The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- February 2005

Last Update: February 26

Possumhaw Holly berries after a rain shower - 2/13.

February 2- morning

Dreaming of Spring... we are experiencing another cold (for us) morning and the garden is still in  deep dormancy. A few paperwhite narcissus are blooming and our King Alfred Daffodils are about to bloom, but, other than that, the only excitement in the garden is centered on our bird feeders where flocks of Goldfinches gather every morning and fuss at one another. Perhaps it is because of the wet weather that has been keeping me out of the garden, or maybe it is because of the recent changes to the garden, but I have been anxious for Spring to arrive. I can't wait to start the rituals of pruning and planting.

Another reason for my excitement is that I have concocted a new plan for our back  patio / deck space. This new scheme will tie the area immediately adjacent to our home into the overall design of our back garden. Even though we cannot afford to begin this new project this Spring, I know that I will be obsessing over its details for the coming months. Our back garden's design is basically a large grid of pathways that are terminated by circular patios or sitting areas - kind of a "circle in the square" arrangement. The new plan for the back patio is to remove our existing deck and to create an elevated circle that is on the same axis as our Bald Cypress Allee and a large circular patio at the very back of the garden. This new elevated circle will be created using large blocks of cut limestone and decomposed granite. I'd like to plant small flowering trees in a ring around the circle and I am considering either Desert Willows, or one of two varieties of Crape Myrtle - either Lipan or Apalachee, both of which are among the improved hybrids that were created at the U.S. National Arboretum. (My go-native instinct pulls me towards the Desert Willows because of their wispy forms and beautiful orchid-like blooms, but I actually love shaping Crape Myrtles and both Lipan and Apalachee, with their especially attractive but very different colored barks, would be fun sculptural elements.) This new shaded space will become our outdoor dining room and will provide us with a unobstructed view through the allee all the way to the back of the garden. The rest of our current deck area would be given over to a stone patio with a disappearing fountain at its center.

Yes... dreaming of Spring projects and Summer flowers and... well, you get the picture. Cold Febraury mornings are the root of great garden schemes.

This picture, from last May, shows the axis I was talking about above. In the upper left of the picture you see the circular patio at the back of the garden, then the cypress allee. Our new circle will line up with those elements just out of the frame of this picture to the lower right.

February 9 - morning

Our mild and wet weather has been continuing and I see signs of spring all around the city. A Saucer Magnolia that I pass on the way to work is in full bloom and I see the flower buds on fruit trees swelling everywhere I go. I hope we avoid a late freeze, but it is so early it almost seems inevitable.

I have missed some garden time recently because I have been busy finishing the first phase of my documentary on the restoration of the historic courthouses of Texas. It will premiere inside of KLRU-TV's local program Austin Now next Friday, February the 18th, at noon and 8:30 p.m., and on Sunday the 20th at 4:30 p.m. Check the Austin Now website next week and you should be able to see it in its entirety on the web.

This week, weather permitting, I will begin the preparations for spring in earnest by pruning my fruit trees and roses and doing a little corrective training of my young trees. The first official "snips" of the season.

February 13 - evening

What a beautiful day! We awoke early to a strong thunder shower but it cleared rapidly and turned out to be our first sunny day in weeks. In fact it was a bit summery with highs in the low 80s. I spent the entire day out working in the garden - weeding and  tidying things up. My spring fever is in high gear and everywhere I turned I saw signs that the plants believe that Spring is here too. Several of our Bald Cypress trees are leafing out and our peach blosoms are beginning to swell. Of course, we are bound to get a late freeze and will pay for this brief taste of warm weather, but it felt so good to be outside with blue skies.

Here are a bunch of new garden pics...

A close-up of our "Zen Circle",

 

A Weeping Yaupon in full berry.

 

A close-up of our Sabal texana.

 

A King Alfred Daffodil.

 

Our allee of Bald Cypress trees showing their Winter architecture.

 

A close-up of the Cypress trees.

 

Possumhaw berries in the sun.

 

A wide shot showing what the backyard looks like without the elm trees - a little bare, for now.

 

 

February 18 - morning

Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana) blooming in the courtyard of Goldsmith Hall, The University of Texas Architecture Building.

Several days ago, I was walking across the University of Texas campus (my office at KLRU-TV is located there) and a burst of color caught my eye. In the courtyard of Goldsmith Hall, the home of the University of Texas School of Architecture, four Saucer Magnolias were at the height of their bloom. I love the deciduous Magnolias and these are among the best specimens I have seen in the city, so I had to return with my camera. The shelter of the courtyard creates the perfect environment for them, protecting them from the sun and late season cold snaps. Saucer Magnolias are among the most ephemeral harbingers of Spring. Their bloom period is very short, but so memorable! Central Texas is a tricky environment for these plants, they need at least partial protection from the sun and well drained fertile soil. If you were to try one here, I'd recommend creating a large well prepared bed in a place where there is some afternoon shade. The soil mix would be crucial, I'd use one of the specialty rose blends from either Geo-Growers or The Natural Gardener and add a fair amount of greensand... I think I may be talking myself into planting one!

February 18 - afternoon

Well, that didn't take long. I stopped by a local shop to buy some mulch and they had one of the National Arboretum's Magnolia introductions - Magnolia liliflora "Jane." This is a spectacular bloomer with purple-fuschia colored blooms and a deep lemony fragrance. I could not resist. The nice thing about the National Arboretum's introductions (which are crosses between Magnolia stellata and Magnolia liliflora) is that they bloom later than the more common Saucer Magnolias, which makes them less susceptible to frost damage. I'll update with pictures when my little girl blooms.

A wide shot of the courtyard at Goldsmith Hall, one of my all-time favorite places in Austin. I believe the palms are Sabal mexicana.

 

A wide shot of the magnolias and palms.

 

The most spectacular of the magnolias.

 

I love the architectural detail of Goldsmith Hall and the other Paul Cret buildings at UT.

 

A close-up of the large (almost four inches tall) blossoms.

 

The interior color of Saucer Magnolia blooms often contrasts with the richer exterior of the petals.

 

Another classic UT scene. This is in a courtyard just across the street from KLRU.

 

The Tower.

 

OK, so I couldn't help myself!

February 22- morning

I took yesterday off from work to spend some time in the garden and was rewarded with a beautiful warm day. I tackled a job that I had been intending to do for over a year -  lining our small patch of lawn in the back garden with limestone blocks. Our zoysia grass was invading our crushed granite pathways and we needed this bordering device to create a barrier. It was a bit more work than I intended to do on a holiday, but I am glad to have the major part of the task done. After finishing my work, I toured the garden and saw signs of spring everywhere... our possumhaw hollies are leafing out,  our daffodils  in full flower, the leucojums are blooming, the quince and peaches are budding, and best of all, the long term forecast shows no signs of a freeze!  It is far too early for me to dare say it, and I don't want to jinx everyone else, but I am beginning to hope...

February 23 - morning

Campernelle Daffodils.

Gloomy skies have returned again after Monday's summer-like heat, but I am glad that we haven't skipped Spring altogether and jumped in June! Though the forecast has been calling for rain we have only had the briefest of downpours. I awoke last night to what sounded like an intense thundershower, but it was over before I could get out of bed.

I have started designing a new planting bed in our front yard to replace a clump of nandinas that we inherited when we bought the house. It will feature our new magnolias (yes, I bought more of the Magnolia liliflora "Jane") and perhaps an under-planting of  yellow Texas columbines. These plants should be in bloom at the same time and I think the combination of yellow and purple would be electric. Speaking of yellow, our "Campernelle" daffodils are really performing this year. We purchased them last year based on numerous reports of how well they naturalize in Texas. Well, if their growth over the course of the past year is any indication, we should be inundated with blooms from these guys in a few years.

I have a busy (non-gardening) day ahead of me and must be on my way. Cheers!

February 26 - evening

It has been a cold wet day - the temperature is in the 'forties and a light rain has been falling since the middle of last night. We have spent the day inside cheered by a fire and our herd of heating seeking missiles (aka known as the velcro kitties.) Something else that has lifted our spirits has been all of the avian activity in the back garden - we have been positively inundated with birds. The berries on all of our hollies must have hit thier prime ripeness yesterday and mobs of Cedar Waxwings and Robins descended to pick them clean. Some of the bushes seemed ready to take flight- they were shaking so violently with the feeding frenzy of the birds. In addition to the Waxwings and Robins, the Mockingbirds have also been vying for the berries and huge numbers of American Goldfinches, Lesser Goldfinches, and a fair number of House Finches have been gorging themselves at our feeders. I have also seen White Wing Doves, Grackles, Mourning Doves, Titmice, Chickadees, House Sparrows, Cardinals, and Jays. Yesterday evening, just before it got dark, I was able to spend a little time watching the Cedar Waxwings work. It was wonderful watching these beautiful little birds avail themselves of our garden. One of the reasons we planted so many hollies was to attract wildlife and it certainly appears to be working... here are a couple of pics from last night...

Not a great shot... but here are four of the Cedar Waxwings in our Possumhaw Hollies.

 

These guys were waiting patiently for me to vacate the premises so they could return to the Possumhaws.

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