What’s Up in the ‘Hood

It’s the middle of June and that seems like a good time to walk around the neighborhood and see what’s in bloom. We’ve had more rain so far this year than last year, so things are much greener and more dense. I haven’t run my automatic sprinklers once – mostly because the water bill from last year made me mad, mostly because it was wildly inaccurate several times, which lead to one of those bizarre conversations you sometimes have with utility companies:
“My bill says I used seventeen thousand gallons last month and I know we didn’t because it rained and we didn’t run the sprinklers once.”
“You can’t get a refund until you fix the leak.”
“We don’t have a leak. We’ve started to read the meter ourselves, and it says we use around three thousand gallons a month when we don’t use the sprinklers. But we were billed for seventeen thousand gallons.”
“You can’t get a refund until you fix the leak.”
“We don’t…”
Never mind. It’s a wonderful type of revenge, when your actions benefit everyone. This year I have made it my business to a.) use a whole lot less water; and b.) keep reading our water meter myself. The insane readings were pandemic in the neighborhood last year; one family got hit for 52,000 gallons, and they’re not even running their own water park. I don’t know about where you live, but where I live water becomes exponentially more expensive as you use more of it.
So many of the plants I admire are known for their low water appetites. But before you rush out and plant any of this stuff in Zone 8, please remember that I live in suburbia, where many people enjoy breaking laws about the watering restrictions. We are currently limited to once a week sprinkler use, but the water police haven’t started coming around yet, so lots of water is being wasted. While all of the following plants are listed as “drought tolerant,” they do get pretty excited about being watered. Who doesn’t?
The yellow bells of Esperanza (Tecoma stans  ‘Gold Star’) are glowing all over the place. When she was little, the girl who lives next door called theirs the “Jack in the Beanstalk plant” because it shot up so tall. Now she is almost as tall as the Esperanza.

There are numerous varieties of dietes, or bicolor irises, throughout the ‘hood. They need a pretty generous amount of water to become established, after which they become immortal. Their blooms are lovely and impressive, but I always found working with the foliage a pain. It’s a treat to see them floating like butterflies over a landscape that is taken care of by someone who is not me.

The little purple and yellow thing was up and abundant in the little bowl where I took Travis for a game of fetch yesterday morning. Wildflowers do the most imaginative things! This one looks like it could open its yellow mouth and sing.

These guys were abundant as well.

I should say that every time I post flowers like these I’m reminded of a line from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I can’t remember exactly how the line begins, and I am way too lazy to get up and scan the book for it, but I know it ends, “and I’ll be forced to learn the names of wildflowers,” ostensibly the most tedious enterprise she could think of in her early twenties.

I, glad to do whatever I can to place myself in the same category as a literary great, have therefore eschewed the practice myself.

After Travis and I left the fetch bowl, we just walked along, one of us sniffing at and peeing on things, the other of us balancing leash, poop bag, and camera. These little star-shaped flowers are flung all through the grass in empty fields. They’re about the diameter of a dime.

At least I do know thistle when I see it. I’m always tempted to grab a handful of seeds, but remind myself how deeply irritating – in more ways than one – it must be to deal with the foliage. Once again, a flower I can love when it’s on someone else’s turf.

I’m sure someone knows the names of these next two puppies, but I don’t. Are they a type of zinnia? If the homeowner is ever in the yard when I pass by, I’ll be sure to ask. I just love the vivid colors. Doesn’t the orange one look like a sunset?

When I was a girl we spent a great deal of time playing either in the cellar or in the attic. It was on one of the top-floor hunting expeditions that I found Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s Cross Creek, a literary autobiography as well known for its political incorrectness as its vivid portrayal of life in deeply rural Florida during the 1930’s.

It was in Cross Creek that I first read of several flowers that I immediately desired (this is what happens to gardeners: they can become addicted long before they ever even have a garden) and have planted in every yard I have owned in Texas. This, of course, is blue plumbago, and it is blooming all over the neighborhood right now:

Albizia julibrissin, the mimosa, distinguishes itself by appearing in every gardening book alongside the admonition, DO NOT PLANT. Too bad it’s such an unruly, water-sucking, early-dying monster. Its fragrant flowers whisper late spring in Texas to me. When my mother-in-law still lived in Appleby and then Nacogdoches, the long drive into deep east Texas was remarkable at this time of year for all the mimosa that blossomed in shades of pale to deep pink alongside the road and into the woods.

Even Howard Garrett, grand father of organic gardening practices in the south, has to admit they are pretty when in bloom.

The sweet little thing below, less than half an inch across, kept calling to me from alongside the sidewalk as Travis and I made our way around. One day I’ll get myself a tripod that sits about six inches off the ground so I can get some photos that will do the tiniest flowers justice.

Here’s just another yellow wild child:

All over the neighborhood, sago palms (Cycas revoluta), are blooming. All week I’ve been thinking like Prufrock, “I do not think that they will bloom for me,” because I’ve never had one flower. Evidently the sagos have male and female plants – which I did not know until I looked them up one minute ago. The females make huge round seed pods; the males – most noticeable to me for obvious reasons – make things a good two feet tall that look like this:

At some point Travis and I arrived home as we often do. In the steel planter in back, a “Cooper’s Ice Plant” that I chose because of a certain delightful grandson, is flowering away.

My crown of thorns is always flowering:

And the cactus the man at the nursery gave me last year has produced a topper that helps me really understand how the plant came to be called a “Pine Cone Prickly Pear.” This isn’t strictly a flower, I realize, but it’s so cool I had to show you:

Caesalpinia mexicana, or Mexican Bird of Paradise, floats on a small, feathery-leafed tree in the sidewalk garden. The blooms are sweet scented and short-lived, so the bees have to get to work on them as soon as they appear. A fat black bumblebee will often hover, possessively buzzing at my head, if it looks as if I might try to jump in and steal the nectar. This one will flower on and off throughout the summer.

Its vivid cousin, Caesalpinia gilliesii, the Pride of Barbados, lives a few feet away in the back yard. You can see these all over Austin, green foliage and deep orange flowers against what’s becoming a searing blue sky. I could have a million of them in my world and it wouldn’t be too many.

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