The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- February 2003

Last Update: February 25

Agaves, yuccas, rosemary, and giant hesperaloe from my garden.

February 1 - morning

It is very early in the morning - as per usual for a Saturday, I am am getting a jump on what promises to be a very busy day. I have articles to write and weeds to pull, and, perhaps most importantly, I will be planting some trees for another one of my neighbors.

A few weeks ago, I planted trees for  my "northern" neighbor as a gift. This week, the trees are part of a deal. My "southern" neighbor allowed me to remove some hackberries and chinese elms trees from her side of our property line that were shading out a portion of my garden and dropping thousands of seedlings into it. Today, I will be replacing those trees with redbuds, Mexican buckeyes, and yaupon hollies. A good trade for both of us. If it sounds like my garden territory is expanding by insidious design, please let me assure you that I have no imperial ambitions. (Isn't that what all would be emperors say?)

Agaves from Nancy Webber's garden.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Marriott, a representative of  David Austin Roses Limited, the company which features the creations of the world's most famous rose hybridizer, David Austin. Known for the "English Roses," crosses between modern roses and old fashioned varieties, David Austin now offers hundreds of spectacular, free-flowering, shrubby rose plants. The blooms of the English roses remind me of my favorite antique varieties, but the flowers are larger. The best part is that they have the fragrance of the older varieties. I'm usually  able to control my impulses, but as soon as I got home last night, I pulled out the catalog Michael left me and started drooling over it. Before you know it, I had ordered five rose plants over the web. I usually urge people to "plant with a plan" and avoid impulse buying, but I'll count my new roses as happy accidents that were meant to be. Now all I have to do is build two new beds to accommodate them. Ah, the work of dreamers and emperors is never done!

An American Goldfinch at one of our thistle socks, our enclosed "cat porch" can be seen behind it.

February 2- morning

I am a bit sore after planting five trees yesterday, I keep forgetting that I am no longer thirty (or forty!) years old, and neglect to do my garden warm-ups and stretches before I start shoveling my way to China through our clay.

What started out as a brilliant day yesterday, ended up feeling rather grim when the news of the shuttle tragedy broke during the middle of my garden radio program. There is little one can do in the face of that sort of news but keep moving forward, I purposefully avoided the television for the rest of the day. Instead, I quietly dedicated the trees I was planting to the seven lost crew members of the Columbia and their families. I have decided that I will add two more trees to my "deal" with my southern neighbor. I will plant those in the coming days.

A wide view over our labyrinth towards the house.

February 6 - morning

It is a cold and wet morning - during the night several bands of showers moved through the area leaving us with our first heavy rainfall in the past month. We've had lots of mist, but no real rain. The showers were predicted, and two days ago I rushed to get the last of the trees planted for my neighbor. She now has seven new trees - I look forward to seeing their blooms peek over the fence in the coming years. I am also very glad that I completed that project before the ground became saturated again.

In the meantime, Victor and I are moving forward with the next big phase of our own garden - a large raised bed that will sit at the very center of our backyard. The bed will feature herbs, grasses, roses, and agaves planted in different "zones." We are going to trim it out with large cut limestone blocks and it will also feature a cut limestone path and sitting area. Over time, this new garden "room" will be completely surrounded by a boxwood hedge that we have already planted. I think the effect will be wonderful, but I am going to lay in a supply of Tiger Balm for the days ahead!

A dusting of snow on our cypress allee.

February 8 - morning

We had a most unusual event last night - a light snowfall. Most of it has already turned to slush, but it was a nice reminder of the season.

February 14 - evening

It has been an extraordinary week - it seems as if all of my work projects took major leaps forward. It is Friday evening and I am feeling a bit exhausted from all of the activity.

As I was driving home a few minutes ago, I had a flash of insight about the history of the land that our home and garden sit on. It is easy to overlook the most obvious of things, but for some reason, the dull gray light of this very overcast day revealed something new to me. I was just a few blocks from my house when I saw this land as it was just a few generations ago: the last bit of eastern prairie tucked up against the edge of the West. We live just a few blocks from the Balcones Escarpment, the official boundary line between Hill Country and the coastal plain, between the East and the West. I have been told that before the trees planted in our neighborhood grew, this was grassland, shaded only by a few ancient oaks growing close to Shoal Creek.  Without the clutter of the trees, the people who moved out here (to the edge of town in the 1950's)  could see all of the way from the hills to the west to the University of Texas and Capitol several miles south.

Prairies can have a rather forlorn look in dull light, especially in winter - there is none of the crispness you experience when infinite expanses of blue and green meet on a cloudless spring day. Instead, the sky and grass merge in a muddy blandness.  The dismal light of this day reminded me of that, and in an instant, the prairie was revealed to me beneath its current skin of dormant lawns and  bare branches.

Despite the dreary imagery evoked here, I found this little flash of insight exciting. It pleases me to think of my little patch of earth being set on the edge of a physical and cultural divide.

February 16 - evening

It has been an amazing day - bright light and cool breezes filled the garden all day long. We completed the hardscape design for our new garden room. It is going to be a tiny conversation area at the very heart of the garden which will be surrounded by our new planting bed. The sitting area will be a bit below the level of the raised beds and I think it will be an amazingly intimate place to hold a conversation.  You can see the room "strung-out" below.

The small rectangle at the middle of the planting bed and the pathway leading to it will be paved with the same cut limestone as seen in the image. The size of the space is a bit deceptive in the picture, the conversation area will be about four by seven feet. Two benches will face one another across the rectangle. We will trim the planting bed and patio space with large cut limestone blocks.

As I said, the light has been amazing you'll find many new pictures from the day scattered across the website.

Our "Yin -Yang" bed of white and pink oxalis with weeping yaupon hollies.


The garden wide from the back corner where our hidden Zen garden is located.

February 17 - morning

A detail from our labyrinth space with Bluebonnets growing in the pathway.

Bluebonnets growing in the labyrinth.

February 23 - evening

It has been a beautiful day with blue skies, light breezes, and warm temperatures. Our daffodils are in full bloom and robins are patrolling the garden - two sure signs that spring is just around the corner. As I write this, I can hear the windchimes gonging away, a cool  wind has picked up from the north - it appears as if a new front is blowing in. I just hope that we have no more freezes, so many plants are beginning to bloom it would be a shame if they get burned by a frost.

I spent the day laboring away on our new planting bed. I managed to get all of the ground levelled and laid-in more than half of the retaining wall of limestone that will border the bed. We are using 8" x 6" x 20" blocks of limestone to raise the bed, and I am feeling the result of man-handling the stones. I am already thrilled by the way that the stone looks at heart of our garden. I'll post some new pictures as soon as I am able to complete the bed.

Wall sculpture from my garden


Wide shot of garden

February 24 - evening

Yesterday, after working in the garden, I had a conversation with my sister who lives in North Dakota. We traded weather stories - she put her cell phone down to her feet so I could hear her crunching through the snow in temperatures that were below zero. I taunted her by telling her about the robins, daffodils, and heat. Well, this evening I drove home through a heavy ice fall, in temperatures that had already fallen well below freezing. As I write this, the garden is a glowing blanket of white. Just goes to show you, don't mess with Sister Nature!

February 25 - morning

This morning, the garden is covered with a thick milky glaze of ice. As I walked about surveying the damage, I was accompanied by  the muffled crunch of my steps and the creaking of the ice covered limbs overhead. Hundreds of goldfinches and other birds were mobbing our feeders and searching for any scrap or seed that wasn't covered by the ice.

The cats have all assumed the body heat conserving "meat-loaf" position and have taken up posts where they can spy on the frantic activity of the birds.  Earlier,  Issa, our top cat (and top clown) rushed out the cat door in a moment of kitty-frenzy, just as promptly he rushed back in, his eyes wide in disbelief. His expression was so clear he might as well have been shouting, "What the hell is that?"

There is little to do about the ice, and I just keep reminding myself that it could be much worse. Last year, we had a very hard late frost where the temperatures got down to sixteen degrees (-9 celcius) and there was a great deal of damage to the plants. Last night, I think the temperature went down to 24 degrees (-4.4 celcius,) but the ice actually helped to insulate the plants. That's the theory anyway- and on this bitter morning I am happy to embrace it.


azalea blossom

covered in ice - spring's trumpet

a  mute and brittle bell

February 28 - afternoon


Here are a few pictures from our ice-capades.





Next week it will probably hit 100.


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