Zanthan Gardens meadow.
2008-02-04. Meadow in dry winter.

February 17th, 2012
Meadow: Dry Year vs Wet Year

Zanthan Gardens meadow20120210. Meadow in wet winter.

Compare these two views of the meadow, both taken in early February. In 2008, I transplanted larkspur in neat drifts and there were only a few clumps of cilantro among the clumps of dormant buffalograss.

In 2012, any real flowers are crushed under the weight of overgrown henbit and out-of-control cilantro, which is already about to bolt. There’s no larkspur at all here in the back meadow although it’s already blooming in the front yard.

Of course, I prefer the wet years. I just need to keep ahead of the weeds.

Blush Noisette
2012-02-02. Rose ‘Blush Noisette’

February 4th, 2012
Week 05: 1/29 – 2/4

Dateline: 2012

The week ended with rain and a cold front but the contrast with last year’s snow and horrendous freeze couldn’t be greater. We’ve been enjoying March weather. Temperatures climbed to 82°F on Wednesday (2/1). We’ve had only two freezes so far this winter. Some plants like the Port St. John’s creeper and ruella haven’t died back. The combination of warm temperatures and rain after the long drought has tricked many plants into blooming out of season. I’ve seen Texas mountain laurel blooming along Lady Bird Lake. But no redbuds yet (which I always think bloom first.

Mermaid
2012-02-02. Rose ‘Mermaid’ between light showers.

Other out-of-sequence blooms: Larkspur began blooming before the bluebonnets. The roses began blooming before the Mexican plum trees. The hot weather roses, ‘Mermaid’ and ‘Blush Noisette’, began blooming before the queen of early roses, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’. Roses of all kinds are blooming all over town. Tradescantia and false dayflowers also began blooming this week at Zanthan Gardens. The rosemary, the winter honeysuckle, the lantana, and one clump each of Narcissus italicus and Narcissus ‘Grand Primo’ are still in flower, rounding out the in bloom list.

The wet and warmth have made the salad greens happy. We’ve been eating large salads out of the garden almost every evening. I’ve planted more. The leaves of the cilantro are glossy and green. We can’t use it fast enough. Of course, the unofficial salad greens are also rampant: chickweed, goose grass, and henbit. I can’t keep up with weeding the henbit and it’s smotherered out the bluebonnet seedlings. I like to keep some henbit around for the butterflies but so far I’ve seen only two so I’m regretting it.

Dateline: 2011

Friday February 4, 2011.
We wake up after record-breaking snowfall at Camp Mabry today. The old record for daily snowfall was 1/2 inch in 1906. 105 years later, a whole inch!

snow bluebonnet
2011-02-04. Snow covered bluebonnet.
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photo: Zanthan Gardens larkspur
2010-04-29. The front yard has been given over completely to larkspur. In the foreground the pale pink rose ‘Blush Noisette’ is in full bloom. ‘New Dawn’ is also in full bloom rambling along the pickets beyond the pecan tree now fully leafed out.

May 3rd, 2010
Week 17: 4/23 – 4/29

“The flowers that bloom so sweetly wither and fall. Our human life, too, is fleeting. Today, again, I will cross the mountain pass of this uncertain world, and will not entertain shallow dreams or give away to drunkenness.” Iro no Ha. Translated by Francis G. Drohan. A Handbook of Japanese Usage. p. 90.

Dateline: 2010
The scent of honeysuckle and jasmine pervades the garden. The week began hot and sticky with a 90°F temperature recorded at the Bouldin station (4/23) and worse, overnight temperatures barely dipping below 70°F. Then a couple of fronts blew in bringing cooler temperatures but no rain. It was a beautiful week for spring cleanup.

I spent all week cutting back bluebonnets and cilantro. I let too much cilantro bolt and it dominated the meadow. As I cut it back, I reveal drifts of yellow (Engelmann daisy), pink (pink evening primrose), and blue and white (Love-in-a-Mist). The last I love best in white because at dusk it looks like little stars are floating in the meadow.

The oleander damaged in January’s freeze is producing new shoots from the ground. Some new shoots are also sprouting from old stems but I probably should cut them all the way to the ground so that it looks compact and bushy. The opuntia is putting out new pads but I don’t care if it never comes back. Both are a long way from flowering unlike this time last year.

The tomatoes are all setting fruit. The biggest and most prolific so far are ‘Jaune Flamme’. Both plants are waist high.

First flower: rose ‘Red Cascade’ (4/23), Trachelospermum jasminoides (4/25), Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ (4/29), rose ‘Mermaid’ (4/29), amaryllis ‘Black Pearl’ (4/29).
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2010-04-06. A view of the meadow from our roof. What a difference six months of rain has made compared with last year.

April 8th, 2010
Week 14: 4/2-4/8

Dateline: 2010
I can’t see the garden for the flowers anymore. I can’t get into the beds to weed them; I can barely find the paths. I guess it really is a meadow now, rather than a garden. Compare this photo with last year when we were in our second year of drought. Last year the cilantro was knee-high. This year it’s up to my shoulders, towering over and obscuring the bluebonnets and yellow irises. The yellow irises are all tall and twisty–just like in 2007, they really took off this week just as the Iris albicans faded. This year the bluebonnets are large and numerous–one of the best years ever for bluebonnets. Spring has been cooler and later this year. The larkspur and the Engelmann daisy (well-established last year by this time) are just beginning to open. The Naples onions are finally opening up but their white is indistinguishable from the white cilantro.

The roses, especially ‘Ducher’, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, and ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ are covered in flowers. In the shady parts of the yard, the spiderwort, false dayflowers, and baby blue eyes have hit their peak and just starting to get a bit leggy and collapse.

The damage by January’s hard freeze is clear in the brown fronds of the sago palm, the collapse of the spineless prickly pear, and the rotting leaves of the Agave americana variegata.

Early spring is over. The Texas mountain laurel no longer smells like grape soda. The spring bulbs, Tulipa clusiana, Spanish bluebells, summer snowflakes, daffodils, and grape hyacinths have faded. We’ve started having 80° days again and worse, above 60° nights. Sunday (4/4) I was too hot to sleep for the first time this year and Monday (4/5) we hit the week high of 87°. Wednesday (4/7) a front came in and it was dark with a promise (unrealized) of rain all day. The lack of rain was disappointing but least temperatures dropped back into my favorite 40-70 range again.

From the vegetable garden we’ve been eating English peas almost every night. After a few days in the 80s, they are no longer producing flowers. The lettuce and arugula are also getting a bit past their prime. Now that the trees are leafed out the winter vegetable garden is once again in full shade so it’s finished for the year. The pecans, the last trees to leaf out, finally are. Still sunny beneath them for a week yet. The tomatoes are enjoying their new home next to the driveway. On Sunday (4/4), AJM constructed a frame for us to put netting over it in hopes of foiling the squirrels this year.

First flower: Allium neapolitanum (4/2); tomato ‘Jaune Flamme’ (4/2); California poppy ‘Mikado’ (4/3); poppy not ‘Lauren’s Grape’ (4/3); amaryllis ‘Amoretta’ (4/4); rose ‘New Dawn’ (4/4); weeping yaupon holly (4/4); Meyer lemon (4/5); tomato ‘Azoychka’ (4/6); Oenothera speciosa (4/8); rose ‘Prosperity’ (4/8)–still not looking very healthy.

Dateline: 2009

2009-04-10. A view of the meadow from our roof. A lot less larkspur in the meadow this year and almost no bluebonnets.
One week out of 52 my garden looks just about as perfect as a dream and this is that week. I spend all my time wandering up and down the paths just looking at it. And smelling it. It’s a heady, dangerous feeling because it fools me into thinking that gardening in central Texas is like gardening in Eden. I forget about summer. I forget about 50 days of 100 degree weather. I forget about Austin’s 19-month drought. Instead I get sucked into bigger, more elaborate plans for future gardens and seduced by visits to local nurseries, other people’s gardens, and garden talks.
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Zanthan Gardens meadow
The upper meadow bed is now clean and tidy for summer–and mostly brown. The overcast day creates an illusion of serenity. Usually the plants are drooping under a burning sun–the contrast between sun and shade too intense to photograph well.

June 21st, 2008
Putting the Garden to Bed for the Summer

The official beginning of summer arrived on the heels of a cold front breaking our 32-day heatwave. Rain skirted Austin but none fell in the city. Still the temperatures felt cool, with a high of mere 91F degrees.

The dead of summer–that’s what I call it–the summer of our discontent when I’m counting the days to fall’s reviving rains and cooler temperatures. And playing with that theme, I put the garden to bed for summer. Where my analogy breaks down is that we don’t really get to put the garden completely to bed. Although plant growth slows and lawns don’t need much mowing, the remaining plants aren’t dormant. They need water and more water and cutting back.

I pull out the spring annuals that have gone to seed and mulch, mulch, mulch. Still I don’t mulch as much as I should. I’d have to buy a couple of yards of mulch to do it right and I haven’t done that since we sold our pick-up. I was lucky this year to get a free truckload of chips for the asking after our big windstorm of May 15th from one of the clean-up crews. I laid them on the paths and in the mini-woods and it’s done a lot to making the garden look tidier.

I thought I was on top of things this year, ahead of schedule. But summer was ahead of schedule too. It hit us this year like an early frost, two months early, with triple-digit highs reducing many plants to brown crisps of their former selves. Despite water and mulch, the plants droop every day when the sun shines directly on them. Every morning I perform a little triage to see if there are any plants in immediate need of attention, any plants that didn’t recover from sunstroke overnight.

I pay for breaking one of the basic rules of garden design. My plants are tucked here and there all over the yard rather than in just one bed that I could water easily with a soaker hose. In addition to the two meadow-type beds pictured here, there are two 12×12 beds in the front, some foundation plants, and beds around the perimeters of the yard. A lot of these spaces are still being replanted after the 2006 drought. I just don’t have the resources (mental, financial, or physical) to replant and maintain all these spaces in one go.

This year I’m moving a lot of smaller plants into pots where I can nurse them over the summer more easily. That’s my plan anyway. I’m known death to potted plants so it’s a gamble either way.

Zanthan Gardens meadow
Looking the other direction–much work left to do. Usually summer annuals like cosmos and sunflowers fill in. I need to completely rearrange the perennials that anchor the annuals. I could try for some more variety, too, I suppose. Don’t the Chinese chives look pathetic?

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.

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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meadow Zanthan Gardens
2010-05-01. The meadow at Zanthan Gardens. Less larkspur than in previous years because the cilantro and Engelmann daisies are pushing them out.

May 6th, 2007
Week 18: 4/30 – 5/6

Dateline: 2008

The last reprieve before summer. When Vertie and I went to get the glass mulch on Friday (5/2), it was a hot 88F and muggy. Saturday was dry and cooler by 10 degrees. The lows over the weekend seemed comparatively chilly at 59F. Big storms for Monday and Tuesday didn’t pan out which means will be facing temperatures in the 90s next week without a reserve of rain.

This is confederate jasmine week. It has been in full bloom for the last couple of weeks everywhere…a really good year for confederate jasmine. My sweet peas are also finally blooming. Caterpillars ate all the buds right before they were going to flower and it’s taken them a couple of weeks to put out more.

The ‘Mermaid’, ‘Red Cascade’ and ‘New Dawn’ roses have all been blooming very well. ‘Blush Noisette’ is trying but is balling terribly this year. ‘Ducher’, ‘Prosperity’, and ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ are still putting out a flower or two. I did lose the ‘Penelope’ rose that had me worried this time last year.

The California poppies surprised me with a second flush of flowers. The others are finally blooming, a month behind everyone else’s in Austin. In a way it’s nice because they fill in the spots left empty by the larkspur and cilantro. Speaking of which, I decided to fill in empty spaces in the meadow with bought pepper and tomato plants. The problem is remembering to water them regularly when they’re scattered all over the yard. The pink evening primrose and Engelmann daisy are still flowering well.

Getting busy gathering seeds of larkspur, bluebonnets, and cilantro.

First flower: Nigella damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ (4/30); bearded iris ‘Silverado’ (5/1); white mistflower (5/4); Dolichos lablab (5/5); summer squash (5/5).

Dateline: 2007


Zanthan Gardens
2007-05-06. 2007-05-06. Rather than a pretty flower photo I thought I’d focus on the most memorable sight in the garden at the moment: the old shed in rubble and larkspur blooming in the meadow to the north.

Spring Fling is over and, May, the month of green is upon us. That’s how I think of May. This is a transitional week, a transitional month. Most of my flower spectacle is over until fall. I put all my effort into early flowering plants because once my trees leaf out there isn’t enough sun for the warm weather flowers. I’ve had to learn to stop envying other Austinites’ vitex, lantana, butterfly bushes, and salvias. Besides when the weather turns muggy, I can’t stand the press of all those plants that make March and April shine. I just want to clear everything away.

May is typically one of Austin’s rainiest month. We’ve had almost two inches just this week as thunderstorms keep rolling through. On top of that, we’ve more than average rain this year since the middle of March. May is living up to its lush green promise. We expected the cloud cover to burn off this week and the temperatures to hit 90. Instead it remained drizzly and in the low 80s all week. And a bit muggy! The 90% humidity makes it as steamy as a jungle. A mustiness pervades my house and there are small snails on every plant. The mosquitoes and the cockroaches have decided summer is here. And I heard the toad last night. That makes it official.

The ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Blush Noisette’ roses have bowed out and now ‘Mermaid’ and ‘Red Cascade’ are in full bloom. I’m worried about ‘Penelope’. She was covered in flowers last month and suddenly all the leaves turned yellow. Is she going to succumb to dieback like ‘Buff Beauty’ and ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’?

First flower: chili pequin (5/2); Hibiscus syriacus (5/3); Abelia grandiflora (5/4); Cosmos bipinnatus (5/5) one self-sown.

Dateline: 2006

Rain, rain, and more rain. I’m still looking for the official rainfall totals but it seems south Austin got about half an inch on Tuesday, 3 inches on Thursday, 2 inches Friday, 2 inches Saturday, and possible another inch Sunday. I wish I had about 50 more rainbarrels.

The spring flowers (bluebonnets, larkspur, evening primrose) are going to seed. The roses, except for a flower here and there, may be finished until fall. The irises were noticably absent this spring. Now the flowering perennials (esperanza, four-o’clocks, crape myrtle, oleander, rose of Sharon, red yucca, various salvias, and plumbago) are moving into the spotlight. Even so, with all this rain, the overwhelming impression of the garden this week is green.

There was a time when I first began gardening that I said all that these desert-bred eyes craved for in a garden was a green shade. Now I’m less easily satisfied.

First flower: Mirabilis jalapa, RHS red (5/1); plumbago (5/4); crape myrtle ‘Catawba’ (5/5).

Dateline: 2004

Following killer-flood rains last Saturday, the week opened with two perfect days. The nights were cool, the temperatures tying with record lows set 50 years ago. And the days were dry with brilliant blue skies usually seen only in the fall.

My neighbors behind me cut down a huge oak tree that had its top sheared of. in a storm seven years ago (but was still growing strong). They also removed a hackberry and other brush along our fence line. Now, what had been my shade garden, is in full afternoon sun. 2007-05-06. Note: They’ve planted a butterfly rose over the fence and some other plants. I think they have a landscaping service or something because it looks like a nursery back there.

photo: tree
2004-05-06. What remains of my neighbor’s tree. Bill might notice that the bindweed is quite rampant.

First flower: rose ‘Red Cascade’ (5/3); first cherry tomato (5/5); rose “Caldwell Pink” (5/5).

Rebloom: rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (5/7); rose ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ (5/8).

Dateline: 2002


In my garden, March is wildflower month, April is iris month, and May is the month of green. The spring flowers are cleared away and the trees and grass have deepened into a rich green. This is the one month where it summer looks pleasant, before the heat and drought of real summer turns everything brown and dusty.

We began this week with a momentary break in the heat. A front came in on the 3rd and cooled temperatures down by at least ten degrees. So I spent all Friday morning reading in the garden in my new Adirondack chair…a very Martha Stewart moment. It didn’t last long enough. Very quickly we returned to hot, humid weather.

The bad news this year is the lack of rain. May is supposed to be one of our rainiest months. We are already behind for the year and it doesn’t look like any relief is on the way. The worst part of this heat is the realization that although 90 feels hot now, sometime in August, 90 will feel cool. When it’s 90 in August, you know Fall is on the way.

On the plus side, the cannas and banana are taking off. And we ate the first cherry tomatoes this week. The black-eyed Susans are blooming. And there are still plenty of larkspur to attract the butterflies. A stray bluebonnet still blooms, where I’ve watered and dead-headed them. And the last iris, ‘Silverado’ bloomed. Clammy-weed is popping up everywhere, a nice bright green. It grows to almost two feet in the garden beds where it gets water. In the meadow, though, it is much shorter.

The confederate jasmine is in full bloom. I love its glossy, deep green leaves and thickly sweet scent. I rooted a runner last year and transplanted it this spring and it’s blooming, too. The lavender I rooted is also blooming. It’s a good thing I’m having some luck with rooting and divisions because my attempts to grow things from seed have not been very successful this year. Although a couple of things have popped up from seeds I planted last year. One is an Apple of Peru. I don’t know what the other one is. Maybe cuphea. Maybe some new weed.

The violas, sweet peas, and columbines have succumbed to the heat. The Dianthus chinensis is looking a little seedy, but what amazes me is that this is their second year. They are usually considered only winter annuals. [Note: These plants persisted in the garden until 2005 when they finally succumbed to the drought.]

photo: Zanthan Gardens July 15, 2002
2002-07-15. The meadow.

July 15th, 2002
It’s a Jungle Out There

In a typical summer, the six weeks following Independence Day is season special to the south that I call “the Dead of Summer”. Until autumn rains sweep up from the Gulf (beginning the last week of August when we’re lucky) our gardens are at their bleakest. Temperatures top 100 degrees. Rain is nil. Although the 100 degree days average ten a summer, in 1991 we had 40. And rains never came. Ditto 1990.
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