May 27th, 2008
Week 21: 5/21 – 5/27

Zanthan Gardens Week 21
2008-05-27. A reason to have a little lawn–90+F degree days. This photo makes the garden look cool and refreshing but it’s actually oppressively muggy and hot.

Dateline: 2011

Austin (Camp Mabry) records its first 100-degree day of the year, May 25th.

Dateline: 2008

As the temperatures climb, I find it hard to believe that by September I’ll look upon a 92F degree day as cool and fall-like. In the intervening months, summer will get a lot uglier. The days have been sultry. Someday, I’d like to spend this kind of week lying in the hammock sipping iced tea and enjoying the green shade. When it gets this hot, I don’t want any flashy color in the garden, just cool, refreshing green. This is the week that my resentment dissolves and I suddenly love my trees again; I forgive them for shading out the flowers in April.

I’ve been working hard to get everything mulched. I got a truckload of bark chips from a crew that was cleaning up after last week’s storm. That’s kept me busy running back and forth with the wheelbarrow refreshing the paths and putting a nice layer down in the woodland garden.

The nerium oleander and one of the duranta are in full bloom and look fantastic. The larkspur is all cleared out. A few bluebonnets bloom on (they last a long time if deadheaded.) The violas are mere crisps and the Confederate jasmine faded. The rose ‘Ducher’ is still blooming well. And ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ puts out a single flower or two. The borage is holding up fairly well under the heat.

I ate the last three strawberries, harvested some jalapeno peppers, and started in on the summer squash. Oh, and we ate a pitiful handful of potatoes I dug up Sunday (5/25). They were tasty but we harvested less than we planted.

First flower: canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’ (5/22); Lindheimer senna (5/25).

Dateline: 2007

Continues to be unusually, wonderfully, cool and rainy except on Wednesday (5/23), which was average. The high reached 86F degrees and it was the only day in the week it didn’t rain. Highs got to 87 on Thursday (5/24) before plunging back to 74 on Friday (5/25)–that’s 10 degrees below average.

Cosmos are sprouting. And so are bluebonnets. Lot’s of them. It’s unlikely many will survive the summer though and we’ll have to start over when the fall rains come. The magnolia has several huge flowers. The black-eyed Susans are providing some color in the meadow–now that I’ve composted almost all the spring wildflowers. The four o’clocks and clammy weed are making the front beds look nicer than they have all year. The grass has almost filled in enough to look like a lawn, if you don’t look too closely. The rose of Sharon is still going strong and the oleander is starting to flower like it means it. (It had one flower a month ago and nothing since.)

Nothing yet on the crape myrtles, vitex, desert willow, esperanza, retama, or ruellia. At least my turk’s cap flower in the shade.

First flower: California poppy ‘Mikado’.

Friday May 25, 2007
Heavy rains last night. The pond has water in it. Cool, dark and gloomy today. So nice after yesterday’s mugginess which left me in torpor.

From Austin’s Memorial Day flood 25 years ago, to the tornado that killed 27 in Jarrell 9 years ago, this is our week to look out for violent. weather.

In Austin this time of year, I can work in the garden a couple of hours in the morning before the low, heavy clouds rolling in from the Gulf burn off. After the sun comes out, around 9AM, then I take refuge in the house. Some people might consider this perfect hammock weather but lying drenched in my own sweat covered in mosquitoes doesn’t appeal to me. When I do get my hands in the dirt, I’m focused on weeding and mulching. My goal for late May is to get the plants ready for the dead of summer. I force myself to resist the bright summer annuals at the DIY stores. Their water requirements are too high and I don’t want to invest time in high-maintenance plants for July and August when I won’t want to be outside at all.

Late May is satisfying. The exurberance of spring has died down with the annual wildflowers and the garden has settled into a langorous green. The crape myrtles, rose of Sharon, and oleander (spectacular this year) are performing as I envisioned them four years ago. My desert willow and vitex are still duds. However, I feel like the garden is on the right track. Note to self: buy more shrubbery! [2007-05-27. I did not heed this note. In fact I went in the other direction and started growing annuals from seed again.]

First flower: LA lily (5/27).

In Bloom: black-eyed Susan, Consolida ambigua, Engelmann daisy, Hibiscus syriacus, Lantana ‘New Gold’, L. heterophyla ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’, Malvaviscus arboreus, Mirabilis jalapa, Nerium oleander, Pavonia hastata, Plumbago auriculata, rose ‘Blush Noisette’, rose ‘Heritage’, rose ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, rose, ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz’, ruellia, Tecoma stans.

Dateline: 2006

photo: asiatic lily
2006-05-27. I have planted dozens of lilies but only this one plant has bloomed reliably since 1998.

Dateline: 2004

First flower: daylily ‘Gentle Shepherd‘ (5/23); Shirley poppy (5/23).

Dateline: 2002

The crape myrtles and Rose of Sharon are beginning to bloom. My plan is to have all the summer come from flowering bushes, rather than waste energy and water with summer annuals. This is only the second summer for most of my bushes, so they are still struggling to establish themselves. My desert willow still has not bloomed, but looks larger and healthier than last summer. It is in bloom everywhere else around town.

One iris, ‘Strictly Ballroom’, surprised me with a late flower today. Yesterday, the daylilies ‘Gentle Shepherd’ began opening. The Asiatic lilies are still blooming. The pale Pavonia hastata also began flowering this week.

photo: bearded iris Strictly Ballroom
Bearded iris: ‘Strictly Ballroom” 2002-05-26 Austin, TX

First flower: Pavonia hastata (5/24), rose ‘Buff Beauty’ (5/24), crape myrtle ‘Watermelon’ (5/24), rose ‘Souvenir de St. Anne’ (5/27).

June 7, 2002
The last flower on ‘Strictly Ballroom’ faded today. It was amazing. The stalk kept opening flower after flower over a 2-week period. I think there were 7 flowers, each lasting about 2 days.

Dateline: 2001

Wednesday May 23, 2001
The last two nights have dropped to record cold temperatures after the big storm ripped through north Austin tearing up fences, roofs, and trees and dumping rain. We didn’t get any damage, but we didn’t get any rain either. We didn’t even know that there had been a storm until we came to work on Monday and everyone who lived north was comparing damage. So Monday and Tuesday nights temperatures dropped into the low 50s.

Thursday May 24, 2001
This morning saw an armadillo in our yard. It’s the first one I can remember seeing in the wild and alive. It snuffle around the compost and in the brush pile. I wonder if it’s the creature that’s been digging up everything.

Monday May 27, 2001 Memorial Day
Summer is officially here and we celebrate with the first potato salad and frozen Margaritas of the year.

AJM helps me weed the larkspur and other spring flowers that are going to seed in the meadow. At first it looks bare and depressing, but the more we clean up the nicer it looks, once again like a grassy plain.

The bluebonnets that I dead-headed are still flowering, but they are a faded pale blue.

The Shasta daisys are doing very well, finally after barely surviving last summer and then being besieged with bugs in March just as they were budding. I want to try growing more from seed this fall. When they survive, they are well worth the trouble.

Dateline: 2000

First flower: Hybiscus syriacus (5/21).

Dateline: 1999

Sunday May 23, 1999
Work in the morning, but go to The Natural Gardener in the afternoon and by a half-yard of finely sifted cow manure compost. Also find two Genovese basil plants in good condition and buy those for pesto. AJM helps work in several wheelbarrows of compost into bare spots in the back lawn.

Thursday May 26, 1999
The morning turns dark and the winds gusty as a front moves through. No rain, but by noon the air is clear and refreshingly crisp. At 5PM, I walk home. Dark clouds are moving in from the northwest and by the time I get to Palmer Auditorium, the wind is blowing hard. I hurry to get the rest of the manure out of the truck. Sometime after 6PM it begins to blow hard and really pour. Small branches come off the cedar elms, but no large limbs. The trellis blows down. The rock garden is temporarily overwhelmed with water, but it does a good job of keeping the water away from the house and one can see that as it expands, it will be even more effective.

Monday May 24, 1999
Spend the afternoon mulching the vegetable garden. For each tomato and eggplant create a large well, dig in Epsom salts and manure compost, water deeply, then cover with hay.

After 9PM we get some more rain, though not as much as last Monday night, but measurable. (The paper said 4/100 of an inch, but I think we got more.) I race around beforehand trying to get as much of the compost on the lawn as I can. But the constant sheet lightening was disconcerting and I was forced to be sensible and stop.

First flower: Pavonia hastata (5/22).

Dateline: 1998

Wednesday May 27, 1998
Rain at last. Yesterday was horribly muggy and oppressive. The rain washes some of the smoke out of the air and the morning begins cool (in the high sixties) and with lower humidity. People and plants alike perk up.

Dateline: 1997

Friday, May 23, 1997
Heavy rain all week. As we were coming home from work, the police turned us around because water was flowing over Bee Caves Rd.

Sunday May 25, 1997
The heavy rains have beat down the poppies and larkspur and they are a rotting mass. Cleaned out some of the larkspur bed and the false dayflowers out of the south border. Mowed the back lawn at 2.5. The yard looks intensely green and the view from the south border is lovely.

According to the paper, last year on this date we set the record high at 96. JQS and I were vacationing in Japan.

Monday May 26, 1997 (Memorial Day)
Continued miserably hot and muggy.

The first bought rain lily opens. It is rose pink and larger in flower than the ubiquitous white rain lilies.

Pulled out much of the the fallen wildflowers to try to uncover some of the buffalograss. I don’t hold out much hope that the Cassiope crocuses could have survived without rotting.

Tore out much of the rocket larkspur. Next year, I will plant the chinaberry bed with daffodils and make it more formal. The larkspur doesn’t get enough sun there.

Tuesday May 27, 1997
I begin this from the office where we are trapped by a severe thunderstorm and tornado sightings. It is 5:00 and as black as night.

AJM and I carpool home. The electricity is out in our neighborhood, but not north of the river. A large limb has fallen off Mary Wolf’s tree, missing the hammock, missing the bird bath, but crushing a branch off the most beautifully shaped of the three Mexican plums. Another large branch has fallen off a cedar elm in the front, just missing Herman (the armadillo mailbox). Across the street the damage is much worse. The entire top has fallen off the tree in front of the day care center and lies in a heap in the driveway. At the historic house on the corner, one of the very large and well-trimmed cedar elms is split in half.

We don’t examine much more of the neighborhood because the lightning strikes seem too close for comfort. (Although AJM says they are miles away; I’ve read of three people getting hit by lightning in Austin in the last couple of years and I don’t feel like taking the risk.) We go to Book People instead. AJM buys “Three Men in A Boat” and reads it to me by candlelight.

We find out in the morning that the town of Jarrell was destroyed and 27 people are dead.

Dateline: 1995

Wednesday, May 24, 1995
We got another soaking rain last night.

Thursday, May 25, 1995
Went to see Felder Rushing speak and bought Passalong Plants–an autographed copy each for me, DF, and CBK.

Friday, May 26, 1995
DF and CBK were thrilled with their books. At lunch, DF went over to Barton Springs Nursery. And guess what! Felder was there. We all went to lunch together at ZuZu’s.

by M Sinclair Stevens

15 Responses to post “Week 21: 5/21 – 5/27”

  1. From Kathy (New York):

    My Rose of Sharon is blooming now (August). It’s a whole different world up here.

  2. From Mary Beth @ Cultivating Paradise:

    It’s amazing how much a little green grass can cool down an area (I think as much as a large tree can). We moved into a newly built home the summer of 00 – We had 50 year old trees but NO grass. The breeze was just hot, hot, hot. Now as the breeze sweeps across carpet grass, it becomes so much cooler. Love your ‘dateline’s – How fun to compare from year to year to year.

  3. From deb:

    What a great idea tracking your garden a week at a time. We are hot up here near dallas too.


  4. From Diana Kirby:

    The grass does look cool and refreshing … but, of course being just down the road from you a ways, I know that it’s a lie! Can you believe our humidity this year? I was hoping for rain tonight, but no such luck. Did you get anything out of that wind and baby cool front that came and went?

  5. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    Green is a restful and cooling colour and there is a lot of it out here where it rains a lot. It’s a different story here altogether with rather cool days of 15 C. Today it is going to be muggy, very humid, not something to look forward too. I’m glad I don’t live where it gets too hot for months at a time, although rain for weeks on end (which is what we can have here) is no fun either. The perfect (gardening) climate, does it even exist?

  6. From Gail:

    Right now we are having a bit of cooler wetter weather, so I have lit a fire in the fireplace to dry out the overly humid house. Very odd experience at the end of May. But it will be in the 90s in a day or two.

    Strickly Ballroom is a good looking Iris.


  7. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter (Chicagoland):

    Don’t you love the “Get the Garden Mulched Before the Heat Sets In” panic? I’m way behind on mulching, as the mulch I already put down has nearly decomposed & I’m still not done putting the first mulch down everywhere. (Sweaty mulching is so itchy!)

  8. From Annie in Austin:

    St Augustine lawns look calm and peaceful and they keep the dust down, which given our winds is very useful! I’m grateful for pecan leaves, myself, in this blank period between cleaning up the fallen yellow flowers and the falling leaves.

    ‘Strictly Ballroom’ was a beauty – and it does resemble the costumes from that movie… was this one of the iris lost in 2006?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. From Marie:

    I agree that a nice green lawn makes a huge difference on a hot day. The cool green grass can make up to a 10 degree difference. I live in the midwest and wind is our worst enemy. It dries not only the grass but flowers as well. I have found some gardening tips that make working outdoors a snap. Check it out!

  10. From Sue, Milan:

    Lovely idea to put all the years together. How hot does it get there if 92° is going to seem cool? We spend most of the summer between 90 and 100° – it can go over, up to about 110° – but is exceptional. But it’s the humidity rather than the heat which is the real problem.

    On average Austin has about a dozen days over 100 degrees. In 2007 we had more than 44 (I think–I need to double-check). Usually it doesn’t start getting this hot until mid-July and August. Average temperatures for May are mid-80s to low 90s–so we are running 10 to 15 degrees above average for this time of year. The humidity is bad here and so, unlike the desert, the low temperatures at night do not drop below 70 degrees. I think that’s what causes the most plant stress. — mss

  11. From Samantha in East Texas:

    At this time of year a picture like that can be very deceptive. Especially in east Texas. Within minutes you can be drenched.

    Your “Strictly Ballroom” Iris was a beauty.


  12. From Rose at Prairie Rose\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s Garden:

    Your lawn looks very cool and inviting. But I’ll pass on the 90 degree days, though they will come to Illinois soon. I wish I could send you some of our rain, though. It’s been too wet most days to plant anything.

  13. From our friend Ben in Pennsylvania:

    Ahhhhh, that lawn does look cool and refreshing, MSS! I’m not looking forward to our hot, humid summer, either, but hopefully we can make it to July before it gets unbearable. I don’t know your canna, but it sounds lovely (one more plant for the deck–gack), and I didn’t know there even were senna cultivars. Now I’m intrigued! I have quite a bit of the species in my cultivated wild garden (which sounds a bit like your meadow garden, a mix of planted and wild, border perennials like baptisias and natives).

    When I returned yesterday after a 5-day absence it was 100F degrees and the lawn didn’t look like this at all. — mss

  14. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    Your lawn looks wonderful and peaceful in the picture, a momentary beauty, I suppose. Our lawns here will start to look brown in late July/August and then green up again in September, if we get adequate rainfall.

    Your records are, as always, amazing and I am envious of them!

  15. From linda:

    So many things to love about Austin, but not those hot, humid summers, hotter, more humid, and longer-lasting than our Chicago dog days.

    I’ll be the first to confess to Austin-Envy in the past few months as I’ve been visiting the Austin blogs. I don’t envy your hotter-than-ours summers!