Sunday, November 16, 2008

November Bloom Day

Well, there are still plenty of cheerful colors in the garden, like this lantana that's trying to turn into a giant bush that devours everything in its path. Actually, come to think of it, this lantana needs a new location, and it might be entertaining to pit it against a purple potato vine. Botanical Death Match!

Definitely losing this year's sad Lawn vs. Summer Death Match is my back lawn. But this picture is actually supposed to be of the salvias, verbenas, and roses putting on a grand fall show.

The show this month is definitely the roses, so without delay, here's Louis Philippe, in one of the only decent pictures I've managed to take of him. My camera is really bad with reds and pinks, but this is a more accurate representation of the color than I've managed to capture so far.

I'm also frustrated in my attempts to take a decent picture of Duchesse de Brabant in full bloom. This captures the effect, although blurry.  I'm kind of liking the blurred effect.

Duchesse de Brabant, close-up:

Souvenir de la Malmaison. I'm thinking of relocating this one...for the third time. It's too far back in the border to smell easily (I am slowly learning my lesson there), and in some lights, the very light pink looks dirty next to the more saturated Belinda's Dream and Knockout Rose.

Republic of Texas blooms in the catmint. I love how these colors work together.

Blush Noisette. It's been growing fast since I got it, and has been covered almost constantly in these little blooms. And the scent is both strong and fabulous. I'm counting on this one to perfume the backyard in a year or so.  It's going to get a sunny spot to stretch its legs.

Archduke Charles, finally blooming now that I've both watered it and unearthed it from a thicket of wild sunflowers:

Just opened, Archduke Charles.  I'm surprised that more people don't grow this rose.  The flowers have a great fruity fragrance, the bush is extremely full and healthy (I neglected it all summer and it still looks great), and the color-changing flowers are kind of fun.  Out of all the Chinas I've grown, this one is my favorite.

Other roses blooming right now:
Thomas Affleck
assorted Knockouts
Zephirine Drouhin, with the third bloom I've gotten in two years
Perle d'Or
Marie Pavie
Belinda's Dream

Just finished blooming:
Gruss an Aachen
Martha Gonzales

This Bloom Day finally had cool weather, and lately I've been outside working on projects every chance I've gotten. I have big plans, so I suspect that this will remain the case until spring. I can't wait to see what everything looks like next November Bloom Day!

P.S.  Other Death Match candidates?  Horseherb vs mint. 

Monday, November 10, 2008


Last Friday, a bunch of us Austin garden bloggers drove over to Hempstead for a private tour of Peckerwood Gardens, John Fairey's botanical and artistic experiment-in-progress. It wasn't what I was expecting-- which was a sort of contemporary-looking xeriscape garden that would lend itself to putting my brand-new Canon PowerShot SD1100 through its paces-- and this was not a bad thing.

We were met at the entrance to the garden by John Fairey himself, whom I liked immediately. There are certain people who seem to radiate intelligence, curiosity, and good humor, and he was one. After giving us a rundown on the history of the garden and the purpose of the land contouring for drainage and microclimate creation, we were introduced to Chris Camacho, one of the two gardeners who maintain the space, and he was our guide for the rest of the tour.

On this tour, I learned a boggling amount about trees. A large amount of space at Peckerwood is dedicated to trying out tree species from around the world to see how they'll do in Central Texas. In particular, there were quite a few varieties of oak and magnolia. Chris explained that the largest variety of species is found in Mesoamerica, and since those species tend to be acclimated to extreme conditions, they do well in Central Texas. At this point, Chris was rattling off botanical names like a Valley Girl, like, says "like," which was pretty awesome. I, er, may have kind of developed a geek crush on him. I blame that for not taking any pictures of the trees. I was kind of engrossed.

Eventually, we got to the part of the garden with the xeriscape plants, and my camera distracted me instead. And it disappointed me-- it turns out that the Canon Powershot SD1100 display is completely useless in sunlight, even if you shade it with your hand. So for most of these pictures, I was just guessing where the macro was focusing. And since I like my macro options, this camera is going back to Circuit City. Which sucks even more when you consider that the color balance and clarity of these blind-focused pictures was really impressive compared to my old Nikon, and there wasn't much I had to do in ImageReady other than resizing everything.

Eventually, the path through the xeriscape garden took us into the woods. One of the things I really liked about this section of the garden was how shady it was. I love the sculptural functions of cactus and agave in the garden, but I worry that my yard doesn't get enough sun for them to do well. But here's evidence that part-shade and cactus can work well together, as long as there's good drainage.

A fountain I adored, a set of faces on each side of the wall setting off John's house from the rest of the garden. I've always liked Green Man garden art, and these more abstract versions were really compelling.

And here I got a little obsessed with a pergola/trellis design that, along with the fountain wall, divided the public and private areas of the garden. I liked both how the lines worked with the geometry of the landscape and I liked how it looked like something that I, in a daydream of wielding weapons of mass construction, could build myself.

On a side note: Doesn't this look like an excellent place to hang a hammock? I feel my garden won't be complete until I have a good home for a hammock. (And here my inner 12-year-old is gleefully chanting, "Peckerwood, hammock, Peckerwood!" Why I feel the need to share this, I do not know.)

Why not make this digression into immaturity official? Ladies and Gentlemen: The Peckerwood Shrine To Your Inner 12-Year-Old!

So yeah, I got punchy for a while at that point, which lasted until Chris finally broached a related subject on my mind-- why would anyone name a garden "Peckerwood?" Sadly, I wasn't really listening to the answer, which had something to do with a book, because I was looking around at all of the the big trees with bushes at the base and trying to keep a straight face (I warned you-- 12!). But I did get a chance to ask Chris a burning question at the end of his Peckerwood etymology: Does it ever stop being funny?

"No!" he said, and laughed. In retrospect, I wish I'd asked a followup: How long did you have to practice in front of the mirror before you could say it in a serious voice? Ah, well. It's not like I have a reputation for journalistic integrity to uphold here, or anything.

Anyway, I enjoyed how this place and its people had a sense of humor. Here's some visual wit-- check out how the fan shape of the sculpture echoes the palm fronds and the fan shape of the pine needles in the trees.

Lots of lush undergrowth in the woods. Not really funny unless you're trying really hard to not make a bad hardwood forest joke.

On a more serious note, one of the things this place got me thinking about was the passage of time. Gardeners in particular know that what they do entails a lot of waiting for things to grow and there's no guarantee that they'll do what you want them to do. It was amazing to me that most of the garden was leveled by a tornado in 1983, and most of what you see is from after that. It took an awful lot of waiting-- most of the span of my lifetime, really-- for the landscape to evolve into the mature trees and sense of permanence you get today in the heart of the garden. I tend to be impatient, waiting for my garden to look the way I see it in my mind's eye, but that's something I can work towards and look forward to, while also enjoying the process and the hard work, which have their own benefits.

In these days when it seems like people are constantly relocating, I envy John Fairey for being able to work so intensively at one site for such a sustained period of time. Many of us, I suspect, don't get to see what a tree we planted looks like thirty years later. Oaks are generally long-lived trees, and there was one particular oak at Peckerwood that I took a liking to. I find myself wanting to get ambitious, mark dates on the calendar, maybe ten and thirty years from now, to return to the garden and see how that oak is doing. I find it absurdly comforting to think of it existing there, like Yeats' golden bird, with the potential to outlive us all.

Many thanks to Diana of Sharing Nature's Garden for organizing this tour! I doubt I would have ever visited Peckerwood if I couldn't do it in the company of fellow gardeners.

Here are links to everyone else's posts about our safari:
Diana @ Sharing Nature's Garden
Pam @ Digging
MSS @ Zanthan Gardens
Vertie @ Vert
Cheryl @ Conscious Gardener
Libby @ Aurora Primavera

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Natural Gardener: Fall Butterfly Garden

This afternoon, I trekked out The Natural Gardener to acquire both quality dirt and some better ideas for attracting butterflies to my garden. It's butterfly migration season in Austin, and all week I've been watching butterflies of all kinds fly in confused-looking patterns through my yard, completely ignoring the many verbena, lantana, and salvia varieties I'd planted for them. They even shunned the Gregg's mistflower I'd transplanted with the certainty that it would be definite butterfly kegger material.

So I figured that if I was missing something in my planting scheme, the butterfly garden at The Natural Gardener would clue me in. The garden features quite a few fall-blooming butterfly plants, including milkweed, fall aster, pentas, dalea, lantana, firebush, and several different varieties of mistflower.

The entrance to the butterfly garden, with a nice little pond. (Note to self, add a wildlife water source to your garden already!)

The right fork. I wish I'd taken a closer look so I could ID that yellow flower on the right.

Farther down the path, firebush, with orange milkweed in the background. I didn't see many butterflies on the red-flowering firebush, and the milkweed seemed only slightly more popular:

Taking the left fork instead, here are firebush and mistflower, clashing like the butterfly-attracting titans they are! I'm trying to keep to a cool color scheme in my backyard, but I told myself that if I had to plant a garish firebush in the middle of all of the pink and blue to feed some butterflies, I'd grit my teeth and do it. In a neglected corner. But where the bleep are the butterflies?

Jackpot! Here's where all of the butterflies are hanging out, the blue mistflower! Hmm...

Upon closer inspection, it became apparent this was a completely different variety of mistflower than the one I've planted all over my yard. This plant forms a huge, tall, dense bush rather than a groundcover under 18 inches. Browsing through the perennials in the nursery looking for a match, this plant was revealed to be the fragrant native mistflower.

This planting of native mistflower was completely covered in butterflies, with butterflies flying a few feet around and above it. I only wish my camera was better so I could have properly captured the spectacle. If you look closely, you can see a blur right above the mistflower that's actually a butterfly in flight. They were a busy bunch, and it took some patience to get a picture where they were in focus.

I also noticed that despite there being both native and Gregg's mistflower in the butterfly garden, the butterflies were ignoring the Gregg's here too.

And last of all, a planting of native fall aster behind a stone bench:

I grabbed a pot of the white fragrant native mistflower on the way out, and I'm hoping I can make enough room for it to fill in and thrill a decent population of butterflies by next fall. If you have a chance to stop by the butterfly garden over the next week or so, I recommend it. I don't think I've ever seen so many butterflies in one place before, and it made my day.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

I take it back: Gruss an Aachen is fragrant, after all!

I don't know what it is about this weather, if I can blame the temperature or perhaps humidity, but suddenly roses that have had no scent to my nose are perfume powerhouses. 

Take Gruss an Aachen. I've read more than once that it has a strong scent, but I've only occasionally been able to pick up a faint fragrance early in the morning. Until Sunday, and the last two days it's been strongly, wonderfully scented, and blooming its gorgeous heart out.

I can't believe what a transformation this rose has undergone since I moved it from the backyard. I can't believe that I almost yanked it out to put it out of its pathetic, twiggy, blackspotted misery!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Garden Conservatory's Open Days Tour

After visiting James David and Gary Peese's amazing garden during Spring Fling, I couldn't miss a chance to see it again and drag some more friends along with me during The Garden Conservatory's Open Days Tour. Just like my first time visiting this garden, I spent more time searching out interesting niches and talking to people than I did taking pictures. No matter, the garden was crowded with visitors and the light was terrible for photography, though I did have some decent pictures turn out in the shade.

And ironically, once again I somehow escaped taking a picture of the dramatic lawn. Someday I'm going to compile a list of links to everyone's Spring Fling pictures of that lawn, and it's going to be awesome.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bloom Day, September 2008

In September, the big show from the datura has wound down, and the sweet almond verbena is between bloom cycles as well. The show right now is divided between the new front bed, which has finally filled in, and the roses, which are having a good fall flush.

The new front bed, Still Life With Car:

Here's Duchesse de Brabant. This bloom in particular had an intense tea fragrance:

Gruss An Aachen, just begging for someone with watercolor painting skills:

I've gotta say that now that since I moved Gruss An Aachen to better dirt and more direct sun late last winter, this rose has been almost blackspot free and remarkably free-blooming. It does get a lot of extra water from the leaky hose connection when I water the rest of the yard, though, which is probably a factor in its spectacular performance.

And the backyard rose bed, out of focus, I'm afraid. Blooming from nearest to farthest are Marie Pavie, Double Knockout, Belinda's Dream, Souvenier de la Malmaison, Maggie, Duchesse de Brabant, and finally, a very faint pink speck in the in the back, Louis Philippe:

And as a note to anyone planning to plant Maggie, a wonderfully-scented bourbon:  Make sure you plant this rose where you can actually get to it to smell the flowers.  Planting several roses and an agave right in front of it is most definitely NOT a bright idea.  At least my neighbors have been enjoying the flowers from their side of the fence, so all is not lost.

As I write this, there's a definite chill to the morning breeze, and I'm looking forward to getting back to digging large holes in my yard for "fun."  Six new roses have just been acquired (nearly all in shades of peach, which was unintentional), and I can tell already that my pickaxe is going to get a workout.  It's gonna be awesome.