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.