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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Austin rain
2009-08-27. We get some rain. The “bog” garden on the right of the patio, fills up with water as designed.

September 3rd, 2009
Week 35: 8/27 – 9/2

Dateline: 2009
A garden pulls me into it because it is always changing. The light, the colors, the shapes, the scent are always shifting. That’s the reason I enjoy observing the garden and writing about my observations. And the reason I’ve hardly written at all this summer. It comes as no surprise that the last week I updated my week-by-week in the garden posts was 18 weeks ago, before our summer of 100° days began. As @gettinggrounded describes it, Austin has had three months of August. The relentless searing sun. The oppressive heat radiating from every surface like the inside of a brick oven. The dried and roasted plants. The cracked black clay ground.

But this week, change. Last Thursday (8/27) it rained. Zanthan Gardens received an inch of rain over several hours of scattered showers. We were much luckier than many in Austin who received less or none at all. In the days that followed, temperatures dropped temporarily out of the hundreds. And flowers burst forth. The garden awakened from its summer slumber.

The rain brought out the first oxblood lily (8/31) and the usual rainlilies. The pale pavonia and the Port St. John’s creeper began blooming again. The crape myrtles perked up. An odd black-eyed susan, growing in the fig’s pot, opened some flowers. The datura unfurled. The tough standbys (ruellia, duranta, devil’s claw, rose of Sharon, oleander, plumbago) seemed to lift up their leafy branches as if they could finally stretch and shake out their flowers unbowed by the heat.

And even AJM remarked (as I do every fall), how strangely cool 94° feels at the end of summer compared with the beginning of summer when we groan and complain how unbearably hot 94° feels.

I think it’s sad and not a little frightening reading my old notes and realizing how quickly 2009 broke all the records of the horrible summer of 2006. For 50 years the hottest August on record was 1951 with an average temperature of 87.6°. This record was broken in 1999 (88.3°), then 2006 (88.5°), and now 2009, (89.1°). Even Austin’s native trees are dying, unable to adapt quickly enough to this changing weather pattern.

In 2006, we lifted our heads and pressed on, thinking we had survived the worst. Have we? Or will the worst just keep getting worse?

Dateline: 2006
Let’s sum up August so that we can be through with it. August 2006 in Austin was the hottest on record: the average daily temperature was 88.5F and the average high temperature was 100.7. Unlike 2000 (see below), we didn’t receive a lot of record breaking high temperatures. Instead it was hot every day; 24 days reached 100 degrees or higher.

Luckily, this week we got our first taste of fall. On Tuesday (8/29) morning rush hour started with rain. (Bewildered motorists crashed left and right.) In my garden it was barely enough to soak in 1/32 of an inch, but it did fill the rain buckets. I opened all the windows to smell it. Nighttime temperatures which had been in the high 70s all month dropped to a chilly 67 on Thursday (8/31). However, the high that day climbed back to 102.

With Tuesday’s temperature barely reaching 90, I was in the garden all afternoon. I dug up the daylilies, which hadn’t flowered this year. The leaves had withered and I worried that they might be rotting under the mulch. They weren’t. They were withered. I think I can revive the daylilies; it’s the dirt that’s dead.

blackland prairie clay
2006: The garden has died–not just the plants, but the soil. This is the bed that I dug the daylilies out of.

When I planted these daylilies four years ago, I amended the soil with peat moss, bought compost, and compost sifted from my mulch pile. This bed has always been mulched. All the organic material has since been sucked dry. All that’s left is dry lumps of baked blackland prairie clay. There’s no earthworms–probably no micro-organisms. The soil is as dead as a rock. If this is the condition of the rest of the yard (and there is every reason to think that it is), I can see why even drought-resistant native plants are giving up the ghost this year.

My problems with my little patch of Texas are minuscule compared with those people around the state who farm and ranch for a living.

Billions of dollars have evaporated, even more than the $2.1 billion lost during a 1998 drought, Texas Cooperative Extension economists reported in August. Crop losses have been estimated at $2.5 billion, and losses from livestock, underfed and rushed to market, are pegged at $1.6 billion. Wheat yields per acre in Texas have been the lowest since the 1920s.

Although it is the nature of gardeners to complain about the weather, Henry Mitchell said that what sets gardeners apart is defiance. So now that August is over, I’m gritting my teeth and donning my gloves. If I’m doomed to start completely over after 13 years, so be it.

First flower: Rhodophiala bifida (8/30).
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