Monday, December 29, 2008

You are a fountain of wisdom

I need your help, garden bloggers. I would like to put in a pond/water feature/fountain, and I can't wait for my usual 10 years of mulling. Here's my current backyard plan. I spend a lot of time on my deck and would like to be able to see/hear the trickle from the deck. I've thought about a pre-fab Italianate lion head mounted on the wall above the rosebed or a stock tank pond along the hardscape path that runs by the deck.
So if you are still sitting around in your pajamas on xmas vacay and have nothing better to do, please send any ideas my way. Let's pretend money is no object for the sake of totally unleashing your creativity.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Who’s walking down the streets of the city, smiling at everybody she sees?

Yeah, that would be Windy. And frankly, I always thought that Windy, as commemorated in song by The Association, had a dark side to her apparent nonstop ecstasy. There were definite implications of a Crazy Lady thing going on. A little too frenetic and happy, know what I mean? This infernal wind has the same general tone of borderline personality disorder. Oh, it seems benign, but it gets a little whipped up and just never stops. And it just seems ODD.

Safely protected from this wind, the Rainbow Knockouts are thriving. They were massively verklempt after the summer heat, but now they've regained their composure and their true sunlit pink.

I planted a holiday poinsettia in the ground after Christmas last year and now it appears to be fixing to bloom. It's a white flowered variety.

The Icebergs are also blooming prolifically; but since they are exposed to the street frontage, suffer from the wind. Tonight on my walk in the 'hood, the wind was out of the south at a steady 15 knots by the look of the windsock at Dept. of Health. says gusting to 28mph. Maybe we should install windmills on our houses instead of solar panels. If you're thinking, why doesn't she shut up about the wind, go read someone else's blog. I'm telling you right now: this wind ain't natural.
Charles survived the so-called freeze. He was bundled in his makeshift tent but I don't think it froze here as some of my unprotected plants in front also seem unfazed. He is busy producing another flush of buds, so in about 3 weeks, if I can keep them safe, there will be another performance of the yellow bells. Helping this brug winter over has now become my raison d'etre. Yes, I know, get a life. But really, it helps to focus on trivial matters when the world is spinning around, doesn't it?

Somewhere between the trivial and very important is the save-the-date postcard I'm working on for Grace's wedding. It's a take-off on old timey postcards; I plan to have the printer leave the job untrimmed and then cut them myself with deckle-edge scissors. Among the Narrangansett motifs, I included the heavenly Rosa Rugosa on the lower left-hand side of the image. This seashore-loving rose grows in dense thickets along the coastline and its scent is an intense mix of rose, lemon and seaspray. And, with red roses being the symbol of love, this bit of Rhode Island botany seemed just right.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Having a little beach withdrawal, aggravated by having to actually dress "professionally" for a client meeting today. Rough after three days of basically living in pajamas. A little gouache from this weekend at Port Aransas that conveys the late November mix of ocean, dunes, and wild brush. And a Toyota Camry.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Much to be thankful for

We made our annual pilgrimage to Port Aransas to celebrate Thanksgiving. Lots of food, pies, wine, scrabble, long walks, and shelling. We had a bonfire/hootenanny on one of the cool nights.

The dunes at Port Aransas are looking taller and healthier than I've ever seen them. The vegetation is something to behold especially in the fall. The grass seedtops turn silver, red, and chestnut.

Mimosa Strigillosa or powderpuff plant. It looks more like a fiber optic pompon than a powderpuff. It was growing along the path from our condo. It's about the size of a large gumball and only an inch off the ground. Sweet.

Beach Evening Primrose (Oenothera Drummondii)
These seem to bloom year-round at Port A. These were wide open at 8 a.m. in the morning.

Common Broomweed?
Hard to tell, there are so many yellow aster-like daisy varieties.

On the way home, we stopped at Goose Island State Park to see the Big Tree. This coastal liveoak is supposedly more than 1000 years old. To be honest, it didn't strike me as that big. The copse of oaks nearby were more striking. And for some insane reason the TPWD has put up a hideous chain link fence around the Big Tree. The fence is only about 4ft tall, so anyone could hop over it, so it's not doing any good as protection.

Two views of the nearby motte of oaks. All of the oaks along this stretch of coast have this drastically tormented look from being subjected to prevailing offshore winds. We came back through Luling, where at my favorite plant stand last year I got the Knockout roses. Fortunately with Will and Rachel's gear on top of mine, there was no room to cram any plants in, so we kept on rolling. It didn't rain while we were in Port A and I arrived home to find nothing in the rain gauge either. The drought is now about a year on.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What freeze?

After seeing the magnificent Pindo Palm at Peckerwood Garden last week, I came back determined to plant one at Aurora. Shoalcreek Nursery had some really healthy looking specimens, so doing my part to keep the economy from sinking I sank my own $40 into this plant last weekend. It took me a week to mull over where it might best be situated. This spot gets full blast-furnace sun during midday, and filtered sun the remainder. I put it in a bed of decomposed granite to keep its little feet dry and happy. Supposedly they are very slow growing, but its graceful arching form is already quite lovely to look at. I think the Peckerwood one was 10 years old; it was around 15 ft. and had its own little microclimate under its canopy.

Here's my dear Charles, who braved the terrible non-freeze just fine. Isn't he handsome? I'm devising a lean-to plastic-sheeting tent against the fence to see if I can keep him alive over the winter; possible using a shop light for warmth.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Garden Day Bloom Bellyaching

Another bloom day arrives at Aurora with nothing much to add to the sum of gardening splendor. The Iceberg roses in front are blooming but the petals are wrenched from their stems about an hour after opening by this crazy wind and then strewn about the yard like styrofoam peanuts.

The white plumbago is pretty; but the four plants all take turns flowering, so there is never a mass display which is what I was striving for. Striving plays a big part in my garden vocab. Despite my careful study I am unable to discern the bud/flower/seed pattern in the plumbago so I am never certain when to shear off. I cannot tell what is past flower and what is new flower bud.

The Pink Knockouts are doing better now that the heat is over. Although their color still seems washed out. I would like to say that this photo doesn’t do them justice, but in fact, the color is accurate. I’ve been feeding the living daylights out of them, so I don’t know what more I can do.

Ah, the Port St. John Creeper, the English sheepdog of vines. A shaggy slobbering happy pink blob that is always happy to see you. And it has a two-fer aroma package: the desert willow scent of its flowers and the pinto bean pungency of its crushed stems and leaves.

Here’s poor ’ol Charles Grimaldi, who’ll probably be goners by the morning if the predicted freeze happens. He’s loaded down with buds and not one has yet struggled into bloom. Charles has been thoroughly watered and tonight he'll don his newly-purchased little jacket (a length of foam pipe wrap) so maybe he’ll live to see some bloom. But I think there’s another Arctic front coming mid-week so his future is doubtful.

In preparation for colder temps, I ventured in to the small shed built into the garage, where I keep large pots and cuttings over the winter. I haven’t been in there since last spring. To my horror I saw that I had overlooked a baby yucca. It has been in there unwatered all through this past dire summer. I felt like Hitler.

It looks pretty damn good, all things considered. No amount of striving needed for this hardy survivor.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Quercus Maximus!

The "hallway" at Peckerwood
(A creek is on the left)
A bunch of Austin bloggeners took a field trip today to Peckerwood, architect and plant collector, John Fairey's, life work in Hempstead. Thanks to Diana at Sharing Nature's Garden for pulling this together. Peckerwood is more of an arboretum really, since trees, or really, oaks are the star of this acreage. Oaks and more oaks, in varieties quite amazing. Some pines, magnolias, lots of palms, agaves, and cycads. But really LOTS OF OAKS.
Our guide, Chris Camacho, was very patient and answered our bazillion questions and was amazingly knowledgable about his botany. He is one of two fulltime gardeners. The creekside hallway was my favorite part of Peckerwood. This long corridor of lawn is mostly in shade bordered by pines and a creek on one side and a low hedge of palms on the other. It was like a giant green bowling alley and made me realize how a longing for emerald lawns is deeply embedded in our DNA.

This tree is a Japanese oak. Click on this picture to enlarge so you can see how fab this tree is. It has white limbs on a multi-branching trunk with glossy dark green leaves in a huge arching canopy. It is elegant and at the same time, very sturdy and bold. Texas sabals can be seen at the foot. The "hallway" continues winding back to the left.

Toward the house the arboretum ends and a more planned garden takes hold, with a spikey mix of agaves, yucca, cacti, cycads and palms. Guide Chris pointed out that John Fairey is not very interested in flowers and has even been known to lop off blooms that get in the way of his structural vision. His one indulgence is apparently camellias. This part of Texas, Waller County, has soil that is neutral, neither acid nor alkali, so the diversity of plants that can grow there is vast.

Behind this feathery Muhly grass is a 5-foot crinum, streaked with magenta and green.

This Pindo palm might work well in my backyard. Hmmm...

After spending several hours grilling Chris with questions, we were starving and adjourned to lunch at the Secret Garden Cafe in Hempstead. It was a fun day and it's great to be with fellow gardeners who never tire of obsessing over arcane plant minutiae. Check out more Peckerwood pics & posts at Digging, Zanthan, Good & Evil, Sharing Nature's Garden, Vert, and Conscious Gardening.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Estamos en una sequía

Sounds prettier in Spanish does’t it?
Well, this about says it all, in whatever language. It was a year ago at the end of October when I planted the front bed. And now looking back, I can see we were already in the beginning of this drought.
Whatevs. Like a bad economy, the weather is something out of our control and history tells us, it’ll swing around at some point.
On the plus side, there are TWENTY SEVEN buds on Charles Grimaldi and the milder temps mean that the roses are back in business.
If you haven’t voted or are still, inexplicably, undecided, please e-mail me and I’ll personally drive you to the polls and buy you a black & tan at Flying Saucer. Seriously.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

East Coast Envy

Under the Apple Tree

Visited daughter Grace in Boston last week and went apple-picking. Whenever I go to a more temperate climate, I always wonder why I even bother gardening. The soil, the rainfall, the temperate growing season all make me depressed about my efforts in this heat-blasted rockpile we call home.
We picked Empires and Courtlands on a gorgeous day.

Rock wall at Arnold Arboretum, Boston

This rock spews out of the ground everywhere in Massachusetts; it's a gray-green granite. Tumbling over the wall is a vining hydrangea. The Arboretum has wonderful zones of birches, beeches, plane trees, oaks, and every other specimen tree. The fall color was just beginning.

Weeping Beech

I can never get over these trees. They are huge for one thing, and their Cousin Itt drooping growth pattern is so unusual. The copper beeches are impossible to photograph; their scale is so off the charts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Current Events

Have been so taken with headline news, have no energy to garden.
Posted on daughter Rachel's blog. It's way off-topic, so don't read if you are avoiding any exposure to sentient thought, or reality, or the uncertain future.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Color of the Day: Red

Bougainvillea Barbara Karst

Today robins arrived en masse. They act like a bunch of fat-cat conventioneers that all got off the tour bus at Aurora to chill at the lobby bar birdbath. It's fun to see them swaggering around in their red vests. They are remarkably tame and pay no attention to me while I'm puttering in their midst.

In the front yard, a red menace. I got caught by a stealth bomber, an unseen nest of fire ants. By the time I looked down to notice the first bite, my foot was covered with swarming ants. Anyone who lives in Fire Ant Country will know the horror. Even having a hose in hand was no help as they cannot be washed off; they cling like glue. My foot is covered in bites; my foot and leg on fire with pain and itching. Next will be the blistering and scarring. I forgot to include this misery in my previous post on garden hazards.

Daniel, who has been trimming my trees for 25 years, came by this week to clear out dead limbs from a red oak. Poor guy looked like he'd been in a bar fight; his eye was completely swollen shut and the size of a golf ball--he'd been stung by a bee while up in a tree, with a chainsaw in hand! Let's choices are: death by falling, electrocution, or stinging insect bombardment.

Pam's post at Digging about getting her agave out without bloodshed is all the more a miracle. Be careful out there gardeners!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

End of Term Report Card

Knockout Rose : A+
Showed great resiliency in the face of high temps and drought. Blooms continued, though they were drained of their true color by the heat. Go to the head of the class.

Plumbago: A
I only have the white flower kind and it did well, despite a tendency to go chlorotic. This could be due to the fact that they are in terrible soil and in day-long brutal sun near the street. I recently planted 6 more of these during the worst heat and they are establishing quickly.

Annual Vinca: A+
I normally hate this bedding plant and associate it with soulless parking-lot landscaping. But I was taken by a variety that has a clear lavender color with a white eye. I bought a flat of them and put them in every pot I could find. For most of the summer they have been the only spot of prettiness in my otherwise wind-and heat-parched garden. I have dragged this strawberry pot around for 20 years and nothing has been able to endure its drainhole construction--except the vinca. Bravo little commercial bedding plant wonder!

Variegated Ginger (Alpinina Zerumbet): A
I inherited this plant when I bought my house. Not my first choice, due to its streaky yellow/green coloring. But it has won my respect for its drought-tolerance and robust growth. It's in dappled shade. I'm seriously thinking about planting more in my other shady zones, since it clearly loves the soil conditions here at Aurora.

Port St. John Creeper: B+
I would give this an A, except that it does love its water. If this is invasive, sign me up.

Brugmansia Charles Grimaldi: Incomplete; taking course as Pass/Fail
Gotta love its dingle-dangle blossoms and lemon-cream perfume. Whether it will survive the winter and get established as small ornamental tree is in Mother Nature's hands.

Palm Grass: C
This really should be doing better than it is. It's planted in full shade at the foot of a water faucet, for gosh sake! I first fell in love with this at Big Red Sun. The lush tropical fronds. The gentle rustling sound it makes. Maybe it just needs more time.

Inland Sea Oats, Salvia Greggii, Flame Acanthus: C-
This is a disgruntled group. They were all brought over from my previous house where they were star performers. They appear to be nursing a grudge against their new environment and exhibit no interest in settling in, growing, or expanding. I can only assume they were happier in caliche than the miserable clay they now live on. I'm counting on time to sort this out.

Over Hybridized Lantana: D-
These were here when I arrived. They are the variety that have a fuschia-orange-yellow bouquet. Very pretty. Also require deep irrigation a bazillion times a day in order not to look like they're keeling over. I will be digging these up and giving them a last chance in pots next year.

Pink Indigo: D-; recommended for Remedial Studies
This shrub has some fine qualities: lacy foliage, melted-strawberry ice cream blossoms throughout the summer. But it definitely is a Big Fat Baby when it comes to water. I plan to dig it up and move it to either a more deeply shaded location or to a large planter and keep it as a patio plant.

Elephant Ears: F
Okay, I should have known better. But I was remembering the ginormous ones in my mother's garden and I succumbed. I forgot that she was the Lance Armstrong of the San Antonio water system and stood over her elephant ears with a running hose 24/7. My bad.