The Daily Muse

A GardenJournal -- November 2001

Last Update: November 29
November 7 - morning

It is a beautiful Autumn morning, chilly and bright. As I made my first inspection tour of the garden I noted that our bluebonnet seedlings are spreading their clover-like rosettes of leaves and that our fall tomatoes are suddenly loaded with fruit.The weather has been uniformly gorgeous, Austin at its best, the only complaint one hears is that it hasn't rained in nearly four weeks.

Last weekend, we went on our usual autumnal pilgrimage to the "Lost Maples" region of the Hill Country. This year, the maples were a bit disappointing, there was only sporadic color, but that didn't stop us from having a wonderful time. The Lost Maples State Natural Area is tucked away in one of the most beautiful river canyons in the state, the Sabinal. Like its sister rivers, the Frio and the Nueces, the Sabinal forms a north-south running canyon whose high walls shelter the canyon floor allowing for a rich diversity of plant life, including the famed bigtooth maple. As we hiked up the narrow draws and creekbeds of the park we encountered madrones, sycamore-leaf snowbells, and blooming witch hazel. It was especially exciting to come upon some of the springs that form the headwaters of the Sabinal. I can see why springs have been considered sacred by so many cultures- the crystalline waters of the Sabinal springs formed beautiful pools lined with smooth riverstones and filled with small fish and giant tadpoles; fallen sycamore leaves skated across a surface, their dried "fingers" serving as sails that were filled by a gentle breeze. Maidenhair ferns gripped the canyon walls where the springs emerged, adding an almost tropical touch to these dryland oases.

reflection of sycamores in the spring water

creek bed and canyon wall

canyon wall covered with moss, grasses, and maidenhair fern

The day after hiking in the park, we took a driving tour over some of the spectacular ridges in the area. On one stretch of road we found another rare hill country plant, the papershell pinyon pine. Almost lost among the tangles of ashe juniper and stands of lacey (or blue) oak, the pinyons stood out with their scrub-brush needles.  I had heard that pinyons grew along the tops of the ridges in that area, but have never seen them before. I wish that they were available commercially, I think they would perform well in the hills west of Austin.

Texas 337, "the ridge road," one of the best drives in the state

I can remember the first time I ever went to Lost Maples, some sixteen years ago. I had the distinct feeling of coming home, as if I was returning to a place where I always belonged. Now, everytime I return from visiting the area, I get caught up in daydreams of moving there and opening a retreat center where others might enjoy some of the connectedness and peace I have found in those canyons. Much of the design and plant palette of my garden was inspired by that region, so, in a sense I come home to it everyday. However, someday, you may be able to join me at "blue oak hollow" on the Sabinal.

maple leaves on moss covered stone

ferns hidden between boulders


a spider in our garden

our pond, the "well"

November 12 - morning

My back is aching this morning after hand digging a new planting bed in our front yard. This narrow bed runs along our front sidewalk and is bordered by pavers on both sides. Turning the soil was a complicated affair since an irrigation line runs underneath the bed for its entire course- this meant I had to turn the soil with a hand trowel. Ouch. Thank goodness I timed the work very well, the soil was moist but not too sticky. The unimproved soils in our neighborhood are a dense clay, if they are too wet it is like digging in glue, too dry and, well, you don't dig in brick with a trowel. I planted dozens of oxblood lilies and lycoris (aka spider lilies.) These fall blooming bulbs should perform well in the newly improved bed under our deciduous elms. Both of these plants are sometimes called surprise lilies because they go dormant during our long warm season and then spring to life with the slightly cooler temperatures and rains of autumn. The blooms appear first, as if out of nowhere, followed by strap-like foliage. I think their bold red colors will look great lining the path to our front door. I look forward to their welcome surprise next year.

November 16 - morning

After weeks of dry weather, once again we must endure the deluge. Yesterday, powerful storms with multiple tornados ripped through the city. At home, our rain guage overflowed after eight inches fell in the course of an afternoon. Luckily, we escaped any major damage, but others were not so lucky. Ironically, we were busy preparing to tape a episode of our local public affairs program, Austin at Issue, on emergency preparedness in Central Texas when the storms hit. One tornado came so close to the television station that we evacuated the higher floors where the studios are located. Needless to say our guests for the emergency preparedness show found that their services were needed elsewhere. It was scary leaving the station in the dark, wondering if the bridges over Shoal Creek were under water. Luckily, the storm subsided briefly and the bridges were passable. I am thankful that the garden, our home, and our pets are well. Though, the 80% chance of more storms predicted for later today leaves me wary.

November 21 - morning

We survived the storms of last week without further incident and we are now experiencing the first truly cold weather of the season. Last night, we took the precaution of pulling many of our potted agaves, aloes, and herbs under the roof on our back deck- though it only got down to 39 degrees.

I had a fun expedition yesterday- Liz Druitt, a writer who works as an editor on the staff of Southern Living magazine, asked me to track down some lacey oaks growing in a residential setting. She knew of my enthusiasm for this species and thought I could photograph a few for an upcoming article on trees for Texas gardeners. I rememberd some being planted in a garden I wrote an article about twelve years ago and thought that they would be mature enough to give Liz's readers an idea of their potential. So, camera in hand, I took off for the hills trying to find a place I hadn't seen for a long time. Fortunately, I have a good sense of direction and after a little poking around, and a rush past the security of a "gated community," I found the trees I was looking for. I think I got some good shots, so keep you eyes out for the article.

the elusive "residential" lacey oak

Instead of just heading back to Austin, I spent the rest of the day driving around the Hill Country. I visited a few favorite haunts, including a side trip to Selah-Bamberger Ranch. There, some of the five hundred or so bigtooth maples planted by J. David Bamberger were ablaze with color, the best I've seen this fall. I was glad that I stopped.

maple leaf detail

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving- take a moment to be thankful, it may just change your life.

"When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude."

-Elie Weisel

November 29 - morning

Winter has arrived, at this moment it is 29 degrees outside and there is a light covering of ice everywhere in the garden. As I made my inspection tour the ice crunched underfoot and hung from the branches, cracking in the wind. Everywhere I looked I saw perennials that will have to be cut to the ground. Fortunately, Victor and I enclosed our back porch this past weekend converting it into a temporary greenhouse for all of our tender potted plants. Still, there were many things that we could not protect. Last night we harvested a huge bowl's worth of serrano and habanero peppers for our last batch of homemade salsa. We tried to protect the tomatoes by wrapping them with row cover- this morning, they looks like Frank Gehry ice tents, I won't keep my hopes too high.

I feel like I am covered in ice too, weighed down by too many obligations and too much to do- new projects, unfinished projects, deadlines, a house and garden in disarray, friends in need, the holidays, etc. etc. etc. I feel like instigating a mass purge- ridding my life of all of this "stuff." Buddhists understand how to deal with clutter, start with the clutter in your soul- and the rest will follow. This morning I think I will claim twenty minutes of my life for doing absolutely nothing- then I will do the laundry.

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