The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- September 2003

Last Update: September 21

Dinosaur statue at the center of the Hartman Prehistoric Garden in Austin's Zilker Botanical Gardens. Note the Marsilea - Cloverleaf fern groundcover, palms, and cycads.

September 1 - morning

It has been a relaxing Labor Day weekend, a cool front combined with a tropical storm has brought us comfortable temperatures and a little rain. It seems we have missed out on the heavy downpours that had been predicted, but there is still a chance of rain in the forecast for the next few days. I have been cleaning some of the heat stressed plants up and generally preparing the garden for the fall. I just can't help myself, even though our autumn won't begin for another six or eight weeks, when September comes, I revert to my New York/childhood mentality about the seasons. Autumn was always my favorite season and, once again, I am looking forward to the days ahead.

This weekend the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society is presenting its annual Fall Show and Sale and I had to stop by to see what kind of cool agaves were available. Of course, I found one that I could not live without - Agave desmettiana 'Variegata,' a plant that was first cultivated by pre-Columbian gardeners in Mexico. I also picked up an unusual form of cycad, Ceratozamia kuesteri, a big lanky plant that should be cold hardy here in Austin. Mine is just a tiny pup, and to be honest, it looks a bit more like the Ceratozamia hildae, the beautiful 'bamboo cycad.' We'll see how it develops over time. The show was held at the Zilker Botanical Gardens and I took some time to tour the Hartman Prehistoric Garden which features many cool palms and cycads. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

Agave desmettiana 'Variegata.'


Another shot of the Dino statue.


'Prince' Sago, Cycas Taitungensis.


A reproduction of the Dino tracks found in the Zilker Gardens.


Sago palm, Cycas revoluta with 'cloverleaf fern.'


Sabal minor palms planted by a stream in the Dino garden.


Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens.

September 4 - evening

Just a quick note to say Happy Birthday to my Mom who helped me start my journey down the gardening path. One of my favorite memories is of going to the nursery with my Mom when I was a kid.

I don't have any petunia pictures (remember the petunias, Mom?) But, here is a virtual bouquet... this is called 'Fall Obedient Plant'- kind of ironic coming from me!

Happy Birthday!

September 7 - evening

I spent the better part of this weekend working in the garden. For the most part, it was all grunt work... weeding, cutting up fallen branches, mowing, fertilizing - not the kind of stuff that makes for poetry. However, there is a deep satisfaction knowing that I have attended to the necessary, to have chopped a little wood and carried more than a little water. Slowly, the garden seems to be recovering from the summer and the relative coolness of the early mornings has energized me for the days ahead.

This morning, before I started my chores, I took my constitutional wander down the garden's paths and enjoyed the company of the various hummingbirds that have laid claim to our salvias, hamelia, flame acanthus, and obedient flowers. They  were already hard at work chasing one another between sips of nectar. I stopped to enjoy their brilliant plumage and the sharp whir of their wings as they passed by. They were far too busy looking for interlopers to care about the idler sipping coffee in the slow lane. The sun was barely up and a soft light was falling through the neighbor's trees -  for a brief moment I felt my world expand, it seemed as if all of the hundreds of thousands of universes aligned themselves just for me - everything felt so right.

Just yesterday, I gave a talk about "finding the Soul of the Garden" at a local church and shared a few remembrances of similar moments where I felt a profound sense of wonder and gratitude. We live in a very precarious world, everything could fall apart tomorrow, and sometimes it feels as if it will. However, I am profoundly thankful for the amazing accident of my own awareness.  I thought of a quote from Borges, "Nevertheless, it means much to have loved, to have been happy, to have laid my hand on the living garden, even for one day."

Creation offers us so much - in fact it offers us everything. All we have to do is chop wood, carry water, and open our eyes.

September 16 - evening

Oxblood lilies in our front yard.

I have been using up some of my vacation hours this week and have been hard at work in the garden. We have had two good rains and the weather has been quite pleasant with the high temperatures barely making it into the nineties. The mornings have been delightful. I am hoping to finish up with the major garden chores tomorrow so that I can actually spend a few of my vacation days enjoying the fruits of my labors. In the meantime, here are a few new pictures...

Agave paryii in one of our 'circle'' beds.


A rainlily blooming in the same bed.


Colorado lily in our pond.


Our new bed of Sabal minor palms (freshly mulched!)


Fez and Rufous (in a rare quiet moment!)

September 21 - morning

It is the first official day of autumn and a gentle rain is falling - after working in the garden all week I am interpreting the rain as a reminder to take a little Sabbath time. Several years ago, when we first laid out our new garden, we invited our friends and neighbors over for a garden blessing. A friend, Father Alan Oakes (who was my co-producer for The Painted Churches of Texas documentary) presided over the blessing. At the beginning of the ceremony, I handed out little business cards that were printed with an ancient Chinese proverb:  "If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come." I asked everyone to keep the cards in their wallets or purses as a "pocket Sabbath" something that could remind them of the  gifts available to them at any time. I guess that was one of the original inspirations behind the tradition of the Sabbath, to rest so that you could be mindful of the things which are yours without asking or striving.

Wendell Berry, one of my all time favorite poets, has written an beautiful series of what he calls his "Sabbath poems." Berry is a novelist, essayist, poet, and a farmer. His Sabbath tradition is to go to the woods, to "sit still" among the trees and singing birds. Here is the first poem from his collection, "A Timbered Choir."



I go among trees and sit still.

All my stirring becomes quiet

around me like circles on water.

My tasks lie in their places

where I left them, asleep like cattle.


Then what is afraid of me comes

and lives a while in my sight.

What it fears in me leaves me,

and the fear of me leaves it.

It sings, and I hear its song.


Then what I am afraid of comes.

I live for a while in its sight.

What I fear in it leaves it,

and the fear of it leaves me.

It sings, and I hear its song.


After days of labor,

mute in my consternations,

I hear my song at last,

and I sing it. As we sing,

the day turns, the trees move.


-Wendell Berry


The traditional interpretation of Sabbath means a time set aside for communion with the divine. I believe our gardens can be our Sabbath places. I intend to sit on my back porch and watch the rain fall on my garden today. That will be my Sabbath.


Basho, one of our Tonkinese cats, is happily curled up in my lap as I write this. Cats seem to know all about Sabbath time and make good company on a cool rainy morning.  I hope that you find your own Sabbath place today - I am glad that you have shared mine.

AgaveWeberii close-up. Looks like ultra-suede, doesn't it?

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