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.