September 10th, 2007
Week 36: 9/3 – 9/9

Zanthan Gardens: fall meadow
2007-09-04. The meadow is in full bloom with garlic chives, cosmos, and Lindheimer senna. Now all it needs is a Pride of Barbados.

Dateline: 2007
All of you non-Austinites are probably tired of oxblood lily photos but they came on strong in Week 36 this year, thanks to rains the preceding weekend. We do love our signature flower, even though it’s not a native Texan. I’ll post a photo of the meadow instead. It rarely looks this nice in the fall.

Despite our very mild and wet summer this year, the signs of fall sends the blood quickening in the veins of us southerners–just like spring for you northerners. I still shudder thinking about that horrible year 2000, the hottest week on record. On September 5, 2000 we hit the highest temperature ever recorded in Austin, 112F degrees (44.4C). We broke records for five days starting 9/1 (107), 9/2 (107), 9/3 (108), 9/4 (110) and 9/5 (112). What kind of autumn weather is that! So you can see why I’ve been so happy with 2007. This has been the best summer I’ve ever lived through in Austin. Weatherwise.

I even had two new flowers open this week: the diminuitive Oxalis drummondii, and the Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage). The latter is hidden under a huge mat of cypress vine. I almost didn’t see it. It needs to be relocated to the new sunny back yard. Almost every rose had at least a flower or two. And for the first time since I’ve lived here (14 years) the pecan tree is heavy with pecans. Usually the squirrels eat them green in August. I guess they’re getting enough food and water not to resort to that this year. About five persimmons have survived and are starting to turn orange. I’ve covered them with net because last year something ate them before I could. I was devastated. I also have quite a few bluebonnets which survived the summer. They often sprout when the seeds drop in May but those early starters usually die in the summer heat.

I’ve been buying seeds for the fall garden. I planted squash and bush beans and sunflowers–which I should have planted in August. It always seems too hot then. These are all new to my fall garden so I don’t know how they’ll do this late. I bought varieties with short maturation time. Our first freeze usually isn’t until Thanksgiving. I find in interesting that both Angelina (Oregon) and Carol (Indiana) have said that they’re packing in their vegetable gardens for the year. In Austin, this is a good time to start fall crops like broccoli, cabbages, snowpeas, and lettuce. I want to try some chard. Even if we don’t eat it, it’s so beautiful.

Dateline: 2006
photo: fall leaves
2006-09-06. Austin, TX. Cedar elms are changing color and dropping their leaves in Austin’s first week of fall weather.

A very pleasant week of temperatures just topping 90 and lows in the 60s so we can open the house to the outdoors. Some lucky people north of the river got rain but we got none. Still it looks like fall. The cedar elms are turning buttery yellow and leaves are whirl down reminding me of cherry blossom falling. AJM conjectures that this does not mean that fall is here, just that the trees are dying. They are drought-stressed–but that sometimes makes for brilliant fall colors–at least by Austin standards.

The Duranta erecta are forming small golden berries that really do look like golden dewdrops, its common name. My Tecoma stans suddenly burst into bloom.

I brought several clumps of oxblood lilies into bloom by giving them a good soaking. I’m just tired of waiting for rain and needed some encouragement from the garden. The Allium tuberosum looks shabby this year but it is so common in my garden that I don’t feel bad neglecting it. It will come back eventually.

Dateline: 2005
Wednesday (9/7) we got our first whiff of fall. Don’t think that means there was a chill in the air. There was nothing brisk about it. You felt the absence of heat. The temperatures were still in the 90s, but humidity hovered just above 20 percent and it felt, well, not hot. I opened up the windows and turned on the whole house fan. As if to confirm my conviction that fall had arrived, I spotted my first oxblood lily; one lone stalk bloomed where I had watered the stump garden last week. Rantor’s got me beat again this year.

Sunday (9/11) we woke up to the surge protectors alerting us to lightning, thunder, and at last good rain. We opened up the front door and stood there just breathing it in. I can’t remember the last time I saw rain. I think it was the last Saturday we were in England and AJM and I went into Knutsford to have tea and scones at The Courtyard Coffee House. It poured down rain that day. Imagine being soaking wet and cold in August! After a month back in Austin, I can’t remember what wet and cold feels like.

The rain continued gently on and off most of the morning. By late afternoon we’d received a couple of inches. Every plant swells with moisture, straightens up, lifting itself out of the dust. The garden is glistening. It’s survived another summer.

Dateline: 2003
photo: stump garden
2003-09-11. Austin, TX. Oxblood lilies and garlic chives in the stump garden.

Finally we got some rain! The beginning of the school year always raises my expectations for rain. Although I call this time of year fall (not to be confused with the crisp-aired, golden-leaved fall that people who have moved here from New England complain that Texans don’t have), it’s really the season between summer and fall. Certainly I’m relieved that 100 degree days are over for another year. Suddenly I’m out in the garden more, pruning ragged summer growth, planting fall vegetables, digging new beds and dividing perennials. But this year I’ve been tapping my foot impatiently wondering where the rains are.

Although rain was in the forecast two weeks ago, we got very little if any. More expectations stirred with a forecast of a with huge storm for this week–80% chance of 2 to 3 inches of rain. If you live east or west of Austin proper, you got 3-5 inches of rain. But (as we watched it on radar) the storm seemed to evaporate entering the city and pick up exiting it. So we got a disappointing .91 inches here in South Austin.

But even with that comparitively piddly amount the plants of perked up. The oxblood lilies, which have been coming up here and there, are revving up to bloom en masse. The four o’clocks are on overdrive. The ground is resilient enough for me to do some serious weeding. The air is dry. The skies are blue. And it was deliciously cool this morning. Now this is more like it!

Dateline: 2001
After 12 days of rain (wow!) it’s drying up enough to start gardening. Today is a beautiful day in the low 90s, deep blue skies and fluffy white clouds drifting up from the Gulf. Lots of butterflies and lots of mosquitoes.

I’m cleaning out the vegetable bed and planting lettuce and French yellow wax beans. So I finally got to use the dibbler I bought at Tatton.

The roses are all putting out new growth, especially ‘Souvenir del Malmaison’ who grew an inch every day it rained. I think that the fall roses will be much showier than the spring roses were (here’s hoping, anyway).

Some of my best (that is, expensive bought) irises are rotting. I’ve had to dig them up and soak them in bleach solution. After the rotted places heal over, I’m transplanting them…but it’s too early to know yet whether this will work.

The oxblood lilies have come and gone. They were spectacular this year as the rains helped them bloom en masse. I have over 300 bulbs. These bulbs, once so common, are rare now. I saw some puny bulbs at Barton Springs Nursery for $4.00 each!So I feel a duty to divide them as much as possible (and, perhaps someday even share them with others).

by M Sinclair Stevens

5 Responses to post “Week 36: 9/3 – 9/9”

  1. From rantor (Austin):

    August 16 marked the first appearance this year of our schoolhouse lilies. Following this weekend’s rain we’re seeing many more, including some in new places, courtesy of our friends the squirrels. We saw several shoots of lycoris radiata (spider lilies) this morning for the first time. Hummingbirds are everywhere among the Turk’s cap and the cardinal climber. What a beautiful night and morning this was for those of us without air conditioning!

    Thanks for telling me what’s happening in your Austin garden. That my general idea behind starting the week-by-week postings. I enjoy hearing from you because we’re in the same neighborhood and it’s fun to compare. I encourage other people to do the same. Today (9/15) was the day that the oxblood lilies were in full bloom. The pink rainlilies Zephyranthes grandiflora all bloomed, too. My red spider lilies aren’t up yet. I have only so-so luck with them. They only bloom for me in the years when we have heavy rains in August. They seem to like a really good soaking about a month before they come up. — mss

  2. From Steve Mudge:

    I just started putting seed in the ground for the fall garden too–onions, radish, carrots, arugula. The broccoli, pak choy, lettuces, and mesclun are still in pots planted last month–I had read that its best to start those in August but like you I thought it was too hot. I followed the recommendation of a local garden book–starting the seed at the beginning of August in pots in a shady area and then transplanting when the weather starts cooling.
    Good luck with the beans and squash!

    My fall vegetable gardens are always better than my spring ones. Our Texas weather is a bit steadier in the fall. I’ve kept it no secret that it’s my favorite season. I also find that I have much less trouble with bugs in the fall. Good luck with your garden too. Aren’t you up in Dallas? If so your frost date is earlier than Austin’s and it gets colder. — mss

  3. From Steve Mudge:

    Yes, I’m in Fort Worth–the fall/winter garden is more of a gamble, but most years it probably isn’t too much different than Austin(I’m hoping!)…FW was rezoned into 7b instead of 7a because of recent climate change–one indicator of the absence of severe cold is the longevity of the Mexican Fan Palms folks have been planting here–looks as though some are at least 15 years old!

  4. From Carol:

    I’ve never been much for a fall garden crop and decided it is because my Dad never planted a lot of fall vegetables. However, I’m tempted, even now, to try some lettuce and spinach to see how it goes. And I still have tomatoes and peppers which will be fine until the first frost, which is usually in early October. Us “northern” gardeners will just have to admire the southern gardens via blog posts later this fall.

  5. From Angelina:

    Philip and I were just talking about this today, if I had taken the time to plan it out and plant earlier I could absolutely have planted a fall garden and next year I plan to. My summer vegetables have finished but I could have had a second planting of lettuce, chard, beets, carrots, potatoes, and anything from the cabbage family. Next year! Oh, and garlic too.