Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

September 17, 2011

My Gardening Efforts

Filed under: At home,Austin,Family — Tags: , — Janice @ 11:56 am

This year has just been the year where I’ve hoped to keep the garden alive and there has been no wild plans of installing new beds or even improving the ones I have with new plantings or cultivation.

I haven’t even been all that successful in keeping things alive. Last weekend I trimmed out some large parts of my monster rosemary bush that have died in the drought. Beside the house stands a dead American beautyberry, a drought-resistant Texas native, that couldn’t take the heat and the lack of water this summer (especially after following the bitter freezes of last winter). My little Japanese maple is making a valiant effort to live in the back and we’ve watered it thoroughly as often as we are allowed, but it has curled and withered leaves.

Last weekend while I was finally out looking at the garden, since the temperatures had dropped below 100 for the first time 3 months, I looked at one flower bed we have out front and thought about my great-grandmother Williams’ flowers. I think I’ve written about them before, but a quick look through previous Septembers doesn’t reveal the post, so I can’t link to it.

Back in the 1970s, Mother tells that my dad’s grandmother, Mattie Lett Williams, gave her some bulbs to plant. Grandma Williams was in her late 80s or 90s by then. Mom planted by the side of our house and waited for spring for them to produce blooms, but nothing came up. I believe that Grandma had told Mom that they were a spring-blooming bulb. Nothing happened for a period of years and Mother had pretty much forgotten about them.

In August of 1978, Grandma Williams died at 95 years old. In just a few weeks, bright cheerful red blooms burst from the ground where Mom had planted those bulbs. It was one of those fun little signs from heaven that we all look for. From then on, every year about the time Grandma died, these bulbs would pop up in late August or early September.

When I got into Master Gardening in the 90s, I learned that these bulbs are called oxblood lilies or schoolhouse lilies. Schoolhouse because of their color and because they truly are a fall-blooming bulb and pop up around the beginning of the school year. Mark has renamed them “Mammaryllises” since our “Mamma Williams” gave them to us.

A unique feature of the mammaryllis is that it gives no warning that it is about to come up. Unlike so many other plants, it has no leaves or greenery or shoots before the bloom. They all come up almost instantaneously and suddenly there is a complete plant with leaves and a stem and multiple blooms all at one time.

So I stood at the parched garden last weekend and wondered about the bulbs and whether I’d have any blooms this year. They are in a garden close to the street and technically on our neighbor’s property, but we put it in and maintain it and enjoy it. It doesn’t get a lot of water, though, because it is mostly full of natives that can tolerate the drought. I wondered if we’d see a bloom at all and expected the bulb to take a year off and wait until times were better next year.

Then on Wednesday morning this week I got a text from Mark: Mammarylisses are blooming!

I got home and took some pictures:



They are probably not bright enough or dense enough to be seen from the street by passersby, but I can see them when I look out my front window toward the street. They are red and robust and energizing. They make me feel like life does continue even through the worst drought and heatwave I’ve ever lived through.

Grandma/Mamma Williams and Mom in the 1950s. She was already in her 70s here. And she had another 25 years to go!



  1. I’m behind on my blog reading and just read about your egg and spinach quiche that sounds delicious, but I won’t be trying it. Throw the muffin pan away.
    I’m so glad I found this blog with your beautiful Mamma flowers blooming. I don’t think I ever had a plant with that many flowers on it. Inspiring!

    Comment by Pat — September 20, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  2. The flowers are beautiful. I will have to look for some and plant for next year, or the next…

    Comment by sandy — September 20, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

  3. Are those Mamma flowers what my Aunt Robbie used to call Naked Ladies? She had some bulb-type red flowers that made us giggle because she said “Naked.”
    Notice that I am not much of a gardener – but I do so appreciate nice gardens and even like to play in the dirt.
    At our house, I have been feeding and watering the deer (yes, many will curse me for it but I have to have one vice) and we have no yard at all. It is just an acre of straw and dirt. But it will come back if it ever rains again.

    Good news is that our water/trash/recycling combo bill has been less than $60 all summer – well, except that one day when i left the deer water hose running all day and doubled the water bill!

    I have been on summer hiatus with my blog. As always, you inspire me.

    Comment by Diana Finlay Hendricks — September 21, 2011 @ 1:12 am

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