Monday, June 22, 2009

Gardening in the Dead of Summer

Whose crazy idea was it to do a new garden installation in June??? I can't believe I put my poor landscaper through this, nor that he went for it. I guess that's the reality of the economy -- dripping wet and red in the face, he appreciates the work. We've had days near or above 100 ° for weeks now, and hard physical labor in the sun is beyond my capabilities.

The plants went in last Monday. I've watered by hand along with the multiple sprinkle tweaks, but still I have plants near death that probably are doomed. Not sissy plants either, as we put in mostly xeriscape varieties, nothing not recommended for hot Austin summers, mostly cacti and natives. The new beds getting late afternoon shade are fine, but the corner raised beds, where I've put in vegetables in the past, and may again in the fall, are just brutally exposed to full sun all day.

Still, I'm thrilled with the whole thing. Gone is the huge arbor that I put in when Joren was a tiny, extreme energy boy, as a substitute for a playscape (and to hide the playscape in the yard behind it, still there, alas). It cost the same as the boring commercial playscape, but it suited my aesthetic better, and still provided a fireman's pole, tire swing, trapeze bar and zip line over the years. But with ever dwindling attention from me and totally inadequate service from various yard firms hired to deal with it, our volunteer native mustang grape vines crept their relentless fingers around it and strangled the coral honeysuckle, shaded out the roses and herbs below, and stretched out for the overhanging live oak. It had to go. Rather than try to fight the invaders and keep some of the nice plants beneath, I decided to just start fresh and plant in a different style.

The last decade in Austin has brought more appreciation for heat survivors. As my husband's business partner said this weekend, after only six months in Austin he is just starting to appreciate the daunting toll of day after day of severe sun (and drought). We responded that no, he hasn't yet got the feel for it. That will come in August, when his body and mind will expect the heat to start to diminish, only to be dismayed that it continues on and on and on, into October at least.

So any plants that survive until the fall will no doubt be well suited to their environment. Going into the ground at the height of summer is the most stringent test.

The fountain was wired today. I just adore the contrast of the turquoise pottery against the stark gravel mulch. I'm in search of a rustic bench to install in the stone area between the two beds, where I can sit in the late afternoon shade and listen to the water burble and watch the birds and butterflies flit from flower to flower, sketchbook in hand.

Some of my favorite plants that I've never grown before are here. The Santa Rita prickly pear, with its incredible purple pads, has been a dream of mine for years now. The wonderful century agave, with black eyeliner edges and spines, was left in its box home, as I imagined the wood peeking out of the gold lantana and ox eye daisies when they've grown to surround it. I only hope it doesn't decide that this is its year to raise a 20 foot flower spike with its dying breath. Yellow bells (esperanza) is thriving, despite the heat, next to Mexican and purple feather grass.

The patio and established beds under the stand of live oaks are shady and happy, even in the heat, so I at least have a place to sit and ponder the fall replacement plantings. And when I can tolerate sitting in front of the torch, in the sunroom off the patio, with a window AC unit battling the torch and kiln resulting in inside temperatures pushing 100°, I'll have inspiration just outside the window.