Saturday, February 21, 2009


An early bloomer this year is the Agarita, Mahonia trifoliolata. Its yellow blossoms have a delightful perfume which fills the air. To follow there will be small berries, which when ripe can be collected to make agarita jelly. It is no simple matter to collect the berries because the leaves have vicious spines, similar to holly leaves. The best way is to place a sheet under the bush and give the bush a good bat with an old tennis racket! Sometimes the bush is referred to as the nursery bush as it would certainly be a safe place to leave young animals.

The Texas mountain laurel is also in full bloom in the front garden. I'm sure these plants are blooming with such a heady scent to attract bees from hibernation. However, tonight there will be a frost and I suspect the temperatures will drop into the 20s. There is a strong north wind blowing and I am afraid these blossoms will suffer. Not only that but the leaves are just coming out on the pomegranate tree and a freeze will burn them off. We have had so many unseasonably warm days that too many plants have stirred from their winter dormancy.

These grape hyacinths should make it through OK but I have had to spend some time getting things back into the greenhouse and preparing for a cold night in there.

My greenhouse is loaded with seedlings of all kinds; tomatoes, basil, parsley, brachyscome, zinnia and rooted cuttings of roses, succulents and agaves as well as two lemons and a Mexican lime. To help out on cold nights I save all the gallon milk jugs, fill them with water, which warms up during the day, and place them around the perimeter. TDuring the night they will give off enough heat to keep things from freezing. When the cold weather is over I cut off the bottoms and use them as hot caps over tender transplants. Rather like a mini greenhouse.

Yesterday I added "pea brush" to help support the growing snow peas. This year I just used trimmings from the salvia and lantana. They have already started to twine their tendrils around the stems. I use the same idea with bush beans. It just keeps them off the ground.

This week I also did some severe pruning in the English garden. The knockout rose needed a good hair cut but even after watching a video on pruning shrub roses I really felt I didn't know what I was doing. It's a tough rose so I expect it to survive my pruning technique. The wall germander which edges the bed was also cut back. It has been in for 4 years and has become rather woody. If it doesn't make it then I will take cuttings to replace it next year. It is one of the easiest plants to root.
I hope everything is tucked in for the night.


  1. I hope the weathermen are wrong but it is good to be ready, as much as you can be ready. The ups and downs of your Austin winter would challenge any gardener!

  2. I'm taking my chances tonight and not covering anything, relying (I hope not foolishly) on being in a warmer part of town than you, Jenny. Fingers crossed!

  3. Impressive!
    Everything so neat and tidy, and what's more: on time!

    I wondered for years about the ubiquitous 'pea sticks' being used in herbaceous borders. Finally realized they weren't from peas at all ;-)
    Took a tip from the gardeners at Wisley, who use birch twigs. Why didn't I think of that, seeing that they are lying about everywhere in our

  4. Update next morning: my luck held. No freeze in my part of NW Austin. At 5 am it was just 34 degrees.

    How cold did it get in your part of town, Jenny?

  5. Hi Pam Carol and Joco- I think we may have escaped the freeze last night too. I couldn't really tell because my min max thermometer is broke, there was no water in the bird baths(shame, remedied that today)and it was too dry for frost to show on the roof. i was well prepared though and will be tonight as they threaten frost again. Upside is a fabulous day with clear blue skies warming to the 60s. A day in the garden.
    I may cut a few more pea sticks as soon the larkspur will be quite tall and will need some support against the winds that are so common at this time of year. One year I used vitex water sprouts and one of them took root!

  6. That whole milk jug process was fascinating. No greenhouse here so if an early freeze is coming I have to resort to covering things in situ. And I am amazed at the thickness of your "pea sticks." I don't think those same plants grow so big and strong here that I would get those kind of woody stems. Always a revelation what's going on in Texas.

  7. The sticks were from Salvia leucantha which always produces some pretty tough stems by the end of summer. Lantana- well that just grows like a tree here.
    Another use for those bottles is to puncture a few holes in he bottom, put in a few stones and fill with water. This makes a nice slow drip system for a newly planted plant.

  8. Hi RR.
    Well you are a fine one to talk about all of my agave pots! Your greenhouse is stacked...looks great by the way. One day I would like to add a small greenhouse extension to my shed, or perhaps if I ever diminish the size of my brush pile - I could fit one in there! (space is tight in the patch).

    The Agarita is really nice and a new one to me - what does it smell like? How tall does the bush get?
    Do you have sweet olives?

    The "pea brush" looks like it works a treat, a great natural trellis.

    ESP - (glad you escaped the frost!)

  9. ESP- We must both carry the same gene- an inability to throw out! As well as your stalk pups I also have two kinds I picked up in Arizona- goodness knows what I will do with them.
    I don't have sweet olives. Is that Osmanthus- I'm not sure if it would be hardy here. Also I'm not sure your agaves would be either. They have rather soft flesh which looks as though it would freeze.
    The agarita is a native plant. Pretty in the wild which is where I have it. It is not child friendly but it sure is tough.

  10. I try to propogate plants and start seeds out in the open - so I am very envious of your greenhouse! What fun you must have there. I'm surprised that the Mountain Laurels are already blooming in Austin - we're just beginning to get blossoms here.

  11. Glad I came to this post late, Rock Rose, and avoided the suspenseful wait to see if frost got the TX mountain laurels. Mine have frozen in other years but are just now starting to show a hint of color today.

    The jugs used as a homemade Wall o' Water is very clever!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    (BTW, there are three Osmanthus/Sweet Olives blooming in my garden right now. Had one of them nearly 9 years, grown in a container at the last house and planted in the ground here for 4)