008
Week 21: 5/21 – 5/27

Dateline: 2011

Austin (Camp Mabry) records its first 100-degree day of the year, May 25th.

Dateline: 2008

As the temperatures climb, I find it hard to believe that by September I’ll look upon a 92F degree day as cool and fall-like. In the intervening months, summer will get a lot uglier. The days have been sultry. Someday, I’d like to spend this kind of week lying in the hammock sipping iced tea and enjoying the green shade. When it gets this hot, I don’t want any flashy color in the garden, just cool, refreshing green. This is the week that my resentment dissolves and I suddenly love my trees again; I forgive them for shading out the flowers in April.

I’ve been working hard to get everything mulched. I got a truckload of bark chips from a crew that was cleaning up after last week’s storm. That’s kept me busy running back and forth with the wheelbarrow refreshing the paths and putting a nice layer down in the woodland garden.

The nerium oleander and one of the duranta are in full bloom and look fantastic. The larkspur is all cleared out. A few bluebonnets bloom on (they last a long time if deadheaded.) The violas are mere crisps and the Confederate jasmine faded. The rose ‘Ducher’ is still blooming well. And ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ puts out a single flower or two. The borage is holding up fairly well under the heat.

I ate the last three strawberries, harvested some jalapeno peppers, and started in on the summer squash. Oh, and we ate a pitiful handful of potatoes I dug up Sunday (5/25). They were tasty but we harvested less than we planted.

First flower: canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’ (5/22); Lindheimer senna (5/25).
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Zanthan Gardens meadow
2008-04-08. The meadow in full flower. You can’t see the garden for the flowers.

May 24th, 2008
Meadow Progession

Thanks to my visitors during Spring Fling and the article on garden blogging in the Austin American-Stateman, the image most people have of Zanthan Gardens is the meadow. The meadow defies all rules of garden sense. In a world seeking low-maintenance gardens with year-round interest, the meadow is a high-maintenance garden which has only one good season: from mid-March to mid-May. Although it has some Texas wildflowers in it, it is not primarily a native plant garden. As gardens go, the meadow does not have strong bones. You can barely see the garden for the flowers. There is little ornamentation. And despite photographic evidence to the contrary, there’s no place to sit in it–yet.

As I’ve often said, when it comes to the garden, I’m more of a plant person than a designer. Yet the meadow has both a design and a plan. The design is constrained by shade and one of the reasons I like an garden of annuals is because it’s easy to move the plants around as the light/shade conditions change.

December 18, 2007

Zanthan Gardens meadow

By mid-December I have already been working in the meadow for over a month. First I have to clean out the summer weeds (mostly horseherb) and rake up all the leaves. As self-sown annuals sprout all over the yard, I transplant them in drifts. I make mini-beds in the buffalograss, add sifted compost, and then transplant larkspur, bluebonnets, and cilantro. People might think a wildflower meadow can be made by just broadcasting a few seeds and letting nature take its course but that doesn’t work effectively in a urban space–at least not for me.

I’ve designed the view so that it incorporates, rather than hides, the back yards of my two neighbors. I try to balance the drifts of flowers so that there is a back and forth rhythm–like a series of S-shaped switchbacks, or the flow of a meandering river, or something from Andy Goldsworthy. Trying to get the right balance of color and height blooming together and in succession is the challenge of the meadow garden–what keeps it interesting and fun year after year.

February 4, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

Two months later and I’m still transplanting. The rosettes of the larkspur, bluebonnets, and Engelmann daisies are big enough to mulch around. Because this fall and winter were so dry, I did more mulching of the meadow than I’ve ever done before. I start poppies and cornflowers in seedbeds and then transplant them into the meadow. Cilantro is filling in on its own.

March 5, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

A month later and larkspur is shooting up flower stalks. Bluebonnets are one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom. We had a mild summer in 2007 but a dry, hot fall. Almost all the bluebonnets that made strong plants this year actually sprouted last May and over-summered. The bluebonnets that came up when they’re supposed to in the fall, were small and had few flowers. Usually this time of year, the meadow is a sheet of blue.

Self-sown baby blue eyes and false dayflowers grow up along the back fence with no help from me at all. All I do to help it look more like a garden than a patch of weeds is weed out anything else so that flowers of one type are massed together. Drifts are the key.

April 3, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

All the anticipation is rewarded with a riot of color: blue from the bluebonnets, pink from the pink evening primrose, white from the cilantro, yellow from the Engelmann daisies, maroon from the cornflowers. If I’m lucky, the roses, crinum lilies, and irises are blooming too.

May 12, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

Even in while the garden is in full bloom I’m out “editing” it–pulling out flowers that have gone to seed, dead-heading to prolong the life of others, marking plants I want to save seeds from, and ripping out the ones I don’t so they won’t cross-pollinate. As the season winds up, the yellows take over.

May 15, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

This year, just as I had cleaned out most of the meadow, the top 20 feet of that cedar elm in the middle of these photos fell on the meadow. I’m lucky that it missed the retama (in full bloom with yellow flowers), the sago palm, and the roses and Japanese persimmon (not in this picture). The variegated agave, the Lindheimmer senna (which was just filling out) and the crinum lilies were somewhat crushed but the damage relatively minor.

May 24, 2008

Zanthan Gardens meadow

Cleaning up the fallen tree limb put me a week behind on my tidying and mulching the meadow. A few stray spring flowers continue to bloom. The self-sown cosmos, annual black-eyed Susans, and clammy weed get along without any help from me–which is great because the heat and humidity are oppressive right now.

Extending the Season

I do have strategies for extending the season. I’ve tried planting sunflowers and morning glories but I they get too late a start to bloom well before the heat. I have better luck planting them in the fall.

I’ve had several trees removed so that there is more light in the meadow again. Now I’ll be able to replace several roses I’ve lost. Also I’ve been planting more ornamental grasses, succulents, and perennials (like Lindheimer senna). Pam/Digging has been passing along her sun-loving plants, zexmenia, perennial black-eyed Susans, and purple coneflowers. This year I decided that the hot, sunny meadow might be the best place for some summer vegetables. Peppers are my favorite because the plants are so attractive. But during the suffocating heat of summer, I prefer to keep the planting airy and open; I need room to breathe.