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Blog Award


I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that my grumblings, rantings, and cussing about gardening in Austin has provided some entertainment for some of you out there. Diana, SharingNature’sGarden, has bestowed a blog award to me for a blog she enjoys reading!

While I am belated in acknowledging her compliments, it doesn’t mean I’m not flattered. Thanks! I never suspected that blogging would become an important part of my life – or more accurately, reading your blogs has become important to me. Documenting my trials and tribulations of learning to garden in a harsh environment has also been cathartic for me, in ways too boring to list here.

I want to pass this award along to a blog I enjoy, another Austin gardener with skills I can only appreciate with awe. Jenny, Rock Rose always has a beautiful blog and I learn something every time I visit. I hope you will visit her as well and read through many of her older posts to see her English Cottage garden in Austin.

Bloom Day November 2009 (at long last)

Now that Summer of Hell II is behind us, I seem to be able to live in the present and forget the horrible drought and heat. Though we are still in the drought, rains in October made our fair city look like spring again. Now that I have a few blooms in the garden and the weather is humanly cool, the cloudy morning took me outside to once again participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

My new favorite plant, Clarodendrun Ugandense, is also known as Butterfly plant, because of  the butterfly shape of the gorgeous blue flowers. This one is planted in mostly shade, with about 2-3 hours of early morning sun only.

clerodendron-ugandense20091115_2498

Planted next to it is a sweet little plant called Cat’s Whiskers. You can see where it got it’s name.

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In the front sunny corner, the Lantana and Bulbine just won’t stop blooming.

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Copper Canyon Daisy was a tiny new planting last spring; I’m thrilled it likes my partial shade location for it. Behind it, a new Lantana called Lucky White was rescued from the clearance table at Home Depot last spring.

CopperCanyonDaisy20091115_2465

And my  long-time favorite, lavender Ivy Geranium bloomed all summer and continues until a freeze.

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This cousin to Setcreasia was a passalong from Renee at  Renee’s Roots, and I can’t remember the name. I love how the blooms resemble baby’s breath, and I look forward to creating a lush hanging basket from it next spring. I also like it paired here with Sparkler Sedge as a bright spot in the shade.

sparklersedge20091115_2462

Here’s a new Stonecrop that I couldn’t resist at the nursery a few weeks back. I hope it will come back next spring as I like how it works with the limestone rocks.

stonecrop20091115_2477

This is a new purchase for partial shade, called Salvia Honeysuckle. I know it has another name, but I’ve lost the tag. Can someone help with identification for me? I love the gray fuzzy leaves with the red bloom. I’m actually surprised that it bloomed as it was planted just two weeks ago in anticipation of next year’s bloom season.

Salvia-honeysuckle20091115_2500

And it wouldn’t be fall without Nandina berries on my last remaining Nandina shrub.

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Plants that are true drought survivors

Since I was able to dump out all my discouragement about gardening in Central Texas in my last post, it’s time for a different perspective. While my garden doesn’t look good by any means, there are a few plants that didn’t seem terribly fazed by the heat and drought.

I would love it if each of you visiting here would post a comment about the plants in your garden that truly survived, or even thrived, in the Summer of 09 in Central Texas. This can be a gathering place for all of us gardeners to discover new plants that are hardy, and remember some tried and true ones that were planted by the zillions for a reason.

I’ll start with my list:

Bicolor Iris: I love this plant, and while it didn’t bloom as prolifically, the greenery continued without fail to give me nice structure

Bicolor Iris, one of my favorites

Bicolor Iris, one of my favorites

Crape Myrtle: As always, these consistent flowering trees seem to love the heat

Cast Iron Plants: though a bit sunburned on the edges, it seems they could care less if they get lots of water or no water

Japanese Yew: These tall shrubs in my yard are some that I take for granted, but I shouldn’t. This year in the drought they produced beautiful gray berries against the green foliage, and never seemed to drop a leaf.

Society Garlic: Never huge bloomers for me, but still light and bright when they did bloom, and offered a tiny bit of color in my brown and sort-of-green yard

Lambs’ ears: mine didn’t grow much, but they are so cute with the fuzzy leaves

Citrus Splash Rose: Surprisingly, this rose was hardy and bloomed throughout the summer, though the blooms were definitely sunburned

Citrus Splash rose acted like a Knockout Rose through the summer

Citrus Splash rose acted like a Knockout Rose through the summer

Bulbine: loves the sunny, dry no-man’s-land corner of the yard by the street. Flourished all summer! You can see it in the above photo of the Citrus Splash

Pitcher Sage: A new baby plant grew all summer and bloomed about 3 weeks ago with gorgeous cornflower blue flowers. Leggy, but the flower is worth it.

This picture doesn't do the plant justice. The blue color is almost neon.

This picture doesn't do the plant justice. The blue color is almost neon.

Asparagus fern: even without much extra water at all, this fern grew well

Sword fern: a surprising one for me, this sword fern planted in the shade is doing just fine.

Butterfly Bush (Clerodendron Ugandense): This new plant for me has bloomed off and on, and didn’t seem to care if it dried out.

Clerendon Ugadense had small blooms off and on; the foliage grew a lot.

Clerendon Ugadense had small blooms off and on; the foliage grew a lot.

Flowering Senna: Great greenery all season, and burst  into yellow blooms right on time in early September

Loropetalum: While it didn’t grow much bigger, these plants throughout my yard kept their shape and color without wilting

Bottlebrush tree: One of my favorites, this large shrub/small tree will bloom given just a bit of water. It takes a lot of abuse.

Ligustrum: this overused shrub is prolific in my older yard, and provides dependable evergreen structure as some of mine were formed into small trees as they grew years ago.

Liriope: this standby is hardy in any weather, it seems. I mow it, I move it, I abuse it, and it stays green and even flowers for me. I should feel guilty, but instead I’m beginning to appreciate it more and more.

Established Asian and Confederate Jasmine: another spot of evergreen that adds a lush feel year-round

Fatsia (Aralia): This one is iffy. Some of this very old plant looks fine, but it has many dead leaves on it. I do love it when it is healthy, though, and I believe it will bounce back. I’m removing this one from my list. Today I cleaned out part of that bed, and this 20+ year-old plant was in worse condition than I realize. One branch completely dead.

Beautyberry: While it isn’t yet covered in berries, this small shrub seems to have survived just fine in it’s shady spot.

Abutilon: My new transplants didn’t bloom all summer as others have, but they also didn’t seem to wilt and lose any leaves. I hope these continue to grow and get hardier, because they are one of my new favorites.

Pride of Barbados: I love this tropical plant, and it loves the heat. My newly planted 1 gallon plant grew a couple of feet and bloomed in the depths of drought and blazing temperatures.

Dwarf pomegranate: They didn’t grow, but they also didn’t die while living in another spot of my yard that gets little watering.

Salvias: while they did survive, salvias in my yard didn’t bloom while the air was so dry this summer. Now that the humidity is back, and a bit of rain, they are suddenly in bloom throughout the yard, in places where I even forgot I had planted them. I’ll probably plant more.

Shrimp plant: new transplants from last fall didn’t grow much, but burst into bloom in late August, despite rough conditions. I’m looking forward to larger versions of these plants next year.

Indigofera: Why did this plant do well? It is supposed to need extra water. This deciduous, creeping shrub bloomed off and on throughout the summer, I can’t explain it.

Variegated Ginger: the ones that didn’t get decent watering definitely got crispy, but just a little extra water occasionally made these tropicals grow and look decent

Silver ponyfoot: I’m really trying to get a patch of this started in several places as a ground cover. It’s a bit of a slow starter, but seems hardy

Artemesia: This is a great plant for filler and silver, lacy foliage that can stand up to abuse. I want more of this.

Yarrow: Though it looks soft and fern-like, the yarrow in my yard didn’t seem to care how bad the climate was.

Tell me about your garden, please?
What are you glad you had to give you some joy this summer? What would you avoid planting again?

We can all benefit from gathering our experiences here and sharing knowledge for future summers.

Recapping the Summer of Hell 2009

This is not a light hearted post. Usually I try to offer some sort of levity or humor with my gardening stories, but central Texas is in serious shape. Even with a recent rain of several inches, we are still in extreme drought conditions. I want to record the events of the past few months, as they are history making. Before I get into the plants that did and didn’t survive the summer, let me begin by stating the facts. The Summer of 2009 in Central Texas was the hottest summer ever recorded here.

We suffered through 68 days over 100+ degrees, with the hottest being 107 F on June 25. The 95+ days began early in May and never let up. And realize that while 68 days were over 100 degrees, the days that weren’t officially that hot were in the upper 90’s and unofficially over 100 F at many gardeners homes.

And all of this heat was happening as, in May 2009, we entered into the 20th month of our severest drought since the dustbowl days of the 1950s. From June to August, the official rainfall total for the entire time was 1.63 inches. YES, I said LESS THAN TWO INCHES TOTAL of rain fell while the Deathstar blazed away in the sky.

Our lake levels reached their lowest points in 30 years, and for a big part of the summer, our primary reservoir (also used as a recreational lake) was – and still is –  inaccessible due to the boat launching ramps all being in dry ground. I can only imagine what the lake restaurants and businesses are doing to stay alive.

We are now 30″ short on rainfall totals since August of 2007; it was more than that until last week’s rainfall finally gave our parched earth a drink.

Austinites are, of course, accustomed to some water rationing for watering lawns and gardens most every summer. This year, the twice weekly limitations of watering soil that had no lingering moisture from any rains over 1″ at a time for two years weren’t enough for plants to flourish, or even survive. We are now limited to once a week watering, stage two drought conditions.  Even experienced Master Gardeners lost favorite plants and babied others in the hopes that next year they will grow.

As for myself, definitely NOT a master gardener, my garden began extensive replanting and renovations at the beginning of this two year drought. Had I had a crystal ball, I certainly wouldn’t have invested so much time and money into new plants, bulbs, mulch, food, compost, labor, blood, sweat and tears into such a thankless task of keeping a new garden alive through extreme conditions.

I began the spring with my usual optimism; surely this summer couldn’t be as bad as the summer of 2008, which broke records with its heat, days over 100 degrees and lack of rain. SURELY this summer would be better! With enthusiasm in March and April, I painted the deck, put up a new gazebo to sit under and gaze at those new plants,  even put in a completely new bed and path with glass mulch.

This will give you a good glimpse of what the summer was like. Here’s the gazebo in April, fresh and clean, with blooming containers and freshly mulched paths and beds:

20090520_finished1821

As the heat soared, my gardening motivation decreased conversely. Beginning in June, I no longer went outside other than to hand water in the morning and at dusk, when temps were often still over 100. There was no sitting in the new gazebo (I’ve had exactly one meal out there since it was purchased), and no blooms to look at.

Here’s the reality of what I didn’t let anyone see in August, when I’d given up caring:

Dead container plants, struggling ginger, and hot hot hot

Dead container plants, struggling ginger, and hot hot hot

Everything was dirty from lack of rain and not cleaning the deck in order to conserve water. The velcro that I had used to hold up the curtains melted in the unrelenting heat. Even the cat stopped lying on his favorite blue chairs and found a cooler place near the waterfall, underneath the deck to hide from the searing sun. I stopped my frequent outdoor grilling of dinner; it was just too damned hot.

I decided to begin to remove dead plants once it cooled off; I guess that counts as now since it was only 95 today. We did have a few days of cooler temps, but unfortunately I was out of town and couldn’t rejoice in the break from the heat.

So far, here’s my list of plants that died:

  • 1 Salvia Greggii
  • 3 Hibiscus (no surprise there)
  • 2 River Ferns (I believe if they weren’t such babies they would have survived)
  • 1 Abelia
  • 1 confederate Jasmine – new transplant
  • several succulents burned up, literally
  • Ice plant in various places
  • Yellow Bulbine, newly transplanted
  • 3 Brugmansia
  • Several daylily bulbs were dug up by foraging squirrels, desperate for food
  • All container plants died except for 3 Ivy Geraniums and 1 Echeveria. I just couldn’t keep up watering twice daily, especially when out of town
  • 3 Viburnum shrubs, large shrubs transplanted last fall as passalongs from Sharing Nature’s Garden
  • several portulaca

Plants that are borderline, meaning they may never recover and might need to be removed:

  • Bleeding Heart Vine
  • Cannas – (I thought Cannas could survive almost anything, but mine grew about 18″ tall and never bloomed or grew any further)
  • Agapanthus – never bloomed this year
  • Double Delight Rose
  • Several bulbs that were planted last fall, including oxblood lilies from Southern Bulb Company, never surfaced

But perhaps the most discouraging to me is that after two years of this new garden, it still looks sparse. Barely surviving through 24 months of record heat and drought, the plants have grown scarcely at all. I can only hope that they have set in roots and perhaps next year they can come alive with the promises of water from El Nino this winter.

I know when the weather finally cools (in December?) I will once again feel motivated to clean out the beds, clear the old, dead mulch, feed and trim everything, and once again hope for blooms and growth. Until then, I leave you with pictures from the wasteland of my back yard. Avert your eyes if you are especially sensitive!

Stunted Cannas never grew, never bloomed

Stunted Cannas never grew, never bloomed; look at the dry mulch

I can't even remember what I had planted here

I can't even remember what I had planted here

Even succulents struggled

Even succulents struggled

River Fern dying as pic was taken, now completely dead

River Fern dying as pic was taken, now completely dead

One Mardi Gras Abelia completely dead; one more struggling

One Mardi Gras Abelia completely dead; one more struggling

Persian Shield was pretty for a while  until it burned up

Persian Shield was pretty for a while until it burned up

the smallest of the 3 viburnums that didn't make it

the smallest of the 3 viburnums that didn't make it