The Daily Muse
My walk around the garden this morning was a tough one- last night we set a record for our overnight low: seventeen degrees. It was our second record low in the past week. Instead of exploding with "a thousand shades of green," this March has started off with burnt foliage and frost covered flowers. We have been fortunate- our peach trees, red bud, and Mexican buckeye hadnot started blooming yet, our neighbors, however, have seen many of their spring flowering trees lose their blooms. We took the precaution of watering the garden very well and it looks like it paid off, most of our perennials have died back to the ground, but, I don't think we have lost anything. Amazingly, the new leaves on our possumhaw hollies have survived!
The past month has been an incredibly busy time for me, I have had many obligations and deadlines. I am looking forward to spending time with the garden in the coming days. The forecast now is for rising temperatures and some much needed rain. I guess a spring delayed is even more precious than one that comes sailing in early.
It is mid-morning, I have already had a few good hours out in the garden- weeding and fertilizing some of our perennials, vines, and shrubs. It's warming up, though still cool, a perfect spring day in Austin. The cats are all out on their "cat porch" basking in the sun and occasionally casting a half-interested glance at the titmice and chickadees that are visiting our feeders.
Up to this point, this spring has seemed more subdued than usual. Thanks to the late cold snaps and the lack of rain, the plants have been a bit timid about flowering and leafing out. I think all of that will change in the coming week- we are expecting highs in the seventies for the next few days. That should open our peach blossoms and get the Mexican buckeye into gear. Our redbud just has a few blooms on it, something I feel certain will change as it gets older. However, I am thrilled by its color- the blooms are that deep purply-pink that you sometimes see. I much prefer that to the standard soft pink.
As I was working in the garden this morning I found myself missing the Mexican plums of my old garden, they are always so fragrant at this time of year. It pleases me, though, to think of folks walking down my old street and being surprised by their sweet perfume.
Today is my sister Diana's birthday. She lives in the "far-north" of the Great Plains. At his moment, I think they have about a foot of snow on the ground. I know because we talk all of the time. Since my brother's death, Diana and I have grown much closer. Her phone calls are a welcome addition to my evenings. We talk about everything- about our memories of growing up in the Hudson River Valley, about the weather, about what we are having for dinner, and just two nights ago, about the September 11documentary that was being shown on national television. It was made on the day of the terrorist attacks by a team of French film producers who were following New York City Firemen around. The documentary was filled with harrowing, desperate scenes. Diana called several times during the program needing to talk about it. What really moved me most about the program was the emotion of the two film makers, brothers, when they were reunited. Both had been fearing for the safety of the other. It reminded me of what is most important in life- I was glad to have a sister to talk to.
Last year, I sent Diana a lilac for her garden- one of those plants from our childhood that will not grow in the Texas heat. This spring, ( I guess that would be in about two months for her!) I hope that her little lilac blooms like crazy- its fragrance providing another connection between us. Happy Birthday Sis'!
Things are really moving fast now, we have had two days of absolutely perfect weather and new buds are popping out all over the garden. I am particularly pleased to see the Japanese maples that we transplanted to our front yard leafing out. We moved one from our back yard and the other from a friend's garden. It is always a little tricky moving established trees from one location to the next, but it seems that they have come through just fine and are ready to fly their colors.
My back is aching from all of the stooping over I have been doing- hand weeding some beds, transplanting errant oxalis, and the like. However, I intend to put in a few more hours of prime garden time this morning ( after a good stretching session! )
Last night, just after sunset, I was relaxing in the garden with a glass of wine when I spotted a mother squirrel taking one of her kits out for a practice run along the top of our fence. The baby squirrel was tiny, less than a third of the size of its mother. They approached until mom noticed me and then tried to convince her kit to follow her into the neighbor's yard. She repeatedly made the short hop from our fence to a tree on the other side, but the kit was unsure of the distance. Its back legs tensed and twitched, yet the take off never came. Finally, I thought I would provide a little incentive. I slowly walked towards them thinking that baby would take flight. Instead, mom whirled around to confront me, barking furiously. She even attempted to carry her baby off, using her mouth to grab it. The kit complicated matters by simultaneously trying to squirm under her body to nurse. At his point, I backed off not wanting to see them topple off the fence in a tumbling ball of fur. Moments later, they were gone with new-found resolve in tow. I could hear them scampering through the tall grass on the other side of the fence.
I guess the lesson here is that you should remember to make the time to relax in your garden, you never know what you might be treated to; and- listen to your mother!
Well, it has been two years since this journal came into existence. It is amazing for me to think about all that has transpired. I find myself in a new home with a new garden, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all that has occured, I have found gifts even within the darkest moments.
This evening Victor and I celebrated with a meal featuring an incredible cilantro-serrano pesto made with fresh herbs from the garden. I hope this spring brings you many such harvests. Blessings of the garden to you, happy St. Patrick's Day!
Last night marked "The Return of the Frogs." Just before bedtime our garden rang out with an amphibian serenade. I found it reassuring that our old friends had returned and wondered how long it would be before our pond is filled with tadpoles. Of course, their sonic courting will also announce the presense of our pond to the neighborhood raccoons. So, it won't be long before we experience "Enrique's Revenge." (Be sure to check out last year's Daily Muse for the saga of the "Varmint Vendetta.")
Yesterday also marked the return of our little vegetable and herb patch. We set out several heirloom tomatoes, some modern varieties, serrano peppers, and herbs. We prepared the garden soil earlier in the week and are hoping to repeat last year's bumper crop of salsa fixin's.
This morning, as I made my second cup of coffee rounds, I was captivated by the new foliage on our cypress trees- the needles are so shockingly green. The foliage sprouts in regular lines on either side of the branches, creating the effect of motionless wings or fins. The needles actually seem to glow in the early morning light, especially on a day like today when it is overcast and gray. As they mature, these six trees will be the dominant feature of our garden. Planted as an allee, or double line, they will form a tunnel of branches that I think will have a magical effect when viewed from "within." As they grow, we will lose the abillity to grow vegetables and flowers in a wide swath of the garden due to the lack of light. However, I am more than willing to trade that part of the garden for the cathedral-like architecture of the trees.
I mentioned that it is gray outside, we are hoping for rain. We are already several inches behind for the year and desperately need a good rain for the wildflowers and the growth of the garden. If we get a good rain, the garden will literally explode. I am keeping my fingers crossed.
Strong thunder showers moved through the region last night bringing us the rain we needed. As the storms approached, I walked outside wanting to see the rain, to breathe it in, and feel it on my face. We received exactly one inch in our garden, enough to provide the needed push that everything was waiting for. It is such a relief for us to get a rain like this, especially when we have already fallen behind on what we need. I like to remind folks that, here in Texas, summer is always just around the corner, even on the first day of spring. You never know when the heat and drought will descend on you, so every good rain is an event to be celebrated.
As I walked around the garden this morning I could already see the plants responding to "God's water." The buds on our lacey oak and apple trees have appeared from out of nowhere, and our daylilies seem to have doubled in size overnight. Everything seems washed down and ready, as am I, for the spring days ahead.
This weekend we are going to work on our pathway infrastructure, lining the walkways with limestone and adding one new path of decomposed granite. We are also going to prepare the site of a new garden space in our front yard where we are going to put in a bed of agaves, grasses, and native wildflowers. I think it will be a striking little island in the sea of granite that we have created in our side yard.
This morning, before heading off to work, I intend to weed the front yard, taking advantage of the wet ground to pull the deep rooted weeds that are in our grass. A good chore for the first official day of spring.
We have accomplished a great deal in the garden over the course of the past few days. We have moved a ton and a half of cut limestone into position and are ready to start the "finishing" work of setting it into place. Likewise, our new path is nearly complete. All that is left to do is pack the decomposed granite down. I am most anxious to create the new agave bed in the front yard, but that will have to wait until we have finished the work in the back.
Meanwhile, the season is moving even faster than we are. The Louisiana irises in our pond are sending up at least a dozen flower spikes, all of our flowering vines are taking off, and our bluebonnets and cutleaf daisies are beginning to bloom. Our wildflower bed will be a blaze of color in no time.
I especially love the Louisiana irises, I started growing them about twenty-two years ago in Houston. A friend (and co-worker at a nursery where I was employed) introduced me to his familiy's huge collection of these swamp loving plants. He gave me rizome of a variety called "deneb" and its children (by division) have followed me around ever since. I guess the one about to bloom in my pond is the great great great great great great great great great great grandclone of the plant he gave me. It is a pale mauve color that I have never seen on any other flower. We also have a pale yellow variety with equally pale red veining, and a purple and white variety too. All three are about to bloom in the pond. I'll post pictures soon.
What an intense week we have had! We finished trimming the walkway in the backyard with limestone, completed our new pathway of decomposed granite, spread nearly four square yards of granite in places where the existing paths needed to be raised or leveled, added compost and plants to our shade garden in the front yard, and completed our new agave bed.
We worked all day today on the agave bed. It is a large circular planting and features four different types of agave as well as two different kinds of hesperaloe (giant red yucca and yellow yucca), bulbine, native grasses, wildflowers, and rain lilies. (Not to mention several very cool accent stones and cut limestone edging!)
Over the course of the past few years I have fallen in love with the many different kinds of agave, better known to most Texans as "century plants." This is an incredibly diverse group of plants and fortunately, there are folks bringing unusual varieties to market, most notably, Yucca-do Nursery in Hempstead, Texas. The varieties that we planted include: Agave victoria-regina, a very compact plant that only grows to about 18 inches in height, its dark green leaves are edged with white; Agave bovicornuta, or "cow's horn agave", which is a yellow-green giant that grows to five feet tall; Agave parryi v. truncata, another compact variety known as artichoke agave that has blue-green foliage; and finally Agave murpheyi, which is known as Hohokam agave, and features slender silver leaves. I like these plants because of their strong sculptural/architectural forms.
The agave bed is really our first major gift to the neighborhood. Up to this point we have only tinkered with the front yard, but now we have provided a very strong focal point, something that has turned the front yard into the front garden.
Last night, just before sunset, I watched as a spider finished preparing its web for the night's hunt. It was another one of those "Mary Oliver moments" where I was very glad that I took the time to pay attention:The Web After the storm, the spider fine tunes its web- spiraling inward, plucking at strands strung lyre-like between the apple branches. Shrinking fingers of light slip from the underbellies of low slung clouds that stream by nearly snagging the tree tops. The wind fills the web like a jib out stretched before the slapping bow of a ship. Meanwhile, our small planet hurtles forward, circling on strands of patient gravity spun by God knows who or what. Finally, satisfied with her spinning, the spider settles into place at the center of a billowing universe, waiting for some small something to come sailing by. Continue to Daily Muse for April 2002
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