The Daily Muse

Thoughts from an Austin Garden  -- May 2007


Last update: May 28


New leaves unfurling on a Japanese Maple along the Philosopher's walk in Kyoto.


May 1 - evening


I have been burning the candle trying to work through my many images and memories of Japan, so, even though I have been keeping up with my own garden, I have to plead a bit of exhaustion... I just can't bear to take any MORE photos! Despite my tired state I am pleased to report continued generous (and at times torrential) rains, luxuriant new growth, and many blooms.


On a special note, I'd like to thank Susan Harris who posted a very kind article about this website on Garden Rant today. I feel  honored to know that my website makes a difference to people (including other enchantment junkies!) I started this work as a gift to the world and I am proud that Soul of the Garden has been able to keep it's soul for over seven years! I have received many wonderful notes from people over the course of the past few days - so thanks to you all!


Cherry blossoms floating in an urn.


A quick reminder - the new section of my website featuring the gardens and temples of Japan is now under construction - click here to see "the work in progress."


May 4 - morning


Azaleas in bloom in the strolling garden of Tenryu-ji.


More intense thunder storms have swept through the area this week keeping the rush of spring going strong in the garden. This morning the air is thick and heavy - with moisture dripping off of the eaves and leaves.


I am pleased to report that I am now about 50% of the way through the editing process of my images from Japan. I hope to finish uplading all of the images and creating the text for my tribute to the gardens and temples of Japan by this time next week.


Thinking about all of these images and of so much seeing  reminded me of a poem that my Yoga teacher, Keith Kachtick used in our class last week. Sometimes, in our tiredness and amid the exhausting clamor of our lives, a little darkness can help us see something entirely new.


Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

-  David Whyte

(from House of Belonging)


We cling to, and are overwhelmed by, many very small things. However, by giving them our attention  they loom large in our lives and shine a little too brightly in our eyes. What small things claim you, blind you? I can think of many things in my own life that I'd like to be free of. A good first step towards bringing yourself "alive" would be to let go of just one of the petty resentments, jealousies, and habits that fill our pockets like worry stones. Throw those things back into the glaring cauldron beyond the "sweet darkness." This can be scary - our identities get so bound up with all of these small things it might feel like we are throwing ourselves away. This is where  Buddha comes in handy:


In the end only three things matter:
how fully you have lived, how deeply you have loved,
and how well you have learned to let go.



The darkness within the lantern.


A gust of wind

showers the pathway

with blossoms -

the darkness within the lantern

remains unshaken.


- Tom Spencer 5/4/07





May 7 - morning


Japanese maple with azaleas for a backdrop. Tenryu-ji, Kyoto.


I have been working feverishly through the weekend to edit more images from Japan... check the work in progress here.


The Red Tori gate tunnel of Fushimi-Iniri Shrine, Kyoto.



One of the infamous "Sacred Deer" of Nara.


May 8 - evening


Kasuga Taisha (shrine)Nara


It is getting late and my poor carpal-tunnel syndrome fingers are worn to the quick, but I am pleased to announce that I just finished uploading the last of the pictures from Nara, Japan, to the new section of my webiste dealing with Japanese gardens and temples. So, I am now about 60% of the way through my images with Tokyo and the Imperial gardens, Kamakura, and much more to come! I hope you'll take the time to visit - and revisit once all of the text is in place.


Earlier today I was working on a new program for KLRU called Emerging Voices, Emerging Church. This hour-long special will feature some of the most progressive voices in Christianity including John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, Sister Joan Chittister,  Dominic Crossan; Barbara Brown Taylor, and Richard Rohr. The program will air on Friday, May 25 at 9 PM. I hope you'll tune in. Peace, Tom.






May 10 - morning


Victor in the azalea beds of the Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo.


More rain! This morning the air is fresh and the garden renewed once again after heavy showers during the night. Our amazing spring just keeps rolling along. I promise to update with images of our garden soon!


The polling for the Mouse and Trowel "Gardening Website of the Year" ends tomorrow so be sure to cast your ballot for Soul of the Garden. Thanks! And thanks again to the many people who have been writing - I deeply appreciate your comments.


May 11 - afternoon


For my friend Carol.


I long to accomplish a great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.  - Helen Keller


Several years ago I was preparing to lead a retreat at The Crossings, the wonderful retreat center located just west of Austin, and I was feverishly tidying-up my classroom - getting things ready for the arrival of my students. I wanted the atmosphere to be just right: candles lit, chairs arranged,   windows opened just so. We were going to be meeting at the Sanctuary, the "holy ground" of The Crossings and I noticed someone had carelessly left a broom out by the main door. Of course, this would never do! I grabbed the broomand was going to hide it away when I realized that I was about to give a lecture about making the most of the "dust" of this world. Dust? Broom? Duh. Instead of hiding it, I left the broom by the front door so that my students would have to see it and wonder, "Why is that there?"


Later that evening, I quoted the author, Thomas Moore, who once said that, "We work with the stuff of the soul by means of the things of life." Well, dust to dust, right? If we are to cultivate the sacred, what else do we have to work with other than the dust (or soil) of this life? The things we can touch and hold? Dust and brooms for example.


Since returning from Japan, the dust has been flying in my life. New projects, old projects, photos, the garden, and of course this... my website. Over the course of the past week or two the visitorship to Soul of the Garden has exploded, in part, I am sure, thanks to the award the site has been nominated for. I have been receiving many letters and notes from all over the world from individuals who appreciate my efforts here.


I'd like to take a moment to thank those of you who have written, and the many other visitors who frequent these pages. The "tiny pushes" of my broom seem to have made a difference to you and you have made a difference to me. In particular, I'd like to thank my friend Carol McGuire who helped me redesign this site last year and who was among my students on that special night at The Crossings.


Now, For a few hours, I intend to let the dust settle, to rest, to enjoy my garden. This weekend, I wish the same for you. Peace.





Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor--
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn't elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That's how it is sometimes--
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you're just too tired to open it.


by Dorianne Laux


(from What We Carry)


May 13 - evening


From Kamakura, Japan


I just learned that Soul of the Garden was named "Gardening Website of the Year" in the first annual "Mouse and Trowel" awards sponsored by Colleen Vanderlinden from In the Garden Online . It feels funny sitting here typing this, like I am about to launch into an acceptance speech. I called my Mom to tell her the good news (on this Mother's Day)  while I was strolling through the garden. While we celebrated together I found myself compulsively weeding one of my beds. Hey, award -winning multi-tasker! But you know the old Zen saying...


Before award, I plucked weeds and watered my garden... after award, I plucked weeds and watered my garden.


But seriously, I think I said what was in my heart about the website, and you, my guests, two days ago. I am honored that you are here. I am happy to share what I can. And yes, I am excited and pleased to have this recognition.


You can view all of the award-winners here- I'd like to draw your attention to the work of my fellow Austinite, Pam Penick, whose website Digging, won three awards. Cheers! And thanks.


From Kita-Kamakura.


May 15 - morning


Meanwhile, in our backyard, I am still entralled by our blue glass mulch / agave combo.


I thought I'd take a quick break from my pictures of Japan to share a few images from our garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Garden Tour (which took place this past weekend here in Austin.) As per usual, it was quite a treat to visit the private spaces of other passionate gardeners and experience the work of so many talented designers. The tour was especially nice this year due to the fact that our spring has been so generous - everyone's gardens were looking great. Thanks to the Wildflower Center for another inspiring tour!



This image is from our garden... a detail of the planting bed in our "conversation room." Rampant catnip, bluebonnets, salvia, thyme, lavender, damianita, agave, and more.



From the tour... a stunning plant combo by designer David Mahler. Agave with silver ponyfoot and winecup.



A whimsical rock sculpture from one of the gardens.



Coral bean in Kathy Nordstrum's garden.



A tranquil scene from Kathy's garden.



From the "Bridle Path" garden - an antique garden gate ornamented with a knotted rosary.




More blue glass! A fountain at Bridle Path filled with glass, fossils, and other treasures.



A classic Austin scene from Bridle Path - arched trees framing a gate that frames a view...



The same gate from the other side - with star jasmine in full bloom.




Another shot from Bridle Path - a bed filled with Crinums and river fern - a perfect combo!

And look at those trees!



Just down the street from the Bridle Path garden - another touch of  rock art whimsy.


May 17 - morning


 Purification ritual at Hase-dera Shrine.


More rain and cooler temperatures - I can't believe it, but some of the winter annuals still look good! I would never have dreamed that the pansies I planted in December would still be going.


Yesterday, as I edited the photograph above, I was reminded of the symbolic role that water plays in so many cultures as a "purifier" and "sustainer." Of course, this symbolism is rooted in a very deep reality that we gardeners understand in our bones, but, still, everytime I hear the doxology  in Christian services I am reminded that for our ancestors the world of the garden was  intimately bound up with day to day survival. "Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow..." was so much more than a beautiful phrase, they knew in a way that we have to be reminded that blessings do flow and the consequences of those times when the blessings dried up.


Here is a short essay I wrote several years ago about our relationship with rain...


For Central Texas Gardeners, Rain is What Hope Grows On (April 2000)

It rained last night - a good rain, sustained and heavy. This morning, before dawn, I went down to the garden with a flashlight to check the rain gauge - seven tenths of an inch. It came as a surprise; the forecast had not even mentioned the possibility of a shower. I am pleased, thankful that my garden is now soaking in sweet relief. However, I am also a bit resentful that I was in bed when it rained, that I was not able to sit on my front porch and watch it slip off the leaves and fill the rose blossoms with glassy beads. I feel as if I have missed a visit from an old friend.

Rain is the most cherished event in Central Texas gardens, for it is rain that sustains both our plants and our hopes. Without it, our gardens become jealous mistresses always panting for our attention. It is no wonder then, that we develop personal relationships with the weather radar or think of the rain as a friend. I'll readily admit to being a weather junkie, and it is all because of rain. When a predicted storm front dissipates just miles from town I take it personally. I rant at the weathermen and fume about my betrayal. During especially dry times, I have been known to stand in the garden shaking my fist at approaching storms, daring them to rain on me. You know it is getting personal when you try reverse psychology on clouds.

However, when the rain does come, our gardens respond with visible joy. This morning I can already see that the rain has made my garden shine - everything seems greener, fuller, more alive. I feel invigorated too, as if a weight has been dropped from my shoulders. When the sun finally stretched across our courtyard, and I made my way through the garden, I marveled at its response. Even the birds' song seemed brighter. No wonder the ancients adopted the rite of baptism to symbolize redemption and rebirth. Praise God from Whom all Blessings flow, indeed!

I suppose it is because we live where we do that rain plays such a large role in our lives. Austin sits on the 98th meridian, the boundary line that separates the well-watered east from the dry and thirsty west. To gardeners, it must seem as if we are always one step over the line. Some years we enjoy a bounty, as much as fifty inches of rain or more, but more often than not, we end up on the dry side. We obsess about dry stretches to such an extent that we have lost perspective about what a serious drought looks like. Old timers remind us of the early 'fifties where rivers and lakes dried up, dust blew, and nearly all of the younger trees died.

While I still welcome nearly every rain, even in the wettest of times, over the years I have prepared my garden for its absence. Going or gone are the thirsty plants that require my constant attention. It is simply irresponsible, and far too exhausting and expensive, for me to pretend that my garden is located in Houston or parts further east. As time progresses, and Austin continues to grow, water is bound to be a resource that we will pay ever more dearly for. How desperate will our rain dances be then?

Still, even with the xeriscaped portion of my garden ever increasing, I find there is nothing like a good rain. This morning the river ferns were heavy, their fronds shimmering with countless drops of precious water. "God's water," as my neighbor calls it, not the processed, pumped, and treated stuff. No, this was the real thing. The plants know the difference and are thankful. I am thankful too, for the freshness in the air that lingers while I write this. I know mornings like this will soon be a thing of the past. The heaviness of summer is always just around the bend here in Texas. Even in summer though, a passing thunderstorm or two might clear the air and give us hope, and that is what gardeners grow on.


Hase-dera from my Images of Japan.


May 20 - evening


Pine straw alongside of the trail in Bastrop State Park.


A very pleasant day... my in-laws are visiting from Mexico and we spent the day showing them a little bit about the natural and cultural history of Central Texas. First, we visited the "Lost Pines" of Bastrop and took a nice hike though the woods. After a picnic in Buescher State Park, we headed to La Grange for coffee and a few kolaches on the square, and then onward to Ammansville, Dubina, and High Hill the tiny communities that are home to three of the famous "Painted Churches" of Texas. It has been several years since I had been back to the Painted Churches and I was very pleased to see the restoration work that has been done at Dubina, very impressive. Ammansville and High Hill were as lovely as ever. I am considering re-shooting my documentary on the Painted Churches in High-definition. I think they would look spectacular with KLRU's new technology. We'll see what time (and money) allows!


The pond at Bastrop State Park.




With our recent rains, the bracken ferns at Bastrop were looking great.



Intrepid hikers and bracken fern.



Coreopsis and native grasses.




The beautifully restored courthouse in La Grange dominates the square.



The refurbished interior of the church at Dubina - complete with gold-leaf stars.



A little closer...



A side altar.




More detail.



I've always loved to colors at Dubina, the new paint job really adds depth to the experience.



A tour guide answering questions from a group inside Dubina. It makes me proud to think that some of them might have been  there as a result of watching  my documentary.



The steeple of Ammansville seen from the cemetery.



A scene from the Ammansville cemetery.



The interior of Ammansville with its distinctive color scheme and sophisticated painting.



One of my favorite windows from Ammansville.



And a detail from another.



A side altar at Highhill. Note the "marbled" columns.



The stained glass at Highhill is a spectacular as its lavish painting.





Another  favorite.



The Annunciation.



A little closer.



The Assumption.



A detail.





May 22 - evening


Along the western edge of Kyoto, the Katsura-gawa flows through the  charming Arashiyama district.


Finally, after nearly four  weeks of sorting and editing, I am pleased to announce that I have finished loading up the last of our images from Japan. Now comes the work of creating the narrative for the new section of this website...  a garden is never finished, even on the web! Be sure to check out the progress (and remember to hit your refresh button if you are a regular visitor.) Cheers!


The haunting bamboo forest of Arashiyama.


May 25 - morning


Just a reminder to those of you in the Austin area to tune in this evening for Emerging Voices, Emerging Church, a special hour-long program that I produced featuring inspiring  voices arising from within the Christian Church, including: John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, Barbara Brown Taylor, Richard Rohr, Joan Chittister, and John Dominic Crossan. It will air at 9 PM on KLRU-TV.


May 28 - evening


My thanks to everyone who sent kind notes about Emerging Voies, Emerging Church. I greatly appreciate the warm response the program seemed to have generated!


We just returned from a brief visit with my parents in Houston for the holiday weekend. While we were there we stopped by Mercer Arboretum, a wonderful public garden in northern Harris County. Here are a few pictures from our tour as well as a few images from our own backyard (which feels a bit like a tropical jungle with all of the rain we have been having.)


Tropical water lilies from Mercer.



I really like the color of this one.



The daylilies were at their peak at Mercer.



This is daylily "Fairy Tale Pink."



"Prairie Blue Eyes." I have to get some of these!



"Fleishel Black."



The rain lilies were also at their peak (no surprise given our monsoon.) I love these pale yellow Zephyranthes.



Such happy little flowers.




Isn't this one gorgeous?



A Monarch visiting a coneflower.



And another.




This is a butterfly ginger. Hedychium "Dr. Moy." Great form and variegation.



Lilium x "Fangio Red."



A sulfur butterfly visiting a sulfur lily.



In profile.



Another lilium hybrid.



This is heart-leafed skullcap from my garden. David Mahler, one of the real experts when it comes to Texas natives, thinks this is going to be a star. I agree.



Opuntia in bloom.



A little closer.



Hemerocallis fulva - a pass-along plant from my friend Richard Craig.



Our rain lilies are responding to the monsoon as well - this is Zephyranthes "labuffarosa" from Yucca-do.


Continue to June 2007

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