August 15th, 2018
Week 33: 8/13 – 8/19

The colors of August. Austin, TX. August 20, 2006. This is not a photo of my garden because there is nothing to photograph this week in my garden. It is in my neighborhood though.

For those of you who think we don’t have seasons down south in Austin, look at the photo. The golden brown grass, the dusty, dull green of the live oak, the rich blue of the sky, and fluffy white clouds–all colors that evoke August in Austin. It might not be as flashy as some seasons elsewhere but this is us.

Dateline: 2018
Summer’s hold on us is at an end. We finally got rain last Saturday (8/11) and, almost overnight, the garden is transformed. Sure, temperatures remain in the high 90s the rest of this week. But it ain’t the 100s. The dust is gone. The ground is soft enough to pull weeds. The crunchy grass on what’s left of the back lawn is greening up. And I’ve started planting my carefully saved white bluebonnet seeds.

Amazing how so many plants respond enthusiastically to the rain. Things like the yellow salvia and the wild Mexican petunias and the datura which I was considering cutting back last week are looking great. One datura is actually in full bloom. Some of the wild cleome that hadn’t completely gone to seed is a gauzy cloud of white.

Zephyranthes Labuffarosea
2018-08-14 Rainlilies ‘Labuffarosea’. A passalong from Annie in Austin and still going strong.

2018-08-31 Update. Anticipation was short-lived as the last 17 out of 18 days hit 100°F or higher. The one exception being 8/30 which was a cool 99°F.

Dateline: 2014
August is a pregnant month, heavy and expectant. After an unusually wet and cool early summer, August 2014 seems very evocative of my first August in Austin forty years ago and emblematic of all those in between. This week the dry and dusty days of early August have turned humid, the air almost too heavy and oppressive to breathe. And yet, I can’t keep out of the garden. Even in the continued 100 degree heat, I sense a turn in the season, or perhaps I only expect one. I prune and turn the mulch pile and grind up leaf litter and straighten and order. Anticipation.

After four years of neglect, I begin dividing and replanting oxblood lilies, too. I think I’m dismantling the garden but once I begin digging up bulbs my own interests revive and I find that I’m as curious as I am acquisitive. This means I must sort through my systems and try to figure out the lineages and histories of each clump.

Very little is blooming: a stray flower on the clammy weed, prairie verbena, rose of Sharon, and Mexican petunia. A few wild sunflowers that look pitiful but that I leave because the small birds attack the seedheads each day. I no longer have a front lawn nor much of a back one. I don’t water at all, except the potted plants. Metaphorically my Austin garden is on the cusp of winter, waiting for spring.

One of my neighbors, walking by, stopped to chat as I was working and said she liked that about my garden: that she could see the seasons change in it and that it rested in the heat of August and the cold of January before it burst forth again. A garden that emphasizes change and time. That’s what I like about it, too. I planned it so purposefully.
Now I dream of other future gardens.

Dateline: 2006
Wednesday (8/16) was the hottest day of 2006 in Austin, 104 degrees. That’s not a record breaking high. What’s unusual is not the quality of the heat; it’s the quantity. In August so far 16 out of 20 days have been 100 degrees or hotter.

For those of you new to Austin, no, this is not normal August weather. Non-gardening residents, as they race from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car, shrug their shoulders and think, “It’s August. It’s hot. Whaddya expect?” Well, I expect summer to be winding down.

We gardeners are out in the world and we’re taking notes. Although it’s not impossible for us to have 100+ degree days even in September (Austin’s all time record high was 114 degrees in September 2000–the most miserable summer in my memory), Austin’s average number of triple-digit days is ten. Ten! That means some years it’s less than ten. I’m just thankful I didn’t live through the summer of 1923. In that record-setting year, the thermometer topped 100 on 71 days.

Can you imagine that on August 14, 2003 the high was only in the low 80s after a front bringing heavy rain pushed through? Did I get out my sweater that day? This week in 1998, I was enjoying temperatures in the 80s and days of drizzling rain.

I’m usually dividing bearded irises and cleaning up and getting revved up for fall gardening. This year I’m lucky if I can stay outside long enough to get the potted plants watered.

Shout Out
Kathy Craig, at Cold Climate Gardening, mentioned that in upstate New York, the Color of August is Yellow. In Austin, the color of August is brown.

Dateline 2003-08-22

Datura inoxia. Austin, TX. August 22, 2003.
Although the temperatures are back up in the high 90s and the lawn is starting to shrivel up again, a feeling of fall is certainly in the air. Last week’s rain and cooler temperatures signalled the end to 100 degree days and brought out some early oxblood lilies. The datura, too, which had been looking ragged and wilted suddenly opened up a mass of blooms. The lavender and alyssum have also decided it’s fall and started reblooming.

This year the only rose blooming this week is ‘French Lace’. However, the “tropical” garden is otherwise in full bloom: canna, hibiscus syriacus, datura, clammy-weed, zinnia and oleander are all flowering.

Also blooming around the yard: 4 o’clocks, plumbago, pavonia, ruellia, and esperanza.

Dateline 2002-08-18
The oxblood lilies and the garlic chives, which usually are in full bloom after Labor Day, are showing an early bloom here and there. I always say if there is one thing you can count on in Austin, it’s miserably hot and dry weather between Independence Day and Labor Day when the plants die down for the summer and wait for the autumn hurricane rains to revive. This year proves me wrong. The lawn is still green. Flowering bushes like the Rose of Sharon, the pale pavonia, the esperanza, and the plumbago are still in full flower. It looks like we’ll sail right into fall, flowering non-stop.

I’ve been so busy with general house repairs, that I’m behind schedule dividing irises and planting seeds for a fall garden. I did feed all the roses and other flowering plants. “Caldwell Pink” is blooming well right now, as is ‘Blush Noisette”.

The most stunning plant in the garden is (and has been) the banana ‘Musella lasiocarpa’. It continues to unfurl bright green leaves which are untouched by insects and always look fresh. Unlike other bananas, the leaves have not been shredded by wind or the heavy rains earlier this summer.

Dateline: 1996
Monday August 19, 1996
Around 3:15 it rained. The sky was filled with black clouds billowing in from the east. Currently it is quite dark outside, but the rain doesn’t look like it will last more than twenty minutes or so.

The week’s forecast shows highs in the mid-nineties, rather than in the high-nineties. If we are finished for another year with temperatures in the 100s, then we’ve survived another summer and I can start writing about the fall garden.

by M Sinclair Stevens

5 Responses to post “Week 33: 8/13 – 8/19”

  1. From Kathy (New York):

    I appreciate the mention, but actually Craig Levy, a new contributor, wrote that post.

    Oops. That’ll teach me to read, not skim. Sorry, Craig. — mss

  2. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    An excellent, if realistically depressing, post, M. We’re in survival mode now, aren’t we? The memory of fall is all that keeps me going through these unending, hot days.

  3. From r sorrell (Austin):

    This heat IS awful, but it seems that the end is in sight. One more month ’till it starts to cool off. I thought I’d be transplanting iris and canna now, but I’m going to wait a few more weeks.

  4. From Craig Levy:

    I drew sharp pangs when I saw your photograph of a beautiful mature oak tree. I grew up in California where the dry season lasts from late April to mid October. The grasses, annuals, and field weeds always dry golden, ok brown, and the woody plants sleep through a hot and dry summer. You may see an arid and desiccated landscape but I saw home. Your picture was a wonderful moment from my past and a neat surprise. Thank you.

    Craig, although I’ve complained a lot about the weather we’ve had this summer, I did intend the photo of the live oak to show the beauty of this season. Some people think we have no seasons here but we do. The heat and colors in August have a different hue than those of June or July. Central Texas to the east of Balcones Fault (which divides Austin in half) was originally an oak savannah. I think Austin looks great in its natural state. It’s just our cultivated gardens that look terrible right now. — mss

  5. From Trey (California):

    Craig said it best. It looks just like the landscape in the lower foothills to about 2000 ft. elevation. Above that the pines and cedars take over. We had two weeks of above 100 degree temps. with awful humidity. We get hot here but usually have low humidity. A common lament is “at least it’s a dry heat.”

    My family lives in Vegas so I know all about that dry heat. When I first moved to Texas and tried to breathe in this sauna, I thought I was drowning. There’s no air in the air. — mss