January 7th, 2010
Week 01: 1/1 – 1/7

photo: unidentified paperwhite narcissus

2006-01-04. Unidentified paperwhites and spider. These paperwhites are short, but pleasantly sweet-smelling, not like some modern ones.

Dateline 2010
The first week of the new year has been blackened by the ominous forecast of the coldest weather since the big ice storm of the first week of February 1996 (when AJM and I were marooned together). Not only will this freeze plunge Austin temperatures to the teens, it will be cold for several days: too long and too cold for plant covers to help much. While the first freeze of the season cleared the garden of overgrown annuals this one threatens to kill long cherished tender perennials. Cue much moaning and gnashing of teeth in the Austin garden blogosphere/Twitter.

I spent Wednesday (1/6) ahead of the front digging up what tender perennials I could: the amaryllis (all but the butterfly amaryllis had died down anyway in lighter freezes), scores of aloe vera, and the largest banana. All these plants needed dividing or moving to a sunnier spot. Nothing like the threat of disaster to focus and motivate.

Some losses will really hurt. I’m going to hate to lose plants I’ve grown over many years from very small plants especially the lemon tree, asparagus fern, and the philodendron–all which I planted out last year after they became too big for pots. I will be sad to lose my rosemary which I was training into a weeping tree form. I lost my first big rosemary in a similar freeze years ago.

Other plants I’m not going to be sorry if they get cut down to size because they’ve been unruly, overcrowding and shading the neighbors: the variegated Agave americana, the three Duranta erecta, the Port St. Johns Creeper (which had already frozen to the roots in earlier freezes). I’m very bad at pulling out something that survives because so little does. So I’ve let these run wild even though they’ve overstayed their welcome.

This hard freeze is particularly frustrating because so many plants put on a lot of growth since September during the rainy period Austin’s had after our 2-year drought. The cilantro and some larkspur are already sending up flower stalks and have buds–two months before normal. The Acanthus mollis has early summer growth already, its new leaves a fresh bright green and glossy. Worst, the fall vegetables were just starting to get growing in the last month after the pecans and oaks finally shed their leaves. We’ve harvested one cutting of Mesclun and that’s it. Goodbye English peas, swiss chard, and various other greens. Luckily these are easily replanted. Also agonizing will be the loss of many plants that I’ve struck from cuttings.

First flower: Narcissus italicus, (1/1). Only one flower. It’s been a very disappointing year for N. italicus and not a single paperwhite bloomed this year.
Blooming (very little after a couple of hard freezes): Lobularia maritima, Lonicera fragrantissima , Oxalis triangularis (white), Narcissus italicus.


If you’re preparing for the oncoming winter storm, read Frost and Freezes from the Travis County Extension Agent.

Dateline: 2009
I love January in Austin. I’ve been analyzing my joy and come to the conclusion that the reason I love this time of year is because a low southern sun pours into my garden. With the high temperatures in the 50s, 60s, or 70s (and sometimes 80s), the sun is not the evil nemesis it is the rest of the year.

As I clear out the last of the fallen leaves, straighten and replant beds, the garden begins to look a little bit like a garden again. I remain very busy transplanting larkspur. Due to Austin’s ongoing drought, I think I’m going for a very short season garden this year: maybe from December to April.

Like 2007, it’s been hot and cold. Saturday (1/3) reached an uncomfortable 83F degrees; Monday (1/5), barely got into the 40s. Austin even got a little rain. The official total on Tuesday (1/6) at Camp Mabry was half an inch…more than we’ve had since November. We’ve gotten a few freezes this winter but not a killing one yet. A little frost damage but plants that typically die back (like the Port St. John’s creeper), haven’t yet.

First flower: winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima (1/7).
In bloom: Amaryllis ‘Amoretta’, Duranta erecta, Lobularia maritima ‘Tiny Tim’, Narcissus (unknown paperwhites by pecan tree and in herb garden), Podranea ricasoliana, Rose ‘Blush Noisette’, Rose ‘New Dawn’, rosemary.
Vegetables: eating a lot of arugula and chard. English peas blooming and pods forming. Broccoli almost ready to eat.

Dateline: 2007
The weathermen were all excited about our lovely weather Friday (1/5), sunny and 81F degrees. You’d think they were reporting snow on Christmas (something that’s never happened in Austin). “Can you believe a day in the 80s in January!”.

Well yes. Friday’s high did not even break the record of 83F degrees set in 1923. In 2006, we broke two records this week, 85F degrees (1/1) and 86F degrees on (1/3). Temperatures topped 80F degrees seven times in January 2006. On January 4, 1997 the high of 84F degrees broke the 1917 record of 80F degrees.

I’ve come to expect some warm temperatures the first week of January before the coldest part of winter hits. The big news this week was the drenching rain on Wednesday (1/3). Other than that the first week of the year looks about the same as usual: various paperwhites are blooming; the nandina berries are bright red; almost all the oak leaves have finally fallen; and there is more larkspur than I know what to do with. The one piece of bad news is that I lost so many roses that I are usually blooming. I’ve replaced ‘Ducher’ (which was in full flower this week 4 years ago) but not ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’ or ‘Gruss an Auchen’. The good news is that this year I have a winter vegetable garden and it has been coming along nicely.

First flower: Narcissus tazetta italicus (1/1).

Dateline: 2006
We continue to have beautiful weather…for March. I don’t really mind the record-breaking 86F degrees we hit yesterday (1/3) as much as I mind the drought. According to yesterday’s paper, 2005 was one of the driest years on record and we have nothing to look forward to except more of the same.

Despite the warm temperatures now, the very cold week in early December wiped out my Christmas blooming roses. Nothing is in bloom this week except for a handful of these small narcissus. Typically the larger N. italicus and Grand Primo narcissus are blooming by now and I’ve planted winter annuals.

However, I’m not going to fight the drought. I see 2006 as a battle to just keep going what few plants I still have left but I’m not going to spend this year outside watering. The garden and I are going dormant for awhile.

First flower: Unidentified paperwhites by mailbox (1/3); Chinese Sacred Lily (1/5).

Dateline: 2004
Almost all the leaves have fallen from the red oaks, now, the last leaves to deal with. I’m raking them up and mowing over them with the mulching mower. After that’s done, I’ll be able to use a critical eye to look at the underlying structure of the garden, or rather lack of it. This begins my tenth year of gardening here, and what’s missing is structure.

The year has begun with a mass of moist air rolling up from the Gulf, cloudy and gloomy-looking and yet 70F degrees! Most of the tender plants have been nipped by light freezes. The Neon eggplant is frostbitten on top but has one eggplant growing low, shrouded in leaves. The lantana, salvia, and Pandorea ricasaliona are still blooming.

photo: unidentified paperwhite narcissus
2004-01-01. Unidentified paperwhite.

The miscellaneous paperwhites are finishing up and the ‘Grand Primo’ opened their first flowers on New Year’s Day, right on schedule in my garden.
photo: unidentified paperwhite narcissus
2004-01-12. Same paperwhite, in full bloom. I thought it was a ‘Grand Primo until it opened.

Roses in flower now are ‘French Lace’, ‘Gruss an Auchen’, and ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’.

Dateline: 2003
Early spring? We’ve had a week of “wall-to-wall” sunshine, perfectly clear and dry. Around town I notice that the quince, the jessamine, and irises beginning to flower. I have a couple of bluebonnets that are sending up flower stalks. This is a full month earlier than last year. “Too early!” I think. “This careless exuberance will come to sorrow.. Thanks to El Nino, we haven’t had a freeze yet. But, I bet we do.

photo: rose bush Ducher
The rose ‘Ducher’ continues to bloom magnificently. It must really like the cooler weather; I saw it in full bloom at Barton Springs Nursery as well. Once again this year, ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’ is also doing well. She has quite a few buds and is forming a lot of new bud growth. ‘Blush Noisette’ (which should be named ‘Old Reliable’) also just blooms and blooms. A flower here and there on ‘Peace’, ‘French Lace’ and ‘Souvenir del Malmaison’.

Some unidentified paperwhites are in full bloom. The ‘Grand Primo’ narcissus have been blooming since December 23rd. And the Salvia farinacea continues to be in full bloom.

The Spanish bluebells are poking up their noses. The summer snowflakes and ‘Trevithian’ daffodils have been up for a couple of weeks now and are about 5 inches of leaf growth.

I can smell the winter jasmine when I weed in the north border, but the bush is covered by the Pandora ricasaliona, which has not frozen back.

The yellow snapdragons in the winter garden are finally looking great. I’m glad they decided to bloom during Mamoff’s visit.

Dateline: 2002
Thursday January 3, 2002
Hard freeze at last. I think this is the latest killing freeze we’ve ever had. Finally the basil, tomatoes, eggplant, Tecoma stans, Mexican heather, the lantana, and purple Wandering Jew succumb. Gone is the polka dot plant [Note: it came back.]. Some of the roses are frostbitten, as is the Japanese aurelia.

Yesterday began with a thunderstorm and by the time we woke up it looked as if it was going to be nice. It was wet, and warmer, and the sun started to come out. Then by noon it was cold, windy, with low dreary clouds moving in. I felt cheated and grumpy all day.

Today has treated us with weather as perfect as it can get, with the promise of continued sun and warmth all next week. The forecast for next Wednesday is a high of 71 degrees!

Saturday January 5, 2002
Thunderstorms through last night and when we get up the rain barrel is full again and the air wetter and warmer. By noon, though, it changes to cold, windy, with low gray clouds.

Sunday January 6, 2002
A glorious day to be outside, finally. It is clear, still, and sunny and currently 62F degrees. I spend all day in the garden, in short sleeves, cleaning up. A bright green lizard is sunning itself on a tree trunk. I agree with him; it’s so good to be in the sun and breathe fresh air. I could never stand to garden in the north. I could never stand months of the kind of cold dreary weather we’ve had these last two weeks.

I’m very pleased with my new rose, ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’. She’s forming a dense little bush and is covered with buds which froze this week. But she does not seem discouraged by this and is putting out more buds. The David Austin rose ‘Heritage’ had some buds freeze, but two flowers are about to open.

I start digging up spots to stick larkspur plants which, as usual, are coming up all through the mulched paths. The biggest larkspur are about 5 inches tall now. The nigella is already a foot tall. And some of the bluebonnets that sprouted in September, now have rosettes the size of dinner plates.

The ‘Trevithian’ daffodils are poking their noses up and so are the summer snowflakes. The ‘Hawera’ and the ‘Quail’ have been up since December and are about 8 inches tall.

Weather-wise this week has had it all. On the evening of New Year’s Day we were teased with some snow flurries. I saw it on the news and AJM saw them when he was driving JQS home, but none fell here. The storm moved east and dumped snow and ice on the Deep South.

Dateline: 2001
Saturday January 6, 2001
Finally a perfect sunny day. I’m sorry that Mamoff left on Wednesday; it’s gotten warmer and sunnier each day since. The Indian hawthorn has one pink flower. I’ve never seen it flower so early; perhaps this is the result of all the rain this winter.

First flower: Rhaphiolepis indica (1/6).

Dateline: 2000
Tuesday January 4, 2000
Throughout the holidays the weather was in the 70s and low 80s. I started making a winter garden on the south side of the house; AJM helped tear down the fence there. Tonight it’s going to be in the 20s.

Wednesday January 5, 2000
A hard freeze last night. The Acanthus mollis, which had about 2 1/2 feet of new growth since fall looks like it died completely back to the ground. Both the datura plants died back.

Dateline: 1999
Friday January 1, 1999
Very foggy in the morning and then a warm wet day.

Dateline: 1998
Sunday January 4, 1998
Warm and wet with highs in the 70s. Spent most of the weekend cleaning up the beds and “editing”; that is, pulling up or moving around volunteer bluebonnets and larkspur and weeding.

Wednesday January 6, 1998
Warmer wet air from the Gulf. By noon the sun reappears. I uncover the plants I covered on the 2nd. Everything looks fine. One Narcissus tazetta italicus in group 98c-13 has its first flower.

First flower: Narcissus tazetta italicus (1/6).

Dateline: 1997
Saturday January 4, 1997
The high of 84F degrees breaks the 1917 record of 80. The weather is wonderfully hot. I want to do nothing but lie in a hammock and read. (Note 1997-05-18: We get a hammock for my birthday.) Instead AJM chops down the dead cherry laurel and I cut back the wild ruellia in the west border and mow the meadow at 1.0.

First flower: Narcissus tazetta italicus (1/1).
Flowering quince. See the first flowering quince in bloom on 38th street.

by M Sinclair Stevens

16 Responses to post “Week 01: 1/1 – 1/7”

  1. From bill hopkins:

    “Structure” I think that is what is missing from my garden also. Maybe it’s because I change my mind every year about what I want and I never really had a plan to start with.

  2. From don:

    I was in Central Texas between Christmas and New Years, and was saddened to see the dryness (which is usually associated with high temperatures). I had a bit of a disconnect with the beautiful 70ish degree (F) days and the horrid lack of moisture. I hope the weather patterns will get it right soon.

  3. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    Beautiful close-up of the paperwhites and spider. Spiders always kind of creep me out, but I do appreciate the camouflage abilities of these crab spiders (isn’t that what they’re called?).

    I don’t know what kind of spider it is. Larvalbug will have to tell us. The camera sees much more than I do. When I look at the photos afterwards, I’m always surprised to find ants, and spiders, and mites that I never see with my naked eye. — mss

  4. From Kathy (New York):

    Gorgeous. Somehow I missed this post before.

    I figure that garden time runs in cycles not in a straight line. My garden journal (offline) is organized by day and week of the year. When I added the blog I wanted to preserve that organization because I believe one of the most important aspects of garden journals is comparing one’s current experience to the past. I like to observe facts in context. For instance, I need to know that temperatures in the 80s the first week of January are uncommon but not unheard of. Although blog technology is designed to provide a comic strip snapshot of life (a daily, disposable short), I don’t feel compelled to change how I keep my journal to suit the tool. I’d rather fiddle with the tool somewhat to suit my needs. And if Zanthan Gardens ends up being a bit different than other garden blogs as a result–well, maybe it will keep it from getting lost in the crowd. — mss

  5. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    I’m very excited by your 2009 update, very positive, showing your adaptability and that of your garden!

  6. From Nancy Bond:

    Oh my, those paperwhites are so gorgeous! I envy your ability to garden year round. It certainly seems as though your garden is evolving beautifully.

  7. From Mary Beth - Harlingen:

    It does feel like spring, doesn’t it? When I was expounding the glories of spring, my daughter had to remind me that it was January 7th!

  8. From Jenny Austin:

    I have never thought of planting paperwhites in the garden. I have narcissi but they won’t be out until April. Maybe next year. It would certainly add something to the winter garden.

  9. From Jenny Austin:

    Saw your tweet about tarragon. Impossible here. You can substitute mexican Marigold mint! Try it he may never notice!

    Experienced Austin gardeners have all resoundingly agreed: it’s Mexican mint marigold (aka Texas tarragon) for us as Austin is much too hot for French tarragon. Annie in Austin offered me a cutting of hers. — mss

  10. From Dee/reddirtramblings:

    It warms here. It grows cold. People in Oklahoma get very sick this time of year due to the indoor bugs & outdoor weather.

    I think Austin is lovely in April too. I’m glad I got to be there.~~Dee

  11. From Cindy, MCOK:

    2010 is going to be a very interesting year for Central and South Central Texas gardeners. I’ve not covered very many plants since, as you said, the covers can only help so much. I’m looking it as an experiment in plant hardiness. If they can survive the extremes of temperature they’ve endured in the last 7 months, they’re worthy plants indeed!

  12. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    We’re looking at 11 degs Saturday morning up here in Fort Worth—I’ve covered what I could–in fact I’ve double wrapped our Olive Tree…I’m letting the Manzanita ‘Howard McMinn’ and San Diego Sage ride it out on their own—those are my two test plants from the west this year— and I need to know if they can take the Texas climate ( so I can use them in my landscaping business—oh yah, I am now an independent landscape contractor again!!!).
    Stay warm!

  13. From Jenny Austin:

    Reading about the doom and gloom in southern gardens is quite depressing. David keeps telling me it might not be as bad as it is forecast to be. I bet Mark Murray is really enjoying himself. So the peas really are doomed? I wasn’t sure what was their rock bottom temp. Of course I know all the lemons- and mine are in pots. I am even worried about the plants in my potting shed. Good luck and chin up!

    As of January 10th, the English peas look like they might have survived the worst. Another night of hard freeze tonight (although not as severe as the last two nights) and then Austin will warm up and we’ll be able to assess the damage. — mss

  14. From Annie in Austin:

    The in-ground lemon tree has me worried too, MSS – although I’ve got one potted lemon inside so all is not lost. I’d already heard the figs could die to ground level, and Barbados Cherries might be too marginal to survive, but hadn’t realized the Rosemary plants were in danger until I read this post.
    We’re always being told that the spaces between the plants are as important as the plants for the design of a garden…maybe we’ll have new opinions on that by spring!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  15. From Diana - Austin:

    I’m so curious to see what lives and dies. I haven’t covered anything and I didn’t dig anything up. Lost one lovely Agave, the rest seem ok — so far! Guess we will all tally up next week! I am most worried about the variegated Eureka Lemon tree, but it’s just too big to cover in any way, so I hope that means it’s established enough to survive somehow. Good luck with your garden. I heard 17 tonight.

  16. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    FYI–Rosemary can take the cold—11 degs in Fort Worth and no problems with it.