Sunday, December 30, 2007

Planting on December 30!

This morning jonesing for some garden action, I swung by Shoal Creek Nursery and Lowes to see if there was anything interesting or inspiring. SCN had some bluebonnet bedding plants which I briefly considered for the front. But I’ve had such heartbreak with bloobs in the past and let’s face it, they belong in a meadow not an urban border.

At Lowes I bought four more Rainbow Knockouts for the sidebed. I may have a serious addiction here. This plant makes me happy. Love, loave, LURVE the color, even the rosehips are divine.
Spent the afternoon playing scrabble and Blokus on the deck with daughter, her BF and his pal. They finally left to go play Chicken Bingo at Ginny’s Little Longhorn and I immediately got busy planting.

This space is just a rectangle sandwiched between the deck and some paving and the wood privacy fence, where my neighbor’s English ivy creeps over. I like the fact that it will be a display spot you can gaze down on from the deck. In my Vale house the yard was so big that you really couldn’t see the perimeter beds from the house or patio. Now that I’ve got the roses situated, I need to figure out some kind of edging, either liriope or maybe miniature boxwoods since the space is so angular. I’m not sure how big the roses will get, so I’ll have to go slow on adding fill-in plants. I have a beautiful pale pink salvia at Vale that would be lacey and pretty amongst the roses.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

God’s Own Leaf Blower

Can’t remember a winter with more bouts of howling winds. I’ve no sooner raked up the leaves in the street gutter and dumped them on the compost, when the entire contents of a neighbor’s red oak or sycamore tree has been blown onto my curb again.
Not complaining, mind you. More leaves for mulching, etc. Plus, daughter Grace, home on holidays from Providence, RI, showed me the pix she took right before leaving. A very scenic whiteout blizzard covering every house, hill, and dale. Very pretty, as long as you don’t have to drive, dig out, run errands, etc.
Today I cut back the cannas, which had finally got a bit froststruck. The front yard, which is sheltered and southerly, seems still fairly unscathed with the Blue Daze intact. Everything in the new front bed looks pretty tatty except for the Iceberg roses. I probably should just cut everything back severely, but I’m waiting for a hard freeze to force my hand on this.
The only other gardening news is the appearance of Sleeping Princesses in the backyard on the afternoon of Christmas Day. These rare bulbs are a delightful addition to any garden and do best in a patch of lawn where there's sunlight and mild temps.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tropicana Dreams

This morning before dashing off to work I took this happy little snap of one of the rosebushes I bought in Luling that were supposedly Knockouts. Neither the leaf nor the bloom color look like the standard KR. The KR website lists a variety called Rainbow Knock Out Rose that “covers itself with coral pink blooms painted with rich yellow at the base.” Maybe that’s what these are. They’re throwing off buds and blooms like crazy and seem to be immune to the blackspot that’s rampant with this on/off hot humid weather.

I’m in the process of digging up my side yard for a new bed that sits along my patio. A coral-based showcase might be interesting: The Rainbow Knockouts, flame acanthus, a hot pink and orange canna or two, some tangerine impatiens along the border, old reliable pavonia, that orangey zinnia. Oh, and some four-o’clocks, the mutant ones that have yellow streaked with cerise.Some giant purple/green leafy things mixed in, banana, ginger or something.

The Spineybacked Orbweaver

One of the side benefits of gardening is coming into regular and intimate contact with the insect world. Pam at Digging has mentioned the recent influx of ladybugs in our neighborhood. In my yard, this was a passing flux. More enduring has been the presence of Gasteracantha Elipsoides, or the Spineybacked Orbweaver, the spider that has established its tiny but ornate empire in several corners of my garden. Shaped like a crab, with spiky horns, and decorative spots, this spider spins a large ornate web every evening, suspended by whatever stanchions it can find: eaves, porch railings, tree branches. The one over my head at this very moment has woven its web daily in the same corner of my deck for the past 3 months. Though miniature, this spider is quite as beautiful as any flower in bloom, and a welcome companion—especially since, despite its prickly appearance, it is harmless to humans. Thanks to for the photo; my camera cannot do justice to the closeup.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Remembering Gus

Pam at Digging was kind enough to point out that my Comments function had disappeared. It made me realize how fragile this electronic blog was; dependent upon my nonexistent html skills and haphazard blogspot support. I turned back to my hardcopy journal wherein I paste plant sticks, sketch plans, and add random notes of freezes, drought, personal data. I still keep this notebook, which is messy, dirt-stained, and something you can hold on to.
Here’s a page showing a sketch of Gus, our golden, who was put down in July. I called him my gardening buddy, as he would insist on accompanying me in my toil, doing his dutiful fenceline perimeter checks, snuffling among the esperanza and pavonia, getting myriad wild carrot burrs stuck on his fur. No blog could possibly hold the magic of Gus, but this drawing comes as close as I’ll get. He was like my journal, a muddy and steadfast companion in the garden. Many will miss him.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Me Gusto Ligustrum

Yes, they were overplanted in years past. It’s true they’re subject to unsightly mildew. And my own patio has been the victim of the purple shit-astrophe that occurs every spring when packs of cedar waxwings descend on their berries. Most grievously, many consider them an invasive scourge.
But when the holidays come around, ligustrum is the best freebie decorating resource around. Their bay-leaf shaped foliage is ramshackle lushness writ large. And the dusty blue berries, are gorgeous pendants of autumn abundance. Cuttings of ligustrum can be stuck in any container and look great.
I have no ligustrum in my current yard, a rarity in a home built in the 40s. But it’s easy enough to find them in empty lots, alleys, and byways. Harvesting ligustrum for the home keeps berries from the birds (preventing them from being disseminated in poop and germinating new plants) and also fills your home with a beauty that rivals anything in the pricey floral departments at Central Market or Whole Foods.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

O Joy!

Dragged all my patio pots inside last night expecting a killing frost. But the cannas and impatiens are still alive and kicking. The big excitement in the garden is the appearance of tiny violet-shaded buds all along the stems of the winter honeysuckle. The blooms are inconsequential, but their divine fragrance scents the backyard til spring.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gardening: A Contact Sport?

Nine days ago I was dragging a wire trellis to the garden shed when I tripped on it and fell splat forward. The trellis banged off the top of my ankle instantly raising a golfball-sized swelling. This was two hours before I was to get on a plane to Chicago, so I rushed inside to elevate and ice. It seemed to be doing okay until Monday when the bump turned a suspicious Knockout Rose-red. A trip to the doctor and one lancing later, I am still alive and at this moment, MRSA-free.

I’ll spare us all the posting of the gory photos. But it got me thinking about the health hazards involved in gardening: poison ivy, wasps, toxic thorns, cactus spines, sun exposure, lower back pain, and of course, the classic Green Thumb. My mother spent several years struggling with this fungal infection; it was a painful and stubbornly persistent.

Perhaps the most potentially lethal of all is the ladder-related mishap. I cite the hilarious passage from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, wherein the narrator, after putting away several scotches, is out on his deck barbecuing and is suddenly seized with the notion that the Hedges Must Be Trimmed, never mind the fact that it is night. He gets out the ladder and begins shearing the bushes. Being drunk, he decides that rather than climb up and down to move the ladder along the hedgerow, he’ll grab hold of the ladder and “jump” it sideways. A trip to the emergency room ensues.

So no drinking and trimming, unless it’s eggnog and a Christmas tree.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Bulk Collection Week

I was in the front garden smashing aphids which have infested the iceberg roses, when I looked up to see Bertha, my 90-year old neighbor arriving at her curb with a handtruck bearing a concrete birdbath basin. The base was already at the curb.
Now even with a dolly, there has to have been some lifting involved. I have a 90-year old aunt, so I know what 90 looks like and Bertha looks around 75. Yet even most 75-year old folks would hesitate before manhandling an unwieldy and heavy piece of concrete. I have a hard time righting my own birdbath after the squirrels knock it over.

Bertha’s lived on the street for more than 50 years, since before it was paved. Her garden is very minimal but charming; her son dug up all the Sabal Minor palms in Beaumont and brought them to Austin. I can’t wait til my Sabals get as big as Bertha’s.

It’s nice to think about sleepy little Austin in 1941, the year my house was built. In this picture presumably taken that year, you can see the house and garage, the unpaved street, and what appears to be a cedar break beyond. What amazes me is that the spectacular liveoak that shelters my front yard is nowhere to be seen in this photo. I always thought of liveoaks as slow growers, but apparently in 60 years they can become giants.

I found this photo in a box with old mortgage papers; the house originally cost $2300.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Flashback: The Espalier

At my former home I trained a pyracantha on the brick wall of my boring 60s’ rancher. The pyracantha thrived in its fairly shady spot and grew quickly. Toxic thorns don’t make pyracantha the easiest plant to work with, but its glossy evergreen leaves and orange fall berries are worth the trouble.
I purposely set out to make the espalier pattern not symmetrical, preferring to let the vine’s natural curves be the guide. My own affinity for curlicues and scrollwork admittedly was also in play and the result is decidedly unconventional. Some might say even weird. Passers-by would ask what kind of plant it was, thinking that you could buy a plant that grew that way.

I used the Wayward Vine support sold at most nurseries; it’s a little concrete button with a wire hook that you cement onto your masonry. The early picture was taken in 1998 after I first planted the pyracantha; the second picture is four years later in 2002.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hazy Shade of Winter

Just got back from business trip to Chicago, where I noticed that some kind of vine is planted along the concrete retaining walls on the freeway leading to the airport. Now that it’s winter and their leaves have gone, these vines make the most beautiful pattern on the concrete, like an engraving or a grisaille painting, the monochrome technique Renaissance artists used for decorative ceilings and walls. There’s something to admire in northern climes' elegant winter spareness that we don’t really get here in Austin, with our liveoak, mountain laurels, and other deciduous evergreens.

The Chicago retaining walls reminded me of interior designer Rose Tarlow’s house in Los Angeles. She lets some kind of vine actually grow into her windows and climb up her living room walls. Apparently she periodically tears off parts of the vine, leaving the vegetal sucker material as a ghostly tracery on the walls. (Anyone who has ever torn English ivy from a wall, will know a similar residual pattern.) Amazing, yet I'm not sure I'd want to endanger my property value by “trying this at home.” Also, I have a hard enough time just keeping a pot of ivy alive indoors.

Meanwhile before I left for Chicago, I took all the tender babies into the shed.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Certainly not Christmas. But the plants are loving it. The pink salvia greggii that I wrenched from old house two weeks ago, stuck in the new front bed, and cut back to the stems immediately put out new growth and is now blooming. All the iceberg roses have also taken off and sprouted new buds, as well as pervasive black spot, not surprising given the damp and humidity. I've fallen hopelessly in love with the icebergs; I hope they don't do me wrong. They're like a summer ballgown made of white silk.
Meanwhile this funny little plant I got at Shoal Creek Nursery keeps on churning out its buttercups. Somehow I managed to not write down the name of this plant, which has a woody stalk and small almond-shaped leaves that are not particularly attractive. But the yellow flowers make up for the blah foliage. Anyone know what this is is?