Monday, September 25, 2006


I don't know if this is an exceptional year for hummingbirds or if I'm just spending more time in the garden this year but I don't think I've spent more than five minutes in the upstairs garden over the past three or four weeks and not seen at least one hummingbird. I think the most I've seen in the yard at one time is four.

They perch on the telephone wire that still runs above the upstairs garden (darn that SBC who wants $500 to move the line to the other side of the house) and the spiraling branches of wisteria shooting out from the telephone pole, their delicate chirps calling me out onto the porch. Then they're off, sipping from the yellow bells, the hamelia (that's what's blooming in the picture, minus the birds themselves, which I've been unable to catch in a picture) and the Turk's cap, but also trying out the various salvias and even the small blooms of the Old Blush rose.

I have no idea if they're all the same species but they do seem to be variously colored. This morning I caught a glimpse of irridescent green swooping across the yard but most have been less colorful grays and browns, at least in the brief peeks I've gotten as they flit here and there.

Any idea how long they're here? I assume they must be migrating and are fueling up for a long flight somewhere to the south.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Enjoying the breeze

I've been sitting out on the porch, watching the limber branches of the pecan trees to the north of us swirl in the shifting breeze. I got up the energy to water the three roses deeply (okay, I just stuck the end of the hose at the base of each one for twenty minutes or so while I contemplated) but I still haven't figured out what to do with the purple fountain grass or the plumbago that I bought a couple of weeks ago. I did get the manfreda "Macho Mocha" into a pot last week and I'm quite excited that it seems to be developing its characteristics purple spots. I'll post a pic (once it actually does something you can see in a picture and once I get the camera back in action; I was just making some progress figuring out some of its more advanced features and I ran out of battery power).

The salvia "Anthony Parker" is starting to bloom and the salvia guarantica "Black and Blue" in the pot that I chopped back severely a few weeks ago is springing back to life, although there are no signs of any buds yet. The salvia nemarosa under the Old Blush rose has perked back up (it kind of hibernates during the summer) and one of the plants has sent up a bloom stalk. The yellow bells is still blooming wildly and so are the raspberry salvia greggiis the pavonia and the Mexican bush sage, both hamelias, the globe mallow and the zexmenia. The berries on the volunteer chile pequin are turning red.

The Old Blush is also blooming but the blooms are little wimpy things. I have no idea whether its stunted by the heat of last month or whether there's something else I need to do to it. When the camera gets fixed I'll post some pictures and maybe someone will have some ideas. Feed it more often? Water more regularly? The plant itself looks good and its sending up a lot of new growth in this cooler weather but the blooms are still so small.

Now that the upstairs yard is so much the center of my attention everything else has been languishing. I need to think about the downstairs yard and the front bed. And we've been talking about getting rid of a lot of the grass in the front yard (mostly dead anyway) and converting it to some kind of other planting. I'm still afraid of the return of hot weather so maybe I'll give it a few more weeks before I try digging things up and moving them. I'll just sit and contemplate for a bit longer.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Impulse control

Now that I'm working in the garden again I couldn't resist a visit (or two) to the garden store this weekend. First I stopped in at the Great Outdoors (conveniently located within 5 minutes of our house). I have sort of hit-or-miss luck with the place but on Saturday I bought an agave I'd been wanting for a while, an agave bracteosa or squid agave. Its leaves are fleshy and pale green, with no spines on the edges or tips. And supposedly, unlike most agaves, it doesn't die after it blooms. I planted it in one of my favorite pots, empty since I left an aloe "Blue Elf" out in one of last winter's freezes (and it was just about to bloom; I was completely bummed).

I also bought a one-gallon Laura Bush petunia, just to put in a pot for some more color (I'm a sucker for that fuschia color on any plant; check out the salvia greggii in the background).

Then on Sunday D and I ran out to Barton Springs Nursery to pick up some cotton burr compost for the extension of the far back bed and to use as mulch and, even with him there as a moderating force, I couldn't resist a manfreda called "Macho Mocha" that I'd read about on the Yucca Do website (Barton Springs has a huge one in a pot up on a pedestal just at the east edge of the main barn, if you want to check it out). The one I bought is small and the leaves are all green but supposedly in sun it will develop a purplish color with brown spots. And then in the spring it's supposed to send up a huge, tall bloom stalk. I've had a manfreda (I think it's manfreda maculosa) of a more sedate nature in a pot for several years trying to find a spot for it in the ground. It actually does fine in a pot so I think I'll put the new one in a big pot as well for now.

At Barton Springs I also bought a couple of odd little succulents; one I'm sure is an aloe of some kind but with a strange pyramidal growth habit I've never seen before; the other one looks a bit like the echevarria "Jelly Beans" I got last week, but in miniature form. I also bought, mostly because D admired it, a dark blue plumbago. The flowers aren't really all that dark blue but they are darker than a plumbago I had years ago. I'm not sure where it will go. It's not really a color I have anywhere in the garden but I'm sure it will work in somewhere.

I also bought another purple fountain grass, a gallon this time. I think I'll dig up the two small fountain grasses I bought a week or so ago and put them into a pot to stick somewhere else sunnier than the spot I've got them in now. Then I'll put the bigger new one (which is already blooming) in the place of one of them at the top of the new stairs, next to the stand with the succulent in a pot. It will be next to the eggplant-painted steel columns on the new porch and should blend together with the zexmenia that's blooming there. I think that spot gets enough sun to keep the grass happy.

I did resist the lure of a bougainvillea and another one of the salmon-flowered globe mallow plants that I already have in the far back bed, as well as a couple of other plants that were calling my name (has anyone tried a plant called melochia tomentosa? I saw it at both Great Outdoors and Barton Springs; supposedly it's a native but I don't remember seeing it before. It's also called pyramid plant and Yucca Do has something similar listed as melochia pyramidata or anglepod.) And then there were all those beautiful roses. Oh well, there's always next time.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Survival of the fittest

In her post on Digging, Pam wondered how my garden survived not only the record heat of August but also the neglect imposed by our recent construction project (not to mention the insult of the construction itself). My first thought was good karma, some kindness from the gardening gods. But the real answer I think is more related to survival of the fittest (with a little luck thrown in for good measure; we had a wonderful architect and contractor — a design/build firm — and subs who were more careful with the garden than I ever could have imagined).

Some background (skip ahead to the end if you'd rather avoid the long-winded details):

The heart of the garden is a long L-shaped bed in the upstairs part of our back yard (our lot is on two levels with a four-foot-tall stone retaining wall separating the two levels. The original house is on the lower level and the new addition is on the upper level). When we moved in 12 years ago the only thing living in the upstairs yard was a large yucca and a straggly rose bush. We had several dead trees removed and I pondered the emptiness for six months. The next spring I hired someone to dig the L-shaped bed; the long leg — about 30 feet — is on the south side of a stockade fence, while the short leg — about 12 feet — runs along the top of the stone wall. Both parts face south and west, with almost no shade. The new beds were amended with quite a lot of compost and in at least some parts (behind the retaining wall) the soil is quite deep. Elsewhere it's maybe 8-12 inches over limestone.

I had done some gardening on a small scale at our previous house (someone gave me Wasowski and Ryan's Gardening with Native Texas Plants for a wedding present 20 years ago) and I knew I wanted native or at least drought-tolerant plants. So the original planting had clumps of red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), lantana "Irene," purple coneflower, coreopsis, salvia leucantha, fall obedient plant and calylophus. The ends were anchored by large clumps of salvia "Indigo Spires" and pink salvia greggii.

All that remains after 12 years is one clump of the red yucca (oh and that original yucca; we tried to dig it up once but it refused to give up the ghost and made a comeback from roots the next spring; it lives on). Some things reached the end of their natural life, some I sent to an early grave either through miscalculations regarding care or because I got tired of them for one reason or another.

I tremble to think of the plants that have poured through that bed (not to mention other smaller beds I've added since) in the last 12 years. In looking back through my sporadically kept garden notebook I can see one trend: If I had to water a plant to keep it alive it was history. I've moved more and more in that direction over the years. I'm willing to water plants in pots but (at least until recently) the upstairs garden only got water irregularly, maybe once or twice a month. (I usually add Back to Nature cotton burr compost from Barton Springs Nursery as mulch in the spring but I didn't get to do that this year.)

I've lost (or given up on) a lot of plants but those that remain are tough. I don't think there's a single plant in the upper back yard that really needs to be watered to live (to thrive and bloom is another story). The beds up there haven't changed since last year (my usual spring plant-buying frenzy was thwarted this year) and last summer — admittedly nothing to match this summer — everything survived.

This summer our experience of the upstairs garden changed dramatically. We moved into a new addition to our house in July that opens directly onto that garden. Both our new sitting room and bedroom, as well as our offices (my husband and I work from home), have views to the garden. So I have a newly vested interest in keeping that part looking good. Starting in mid-July I watered each section deeply once a week or so with my favorite small sprinkler (I've always meant to put soaker hoses in but every spring I wait too long and it gets so overgrown I can't push the hose through).

The yellow bells, Pride of Barbados, Turk's cap, hamelia, and zexmenia probably wouldn't be covered in blooms if I hadn't watered but I'm fairly sure they would have survived. I know the salvia greggii wouldn't be blooming again yet without the extra water but the salvia leucantha would have survived and bloomed anyway, I think, water or no water. The roses are the one thing I'm not sure of (I'm new to roses but I have three: Old Blush, Climbing Pinkie, and Maggie. One interesting thing is that all three did better than ever this spring and early summer with no supplemental watering, no fertilizer, nothing. Is there a lesson there?)

Other parts of the garden don't look so good right now (I haven't put up any pictures of those parts!). Some of the problems are a result of the construction and some a result of neglect. But not much, if anything, has died outright. I think the key was that everything that might have died has been gradually culled out (if I'd had a chance to add things this spring no doubt some of them would have died). As I said: survival of the fittest.

(The picture at the top is some of the toughest stuff in the garden, although it's in a newer bed, at the far back of the upstairs yard. From the top left: red hamelia/fire bush, tecoma stans/yellow bells, purple heart, and a silver-leafed, reddish salmon-flowered mallow I got at Big Red Sun a few years ago.)

Out of hiding

I was astonished this morning to find comments on several of the (few) entries in the blog. Entries from people whose blogs I've been reading for several months. And then I went to one of those sites, Digging, and found an entry about my site. Pretty cool. And thanks so much, Pam, for the kind words.

When I started writing here I mostly thought of it as something for myself, a way to keep better track of where I am and where I'm going with the garden. Since I was banished from most of the garden from January until July while the construction was going on, the moment when I got back to it seemed a good time to start something else new. And since I sit in front of a computer most of the day (in my fabulous new office that looks right out into the garden; am I lucky or what?), a blog seemed like the thing to try.

Anyway, even though I never considered that others might be interested in it, it's exciting that someone is.

A couple of years ago my fabulous next-door neighbor moved. She was my garden confidante. We shared plants and tales of woe and eventually the gardens between our two houses merged, her poppies and larkspur seeding themselves into my bed and my Copper Canyon daisy finding a happier spot on her sunnier side. My new neighbor is also a gardener but we have different tastes (she's a bit tidier, more orderly than I) and, sadly, I've all but abandoned the bit of my garden that adjoins hers as well as the sense of garden companionship. So having some kind of gardening community again is welcome. Thanks for the welcome.

(Oh, and I have changed the Blogger settings so that I think anyone can post comments now. Let me know if it doesn't work.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A glorious day

The temperature this morning was 66 degrees. Can I say that again? 66 degrees. And now, at 3:30 the temperature is still in the mid 80s. Certainly it will be hot again before we can count on more than one of these days at a time but just the hint is enough to tide me over for another few weeks or even a month (more than a month and I'm getting cranky again).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A damp morning

When I woke up this morning the ground was wet and rain water was dripping from the eaves. The dripping has continued all morning, just a light sprinkle but continuous. Probably not much in total inches but a pleasant change, especially with the temperature in low 70s. Almost 30 degrees cooler than last week this time. Oy!

The blooms on the Mexican bush sage are opening, either just because it's their time or because they're celebrating the cool and damp as well. I noticed bloom stalks on the salvia Anthony Parker (why do I always want to call it Arnold Palmer?) too but they haven't opened yet. That's the salvia that I saw in luxurious bloom at the nursery Alisa and I stop at when we're on our way back from Port Aransas, along Highway 183 somewhere north of Goliad (or maybe closer to Gonzales? I'll have to pay better attention next time). They have a great selection of plants, especially shrubby things, along with a couple of huge basset hounds. Anyway, I saw the saliva Anthony Parker, which has dark blueish purple blooms, and admired it but they didn't have any for sale (I did score a Mexican bush sage, maybe even the one that's blooming now, with solid purple flowers, which I've always prefered to the white-tipped variety). Some time later, maybe the next year, I saw the Anthony Parker at Barton Springs Nursery and bought it. It's never been as dramatically beautiful as the one I saw on the way back from Port A but lovely at this time of year nonetheless. I'll post a picture once it starts blooming.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The day after

The new house and the garden stood up to the inspection by the multitudes yesterday. Well, not quite multitudes but the upstairs porch was certainly crowded for a while last night. The predicted cold front never quite arrived, although the afternoon was overcast and a fine mist fell for about 20 minutes — enough to cool things off a bit but not enough to drive people off of the chairs and bench out in the garden. Mostly though, everyone gathered on the new porch, sitting on the wide steps just as I'd envisioned during all those months of construction.

Here's a view of the garden D took before anyone arrived.

And here's a lovely little succulent Lauren brought me, carried home with her from a recent trip to Los Angeles (next to an agave of unremembered origin and variety, in a pot it's outgrown; I'm afraid I'll never get it out without destroying one or the other, plant or pot).

Of course, despite all my best intentions, I spent most of Sunday rushing around, trying to whip the garden into shape (or at least to camoflage the problem areas). I pulled the raspberry salvia gregii out of the big pot in the front yard, where it has languished since we stopped parking out on the street (once the carport was finished). Since I stopped walking past it every day about the same time it stopped raining, it's gotten more and more bedraggled. I had thought of putting a big bougainvillea into the pot, just for the party, but instead I pulled up one of the larger agave americana pups from the big mama plant (which has recovered some from freeze damage suffered last winter) and stuck it into the pot where it at least looks better than the salvia. I've got the salvia in a pot under the arbor along with the salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue," which I pruned back severely in the hopes of some kind of recovery. Also in the recovery ward are the yellow columbine the foundation crew had to dig up when they were putting in the french drain and the verbascum (I think that's what it is) that I bought several years ago on a trip to the Antique Rose Emporium with Alisa. Maybe with the weather a bit cooler and rain in the forecast they'll all perk up.

I also neatened up the stacks of pots that have found a temporary home under the arbor and managed to wrestle the old hot water heater (such a wonderful garden ornament) a little bit out of sight. I found a varigated agave that someone gave me a few years ago languishing back in the stacks of pots and moved it into the upstairs garden, up on a pedestal in the far back, next to a pot of succulents discovered under the tumbled-down stalks of Turk's cap growing out of the old fireplace.

And then I finally had to stop and sit down for a few minutes before people started arriving.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Getting ready for some visitors

On Thursday I noticed that the weather forecast for Sunday predicted highs in the 80s. We'd been talking about having some people over to see the changes to the house and cooler weather — even the possibility — seemed like enough reason to make a plan. So we've invited quite a few people over for Sunday evening and it looks like, even on such short notice, quite a few will be able to make it.

So, of course, I started worrying about the state of the garden (not to mention the many unfinished projects inside the house). The garden actually looks surprisingly good, given the lack of attention it received this spring and early summer and especially considering the time of year. I usually completely abandon it in July and August, returning in September or whenever the first cold front blows through to pull out or cut back everything that hasn't survived and to try to restore some order. But with our new accessible, even unavoidable, view of the upstairs garden, I've been watering more and plucking weeds, cutting back some of the overgrowth.

But with the idea of people actually coming over and seeing it all, I couldn't help indulging in just a bit of the plant shopping I avoided — or was denied — all spring. I stopped by Gardens on my way to Silk Road (fabric for curtains in D's office) and bought an echeverria "Jelly Beans," that I've had in the past. I think I let it freeze one winter. I potted that up in the square zinc pot that's been empty for a while and set it up on a galvanized bucket on the steps.

I also bought a couple of 4-inch purple fountain grasses at Home Depot that I stuck at either end of the new bed in front of the covered porch. They're looking a little lonely (and I think Buddy laid on top of one of them or peed on it or something because it's looking a bit limp). But that will have to be it for now, I guess. Other than a bit more weed pulling and trimming. And maybe a bougainvillea I saw at the Great Outdoors yesterday to replace the quite drought-stunned salvia gregii in the pot out by the front steps. Nothing more. Really.