The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- January 2003

Last Update:  January 29, 2003

American Goldfinches at our thistle feeder

January 5 - evening

I have had a very restful day in the garden, tweaking here and there, "puttzing," as I am fond of calling the time spent attending to  small chores. I have spent the day in the company of goldfinches, house finches, mockingbirds, doves, robins, blue jays, cardinals, flickers, chickadees, sparrows, hawks, vultures, and titmice. One of the greatest gifts of gardening is the company you get to keep.

At present, I am keeping the company of a decidedly crazed cat named Basho. (One of our tribe of five.) He may appear Buddhist at first glance (being a Tonkinese)  but once his ears are pinned back, there's not a chance in hell you'd mistake him for a Zen poet. In fact, he has just finished bouncing from ceiling to wall, to the floor, and back to the ceiling, again. At this moment he is staring down at me from the top of the armoire where we keep our computer, frisking his tail from one side to the next. God help me- he seems determined to jump on my head.


Despite my puttzing frame of mind, much has changed in the garden. We have removed several large trees- opening our space to even more sun. Now, when we go out into the garden, it is the sky that feels huge! I am excited by the change, knowing that our cypress trees now have the room they need to spread their limbs, and that our flowers will receive even more sun. It feels like we are starting the new year off with a new space. A good start indeed.

Our new porch cover seen from the allee

January 10 - morning

A cold front blew through the garden yesterday evening just as Victor and I were making our inspection rounds. An unheralded blast of arctic wind chased us in doors and swept away the record heat of the day (80 degrees.) This morning, the wind chimes are being knocked around and I had to hurry when I grabbed the papers from the front porch- it looks as if winter has returned.

The past few mornings have been wonderful- hundreds of goldfinches have made our garden their base of operations- flitting from feeder to feeder and congregating in happy crowds around our pond. I have spent the mornings at the window, cup of coffee in my hand, enjoying all of the activity. Even in their winter plumage, these are beautiful little birds. I can't wait until the spring, if we are successful in "holding onto" them for a while, the backyard will be filled with their brilliant breeding colors.

As I write this, a Carolina wren is singing from some hidden perch, and a cardinal is calling its mate with its silvery little song. And now that the sun has begun to warm the garden, I can see that the goldfinches are busy with their breakfasts. Years ago, I remember writing that I was searching for a spirituality that "spoke as clearly as birdsong." This morning, I am reminded of a beautiful poem by Wendell Berry, The Hidden Singer. I recently added it to my collection on the Inspiration pages of this website. I hope you enjoy it.

January 18 - afternoon

It is a beautiful winter day with temperatures in the fifties and crystalline skies. We had our coldest temperatures of the season this morning, 27 degrees fahrenheit (-2.8 degrees celcius.) I spent the better part of the morning cleaning up the frost damaged perennials and weeding the paths. I love these gentle winter days in Austin- the light has a gorgeous Provencal /Mediterranean quality. January days like this are among the most beautiful we experience all year long.

A patch of sunlight is making its way across the floor of our office and one of our cats is curled up in it , taking advantage of the warmth. I feel like following his example. It seems a reasonable thing to do on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

January 20 - evening

The following, stunning images come from the garden of Austin-based landscape designer, Nancy Webber. I had the pleasure of visiting with Nancy today while researching an article that I am writing on the art of landscape design. Look for it in the March edition of the Goodlife magazine.

Agave Weberi, appropriately enough.

Close up of the "teeth" of an unknown species of  agave

Agave Weberi wide shot

Perhaps now you may understand my agave addiction!

After visiting with Nancy, I returned home and planted three trees in the backyard of my ninety year-old neighbor: two Texas redbuds and a yaupon holly. A busy yet relaxing way to spend the day. Peace of the garden to you!

An equal time shot for Issa, Basho's brother

January 29, 2003

When I stepped out my back door this morning for my "cup of coffee tour," I was immediately welcomed by the delicious fragrance of our sweet olive which we keep in a pot on our patio. What a wonderful way to start your day! These evergreen shrubs bloom all winter long here in Austin, and if you keep them in a semi-enclosed area, the fragrance intensifies, filling your senses. Whenever I smell these tiny non-descript flowers, I am reminded of another early morning walk that took place several years ago when I was making my way through the very foggy streets of the French Quarter, in New Orleans. There are hundreds of sweet olives in the Quarter, many growing to the size of small trees. It seemed as if every particle of mist had been brushed with their perfume. The fragrance hung in the air, suspended by the fog. They say that nothing triggers memories more powerfully than fragrance,  and I believe it. I hardily recommend planting one of these shrubs in a sheltered location near a window or door where you and your guests can create a few memories of your own.

As I walked through the garden I realized how much work I need to do. Spring will be here in just a few shorts weeks and there is so much that remains to be done! There are many big work related projects standing between me and the garden right now- but I hope to sneak in a few hours this weekend to start making ready for the change in the seasons. Just before I walked back into the house, I saw several "V" shaped formations of birds flying north far overhead. Even though it is still January, I feel my chlorophyll starting to rise!

Continue to February 2003

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