The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- January 2005

Last Update: January 27

January 4- evening

After a brief period of intense cold (with heavy snowfall in South Texas) we have returned to very balmy weather with highs in the mid-seventies and periodic light rains. When I step out of our back door the fragrance of our Sweet Olive permeates the soft humid air - you can almost feel the Gulf of Mexico on the southerly breezes, it truly feels more like April than January. Change is our winter constant however, and  cooler weather is expected to return tomorrow evening.

I enjoyed the holiday period and spent many hours working in the garden,  there was much frost damage to clean up and I have been busy "editing" - removing plants that have not performed or have outgrown the space I had allotted. After months where everything in my life seemed to be crowding out my garden time, I feel reconnected to my little patch of heaven.

I must admit that I love the way that garden feels in winter, it is reduced to its "bones" or structure and the design really shines through. Maybe I am a minimalist at heart or perhaps it is just the quality of light here during the winter, but I really love the bare branch and berry season. Speaking of berries, our hollies are all loaded with a heavy crop of bright red berries. In fact, a Mockingbird has claimed our circle of Possumhaws as its very own private berry orchard. I have seen it chasing away any Goldfinch, Sparrow, Dove, or Grackle that dares stray too close.   We are considering planting another species of holly that was one of the most important plants in my former garden, the Savannah Holly (Ilex x attenuata.) Savannah Holly is a large plant that can grow to thirty feet in height. It is probably on the very western edge of its range here in Austin, but with our heavily amended soil I think it will perform well. I planted two in my former garden and one is still thriving there, the other was butchered (after I moved) by a hack/"arborist" and never recovered. I love the Savannah Holly's striking pyramidal form and, of course, its berries. We have a spot in the garden where we will be removing a couple of Lace Bark Elms and hope to plant  our new holly in the fall (the best time to plant trees here in Central Texas.) I think that next year our new Savannah Holly will double as our Christmas tree - one that the cats can't knock down!

Speaking of our cats, little Basho is demanding my attention so I will close, it is hard to type with one hand. I hope to update our images soon - in the meantime, Happy New Year!

Possumhaw Holly berries - the best crop so far from Possumhaw Hollow.

January 9 - evening

Another quiet weekend. After finishing my chores today, I spent a pleasant hour using a new pair of binoculars (thank you Diana!) to spy on our feathered visitors. Huge flocks of Cedar Waxwings are foraging in our neighborhood and it will only be a matter of time before they discover our cache of Possumhaw berries. I took a picture or two to remember our first bumper crop. We have a semi-circle of six Possumhaw Hollies in the garden that enclose a sitting area. In a few years they will form a jeweled berry cave to sit in during the winter and a shaded retreat in summer. I am amazed by how quickly these little trees have grown - they were only about two-three feet tall when we planted them in 2001, and the tallest is now approaching nine feet in height!  Last winter we had  fewer berries and they were distinctively orange. This year, we easily have ten times the number of berries and they are a very bright red. I suppose this is a reaction to the wet weather we experienced throughout 2004.

As you might have been able to guess, I have a definite affinity for the Holly family. I think this stems from the time I spent in the East Texas Piney Woods about twenty  years ago (pardon the pun.) Winter is the best time to visit East Texas, particularly the Big Thicket area,  and I must have been impressed by the way the evergreen species of Holly stood out in the forest. Thinking about East Texas makes me long for a pine fueled fire and the sound of Barred Owls. Sounds like a road trip to me!

January 18 - morning

Well, we have taken a radical step forward in the design of our garden by removing the last of the older Lacebark Elm trees that were in our back yard. For the moment, the garden feels incredibly exposed but I am very glad that we took this step. In the coming weeks we will prepare a planting bed for new trees and will put them in the ground this autumn. At this point we are definitely planning on using a Sabal texana palm and one of three other species - either a Bigtooth Maple, Monterrey Oak, or Savannah Holly.  Lacebark Elm is a beautiful tree but, in my opinion,  it should be declared a public nuisance. Ours were constantly shedding large branches that came crashing down in the garden  - four or five since last summer.  One of the trees hung rather perilously over the house and we decided that we had to act. No longer will I have to listen anxiously for the snapping of a trunk during a wind storm and, hopefully, I will finally be able to get a handle on the Elm seedlings that invade nearly every square inch of the garden. In some areas of the country Lacebark Elm has been declared arbora non grata because it is so invasive and out competes native trees. A local arborist that I interviewed recently told me that Lacebark Elm is one of the species that is taking over the shore of Town Lake here in Austin. Well, in our back yard it is no longer a problem. We may suffer from a bit over sun-overdose this summer but we will have the fun of planting in the fall.

January 27 - morning

Issa and Basho napping in the morning sun.

It is a cool morning and a gentle rain is falling - just what we need after what seems like weeks of dry weather. I have finally adjusted to the vast openness of our back garden (after the removal of our elms) and I am excited about the changes to come. In fact, I have been busy designing a new layout for our back patio space that I hope to implement at the end of this year or the beginning of the next. Change - it seems to be a gardener's best friend and constant companion!

I am including a few recent shots of our tribe - they continue to be a source of great joy. Looking at the image below I can't believe how much our "kittens" have grown!

Fez and Rufous "helping" with the laundry.

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