Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Back from vacation in (sometimes) sunny San Antonio

Another snow storm this afternoon here in Iowa, and luckily we made it home from San Antonio last night. We were connecting through the airport in Atlanta, Georgia where there were ice storms that delayed most of the flights and we didn't think we would make our connecting flight, which was the last flight of the day to Iowa, but it was delayed too, so we lucked out.

We greatly enjoyed our five days in San Antonio, a city that we've been to several times, although not for nearly ten years. My next few posts will be about the beautiful gardens we visited while we were there (there's still not much going on in my own gardens, so rather than just post photos of last year or of dreary snow, I'll share some of the lovely spots we saw down in Texas).

The first two days we spent there were sunny and warm, just what we were hoping for as a break from Iowa cold and snow. The next two days were overcast but in the 60s (which still felt great to us!) and only the last day was in the 30s, which apparently is not uncommon in south Texas winters. But those first sunny days were sublime and we spent most of our time outside enjoying the warmth and greenery.

As we were staying downtown at the historic Menger Hotel (built in 1859, more about it in upcoming posts), just steps away from the Alamo, we had to visit it, and not having been interested in plants the last time we went, I was surprised when I noticed on this tour how lovely the grounds are.

One of the incredibly large live oaks in the hauntingly beautiful front area of the walled garden.

It's hard to see in this photo, but the redbud in the center is beginning to bloom, which really made me look forward to spring in the Midwest.

A small fountain sits behind colorfully planted annual beds.

I believe this might be a Datura or Angel's Trumpet, but not being familiar with warm-climate plants, I could be mistaken.

This is a papaya tree (I guessed this only because I overheard a Spanish-speaking
family exclaim the word "papaya" as we were passing by the tree).

I believe these are Leucojum (Spring Snowflake). I have never grown these in my own gardens, but seeing how pretty they
are, I think I might try to find some shady spots for some of these "minor bulbs."

I confess I'm not sure what this is. It looks familiar. Anyone?

This may be Loropetalum chinense or Chinese fringe flower. It seemed like a very bright
thing to be blooming in February, the sort of thing that blooms here in August.

This live oak was 40 years old when it was transplanted here in 1912 (using a wagon pulled by four mules!), making it over 140 years old (1872). The trunk is more than 12 feet in circumference and the main branches are more than 50 feet long.
Very impressive.

Hasta la vista!

I suppose most visitors to the Alamo pay more attention to the military history of the place (there was a large display of historic firearms inside the main building that seemed to generate great interest). But I couldn't wait to spend some time outside enjoying the lovely plantings that the gardeners maintain there. Many kudos to the hardworking gardeners and groundskeepers! (Here is an interesting short article, "Remember the Alamo Gardeners," that describes the difficulties in maintaining the plantings in the face of so much foot traffic -- 1.6 million tourists per year!)

It was wonderful to see flowers in bloom and green foliage all around us during our temporary escape from the white-on-brown of Iowa winter. I'll cover some of the other, even lovelier, gardens we visited while in San Antonio in my next few posts. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Grand Weekend Out Among Melting Snow

Saturday and Sunday were both lovely days here in Iowa. The weather was incredibly beautiful for February in this part of the country: temperatures in the upper forties, sunny and with little wind. We all enjoyed sitting outside on the front porch, which acts as a "sun-trap," because it faces south and is mostly out of the wind. Even on extremely cold days when the temperature is -10F or -15F, ice and snow on the front porch will melt if the sun comes out because of this "sun-trap" effect. (This also makes the porch hot enough to cook eggs -- and bare feet -- in summer, which is why it's painted a very light, annoyingly dirt-showing color.)

This weekend's weather was a great improvement over the previous weekend's snow storm:

One week before...

We had some pretty cold days last week after the snow fell, as low as -13F last Thursday, so the snow did not melt much, if any, for a whole week. But this past weekend's sunny warmth has gotten rid of quite a bit of the white stuff, as you can see from the two photos.

I know we gardeners are supposed to like having a layer of snow to protect our plants from very cold temperatures, but it still seems like progress when it melts off, even when I know it's still at least six weeks until spring, and that we'll likely get several more big snows before the end of March.

But every warm, sunny day is one more that isn't cold, and I like to believe that the result is fewer cold days in total over the winter (although I have no idea if that's true or not). All I know is that my family and I greatly enjoyed our Grand Days Out: I read a beautiful garden book outside in the sunshine in bare feet and rolled-up sleeves; my husband even lay shirtless on the porch (and got a slight sunburn on his pale, Scottish skin as a result). And our animals made the most of the lovely days too:

Little Kitty snoozing in the sunshine...

Even our ancient inside cat, Tigger, ventured outside on such a nice day. I've put him outside on other warmish days this winter, but this was the first time since autumn that he actually left the porch and explored the yard away from the house, stopping to smell some of his favorite spots like he does in the summertime.

Best of all, I saw this hopeful sign on the east side of our house:

An unmistakable sign of the approach of spring. I know it could take two months for them to flower if the weather is colder than usual, but it still gives me hope. Last year (with a terribly cold winter and a late spring), it was mid-March before the daffs were up to this extent in this warm spot next to the house. I take this as a good sign of an early spring!
From mid-April of last year. I so look forward to spring!

Here's hoping for a warm and early spring for everyone, no matter where they live. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, February 1, 2015


When I went to bed last night, there was hardly any snow on the ground; we've been enjoying a relatively warm late January with little snow. Above is the scene I awoke to this morning, about 6-8" of wet, sticky snow (the kind that photographs well).

I've noticed that snow can be very beautiful when you are able to stay inside and admire it from a warm, cozy house. :-)  Our windbreak looks lovely coated in the heavy snow that fell last night, and it doesn't look like any limbs have broken from the weight (although I'm a bit worried about the small arborvitae in the center of the photo, as it looks bent over by the snow -- I might have to trudge out there tomorrow if it hasn't blown off by then). Interestingly, the net around the trampoline is so coated that it looks like a solid piece of cloth.

Our front yard. Our 9-year-old son helped his father shovel the walks, and had a great deal of fun tunneling a cave into a large drift in the corner of our small fenced yard.

The front porch has some serious drifts on it (but it's still "blue skies" underneath). In the distance you can see the poor visibility as the snow still blows around. A good day to stay inside.

More drifts on the West Terrace.

More windbreak trees. They look particularly magnificent covered with snow, reminding me of a mountain range.

The snow was blowing hard out of the east and coated the window screen on these east kitchen windows so heavily that it's hard to see outside through them. The window planting boxes are piled high.

My husband and kids kept themselves occupied on this snow day in front of the cozy fire that's been burning all day.

Tigger probably had the best idea of all about how to spend the snowy day....

Hope everyone who got this snow will be able to dig themselves out without injury and travel safely if necessary (and avoid travel if not). Our country road doesn't usually get plowed until the second day, as it's a lightly-trafficked, non-essential road, so we may have another snow day to enjoy tomorrow.

Stay warm and cozy! And thanks for reading, -Beth