Saturday, March 20, 2010

SO MUCH STUFF is happening

Spring in the Shade Garden

A Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) leafs out

Today is brisk! The Sunset Valley Farmer's Market had less than half its usual stalls, and everyone there looked frostbitten and miserable. An veritable mistral is blowing--the guy who runs the nursery up the road told Matt that his neighbor's metal roof blew off in the wind--just peeled right off. My fingers kept getting numb while I snapped pictures, but so much is going on that I couldn't stop.

For example, I'm shocked to discover that our Japanese maples aren't dead. Their leaves got progressively crispier last summer till they finally burned off completely. Perhaps they just needed to acclimate?

Last year, Matt dug up some mystery bulbs from his family's property on the Brazos River. Turns out, some of them were snowflakes. What is interesting is that the flowers look a bit different from our other snowflakes--slimmer, more flared, more deeply lobed, and with pointier lobes. A different cultivar? A different species? Or just different growing conditions (eastside vs westside gardens)?

A skinnier snowflake: Leucojum aestivum?

The shade garden is seeing a lot of action. Things are poking their little heads out of the ground, popping into bloom, and putting on new leaves. Look at the lovely bright greenness of this patch of inland sea oats, for example.

First flush of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

Or look at the dark red of the shrimp plant we bought recently--particular grateful on such a forbiddingly grey day.

Dark red Justicia cultivar

Our 'New Dawn' abutilon finally put on a bunch of buds. I'm really impressed with abutilon--the weather's been incredibly capricious this month, but they're just blooming away merrily. There's a lot of vitality in these little plants.

A worm's eye view of Abutilon 'New Dawn'

Lots of Pictures of Trees in Bud
Our trees are full of buds and new leaves, which is always so reassuring. For example, after a very rocky summer, our Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) is recharged and ready to go.

Montezuma cypress by the pond

This Lacey oak (Quercus laceyi) is full of little pink flower-like rosettes of leaves.

One of our Lacey oaks, expressing its feminine side

And our new weeping baldcypress, 'Cascade Falls' is continuing to bud out with undiminished vigor, much to my relief. Transporting it home from Austin sticking out of the back of my little Insight was rather nerve-wracking, and I was concerned that it would be traumatized. Seems pretty well-adjusted so far.

A zillion tiny green nubbins on the 'Cascade Falls' baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)

The Roses Are Back!
We dug up the two 'Knockout' roses and gave them to our friends Cathy, Kate, & Keith (thanks again for taking them!). So now we have more room for antiques: Madame Jo, here we come.

And among the antiques, we're j-u-u-u-s-t starting to see some new blooms and lots and lots of buds. Look at the roof of the gazebo: 'Climbing Old Blush' is covered in buds.

And inside, one timid little blossom has already opened.

The season's first flower of 'Climbing Old Blush'

'Georgetown Tea' last year's earliest bloomer and a really fantastic many-petalled plant, tucked away its first flower for this year deep in the middle of itself.

Our first 'Georgetown Tea' blossom this year

Meanwhile, 'Ducher,' a rose I could never be brought to care about until I grew it myself, already has a good five or six blossoms and rafts of buds. After the indomitable miniature, 'Green Ice,' the redoubtable 'Ducher' is probably our garden's most floriferous rose--blooms early, blooms late, blooms often. And it has an easy, casual gracefulness, while nevertheless being surprisingly sturdy. Some roses are prone to bruises, browning, and insect damage, but 'Ducher' always looks fresh and bright and clean and slightly lemony. If Mrs Meyer's fancypants aromatherapeutic cleaning products came in rose form, they might look a little like 'Ducher.'

Darling 'Ducher'

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Old Industrial Elgin

We did some more exploratory biking yesterday. Matt wanted to check out the northside of town, where we found this rusted old complex. After some sleuthing, Matt identified it as an old cotton gin. See the metal tubes from which they sprayed the cotton into the waiting train cars below?

There's cotton waste sticking to everything in the compound--like the chain link fence below.

The clincher, evidence-wise, was this row of old tanks, neatly and helpfully labeled "COTTONSEED OIL." It's odd the way it seems to have shut down all of a sudden--ladders still leaning against tanks, hoses dangling, floor mats left drying by the door.

Across the way is this interestingly desolate operation, which actually appears to still be in business. The sign out front said "Nitrogen," and the scummy green puddles pullulating with algae seemed to confirm it. I suppose farmers come here for fertilizer?

I really liked this tank, every inch of which appears to be covered in varicolored rust. It makes me kind of nervous, mind you, (perhaps, for holding dangerous chemicals, a rust-proof metal might have been preferable?) but the colors are neat.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring Planting & Tidying

It's definitely spring. It was in the 70s today, leaf buds are swelling, and flower buds are appearing. So it was time to do a little maintenance, and also to plant some things that have been kicking around in the greenhouse.

We weeded, cut back the dead branches of tender perennials, and raked out beds. Among the new plants were an Italian parsley (I'm not a fan of annuals, but you simply can't buy flat-leaf parsley in Elgin--I had no choice), "Berggarten" sage, and peppermint. Sage can be a bit whiny if it gets too much water, but that hasn't been a big problem here at Chez M lately.

'Berrgarten' sage. You'd think it'd be "biergarten," but no. 'Berrgarten.'

On the strictly ornamental side, I put a 1-gallon almond verbena (Aloysia virgata) behind the porch swing to add privacy and its lovely amaretto fragrance. The internet promises that it can take part shade--and surely the internet would never lie, right? I also added an Allardii lavender to keep last year's (now quite seedy) Spanish lavender company. More or less picked the cultivar at random--completely unscientific.

Lavandula allardii--the dark horse lavender

Matt planted a 'Paul Neyron' rose by the A/C unit, an 'Isabella Sprunt' in the pole bed, and a mystery rose by the chitalpa. This was definitely a good choice--I hadn't realized how scrawny the A/C bed looked until we filled it in a little.

'Red' verbena. No shit.

I also put a picnic-red verbena by the front door (cultivar name? 'Red.' Creative, no?), and added another Ipheion uniflorum under the chitalpa. Matt let me add his 'Black and Blue' salvia to the Blue & Purple bed, which will hopefully help to give the bed a finished look. We also put in a purple aster, so that bed doesn't look so miserably neglected.

Ipheion uniflorum--Starflower. Originally from Argentina.

Only the (blech) 'Pink Knockout' (TM) is currently in bloom, though Souvenir de la M, Duchesse de B, and Georgetown Tea all have buds.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cruisin' Elgin

I took a nice, long, exploratory bike ride today. I haven't been able to bike much lately, largely because the weather has not coordinated well with my schedule. But it was a nice, moody, overcast day today, in the 60s, all of which is terrific for me (I'm no great fan of sunshine, personally).

So. I wanted to break out of our usual biking patterns (10th St to Ave C to the duck pond or Main and back again) and see some new things, which totally worked out. I went down 2nd heading east of downtown and found myself on Ila, Bill, QS Goins[!], and Louise (streets, not people), where they have lots of rockin' yard bling and an adventurous, DIY approach to home construction and decoration.

Unfortunately, my camera card was full, so the only pix I could take were with my phone.

But here are some of the interesting things I saw.

This exceptionally gloomy abandoned house and derelict property.

I love old ruins--they're so pleasantly, tantalizingly melancholy

This woodcutter's cottage. His house is entirely fenced in firewood. Having been raised in the suburbs, I utterly do not know what to make of it. Is that how he heats his house? Does he sell firewood for a living? Answer comes there none.

The woodcutter's inexplicable cottage

Signs of spring. Daffodils, flowering quince, and pears were in bloom all over town.

A very big, old pear in bloom

And finally, one of the awesome things about living in a small town: goats! In town!

The tiny white dot in the back is a goat. He has another goat pal lurking behind the brush pile.

You want to know something weird? I like bike riding. I mean, I like it. It was always one of the more tolerable forms of exercise, but I never liked exercise in any form--it's always been a disagreeable but necessary means to some end or other. But this--this is fun. I didn't want to stop. I don't know what to make of this--some chemical change in my brain? Something to do with aging? Or maybe it's just the mild weather--moving around is fun when the great outdoors doesn't feel like a gigantic griddle. Who knows? I hope it's a long-lasting condition, though.

Early spring planting
A couple of weeks ago, we visited Barton Springs [or Creek? I always forget which it is] Nursery in Austin, just for a little looksee, and of course they were having a sale and had all sorts of lovely things in bloom to tempt our color-starved eyes.

Salvia vanhouttii 'Burgundy'

But then it was freezing, and wet, and snowy(!), so our purchases have been hanging out in Matt's greenhouse ever since. It's still a bit early, but I gambled and popped our burgundy Vanhouttii salvias in the ground, a 'Marilyn's Choice' abutilon, a 'New Dawn' abutilon, a garden mint, a cardoon (well, why the hell not?), and a couple of shrimp plants: dark red and firecracker orange.

'Marilyn's Choice' abutilon--you can see why I couldn't resist putting it in the ground

And, because they're still in bloom & I want to appreciate them while I can, here are some more of our cemetery iris, Iris albicans
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