November 5th, 2007
Week 44: 10/29 – 11/4

Zanthan Gardens: Week 44
2007-11-05. Cleaning up and replanting. Still a pile of construction rubble. This probably looks like the “before” picture but it’s actually the “after” picture. I guess I should have taken a “before” shot to feel like I accomplished something.

Dateline: 2007
I spent all week cleaning up and replanting the back especially along the chain link fence on the west side (back) of the yard. I cut back all the wild ruellia and composted it. Then I spaded (but didn’t turn over) the whole section so that the self-sowers wouldn’t be covered by mulch and would have a chance to sprout. I dug up the pitiful bearded iris which had withered in last year’s drought but survived. This year’s rain did them in. Most had rotted away. I replanted only about two dozen; they’re so small they probably won’t bloom for two years. I planted seeds for love-in-a-mist and nasturtiums. I cleared away the nandina along the new fence and remulched the small mahonia and buckeye that are there. I planted the maiden grass that Margaret bought me and two more that I bought in a nice clump of three. I bought some more pinks and some alyssum; I haven’t found any violas I like yet, though. Most of this work was undone by romping raccoons. So it’s hard to feel that I’ve made any progress. However, I’m happy to report that the four plants I bought from Barton Springs Nursery this time last year are still alive.

Preparing beds means turning the compost pile and sifting it. The fine compost goes into the beds and the gross compost goes around trees and larger bushes as mulch. Preparing beds also means digging out roots and rocks of which I have an endless supply. These are not new beds, by the way. But looking at the dry clods of clay you might think they were. In Austin’s hot and humid climate, organic matter decomposes almost as rapidly as I can add it. I had put mulch on top of most of these beds in early September, the last time I turned the compost.

The weather remains dry and sunny. A few leaves sift down but fall hasn’t really fallen yet. Toward the end of the week it began warming up to the mid-80s again. I saw two new flowers: a very early false dayflower and another tradescantia-looking flower that is quite tiny and white. The bush beans are finally flowering. I can see one tiny bean. AJM teases that we’ve never gotten more beans out of any planting than we’ve put into the garden. I did eat one persimmon (still hard), pick a few jalapenos and a handful of basil. And the very last oxblood lily faded on November 4th. That’s a record! Like last year, the red spider lily leaves are up; unlike last year I got 5 whole flowers this time. The grape hyacinths are pushing up but apparently we still need some rain to bring out the bluebonnets and larkspur. Or should I just give up on them and re-sow?

Dateline: 2006
photo: Aster ericoides
Aster ericoides. I’m glad I have the white aster and not its purple cousin. I don’t think I could stand another plant in the pink/purple/red family right now.

The weather changed overnight on November 1st to cold (40s/50s) and gray. We haven’t had a fire yet but we did get out the electric blanket.

I took advantage of the sunless days to do some transplanting. I decided to try some cool-weather vegetables this year (cabbage and broccoli) and planted nine of each that I bought from Home Depot. No spot in my yard gets the requisite 6 hours of sun so I don’t have high expectations. The trees have been so happy with the rain in October that they are not dropping their leaves. So my usually sunny winter garden is still in the shade.

I also went to Barton Springs Nursery and got a bottlebrush tree, a Jerusalem sage, a butterfly bush, and some Mexican salvia to replace plants I lost over the summer. I’ve had all these plants on my list to try for awhile. The trouble again is that none of them will get enough sunlight to perform optimally. For reasons of economy, perhaps false, I always buy the smallest plant I can find. So none of my purchases made much of an impact on the overall design of the garden. It will be years before they do, if they survive that long.

While shopping at Lowe’s for supplies for the kitchen remodel, I decided to buy some mums to dress up the door for Halloween. I let AJM choose the color and he picked an outrageous purple that when we got it home even he thought was ugly. These flowers do not look of this earth. I usually pick a rusty orange to give some impression of fall. The only colors in my yard this week are Valentine Day pinks and reds. The Antigon leptopus is a brilliant hot pink as are some of the four o’clocks. More and more cosmos are blooming. The turks cap, cypress vine, and other four o’clocks are all clashing in brilliant shades of red. Strange that my spring colors are blues and purples and my fall colors are pinks and reds. Even one silly redbud tree has flowers. It’s bloomed in the fall before.

I was very surprised to see the red four o’clocks that I planted from seed from the RHS back and blooming larger than ever. I thought I lost them this summer and so I dug up that bed to prepare it for fall planting. I didn’t find a single root. When the rains began, up they shot and now they’re producing huge flowers.

The baby blue eyes are up in mass this year in sharp contrast to last. I’ve spotted some larkspur, too. I find it difficult to clear and mulch any bed because everyone of them is filled with self-sown wildflowers that I transplant to every bare space. My yard really is more like a nursery than a garden.

Paperwhite narcissus and grape hyacinth leaves are all up. The red spider lily leaves are up–no flowers at all this year but the leaves are attractive and I could use them to mark edges of beds. The Allium neapolitanum is also sprouting.

Looking over the notes from past years, the big difference is that no roses are blooming. Most are coming back with new growth. I’m confident, now, for all except ‘Buff Beauty’. ‘Mermaid’ is even sending up a new stalk! My Brugmansia which began blooming this week last year froze later last winter. The other note is that this year we have no persimmons. They were all lost in the drought. How can it be fall without persimmons?

Dateline: 2005
Unseasonably warm and still very dry. It’s perfect October weather and I can’t come to grip with the fact it’s almost Thanksgiving. At least it’s good weather for working outside and I continue putting gravel on the paths and digging a drainage trench.

The cedar elms are turning color and dropping golden leaves in abundance. This put me in the mood finally for pumpkins. I think all these store displays mimicking a New England autumn look completely ridiculous in our 80F degree heat. The coral bean has lost all its leaves and so have the bendy plants (whose name I’ve forgotten) in the courtyard garden. I noticed that the berries on the yaupon hollies in front of Central Market Westgate are suddenly brilliant orange-red; my own yaupon holly has been plunged into the shade now that the sun has moved south and its few berries remain dull green. [2006. Update. Central Market removed all these lovely yaupon hollies. They were so beautiful and such and inspiration that I was shocked and angry to see them gone.]

The RHS four o’clocks began reblooming at the beginning of the week (10/31) and the Brugmansia opened two small flowers on Wednesday (11/2). One spray of buds opened (11/3) on the hyacinth bean vine which sprouted very late in the year, a child of the monster vine that grew next to ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’.

The unknown narcissus I replanted by the persimmon tree are up. And so are the grape hyacinths. The back yard has gone from nice and neat after the rain to all trashed out with leaf litter. I have to finish the paths, so I don’t have time to deal with it.

I harvested 12 persimmons on Friday (11/4). They are still hard, but three others had been eaten by squirrels so I wasn’t taking any chances with my beloved persimmons. Unlike the photo above from last year, the leaves of the persimmon tree have turned a deep orangy red.

Finally I discovered that you can’t kill a banana tree. New leaves are sprouting on all the banana pups I didn’t shred and put on the compost pile.

Dateline: 2004
photo: Japanese persimmon Eureka
Japanese persimmon.

The week began cold and windy, a prelude to perfect October days (lows in the 40s, highs in the 70s, crisp and sunny). And only a month late! A week of beauty as a consolation prize, I guess. Who can feel depressed with weather like this? Finally I feel like getting my hands in the dirt again.

I braced myself for the task ahead, cleaning up the meadow garden. All the rain has made the buffalograss lush this year, just as I had given up on it. My battle is with the horseherb, which is a perennial weed. Between it and the crabgrass, the only way to weed the meadow effectively is to dig up sections and replant it. It’s been slow work, but I divided the rainlilies (Zephyranthes grandiflora) and tulips. I still haven’t replanted the narcissus–and most of the clumps around the yard have sprouted. So I need to get on with that.

Every time it rains (which has been a lot this year) more bluebonnets pop up. I have one that sprouted in August that is actually putting out a flower. And one last oxblood lily bloomed today, two months behind its kin.

I’ve been harvesting Japanese persimmons. The variety I have is ‘Eureka’, which looks like a little, orange tomato. Although persimmons are best when they have ripened to jelly-consistency, these are edible even sooner. Someone told me that the squirrels get to their persimmons first. My squirrels haven’t discovered them yet. If it comes to persimmon warfare, though, I’ll have to chain a cat to the tree to keep the squirrels away.

Dateline: 2002
Yesterday (10/29) I was awakened by sunlight and realized that it had been almost two weeks since we’ve seen the sun. Nothing could keep me inside on one of these rare days of perfect weather. So I was outdoors immediately investigating the long-neglected garden.

The bulbs are already up: first the grape hyacinths, then the paperwhite narcissus, then the Grand Primo, followed by the drumstick alliums.

The overwintering annuals follow a parallel course: first the bluebonnets, then th. love-in-a-mist, here and there a sweetpea and finally the larkspur.

Gardening chores focus mostly on digging out summer weeds and transplanting the annuals in the buffalograss meadow. The meadow is the most difficult part of the garden to keep presentable because it has the least structure. The meadow was my first garden, and (I think) the least successful; although, in April, it is stunning. I can see the difference between the weeds and wildflowers, but to others it might look like an unkempt mess.

Now that I have so many volunteers sprouting everywhere, I’m more willing to dig up a section of the meadow, transplant bluebonnets and larkspur, and mulch it. When I had very few plants, I hesitated to pull up one, even if it was growing in the path, or in a patch a weeds that I had to carefully remove. Now, I have no hesitation. Over the years, I’ve come to crave structure and patterns and strong lines in the garden. Imposing a human sense of order on the land is what makes a garden.

Three of the roses, Ducher, Souvenir de la Malmaison, and Madame Joseph Schwartz, have put out a lot of new buds and promise of a spectacular fall show. Buff Beauty and Madame Alfred Carriere also might participate on a smaller scale. Blush Noisette continues to be the workhorse of the rose garden and has continued to bloom in bursts throughout the year. It has a sweet rose sent that wafts on the wind; one that you can smell three or four feet away.

Tomorrow the rains returns.

Dateline: 2001
Monday October 29, 2001
Larkspur is starting to poke up–seems to appear about the same time as the Grand Primo.

Zephyranthes grandiflora
Dug up a clump of rainlilies because they were entangled in crab grass and I wanted to see whether they could be divided. Each bulb had three or four children: 61 bulb in all from what 10 or 12? So they seem more than ready to divide, even though I have to divide them in the green.

Aster ericoides
The wild aster has begun blooming. It is white and surprises.

Friday November 2, 2001
Very hot couple of days in the 80s, although more clouds than in October. There is actually a chance of rain. Mushrooms are sprouting everywhere. Golden brown ones in the lawn and those weird pod ones in the meadow.

Dateline: 2000
Friday November 3, 2000
Flash flood watch issued for Austin and San Antonio. Heavy rains of 2 to 5 inches predicted and several rivers in south central Texas are already out of their banks.

Just as AJM leaves for work, but before I’m ready to go, it begins raining. I wait for the rain to let up, but then it really pours. For the first time ever, water comes over the retaining wall at the corner of the patio. The stone path in the gravel garden holds back the water for awhile, creating little pools, but eventually these overflow and six inches of water is sitting against the west wall of the garage, pushing its way toward the little gorge created by the north wall and the fence.

Dateline: 1998
Ditto my entry for 1996. Yesterday was hot and muggy and we complained that Fall was never going to arrive. Mushrooms from the last rain had sprouted throughout the meadow. Then early morning thunderstorms preceeded a cool front. All morning it is dark, windy and gloomy–a true November day. By noon, the sky had cleared and the rest of the afternoon was sunny, the air dry and crisp.

Dateline: 1996
November blew in with a cold front. The last two muggy, drizzly hot (in the 80s) that caused mushrooms to sprout all over the yard is suddenly gone. The temperature must have dropped 10 degrees from the time JQS and I left the house to when we got to his school 20 minutes later. The low was in the 40s last night. Today is clear and cool and a tremendously beautiful fall day.

Dateline: 1995
Tuesday October 31, 1995
Another wave of thunderstorms and heavy rain before dawn. This is our first really stormy weather since the Great Tree Storm. We’ve really needed the rain.

The yard is drenched and the grass is full. Too much of it had gone dormant for it to return to a bright green. But it looks like a healthy lawn and I’m so glad we mowed it before the rains.

by M Sinclair Stevens

10 Responses to post “Week 44: 10/29 – 11/4”

  1. From bill (Texas):

    A few years ago I planted some horseherb in a narrow shaded area on the north side of the house where there was no grass. It has spread from there to other areas of the yard.

    Of course I would not want it it in my buffalo grass but I rather like it as an alternative or mixed in with St Augustine.

    Sally Wasowski defends horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis) in “Native Texas Plants” so I left it growing in parts of the yard that I hadn’t started gardening in yet. I think this was a big mistake. It does make a nice ground cover if it’s cool and rainy. It can even stand getting mown. So if you have a wild and woody area, it certainly can substitute for grass.

    But it is incredibly invasive. And since it colonizes by root division, digging it up often just helps spread it around. My feelings have evolved from benign tolerance to complete disgust with it. — mss

  2. From M2 (Austin):

    I never thought about planting rain lilies. How wonderful! They stay up for such a short period of time that I’ve always wondered about why they even bother. It must be propogated by root division, really. Like dandelions … I suspect the flowers are either a backup or just sheer habit.

    And by the way … did you know that persimmon is an ebony wood? And … di. you that ebony wood doesn’t float? My father cut a twig off our persimmon tree, and dropped it in the bathtub. Sank like a stone.

    Actually rainlilies (Zephyranthes) are bulbs. The flowers also produce seeds which are pretty easy to sprout. In addition to the white lilies that one sees on the roadside after a rain, there are pink and yellow ones. The ones I transplanted in 2001 (has it been that long!) are the large, pink Zephyranthes grandiflora They are much more cultivated than a lot of my other wild/native plants.

    Interesting point about the persimmon. I will have to try it myself. — mss

  3. From Kerry (Kentucky):

    It has been on the warm side here in Kentucky too. Our first frost came about 3 weeks later than the norm. Fall came on so gradually that the leaves have remained on the trees much longer than normal too. This has made for a breathtaking drive in to work.

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m always interested in what’s happening in other people’s gardens. — mss

  4. From Lily:

    I have planted a number of lily plants myself but I also never thought of rainlilies. I will have to give them a try this spring. If they like the rain they will definitely grow well here in the Pacific northwest!

    Well, you’ll have to let us know how that little experiment turns out because I think o. rainlilies as being primarily desert plants. Anyway, they aren’t related to lilies at all…like many plants with lily in the name (daylilies, oxblood lilies) they are merely lily-shaped. — mss

  5. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    Oh, those gaudy mums! A month or so ago, I bought some 4″ pots for the front-garden circle that were supposed to be dark purple, according to the picture on the tag. They finally bloomed a horrific mauve that I just hated. They didn’t blend in at all, and I cringed every time I looked at them. Yesterday I pulled them out in disgust and replaced them with more-sedate pansies. I hope it’s finally cool enough for them.

    My spider lilies didn’t do much this year either. I got only two flowers. But the leaves of all the bulbs are up now, so I can see where they are. I hope next year will be better for them.

  6. From Annie in Austin:

    Your garden sounds so full of flowers, M! Apparently your seeding of cosmos worked really well.

    There’s still pink and red in my garden, too: Pineapple sage, Coral nymph salvia, several Pink cupheas, red impatiens, pink tropical hibiscus and was also fooled by a bunch of pinky-mauve chrysanthemums with ‘purple’labels. One cuphea is orange, the Mexican mint marigold is yellow orange and there are seedlings of the tropical milkweed which should be orange, but they never bloomed.

    Salvias like guaranitica and greggii just keep going, so it’s not like there are no flowers, just that all the individual blooms are so very small!


    Well it’s not so very full–the yard is big and most of the flowers insignificant. The revival of the coral vine is nice, though…I’ve taken some new photos of it. — mss

  7. From Elizabeth M. Seiler:

    Those who think horseherb as a weed, clearly do not have an appreciation for native plants. Also, horseherb improves the fungal relations between soil and trees, according to Dr. Elaine Ingham (soil food web expert). It would seem the more “invasive” the horseherb, the more it benefits the trees.

    Well, that’s a pretty snotty comment, isn’t it? If horseherb smothers buffalograss and all the native wildflowers because it is so aggressive I consider it a weed. This is a garden not a forest. — mss

  8. From Annie in Austin:

    MSS, my iris aren’t named varieties, but you are welcome to plants of my passalong early white, the fragrant pale peach and the grape-y smelling late purple.

    Somehow I missed that interesting 2006 exchange on horseherb. I just had to google a person so prone to making pronouncements and found out that EM Seiler is also known as the Juniper Lady.

    Elizabeth Seiler’s Dripping Springs house is featured on the Austin Energy website. I think that horseherb could be great in that Hill Country setting. Since there are two 10,000 gallon rainwater tanks in the yard, the land area may be larger than a city lot.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Well trust you to dig up something interesting about someone on the internet. It didn’t even occur to me to look. Anyone who champions both horseherb and juniper is certainly unique. Something in the tone of her comment just rubbed me the wrong way…and we all know how much I hate horseherb! The funny thing is that when I wrote that post I remembered Seiler’s comment; I just didn’t remember the post she left it on. BTW, I saw some horseherb for sale at The Natural Gardener the other day and just gave a little shudder. — mss

  9. From Angelina:

    Maybe this will be the year for a bumper crop of beans. I’m envious of the basil!

  10. From kate:

    I enjoyed reading through this post and how you’ve documented your garden and its happenings for the past 12 years. It looks as if no two years are alike.

    Austin’s weather is pretty changeable. I do enjoy documentation because I like looking for patterns in the cyclical events in the garden. — mss