Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bloom Day

Starting a new garden is really testing my patience. Not much is really going on here at Aurora with the exception of the Neverending Cycle of the Liveoak Leaf Drop. Can I just say how much I loathe liveoaks? I know this is not a popular opinion, but as a yard tree they bite. There are few things that will grow beneath their canopy (aspidistras, liriope, indian hawthorne, blue shade; I think that covers it), and they spend about six months of the year in their twice-a-year leafdrop process. First they throw off little fuzzy caterpillar-bloom things which are tracked into the house on clothes, dogs, and shoes and then it's about 3 weeks of spewing tons of yellow pollen powder (which impacts the walls of the house, cars, patio furniture, and, oh yeah, LUNGS). Then there are the leaves themselves which take a leisurely two months or so to completely drop in succeeding waves of snowdrift-like heaps. These leaves have the biodegradable quotient of Kevlar. In the lawn, acorn caps, detached from the nut, are as painful to bare feet as sticker burs. I do not know where in this cycle the phenomenon of the oak gall occurs. But it really is the liveoak's coup de grace of annoyance. These hard round balls lie camoflaged in the oakleaf debris, ready to send the idle gardener (namely, me), into a logrolling pratfall with one false step.
But enough of this raving. Here's what bloomed today.

Rainbow knockout with pretty bug (hope he likes aphids)

Blackfoot daisy

Mountain Laurel, which is having a boom year all over town.

It would be helpful if I kept better records. I put in four crossvines in two varieties, Dragon Lady and Tangerine Dream. I can't tell which this is even after consulting the hang tags and google search; it's not the usual orange one. Not sure if I like it.

A flop-eared mutabilis.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Volunteer Vine

A vine has turned up in my front bed. It’s really pretty so I hope it has some staying power. It’s very delicate; somewhat like cypress vine with pinnate leaves and twining antennae that are as slender as sewing thread. The cerise blossom looks like a sweet pea but is the size of a grain of rice. It’s just as sweet as can be, once you get down on the ground with a magnifying glass and can actually see it. It would make an ideal vine for a pergola at Barbie’s dream house. If this sounds familiar, please let me know what the heck it is. Unless it's some horrible invasive scourge that will suck all the nutrients out of my yard; that I would rather not know. Let me have my illusions.I spent part of this gorgeous spring afternoon in the fascinating garden of Melissa at Zanthan; she generously shared with me some California poppy seedlings (after I boo-hooed that none of my seeds came up). Thanks Melissa and I hope can keep them alive!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Brush Country

This weekend I went for a long overdue visit to my sister and her husband at their home, a cattle ranch outside of Encinal, 4o miles north of Laredo. When you are traveling at 70 miles an hour on I-35, this countryside looks bleak and featureless. But when you are on foot, walking through it, you see why many people come to develop an attachment for this land. Its beauty is intricate, elusive, and always comes with brutal thorns. Hunters love it and this area is one of the most coveted regions in Texas in which to hunt (it's where Dick Cheney had his shooting mishap). For my sister, Janet Krueger, who is the current Texas State Artist, the brush country and its culture is a central theme of many of her works.One of my favorite pastimes when I visit the ranch, is taking long walks to observe the land, its vegetation, and the sightings of critters.

Janet with cactus, an heirloom she brought from our mother's garden.

Flowering black brush acacia at left.

Black brush closeup; smells great.

Amargosa, pretty evergreen and armed with long thorns

Black brush and prickly pear


An arrowhead with broken point

Guayacan, which resembles prostrate rosemary, even has little blue flower (plus thorns...)

Century plant agaves

Skeletons of past century plant blooms

Aptly name, All-thorn or “Corona del Cristo”.

There is a caracara nest at the top of this ladder. This is very large raptor, sometimes called the Mexican eagle. In flight, the bird is beautiful with striking black and white markings. I climbed up the ladder to see if the mother was there. Yes, I'm an idiot. Once I saw she was there, I realized why she was not concerned. Her beak could probably have coldcocked me with one blow.

So of course, once up there, I attempted to get a shot. If you blow this up you can just see her beak to the right of the top of the large stick.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Betty's Garden

Layanee’s post at Ledge and Garden about her father inspired me to write about my own gardening mentor. Barely five feet, my mother Betty McLaren had a personality as big as her adopted Texas. A native New Zealander, Betty came to the US to marry her Navy sweetheart (my dad) in 1946. They soon moved to Texas where Betty dug herself in, literally, creating elaborate gardens at every home we lived in. A lifelong smoker (Lucky Strikes), bridge player, gin & tonic drinker, stay-at-home mom, autodidact, accomplished seamstress, and artist in many media, my mother rarely sat still.

Relentlessly creative, she mastered woodcarving, furniture building, batik, papier maché, oils, embroidery, decoupage, and her true métier, watercolors. My walls are filled with her remarkable paintings of landscapes, San Antonio Fiesta celebrations, Mexican markets, and beach scenes.

But my mother’s largest canvas and her masterwork was her garden. I remember staying home from school one day when I was in the sixth grade (sort of sick but really just needing a mental health day) and enjoying the great luxury of having Mom all to myself. We dug a hole in the back yard, mixed cement, and created a small pond. This was one of three ponds my mother eventually built in her yard. Fish, fountains, pumps, cypress plants, lilies; something was always being transplanted or improved, winding brick paths laid, new beds dug. The patio which started out by the kitchen door, kept growing until it wrapped around the whole side of the house and was filled with hundreds of pots of impatiens, firecracker fern, pentas, twining cypress vine. Her yard was packed with crepe myrtles, trumpet vine, pomegranite, plumbago, oxblood and day lilies, pyracantha, turk's cap, tradescantia, physotegia, elephant ears, philodendron, ferns, and nameless climbing roses. In the mild San Antonio winters, my mother was able to grow violets; and the memory of collecting little nosegays of violets with Mom and my two small daughters is as sweet as their smell. My mother loved a challenge and succeeded in growing in the ground tropicals like plumeria, croton, and bananas. If you closely at this photo, you'll see that she is eyeing a bunch of green bananas on this tree. Twelve years after her death, an immense hot pink bougainvillea, that must be around 30 years old, continues to thrive and bloom in the front yard of her garden undaunted by winter cold.

Curving beds, no straight angles. Ruthless pruning and getting rid of weak or untidy growth. Patience and the long view. Having a big vision that informs one’s garden plan. Scale, pattern, and texture matter as much or more than flowers. These are some of the things about gardening I learned from my mother.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cajun Shrimp

That's the name of this OPI nail color and nothing says “spring planting” like this color mixed with a little dirt and set off by oxalis. In the front bed, which is still pretty quiet, the gray germanders and sages yet to break out, I put blackfoot daisy and white nemesia fruticans, both perennials that should withstand the blast furnace placement next to the street. In memory of my mother who loved shrimp plants, I put two by the front door.
Because the deck rose garden was tailing out at both ends without any definition, I planted aspidistras to edge the plot and to create a pedestrian entrance into the side gravel yard. Along with another stand of aspidistras in the empty corner of the deck, the space already looks much better. The west end of the rosebed is still undefined; I want to curve the bed around the paving. This will have to wait until I figure out what to plant.

Looking towards gravel bed; what to plant to screen AC?
I also went crazy and bought a brugmansia. I’ve seen one growing in the ground on Scenic Drive. The tree is about the size of a typical mimosa. Having spent one winter here, admittedly a fairly mild one, I think parts of my yard might qualify as safe. I’m so close to my neighbors and have many closeted sheltered zones. For the time being it’s sitting in a pot looking exotic.

Looking to the back; big remodel going up behind