Sunday, March 29, 2009

Update on the Recession Garden

(Will add pix later. Maybe. If I feel like it.)

So last you heard, I was harvesting my 6 radishes and the lettuce were starting to look lettuce-like. Some peppers had germinated, as well as some artichokes and maybe some okra.

Sadly, we never got the watering system really sorted out this winter: it watered most of the greenhouse, but not all of the greenhouse, excluding my seeds and rose cuttings some of the time.

So we're now down to one or two late-germinating chile seedlings, a handful of doubtful tomato seedlings, 2 okras, about 10 eggplants, and 6 or so tomatillos. Oh, and a fennel from that Austin Passion for Plants festival last weekend (it consisted of a bunch of informational/demo booths, and for every 4 booths we visited, you got a free plant. I got a 'Super Sweet 100' cherry tomato, and Matt got a 'Zefa Fino' fennel. I never got quite a clear answer from him on why he chose a fennel--I don't think he's a fan of the bulb or the foliage. He just said something airy about liking to have fennel in the garden. Well, why not?)

And we've actually harvested 2 side salads' worth of Lolla Rossa lettuce, which Matt loyally declared to be "really good."

Six more radishes languish in the pot, refusing to produce little bulbs. I think the intermittent watering stalled them out, along with some unseasonable heat. They're neither growing nor dying, just sitting there.

The pelleted butterhead lettuce never even sprouted, much to my consternation. And I think the lemongrass sprouts lasted about 1 day. The ahi limon chile crop, which was the inspiration for this entire effort, has completely died out. So sad. I may try to sprout a few more, just to see.

Amusingly, though, it looks like my initial prediction regarding the veg garden was right: I'm going to end up with almost nothing but buckets of tomatillos (and eggplants)--if I'm lucky. Well. It beats farkleberries and rotten turnips.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, Harriet Martineau!

(June 12, 1802 – June 27, 1876)

I'm taking a break from the usual garden/house material to celebrate International Ada Lovelace Day. A bunch of bloggers are getting together to celebrate women in technology in order to provide role models/inspiration for themselves and others. (Ada Lovelace was a Victorian mathematician who wrote "programs" for Charles Babbage's hypothetical computing machine.) I get the impression that most people will be writing about contemporary female role models in technology; but as a Victorianist, when I think "role models," I think nineteenth century.

Who She Was: Radicalism
So I'm massaging the definition of "technology" here to write about one of my very favorite Victorians, Harriet Martineau. Martineau was a completely independent mind, someone who tested ideas herself to come to her own conclusions, and who was never afraid to follow the evidence wherever it led her. She never married (writing, "The older I have grown, the more serious and irremediable have seemed to me the evils and disadvantages of married life, as it exists among us at the time," an astute observation in view of the legal disadvantages to 19c women of marrying and of the tyranny of Victorian divorce laws), earned a living as a writer and public sage, was an avowed atheist at a time when that belief was even less popular than it is today (she famously described herself as "a free rover on the bright, breezy common of the universe"), became a convert to mesmerism when it seemed to cure her of a cyst in her abdomen, and was a committed abolitionist, to pick some of the more outstanding examples of her iconoclasm (v1, p133; v1, p116).

Martineau was raised in a Unitarian family, which means that she ran in fairly progressive circles from an early age. Her parents took care to educate both their sons and daughters, exercising "every self-denial to bring us up qualified to take care of ourselves," a lesson of self-reliance that became a key theme of Martineau's life (all quotations are from her Autobiography; v1, p27).

One of the things I love about her is her absolute straightforwardness. She must have been a formidable dinner guest, given her compulsion to call spades, spades. Endearingly, though, she's as frank about her own foibles as about anyone else's, writing of her childhood, "Of course, my temper and habit of mind must have been excessively bad. I have no doubt I was an insufferable child for gloom, obstinacy, and crossness" (v1, p43).

A particularly virtuous outcome of this frank, decisive way of assessing the world was that when she saw a problem, she tried to fix it. I happened to read some letters from her to Florence Nightingale in the British Library some years ago. Nightingale had returned triumphant from the Crimea and set about initiating further reforms in the Army's medical system back in London. Despite her massive popularity, she ran into determined resistance from the military establishment. When Martineau heard about this, she wrote to Nightingale--a woman she barely knew--to offer her assistance as an experienced popularizer of science to write a book that would bring the necessary pressure to bear on the authorities. This sort of breathtaking and energetic generosity was entirely characteristic of Martineau, eminently pragmatic, committed to the public good.

The Political Economy Series
She began writing to support herself and more or less stumbled onto stories with an economic theme, these being surprisingly popular with her publisher's working class readers. When she came across a book called Conversations on Political Economy (available now via googlebooks, for the curious)--coincidentally by a woman, Jane Haldimand Marcet (who does not have a Wikipedia entry, sadly: fellow Ada Lovelacers?)--she realized that there was a more scientific basis for the themes she had been treating. This realization led to the foundational work of her career, her Political Economy series.

At the time, "political economy," the embryo that was to become modern economics, was the foundation for many political and policy decisions. It was also veiled in mystery for the average person. In George Eliot's Middlemarch, her passionate, reform-minded heroine, Dorothea Brooke, finds herself constantly thwarted in her efforts by men who airily cited political economy, "that never-explained science which was thrust as an extinguisher over all her lights." In other words, the fact that women and the working class could not speak the language of political economy prevented them from participating fully in the major economic debates of the day. Realizing that there was a need for this information, and discovering that, in fact, the working classes were thirsty for accessible material on the subject, she conceived of a series of novellas, each of which would illustrate one of the key principles of political economy.

They were a huge success with readers, despite her publisher's initial reservations. Ten days after publication, her publisher sent her a letter asking her to make any needed edits as quickly as possible so they could print another run of 2,000. "A postscript," Martineau says, "informed me that since he wrote the above, he had found that we should want three thousand. A second postscript proposed four thousand and a third five thousand." This early in her career, Martineau exhibited her customary fearlessness in the face of controversy: in "Weal and Woe in Garveloch," the sequel to popular favorite "Ella of Garveloch," she wrote about Malthusian understandings of population and the wisdom of practicing family planning (by implication, through abstinence--she doesn't address birth control). Various right-wing critics pilloried her for daring to discuss so indelicate an issue, and some families forbid their daughters from reading the book; nonetheless, Martineau's financial success from the series was sufficient to make her (modestly) financially secure for the rest of her life.

Other Works
She did not, however, rest on her laurels. From the proceeds of her political economy series, she traveled to America to write Society in America. She employed the principles she codified in How to Observe Morals and Manners, which became important in the field of sociology. Her expose of anti-abolitionist feeling in the U.S.--most surprising in progressive centers like the northeast--is particularly enlightening. She also traveled to Egypt and the Middle East to gather material for Eastern Life, a book about the religions of the region. All experiences were grist for her intellectual and analytical mill: when she became sick and bedridden, she used that and the experience of being deaf (she lost her hearing in her teen years) to write Life in the Sickroom, a series of essays on the effects of invalidism in the mind and spirit. When her pain was removed through mesmerism, she wrote about that experience. When she lost her faith, she chronicled the process in The Atkinson Letters. She remains one of the key translators of Comte, whose philosophy she admired.

Despite her iconoclastic beliefs, Martineau was widely (though not universally) revered. Her ability to absorb ideas and popularize them made her an authority figure that Parliamentarians, among others, habitually consulted. Her courageous honesty made her trusted and respected. She became an increasingly involved feminist over the years, participating in a petition to Parliament in favor of female suffrage, among other causes. Her own imperviousness to obstacles, however, sometimes blinded her to the difficulties faced by contemporary women who were not gifted with her stupendous intellect and clarion sense of duty. Alongside appreciations of women like Joanna Baillie and Florence Nightingale are some less charitable screeds against frivolous women whose vacuous behavior and anti-intellectualism reinforced Victorian sexism. Her strength of mind is enviable, even if it can be difficult to emulate.

I'm including Harriet Martineau in Ada Lovelace Day under the definition of technology as "use and knowledge of tools and crafts." Her life was dedicated to the spread of knowledge for the benefit of humankind. She had an Enlightenment faith in the ability of Reason to resolve all ills, paired with an urgent Victorian sense of social justice. For her, knowledge was a great lever for moving the world. I admire her energy, her commitment to social good, her insatiable curiosity, and her wonderful self-confidence.

Martineau's death mask from The Armitt Collection in Ambleside, UK

Sunday, March 22, 2009

1 Less Mystery Rose

(For Happy Reasons)
It's been a good spring for this mystery rose, which I thought sorta kinda looked like 'Monsieur Tillier.' It was this year's first bloomer, and it's currently boasting a healthy crop of buds and blossoms.

Best of all, I think I finally know what it is! Yesterday, Matt & I went to the "Passion for Plants" East Austin Garden Fair, an annual event whose main goal is to promote fruit/vegetable gardening for better health, but which also supports general gardening skills and sustainability ideas. It was a slightly weird event for Matt & me, given that he hates vegetables and that it's more or less pitched at a novice level. We learned a lot of things we already knew, but in the vast and varied world of horticulture, it's always wise to be humble. We had never seen a demonstration of double-digging, for example, and I immediately add a garden fork to my mental horticultural shopping list.

But best of all, at the exhibit on so-called "Earthkind" roses (a label that's applied to roses of all classes and origins that happen to be particularly environmentally friendly), I saw a picture of a fat pink tea-looking rose that looked immediately familiar. I know it as the ersatz 'M. Tillier,' but I think it's known to most rosarians as "Georgetown Tea." (Like the "Maggies" we belatedly identified, this one is a found rose. In our case, they're twice-found roses.)

Here's its latest big bloom in our garden:

Our "Georgetown Tea" rose

...and here are some images of "Georgetown Tea" from the Earthkind website, from Buchanan's Native Plants, and from the Antique Rose Emporium.

Note the variable shades of pink, the profusion of petals, the classic tea-rose shape, and the tendency toward pointiness on the older petals. All characteristics of GT and of our mystery rose. We'll see what Matt says, but I think we've got it.

Farkleberry Flourishes
In other news, I thought you would be pleased to learn that our little farkleberry is thick with new foliage--it looks perfectly healthy and happy. They said it couldn't be done, ladies and gentlemen... Of course, it's easy to flourish in April. The true test is August. I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Coming Alive

The garden on the whole is still in that frowsy, twiggy, in-between state prior to completely embracing spring. However, there are individual signs of spring all over.

Let's start with the best news: the baldcypress lives! This comes as a pleasant surprise. Chuck, my father-in-law, liberated it from an atrocious tree-butcher outside of Hempstead who had hacked off most of the cypress's roots and crammed it into a little bitty plastic pot. Then we planted it. In June. ("You mean the June at the beginning of what has been called the worst drought in Texas since the catastrophic drought of 1956?" Yes. That June.) The baldcypress didn't care for our La Niña weather pattern at all. It dropped most of its leaves and then, most disturbingly, it sort of crumpled. It had been nice and straight, but now it's bent and sad, as though its insides dried out so cataclysmically that they sucked the bole crooked. All winter, we've been scraping back bits of bark, trying to spot green (to see if it's "wick," as Dickon explains to Mary in The Secret Garden.)

And now look!
Baldcypress buds

See those tiny dots on the stems? They weren't there a week ago. They're leaf buds! He's moving a bit slowly compared to most everything else in the yard. But a brain-damaged baldcypress is better than no baldcypress at all. Maybe with time he'll straighten up, leaf out, and make us all proud.

Speaking of the Robinia ('Purple Robe' black locust), check it out--it's got flower buds. In a week or so, it should be covered in wine-colored racemes, very much like wisteria, but plummier.

Robinia pseudoacacia buds

In other tree news, the red oak (Quercus buckleyi) is living up to its name and is covered in red baby leaves. Here's a funny thing: when the leaves first appear, they are sharply angled down, looking like severely reflexed flowers. As the leaves mature, they float upright. In their baby stage, they remind me of the flowers in the Fantasia version of the Dance of the Mirlitons from the Nutcracker. In the picture below, the leaves are out of the infant stage and are toddling about, drooling on things.

New leaves on the Texas red oak Quercus buckleyi)

I'm also on the cusp of discovering just what I've got in Japanese maples. I got them very, very cheap, but down side is that I had no way to tell if they are green, red, or purple. Naturally, I'm hoping for at least one red or purple, but I keep reminding myself that even green would be cheap at the price I paid. Thus far, the new leaves look red, but then so do baby leaves on Q. buckleyi.

A new Japanese maple leaf. Is it really purple, or is this just a phase?

And these little fellows are gathered around the feet of the maple above. They're native columbines, which, with their tightly vertical spurs, make me think of flaming meteorites.

Blooming native columbine (Aquilegia something-or-other)

..And enough of these lesser plants. On to the roses!

The mutabilis, as is their wont, are kicking butt.

Mutabilis flower

I'm especially pleased with how 'Ducher' is turning out, particularly given that I didn't give a toss about this cultivar when Matt brought one home. I chunked it in the pole bed and wished it well and barely gave it another thought. Now look at it. Lots of buds, dark green foliage, and fat lemony flowers that glow in the low light on the east side of the house.

Ducher. It's actuall a little more lemony rather than creamy, as it appears in the pic.

Meanwhile, after a disappointing first year, Duchesse de Brabant is finally living up to its potential--lots of bowl-shaped pink flowers on a good-sized shrub. Unfortunately, as they face west, they can be difficult to photograph.

Nice, big bloom on Ducher

At the same time, rookie Souvenir de la Malmaison --still quite a small plant, having been purchased in October--has several large, heavy, cabbagey flowers in varying states of bloom.
Fully open Souvenir de la Malmaison

Younger S. de la Malmaision bloom
S. de la Malmaison bud

And, once more, the unknown-tea-that-might-be-Monsieur-Tillier puts on one of its large, many-petaled flowers.

M. Tillier? Who knows?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Granny Babe's Live Oaks

The Family gathered in Morgan City, LA, this past weekend for a belated birthday celebration for my mom. Back in Elgin, we finally got a good, soaking rain (they've ended the burn ban! Sparklers and bonfires for everyone!), so there is some greenness happening in the median strips as the grass and wildflowers hesitantly reacquaint themselves with the properties of water. But my goodness, our greenness is puny compared to the greenness in Louisiana. And the azaleas! Great, mounding heaps of them, eight feet tall or more--reaching up to the eaves of some people's houses.

And, of course, the live oaks. We actually have quite a lot of live oaks in Texas, especially (out our way), the escarpment live oak, Quercus fusiformus. But even the venerable pampered giants on Texas college campuses can't match the two leviathans in my grandmother's front yard. They're tall, they're pretty much as wide as her entire lot, and they would be as deep if the family didn't prune them away from her roof. Their trunks are over 5 feet in diameter. Forests of ferns have founded colonies in their limbs. The branch that I used to bounce up and down upon as a child has touched the ground and grown into the soil. The trees are like some sort of massive octupus gods who hold the entire property in their many-armed embrace.

Come to think of it, I don't understand why more cultures don't have tree-gods. Sun gods, I can tell you with great authority as a denizen of central Texas, are highly overrated. Mean, spiteful, infatuated with their own testosterone, selfish, merciless, utterly devoid of creativity--in my pantheon, the sun god would be the jerky one whose cult no one but skinheads wants to join. The rain goddess, of course, would be the benficent all-mother, bringing life-restoring coolness and moisture to her parched children. And her husbands would all be tree-gods--sagacious, long-lived, benevolent, temperate, generous, strong, and beautiful.

And you know what makes me sad/happy about these trees? These are something money can't buy. Obviously, you can buy property that contains ancient live oaks, but if you want an alley of massive oaks to line the driveway of your McMansion, you're out of luck. You can plant oaks, of course, and in a few decades you should have some very nice trees, but no amount of money or privilege or influence or biotechnology or microwave rays can manufacture an ancient oak. There is no way to bend them to our convenience. There is no way to fake it with plastics or growth hormones. Oaks are essentially and utterly and immovably themselves, and we can either accommodate ourselves to them or else do without. Time confers authenticity and meaningfulness, which is, in a way, the oak's special gift.

Believe it or not, this is actually an abridged selection of the pictures I snapped. I really, really love these trees.

My idea of these two oaks is inextricably bound to my idea of my mother's family. They are a Louisiana family, for one thing, and these are very Louisianian trees. And it's a fairly large family--Mom was one of five children, and I'm the eldest of 10 grandchildren. Like the trees, the family stretches in a lot of different directions--I've always found them to be a fascinating collection of very different personalities. And my grandmother's house and these trees are something I come back to once or twice year almost every year--where so many things stay they same, but where over the years I can chart tiny, incremental changes. The smell of Granny Babe's pantry is the same after all these years. The morning rituals of strong coffee and chat around the kitchen table. Granny watching football while she cooks. The joking and teasing that always start when the family gathers together. The carpet and wall colors that have been unchanged my entire life. The ticking of the dining room clock. The little crucifixes hanging over all the door ways. The porch swing I loved to swing on. The cologne my grandfather used to wear. His big, heart laugh and the peculiar way he'd press his lips together and dismissively examine his fingernails to express disapproval. The way Granny can never wrap her head around the foods my brother and I don't eat. ("What?! You don't like hoghead cheese? You don't eat oysters?!")

And then there are the things that do change. Granny's hair getting greyer and greyer. The trees getting wider and wider. Daddy-O passing away. And the changes in me--from the eldest and most solitary grandchild to a married grownup lady sitting at the grownup table. A little girl streaking naked down the long hall, a bigger girl running and sliding in her socks down the wooden floor of that hall, a sulky teenager reading novels on the porch. Going back is always an exploration. Have I changed? Have they? Or is it just my perception of them that is different? I love this combination of change and sameness----it's like re-reading a book you've read 20 times since you were a child. Every time I visit I feel a comforting sense of continuity, a gentle awareness of loss, and a surprising rediscovery of bits of myself I had forgotten.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wet Stuff!!

We have rain!

It started yesterday around 2ish and continued intermittently into the night, at a steadyish light rain or a heavy drizzle.

Today it spat in the morning, drizzled in the early evening, and just gave us a good hard (brief) pounding a few minutes ago.

Unfortunately, I still haven't leveled my rain gauge, so I don't know how much rain we got, but presumably it's somewhere between the 1.3" at "The Arbors at Dogwood Creek" and the 1.9" at Manor. (Two inches!! (or nearly). I'm delirious at the thought. That's like... August through February all at once.)

The farkleberry must be loving this.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Farkleberry Fetish

Ever since I first heard of the farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) back at A&M, I've wanted one. I'll admit it: it's about the name, pure and simple. It's so whimsical and ridiculous. The fruits are apparently nasty to the point of inedibility, the flowers are practically nanoscopic, and it wants to live in something like 5.4 pH. So. Not a practical choice. But then, only a very silly person would expect practicality from a plant called "farkleberry."

And it does have some redeeming qualities. The wildlife, having a less refined palatte, like the fruit. And the flowers, though tiny, appear in delicate little sprays of urn-shaped buds that are somewhat fetching up close. And while the fruit is unappetizing, it's not poisonous--you can eat it, if, say, you live in a time of economic meltdown and you have nothing in your garden but rotten turnips and farkleberries.

In any case, I'm doing what azalea fanciers in the area do: I dug a hole much deeper than the pot, and mixed sphagnum moss into the soil at a 1:1 ratio. Here's hoping.

Anyway, here's my little farkleberry, looking a bit scruffy from his trip through the mail.

Baby farkleberry

The Winter is Over and Done
So, 8 days ago, I wrote a post called "Winter Garden." Now it's spring. What can I say? Things move fast in March.

For example, the oak-leaf hydrangea, still sporting increasingly limp-looking winter foliage, is also budding all over with silvery new leaves.

New hydrangea leaves

Similarly, last year's revenant pomegranates still hang on the tree, even as new olive-green leaves appear. (What does one do with pomegranates, anyway? Other than sprinkle their seeds on top of fancy chiles rellenos? How do you know when they're ripe? How can you tell when they've gone off? There's something unnerving about pomegranates. Do you eat the skin? How do you extract the flesh? And thus ours hang on the tree, slowly mummifying.)

An undead pomegranate

And the roses are beginning to flower--intermittently for the moment, but with increasing frequency, sort of like popcorn slowly beginnging to pop.

Naturally, it's the chinas that go first. Wonderful roses, chinas. They frequently have a full, old-fashioned look with a breezy, loose, no-fuss attitude to them. And they bloom all the time, require no pruning, and once established need almost no extra water.

Here is a slightly over-blown blossom of pale lemony-creamy-white Ducher, a gung-ho yet delicate flower that I never appreciated until I grew one myself.

'Ducher' in bloom

All five of our 'Mutabilis,' that much-loved and eminently useful china, are in bloom. This flower is in the late apricot stage of bloom.

'Mutabilis' bloom

And our 'Cramoisi Superieurs' seem to have finally settled in, after a slow start. The one in the rose bed, in particular, has put on some growth and is sporting this lovely thing.

'Cramoisi Superieur' blossom

Here's the funny thing about Cramoisi: I absolutely cannot capture that shade of red, either with my camera, or with the aid of Photoshop. It always comes out too pink, no matter how I diddle with the greens, blues, and reds.

Uf! Spring is Hard Work

All was not rose blossoms and light, however. We decided it was time to clean out the pond. Matt got started while I was still gathering the tools, and I knew the moment he began even though I was on the other side of the yard because the Stench was omnipresent. There was a thick layer of black, oozying, fibrous exceedingly stinky muck at the bottom of the pond. We transferred this to the compost bin, potted up the waterlilies, which had been growing straight in the muck, and refilled the water. Which promptly drained out of the other giant crack in the liner. So put a new pond liner on the list of Things to Buy. The old one, really, is too small for the yard, so it's a good excuse to upsize to something (moderately) more appropriate.

Things We Learned about Water Gardening:
- Really do plant your water lilies in clay or kitty litter. Even if you get dirt to stay in the pot and not float away, the water lilies unearth themselves and go drifting all over the place.
- Waterlilies have many and strange parts. I'm still not sure if I saved the right bits. There were (1) things like tiny clusters of bananas, (2) long knobbly tubers, and (3) jointed stems with clusters of roots coming out of them. I planted some of each. We'll see what happens.

As you may have inferred, we did no research whatsoever before starting this project, and once we realized that we were facing a knowledge deficit, we were already plastered in muck and couldn't come inside to google. So item three on the list of things we learned would be
- Do your research before getting covered in black, slimy detritus.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Winter Garden

Cottonwood (Populus deltoides). They aren't visible in this picture, but there is a tiny little tuft of new leaves on the topmost layer of branches. Spring's a-coming!

First, the fascia.
Matt's been risking life and limb to tear off the old, rotten fascia, and replace them with new, treated fascia. You should be listening to "Also sprach Zarathustra" (the 2001 theme music) while looking at the picture below.

Matt, tearing down the old fascia

And here you can see the old and new fascia side by side.

Manky, rotten old fascia on left; shiny white new fascia on right

It makes me feel very responsible and virtuous to be taking care of this now, as it isn't a major aesthetic issue and doesn't impede the day-to-day running of the house (my two strongest motivating forces for home repair). It's sort of preventative maintenance, my very least favorite kind. Matt's now got the west and south sides complete. I need to do some more priming and painting so he'll have a good supply of boards for the rest of the house.

Then, the Garden Report
Sometimes I get a little frustrated because our garden is so immature. In some places, it just seems like frowzy collection of sticks and twigs. However, either the changing seasons, or a recent (slight) growth spurt, or our new garden additions are making me feel like I can see where we're going. I think I can see it morphing from something disparate and disunified and disproportionate into something that makes sense as a whole. Maybe. Just a little. It's gratifying.

S0 here's a recap of recent progress.

New weeping yaupon, on right. How nice it will someday look with our relatively new trellis and our somewhat less new magnolia!

Enlarged front bed with new special bulge to accommodate new weeping yaupon and a rose or two. We'll (eventually) be putting a walkway along the bed from the drive to the front door.

And the other site of much recent endeavor is the shade garden, which is intended to one day enwrap our little patio like a leafy green stole.

New Mexican Olive (Cordia boissieri).

Our adolescent little cordia is the linchpin of this plan. We need it to anchor the bed, provide evergreen shade, and shield the southeastern corner of the house.

A woodsy, green headge is also key--this patio faces our jerky neighbors (not visible in the picture below--there you see the house of one of our nice neighbors), so we need some privacy. On a more positive note, I'm planning to indulge myself with a greener, moister bit of garden that one is often able to carry off in central Texas. The fact that the garden is east-facing, that it's under a giant deciduous cottonwood, and is shielded by an evergreen ligustrum (for now), means that we have a little more leeway in this corner of our yard. The kinder, gentler soils of Elgin help, too. So I'm hoping to create some bosky lushness.

The ferny grey-blue folliage of the new Dioon edule in front; new oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in back, providing some bright winter color.

The two oak-leaf hydrangeas (one still hypothetical) will be particularly dominant features of the shade garden. They have wonderful loose, airy, greeny-white flowers, and the mature shrubs are built like linebackers.

Oak-leaf hydrangea leaves

I'm also hoping this awesome winter color is a reliable annual feature. They look like giant coleus.

Iris virginiana in front, Japanese maple behind it with native columbine (Aquilegia candensis) at its base, and a small clump of inland sea oat (Chasmanthium latifolium) shoots in the background.

In a couple of paychecks, I plan to order a truckload of mulch to mulch the entire patio area. My back spasms in anticipation.

Elsewhere in the yard, those larkspur/poppie seeds I planted appear to be pulling through. So far, I'm only seeing one kind of seedling--not sure if they're the Oriental poppies or the larkspur. The seedlings are currently pretty sparse, but it's early days yet. I do hope both kinds come up--I absolutely adore a mixed bed of poppies and larkspur against a white wall or, in this case, a white gazebo. I first fell for it at Landmakr Inn in Castroville, that nifty Alsatian settlement W of San Antonio, and I've been hoping to replicate it ever since.

Larkspur? or poppy? seedlings

Although we had some dreary, balled-up buds on 'Ducher' almost all winter, I think this might be the first proper rose of 2009, photographed back on Feb 8th. I'm particularly pleased for it, as it's a dark horse--one of our mystery roses--a tea (maybe) that bears a slight resemblance to 'Monsier Tillier.'

The precocious ersatz 'M. Tillier'
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