Saturday, October 20, 2007

Looking again

I've been less than enthused about my garden for the past several months for various reasons, some too tedious to go into and some obvious, like the heat that's continued — as I know it will every year and yet still begrudge — into October.

Much of the garden just looks tired, not unusual for this time of year, and the rest looks unkempt or worse. Then there are those parts I'm just tired of: plants that failed in some way to earn their keep or outgrew their spaces, plants I've failed to take care of and whose unattractive state only reminds me of work undone. I had gotten to a point where all I noticed were the problems (that and the spider webs).

Then an offhand comment made me look at the garden with fresh eyes.

A friend was visiting and walked out into the upstairs garden. She looked around for a minute and, just as I was about to open my mouth to make excuses for the sorry state of things, she said, "Oh, your garden looks so lovely." I resisted the automatic denial that is always so easy for me and, after she left, came out and looked around again. I still saw the problems but I also saw things I liked.

This area by the upstairs porch is, despite the problems I also see (but about which I'll keep my mouth shut for now), the bit that caught my eye that day. Not a lot blooming (you can't see the sparks of blue from the sporadically blooming salvia guaranitica in the picture) but I like the forms of the succulents contrasting with each other and with the leafier plants behind. And the fading blooms of the salvia leucantha in the background are still worth looking at, even as the plant sprawls every which way.

And a couple of days later I stopped to look at the far back bed, which from a distance is a tangle of overgrown and underwatered plants. Up close though I saw a combination of colors and textures that I hadn't noticed from a distance: the yellow tubular shapes of the tecoma stans and the smaller orange trumpets of hamelia patens, intertwined with the vivid aubergine straps of purple heart.

When I went to download these images I noticed this picture of pavonia flowers (and that sweetly pillowed bud, or is that a flower just closing up for the day?) that I took a month or so ago but never found a reason to post. The pavonia has stopped blooming for this year but maybe I'll remember to look more closely when it starts blooming again next spring.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Too much of a good thing?

I checked the weather forecast in the newspaper this morning and was deeply bummed to find that the cold front — highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s — that I'd heard forecast for the weekend seems to have stalled somewhere north of us. I often find myself studying the weather maps at this time of year, looking for those curved lines that mark a front headed our way. After nearly 50 years in Texas and 25 years in Austin, you'd think I'd know not to get my hopes up this early but . . .

I know. I know. It wasn't really a hot summer by our usual standards. Not one day over 100 at the official temperataure recording station. And all that rain. More than double our annual total by June. What's not to like?

A Texas gardener would probably be run out of the state for suggesting that all that rain might have been too much of a good thing. I keep reminding myself of recharged aquifers and low water bills. But then I drive through my neighborhood, with its enormous pecan trees in every block, and I wonder if the rain didn't have something to do with the infestation of web worms that has sheathed branches of almost every pecan. I keep trying to convince myself that the white webs — which seem to be continuing to multiply and spread — are seasonally appropriate: nature's Halloween decorations. But I find them creepy, repellent even. Will they disappear when the leaves fall? I hope so.

And then there are the spiders. For several months I watched a spider — my daughter says it was a garden spider — build its intricately zig-zagged web in a corner of the carport. Pretty cool until it forsook the web and took to hanging out on the gate between the carport and the yard. Not quite so cool (it had gotten really big). And at first I thought the little crab spiders that started popping up here and there were cute. Such fun colors. A bright yellow spider. I'd never seen that before.

But enough is enough. Now, a stroll into the garden is an obstacle course of webs. At first I tried not to disturb them, carefully ducking under or stretching a section so I could get around. But now I'm just fed up. There is a web between every upright stem and post in the back yard. I knock one down, come back an hour later and find two more in its place.

I blame the rain.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Report from the jungle

I just logged on and saw that I haven't posted since the middle of June. I missed July and August's Garden Blogger Bloom Days and, looking out at the garden, it looks like the blog is not the only thing that's been missing some attention.

No excuses really but some explanation: We returned from a three-week trip late Tuesday and much of the month or so prior to the departure was consumed with trip planning and preparation as well as finishing up other (paying) work. So both the blog and the garden were ignored.

We returned from our tour of Germany and the Czech Republic to find the Bermuda grass in the back yard an astonishing three feet tall. That was all I could take in at first but once D. hacked the grass back I could see that in three weeks the garden had gone out of control. Really, truly out of control. Apparently the unusual rains of May, June, and July continued through much of our absence and my failure to cut things back before we left resulted in a mad tangle of foliage.

Yesterday and today I've been trying to make a dent in the mess — pulling out masses of purple heart that has consumed whole areas of the long bed, removing enormous quantities of weeds and encroaching Bermuda grass and a few plants that died, either from too much rain or too much competition from overgrowth surrounding them (the mallow plant in the back bed died before we left and I found that all three of the salvia nemarosas that I planted behind the new agave at the corner of the long bed had also died, shaded out or smothered by the shocking growth of the bamboo muhly behind them).

The rains have continued, starting this morning and continuing on and off all day. The forecast predicts more rain over the next few days (the result of a tropical storm that came ashore in south Texas this morning). More rain, more growth, I suppose.

Right now I look at the garden and I'm not quite sure what to do. My impulse is to rip some things up (the volunteer chile pequin's time has come, I think: It's the size of an overstuffed arm chair, much too large for the place it claimed for itself) and cut most everything else in half. I just want to restore some kind of order, give myself and the plants some breathing space.

Friday, June 15, 2007

June bloggers' bloom day

Bat-face cuphea and winecups

Once again it's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, sponsored by Carole at May Dreams Gardens, who invites gardeners everywhere to let us in on what's blooming in their gardens on the 15th of each month.

My garden has entered its jungle-like state early this year, spurred on by an extraordinarily rainy and cool spring, causing plants to sprawl this way and that, growing over their neighbors and defying all of my best-laid plans. I often overplant and it looks like this year is no exception. The great growing conditions combined with my inability to judge how much space new plants will eventually require or to remember how big plants that have died to the ground will get later in the season has made for a garden that looks more like a thicket than an intentional space. And then the heat set in and my enthusiasm for going out and making changes or even pruning waned in direct correlation to the temperature. And the heat has definitely set in. All that's left of our lovely cool spring is a faint memory and lot of overgrown plants.

Enough of the whining. Here's some of what's going on in one Central Texas garden in mid-June.

At least one of the workhorses of my summer garden has started blooming. The first intricate blooms of the Pride of Barbados opened yesterday (interestingly, the first flowers are on the POB that we transplanted from the front yard this spring; the much more established plant in the far back is covered in buds but not yet flowering; the ones in more shade in the front are just setting buds).

A close-up of a Pride of Barbados flower

The whole bloom stalk; I love the way the buds come out in that pyramid of little balls

The POB's faithful summer companions, the hamelia patens and the tecoma stans are not flowering, although the tecoma stans did have a few blooms a week or so ago. Behind those plants in the far back, the trumpet vine "Madame Galen" started blooming this week and has quite a few more buds about to open. And draping over the wall, the Mexican flame vine is adding more orange to the summer mix.

Trumpet vine "Madame Galen"

Mexican flame vine; check out the claw-like new buds

Another summer bloomer, the bat-face cuphea (that's it up at the top) is blooming wildly, mixing well with its neighbor the winecups, which are continuing to be covered in blooms on long vines that are crawling gracefully over everything around them. Behind the cuphea the cleomes are continuing to bloom, white and pink and purple.

The salvia guarantica "Black and Blue" that I transplanted into the ground next to the new porch from the pot where it had lived for four years or so is thriving, huge and covered in brilliant spires of cobalt blue. Next to it the zexmenia is also blanketed with yellow flowers.

Salvia guarantica "Black and Blue" with zexmenia behind

Several other salvias — greggii, roemariana, and nemarosa — are still blooming sporadically. The greggii and roemariana should probably be cut way back and would probably rebloom while the nemarosa just needs to be deadheaded more regularly.

Another reliable summer bloomer is the pavonia, which has cropped up in several places (it seeds out wildly). Its pink flowers open in the morning and close by late afternoon and I couldn't get a good shot of it weaving its way through the agave lopantha before the flowers closed today. Maybe tomorrow.

All four roses have continued to bloom although the heat is taking its toll. Since last month Climbing Pinkie put on a substantial second flush of blooms, now mostly faded, while Old Blush is just now putting out a second flush. Its new flowers are much smaller than the first round. The new Cecille Brunner in a pot is continuing to bloom as is Maggie.

Other things blooming here and there are the orange bulbine, a pot of mixed verbena, and the purple heart all over the place (a major source of my thicket problems!). The new heartleaf skullcap from Pam at Digging bloomed but is struggling to hold its own between the sprawling salvia guarantica and the columbine, which is still holding on to a few flowers.

And one of two mystery seedlings (the other turned out to be a Gulf Coast penstemon, lost from its brothers and sisters in the front yard) has made itself known as a coneflower. I used to have coneflowers in the long bed and I thought they were all gone. But there's this one left. Maybe I'll have more next year.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sidetracked . . .

I finished up a work project this morning and took the opportunity of one more morning of relatively cool weather to assess the effects of last night's thunderstorm on the garden. Everything was washed clean and, with the exception of the suddenly enormous cleomes that were listing and needed to be staked, nothing else looked beaten down or blown over. No pecan limbs in the roses this time around.

I fully intended to head straight back to my office to get to work on the next overdue project. But . . . my inspection revealed that all this rain has lent new vigor to the wisteria and the rampant Turk's cap. Back in the agave parryii corner, the Turk's cap was overtaking the newly planted bamboo muhly and the wisteria was once again reaching for the utility pole. I got in there and yanked wisteria vines (nearly pulling over one section of the rickety fence) and clipping off errant stalks of Turk's cap. And then, just as I was reaching in to do away with another clump of Turk's cap I saw the reason I haven't tried harder to eradicate this plant from the garden.

These are amazing flowers, especially this time of year, highlighted against the crisp chartreuse of the new leaves. Soon enough the plants will sprawl every which-a-way and the heat will turn the edges of those leaves brown and crispy. But I'll try to enjoy them now and also will try to remember these sweet blooms when I'm cursing the errant stalks come the dog days of August.

After I'd finished with the wisteria and Turk's cap (for now, at least) I stopped to take a look at my pot of pansies and violas. I stopped deadheading them before I went to Dallas last week and they were looking straggly and sad, although still blooming. I thought I'd just pull out the orange pansies, which were in the worst shape, but once I started pulling I just kept on, until the pot was empty.

Here's the result of my sidetracked morning. A pile of pansies and violas, a pile of tangled wisteria vines, and a stack of Turk's cap stalks. And in the background you can see the pot (in front of the urn) where the pansies were; I stuck the pots of opal basil and Thai basil in there to see what I thought (what I'm thinking is that the pot may not be big enough; that's what I get for waiting so long!).

I didn't get much paying work done this morning but at least the garden is a bit tidier.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Updating the workings

I finally decided to update to the new layouts version of Blogger. I'd been avoiding the upgrade out of some sense that everything would disappear or that I'd have to go back in and recreate all my links but this morning I took the plunge and all looks well.

I added a way to access the post labels and changed the way the archives are displayed but other than that it all looks about the same.

Here's a look at my current favorite garden combination: the sprawling winecups, whose vine-like stems have reached out three or four feet in every direction and the California poppies that were planted so late but, with this continued cool weather, have continued to bloom.

And can I just exclaim one more time about this weather: I was in Dallas from Wednesday through Saturday and it was so lovely and cool up there. I assumed the coolness must be limited to north Texas but when I got back I found it almost as cool in Austin.

Right now the whole family (except me, in here typing away) is sitting out on the back porch, reading. A rare sight any time, but especially in the last days of May.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

May bloggers' bloom day

May is a quieter month than April in my garden although the flowers that are starting to bloom now — or that will start blooming in the next month — sport the more flamboyant oranges and yellows of summer, along with a dash of vivid fuchsia, rather than the slightly more subdued pink and purple garb of my spring garden.

Last week I saw the first flowers on the Mexican flame vine (Senecio confusus; that's it at the top), which trails down over the wall in front of the short leg of my upstairs L-shaped bed. It usually blooms earlier but harder-than-usual freezes this winter killed it right down to the ground and it's taken a bit longer than usual to get its feet under it.

Right now the view out my kitchen window features the orange flame vine, backed by mounds of purple heart and the silvery fronds of salvia leucantha. To the side is a new fuchsia bougainvillea (bought for just a couple of bucks at the grocery store last week! and not even potted yet).

Also blooming is manfreda maculosa (in a pot in the downstairs yard; it sent up six or eight bloom stalks this year). I'm still waiting for the promised enormous bloom stalk from the manfreda "Macho Mocha" that I planted in a pot last fall.

Most of my salvias are either primarily spring or fall bloomers. The spring-blooming salvia greggiis are still sporting a few flowers and I hope that if I shear them in a few weeks I'll get another burst of bloom. The salvia roemariana (cedar sage) is still blooming a bit and may rebloom, while the fall-blooming salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage) and saliva "Anthony Parker" are showing just a few early, and tiny, blooms.

But the salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue" that I rescued from a pot (I thought it had died over the winter) has gotten huge after I put it into the ground and it finally sent forth some of those fabulous cobalt blue blooms this week. I put it where I can see it out the sitting room window and it seems to love the spot (morning sun, deep afternoon shade from the building).

The orange bulbine continues to bloom underneath the red yucca (which you've seen plenty of).

And I couldn't resist another shot of the winecups. I'd like to get a picture of the winecups weaving amongst the golden California poppies but by the time they all open in the morning the sun is so bright it's hard to get a good shot. Maybe tomorrow.

And here is a close-up of the intricate bloom of the annual cleomes that I put in to fill in around the newly planted agave parryii area. Of course they're getting huge (they looked so tiny in their little 4-inch pots) and are trying to take over but the flowers are so very cool.

Also blooming are the Old Blush and Climbing Pinkie roses; Climbing Pinkie looks ready to put forth a fairly major second flush of blooms while Old Blush's second round are kind of puny. The new Cecille Brunner is covered in more small pink flowrs while Maggie has sent up a few new canes topped with clusters of buds. Other bloomers include purple heart; pavonia (I keep missing getting a picture of the blooms, which close up like tightly tufted pillows each evening); salvia nemarosa/superba "May Night" (I've just about decided that they're the same thing); various colored verbenas; a giant pot of yellow and gold zinna linearis; zexmenia; white potato vine; and the last of the Gulf Coast penstemon. Oh and those pansies and violas are still blooming away in their pot, holding me and my spade at bay for at least a few more days.

And this month's volunteers are these yellow daisy-like flowers (I should know their name; I'm sure one of the other Austin garden bloggers will) that have sprouted along the edge of our alley parking spot. I just noticed a sunflower springing up back there too. Maybe it will be blooming by next month.

Check out the blooms in other gardens around the world at May Dreams Gardens, where Carol hosts the monthly Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day on the 15th of every month. Thanks, Carol.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Past prime-time pansies?

Here's a slightly different example of the should-it-stay- or-should-it-go dilemma I was musing about in my last post. In this case the problem is more about when than whether or not to make a change.

Last fall I planted a big pot with an assortment of brilliantly colored orange and purple pansies and violas and stuck the whole pot into a blank space in the long leg of the L-shaped bed. They have flowered profusely for months, nipped back a bit by mid-winter freezes but returning stronger than ever. But for the last few weeks, as temperatures have risen, I've known their days are numbered. I'm having to water the pot twice a day now and even so, the plants look droopy most of the time; the stems are lanky, even with my daily pinching off of spent blooms, and the size of the flowers has decreased. I suppose it's time to pull the plants up and replace them with something else, something more suited to the coming heat.

But . . . the flowers are still lovely every morning and are welcome this time of year in the lull between the spring flowers and the onset of the summer bloomers.

Here's what they looked like this morning (a lovely cool morning for this time of May, it must be said).

Complicating matters is the fact that I've already bought the replacements — an opal basil, a Thai basil, and flat-leaf parsley — and they are now languishing in their small plastic pots, waiting — dare I say begging? — for a better situation (I admit it: I jumped the gun but I was sure the pansies were done for when it got so hot a couple of weeks ago). And that pot is it: I don't have any more bare dirt in the garden and I don't have another suitable large pot.

Herbs waiting on the edge of the porch; they've doubled — at least — in size since I bought them about three weeks ago.

I'm with Carol, who said in a comment on the previous post that she has a hard time getting rid of a plant that's in bloom. This situation is certainly different than the problem with the red yucca because the pansies and violas are doomed, whether their death is the sudden one of me ripping them out of the pot or a slow one caused by inevitable increases in heat and humidity. Even so . . .

I was just out looking at the pot of pansies and I know in the next day or so I'll get up the nerve and it will be good-bye pansies, hello mini herb garden. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Plant or pet?

Closeup of the salmon-pink bloom of the red yucca

Pondering a few changes in the garden has reminded me of something D always says when I'm trying to decide whether I've reached the point of no return with one plant or another: "Well, it's not as if it's a pet." Sometimes I find it easy to agree with him and out that plant goes, sometimes dug up and moved elsewhere, sometimes passed on to a friend, sometimes into the yard waste bag (yes, I know. I should be composting).

But, as in so many other parts of my life, I rarely come to a quick decision. Usually I waver, considering all the possibilities. Sometimes I consider for so long that the plant finally dies and the decision is made for me.

Occasionally though the plant takes matters into its own hands (leaves?) and renders the decision even more difficult. A plea for survival? Who knows.

Last year I lost patience with the one remaining clump of red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) in the long upstairs bed. For the second year in a row it didn't send up even one bloom stalk. And it is an incubator for hackberries and Turk's cap. The seedlings spring up amidst the yucca fronds and are impossible to eradicate.

When I originally planted the L-shaped bed in 1995 I put in three clumps of the yucca (two one-gallon plants in each clump, I think). The idea was that the salmon-pink bloom stalks were attractive in their own right, and also that the rigid but arching stalks of the plant itself would add structure and give some winter interest to a garden made up mostly of plants that froze to the ground.

All well and good for a number of years. The clumps got larger and bloomed profusely. At some point, for reasons lost to memory, we dug up two of the three clumps. The remaining clump is in the long arm of the bed, between the Old Blush rose and the Climbing Pinkie on the steel tepee. The clump is about three feet deep and five feet wide, a substantial amount of real estate in my relatively small garden.

This spring I had every intention of pulling out the entire clump and replacing it with something new. I hadn't figured out exactly what that something new would be so I delayed removing the yucca. And then one day I noticed the reddish tips of several bloom stalks. And then more and more. All told the plant has sent up twelve stalks. The most ever, I think, and for no clear reason. I didn't fertilize it at all or water substantially more. We have gotten a fair amount of rain this spring and the pruning of the wisteria off the utility pole increased the amount of sun in that area of the garden.

So now I'm deeply conflicted. On the one hand, the yucca blooms are lovely, both up close with their yellow interiors and in a mass. And they are a hummingbird magnet. On the other hand the plant takes up a lot of space. And the salmony color of the blooms doesn't really mix well with others, particularly not the pink roses on either side. But the upright leaning stalks are an interesting companion to the wands of orange bulbine planted underneath (purely by chance; I'm sure I didn't give this a thought when I did the planting).

I think my real problem is an inability to get rid of anything that's blooming. I love flowers (although I have become more interested in foliage over the years) so a plant that's supposed to bloom but doesn't is an easy mark for me. But show me some flowers and I'm much less decisive.

What do you think? Should it stay or should it go? Or should I just procrastinate a bit longer?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Party plants

Last weekend was our son's bar mitzvah (lots of family in town, proud grandparents — and parents, a great time had by all). We shared the day with our former next-door-neighbors, whose daughter was our son's bnei mitzvah partner. Malka — the mom — and I became gardeners together. We both started gardens of mostly native plants about the same time, more than ten years ago. Over the years the gardens between our two houses merged into one. We shared and swapped plants and seeds and advice with each other.

Then a couple of years ago, Malka and her family moved about 20 minutes away and we haven't seen nearly as much of them since. But before they moved we made a plan for our son and their daughter to have their bar and bat mitzvahs together. When we moved into this house, our son was six months old and their second daughter was a few weeks old so the two of them grew up together. When they proposed that the kids share their bnei mitzvah day, we agreed immediately.

The day's events included a luncheon following the bnei mitzvah service. Malka and I talked about centerpieces for the 20 tables and I told her how much I had admired their decision to use small, one-gallon native trees as centerpieces at their older daughter's bat mitzvah luncheon several years ago. Guests were encouraged to take the trees home and we still treasure a Texas mountain laurel from that occasion. For various reasons the tree idea wasn't feasible this time around so we decided to go for flowering perennials.

Malka and I met at Barton Springs Nursery week before last and pondered the possibilities. We wanted to keep it to $5 per plant which meant we needed sale items. We also wanted flowers so we looked for plants that were either budded out or already flowering. We ended up with various salvias — red salvia greggii, some kind of pink salvia (greggii-like, but I don't think that's what it was), salvia "Indigo Spires" and salvia leucantha/Mexican bush sage. We also got fleabane, Chrysanthemum pacificum, and bamboo muhly.

As we wandered through the nursery, enjoying the chatting about plants that we haven't done together in two or three years, Malka suddenly said, Oh, I have a great idea. Instead of getting flower arrangements for the front of the sanctuary, let's get some kind of small flowering trees. So we wandered some more, looking for something in bloom. We narrowed it down to mock orange or Barbados cherry and ended up with two of the cherry trees, covered in small pink flowers.

At the end of the afternoon we lingered beside Malka's car after we had loaded the plants. Our children brought us together in the first place — years back and forth from one house to the other, sitting together under the magnolia that shades both our houses while the kids played incomprehensible games up and down the front yards. And now it was our kids that had brought us back together again. But just as our gardens sealed our friendship years ago, I know that one of my fondest memories of this bnei mitzvah celebration will be that hour wandering together through the garden store.

Malka kept the plants at her house for a week, watering them and protecting them from the winds and lashing rain of last week's thunderstorms. Last Thursday we met to wrap the black plastic pots in layers of colorful tissue paper and shiny mylar. We trimmed back some broken branches and spent bloom stalks and then set the decorated plants out and admired our handiwork.

During the luncheon on Saturday, as I wandered from table to table, chatting with the friends who had come to celebrate with us, people kept asking, Is it true we can pick a plant and take it home? When I told them that was the plan, they had questions. Would this one do well in shade? What about this one in a pot? I watched people make their choices, make trades to get a plant they liked the looks of better. Several friends came up and said, Look what I got. This is going to be lovely in my garden. I have just the spot for it. Many of these friends have gardens I know and imagining the plants growing in them was an added pleasure on an already extraordinary day.

I had my eye on one of the bamboo muhlys, which I staked a claim to early, and we also brought home one of the Barbados cherry trees. I have a spot in mind for the muhly but I'm not sure yet what I'll do with the tree. It may have to live in a pot for a while but I know eventually I'll find the perfect spot and then every year when it blooms it will remind me of this lovely weekend with our beautiful son and our family and friends all around us. And maybe I'll visit some of those other gardens and see the party plants growing and — I hope — thriving there as well.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Spring showers etc.

A winecup in this morning's soft rain

The garden came through Wednesday night's wild thunderstorms mostly unscathed, although the Old Blush rose suffered some minor injuries from a medium-sized branch that plummeted from a great height out of the neighbor's pecan tree. Fortunately it landed tip down and stabbed straight through the rose bush without inflicting serious damage. Those pecan trees, with their long, supple branches, both frighten and fascinate me in high winds. I watch them from the new porch or through the sitting room windows and their branches twist and turn in a thunderstorm as if a giant, invisible eggbeater was churning through them. In addition to the one pecan branch in our back yard, branches were down all over the neighborhood. No whole trees uprooted as a result of this most recent storm, though, at least none I saw.

The last couple of weeks of April and now the first few days of May have been remarkably wet and, until recently, cool. According to the National Weather Service we had at least a trace of rain on 15 out of 30 days in April (16 at the weather station at Bergstrom, which is closest to us, and 14 at the station at Camp Mabry). And we've already had nearly an inch and a half of rain in the first three days of May! But the temperatures have been rising these last couple of days and soon enough it will truly be summer.

With the roses mostly past their first flush of bloom, the garden has changed in the last two weeks. Maggie is still covered in blooms but Old Blush and Climbing Pinkie are resting. I expect them both to bloom again unless it gets too hot in the next few weeks. The new Cecille Brunner in a pot is covered in a new round of buds but that may be because it's so recently planted (or maybe it just blooms later; I guess I won't know until next year).

This week my new winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) started blooming. I'm quite pleased to have winecups back in the garden, even if they are the creeping rather than the standing variety (the kind I've had before, with the same flowers but held up on long rigid upright stems instead of on viney stems, is Callirhoe digitata). I'm liking the way they look in front of the agave parryii. That magenta is one of my favorite garden colors.

Also starting to bloom are the cleome, the dark blue plumbago, and the zexmenia. Even the sadly mistreated California poppies have produced a few flowers. The transplanted Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) seems to have fully recovered from the shock of being moved and is sending out new leaves at a fast clip (so much for the idea that PoBs are impossible to move; I've got several other seedlings that I may try to move in the fall). Although the various Salvia greggiis are past their first big bloom cycle, the Salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue" is about to bloom as is the Salvia "Anthony Parker" (strangely, since it's usually a fall bloomer; the two Mexican bush sages (Salvia leucantha), also fall bloomers, are sending up a few bloom stalks as well). All three of the cedar sages (Salvia roemariana), the transplanted one and the two new ones, are covered in blooms. And I discovered one large and two or three small seedlings behind the globe mallow. I'll move them as soon as the ground dries out a bit.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Visitors and then some

On Saturday ninety people descended on our newly expanded house and garden for our 11th annual spring party. (Question: If we skipped last year because of the construction is it still the 11th annual or should it be called something else?)

And then on Sunday seven Austin garden bloggers arrived as part of a progressive garden tour of five of our gardens (R. Sorrell's of The Great Experiment, Annie's of The Transplantable Rose, my garden, M. Sinclair Steven's of Zanthan Gardens, and Pam's of Digging) plus a walk-through of the beautiful and inspiring garden of Austin-based garden designer and writer Jill Nokes.

Both Saturday and Sunday were overcast, misty days — the sun peeking through from time to time — with highs in the 70s, perfect for showing off a garden. All the buds and blooms were rimed with dampness, nothing was droopy or blasted by the sun. Having old friends in the garden on Saturday was wonderful and then having seven Austin gardeners — and bloggers — visit on Sunday was the most attention this garden and gardener have ever known.

This morning I got up and found a wonderful description of the experience on Zanthan Gardens' site. Like MSS, I worried all week — what would be in bloom, would Climbing Pinkie continue looking glorious, might the buds of the zexmenia or the winecups open in time. And then I was so astonished by the variety and beauty of all the gardens that, when it came my time to act the host, I forgot to worry. I forgot to ask any of the questions or request any of the advice that I had thought about beforehand. And then, all too soon, we were off to the next stop on the tour.

The afternoon sped by, the names and scents of roses — oh, such magnificent roses — a delicious confusion. Last night, after six hours of touring and talking, I lay on the couch in my sitting room, my garden in darkness outside. I should have gone to bed but I wanted to take just a few more minutes to remember the woodland meadow and the rose-covered picket fence, the mystery roses and the brilliant yellow and black caterpillers on a volunteer fennel. I wanted to hold onto the rush of words and the images and scents and textures of plants — clematis and sweet peas, lilies and coneflowers, agave and iris — for just a few minutes longer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Containing the beast

Remember the wisteria? So beautiful for those few weeks in March, so graceful and inviting out the kitchen window. Now it's entering its second life, as a leafy green ceiling for an area of our downstairs yard. The shade is so green and pleasant in the summer that, even if the vine didn't put on such a magnificent show for those few short weeks, we'd be loath to cut it down.

But (cue theme music, something like Jaws maybe) . . . there is a downside to an aggressively established wisteria, especially one whose trunk, make that trunks, are mere feet from a house. Here's the problem:

Don't see what I mean? Check out that innocent looking tendril curling its way around the pole. Ha, I say! Innocent. Think again. Given free rein that very tendril would make its way up the pole within weeks, a month at the outside. (And notice one of the many clumps of Turk's cap that crop up everywhere in my garden; lovely in moderation, not so much in uninvited multitudes.)

Here's the pole. Our electric service comes from the alley to this pole and then down to our house. To the left of the pole you can see the upper branches of our neighbor's pecan tree. And that's the top of the wisteria on the arbor behind the bench.

Imagine, if you will, wisteria growing all the way up the pole, clawing its way up into the pecan and advancing down the electric wire at the same time. Meanwhile, the wisteria on the arbor is also reaching up to entwine itself with those tendrils advancing down the wire. Before you know it, before you've even taken a moment to pay proper attention, an entire sheet of wisteria hangs from the electric wire, solid from the wire to the top of the arbor. And — at the same time — wisteria has transformed the pole into a mass of twining, swaying greenery six feet wide.

This has actually happened. Not once but twice. Experts were consulted. Men with tools — chainsaws on the ends of long poles, wielded in close proximity to the electric service, I kid you not — worked long hours to bring the beast back within bounds.

The most recent clearing was undertaken about two months ago, before the wisteria flowered or leafed out. The pristine pole (not that it's any kind of ornament for the garden but, bristling with vines and swaying in the wind, it just looks dangerous) was an added reason to clear out that corner of the garden this spring. We took out a yucca and a hamelia that grew so large that by mid-summer I gave up on beating my way back there and trying to keep the wisteria off the pole.

This summer, I swear, will be different. That corner is now home to much smaller, more orderly plants and I shouldn't have as much trouble getting to the pole to keep the vines pulled off. The problem is — and I swear this is true — if I go out in the morning and trim back the vines that have crept out under cover of darkness and then check again in the afternoon the vines have returned. We're talking growth of several feet a day.

So, take this as a warning: All is not bright and flowery in wisteria land. The blooms may have looked beautiful in the pictures — and they were fabulous — and you may come over in July and marvel at the cool relief of that green shade — and it is marvelous — but just remember that those luscious blooms, those bouquets of purple, and especially those tendrils, those sweetly curling, ever so graceful tendrils, are the disguise of a beast.

Construction clarification

After my extremely long post yesterday complaining about our neighbors' new parking lot and their apparent plan to build a second-story overlooking our backyard, I wanted to make it clear that we don't have to look at the parking lot from our backyard or porch (thank goodness). Fortunately our addition wraps around the garden, with no views to the alley or across the alley, except when you're standing in the backyard itself and then you just see the top of the house, not the parking lot.

Here's the view over our back fence, looking west. You can see the top of the house (that's the top of the current one-story house), with the back section of the roof removed.

Without a second story all we could see was the peak of their roof (but before the tree-clearing for the parking lot we couldn't see even that). Someone was standing up in the newly exposed attic space last week and I was in the backyard poking around and I could tell that from there he could probably see most of the backyard (but not onto the porch, which is to the left in this picture).

Here's our current view from the new porch. This is looking to the northeast (our backyard is to the west of the original house and north of the addition).

The white house with green trim that you can see through the garden is the duplex I mentioned in yesterday's post. Over the weekend they hired a guy to "neaten up" the — admittedly — overgrown vegetation around the duplex. As far as I can tell he just hacked down anything that was close to the building, including a pomegranate tree covered in those startling orange buds. I do mean hacked: small trees and shrubs chopped randomly, left standing waist high with no foliage remaining, ends of branches shredded. Ah, neighbors.

In a comment on yesterday's post, Annie from The Transplantable Rose suggested a fabulous solution to our potential view problems. On a garden tour last year she saw a tall trellis built in front of a wooden stockade fence but taller than the fence, creating the possibility of something hedgelike but with a small footprint at ground level. I have an image of a rose I've always coveted, Zephirine Drouhin, rising ten feet tall all around my garden. Do any of you remember the huge Zephirine Drouhin that used to cover the roof of the big shed at Barton Springs Nursery? That was some rose, beautiful and fragrant. It would make a magnificent screen.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Progress or problems?

I've been meaning to post some images of changes going on across the alley from us for some time and yesterday I finally got around to taking the "after" picture.

Our neighbors catty-corner across the alley bought the house directly across the alley from us some months back and in January or so told us they were taking the fence down as the starting point for some renovations and additions to the house. We park one of our cars in a spot just off the alley and it was thoughtful of them to notify us of the work beforehand so we could move our car out of the possible danger zone. We knew that they were also planning to cut down the trees (most of little value except as greenery) but we really weren't prepared for what happened.

Here's what the alley looked like before.

And here's what it looked like yesterday.

Quite a change.

In my long-winded way, a little background:

When we moved into this house nearly 13 years ago, the alley was part of the attraction, both because of the availability of off-street parking and because it was such an overgrown, leafy-green tunnel. At the time, the alley itself was hard-packed caliche and gravel and, although probably half our alley-mates used it to access parking, it saw little traffic. Our kids and the neighbors played back there, learned to ride their bikes back there.

Five years ago the city-owned electric utility cleared trees under and around the electric lines that run on poles down the alley. In our backyard (the rear 10 feet of which is an easement) they cut down a large number of hackberries, mostly smallish but one fairly large. Around the same time they resurfaced the alley with asphalt. The alley was less shady but also less muddy after heavy rain and much improved for bike riding.

We took the opportunity of more sunlight to plant a Texas pistache (Pistacia texana) on one side and a tecoma stans (the yellow variety) and a Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), both of which tolerate extremes of heat and drought. That bed has done well and has, in fact, been expanded post-construction. Earlier this spring we thought about putting a Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis) into the expanded area.

Then our neighbors started the work across the alley and we're having to reconsider.

When the parking lot went in — concrete lotline to lotline — we were shocked. The shock has worn off a bit but then the actual work on the house started.

If you enlarge the "after" image you can see that they've taken off part of the roof and are, apparently, planning a second-story addition. That addition will have, we think, an excellent view of our backyard. Hence the reconsideration of our back bed plantings. Maybe we need something bigger, taller (but not so tall the city will want to come cut it down in a few years) and preferably something that keeps its leaves in the winter. Something like the pistache.

But that would mean losing the yellow bells (Tecoma stans) and the PoB, which are both in the way and need quite a bit of sun. And I don't want to block the western sun from my long bed since those plants are also mostly sunlovers.

We'll probably wait and see what happens before we make a decision about revamping the whole bed but the situation has inspired a lot of thought about how powerless we are regarding what happens in our immediate surroundings. We have created a house and a garden that we love but something our neighbors do could change our whole experience of those spaces.

Our area has been in the midst of a serious real estate boom for years now. We are close-in, about one mile south of downtown, an attractive neighborhood of trees and hills with a long park running beside the banks of a creek straight through the middle. The original houses are a mix of mostly small two-bedrooms and a few much larger houses; the larger houses were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s (some of the first built on the south side of the Colorado River; downtown and the Capitol are to the north), while the smaller ones mostly date from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, with unbuilt lots filling in since then.

We've been here for nearly 25 years (which explains why we can afford to be here now) and have witnessed a lot of changes but the last few years have been extreme. Starting two or three years ago we finally started seeing the teardowns that have plagued other similar neighborhoods here and elsewhere. Developers bought vacant lots or smaller, run-down houses and in their stead built enormous monoliths, some as large as 4,000 square feet, on fairly small lots. Some of those structures were the impetus for a new city ordinance passed last year that became known as the McMansion ordinance. I'm not an expert on the details but I know it applies to central city, older neighborhoods where smaller houses were being overwhelmed by out-of-scale newer structures. The ordinance limits the size and height of both new houses and additions more strictly than the previous ordinance and, while some of us applaud it and hope it will help maintain the character of these older neighborhoods, it has been controversial.

We built an addition to our house last year (designed and permitted before the new ordinance was initiated) and we felt a responsiblity not to build something that would tower over our neighbors or intrude more than was absolutely necessary on their ability to enjoy their outdoor spaces. I don't mean to be too self-congratulatory but I think we succeeded in that goal. It was an important part of the process for us.

I suppose we knew all along that others might not have the same attitude. We've witnessed that all over the neighborhood so why not next door to us? Of course, we don't know for sure what our across-the-alley neighbors are planning (although we have been analysing their building permit, available on-line) but we've now started pondering the implications of the duplex next door to us on the north. Prime development potential, we now see. Rental units in the neighborhood have disappeared as house prices have gone up (we both moved to the neighborhood initially as renters) and the lot is surely worth a fortune, while the duplex itself is rather dumpy. If it was razed and a new structure — even one meeting the McMansion ordinance requirements — replaced it, it would overlook our backyard and our up-to-now lovely and private new porch.

Yesterday we were talking about calling the duplex owner (who doesn't live there) and telling her that, if she ever decides to sell, we'd like to make an offer. Then at least it would be in our control. I don't know that we could afford such a step but at least then I wouldn't be considering the need for a 10-foot-tall hedge along the north edge of my garden.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bloom day addenda

I can't believe I forgot about these bluebonnets that have been blooming beside our carport for the last few weeks. I always — almost always — love a volunteer in the garden and, although these volunteers haven't quite made it into the garden, they're still welcome. I have no idea where they came from. Birds, I suppose, but there aren't any bluebonnets particularly close to us. They did come up in an area where the soil was disturbed during last year's construction so maybe there were seeds in the soil and the disruption caused them to germinate. Whatever the reason, I'm hoping they spread. Any tips on helping that happen?

I also forgot about another plant that's sending up blooms: my manfreda maculosa. That's not the giant manfreda I posted a close-up of a few weeks ago (and which is supposed to produce a giant bloom stalk, maybe in May) but its daintier relative. You can see a picture of the bloom stalk and a link to the flowers on Digging's Bloom Day report.

April bloggers' bloom day

I'm pleased to participate for the second month in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, sponsored by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Ever since my photography breakthrough (relative though it may be) a week ago or so, I've been looking forward to the chance to record the garden in its April moment.

Here's what's blooming in my south Austin garden this beautiful Sunday.

All four roses are blooming. From the top, the new Cecille Brunner in a pot; Climbing Pinkie (check out my last post for a view of this whole plant; she's been stunning for a week now); Old Blush, past her first flush of bloom but working on another; and Maggie, so sweetly scented and about to burst with blooms.

I couldn't resist posting a picture of my rescued-from-the-construction columbine in both bud and flower.

Here are two flowers so delicate that I had a hard time getting a good picture. At the top is bush germander (Teucrium fruticans); this picture makes the flowers look much larger than they really are. At the bottom is Gulf Coast penstemon (Penstemon tenius).

These are the flowers of two succulents. The top is a plant that was a gift a few years. I can't remember what it's called but these blooms appear on a tall stalk. And I can't remember what the bottom plant is called either but you can see it in the background and I'm sure someone will tell me what it is.

These are two of the six salvias I have in the garden. At the top is a fuschia salvia greggii and below salvia nemarosa "May Night" (I have another clump of salvia that was sold to me as salvia superba "May Night"; they look identical). Cedar sage (Salvia roemariana) is also blooming but for the life of me I couldn't get a good shot of it; Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is also sending up a few bloom stalks, although it's mostly a fall bloomer.

Here are two in bud and oh so close to flowering. At the top is red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) and at the bottom the annual cleome, planted from transplants not seed. Also in bud are winecups (Callirhoe involucrata), California poppies (from transplants, planted very late), and zexmenia.

And here are two final perennials (well a tree and a perennial): The anacacho orchid tree again and a globe mallow (Sphaeralcea), variety unknown.

And one annual that I wasn't going to post (from a big pot of pansies and violas that I'm hoping will hold on for one more week as the temperatures rise). I couldn't resist the face of this viola.

A few other things are flowering that I didn't include: orange and yellow bulbine, a Laura Bush petunia that survived in a pot from last fall, purple and lavender verbena in a pot, and a fuschia bougainvillea (but it was blooming when I bought it so it may not count).

Whew. This is a busy time in a Central Texas garden. If the temperatures don't skyrocket the garden should be in peak form for another month or two and then I'll be reduced to the truly tough plants.