September 23rd, 2007
Paradise Regained

In a year of drought across the United States, Austin has received an unusual amount of rain. Zanthan Gardens has come back to life.

Commenting on the September Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day post, Yolanda Elizabet of Bliss said, “I’ve noticed that a little bit of rain makes all the difference in Austin, TX.” How right she is! Maybe some of you, especially those of you suffering from drought this year, are tired of hearing me exult in Austin’s rain this summer. Longtime readers of Zanthan Gardens might remember that a year ago, when Austin was in the middle of a devastating drought I posted a video of what was left of my garden. My garden was fried. Half my roses died. The fall rains had not come. Even my oxblood lilies were holding out for better times.

I look at that video now and want to cry all over again. I can’t believe I was able to go on, to walk back out in the garden and keep weeding and watering and tending and hoping.

Then in March 2007 it began raining and continued raining for the following six months. Austin’s lakes are overflowing. In the first six months of the year we had almost doubled the amount of rain we normally get. The 100 degree day was a rarity in the summer of 2007. This was the best summer in my memory of 30 summers spent in Austin.

Several people have encouraged me to make another video to show the rejuvenation of the garden and here it is. Pictures from September 2006 are followed by the same shot in September 2007. In both years the photos were taken in the second week of September.

Some notes. (Sorry no audio.)
1) I have not watered my lawn this year, nor do I feed it any commercial fertilizers. I give it coffee grounds from Starbucks and fill in any patchy places with Texas Native hardwood mulch.
2) I probably spent less than $50 on new plants in 2007. I bought 100 daffodil bulbs, a 4-inch pot of Lindheimer senna, a 4-inch rudbeckia, 3 4-inch pots of Mexican wire grass, a packet of orange cosmos, two packets of sunflowers and sweet peas, and 4 4-inch pots of summer vegetables. Since May my garden has been torn up in the construction of the failed garden house and so I’ve had neither time nor money to invest in new plants. I hope to do my main planting this fall which is the best time in to plant in Austin anyway. Thus, the growth you see is mostly from plants that survived the 2006 drought.
3) Not all plants liked the rain. Half the lavender died out and most of the bearded iris rotted away. I garden on the side of Austin that is over rich black clay. Xeriscape plants generally require very good drainage. Even without actual rain, many Mediterranean plants dislike Austin’s high humidity: they will wilt, mildew, and succumb to rot and bugs.
4) I need to do some serious weeding and pruning now, don’t I?

What will 2008 bring? The forecast for the last week of September in Austin’s predict that highs will remain in the low 90s and there will be no rain. For us that’s a typical beginning of fall.

by M Sinclair Stevens

10 Responses to post “Paradise Regained”

  1. From kate (Canada):

    After watching your video, especially with the pictures from September 2006, I truly can see what rain does. It is incredible that you didn’t give up heart last year.

    I don’t want to see another year like 2006, ever! My husband remembers that I whined, moaned, and otherwise complained bitterly all last year. I believe it. –mss

  2. From Diana - Austin:

    I found the rain to be a mixed bag as well — so many of the heat tolerant plants we work so hard to incorporate were just out of their element this year. Rosemary dying, lantana and salvias not blooming…and now the plants are beginning to bloom, It will be a lovely autumn!

    That reminds me, I lost my Indigo Spires after having it more than ten years. I think I saw one little stalk of what had been a 15×15 foot stand the other day. My rosemary survived and actually bloomed during the summer which it never had before. It’s growing over a terrace wall so it has good drainage. — mss

  3. From Carol (Indiana):

    The difference between last year and this year is amazing, like they are completely different gardens. I guess it is a testament to how much you love to, want to, need to garden, that you even tried last year. Drought conditions can be so discouraging!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

    Down here in Texas we know to brace ourselves for summer. But last year was a disaster even by our very low standard. –mss

  4. From Pam/Digging:

    It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Only reverse that. I’m glad you did a follow-up on your drought video from last year. It gives a gardener hope for the future, because if your garden can survive that kind of stress and come back looking so great, anything is possible.

    Yesterday I was looking through my September posts from 2006, and I was startled by how crispy and sparse my garden looked. How different from the lush, blooming garden this September. This has been the best summer I can remember in Austin, though I’ve been here only a third as long as you have. Call me greedy, but I’d love to have another one just like it next summer!

    Me, too! I’m afraid I’ve become terribly spoiled. I looked at the garden today, after a couple of 90 degree weeks and no rain and realized that I ought to be out there watering. I’d forgotten we had to. — mss

  5. From trey (nor cal):

    I love the pictures! We just had our first rain in about five months. For us rain in the summer is rare. During the five months of seasonal drought it might shower once or twice. Being a native son I am use to it. We will need some good rains this winter however, as last winter was a little light in the rainfall totals.

    Generally do you feel it’s predictable? I’m all in favor of people adapting to their place, of gardening where one lives. But these two summers, one among the hottest and driest, the other among the wettest and coolest, sure challenge us Austinites to determine what kind of climate we’re gardening in: southern? western? semi-tropical. We have to be ready for anything, especially disappointment. –mss

  6. From Layanee (Rhode Island):

    That is an amazing contrast and serves as a reminder that water is really our most precious resource! A bit scary when you consider how easy it is to take it for granted!

    I grew up in the desert southwest so I learned as a child not to take water for granted. I’m very careful not to waste it, to have water-saving appliances and take quick showers. I mulch. I collect rainwater. I try to choose drought-tolerant plants. I’m not fanatical about lawns. Nor do I plant a lot of summer annuals that need water. I try to do most of my gardening in our cooler months, September to May. In short, I’m conservative by nature. –mss

  7. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    I was shocked by the havoc the drought had wreaked in your garden last year. I watched both video’s (last year’s and the new one)and am glad to see that your garden looks much, much better now. I prefer the lush green garden you have now and strongly suspect that you prefer it too. 😉 It is amazing how resillient plants can be judging by the way they bounced back in your garden.

    Oh, yes! I much prefer this year. I’m so happy and so spoiled by the rain. I grew up in the desert and when I first had a garden, I didn’t care about flowers. I just wanted a green shade. We do have some very resilient plants, although some things that survived the drought (like the lavender) did not survive the rain. I think the best approach in Austin is to be adaptable: plant a some xeriscape, some semi-tropical, and some southern plants. With that strategy, at least something will thrive. — mss

  8. From Angelina:

    That was a very cool comparison. The lush greenery is so much more cheerful.

    I think so too. I long to move to the northwest but my husband, who hails from England, doesn’t want to live where it is cold and rainy again. –mss

  9. From Dawn:

    What a difference the rain makes! I’m very thankful for it as well. Since I saw your garden today in person — thanks for the tour, btw — I can attest to the fact that your garden is indeed lush. Oh and I’d just like to say after seeing your garden house with my own eyes I can understand why it failed inspection. You really do deserve a refund! So here’s to fair and rainy weather and justice for all. 🙂

    I was so glad to have you over. Please come again soon. We still never got to talking about your adventures in Japan, but I haven’t forgotten. — mss

  10. From Don, Iowa City:

    That is amazing! There can be no pessimists in the garden.

    So true. So true. As dear Henry Mitchell said, defiance is what makes a gardener. — mss