Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Just Chillin'

Those of us who were in Austin during the early 80s remember it as a time when:
  • Friends and acquaintances went bankrupt due to the exigencies of crashing real estate prices
  • The pipes froze and the pittosporums died
Whenever the weatherman/woman starts jabbering about the three Ps, I always groan. It’s a “boy who cried wolf” thing. Terrifying homeowners about false fears, only leads to complacency and potential for real harm. The temperature dipping to 25 overnight and rebounding to 45 during the day is a completely different experience than being BELOW FREEZING FOR 3 DAYS.
But the weather folks never say that.
In 1982, after a 3-day bout of continuous sub-zero temps, many Austin landscapes were forever transformed. Common foundation planting shrubs, like pittosporum, which at the time were heavily planted all over town in gracious homes in Tarrytown and UT beds, were dead as doornails. People noticed that practically the one thing standing was red-tipped photinia. And now we see photinia ubiquitous in commercial and home settings. This is the pendulum of common taste (as it affects the garden) in full swing. File it under yellow lantana and more recently, esperanza.
Gardeners, like farmers, know that there is a huge element of chance in their strivings. Austin gardeners are intimate with drought and brutal heat; but we were caught off guard by the bizarre nonstop summer rains and many rosemarys rotted away.
The moral I guess, is plant what you love and hope for the best.
Meanwhile, just in case, I brought my embryo topiary loquats inside.


Anonymous said...

I get annoyed with the weathermen drama, too. They report the ABIA temperatures which are always much lower than Austin central where the historical records were not much of a comparison.

Although I lived out Bee Caves Rd in 1982, I didn't do much gardening then and so I don't remember it nearly as well as say, January 1984 when temps plunged into the teens, the water main on S 1st broke (I'd just moved into apartments opposite) and the resulting sheet of ice on that steep hill blocked us in.

Best of all was was snowing this time of year in 1986. I think that was the last time we had snow that accumulated on the ground (three or four inches) and lasted a couple of days.

Anonymous said...

I didn't live in Austin then, but I've heard the tales. Alas for the pittosporum, which I actually quite like though I don't have one. I wonder how they kept the monster, aged pittosporums in Zilker's Japanese garden alive?

Melissa is right that the weathermen and the paper often trumpet the ABIA temps rather than the central-Austin Camp Mabry temps, which are frequently 10 degrees warmer.

Annie in Austin said...

Hi Kiwi,

I got here even later than Pam, but have heard stories from my neighbors here in NW Austin about entire hedges of viburnum and Indian Hawthorne that died in the early 80's. Planting sub-tropical shrubs is so tempting - I'll be in trouble if we dip too low for too long.

Topiary loquats? Very intriguing!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

PS What are Sleeping Princesses? Some kind of bulb?