Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring of Irises

Blue flag in the pond--Granny's Louisiana iris in the background
Last spring was the Spring of Poppies: the Papaver somniferum seeds that we had broadcast 2 years ago finally burst out of dormancy and shocked us with their sudden abundance of slightly louche blooms.

This seems to be the Spring of Irises: we've had 3 different cultivars blooming that have never bloomed before, plus the usual strong showing from the cemetery irises, and a couple floppy-stemmed I. virginica blossoms.

The new irises are:

  • yellow Louisiana irises from my grandmother's garden (in Louisiana)
  • blue flags from the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center
  • white grape-scented irises from I'm-not-sure-where
Mysterious grape-scented iris
I've never been particularly iris-centric, which is part of what is making this such a nice surprise.  Our garden has reached the degree of maturity that is contains things that we plan for and expect, and also things that have slowly, sneakily reached their prime, or things we just kind of tossed in offhand.

I really, really like this combination of known and unknown quantities. The known plants are like a holiday that you look forward to every year.  Anticipated, finally arriving, much like you remembered, not quite the same, each with its own memories. The unknowns are like a gift.  (And then there are rampaging monsters-- both known and unknown--like that execrable, motherliking bermudagrass, but it's much too pretty an evening to waste thinking about bermudagrass.  God, I do hate that stuff, though).

Not to be too perky (because my natural habitat is the dark side--if a glass is half full, that's probably because it was left out a couple of days ago and now tastes stale and has a gnat floating in it--but who are we kidding? we all know that glass is half empty), but the garden is full of loveliness right now.

Most winter, one or both pond pumps were out.  Matt got them back in order and I love the pond with all the water going. LOVE it. I could (and do) sit here for hours, just absorbing.

Pond with functional pumps and Granny's iris
Not only is Granny's iris blooming, it looks great where we stuck it on the spur of a moment--it fills a sort of dead corner of the pond, softens the waterfall's rock pile, and gives the illusion of order just by being so vertical and clean-lined.

Three baby cardinals hatched, grew, and flew off from a nest their parents built in the gazebo's 'Buff Beauty' rose. Not a very good location, as we have been constantly by the pond, enjoying the weather, checking on the babies, and making the parents nervous. But it worked out in the end.

A very pretty daylily (Patricia Snyder Memorial, which I bought a couple of years ago from the man who hybridized it at Paynes in Grass in Houston), which has always been a bit delicate, is full of its first buds.

The Crinum macowannii that I bought as a great fleshy green seed several years ago now has a heavy umbel of flowers that smell like perfumed soap.

Crinum macowannii--I wish it would hold its head up, because the flowers are lovely and they smell gorgeous

Our pond is now hosting two baby turtles!  Matt says we have to catch them and humanely relocate them or they'll eat all our fish, but as they are currently the size of silver dollar pancakes, I'm not too fussed just yet.  Soon, though.  Those fish have enough to worry about without being harried by a pair of voracious reptilian freeloaders.

A smooth green tree frog had been hanging out in our blacklocust for the past week or so, looking adorably compact and vibrant.

The Chestnut Rose is putting on its first blooms, and--though still short--it is forming an impenetrable thicket of tiny leaves, suggesting the beautiful wall of dense privacy it will someday provide. 

All my herb acquisitions (including two more new ones: African blue basil, and a purple-leaved orange mint) are doing well, and Lavendula 'Otto Quast' looks especially happy. (All except 'Pink Lemonade' thyme--it looked feeble when we got it, and it hasn't improved since. The dittany of Crete, which I thought was so obscure and cutting edge but is now absolutely everywhere to my chagrin, is doing quite well, though.) 

'Otto Quast' lavender in front, 'Victoria Blue' salvia behind, and Caryopteris to the right.  You can see a little of the baby 'Margo Koster' rose, as well.
No bats in the bathouse yet, though.  I'm hoping the baby cardinals will give positive reviews of our garden's hospitality.

The pond.  In spring.  Gosh, it's nice.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

New Things

2012 was a good year in terms of garden expansion. We added  number of new plants, and some of our 2011 additions bloomed for the first time.

But somehow, not all of the new material made it to the blog.  So, in no particular order, here are some new things from Jan 2012 and beyond. 

A particularly nice ''Kronprinzessin Viktoria' blossom--her blooms have a tendency to untidiness that I'm not wild about, but this particular flower is nicely geometrical.

'White Cloud' Muhly on a foggy morning--also 'Black Moudry' below.

Our first 'Wedding Cake' bloom!  The plants are less than 8" tall, so this was an especially admirable effort.  These are SUCH weird roses--the petals are strangely thick, almost vinyl like.

One of the first flowers ever on our 'Fortune's Double Yellow,' a rose I've been yearning for since, oh, 1995 or so.   We bought it last year and it's already a 5-foot tall toothy beast. Tiny teeth, but a zillion of them, and all sharply recurved.  You can easily stick your hand in a FDY--but don't count on getting it back out again. It's like the world's most vicious velcro.  Pretty, though.

 More FDY

'Dainty Bess'--one of Matt's favorites.  A bit hard to photograph unless you catch it at just the right moment (which this isn't).

'General Gallieni'--just a tiny little newly planted band at the time, but it threw out this nice little bud nevertheless (and which, if I were a proper rose lover, I would have pinched off so the little guy could put all his energy into his roots--but I just couldn't bear to).

Our first bloom from the yellow Louisiana iris from my grandmother's yard!

A particularly nice bloom from 'Rhodologue Jules Gravereaux.' He's less than 1 foot high, only about 6 months old, and yet he's sporting 5 very nice flowers, including this nicely shaded specimen.

'Red Smith's Parish'--why "Red" when it's quite obviously pink?  I do not know.  Perhaps it ruddies up with age?  It appears to be quite free-blooming, though, having had at least one flower on it since February, despite being a little baby of a thing.

'Mrs Dudley Cross'--a very petalliferous Tea rose.

Finally, an okay(ish) picture of 'Spice'!  I find this rose hard to photograph, despite its being a very generous bloomer.

Another 'Spice.'

I love this white scabiosa.  Popular with the pollinators, too.  Must be nectarlicious.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fall Color, New Herbs, Bathouse!

Considering that this is Texas--and not Vermont--our yard actually had some decent fall color.  The only problem is that is doesn't have it till mid-January.

Here's one of our Lacey oaks turning a nice blend of golds, oranges, and browns, making a radiant backdrop for Lewie, our pop-eyed berserker chessman.


And here's our Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum), finally turning russet, with another Lacey oak to the right.

The Montezuma cypress is basically green 11 months out of the year, red-brown for three weeks, bare for 1 week, and then in starts over again.  At least, that seems to be its pattern so far. It's still only about half bare, but it's already sprouting tiny spikes of green all over.

It's been a pretty mild winter, as you can tell by our rampant umbrella plant.  We've had, oh, 10 or a dozen nights dipping below freezing and even into the 20s, but never really with much conviction.  Only quite tender plants have been knocked back, and of those, only the ones that aren't sheltered.

We have a white Crinum powellii (sort of visible in the top pic behind the potted plants), that is between a 'La Marne' rose and a fence with 2-inch gaps between each slat.  And it doesn't have a bit of freeze damage anywhere.  And roses 'Red Cascade' and 'Burgundy Iceberg' are actually still blooming (weirdly, on the north and east sides of the house--apparently, this year's cold winds came from the south/west?).

Naturally, when the weather is this balmy, one has no choice but to plant things.

For some reason, I got a bug to finally track down two of the particularly interesting plants from the gardens at Festival Hill in Winedale: 'Goldcrest,' the lemon-scented cypress, and dittany of Crete, a kind of fuzzy, silver-leafed oregano relative.

The company I ordered from (Mountain Valley Growers--check out the adorable 1950s typeface on their box!) has a minimum, so I rounded things out with a 'Pink Lemonade' thyme, a lemon bergamot mint (Mentha piperita cv citrata), and an Egyptian mint (Mentha niliaca--I don't actually remember ordering that one, but what the hell. Sounds fun and exotic.)

The cypress will be growing up the back corner of the house, in the mint/lemon balm/pink C. powellii bed.

But the most exciting thing we planted was the bathouse Matt gave me for Christmas. 

We (loosely) used the instructions put out by Bat Conservation International (based here in Austin, thank you very much!) to prep the box and mount it on a pole.

Per the bat folks, we bought a 16' "schedule-40 stainless steel pole with a 2" interior diameter (which I procured from the obliging folks at American Fence & Supply in Georgetown--who with much trouble--and some misgivings--fastened it to the top of my little Insight using 2 foam kayak mounting doohickies. They tied that sucker on tight, but the 30-min drive home on 130 was nerve-wracking all the same.)

The fence guy recommended the mounting hardware you see in the pic rather than the items in the PDF, so that's what we did.  We cut up a 2x6, screwed it to the bathouse using 2-inch #8 wood screws (careful to avoid penetrating the body of the house itself), and then attached it to the pole.

(As a side note, the fence guys also sold me a cap for the pole, which I think the bat folks should consider adding to their instructions).

Then Matt used post-hole diggers to dig a 3-foot deep hole--which, being Matt, took just about no time at all.  We raised it (definitely a 2-person job--you could really hurt yourself trying to do it alone), filled it halfway with dirt, tamped the dirt, applied a level, and filled it the rest of the way with a bag of kiwkrete.

Handsome, no?

A few notes:
  • While the bat folks recommended a sort of medium-tan paint job for bathouses in our area, Austin bat forums all seem to agree that unpainted/unstained was better for hot climates.  So we are leaving ours as is.
  • Some instructions recommend creating a 3'-diameter concrete pad around the base of the bathouse.  Since ours is in a bed (practically on top of 'Burgundy Iceberg'), we did not do this.  It's buried 3' down, though, so I'm not too worried.
  •  Bathouses should be a minimum of 20' away from branches where birds of prey might lurk.  Ours is in one of the less-tree-infested spots in the yard, but even so I'm going to have to do some trimming stat (it needs to be ready before the bats return in the spring).
  • The bat folks recommend 6-8 hours of direct sun, with morning sun being preferable.  As it is also possible for a bathouse to be too hot, I decided to err on the cooler side and install the house on an east-facing wall.  In the summer, I think it will get 6+ hours of sun, but I'm not perfectly confident about this--it might be more like 5-1/2.  But the west side of our house is just a horrible furnace in Jul-Aug-Sept, and the south is too tree-y.  
  • A little way up the street there is a street light.  Instructions say the bathouse shouldn't be lit up at night.  I'm hoping the light is far enough away not to annoy, but close enough to offer a tempting all-night buffet.
  • That window by the bat pole?  That's our bedroom window.  If we get bats, we'll be able to lie in bed at night with the lights off and watch them flitting about!
  • Matt says not to be disappointed if no bats move in.  He's right, of course. It's a gamble.  But it would be so cool if they did.
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