March 19th, 2009
Week 11: 3/12 – 3/18

photo: raindrop on bluebonnet leaf
2009-03-15. Raindrop on Texas bluebonnet leaf.

Dateline: 2022
A very dry year. Bluebonnets are starting to bloom but only because I’ve been hand watering them. After getting off to a late start redbuds and Mexican plums are in full bloom, making me think it’s February instead of March. The one real success story is the Texas mountain laurel. All up and down our street they are suddenly in full bloom. Even the new little ones in the lawn have flowers for the first time ever.

The red oak in the back leafed out ahead of the cedar elms. Then the cedar elm by the back fence.

Dateline: 2011
Daffodils give way to irises. Both the blue (lavender) and white cemetery irises are in full bloom. The ‘Ice Follies’ are finished but the ‘Trevithians’ are holding out.

Pink bluebonnets in full bloom. Some bluebonnets but overall this is a very poor year for them at Zanthan Gardens because of drought.

Dateline: 2009
It rained!

For the first time in 18 months Austin had a real rain; nearly 3 inches of rain spread over 5 cold and wintry days. From 3/4 to 3/10 the temperatures were in the 80s. Then on Wednesday (3/11), the front came in and settled. Temperatures dropped 40 degrees. On Thursday and Friday the thermometer barely moved from a low of 40 to a high of 45. On Friday (3/13), Austin’s high temperature was lower than Manchester, UK. Great for Austin. Disappointing for our visitor from the UK. The rain didn’t clear out until Sunday afternoon. I think that’s the longest stretch of cold we’ve had in the abominably hot winter of 2008/2009. And then, guess what. Right back up to the 80s Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. They were gorgeous days to be in the garden but that heat quickly dried out the soil and burn bans lifted one day were almost immediately reinstated. (Compare my glee about the rain and cold to my grumbling remarks in 1997 and 1998 below–ah, what a difference an 18-month drought makes!)

When I look at the photos for this week from previous years, it’s obvious that the drought has taken its toll. The Tulipa clusiana has not started blooming yet and there are no bluebonnets to provide a sheet of blue background for them in the meadow. The redbud pictured below died several years ago and the Texas mountain laurel had very few flowers this year–so the combination in that photo will not be repeated. There’s no sign of my usually dependable daffodil ‘Hawera’. The wisteria leafed out without flowering.

However, the white lantana is blooming wonderfully. The roses ‘Ducher’ and ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ are in glorious full bloom. (That observation needs a lot of exclamation marks because no photograph I’ve taken can do them justice.) The Meyer lemon has gone bonkers with flowers. The iris albicans and bridal wreath are also at their height this week. The sweet peas appreciate the cold and rainy weather. The cedar elm and red oak trees have all leafed out. After the rain, the leaves look so fresh and glossy and brilliantly green I spend all my time looking up at them. What comparatively few baby blue eyes there are have begun to bloom and fill out empty spaces. Same with the cilantro. Overall the meadow looks quite bleak. But the rain is nudging the most recalcitrant flowers into bloom.

Best rumor I heard this week: Austin’s La Nina weather pattern might almost be at an end. We are to expect a normal summer not the pits of Hell like last summer.

First flower: California poppy ‘Mikado’ (3/17); Engelmann daisy (3/17); Oenothera speciosa (3/17).

Dateline: 2006
photo: Tulipa Clusiana
2006-03-15: Tulipa clusiana and Texas bluebonnets.

For a moment last week, I despaired that summer was already here, but on Monday (3/13) temperatures cooled to the 40s overnight and the 70s by day. What a lovely week for spring break! By Thursday (3/16) the weather was warmer and drippy. And Saturday (3/18), we welcomed some gloom and rain, even though it put a damper on two friends’ birthday parties.

As the redbud and Texas mountain laurel faded, the rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ took center stage, backed up nicely by Bridal Wreath spiraea. My spiraea is in sad shape, though, the new shoots come up the sides and the entire center is dead. Rather than a nice bush, I have two thin clumps that form a V. Has anyone else experienced this? If so what did you do?

A reliable combination in my south Austin garden is Tulipa clusiana and bluebonnets. Last year I made some little (bottomless) boxes to contain the Tulipa clusiana so that I’d know where they were. Otherwise the wildflowers self-sow and hide them. They responded so well to the extra care that I’m going to have AJM build some more boxes. Besides, the boxes add structure to the meadow so that it doesn’t look so much like a patch of weeds.

I spent part of the week gardening to the sounds of SXSW drifting over from various venues nearby. I did manage to get the glads replanted. However, I also found some daffodil bulbs that I never replanted last fall. I think they were the ‘Triparite’ and ‘Intrigue’ that I had dug up because they’d stopped blooming. I bet they need more cold than we get in Austin during winter.

First flower: Commelinantia anomala (3/12); rose ‘Blush Noisette‘ (3/13); Tulipa clusiana (3/14); cilantro (3/14); Prunus caroliniana (3/15); Consolida ambigua (3/15); Rhaphiolepis indica (3/15); rose ‘Madame Alfred Carriere‘ (3/15), baby blue eyes (3/15); Engelmann daisy (3/16); Aquilegia hinckleyana (3/16); rose ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz‘ (3/16); Salvia farinacea (3/16).

In Bloom: rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison‘ (full bloom), bluebonnets (full bloom), tradescantia, redbud (faded, leafing out), Texas mountain laurel (fading), Muscari neglectum (poor showing), oxalis (white, purple-leafed and pink).

Dateline: 2005
Returned from spring break in Santa Fe and snow (lovely snow!), to a garden transformed by spring. The weather is in the 70s and humid (although both AJM and JQS reported that it was cold earlier in the week). Tradescantia, false dayflowers, and baby blue eyes dominat. the back yard and the roses ‘Ducher’ and ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’ have stolen the spotlight from ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (which still has plenty of flowers). The columbine began flowering last Sunday (3/13).

There is a nice group of white flowers in the back: the Iris albicans and the sister roses ‘Prosperity’ and ‘Penelope’. Have I mourned out loud the loss of my yellow Lady Banks rose. She froze in that intense freeze we had Christmas Eve and is dead, dead, dead.

Once again, the darling of Week 11 is the little narcissus ‘Hawera’. This is a very dependable daffodil in my garden, right up there with ‘Ice Follies’.

Compared with last year, my redbud is a total dud. Everyone else’s looks great. Last year, mine did too. But now it’s returned to it’s former non-flowering ways. The Texas mountain laurel is finally putting out a few flowers, but nothing like last year. Ditto the Bridal Wreath. On the upside, the bluebonnets are in full flower this week this year. And the Indian hawthorn is a mass of bright pink flowers.

Dateline: 2004
Anticipation seems to be the keyword this week. If you look into the center of the Spanish bluebells, you can see the buds, although none of the flower stalks have bolted up yet. The wisteria has buds and will probably flower next week.

I wrote that last year and this year is much the same although there are differences. We had no hard freeze at all so a lot of tender perennials which usually die back to the ground and sprout again when it’s warm, didn’t. The banana lost its leaves, but the main stalk with the flower is green and now the flower is reopening. The Dolichos lablab vine is flowering on the vine that didn’t freeze over the winter near ‘Souvenir de la Malamaison’. The Lady Banksia rose which started the week with one flower ended it with a cascade of buttery-yellow flowing over the back fence. Last year, the buds had frozen just before they opened.

photo: redbud and Texas mountain laurel
Redbud and Texas mountain laurel: a photo for Don. View another larger photo.

First flowers: Iris albicans rebloom (3/11), Prunus caroliana (3/12), Verbena canadensis (3/12), Bridal Wreath spiraea (3/15), Aquilegia hinckleyana (3/16), baby blue eyes (3/16), Narcissus ‘Intrigue’ (3/17), Dolichos lablab (3/18), cilantro (3/19), and Hyacinthoides hispanica (3/19).

The Texas mountain laurel continues to impress, but this week really belonged to the white Iris albicans. These valiant white flags are waving proudly all over South Austin.

But where are the bluebonnets? The ones in my yard finally opened to a very mediocre display. We drove up the MoPac yesterday and, where the sides of the road are usually blanketed in blue, we spotted only three or four flowers.

Dateline: 2003
Spring is finally kicking into gear and each day brings something new. Today (3/16) the first Tulipa clusiana opened. Tomorrow (3/17), I think the first Spanish bluebell will open. And for the first time this year, the toads are singing outside my window. The cannas are sending up new growth. The 4 o’clock’s are sprouting.

The Lady Banksia rose and the Texas mountain laurel both suffered more damage from the freeze in late February than was first apparent. Both were budding earlier than usual (probably because of all the rain this year). The buds that were close to opening froze. Some new buds are forming on both.

Gardens doesn’t have their heirloom tomatoes in stock yet. They decided to grow their own this year and lost a quite a few of them in the freeze. I usually have my tomato plants in the ground weeks before now.

The first flower opened today (3/16) on an iris that I rescued from a construction site a couple of years ago. As I hoped, it is a simple white flag, common in this neighborhood.

Dateline: 2002
Trees are leafing out: Mexican plum, some of the cedar elms. The wisteria has buds. Heat wave. Temperatures in the mid-80s (normal is low 70s). I really notice the absence of the cedar elm that fell on the garage last fall. The meadow is getting a lot more morning light than before.

Our redbud, always a late starter, is in full bloom this week. It looks as nice as it ever has. (I despaired of it ever flowering for years.) About half the bluebonnets are open now and beginning to make a nice show. The first Narcissus triandrus ‘Hawera’ opened. Ditto the first Muscari neglectum. A verbena that I appeared mysteriously and had been watering (thinking it was feverfew I had a couple of years ago) flowered.

We really need rain. Wednesday and Thursday temperatures reached the mid-80s, almost 15 degrees above normal. I’ve had to water and water. I think the display on the Texas mountain laurel is going to be very poor this year. (I’ve seen some profuse displays in the some of the planters downtown, especially near 5th and Lavaca.) The daffodils held up remarkably well in the unexpected heat, but the roses looked none too happy. They still haven’t recovered from the hard freeze a couple of weeks ago.

I planted two store-bought tomato plants ‘Carmello’ and ‘Red Currant’. A bunch ‘Green Zebra’ seeds sprouted in the spot where I grew it last year. If you want to grow heirloom or unusual tomatoes but haven’t gotten around to buying or starting your seeds, don’t despair. Gardens has a good selection of heirloom and gourmet tomato plants.

Dateline 2000
First flower: Aquilegia hinckleyana (3/13). These plants are huge because they’ve been getting a lot of water when I water the Spanish bluebells. Iris flavescens (3/13). One iris has decided to flower a month early and without sending up a stalk. Potatoes (3/13).

Dateline: 1999
Lathryus odorata ‘Explorer’ (blue)
More sweetpeas are blooming. They are actually kind of pale lavender turning to deeper periwinkle. Very nice crawling over the bluebonnets. A lovely, lovely, lovely scent.

Hyacinthoides hispanica
Those in the south border have had their stalks up for a week and the buds are starting to droop into their bell shape and open.

Friday March 12, 1999
Big storm in the morning–a heavy rain at last; threats of large hail and tornadoes, but none yet. (Later) Bigger storm in the evening: lightning, thunder, heavy wind and rain.

Dateline: 1998
Saturday March 14, 1998
The week has been cold and rainy. Although erratic weather is usual for spring in Austin, it seems so odd after the months of warm weather. Our last freeze was before Christmas, and I have been spoiled by the “El Nino” weather.

Despite the differences in spring weather from year to year, the plants continue on schedule. They must be more influenced by the length of the days or something other than warmth and moisture levels.

Dateline: 1997
After a perfect sunny spring day with highs in the the 70s, weather has turned cold (40s), drizzly and unpleasant. It is quite unpleasant specifically because the last three weeks have been gradually warming, and spring seemed everywhere. Now it seems like winter again.

Dateline: 1996
First flower: Commelinantia anomala (3/12). Because of the drought, the plants are quite a bit shorter than last year. Not very many have sent up their flower stalks yet. Aquilegia hinckleyana (3/14).

Dateline: 1995
Sunday March 12, 1995
Big storm.

First flower: Commelinantia anomala (3/12).

by M Sinclair Stevens

11 Responses to post “Week 11: 3/12 – 3/18”

  1. From Don:

    Thanks for the redbud and mountain laurel photo. Your cup runneth over.

    It’s snowing here today.

    Snow! Yikes! Do you remember how exciting and enchanting snow seemed when you lived down here and it was so rare?

  2. From bill:

    We were down between Ennis and Athens today and saw a few bluebonnets but not many. They seem small and unspectacular this year so far. Saturday we drove northwest toward Jacksboro and did not see any.

  3. From margaret:

    Wow what a spectacular photograph of the redbud and the Texas mountain laurel. Over here I am desperately trying to salvage some daffodils after storm force 10 winds on Saturday. My Daphne Odora continues to delight. Being planted in a large pot, it can be dragged under cover out of the worst of the weather.

    Margaret. The gales in England sound terrible. We’ve had really nice weather this week, sunny and in the 70s. And we keep getting rain, which is great. I haven’t had to water once this year. The flowers (and weeds!) are thriving. I’d rather weed than water, though. — mss

  4. From Lou:

    The Dolichos lablab vine is flowering!!! Wow! I’m impressed! So it will return each year?

    I haven’t planted my seeds yet for this year. That’s on my list for this week. Last year was the first time to grow Hyacinth bean vine in containers with bamboo supports & rows of string across the balcony. I have the “purple heart” plant s(Setcreasea purpurea) growing at the base of the containers. Great color for hot TX summers.

    Lou. Dolichos lablab is a tender perennial. It usually dies completely (even its roots) in any freeze. So this is an unusual occurance. Usually, this time of year, mine are little seedlings. But this particular vine was on a south-facing wall and the winter was so mild, that this area of the garden never froze. The Brugmansia right next to it is also way ahead of schedule–although it hasn’t flowered. — mss

  5. From Don:

    I went to school in Iowa in the late 70s during record blizzard winters, so snow has not been that big a deal in my fascination.

    Actually, I like snow at the beginning of the season. Come to the end of March, I start getting grumpy over the subject.

    I’ve been meaning to ask you. When I lived in Austin, I planted a pink coral vine. I never learned the botanical name, but it was a lovely bracketed flower that died back in winter. Are you familiar with it?

    Don. Do you mean this stuff–Antigonon leptopus. Another common name for it is rose of Montana. Felder Rushing has a nice bit about it in his book “Passalong Plants”. I have some along my front fence that was here when I bought the house and has come back every year. — mss

  6. From Linda B:

    Please help, I need any info for Lady Banksia rose, I am in Zone 8 in North Tx, Just bought 5′ Plant & NO ROSES!

    Lady Banksia only blooms once a year. Yours has probably already bloomed for this year. — mss

  7. From Annie In Austin:

    Zanthan, I thought ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ was to die for, but then I clicked on ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’ and am practically swooning at the keyboard. What an exquisite rose.

    No bluebonnets in bloom yet, but there are some buds visible. The white iris [looks a lot like your white flags] has a couple of buds left in a semi-shaded area, and just opening is an unnamed iris, softly scented and a pale orange sherbet color. I bought it at some housewalk [Hyde Park, maybe] a few years ago.

    It’s raining here now – hope we all get rain and not hail!!

    Annie in NW Austin

  8. From Jenny Austin:

    This really reinforces something that I have been noticing. Every year a different flower has its moment and it is all to do with the weather patterns. I was out giving a tour at the WFC the other day and there is not much going on there right now. I hope it will get better into April but I can see that the flowers are stunted where they have not had irrigation, just like at home. I am letting my bluebonnets grow inside so as to collect the seed for spreading. I wish I could have seen your meadow last year. I remember the photo in the paper. The weather has just been impossible. When was the time to move things around? It never came or I didn’t notice it when it did come. Now it’s too late.

    I’m always excited when I get a lovely plant combination; then I think I can focus my attention elsewhere. But I rarely get the same show twice. I don’t understand how people can build big borders that are supposed to work year after year. My plants struggle for years to grow into their moment, and then die. But that’s what keeps me trying different things. — mss

  9. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    Drought is a real attitude adjustor. I hope Austin is finally breaking out of that terrible pattern. Hopefully next year the Bluebonnets will rejoin the Tulips for a spring show.

  10. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin Texas:

    I love the idea of the boxes for the tulips. And your forecast for the weather change is music to my ears! Lovely pictures, now want that rose.

  11. From Melanie, Elgin:

    To Annie in Austin–

    Madame Jo IS to die for! It is an utterly fantastic rose–prolific, tough, yet with the most delicate, ethereal perfections of flowers. It may be my most very favorite rose. Though S. de la Malmaison is nothing to sneeze at, either. Come to think of it, you really ought to buy both 😉