A Little Bit of Before and After

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In the midst of this summer's drought, I left some cosmos out in the front yard long past their due date.  They seeded one particular patch of lawn heavily, and this fall, I was thrilled to see the dense shrub of cosmos that grew there.

The bees and butterflies seemed as happy as I was with my vibrant, beautiful patch of cosmos.  It was past its prime last weekend, when I finally got around to trying to photograph it.


It turns out that the cosmos patch wasn't long for this world.  Though the Austin Blizzard of 2009 failed to materialize, a deep freeze did. 

My cold-tender annuals are done for the season, though I'll have to be sure to shake out the cosmos seeds, to be sure I get another great cosmos shrub in the spring.

Fortunately, I had a chance to take pictures of the frost, before it melted away, leaving behind nothing but droopy plants.





Passiflora 'Lady Margaret'


Dwarf Yaupon Holly

The End of the Line

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 At the beginning of October, my husband and I had the chance to visit his family in Saskatchewan and Alberta for Canadian Thanksgiving.  While in Austin, the heat was only just abating, in Canada, they were experiencing an unseasonably cold beginning of autumn, following a chilly summer.

The week before Thanksgiving, it started to snow in Saskatchewan and Alberta.  Sure, it's colder in Saskatchewan than it is in Texas, but the Canadians I talked to assured me that it's NOT normal for these mountain ash trees to be covered in snow even before they've lost their leaves.

I was stoked to pack the scarf my best friend knitted for me and spend a little bit of time in the cold weather, but to our Canadian family and friends, this early snowfall marked the end of the line before many months of cold, snowy weather.

When I admired the big fluffy snowflakes falling from the clouds, the Canadians groaned inwardly and smirked at my Texan naivete.  It's true that it's much easier to admire the snow when it's a novelty, and when a long, warm autumn awaits me back home.


But maybe because the snow was so novel and interesting to me, I had the chance to catch some fine detail... 


...like these snowflakes leaning so delicately against the leaf buds which sprouted during the short Indian summer that preceded this unseasonable cold snap.
Fortunately, and to the relief of our Canadian friends and family, the snow melted completely before we left, giving us beautiful weather and safe roads for our long drive to the airport to return to Texas.  In fact, I caught these photos of the snow at the last possible opportunity: it had all melted before I was done.

So the Canadians had a bit of a respite before the long, cold winter set in, but for that patch of unseasonal snowfall, it was truly the end of the line.

Well, hello! 

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, though I did joke with my fellow Austin garden bloggers yesterday that I may be turning into more of an event blogger than a garden blogger.

My busy, hot, dry, depressing summer is over, the Bermuda grass has taken over, and I'm back in the garden, doing my best to conquer it.  More on that frustrating topic in some other entry.  Maybe.

I did the bulk of my photography yesterday at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, and I think I spent most of my time there in the "Piney Woods" section, admiring the reflection of the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) in the small lake.  As I was rushing back to meet the group, I spotted a great egret perched in a cypress across the pond from me and stopped to catch this reflection.

I like the bisection of this photo, but oh how I wished for a longer lens (with better glass) and maybe a tripod to better capture this guy.  I love photographing egrets - comes of growing up (as a kid, and as a photographer) on the gulf coast.

Anyway, fall color.  I spent a lot of time photographing it yesterday.

Fall color...

...fall color...


...fall color...


...fall color.  Here in Central Texas, we have to savor our fall color when we find it.


Agave.  Here's the thing about agave:  It's gorgeous, and incredibly photogenic.   Just the other day, someone remarked on another garden weblog about the imprints on the tender leaves, and I will probably never look at agave the same way again. I like polite plants.  I like plants that won't take over my yard (and agave won't), but I like plants that won't try to eat me, and I can't figure out how to plant agave in my yard so that it won't impale me or poke out my dog's eye.  How does that work exactly?   I have a hard time envisioning it.  (If agave will use its ominous shark teeth to eat my Bermuda grass, though, I'll plant a whole yard of it.)

Fundamentally, I'm a touch gardener, so maybe agave just isn't for me.  Maybe I can get my next-door neighbors to plant agave in their yards, so that I can photograph it. 


I think all of us got exactly the same picture of the sparrows feasting on grass seeds.


I think this is Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), not Ruby Crystals ( Rhynchelytrum nerviglume), although it's hard to tell in this photograph.  I saw lots of both of these, and they're both gorgeous this time of year.  But Gulf Muhly is native (to Texas, anyway), and Ruby Crystals is not.


Some kind of palm frond.


The monarchs were practically swarming the botanical gardens.  This one was loving the pentas.


This one was loving something else.  Mandevilla, maybe?


Giant insects have invaded San Antonio.


I, for one, welcome our new exoskeletal overlords.



Garden Tour

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I've been too busy lately for gardening, much less writing weblogs about gardening, but I wanted to take this opportunity to post a few pictures from Jenny of Rock Rose's lovely garden.  While I've seen beautiful photos of it in the past, I didn't realize how extensive it is!  I had a lovely afternoon with the other Austin garden bloggers.  (The boots above belong to Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil.)

Please enjoy these photo highlights:


Welcome Cactus


Variegated Agave


a Texas Spotted Whiptail posed for me


Poppy Seed Pods


A gorgeous fountain empties into an amazing pool, surrounded by wildflowers.


A portico opens up to another room of the garden.




A beautiful reseeded columbine



I tend to prefer polite plants, willing to stay in their places and lacking in spikes and points, but I admired the way that Jenny uses poky plants in her garden, especially offset as they are against adobe walls.

Thank you again for hosting our get-together, Jenny!  I loved getting to know your garden.

Bloom Day - March 2009

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It's time again for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, when garden bloggers across the world share what's blooming in their gardens!

The weather of the past week notwithstanding, Austin is in the middle of a long, hard drought, and we need every drop of rain we can get right now.  The past few days have been gray, cold, and rainy, and while no self-respecting gardener is allowed to complain about the rain, I might have wished once or twice that it was a slightly warmer rain. 

This afternoon, it sprinkled AGAIN in my garden, and this yellow iris bud was covered in pretty raindrops.  It seems representative of the last week or so, so it's my signature image for this GBBD. 

I have no idea what variety this iris is, or even where I got it.  I've slowly amassed quite a few iris plants, but I think this one is one I've acquired since last spring - maybe at a plant swap.  I love irises, and I love the way they spread, too.  I may need to start collecting more.  I'm particularly envious of the white irises that I've seen on other people's weblogs in the last week or so.

It's March, and spring is indeed springing in Austin.  I'll admit to having some untidy beds in need of weeding, but this time of year, things look like I might have even planned them that way!  I mulched over some of my weeds after taking photos today, so... just imagine my gardens tidy, mulched, and entirely weed-free, alright?

Okay, here goes.

What do I love about spring?  Wild combinations of colors, like these luminescent California poppies, next to a brilliant iris (probably "Amethyst flame," though I don't know for certain).

Or for some truly riotous color, check out these snapdragons.  I planted these last spring, and they've survived both summer and winter to come back this spring.

Can you tell that I adore my yellow poppies?  They started blooming just in time for February's GBBD, and they're doing so well now.  In the foreground is a ranunculus bud which must be left over from some bulbs I planted next year.

And here's another closeup of the poppy.  In this mostly-closed form, it reminds me a bit of the Yellow Rose of Texas.

This photo was taken yesterday, as the beautiful parrot feathers of this iris started to emerge.  Fortunately for March Bloom Day, the irises finished opening today:

iris.jpgI LOVE this iris.  I love its beautiful symmetrical form.  I love its blue flowers, with the offsetting yellow markings.  I love that it came back from last year.  The only thing that would make me love it more would be to plant it alongside some California poppies.  And maybe to know what kind of iris it is.  Can anyone help?

ladymargaret.jpgNext up is the newest member of the nobility to make it into my garden: Passiflora 'Lady Margaret'.  I found it at the Market Days in Gruene, and it's the latest in a long line of passionvines that I am trying very hard not to kill.  I have a bad track record with passionvines; I think I've killed four or five, but I have two now that aren't dead yet.  It's gotten to the point where my very patient husband says, as soon as I start intimating that I'd like another passionvine, "You haven't had very good luck with those so far..." And I snap back, "Don't be so negative!"  Eventually, one will take, right?  I'm hoping Lady Margaret takes.  She's the largest, healthiest passionvine I've started with, and she's covered in buds.

Could my experienced garden blogging friends please tell me what this is about?  We bought this Meyers lemon a couple of weeks ago, and not only does it have big green fruit all over it, but it's flowering!  Is that normal? Is that a byproduct of the greenhouse it probably came from?

My Nierembergia gracilis 'Starry Eyes' continues to live up to its description: it has yet to stop blooming!

The alyssum in my square foot garden has filled up its square foot and is threatening to take over the neighboring states.  But isn't it sweet?  My pots of alyssum don't look quite so happy; I think this one has benefitted from the extra watering it's gotten by being in the vegetable bed.

Bulbine, I love you so.  Please stay beautiful and low-maintenance, and I will grow you forever.

Wow, there's so much more blooming in my garden this month, but I'd never have time to show it all.  This is a sampling, anyway.  I love March, and I can't wait to see what (besides weeds) our March rains bring into the garden.

Happy GBBD!

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - February 2009

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It's time again for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, when Carol of May Dreams Gardens asks us to share what's blooming in our gardens!

Last week brought us some much-needed rainfall - close to an inch and a half in my area, according to the weather reports - and during that rainy day came the first sunshiny bloom of my GORGEOUS California Mikado poppies.  I've coveted these since I saw MSS' California Mikado poppies at the Spring Fling last year.  They are delicate, and the first bloom has faded already, but it was replaced by two new blooms and several buds.  I adore this plant already, and I have more starting to spring up now, hopefully to be blooming in another month or two.

I have to say, though, that I'm disappointed that the web browser doesn't render these quite true to color; they've got more of a luminescent orange tint to them than is obvious here.

Speaking of luminescent orange, the bulbines in the front garden are about to take off.  I love their pretty conical form; they remind me of the golden Thai crown that's apparently called a mokot.  I speak often of how much I enjoy my bulbines; they thrive on neglect and bloom even on the hottest days of summer.  I really prefer the orange form, but I'm considering picking up some yellow bulbines, as well.

This Nierembergia gracilis 'Starry Eyes' is the newest addition to my garden.  I picked it up from the Natural Gardener yesterday.  The label promises: "Argentinean species with an airy mounding habit. Tolerant of poor soils, easy to grow.  Never stops blooming! XERIC."  That's the kind of flower I can get behind!  It remains to be seen whether it will be tolerant of my completely forgetting to water my front bed for weeks on end.  It's quite charming for now, and covered in little buds.

This passalong yellow kalanchoe is the first of my kalanchoes to bloom.  The others have miraculously survived rather overwhelming odds and have budded out.  They should be blooming by March Bloom Day.

I've been very pleased with my sweet alyssum, which has bloomed so well this winter.  The violet Easter bonnet alyssum has been a bit more fickle, but it's doing well in our square foot bed in the front yard, with full sun and reasonable amounts of irrigation.

Here are the paperwhites that used to live in my office.  I brought them home so they wouldn't fragrant up the joint quite so much.  At home, they're living outside, on my pretty new red plant stand, in part shade.  They're starting to fade a bit now, but I've really enjoyed growing them this year. I had no idea narcissus were so easy to grow!

Out in the veggie garden, the asparagus has sent up its tall wispy spikes.  In another year or so, our asparagus should be ready to eat.  How I look forward to that!

And down below, in the shade of the asparagus' wispy foliage, I found this:

The strawberries are blooming, finally! These are holdovers that survived last summer and are growing again this winter.  I'd wondered why they hadn't started blooming yet, but here they are!  I keep meaning to buy some new strawberries from the nursery to hedge our bets against the perennializing of our strawberries, but we may not be out of luck this year in any case.

And that's what's blooming in my garden this month!

Question about Square Foot Garden...

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I got a great question in my comments about my new square foot beds.

Zippy wrote:

Hi Rachel, and thanks for your site! Good to see other Austin bloggers out
there working with square foot gardens! I had a question on my blog from a
fellow Austin gardener about using the Hill Country Garden soil in an SFG.
I remembered that I had come across your site last spring when I was
researching using SFGs in Central Texas, and how you talked about using the
Hill Country rose soil in your raised beds, and now I see you're doing the
SFG with the HC Garden Soil and compost. I referred her/him to your site,
but thought I'd ask you myself: why did you decide not to do the
traditional Mel's mix of compost, vermiculite and peat moss, and how is the
Hill Country Garden soil working out for you? I used Lady Bug Revitilizer
compost, perlite and peat moss in my two SFGs last spring, but if the HC
Garden soil + compost works well, that would be a heck of a lot easier than
mixing up stuff for the new SFGs I will be planting this spring.

So in case anyone else is curious about why I'm using Hill Country Garden Soil in my beds instead of Mel's mix of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss, here's my answer:

Hi Zippy! Great questions.

Last year, when we made our first raised beds, we chose Hill Country rose soil on the advice of one of the guys at the Natural Gardener.  He suggested it because it was slightly acidic, which can be helpful in our alkaline soils.  Over time, the alkaline will leach in, but having slightly acidic soil is a bit of a buffer.  I hadn't read the "All New" Square Foot Gardening book at that point (though I had read the original book), so I didn't know about Bartholomew's transition to raised beds or his soil mixture.  Our first raised beds weren't technically  square-foot gardens because there weren't any grid, but let's just say that when we started building the new raised beds for our first  front yard SFG, we knew what needed to be done.

Before we got started on our new gardens, we attended a seminar at the Natural Gardener called Prosperity Gardening - which was basically all about square-foot gardening.  John Dromgoole is apparently working with Mel Bartholomew on an even better soil blend, so they have several square foot test beds set up to try out different soil combinations.  They've found that most of their soils (which are all blends of decomposed granite, compost, and topsoil in varying combinations) work just as well as Mel's mix - as does the bed of straight compost.  If you haven't been out to Oak Hill to see their SFG's, you really should go if you get the chance - they're quite inspirational!

In general, I've tried to avoid peat moss, one of the main components of Mel's mix, from a sustainability standpoint.  I'd read that the harvest of peat moss was unsustainable, though my quick google search just now indicates that the jury might still be out on that one.  In any case, it's trucked in from Canada, and if there's anything my Canadian husband and I know for sure from our many months of long-distance dating, Canada is a long way from Austin!

So far, I've been very pleased with the Hill Country Garden Soil, and I've been pleased with the Rose Magic in the back yard beds, as well.  There was no real thought behind our switch - just another employee recommendation.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - January 2009

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Time for another installment of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, where Carol of May Dreams Gardens invites us to show others what we have in bloom in our garden.

We recently got an outdoor weather station, which informs me that the temperature dropped to 32.5F last night.  The night before, the temperature fell to 30F - not quite the hard freeze we were fearing, but enough to knock some of my blooms out of commission.

The other thing that complicates GBBD for me, particularly when it falls on weekdays, is that I have to leave the house before it's entirely light outside, and I don't get home until it's dark in the evenings.  I had just enough time this morning to search out a few blooms before the bus arrived to take me to work.

The strange light on this one? The sun was just rising over the fence when I took this photo of the lavender in my herb garden, which survived our long, hot, dry summer and seems to be flourishing this winter.  Why do I bother growing grass in my front yard, when I could grow lavender, instead?

I bought a small flat of sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) a few months back, and it has impressed me by taking neglect and drought in stride.  I put a couple of plants into this pot, and a few more into the square foot gardens in the front yard.  I bought a small flat of Alyssum 'Easter Bonnet Violet' at the same time and have found it not quite as tolerant.  That said, both seem to be thriving in my square foot garden in the front yard, though I didn't have a chance to photograph them this morning.

Please disregard my sad brown grass.  We're in a drought.

I've had a great time learning to force bulbs this winter.  This is my second paperwhite project; I potted the first set of paperwhite bulbs at Thanksgiving, and by a week before Christmas, I was able to give them away to my grandmother.  I received this bulb and pot set for Christmas and planted them shortly thereafter.

I brought them to work with me, to take advantage of the giant windows in my office. 

I arrived at work Tuesday morning to see the bulbs capped with at least three buds, and by Wednesday, they were starting to unfurl. One of my cowokers took photos of the process, which I'll post if I get copies of them.

Today, my office is filled with the scent of paperwhite (Narcissus tazetta, according to the packaging).  I would characterize the smell as perhaps cloying, but sweet and perfumy.  So far, my office mate hasn't complained.

Stalkers take note: The Eyes of Texas are upon you.

Owing to the limited daylight I had to work with today, I didn't get pictures of everything blooming in my garden.

I'm using pansies heavily this time of year, to fill in spots in my square foot garden, as well as to add color to the back yard.

My bulbines, ever faithful, continue to bloom, despite our sudden descent into seasonal temperatures.

I've got some purple trailing lantana growing discreetly in the front yard so I won't be tempted to remove it, and some Salvia greggii still blooming, as well.  It's time to shear them down, I know!

And that's about it! I'm looking forward to the approaching spring.

Foray into Square Foot Gardening

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Happy New Year to the loyal few who haven't given up on me ever posting another weblog entry.  One of my New Years resolutions is to be more organized in documenting the changes and progress I see in my garden.  Not all of that is likely to get posted on this site, but some of it hopefully will!

In October, 2007, we built our first raised bed, a 4' x 8' x 10" box of untreated pine, in the back yard, so we wouldn't have to fight with our dense clay soil and the weeds that continually sought to overtake our vegetable garden.  In January, 2008, we added a pair of 4' x 4' cedar boxes.  In general, I love my raised beds.  I love that I can dig into them with a trowel, that they're largely weed free, that the soil is rich and well-drained. 

We've been growing veggies in our raised beds with fair to middling results.  We've had enough produce to be able to taste a bit while we're wandering around in the garden, but not enough to really use or give away or save for later.  Gardening is, even at the best of times, a moving target.  Each year is different from the one before it, and it can be hard to pinpoint what factor made the difference.  Are our beds getting enough sun? Are they being watered sufficiently? (Goodness knows there hasn't been enough rain for them in the past year! 2008 was the fourth driest year in recorded history in the Austin area.)

We've concluded that our back yard beds aren't getting enough sun, and that we haven't been organized enough to maximize the potential of the beds.  I've been researching square-foot gardening for the past few months, as a  way to better organize our planting efforts, and over the holidays, we've been working to put together a couple of boxes in the front yard.

Thankfully, we don't have an HOA.

We decided on the front yard for two reasons:

1) We get much more sun in the front yard.  We have a couple of live oak trees, but they're young enough not to block the sunlight on the beds for several years, at the least.

2) We want people to know what their food looks like when it's growing.  Kids ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk all the time, and I suspect most of them don't get the chance to experience much gardening.  We decided that sharing some of the produce with passers by was a fair tradeoff for locating our new raised beds in the front yard.

So we built our two new 4'x4'x6" beds out of cedar.  We originally went to Lowes to get the lumber, because we had a coupon for a discount, but... well, either their saw couldn't cut 2-inch planks, or the employee operating the saw didn't know how to use it.  We have a small car, and fitting 8-foot planks in it isn't a viable option, so we went to McCoy's in Georgetown and got our lumber there.  It was a bit of a drive, but it was a good excuse to have lunch at the Monument Cafe with my friend Claudia, so it was well worth it. 

Scott used 3" wood screws to fasten the planks into 4'x4' squares, and then we used bamboo staking to make the permanent square-foot grid.  We filled the beds with Hill Country Garden Soil from the Natural Gardener, and then we top-dressed with farm-style compost, for extra rich soil.  We used several layers of newspaper as weed barrier, both in and around the beds; you can see some sticking up that needs to be mulched over.

And then we started to plant our squares!  Two beds give us 32 squares for planting, and most of the squares can be subdivided for maximum production in minimal space.  It turns out, 32 is a lot of squares.  We definitely aren't using our square-foot garden to its maximum potential yet, but having extra squares gives us a way to pace our veggies; we have a couple of squares of lettuce and greens seedlings, and a couple more where we've planted seeds for various kinds of greens, which will be ready to be harvested in several weeks.  I interspersed several squares of pansies with herbs and vegetables, to keep things pretty and colorful, and I plan to transplant some of our strawberry offshoots from the beds in the back yard. 

And from there, we'll see how it goes! There's a chance for rain tomorrow, so we're keeping our fingers crossed.

Bloom Day - December 2008

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Hey, it's Bloom Day!

I had the foresight to take photos yesterday, while the weather was beautiful and (more importantly) I had the day off. Today has been grey and quite cold; in fact, it's freezing (31F) in my zip code right now, and has been since before 7:30 this evening.

It froze a few nights ago, as well, so some of my fall bloomers have gone to bed now. My tomato and peanut plants have gone to the Big Compost Heap in the Sky Backyard

I participated in Bloom Day last December, too, and it's interesting to see which plants were doing well last year.  Last year, we were preparing for a freeze, but my blooms included: roses, grapes gomphrena, haworthia, oxalis, pansies, bulbine, and guara. 

This year, I have many of the same blooms:


Bulbine, nourishing a hungry bee


Sweet Alyssum (purple and white), in a pot with nasturtiums and a panda ear kalanchoe


African Blue Basil, which survived our last freeze but probably won't survive tonight's


Lavender, which survived the summer and currently looks great


"Ruby crystals" grass in the front bed


...and, of course, for striking color, the fiery edges of a pansy.

Everything is covered and tucked away for tonight, but hopefully it will be back out in the sun again tomorrow.

I didn't catch a photo of grapes gomphrena when I took these other photos; it was looking a bit worse for wear after the last freeze.  I thought it died last winter after the first couple of freezes, because I never saw any sign of it again. But this summer and fall, it came back bigger than before and was a pretty little plant until it froze again.  I'll be happy if it's a reliable summer/fall perennial!

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