August 5th, 2008
Losing My Passion

Austin heatwave 2008
August 4th was day 42 this summer of 100+ weather. Now in a tie for third place with summer 2000 for summer of most 100 degree days.

Have you wondered why I don’t write much about gardening anymore? No I haven’t been away. And I haven’t run out of things to say. (I have 50 posts in draft.) I’m simply cranky from the heat and don’t have the energy, or the desire to put a happy face on this miserable summer. AJM just rolls his eyes and says, “Oh, it’s just your usual summer SAD.” “No. It is NOT.” I reply testily. “Every summer you want to throw in the trowel and move to a condo.” I glare. “This is not your usual summer.”

This summer just tied the third-place record set in 2000 for the most 100 degree days. After Tropical Storm Edouard moves through and brings (we hope) a little relief, we will break that record. That would make 2008 worse than 2000. And 2000, all Austinites should remember, was the year we set the all-time high temperature ever recorded in Austin. In SEPTEMBER. 112 degrees. In 2000, the heatwave didn’t break until September 24th.

I’m not looking for encouragement or sympathy. I don’t need uplifting speeches from people who live in more temperate summer climes. You have horrible winters to even the score (Although your plants go dormant in your dead season. Ours don’t. They just die.) Yes, I know that someday fall will come and the oxblood lilies will bloom again. Nor am I looking for strategies to garden in this heat. There are many gardeners in Austin who are more successful than I am. Good for you. I admire you. I do.

If, on the other hand, you want to tell me how miserable you are, please join in. Misery does love company. I took a little walk around my neighborhood to see how other people were coping, or not. And it cheered me up.

Some of my more whimsical neighbors have responded by eschewing plants altogether. This old bicycle has a bed made especially for it. A perfect water wise solution to our drought.
Austin heatwave 2008

Even professional garden designers who don’t live in South Austin are not above the impulse to border and mulch an area and call it a garden. I like how Tom Spencer recycled fallen limbs to make this bold statement about gardening in Austin.
Austin heatwave 2008

Why are Austinites into extreme gardening? Well, between heat and drought, the leaves are falling off the trees…
Austin heatwave 2008

…even attractive plantings of Texas natives look peaked and sunburned…
Austin heatwave 2008

…ornamental grasses are suffering…
Austin heatwave 2008

and people new to the neighborhood have learned why Austinites don’t plant trees and bushes in the spring.
Austin heatwave 2008

That little patch of bright green is an affront to nature, isn’t it? Nature is on the left side of the photo. It wins.

by M Sinclair Stevens

36 Responses to post “Losing My Passion”

  1. From Julie:

    My Grandmother Tweedy, transplanted from New Jersey to raise a family on a West Texas sheep ranch, said, “August is a good month for deaths.”

    It’s good for something, something BIG!

    Isn’t there also a song/poem where the Devil couldn’t stand Texas and opted for Hell. — mss

  2. From Rachel @ in bloom:

    I’ve got sympathy and commiseration! It’s SO FREAKING HOT these days, and there’s just nothing that’s going to get me out into the yard for more than 5-10 minutes. Not photography, not working in the garden, and certainly not the important stuff like weeding.

    I can’t wait for autumn.

    I feel EXACTLY the same way. Call me when it’s over. — mss

  3. From Robin Wedewer:

    Summer is a cruel, cruel time in Austin. Further north, it’s the winter, when you Austinites are basking in the rays.

    I admire the improvisation in lieu of plants though. I particularly like Tom’s branches. Clever people, you Texans.

    Gardening Examiner

    I’m glad there are still neighborhoods in Austin where people can let their creativity run wild. And that I live in one of them. “Keep Austin Weird!” — mss

  4. From patientgardener:

    I’m not going to tell you to cheer up as I know how irritating that can be but ha fancy having 50 posts in draft! I cant even begin to think what to put in my next one! I love the cycle in the garden – great idea.

    It’s cool, isn’t it. I just love how they made a special bed for it, edged it and put decorative rocks in it. This was not just a whim. It was planned. — mss

  5. From Kathy:

    I am a total wuss when it comes to heat. Heat and drought being even worse. But I have been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to my 6yo and marvel over and over again at what wusses we ALL are. Whatever the climate dished out, they took it, with only a few thin boards in a miniscule house between them and the heat or the cold.

    Funny you should mention that. I often read “The Long Winter” in the summertime just so I can imagine how good the warmth feels. It’s amazing how they wake up in the morning covered in snow because they don’t even have tar paper covering the boards. — mss

  6. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    Grouse all you want, you’ve earned the right. I do love the bicycle as garden focal point & Tom’s tree scuplture is elegant & meaningful.

    I admire people working with the climate as opposed to those who try to grow grass where it has no business being. I can’t understand those neighborhood associations who force people to do something that is so anti-community as waste water and petrochemicals to maintain a green lawn. I’m just very lucky not to live in that kind of neighborhood. –mss

  7. From Iris, Austin, Texas:

    Thank you for the commiseration invitation! Saturday I had both hoses dribbling along the driplines of 65-year-old trees. I don’t remember ever thinking I needed to worry about doing that until now.

    I’ve had to water even the most established native, drought-tolerant plants weekly for months. Of course my main nemesis, nutgrass, still manages to survive but it’s too hot for me to care much.

    And my creativity is too fried to come up with anything remotely as cool as Tom’s or your neighbor’s yard sculptures. Aargh. Ah well, only about 10 more weeks of this…

    Yep. You get it. Only 10 more weeks. And then we’ll be singing the praises of fall gardening. — mss

  8. From Cinj:

    Yuck, what a hot and horrid summer. We haven’t been in the 100’s yet, maybe you’d enjoy our summers better. I think you have better winter than we do though. I guess no where is perfect. Hang in there, it won’t last too much longer! (knock on wood)

    I wonder what that green lawn has cost those people in their water bill….

    I hope it’s a lot. That lawn has no place in this climate. It’s conspicuous consumption of a resource which we all depend on. — mss

  9. From vertie:

    Yesterday, I went to yoga, mainly because it’s inside. When the teacher asked if we wanted to work on any particular areas, I told her, “I’m cranky because it’s so hot. Can you do anything about that?” Many in the class laughed and understood. But alas, cooling breaths only last for so long.

    So yes, I share your misery. I’m not even allowing myself to get excited about the possibility of rain tonight.

    It was unfair for them to get our hopes up. AJM doesn’t stand my philosophy of “Expect the worst and then you can only be happily surprised.” I bet you do, though. I go to the gym in the afternoon to cool off, too. — mss

  10. From deb:

    I hear you. It is so hot here in north Texas I can’t even let the kids play outside for more than a few minutes. Truly irritating. They are saying Edouard will give us some relief by tonight or tomorrow. Gotta go get some iced tea. Try to stay cool.

    Summer’s tough when you can’t even yell, “You kids! Outside!” I grew up in the desert southwest and used to spend my entire summer curled up on my bed reading. I never went outside. Moved to Texas to escape the heat and sun. Ha. Ha. Ha. — mss

  11. From bill / prairie point:

    I am pretty sure I’ve lost one established oak tree (every leaf is now brown) and I’m seeing dead leaves on isolated branches on other trees. I was surprised yesterday to see salvias turning up dead. Up here we could wind up seeing nothing from Edouard.

    I’m surprised and saddened to hear about the oak. You guys up north are having it even tougher than we are. — mss

  12. From Don:

    I suppose this isn’t the time to tell you that I come on your website in the summer to cheer up?

    (Big smile.) Thanks. You’re a sweetie. — mss

  13. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Those pictures do tell quite the story. I wonder how the David-Pease garden is doing. Didn’t he say he planted that garden for August?

    He’s got a lot of shade so as long as he’s watering heavily, I’m sure it looks great. I’d love to know what his water bill is, though. It would probably make me physically ill. — mss

  14. From Frances:

    Hi MSS, you say you want misery only, no cheering on or encouraging words? No “but your winters are so great”? No…wait a minute, 50 posts in draft! What is the subject matter? What are you waiting for with them? Are they just venting rages? Now that would be cool. ;->

    They are updates to my “week-by-week” in the garden section. (I’m woefully behind.) About a zillion plant profiles. (Many plants which are now dead.) Of garden visits. (I haven’t finished Tatton Park, or Arley Hall, Castle Howard, San Francisco). About garden gremlins, the politics of lawns, comparing water bills, whether or not rainwater collecting is cost-effective (it’s not), how to choose an honest contractor, 100 book reviews, and so on. There’s plenty to write about. I simply too worn down to care about any of it. There’s plenty of gardenbloggers now. You guys don’t need me.– mss

  15. From Annie in Austin:

    This is not sympathy, MSS – just a question and an observation:

    Do you think one reason you are so miserable is because you live in Austin by choice? So that when weather patterns seem to have changed for the worse it feels like a betrayal by one you loved since you were young?

    We only came here for a job, and the record-breaking year 2000 was our first full summer here. (In our old neighborhood we hit 116°F.) I’ve never considered Austin fit for human habitation without the artificial support of Air-Conditioning and large water bills so even though I hate this weather too, as a castaway rather than a colonist, I never had high expectations.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I’m here more by accident than choice. (And because I hate Las Vegas all times of year even more than summers in Austin). I’m here because my Dad was stationed at Bergstrom. I was pretty much dragged kicking and screaming to Texas in my senior year of high school. If I had my druthers, I’d live in the Pacific northwest…rain, fog, forests, and mountains. I still miss mountains. (BTW, I decided to be a bit over-the-top in my rant partly because you were saying how cranky you felt lately. Remember how we all got together for the first time in 2006 to drown our summer sorrows over margaritas?) — mss

  16. From Bob Pool:

    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′. I do disagree with you on the rain water collection though. It’s only cost effective if you go large. While we were out of well water we could take showers in the yard.[no neighbors] and could haul buckets of water in to use the toilets. I’m really glad I had it. If there is a good thing about it, while your indoors you can write and post more. I like that.

    You bring up topics in two posts I’ve been meaning to write. 1) How can we waste water on lawns and ornamentals when the lakes and aquifer (on which we ALL depend) are dropping rapidly. People who rely on wells, and farmers should have higher priority than green-grassed subdivisions. 2) What is the scale of economy for a rainwater collection system. Maybe I’ll get motivated to write now that I can imagine addressing you. — mss

  17. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    And here I thought your silence meant you were basking in the cool, rainy climate of England! But you’ve been steaming all along with the rest of us?

    I can’t even add anything about the weather. What’s there to say? Only, this too shall pass. Either that or we gardeners will all go insane.

    FYI, Tom’s branch sculpture is by a local artist, I do believe. It’s on loan in Tom’s garden for now. There’s another example of the artist’s work hanging from a tree on Shoal Creek just south of 2222.

    I’m obviously in the wrong business. I should be painting all those limbs that fell in May 15th’s storm and arranging them around the garden instead of wasting my time watering. — mss

  18. From Lori, Austin TX:

    I’m so sick of this heat, and I work nights, so it’s not like I’m even awake for the worst of it!

    Seriously, I’m starting to think about that garden in Vegas that you posted about and how to do something similar to a large part of my back bed with part shade. 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.

    You’ve reminded me of another topic I’ve been wanting to blog about…one of the gardens I saw on the pond tour which belonged to the current president of the cactus society. It was my favorite stop on the tour. I’ve given up on most of my filler plants. I don’t have an automatic watering system and anything that has to be watered every couple of days…I’ve yanked it. — mss

  19. From mr_subjunctive:

    Dropping by to let you know that I mentioned your blog today on my blog, though it’s hard to explain what the “mention” involves. The relevant post is this one.

    Thanks. I enjoyed that so much I Twittered your post. I played around with it a bit myself and came up with some Zanthan Gardens dreams that I liked better. It’s a mesmerizing site. — mss

  20. From Frances:

    Hi MSS, You are so right about there being a gazillion garden bloggers now, and so wrong about us not needing you. Your voice is unique as is your style and we miss it, crabbiness and all. Please keep going, for your fans if not for yourself!

    Thanks for the encouragement. I haven’t given up writing, just writing about gardening. There are other things I’m much more passionate about so I’d rather focus on them. — mss

  21. From Carol at Lost Valley Gardens:

    It takes a special kind of person to garden in central Texas I think. It can be very challenging in the summer to watch all your plants, and even large trees, succumb to the brutal heat and drought conditions. I often think and talk about moving to a more inviting and moderate climate, but everywhere has its challenges – they are just different from place to place.

    Want to complain about water bills? I have LCRA water trucked in (my well water is so hard you can’t crack it with a hammer) to fill one of my water retention tanks (the big one is for collecting rain water) to the tune of $75 – $110 per 2000 gallons. 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.

    Yes I do want to talk about water bills. I’ve been wanting to post about that for awhile. Thanks for the numbers. I’m going to use that as a starting off point for my next post. — mss

  22. From Annie in Austin:

    In addition to being extremely cranky, MSS – I’m also apparently forgetful, romanticizing your ‘came to Austin’ story in my mind, while forgetting the kicking and screaming part!

    Our first Austin Garden-bloggers get-together was at the end of July in 2006 – could it be only 2 years since you suggested Margaritas at the Shady Grove?


    It seems like much longer doesn’t it? We’ve been through a lot together since then. Although I was unhappy to have to leave my friends in my senior year of high school to move to Texas, I was happy that Texas had trees, and grass, and lakes. It was a big improvement on Las Vegas! When I moved from Killeen to Austin to come to college, I knew after experiencing Austin’s restaurants, bookstores, cinemas, and museums, that I’d never be happy back in Vegas. But I didn’t stay here because of the climate. I’m a west coast girl at heart. The place I loved most as a child, (and it was full of beautiful gardens) was Okinawa. And I really enjoyed my two year break from Austin when I moved to Japan. — mss

  23. From travis (east austin):

    I just moved (mid-June) here from Wisconsin.


    So while all of you had all year to acclimate to the weather, I jumped into it (cannonball style, I like to think).

    I’ve been trying to put a happy face on things. Really digging into the hot weather plants which, by the way, I know nothing about.

    So I held on for Edouard and it’s promise of rain. Then, we got just a little rain here last night – nothing close to the drench that I was hoping for – and I’m ready to throw in the towel.


    We really needed a good drenching to get us through the next five weeks of 100 degree days. What a disappointment! I moved here from Vegas decades ago. So I am pretty acclimated. It’s those durn plants that can’t tough it out. Except the nandina and chinaberry. Those invasives we’re supposed to tear out are the only plants that are thriving. — mss

  24. From Karen Kennedy - S Austin:

    I attended a “Green” class yesterday at Zilker Park which was put on by the City of Austin and that is how I have found your garden blog and many others.
    I did a google search on “water gardens” and found all these wonderful Austin garden blogs.
    Now I have found people with the same passion as myself … except for right now with all this HEAT. I have to even hand water my zinnias everyday. My non-gardener husband does not understand when I talk about losing my passion and waiting for Fall. He, actually, thinks I want to give up gardening forever … (-:
    I have been thinking about starting a blog and I signed up with Word Press, but I have not started anything yet. I have been much more visual most of my life, but I would like to write so that I may help inspire people to slow down and see the Awe and Wonder right in front of them.
    Okay, this is turning into a book/blog so I will close.
    Thank you …
    This year I planted Sunflower seeds (for the first time) which I took pictures of if you care to take a peek.
    They are in my Garden 2008 album at
    Oh, I was married in May of this year, but I have not changed my name from Poore’ to Kennedy yet.

    Lovely flower photography, Karen. I hope you get your blog up and running. When you do let us know…then you’ll been inundated with warm welcomes from the rest of the Austin garden bloggers. I had thought of attending the Green class at Zilker. I even had it on my calendar. I just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm for it. Did they talk about our blogs? — mss

  25. From Robin at Getting Grounded:

    I can so relate to your rant. Every summer, I question why on earth I live here by choice, and I feel resentful that I’ve lived so much of my life in a place where I can enjoy the outdoors for so little of the year. As a native Texan, though, I do love the city itself. In 1994, I decided I’d had enough of the heat and moved to the mountains of Colorado. Seasons were perfect, and people that complain about cold winters have nothing on us. Cold winters are a joy compared to our summers. However, the entire time I lived there – five years – I was so homesick for Austinites. Colorado isn’t “weird” and doesn’t like to make fun of itself. I need that South Austin attitude! So I bitch along with you about the heat – and for me anyway, at least this year isn’t as humid as others have been. I HATE humidity. And pray for rain.

    I love Austin culture. Every time I visit elsewhere, I’m shocked at how bland and homogenized the rest of the country seems. I want to shake things up and be a little outrageous. I haven’t been really outrageous in so long that when I go off in a rant like this, I’m not always sure that people get the dry humor. Being desert born, I do find Austin’s humidity to be stifling at times. There’s no air in the air. In looking for upsides to the drought: less weeds and I never have to mow the lawn. — mss

  26. From Janet (Oxfordshire, UK):

    I am so sorry. I remember Texas heat so well.

    I don’t know how you’re managing to keep ANYTHING alive & well.


    I’m not sure I have kept anything alive. Every day I’m pulling out more stuff. If this heatwave does keep on another five weeks, my garden will be scourged with fire, like a soul in Purgatory. Maybe thus cleansed, it will be a clean slate on which I can start afresh. — mss

  27. From Diana Kirby - Austin:

    MSS – I’ve been awol as well for a while, in spite of a few vacation posts in which I was trying not to complain about the RAIN! Oh the irony. Someone was surely tweaking me, because I really just couldn’t complain about that knowing my garden was literally broiling alive at home. Sadly, I came home to lots and lots of weeds because I had someone watering for me and now I have to WEED in this heat! Thank goodness for AC — that’s all I have to say.

  28. From Julia:

    This is the worst summer drought in central Texas and I’ve been here since ’80. We are losing large post oaks at our place near Bastrop. It’s killing me to watch my biggest and best shade trees die standing up. And all I have is a 14 inch chain saw which isn’t adequate to put them out of their misery. The grass is dead except over the septic drain field and the only good thing about it is I haven’t seen any grass burrs or many fire ants. Unfortunately, they will be back next spring. Can’t say the same for the oaks.

  29. From Karen Kennedy - S Austin:

    Actually, it was a two day “Green” class Tuesday and Thrusday and I did not go today.
    I think the class was targeted more for home owners wanting help and there was nothing really in depth or what you could not find on the Internet. It was more to introduce homeowners to the different concepts which is good.
    INSTEAD, I spent the time working/sweating in my garden which really needs my attention. (-:

    Julie, I am so sad to hear about your trees.


  30. From Karen Kennedy - S Austin:

    Tuesday had no mention of blogs …

  31. From Ketzel Levine Portland, OR:

    Too sad; will be appealing for more sympathy to be sent your way in tomorrow’s blog. Meanwhile, get thee to a movie theatre!

    Yours in dead plants, KL.

    Thanks so much for featuring this post on NPRs Talking Plants! You hit my favorite summertime activity…going to the movies. Austin has some great movie theaters, too! The Alamo Drafthouse (where you can eat dinner and drink beer/wine with the flick) and the historic Paramount Theater downtown (which always has a summer classic film fest). — mss

  32. From Bonnie:

    Not only does the heat make me cranky but my water bill breaks me into hives! Holy cow! But 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?

    Plus, I just don’t like all of these freckles I am getting!

    That’s something northern gardeners don’t understand. In their dead season the plants go dormant. They may lose some in a bad year but typically they are not looking at losing all their entire garden if they are not outside every other day in the winter coddling their plants. — mss

  33. From Annie in Austin:

    Okay, I had to come back for a third time to say how cool it was to see you mentioned on the NPR site, MSS! You’ve been blogging about your garden since 2001 – even if it were perfect weather there might be some burnout and battle fatigue.

    If you’re going to see a violent movie I can’t help, but am up for another go at “Mamma Mia” if you want company.

    That little exchange on ironing with CC Kathy was almost enough to convince me I had to join Twitter…almost. It would be too tempting to do nothing all day but try to exchange smart aleck comments with you guys.


    The truth is, I’ve actually been known to iron our bedsheets…but only in the winter months when I’m trying to keep warm (was there ever such a time?) and to rationalize watching mind-numbing TV. Apparently Plurk is where all the fun conversations are…but I don’t really want to spend all day texting–although I feel quite cut off from people now, when Twitter goes down. — mss

  34. From Pam/Digging:

    Despair has netted you a huge number of comments and a mention on the NPR blog. How about that? Like Annie, I’ve been checking back to see what others had to say, as well as following the twitter in your sidebar. While I feel a bit out of the loop not being on Twitter, like Annie I worry that I’d do nothing but tweet if I were on it.

    By the by, I’m planning a fall Ground Robin for the Austin bloggers. Something to look forward to!

    Nothing like riding the wave of popularity by announcing that I’m not going to do this anymore. As for the Ground Robin…I’m planning a oxblood lily day party. As for the rest of the garden, I’m letting it all die. Good bye. — mss

  35. From Dee:

    Whew, I eschewed my salad and ate a box of cookies because of this post!! We’ve had some doozy droughts like yours, and it brought all the stress back. I’m kidding. Not about the cookies, but the package was smallish.

    I hate the heat. Been laying sidewalk in it all weekend. It sucks even in the shade.~~Dee

  36. From Iowa Victory Gardener, Des Moines, IA:

    Hi MSS, I’m new here, but Annie tipped me off about this post so I could see what other Austin bloggers were saying about your heat/drought. Not a nice situation at all, and I hope you all get a break from this soon. We had the exact opposite up here in June when we had the flooding, but it’s been a more typical IA summer since with brutal heat and humidity, but we have been getting regular rains, which as been wonderful … for the weeds!

    Those are very creative “plantings” you showed, and I really liked that one with the branches! I guess you folks do as we do, when you have a bad gardening situation, you just try to make do with what you can. Fortunately, now that the flooding is gone, ours is shaping up pretty well despite it all.

    Maybe you and some other Austin gardeners could try some hoodoo by all renting and watching The Perfect Storm at the same time to give nature a hint? 🙂