Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bearing up under the heat

It's unseasonably warm, but the spring flowers continue to appear. There are many colors of ranunculus today. Joining all the other irises, are some that are entirely yellow. We have our first spiderwort and our first bachelor button. A second kind of ornamental allium is beginning to bloom. It's shorter and more delicate than the old-time variety that's found in all the older gardens in Austin. Earthworms are flourishing and we saw the first tree lizard of the season, not a very large one. There are several tiny, tiny flowers of various mystery varieties of miniature daffodils or narcissi: white with yellow cups, all golden yellow, and variations. To be truly enjoyed in all their beauty, they must be viewed at ground level and at a distance of mere inches.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back to nature

This is a catch-up entry about goings-on in the pleasure grounds. This morning when it was already light we saw a half-grown opossum and one of its parents. These must be responsible for the holes grubbed in the dirt the past few days. There is also a titmouse habitation established in the hollow "T" at the top of the old-fashioned metal clothespole close to the sun porch. Turk's cap is returning from the roots. Lantana will probably do the same, but has not yet done so. Pride of Barbados shows no signs of life yet. The most recent floral arrivals are two kinds of tulipa chrysantha (Tubergen's Gem and a paler, more buttery variety) and two new kinds of iris: white standards with yellow drops and some sort of fancy Siberian iris. Newest in the daffodil family are Erlicheer and daffodil Texas, both doubles. The earliest bunch of Thalia is done, but a new set is opening. Ranunculus is here at last, in several colors. The white bargain-basement fancy anemones are blooming every where and are quite showy when the sky is overcast. Leucojum is pretty much over for the season. April Tears lasted a long time. Lilac Wonder and red-and-white clusiana tulips are done for the year. Volunteer morning glories and cosmos are everywhere, and the same is true for delphinium. As expected, despite the winter's chills, nothing came from the Dutch tulips, but the leaves are pretty nevertheless. On warmer days, we've seen both giant dark swallowtail and giant yellow tiger swallowtail butterflies. Petals have fallen from both the ornamental pear and the redbuds; there was an overlap of a couple of days when both kinds of tree were in bloom, very pretty together. Little Marvel peas are in bloom. Small anoles are seen. The first of our Albertsons one-dollar clematis plants is in bloom, with a flower like a saucer. They are all budding. There are volunteer hyacinth beans. I had laid a dozen or so seed-pods from last year atop a fence; when I returned a half-hour later for them, there was not a sign of them to be seen. My suspicion falls on the squirrels, but perhaps some bird was interested. Fennel is back from the roots and now at about knee height. Pure white Dutch irises opened yesterday. Iphieon continues to be bluer and more prolific than ever before. All pink oxalis is blooming. Grape hyacinth is still blooming. Oakleaf lettuce has sprouted in surprising places and is highly ornamental. Three different kinds of nasturtiums in pots are covered with flowers. All three are trailing types. Various types of poet's narcissus are at their peak right now, also especially handsome under cloudy skies. Nearly all oak leaves have fallen; the front tree will soon be producing pollen. Purpleheart has returned; so have four o'clocks everywhere they have ever been, and in some new places as well. The fig tree is fully leafed out; there are tiny signs of green on the pecan. Hyacinths of every kind are now done for the year; we never did see any cream or white ones. Fancy anemones and anemone blanda are still going strong. Red anemones have been especially prolific. The old-fashioned kind of ornamental allium is still providing a frothy white background for all the other flowers. The mystery rose that had long done not much but that burst forth spectacularly last year was not winter-killed and has lots of buds on it right now. I think I'm seeing plumbago leaves up from the roots. We still have some Minnow and some Jetfire flowers. The grass is greening up ever so slightly.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Thomas Love Peacock revisited

I've been reading Classics for Pleasure, by Michael Dirda, and the brief commentaries are lots of fun. They can be read aloud to entertain someone who's working. I've read most of the books mentioned, although I have not read H. Rider Haggard. Dirda loves She; most people I've talked to prefer King Solomon's Mines. The book makes me want to return to Thomas Love Peacock. I've read (and own paperback versions of) Nightmare Abbey, Gryll Grange, Headlong Hall, and Crotchet Castle, but that's all. I've never gone back and read them again, but I'm thinking that it's time to do so. I particularly would like to try Maid Marian, which I've never read. Dirda quotes a friar in it as saying:
The world is a stage, and life is a farce, and he that laughs most has most profit of the performance. The worst thing is good enough to be laughed at, though it be good for nothing else; and the best thing, though it be good for something else, is good for nothing better.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Brightening the pleasure grounds

Trevithian is blooming profusely and making a very showy display, with a scent that, combined with that of hyacinths, is heady indeed. Newcomers include the first pea-blossom, pink-and-white clusiana species tulip, Minnow, several mystery narcissi and daffodils, and two colors of trailing nasturtium, one a handsome dark brownish red.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Old-time material culture: the best blocks ever

Anchor Stone building sets are synthetic stone blocks made from quartz sand, linseed oil, and chalk. The soft colors are a sort of slate blue, a creamy sandstone-like tone, and a rosy red that somewhat resembles our local pink granite before it's polished. The first ones I knew were from the nineteenth century and had survived as a large and intact set, just like new and complete with the booklet containing diagrams of structures for copying. I think that there have been periods when these were not available, but they are again, all the way from east Germany. I recently treated myself to a small set from Padilly. There's a great on-line history and frequent update site for Richter's Anchor Stone building sets (also known as Richters Anker-Steinbaukasten). They still are packed in a wooden box with a sliding cover. I wrote about these once before ("Best building blocks")

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Modern material culture: matchbook stickies

The sticky note matchbooks are sold by a novelty outfit called Kikkerland.They were impossible to resist, right there at the cashier's desk at the south Whole Earth Provision Company, and for about two dollars. Four little matchbook-style fold-over covers, each in a different color, contain stapled-in blocks of small yellow stickies, with a tear-off performation. They're wonderful for temporarily marking calendars or for jotting tiny notes. Each "matchbook" is marked "WRITERSBLOK." By the way, it's easy to forget that Whole Earth, along with Terra Toys and Eco-Wise, is a good place to look for toys and books, and not just for children.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Today's arrivals

This morning, there were none to be seen; by late afternoon, flowers of ornamental pear were opening all over the tree, just in time to accompany the redbud flowers, now beginning to drop. The first Lilac Wonder tulips (tulipa Bakeri) are blooming. Pink oxalis is blooming again. Today brought the first Thalia flowers this spring. Mrs. Backhouse is lasting a long time.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


Fennel is returning everywhere from the root. Fig leaves are unfolding from the bud. Clamatis has returned all at once and within a day. There are even some signs that the lawn is awaking from dormancy. Ours is not, however, one of those St. Augustine lawns that's green all over; those are the ones with weeds.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The newest arrivals in the pleasure grounds

Did we ever buy one of these specifically? Has it appeared before? Could it have been in an old Wild Flower Farm unlabeled southern bulb mix? I don't care for doubled flowers and I don't care for those of uncharacteristic color, but I must admit that it's a pleasure to see Mrs. R. O. Backhouse making an appearance in Mack's yard. The link is to a page with a photograph that seems to best capture the subtle color of the trumpet. This morning, the sun has risen early and bright, sending a beam directly to the very first iphieon of the season. It's much more intensely blue than is usual. The first beautiful clump of Avalanche has opened all at once. And nobody's picked any stalks of it! Yet.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Today's floral gift

This morning's first of the season is a beautiful clump of profusely blooming old-fashioned jonquils. There's not a sign of bud blast anywhere. If they never did bloom, they'd be worth growing just for the quill-like clumps of leaves against the dormant grass.