Missed it by that Much

…as Maxwell Smart used to say. This medium-sized limb fell right next to my bedroom window and landed on the winter vegetable garden. Luckily nothing is growing there right now and the trunk missed my new pots. More importantly, it missed our new metal roof. (A tree fell on our old roof in 2001 and we had to replace it then.)

Zanthan Gardens storm damage

Shortly after 11:30 last night we were awakened by large hail. We took refuge in the hallway away from all the windows because hail was flying off our metal roof and bouncing against the windows. The trees were waving wildly in the wind and when we saw green light and sparks flying, we guessed one of the limbs had fallen on the power lines. The power went out. The storm was fast and furious and it wasn’t very long before we were outside with our flashlights.

The cedar elms next to the driveway had two large limbs whip around and fall against the power lines. Anticipating this, we had paid to have this tree trimmed back two years ago. Just a couple of months ago, in preparing to put in new taller electric poles, the city had trimmed all my trees away from the lines again. But the cedar elm limbs are pretty big. The city crew arrived at 3:30 to cut the limbs off the lines. The mailbox and some of the rails in the picket fence were damaged while the crew worked in the dark. But no biggie–they have a tough job restoring power every time one of these storms hits. This tree is almost split in half and I’ll have to have the rest of it taken out.

Zanthan Gardens storm damage

In the back, the top of another cedar elm sheared off. Half landed in the meadow and half landed and snapped the cherry laurel. Overall, the damage was minor. One tomato crushed. Two pepper plants. The cherry laurel was split in half, as was the chili pequin. But the roof and the cars and all the potted plants escaped damage.

Our neighbors were not so lucky. Next door, recent arrivals from Maine were dismayed to wake up a tree limb on top of their car. “We don’t have tornados in Maine.” It wasn’t a tornado, though. Just high winds. Storms like these are the reason that it was imperative we remove the unattached metal roof from the garden house.

Bouldin Creek storm damage

And on the corner, a huge old tree completely uprooted, taking the curb with it, and fell on the cute little cottage. The house is empty right now. The old woman who lived there died recently. I’m told her husband planted that tree when they first moved into that house in the 1940s. When the city put in the bus stop and wanted to build a sidewalk, she fought them to save the tree and won.

Welcome Cold and Dreary

January can be Austin’s bleakest months and 2008 has been a good example of that. We’ve had gray skies and drizzle, temperatures hovering in the 40s. And last weekend downtown got our first solid freeze. Temperatures fell to the 25F/-3.5C on Sunday morning effectively killing back all those summer plants which were still flowering on the last GBBD. At last!

I’d covered up the strawberries and brought the potted plants back inside. The winter hardy annuals (sweet peas, violas, pinks, and sweet alyssum) weren’t bothered. But a lot of plants, like the duranta and the podranea are finally gone and I’m not really sorry. Now I can clear them back with abandon.

I feel a sense of relief when I look out at the brown, uninviting landscape and think, “Oh good. It’s too miserable to be out there today.” Actually, I welcome the opportunity to work on some indoor projects guilt-free. The garden is demanding and never satisfied.

This week I’m going to turn my back on it, build a fire, and ponder this pile of seed catalogs.

Snow! Snow! Snow!

About 10AM, large flakes fell for an hour or so. I can’t tear my eyes away from them.

We’ve gotten mostly ice, so far. Luckily we haven’t had the terrible weather that Oklahoma experienced. But it’s put a crimp on the inaugural events today. Everyone is told to stay home and we (who have been through this before in Austin) know better than to go out. It feels like a holiday. AJM works from home and I try to keep out of his way by reading in bed under the electric blanket.

When Our Prayers Are Answered

Whoo, boy! Austin needs rain. But I wish we didn’t get the entire year’s supply in one 4-hour deluge. It began pouring rain about 5:45 AM and got worse between 8 and 9. It’s just slacking off a bit now at 9:45. I’m guessing we got about four inches, so far. The rain pounded down and ran off instead of soaking in, like good rain.

Texas Flood
2007-01-13. Austin, TX. Although the meadow has one of the gentlest slopes in the yard, it can wash out. Look at my new path!

I garden on a hill. I started terracing it when I began. I build planter boxes, too. But this rain overflowed my boxes and rock walls and paths and berms. It overflowed the retaining walls and flowed up against the garage and left three inches on my covered, concrete patio.

Texas Flood
2007-01-13. Austin, TX. Looking at this photo it’s difficult to believe I’ve dug a drainage ditch here and filled it with gravel. The water is at least six inches deep and seeping into the garage.

How much cleanup time will I have before the big freeze tomorrow night? Currently the forecast shows 100% chance of rain the rest of today, 70% tomorrow, and 80% Monday–when the rain turns to ice pellets. I’m crossing my fingers the rain will slackk off a bit and give what’s fallen a chance to soak in.

Damn. Sounds like it’s starting up again.

PS. Bill, did you get hit with the ice storm yesterday? How are you faring up north?

Just Die Already

“For me the gardening year begins in October…Number one on my late-October agenda is to clear out the two twenty-foot-long borders of all the summer flowers, most of which are still giving us a fine show. The minute I look the situation over, I begin to feel guilty and wasteful. They look so lovely, but I have allotted this morning to this project, and my gardener, Junior Robinson, is by my side. We both know that in a day or two frost will descend and have these lush beauties looking unhappy and faded. So I firm up my resolve, turn toward Junior, who’s looking undecided, and tell him that we are going forward with this project now. I ask him if he wants a Classic Coke to strengthen him and he says, “Yes, I’m going to need it.” –Emily Whaley “Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden”

Temperatures have been hovering over the freeze line, some nights dipping just below, just enough to damage the more tender plants and yet not enough to do them in. The ones that are not entirely done in–some cosmos, some bananas, and some four o’clocks just look sickly and sad.

On Wednesday, it warms up to 73F and I spend all day in the garden. First I have to move all the potted plants outside for some water and sun. Then I have to uncover all the plants I’ve covered so that they don’t swelter in this one day of heat. I give them a good watering which should help to keep temperatures a bit more stable. I spend most of the day raking leaves which fell all at once last week. Now for two months, maybe three, my yard is in full sun. One rose, ‘Blush Noisette’, is taking advantage of it and all the others that managed to survive the summer are looking healthy even if they aren’t blooming. As I rake, I also cut back the four o’clocks. Just like Mrs. Whaley, I feel relief to be done with them, to clear the garden down to the bones. Still I don’t manage her firm resolve, nor does my garden have strong bones. Right now, covered in pecan leaves scavenged from the neighbors raking their lawns, the bones of the garden are more difficult than ever to see. Nope, I’m not quite able to follow through–against Mrs. Whaley’s advice I still “waver and quaver” over each decision. Maybe when I turn 85, I’ll attain her admirable ruthlessnes.

We have one day of warmth before the cold funnels down from the north again. Potted plants back inside. Tender perennials covered up. And now that the pecan leaves are raked up, the oak leaves have started falling. I see buds on the narcissus. Spring will begin before fall is even finished. Winter just interjects itself in short, icy spurts.

It’s Official–It’s Fall in Austin

Just as gardeners who I read about in books anxiously look for spring in the first buds of crocuses pushing through the snow, we Austin gardeners look for the first sign of fall in the buds of the oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida). Last Sunday (8/27) I noticed some buds in a bed I was watering and thought, “Summer can’t last much longer now.”

And then Tuesday morning (8/29) a front pushed through and it rained. The rain wasn’t much; it barely soaked in a 1/32 of an inch. But when you haven’t had rain in almost two months every drop is glorious. And the temperatures! The high was only in the 80s. The low dropped into the 60s. Oh it really did feel like fall, for a day.

Wednesday morning I looked out my bedroom window and saw the first oxblood lilies in bloom. I jumped up and ran out to look at them. It wasn’t the rain that caused them to flower; it was because they were near some lavender I was watering. (As usual, they flowered for Rantor first, who reported first flower on 8/23–and also that the Spanish name is azucenita roja.)

Never mind that on Thursday Austin was back to 102, Friday 100. This weekend rain is in the forecast. And next week our highs will only be in the 90s. Yep. Fall is here. An oxblood lily told me.

Hellishly Hot on 6/6/6

Last week May ended on a cool and rainy note. This week we’ve skipped straight to July. The sun is shining as soon as it’s risen; no cloud cover to burn off, nor any of the towering cumulus clouds that seem to me so much like summer in Austin. Just stark blue skies and the kind of sunshine that you can feel burning your flesh the second you’ve stepped into the sunlight. However, desert-like, this is a dry heat. As long as you stay in the shade, it’s more pleasant than a typical humid June day, even if the temperatures are reaching for record highs. Margaritas, anyone?

When it Rains it Pours

This year it looks like May is vying to take back its title of one of Austin’s rainiest months. After a disappointing showing in 2005, May 2006 has started out with a bang–the bang of thunder, the boom of transformers blowing out during a power surge, and the crash of trees felling power lines.

Tuesday (5/2) afternoon, I got caught in thunderstorm as I headed home from the gym in rush hour traffic. That was a comparitively pleasant prelude to Thursday (5/4) night. Around 10PM, 70mph winds begin whipping through the trees and almost immediately our power surge protectors squealed and we lost power. According to Austin Energy, Thursday’s storm resulted in the biggest power outage in Austin since 2000.

And then it poured–not just for 10 minutes or so as it often does, but for what seemed like more than an hour. I was glad to see my terraces keeping the water from running off into the street. My drainage area held four inches of standing water at one point. And for once the garage didn’t flood.

We were luckier than many. Our yard was littered in ball moss and dead branches, but only a few smaller, live limbs were torn off trees by the high winds. Just around the corner a live oak tree had split in half and fallen across power lines. Neighborly residents hung socks along the downed lines to alert motorists.

Friday night was a repeat performance, though less windy and with less rain over a longer time. Thursday night we got over three inches of rain; Friday, maybe 2 inches.

Does this mean that Austin’s drought is broken? Or is this the last rain we’ll see until September. Stay tuned.


No, we didn’t get a perfect score. That’s today’s high. No, that’s not normal. It broke the record for April 17th. It is also the first time we’ve ever broken 100 in April. Or in March. However, it’s not the earliest in the year we hit 100. That was in February, 1996. Should cool down to the 80s by Wednesday the forecasters promise.

We had power outages this afternoon in South Austin. Rumor has it that everyone got home and turned on their air conditioners at the same time. We lost power here twice but only for a couple of minutes each time–just long enough to bring the server down. AJM just got it working again.

I was going to grumble about June weather in April, but now I can moan about August weather in April. I think it’s time to visit Kathy up in her colder climate.

Memorable Weather

Typical for the day in Austin, Memorial Day brought on the weather. We hit our first 100 degree day of 2004 (a bit of a surprise since we only hit 90 a few days before). Then it began pouring rain, then hail (bean-sized). Then the sun shone and it continued to rain and hail.
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