June 3rd, 2011
Week 22: 5/28 – 6/3

Texas Drought Map
2011-05-31. 2011 Texas Drought.

Dateline: 2011

According to the National Weather Service, “The warm spring from March to May was the 10th driest ever at Camp Mabry and the warmest since 1854.” Worse than the heat, the drought is now exceptional. Most of May felt like August. We did get one lovely heavy rain two weeks ago but my rain barrels are already empty and the pond is quickly evaporating.

Speaking of the pond, Monday (5/30) AJM noticed a heron stalking around. The fish are in hiding. Or eaten. We can’t tell yet how many fish have been taken. We didn’t see any for a few days. Then a couple peeked out. We’ve put the netting up again until they have a chance to recover and the pond water clears up again. When critters chase the fish, they stir up the water and the pond gets all mucky.

First flowers: Asclepias curassavica (6/1); water lily ‘Helvola” (6/1).

Dateline: 2010

heirloom tomatoes
2010-05-29. Tomato harvest begins. Farbo Goldheart, Arkansas Traveller, and Jaune Flamme. (Notice the searing sunlight.)

Time as an element in the garden is never so apparent as when I’m away. Garden time feels like the antithesis of the military’s “Hurry up and wait.” In the garden, it’s “Wait. Wait. Wait. Bam!”

I’ve been waiting for two years for my first raspberries to ripen and for the globe artichoke to bloom. Both events happened while I was away for a week. The birds enjoyed the raspberries. Without water the artichoke heads drooped and snapped their stems. If a watched tomato never ripens, the unwatched ones quickly become juicy and ready to fall off the vine. The tomato plants are almost to the top of the tomato palace but only the ‘Arkansas Traveller’ is still flowering.

May is usually one of Austin’s rainiest months but the rain has mostly deserted us in 2010. Luckily, we received more than an inch the weekend before we left and I hurriedly mulched everything I could so the garden survived pretty well on its own. I lost only a couple of small plants in 4-inch pots that I’d just bought. We are entrenched in first summer; high temperatures are consistently in the mid-90s.

I was surprised to see a few bluebonnets still blooming. Lots of larkspur is left but seeds of both have dropped ruining my seed selection for this year. One crape myrtle ‘Catawba’ is in bud; the other has powdery mildew. All the roses except ‘Red Cascade’ have stopped blooming. The water lilies have started blooming. My dependable LA lily flowered and faded in my absence. Some ‘New Gold’ lantana that I never expected to see again is blooming. The vitex, which I cut back severely after January’s freeze is blooming better than ever. The Sago palm has sent up a huge spray of new fronds. The oleander, plumbago, and duranta are all still struggling back from their roots and have yet to flower. The banana plants are leafing out. (I still have some in a bag that I need to replant.) A few Shirley poppies still have flowers, all of them white. The flowers dominating this week are Rudbeckia hirta, Hibiscus syriacus, retama (Jerusalem thorn), and Hesperaloe parviflora.

Dateline: 2008

Cosmos sulphureus
2008-06-03. Searing hot Cosmos sulphureus mirrors the weather.

I stepped off the plane at 2PM Sunday (6/1) to 100F degree heat and wondered what in the world I was doing in Austin, Texas. I’d spent the Tuesday before I left watering heavily and bringing all the potted plants inside or under the shade of the patio. In just four days the garden had gone from green lush summer to dry crispy summer. Ready to be pulled out: summer squash, sweet peas, nasturtiums, strawberries, and Swiss chard. All the bluebonnet seedlings that sprouted after the last rain have died; there will be no oversummering bluebonnets this year. However, the lilies are still flowering.

One plant is going gangbusters in this heat, the oleander. I don’t ever think I’ve seen it look so full and loaded with flowers. It’s worth a post of its own.

Austin is sweltering under August-like temperatures, 10F degrees above normal for June. The asterisks indicate record breakers this week.
95 (5/28); 94 (5/29); 96 (5/30); 99 (5/31); 100* (6/1); 101* (6/2); 100* (6/3).

First flower: Nasturtium (6/2). One small flower opened just before all the plants died. The ‘Bangkok Yellow’ canna in the pond are flowering, too, but the ones in the ground beat them for first flower this year.

Dateline: 2007

Zanthan Gardens canna Bangkok Yellow
2007-06-02. Canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’. All the tropical plants are hitting their stride. They’ve been wondering where summer was. Well, this week it’s arrived.
Heavy. This week the air weighed down on us, smothering humid air. The perfumes of summer flower are thickly sweet–the magnolia, the four o’clocks, the datura. And the trees have put on so much growth this spring that the green. seemed heavy. As the days heated up, the moisture steamed up from the soaked lawns, mosquitos swarming in the mulch. Jungle days. Blackspot and mildew days.

Austin really has two summers. This first summer is a true southern one, green and sultry–dragonfly days and lightning bug nights. These are screened porch sitting, hammock swinging, iced tea swigging, ice cream licking, watermelon seed spitting days. I could embrace our southern summer. It’s the other summer I don’t like–the southwestern summer. Scorching 100 degree days. Brown, dry, and dead. Maybe we won’t have one this year.

This week began and ended with heavy rains. Memorial Day (5/31) rain started at 3AM and grew heavy about 6AM washing out AJM’s triathlon. We learned that the pond will hold water. Sunday night (6/3), just as we decided to break down and turn the air conditioner on for the first time this year, a cold front blew in, followed an hour later by huge thunderstorm. The water didn’t have a chance to soak in despite my various terraces and berms. I really lament this wasted water and long for the day when we will have a rainwater collection system.

First flower: canna ‘Bangkok Yellow’ (5/28); Vitex agnus-castus (5/29); ruellia (5/31).

Dateline: 2006

turks cap
2006-05-29. In early summer, the plants in Austin are still green. I like the way the scalloped leaves of the turks cap form a hedge that looks like layers of ruffles.

This has been an altogether pleasant week, cloudy most days and then some real rain on Wednesday and Thursday. We didn’t get as much as other parts of town, unfortunately, but Thursday was blessedly cooler with highs only about 82. Back to 92 today.

The oleander and crape myrtle are doing most of the blooming. The desert willow has a sprinkling of flowers, finally, and they complement the crape myrtle just as I hoped. The magnolia produced one more flower (this one opened) and the coral bean vine is flowering again. So is Tecoma stans. In stark contrast to previous years, only one black-eyed Susan (bearing two flowers) is blooming. The lawns really appreciated the rain (I’m so niggardly with my water). They look green and lush–and will until the sun comes out.

Dateline: 2005

Memorial Day weekend was accompanied by the usual thunderstorms. After a spell of record-breaking highs (97, 97, 94), the rain was welcome.

photo Rudbeckia hirta
2005-05-30. Black-eyed Susans manage to look cheerful, even after being beaten down by heavy rains.

If it weren’t for the self-sown black-eyed Susan, the garden would be reduced to a bland jungle green punctuated by webworms. Every year the garden receives more and more shade; the flowers and the vegetable plot are struggling. And I’m struggling to maintain any interest in the garden. Summer looms threateningly; it’s the southern gardener’s winter.

But not quite yet…Some little glads I replanted are blooming nicely this week. As is the mystery rose “Caldwell Pink”. She really is happy only in the heat. The spring flowers have all gone to seed. Their brown and sodden remains make me feel guilty for not braving the mosquitoes to get the garden cleaned up. I’m amazed that the clump of bearded iris, ‘Cloud Ballet’, is still blooming!

I’ve seen a lot of fireflies this summer. Some years we don’t see them in our yard, even though they’re thick in the creeks.

Dateline: 2004

Record breaking high: 100F degrees (5/31).

Dateline: 2003

Record breaking high: 101F degrees (5/30).
First flower: canna ‘Bangkok Yellow (5/28).

Dateline: 2002

On years when the temperatures remain in the low 90s and we get rain, June can be a very colorful month in Austin. Summer flowering shrubs (crape myrtle, Rose of Sharon, yellow bells, oleander, and chaste tree) kick into high gear. Zinnias, gomphrena, pentas, and sunflowers brighten garden beds all over town.
photo Crape Myrtle
Crape Myrtle June 6, 2002 Austin Texas zone 8
Last week’s inch of rain brought out the rainlilies and even my lawn looked presentable for a week or so.

It’s not unusual for recently self-sown bluebonnets to sprout after a heavy June rain. Unless you pamper the seedlings with water, or it’s an unusually cool and wet summer, these bluebonnets will die during the worst of summer. I have managed to keep some growing through the summer. They won’t flower until next Spring, though. Even if these early sprouts die, there will be plenty more after the September rains because the seed skins of bluebonnets have different thicknesses so that they don’t all germinate at the same time.

First flower: Datura (5/29).

Dateline: 1998

Record breaking high: 99F (6/1); 98F (6/2).
First flower: Lilium LA hybrid ‘Spirit’ (5/28); Hemerocallis ‘Gentle Shepherd’ (5/29); .

Dateline: 1997

Saturday May 31, 1997
More bad weather last night, but the front has blown through leaving a beautiful clear cool day.

AJM saws up the fallen branches from Tuesday’s storm. I turn the mulch pile and add the false dayflowers. Then I clean out the entire northwest corner and plant some of the ‘Velvet Queen’ sunflowers.

The black-eyed Susans are at their height, tumbling all over the west border. The cosmos and the larkspur hang on. But the poppies are finished. And the sweetpeas look ragged and past their prime. I just want to dig up everything.

The Rose of Sharon is in full bloom. All around town the retama (Parkinsonia aculeata) is laden with yellow flowers. I’ve never seen so many–it must be because of all the extra rain.

First flower: Platycodon, balloon flower (5/31).

Dateline: 1995

This is Memorial Day Flood week. We’ve had thunderstorms and flash flood conditions all week. Tuesday morning it rained from 2:30 to 4:30 AM; we received almost three inches. In the next 24 hours our cumulative total had climbed to five inches.

Wednesday afternoon was sunny. I transplanted five black-eyed Susans which were two to three inches high. But by Wednesday night at 10:PM it began pouring again. We lost electricity twice. This morning is again cool and sunny. I like these sunny day and rainy nights.

In many places around the county, the ground is saturated–the water is standing in fields or running off, eroding inclines and swelling creeks. When JQS and I walk by Blunn Creek on Monday after the first storm, the wooden bridge over the creek had been washed off its mooring.

First flower: Malvaviscus arboreus (5/28).

by M Sinclair Stevens

11 Responses to post “Week 22: 5/28 – 6/3”

  1. From Annie in Austin:

    Those black-eyed Susans just glow on the page. Does ‘self-sown’ mean wild, or are they seedlings/descendants from a previous planting?

    None of the Esperanza, crape myrtles, chaste tree or Rose of Sharon in my semi-shaded NW Austin garden are blooming yet…and the plants that did decide to flower are making an unexpectedly patriotic statement. One 10-inch pot of Shasta daisies set out in February has expanded to cover about 30 square feet. They are in full bloom with some Majestic sage that was here when I moved in, and some pineapple sage from a big mixed-herb container that was on our old deck.

    Your iris photos have been wonderful.

    I planted a packet of black-eyed Susans in 1995 and all that I have in my yard now descend from those. The foliage tends to get weedy and bug-eaten. But the flowers come just as all the other annuals have finished, so they are always welcome. — mss

  2. From Julie (Austin) (Austin):

    Loved your observation about two summers! How true.

    Would be interesting to have gardeners (others, too) take a circle and divide it up into as many seasons as they experience. Maybe places like New England have two winters, or three. With the months arrayed around the edge, one could see when, for example, spring begins and ends in each locale. I don’t have the skill to rig this up. But I know somebody who might…?

    Helluva rain last night!


    I like the old Japanese lunar calendar (originally from the Chinese) which divides the year into 24 periods of 15 days each (just a bit more than a fortnight). Each period has a name which translates quite poetically. For example, “slight cold, great cold, waking of insects, grain rain, cold dew, frost descends…” I’d like to come up with a Texan equivalent but our weather is not very consistent from year to year. I usually count on southern summer to last until the 4th of July and expect southwestern summer after that. — mss

  3. From Annie in Austin:

    We had an inch of rain last night in NW Austin, along with tremendous lightning, and another inch this afternoon.

    The esperanzas all died, the vitex is barely budded, and the pineapple sage took a long time to regrow after the ice so it’s just starting to flower – but the Shastas and three kinds of blue salvias are once again in full bloom.

    Two summers sounds pretty true – with the desert part of summer extending well into fall the last couple of years.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    AJM said it was raining like crazy this afternoon up north where he works near the Arboretum. But we didn’t get a drop south of the river. It didn’t even cloud up. I have one pitiful flower on my vitex, nothing on the crape myrtles, and my esperanza looks rather sickly too. Doesn’t it like the rain? — mss

  4. From Kathy (New York):

    I also appreciated the insight of two Austin summers. To respond to Julie, I wouldn’t say we have two winters, but we have what we call Mud Season, when the snow starts melting (often with the help of rain) but the ground hasn’t thawed all the way down, so the melting snow can’t be absorbed by the earth. It just makes mud with the top few defrosted inches.

  5. From gbs:

    The two Austin summers also somehow fits together with the fact that we’re bifurcated soil-wise, with the black gumbo clay supporting the subtropical gingers, coral beans, spider lilies, etc., and the limestone to the west of town being home to the more spare native plants. A big generalization, to be sure, but it’s interesting how Austin straddles those two very different manifestations of heat.

    Good point! I was thinking the same thing yesterday a. noticed my yuccas rotting away under all this rain. Bearded irises, too, no doubt –I haven’t been outside to check them. Yes, fellow Austinites. If you put in a xeriscape during last year’s drought, and if you live on the black clay side of town (like I do), and if you failed to create beds with really good drainage, then you might have a few rotting plants out there. — mss

  6. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    We got an inch and three-quarters of rain on Sunday evening, with none of the damaging winds I saw reported in the paper afterward.

    The garden is lush and green and enjoying all the rain. I’m hopeful that we’ll skate through this summer without the typical drought, but I’m probably fooling myself.

  7. From vertie:

    Your cosmos photo is absolutely stunning. I’m headed to San Francisco next week and can’t wait to escape the heat!

    Thanks. I bet you’ll find San Francisco a welcome relief to Austin’s unbearable heat. Take a sweater. (No kidding.) — mss

  8. From Tara, Austin:

    I came back from a weekend on the coast to find our green beans yellow and limp. I almost cried, the day before we left I had just started harvesting the first little batch. I’m desperately trying to keep them going. I don’t know if the cucumbers are going to make it though. Let it rain!

    That’s what happened with my summer squash. Our first two were ready the evening we left but we didn’t have time to cook them for dinner. When we got home all the squash were dead. — mss

  9. From Annie in Austin:

    Sorry you missed the raspberries, MSS – but glad you have some tomatoes. I haven’t tried Jaune Flamme but last year Arkansas Traveler made only leaves for us- not one tomato so I didn’t try it again. Since you’ve had more success – how did it taste?

    This year so far we’ve had a handful of Sun Golds and one Early Girl. There are a few Solar Fire almost ready and fingers crossed the green tomatoes on the vines will make it to harvest.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I’ll have full raspberry and tomato write-ups soon. ‘Arkansas Traveller’ is the only red tomato we’re growing in 2010 and we we’re both pleased with its deep tomato-y taste especially when contrasted with the tangy, fruity gold tomatoes we usually eat. — mss

  10. From angelina:

    I know I’ve commented on this before- I love the Jaune Flamme. I haven’t grown it for several years because I don’t have the set up to start my own seeds and no one here carries them but I grew them in CA and they were wonderful!

    Too bad you missed the raspberries and the artichoke. That’s disappointing. The basil looks wonderful though.

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