Saturday, June 12, 2010

Early Warning Signs

What makes a gardener and why do some people make a garden and others not? When I walk around my neighborhood I admire the diversity of gardens and how variously people use their outdoor spaces. The ones that are most curious are the yards where no one has planted anything. It’s hard to imagine how this could occur over a 40-year span, the age of most Brentwood/Crestview homes. But you do see the occasional house where there is nothing, no foundation plantings, no beds, not even a nandina.
I know I’m her mother, but isn’t this the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? A baby, a sunsuit, a pot of seasonal color. These appear to be portulaca, a plant I turn my back on these days, because of how its blooms shut down midday. Who needs a flower that doesn’t stay on duty? I just barely tolerate pavonia for that reason. Anyway, this little toddler who loved to water the pots has now begun her own garden and it’s gratifying to know that my mother’s legacy of gardening was passed down to both Rachel and Grace. I have both plants and pots that were my mother’s. I treasure my time as their caretakers and hope to pass them on in due time.

Meet Felicia

She may not look like much but she’s got two buds on her left and right canes, which since she’s only been in her spot less than a month, is very impressive. She comes from the Antique Rose Emporium in San Antonio and was chosen because the authorities say she tolerates a lot of shade and will still bloom. She is now queen of the remote side yard/gravel bed. Meanwhile Reve D’Or in blazing sun has shown very little activity despite having been potted more than two months ago. So, go Felicia!
After cutting back the top-heavy Icebergs after their spring bloom extravaganza,I expected a quiet summer. They surprised me by ramping right back up with another round of floribundance. You can’t see in this picture but all their new leaves look like someone took a hole-puncher to them. Research suggests it’s a leaf-cutter bee doing the hole-punching but I’ve never spotted anything but beetles on the roses. As long as they leave the rosebuds alone, I’ll ignore the leaf decimation.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gray Gardens

Are gray plants the bomb? Yes, they are and here’s why. They impart Visual Cool to our hot landscape and they totally rock the green-blues of agaves, opuntia ellisana, (thornless prickly pear), and yucca.
In this picture from left are powis artemisia, Russian sage (with purple blooms), culinary sage, and bottom left, salvia apiana or white sage, and almost hidden, a santolina, which really needs to be moved since the other guys are taking over. Other grays in this bed are silver leaf germander, cenizo (purple sage), lavender, and Elijah’s blue fescue.
Salvia apiana is new to my garden and it has really found a place for its striking rosettes of celadon leaves, robust mounding growth habit, and bulletproof heat shield.
Plus it has a great backstory. It grows wild in California but has been ruinously preyed upon by commercial herbalists and other immoral entrepreneurs who yank the whole plant out of the ground, tie it in bundles, and sell it as smudge sticks to hippies and crystal-gazers for use in their sweat lodges and home meditation shrines. Oddly, the scrunched up leaves smell like really bad B.O. Maybe the plant smells better when burned? Probably not. The path to enlightenment was not meant to be easy.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Viva Vitex

These shrubby trees are one of my favorites when their white or purple blossom sprays kick off the beginning of summer. They are heavily planted along I-35 due to their sturdy constitutions. Up close vitex foliage looks like marijuana, a pentagram of pointed leaves which have a spicy camphor/lavender smell when crushed. Also called chasteberry; due to its leaves once being thought to have anti-aphrodisiac properties. This specimen along the Arroyo Seco greenbelt is stunning; my photo does not do it justice. Large pots of vitex are standing out front at Shoal Creek Nursery—a sure sign that customers are asking for “that purple thing that's blooming right now.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Armadillo in the Grass

Just the other day I noticed this on my walk. It’s quite remarkable, a rosemary bush clipped into a pretty damn perfect armadillo. I was surprised that I never seen this before since it’s on one of my regular walking routes. Thanks to Google’s street view cam I found that the topiary is in fact fairly recent. I hope to one day encounter the artist who created this tribute to our city's talismanic critter and pay my respects. Meanwhile, bravo!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Scent Notes from a Morning Walk

Mimosa: watermelon agua fresca, peachy base
Honeysuckle: warm and syrupy, with rosy top notes
Desert Willow: complex, both sweet and astringent, lime and roses, with a pungent pinto bean base
Rosemary: patchouli with a lemon finish
New wood fence: sweet and spicy, plus a splash of bourbon

Monday, April 26, 2010

Austin, your sago palms called. They’d like you to cut them back.

Okay, let’s review: if a frond is brown it’s not going to resurrect itself. Cut off all the dead stuff and let the heart send out some new shoots. It’ll look better and we can all get some relief from the fugly brown crap. Thanks.

While you’re waiting for your sago palm to reboot, read Oliver Sack’s Island of the Color Blind, in which, among other things, he ruminates on his lifelong fascination with cycads, the family to which sago palms belong, and one of the most primitive forms of plant life.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

La Vie en Rose

I am besotted with the performance of the roses this spring. Everywhere on my walks in Brentwood/Crestview the climbers and shrub roses are just wallpapered with blossoms. The iceberg roses in my front bed are so weighted with buds that I had to stake them today as they were sagging and in danger of collapse. A wonderful problem to have.

This is a new rose I planted in a spot where previously a fan palm had struggled. I finally got fed up with its yellow leaves and general straggly look; right now it’s in the backyard while I decide where to put it. Poor thing may be better off in shade. This is rose is Penelope, not a true white like Iceberg, but a lovely cream. It's supposed to be a spreader.

The Sunset Knockouts continue to light up the deck garden and they are really filling in at last.

When I put the front garden in during late November 2007, I couldn't know that we were already in the second month of what would be 3 year drought aggravated by summers with protracted periods of record heat. This has been my most challenging garden startup ever, so it's nice to finally see some progress.

Great joy in the backyard is that the white oleander is blooming, it's first time! I started this plant from a cutting I took from a shrub a few blocks north of my house 3 years ago. The mother-shrub appears to very old and I've never seen such a beautiful cultivar: the darkest green leaves and absolute white blossoms. My shrub is still quite small but I think this summer it may finally take off.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Purple Rain

The notion of seeing blossoms from a window is an Ur-cottage desire that in reality is practically impossible to attain. But for a few weeks purple fills this window thanks to a mountain laurel.

Fortunately you cannot see from this same window the desolation which is the front lawn. Today I broadcast 5 lbs. of La Prima XD Bermudagrass seed on this spot. On the other side of the sidewalk, also a wasteland, my delusional schemes of monkey grass and pavers has been scaled back. I realized the space was too small—the paver business would be too busy. Instead this total-shade strip will be a bed of English ivy contained by the sidewalk and driveway. It will take awhile as per the old garden rule of thumb for ivy:
First year: it sleeps
Second year: it creeps
Third year: it leaps!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rite of Spring

In the Texas tradition of plunking one’s baby down in a field of bluebonnets for a photo op, I took my two babies on a roadtrip in search of a classic Texas landscape. While Zeke is a year old, in lab years this still qualifies as drooling infancy and since he’s only been in my care for two months, he definitely needed his Baby in Bluebonnets photo. Rachel of course will always be my baby no matter how mature, wise, beautiful and hilariously funny she grows. This shot was taken somewhere near Sisterdale, one of the most charming dots on the state highway map.

And speaking of babies, here’s some babies I’ve dug up from my yard. Baby Rachel has taken advantage of the $8000 rebate to first-time homebuyers and bought a cottage in East Austin. These yuccas, pavonia, and Port St. John creeper are some starters for her yard. She’s named her house Julius because it’s orange; read about it here.
In other domestic gardening news, my former baby Grace has begun a blog about her balcony horticulture in Boston. It must be spring!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ode to Crossvine

I think that I will never see
A vine as lovely as thee
Who climbs without inflicting doom
On masonry or marble tomb
Or even cheapo wooden fence
Resistent to every pestilence
Each spring your royal flush
Of flowers comes without a rush
Of any kind of care or costly feeding
Just abundance and homespun breeding
That on a trellis does so easily shine
Your leaves hang down and twine
A happy waterfall of evergreen
That asks for nothing but to be seen
Or complimented on its fine
And simple beauty, called crossvine.

Spring 2008

Spring 2009

Spring 2010

Donax, don't tell.

Arundo Donax
Banned from sale by the USDA as a noxious weed, Arundo Donax (like any self-respecting outlaw, this plant has other coloful monikers such as Giant Reed and Carrizo Cane) can be seen growing in ditches throughout the US. And like most criminals, Donax has some redeeming qualities; it's used in making bagpipe reeds, fishing poles, and baskets.

I took some rhizomes from a drainage ditch near my house and put them in this black cattle feed tub to screen the AC unit. Please don't turn me in to the authorities.
The speckles on these leaves are oak pollen which is falling like volcanic ash on every outdoor surface. After an hour of potting and hacking around the yard, I feel as if I've been gassed.

Zeke looks like he just got back from a Holi festival. Yes, he's a yellow lab, but this is ridiculous.

In other garden news, I foolishly bought a Rêve d'Or at Barton Springs Nursery, brought it home and realized I have nowhere to put it. I'd seen one growing on a split-cedar fence at a house near me and fallen desperately in love. I am running out of spots that get even six hours of sun. The last remaining patch of sun is the deck, so I've planted Rêve d'Or in another cattle-feed tub. We'll see how it goes.

Bert and Ernie, the topiary loquats, happily survived winter's worst. One of my favorite pastimes is smugly pricing the tree loquats at Shedd's and reflecting that Bert and Ernie, with zero initial investment, have appreciated more than my 401k. Such are the joys of gardening.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shock The Monkey?

There’s a 20’ x 10’ strip where the grass is completely dead in my front yard between sidewalk and driveway. I don’t want to replace with new turf. It’s in total shade under a mammoth liveoak. So I’m thinking maybe large pavers with monkey grass in the spaces. I think this is something I could pull off, if not totally by myself, with some labor assistance. I’ve found a mail-order resource that sells mini-mondo for $.25 a sprig. I regret not bringing The Monkey with me from my last house—it was everywhere. And being a cheapskate, I hate to buy it, when it grows almost like a nuisance in many Austin yards. If you want any of your MG cleaned out let me know.
My only concern is having too many different surfaces: concrete sidewalk, pavers, pea gravel drive. Perhaps I should demo the sidewalk and go total pavers?

I'll pray for your plants, if you'll pray for mine.

Really? In this wind? I don't think so.