November 26th, 2010
Week 48: 11/26 – 12/2

Zanthan Gardens north back border
2009-11-29. The north back border from the roof and some fall color. The Japanese persimmon is in the lower right-hand corner. In the center, the ‘Ducher’ rose can be seen taking over the path.

Dateline: 2010

Zanthan Gardens north back border
2010-11-25. Much drier than 2009. The garden is bare of self-sown cilantro and baby blue eyes which were a foot tall this time last year. The Japanese persimmon is in full color but the umbrella tree has already shed its leaves. The exuberant rose ‘Ducher’ died suddenly of cane dieback over the summer.

Austin gets its first official freeze early Wednesday (12/1) morning. But Zanthan Gardens experienced some frost damage last week (11/27). That front blew the leaves off the pecans and cedar elms, making for golden December days in the garden. I spend Monday (11/29) mower mulching the fallen leaves. The air is so incredibly dry that they are easy to clean up; they just crumble. The garden is pleasingly tidy for a change.

I’ve been frantically busy planting ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils and spring annuals. I enjoy being in the garden now more than any other time. The days are clear but the temperatures cool enough that it’s a pleasure to dig and rake. The bluebonnet seedlings are still quite small and requiring supplemental water (or else they shrivel under the glare of the sun when temperatures top the 70s.) I also have to keep all the seed beds moist. 2010 is such a contrast to 2009. Very few self-sown seedlings have sprouted, only those that get a bit of water when I’m watering other plants. Rain is promised with each cold front but none has fallen. We are on our way to becoming a desert again.

Dateline: 2009

History repeats itself. A gloomy week is forecast and I spend today tidying up the mud room (aka the entryway) and bringing in aloe, kalanchoe, and golden thryallis which I’ve potted as backup plants. Just in case. I planted out my Meyer’s lemon, my cutleaf philodendron, and my ‘Ming’ asparagus fern because they got too big to lug in and out. If I installed grow lights in the mud room, I wouldn’t have to cart the pots in and out. But that room doesn’t have any electrical outlets so this probably won’t happen anytime soon.

The leaves are all turning color. I always think this is late until I look at my notes. The umbrella tree is a brilliant yellow. The Mexican buckeye and the pecans are a mottled, muddy yellow. The Mexican plum trees are a bit more golden. The Japanese persimmon is just turning orange and red. And the red oaks are blushing a deep red from the top down. Once again the ginkgo is a dud; it lost all its leaves before they turned yellow. [2010-12-02. The ginkgo finally died in Spring 2010.]

All the rain has fooled the cilantro and the false dayflowers into thinking it’s already spring. The whole yard is thick with both of them. The cilantro will be flowering soon and the false dayflowers have been flowering for a couple of weeks. Yesterday, (11/28), AJM and I trimmed back the fig ivy on the chimney so that we’d be able to have a fire inside without starting one outside. We found some “figs”, too. A first.

The cuttings of culinary sage, Jerusalem sage, licorice plant, and rosemary all seem to be rooting. The English peas are up. I continue to dig out the nandina roots from the front north border where we want to make our screened in tomato patch next spring. Like 2002, I’m madly trying to plant narcissus bulbs I dug up in the summer. This is very late as some of the Narcissus italicus are already sending up scapes. Lots of paperwhite foliage but no flowers.

Dateline: 2006

photo: frozen banana plants
2006-12-02. The leaves of one banana froze but not its pups or the plant next to it. I won’t manage to get the banana leaves through winter so I didn’t bother to cover them. I did try a new method of wrapping the leaves around the trunks as extra protection.

After being set into a flurry of precautionary activity all week by dire predictions of freezing temperatures in the mid-20s, I watched the thermometer drop to 31 for three hours from 4AM to 7AM Friday (12/1). That was it. Our first freeze of this winter. I know all you to the northeast of us weren’t so lucky. The frost-tender cosmos are still flowering. The hardier Fatsia japonica had a mixed reaction: its top-most leaves look like cooked spinach but the rest of it, including tiny new sprouts along the trunks, look fine. The tall four o’clocks crumpled but the short ones are untouched. Our second hard freeze is forecast for tonight but this false alarm has lulled me into complacency.

I did bring the potted plants in, the lemon, the aloes, and some cuttings I’m trying to root. I spent 5 hours cleaning out the unheated room along the back porch that room we idealistically refer to sometimes as the garden room or the library. For the last year it has been the staging area for the various components of the kitchen remodel and filled with drywall, flooring, a sink and dishwasher yet to be installed and the current home of our refrigerator. I was pleasantly surprised to find a room under all that mess.

On Sunday (12/3) I harvested our first cilantro of the season because AJM was making chicken tortilla soup. I also made a small salad of lettuce thinnings. The lettuce came up thickly; I don’t remember having any luck with it before and was overly enthusiastic with my seeding. I had to pick my tomatoes when they were green. I planted this tomato the first week in late September that high temperatures dropped out of the 100s because highs above 90°F and lows above 70°F inhibit fruit set. But the tomatoes didn’t have time to ripen. Some years our fall season is longer and I’ve gotten plenty of tomatoes. Judging Austin’s growing season by its last and first frost dates is a bit misleading.

Dateline: 2004

photo: Fatsia Japonica
2004-12-02. Butterfly on Fatsia japonica which is blooming again this year.

Dateline: 2003

December began with the first freeze of the year. These last two days have been clear and cold. AJM and I brought the potted plants indoors, but I forgot to cover the papaya seedling and it got nipped. So did the Brugmansia and the bananas. Otherwise not much damage. I’m looking forward to clearing out the garden for the season. I’m tired of the overgrown look.

For the first time ever the Fatsia japonica is blooming. It’s a fan of the 20 extra inches of rain we’ve had so far this year. The blooms are attracting, butterflies, moths, wasps, and flies. I’ve never seen so many flies attracted to a plant.

I ate the last persimmon today. The roses are blooming. In addition to flowers, ‘New Dawn’ is producing a nice crop of rose hips. I wish the leaves would hurry up and fall so that the roses could get some sunlight before it gets too cold for them to bloom. ‘Penelope’ and ‘Prosperity’ are doing well this year.

Oh, and a lone bluebonnet began blooming on November 18th confused by the rain and wet weather. The downpours over Thanksgiving washed out a lot of seedling bluebonnets. And I haven’t seen any larkspur, yet. But it germinates when the days are warm and the nights are cold, so maybe I’ll get some soon.

I tend to like roses with a warm apricot glow like ‘Gruss an Auchen’. But, the cool delicate pink of ‘Souvenir de St. Anne’s’ is also a favorite. [2006-12-02. Both of the roses have since died.]

photo: roses Gruss an Aachen and Souvenir de St Anne's

Dateline: 2002

After coming close to a freeze last week, the weather’s warmed up again. I’m still trying to replant various Narcissus bulbs which I divided last spring, after their leaves had died down.

The Brugmansia, Dolichos lablab, and Podranea ricasoliana continue to be in full bloom.

Several of the roses are blooming. ‘Blush Noisette’ is the most prolific. Both ‘Madame Joseph Schwartz‘ and the lemon-scented ‘Ducher‘ are blooming well for the first time, with large blossoms. [2006-12-02. Both of the roses have died in 2006. Last month I replaced ‘Ducher’ but planted it on the opposite side of the yard.]‘Souvenir de St. Anne’s’ and ‘Penelope’ have produce a bud here and there. The cold weather tends to deepen the color of many of these roses.

Dateline: 2001

Tuesday November 27, 2001
Colder and windy today. It is suppose to begin sleeting tonight and get up to only 40 tomorrow.

Dateline: 1995

Tuesday November 28, 1995
Cold and miserably windy all day. Freeze warning tonight. Cover bluebonnet transplants with cloches and bring potted plants inside.
Wednesday November 29, 1995
Light frost. At 7:15 am, it is 35 degrees. Beautifully cold, clear, and still.
Saturday December 2, 1995
Wet warm air blew in from the Gulf, yesterday. Today is heavy and warm, in the 80s. Picked 2 tomatoes. However, they would not have ripened if the first freeze had been a hard freeze.

Dateline: 1985

Austin had its first really chill night last night. It got down to the 20s. Today it is cold and crisp and beautiful. It’s the same kind of cold as a snow cold. I don’t know why–maybe because the sun is shining. It doesn’t get in your bones the same way as other kinds of cold. A snow cold always invigorates me. I love this kind of cold. We should be Christmas shopping.

by M Sinclair Stevens

12 Responses to post “Week 48: 11/26 – 12/2”

  1. From Ken Loo:

    I love your garden.

    The first time you M mentioned about “we have an American garden,” I wanted to know if the one that I knew was a British garden. Not sure what garden they are, but amazed by the effort you and your husband have put in, I guess a peace of mind that you give to your readers indeed make it a very good garden on the net.

  2. From Rantor:

    There’s been not a bit of frost here. Even tender plants are doing fine. As kids we were always taught that cold runs down hill, so maybe our being on a hill explains it.

  3. From Annie in Austin:

    Those of us to the north West of you were also pretty cold – it looks like we were at 28∫F a couple of times. I expected the tomatoes, peppers, impatiens and basil to go, but was a bit surprised that the little zinnias [think they’re linnearis] also turned brown, cupheas and Evolvolus were hit badly, and the banana leaves froze. Last year’s banana plant froze and died, not just the leaves but root and all. I tried to site this one better, but can only wait and see now.

    The coldest I can remember since we came was about twelve or thirteen degrees F, but that was at the other house, not this one.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  4. From Julie (Austin):

    Would you have a chicken tortilla soup recipe to pass along — AJM’s or another? I’ve never tried it but think it’s delicious.



  5. From Tamara:

    We’re supposed to hit 21 tonight in Plano. After that…smooth sailing for at least a week. I hope my broccoli and lettuce rebound a bit. My so-called hardy banana turned to mush, so I chopped it off at the ground and covered it with mulch. We’ll see…

  6. From Annie in Austin:

    Love the photo taken atop the roof, MSS! The squirrels may eat the fruit, but how beautiful are the leaves of the persimmon.

    Most of our pecan leaves are falling without turning but some of the crepe myrtles are orange and the Mock orange is now dark gold.

    Wouldn’t it be great to have a couple of conservatories, one for you and one for me?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. From Iris/Society Garlic:

    That roof photo is great! I’m really having a crush on that ‘Ducher’ rose more than ever. Almost all my paperwhites are blooming now! I’ve never brought my aloes in until it was a fairly hard freeze: should I bring them in tonight or at least tomorrow night? (I have limited room inside…) Thanks for the history.

    I only bring in my baby aloe plants that are in pots. My big aloe vera plants are in the ground so I cover them only if it’s going to be a hard freeze. I also have several different other aloe varieties. I don’t know how cold-hardy they are and since I only have a pot of each, I bring those in. I don’t think central Austin is going to get a freeze yet. — mss

  8. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin, TX:

    As long as you were risking your neck for a cozy fire, great shots from the roof. I’m doing the plant dance, too, since you never know what’s going to happen. Got all the blue-eyes in and they look very happy!

    I always enjoy looking at the garden from the roof. It gives me a new perspective and that makes it seem like an entirely new garden and provides encouragement. Glad to hear about the baby blue eyes. They should settle in nicely with this cool, rainy weather. — mss

  9. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    Were you up there putting up Christmas lights, or was that a special climb just for the shot? I love overhead views, they show the garden so well. From the photo, the garden looks so lush, it’s hard to believe it was in drought all summer.

    I was cutting the fig ivy off the chimney so that we could have a fire later this week. It IS hard to believe that there was a drought. All the greenery has sprung up since late September when it started raining. Most of it is overwintering annuals like bluebonnets, love-in-a-mist, cilantro, and the false dayflowers of the previous post. Along the fence, however, is the monster Port St. Johns creeper which was unfazed by the drought. — mss

  10. From Sheldon , Austin, TX:

    I received a small Meyer lemon tree this summer from a friend who was moving out of state and I was wondering if you know if I can leave the pot out during the winter. It may get cooler where I live(290 west at Circle Drive in Oak hill area).

    Meyer lemon is more cold-hardy than most citrus. It supposedly can handle temperatures down to 22°F. However, a lot depends on how cold it gets and how long it stays cold. Potted plants are more susceptible to cold because their roots are more exposed. If it’s in a small pot, I’d bring it in whenever temperatures are forecast for a hard freeze, 25°F or colder. — mss

  11. From angelina:

    I barely got my Meyer inside on time. I put it in the garage but somehow we’re going to have to haul it up steps to bring it into the house where there’s light. Things that are going to die in my garden are on their way to it right now. It’s in the teens last night and tonight!

    I heard that there was a little snow in Austin. Is this not true?

    Depending on where you were in Austin, snowflakes fell for about 30 minutes last Friday melting the moment they touched anything as it was still above freezing. I saw about 5 minutes of it up by my son’s apartment. It was pretty. We drove downtown and there was only the lightest of flurries there. Then the skies cleared and that is why the freeze was so hard. Had it remained snowy or cloudy, both would have provided a bit of insulation. –mss

  12. From Plant Mapper - Atlanta,GAv:

    I enjoy your gardening website and thought you and your readers might be interested in an interactive version (using google maps) of the current USDA zone hardiness map at
    There are also detailed interactive zone maps for each US State such as Texas for example:

    There is a detailed zipcode to zone search using the latest US postal service zips and giving the reader their zone down to the sub zone level (a or b). By entering your zipcode you can also get first/last freeze, Heat Zones, drought conditions and annual climatology for your area.
    You can also embed the zip to zone search in your website using the plantmaps widget at

    Thanks for the link. It’s nice to get an interesting on-topic link and not just another spam link. Your interactive maps are fascinating. — mss