Keeping Track


It’s that time of year when I have to step outside at least once an hour, just to keep track of what’s bloomed since the last time I checked. I don’t know how I ever find time to go to work.

That sunflower is one of a gaggle that helpfully planted itself at the base of one of our bird feeders. Nothing like food that makes more of itself, and looks so pretty to boot.

The first cactus flowers are arriving, the first sunflowers, the first Turks’ cap. While it’s a little unnerving to scroll through 2016 photos and realize that the bloomers of today were blooming last year in late May, since I can’t do a thing about the weather I might as well savor what’s here now. We’ll worry about a long stretch in a blindingly white furnace when the time comes.

There’s a great deal of confederate jasmine in the neighborhood, and I’m glad. At our old house I had a waterfall of it draped over a long stretch of fence. Then I married a man who says of himself, I like the smell of nothing. Fortunately he possesses sufficient wisdom to forego suggesting the removal of jasmine; but I’m fairly sure when we went house shopping he was on the lookout for landscape plants that act like spilled barrels of perfume for even a few days every spring.

Just as fortunately, there’s plenty of jasmine draped over fences in our present neighborhood. And scaling trees, and standing foot-deep along sidewalks. Entire blocks smell splendid.


Since I can’t be sure of getting to SoCal in time for the blooming of my favorite one and only best in the universe nothing surpasses night blooming jasmine, I think it’s wise to take in as much of any variety as I can.

Poppies continue to waft like tissue-paper creations all over the place. These are about midway between the darkest and the palest varieties; they live in a delightful corner of a neighbor’s front yard, where a variety of flowers will come and go all through the summer and fall.


I can’t even remember where I saw the poppy below. Its lovely delicate color drew me over to take its picture. I don’t even know what I’d call this color:


We are having a very nice Spring in central Texas. Here in Austin the rains have been just right, although the most recent storm caused flooding south of us. No one was killed as far as I know; let’s hope this trend holds throughout the wet season. Around here, sudden downpours can mean flash flooding. I don’t know why it surprised me, watching news footage of the San Marcos flooding, to see people walking and driving into some seriously rushing water. There were at least 50 rescues in San Marcos alone, many of which I am sure were necessitated by peoples’ hubris.

Even as I write this I’m thinking, I’d bet my lunch money that I’m going to die doing something really stupid, so I shouldn’t talk. It’s just a feeling I get now and then, and almost every time I get up on the next-to-the-last step on our tallest ladder. (Which I will be doing tomorrow, to trim last year’s blossom ends from some crape myrtles, so wish me luck.)

Flowers are so much more pleasant to contemplate! How about some cactus flowers?

We have many varieties of prickly pear in the ‘hood, and I do mean everywhere. In gardens, along stone walls, up by the neighborhood entrance, in the woods, on the edge of paved roads where traffic flashes past. Their flowers are just starting to show up.


Then too, many neighbors have all kinds of cactus in their yards: in pots, in rock gardens, in newly landscaped strips between sidewalk and road where nothing but stupid grass used to grow (and where sprinklers stupidly spray gallons of water into the gutters). I just love the little cactus that put forth flowers twice their size, like short women in enormous hats on their way to a day of the races at Ascot.


It’s an interesting juxtaposition this time of year: desert plants in flower, and rain lilies popping up on lawns and in abandoned fields. I wish I had some rain lilies, but they’d probably fall victim to the lawn mower before I saw a single flower. I probably do have some and don’t even know it. So many parts of our yard are just not unruly enough.


This morning as Travis and I walked home from Blue Valley in a damp, misty air, a yellow blossom on the bottom of an enormous bush caught my eye. It lives in a yard that has a tall wild hedge along the road, made of rose bushes and lantana and shrubs whose names I don’t know. I knelt to catch a photo, hoping the car in the driveway beside me wasn’t going anywhere for the next 30 seconds.


The design of the flower puts me in mind of pineapple guava (but it’s a different color) and Pride of Barbados (but it’s a different color and this one’s only a single bloom). Leafing through Howard Garrett’s Texas Gardening the Natural Way, the closest I can see is a variety of azalea.

Whatever your name is, you sure are pretty.

Of course the wildflowers are still riotous. Along one stretch of our usual walk, over by the lumbering McMansions, there’s a long sloping stretch of what I’d call a miniature meadow. At the moment it is covered in waves of tiny flowers: white, yellow, pink. And blue:


Each of these flowers is about the size of a dime. It’s important to spend a certain percentage of any walk down on one knee, waiting for a break in what’s been a lively wind. Travis waits patiently, which is only fair, considering how much time I spend waiting for him to smell all the important dog smells and search out the one true perfect place to defecate. Dogs are awfully particular about that sort of thing, which is kind of odd for a species that loves to roll in dead fish.

I hope you haven’t had too much yellow, because here’s another wildflower for you. Roughly a half-dollar in diameter, it’s all over the place, just like wildflowers are supposed to be.


On a good day Travis and I will get our first ten thousand steps in during that first walk. On a really good day we won’t have to hustle into the house and get ourselves ready for work. Instead, we can putter in the yard and monitor the sidewalk garden so that nothing too amazing happens without us.

The stretch where just a few short weeks ago Floyd and I sawed and hacked and dug and hoisted out a number of large agave is proving itself worth the effort. I put in a few plants and threw down a few seeds and it’s all coming along nicely:


I hope I never get over my amazement at what happens in a garden. It’s lucky the pink Mexican primroses are as prolific as they are.


Apart from being lovely, they appear to be a major food group for some pretty major caterpillars.


Roughly the size of my index finger (and I do not have small hands), we have this kind and also a bright green variety. I imagine they will turn into swallowtails if they survive. I keep looking for anything resembling a chrysalis but haven’t spotted any yet.

Meanwhile that foliage is a lacy mess but I don’t dare scoop it up lest I send a butterfly-in-progress to the landfill. Fortunately there are more, um, cultivated portions of the garden where smaller creatures merely nibble. The coneflowers are especially nice this year:


And the nasturtiums, one of the very few things I can grow from seed, are emerging. I always like to have a square foot or two of nasturtiums in the Spring.


This year I indulged in a fair number of succulents in four-inch pots. Minor successes with a few of their ilk must have gone to my head. For one thing, succulents like to be left alone and I am not very good at that. For another thing, non-humans of who knows how many species love to gnaw on them – and who needs that kind of aggravation?

But the course of unruly gardening isn’t supposed to run smooth. Sometimes I just have to set some plants in the ground and hope for the best.


So far, so good.




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