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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Autumn Wears Her Red Dress

We're still enjoying temperatures in the nineties each day, but the plants show signs that it is fall. One proof - the hummingbird garden has gone completely Red.
Tall white hardy Hibiscus, Shasta daisies and blue salvias dominate this area from May to September. I saw a few Texas Star Hibiscus flowers in summer along with the off-and-on red of the short-lived Hummingbird sage - probably Salvia coccinea. It blooms, sets seed, the original plant dies, and another pops up nearby.
The largest red-bloomer hasn't done much since last fall, but look what's happened to the Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans in the last few days:

Its flowers appear when the days and nights are close in length. This can happen in a mild spring when the plant is not frozen back, but is more usual in fall. Most salvias are useful in deer-resistent gardens, but not our deliciously-scented Pineapple Sage! We kept it in deck containers at our previous house.

The Chili pequin [Capsicum annuum, according to the Wildflower Center] still has lots of tiny peppers. Philo hasn't tried it yet, but one of the Divas told me her husband Warren pickles large quantities of the fiery little fruit each year.

Autumn wears a purple hat with her red dress in the photo above. 'Bat-faced' Cuphea llaevea has produced red/purple flowers since early summer.

A few purple berries remain uneaten by mockingbirds on the Callicarpa americana/Beautyberry below.

My attempts to make vines bloom in a crepe myrtle has had mixed results - no new Passionflowers to photograph, and the Hyacinth bean/Dolichos lab-lab is all pods now, dangling ten feet up in the tree.
One of the surest signs of autumn in my garden is the flowering of Barleria cristata, the Philippine Violet. Some sites say this is a native of India, not the Philippines, and not in the violet family, but belonging to Acanthus.The plant below started out as a 3-inch rooted cutting in March, and it's now about two-feet tall in partial shade. The flowering seems to be triggered by the shortening of the days as the Autumnal Equinox approaches.

Those of who garden in the Northern Hemisphere celebrated the autumnal equinox on September 23rd-- and now our blogs record and share what happens as fall arrives. It might mean cooler, shorter days, changing leaves and that slanting, autumn light.

In my mind the term autumnal equinox meant that the days and nights were of equal length, so it surprised me when Philo pointed out that here in Austin, our day & night actually became equal on the 27th, and our descent into winter didn't really begin until the 28th.

I'd already noticed the startling variation in the longest days of summer for the different places friends and family lived - just one of those things that color our individual relationship with our spot on the globe. Philo used Naval Observatory tables to chart a few US cities for me, arranged by latitude, North to South, so we can see how things change as you move toward the equator. He adjusted to Daylight time for summer and this data is for 2007.

This may be the point where you jump ship, but I enjoy mildly geeky statistics and bet some of you do, too:

The days and nights in Anchorage, Alaska reached equal length on September 25th. Seattle, Washington also had equal days and nights on September 25th.

San Francisco, California took another day to even up its days and nights as did

Chicago, Illinois - both had equal days and nights on the 26th.
Austin, Texas and Miami, Florida waited until September 27th.

Kona, Hawaii was a day later than the others, on the 28th.

That's pretty interesting, but this is the part that really gets me - day length variation:

In Anchorage [latitude N61º 13'] on the shortest day in winter, the sun rises at 10:14 AM and sets at 3:41 PM. On the longest day in summer, the sun rises at 4:20 in the morning, and stays up until 11:42 PM - so the difference in the shortest day and longest day is a whopping 13 hours and 55 minutes.

Seattle [latitude N47º 38'] sees sunrise on the shortest day of winter at 7:55 AM, with sunset at 4:20 in the afternoon; go to the opposite season and the sun rises at 5:11 in the morning, setting at 9:11 at night... what a nice long day for gardening, and the glow at twilight makes it seem even longer. Seattle has a difference of 7 hours 35 minutes between the longest and shortest days.

Chicago [latitude N41º 51'] has a 6 hour, 6 minute variation from longest to shortest days, with winter sunrise at 7:15 AM, winter sunset 4:23 PM, summer sunrise 5:16 AM, summer sunset 8:30 PM.

San Francisco [latitude N37º 46'] comes next, with a 5 hour, 14 minute variation from summer to winter; the sun rises at the winter solstice at 7:21 AM, sets at 4:54 PM. The sun rises on the longest day at 5:48 AM and sets at 8:35 PM that evening.

Day length in Austin [latitude N30º 17'] varies only 3 hours and 54 minutes from shortest day of winter to longest day of summer. Our winter sun rises at 7:23 in the morning, setting at 5:35 that night, not so bad for school buses. At the summer solstice, the sun rises at 6:29 AM, setting at 8:36.

Miami [latitude N25º 47'] daylength varies even less - only 3 hours and 13 minutes separate longest and shortest days. The sun comes up at 7:03 AM in winter, setting at 5:35 PM on the winter solstice. In summer the sun appears only a half-hour earlier, rising at 6:30 AM and setting at 8:15 PM.

If you're in the city of Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, [latitude N21º 19'] there isn't a lot of difference in winter and summer: only 2 hours and 36 minutes. This part of Hawaii has sunrise on the shortest day at 7: 04 AM, and the sun sets at 5:55 PM. The sun will rise only a quarter of an hour earlier on the longest day, at 6:50 AM, and the residents will get the extra 2+ hours at the end of their longest day - with sunset at 8:16 PM.

While these numbers were interesting in themselves, since we read blogs by people who garden in different places we might think about how day length affects humans and their gardens.

Back in Illinois the crows started cawing as the sun began to glow - waking us at 5 in the morning. Northern friends could rise early and fit in an hour on a vegetable plot before dressing for work. When we moved to Austin it was a surprise when it was still quite dark at 6 AM in midsummer, and we were often awake before the birds made a sound. [It was also a surprise to see Turkey vultures rather than crows!]

The people in the North get earlier frosts and shorter summers, but they also get used to having many more hours of daylight during the summer. Kona, Hawaii may miss out on the pleasant glow of long summer evenings, but those folks won't need headlights at 4 PM in December.

Do you think the variation in your shortest and longest daylength affects you?


  1. Absolutely, the variation in shortest and longest day length affects me. It cuts into my garden time! And even now, I'm driving to work in the dark and will do so until spring. Plus, here in Indiana we finally switched to daylight savings time last year, and that has taken some getting used to. I miss the early morning sun in the spring and summer, but have adjusted to more light in the evening.

    Thanks for the interesting stats on the different seasonal day length changes around the globe. I never knew there were such differences.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  2. "enjoying" temperatures in the 90s?

    I think not. More like "enduring". :-)

  3. Seeing your great looking cupheas reminds me to buy some seed for next year. The bat faced one looks terrific. We planted a Korean beauty bush a couple of years ago but it was too vigorous and the branches kept falling over into other plants so it had to go. The purple berries didn't seem to go with other flowers either. Unfortunately we didn't plant bird peppers this year which was a mistake since the cayenne and jalapenos weren't hot enough. But, Entangled sent me information about where to buy seeds of the bhut jolokia the hottest pepper in the world aka the ghost pepper so I bought a packet of ten seeds. Cost me a small fortune. Maybe that will be hot enough for us.

    We've lived in 3 of the places you mentioned - Hawaii, the bay area, and Seattle. Seattle was by far the worst for depression because of the short winter days. In fact I think I read that they had a very high suicide rate in the winter. I can believe it. The dark, cold and drizzle was enough to drive us out of the place even if the city was quite wonderful and otherwise very livable. In Hawaii you hardly notice that the days are shorter.

    I remembered to do the word verification twice this time.

  4. When I traveled to Tanzania this summer, I learned that sunrise and sunset are nearly the same all year long because of its proximity to the equator. Each day and night is nearly 12 hours long, all year round. That would certainly allow you to settle into a routine, but I think I'd find it a bit boring.

  5. I dislike the change...I can eat breakfast outside all summer before I start work but it's already a little too dark...and it's definitely been too chilly...48 degrees today! And soon by the time the kids leave it will be too dark to get out there in the evening. When it's dark after dinner I keep thinking it must be time to go to bed only to discover it's 8:30...I love your hummingbird garden...it looks so happy!

  6. The Pineapple Sage looks so appealing to my colour-starved eyes. So does the bat-faced Cuphea.

    The one saving grace about winter here is that we usually have a lot of sun during daylight hours ... which are pretty short.

    My garden definitely reflects a short growing season and a long cold winter ... zone 3 with mild flirtations towards zone 4 when I'm feeling more energetic.

  7. Your garden looks lovely in red Annie!

    In the Netherlands we have looooong days during summer: it gets light around 5 and dark at 10.30 at night. Right now it gets light at 7.30 in the morning and dark at 7.30 at night. Soon the days will get very short: from 9 to 4.30, not something to look forward to.

    It's my firm belief that people need sunshine just as much as the plants do. I notice that on sunny days people in my country are more cheerful. Every year around October I get depressed (not to worry I get light therapy and that really helps), so yes I am certainly affected by the amount of daylight I get.

    BTW so far no frost yet!

  8. First of all, your red garden is stunning, Annie. Your photos get better with each post.

    I am totally affected by the length of the day. When the sun sets at 9pm on a summer night, my energy level continues and I'm at my best. Alas, when the sun sets at 5:15 in December, I lack the desire to do anything more than wear warm slippers and curl up on the sofa.

    I enjoyed your analysis!

  9. Oh, how I long to work in the garden after seeing your pictures. It'll have to wait until next year though. I too have the Phillipean ? in my garden. It's so sweet. Hope you have a great weekend.
    Love Elzie

  10. What a fascinating post, both with the profusion of red and purple (I'll resist the comment about those ladies of a certain age and colour combination) and with your fascination with day length across the US. Daylength most assuredly DOES affect me, in that I endure with gritted teeth until such time as the days start to lengthen. That happens after winter solstice, though we have a long way to go until the daylength is enough to make a real difference, but I rationalize psychologically from Dec 22 onwards--"the days are getting longer, you're going to be okay". I put on lots of lights and make sure to have fresh flowers and lots of plants in the house to help me cope, and read and write about gardening....thankfully, I have all these great gardening blogs to read that will help me get through this coming fall and winter!

  11. I love all the reds. I am anxiously awaiting the blooms on my pineapple sage. I grew that cuphea this year in a container and really enjoyed it. It is very colorful.

  12. Your garden is luscious in red, Annie! And those little batface cupheas make me smile so much that I need to find a place for them (and a source for seed) next year. (Maybe they will help attract bats to our bathouse finally? *wink*)

    As far as daylength goes, I just realized that I have generally lived within a few degrees of latitude all my life, in spite of moving around the great state of Ohio. I don't think that the shorter winter days negatively affect me too much, except in January when work is so busy that I arrive before sunrise and depart after sunset. That's a rough span of several weeks to a month and a half.

    But I do notice that where most people have the urge to hang heavy fabrics on the windows and "tuck in" for the winter, I barely resist the urge to rip down my curtains entirely in the quest for more light!

  13. Wow, even when pineapple sage bloomed for me, it never bloomed like that!

    The shorter days make me want to hibernate, but I can't get away with it ;-) I sure do hate getting up in the dark in the morning. On the other hand, the flip side of shorter days is longer nights for stargazing.

  14. I love all the red! It's wonderful to have so much still blooming there! I can't imagine living in Alaska and having 5 1/2 hour days.

  15. I remember driving through Indiana in summer, Carol, and reminding each other that the time would be different while we were in your state. It was easier to make adjustments when the watches had hands and a little knob!

    When I wrote that sentence MSS, I considered placing the word _enjoyed_ in either quotes or italics, but figured you would all know my use was ironic! Supposedly it hit 97º up here yesterday.

    Hi Ki, my cupheas were very small starter perennials - I've never tried them from seed. They're not totally hardy here, but usually make it through winter.

    You have lived in a lot of places! Philo said that it wasn't just day length in Chicago that bothered him, but the number of days without sun.

    Pam/Digging, I'm pretty sure that's a reason why some seed companies are located in Central America - they get something like 4 crops a year for plants like Impatiens. It would be so odd to live where there were no seasons!

    Leslie, the hummingbirds were out there earlier today on the pineapple sage.

    Maybe your internal clock wants you to sleep 14 hours?

    Hello Kate - there is a lot of color in cultivated gardens here, but if you go further out to the West of Austin, the native scrub is just shades of grey and dull green during the hot summer season. The trees are mainly junipers and live oak, which don't change color, and the really colorful flowers bloom in spring.

    Hi YolandaElizabet - wow, the latitude in the Netherlands is around 52º - even more North than Vancouver.
    Does the glow from the monitor count as light therapy? I swear it works for me ;-]

    Hello Mary, thank you. It took me awhile to appreciate red - peaches and lavender blues were my favorites.

    I'm not sure what drives my energy level, but even in December the slippers might be too hot. Our big outdoor projects usually take place between November and March.

    Welcome Elzie and thank you for your comment. Have you already had frost in Sweden? I guess it's time to plan for next year and maybe order some new roses!

    Hey Jodi, I might not belong to that organization , but it's my age group! Reds and purples in combination don't seem right in cloudier, cooler places, but they work down here - oxblood lilies with purple heart/setcreasea are a natural.

    Sometimes the idea of just thinking and reading about gardening seems soooo restful. Roots do not go dormant here, even when trees lose their leaves. I'll be outside watering containers, pruning and transplanting when you're dreaming by the fireside.

    Hello Phillip, I hope your pineapple sage does well for you - I love these two red plants!

    BlackswampKim, the first time I saw this cuphea the sight made me croon, and it just had to be in my garden!

    Back in IL when the days were shorter but the deep cold had not yet set in, there was something pleasing about lighting candles and turning on small lamps so everything had a golden glow.
    But the end of January is something completely different - much harder to take.

    It's something to look forward to each fall, Entangled - few leaves get much color, but this salvia does.

    The idea of stargazing is cool, but the reality is too much ambient light here - bet you get some great stargazing in the country!

    CountryGirl, the red is fun. Your part of New York is close in latitude to my old IL home, so I can imagine NY, even if Alaska is impossible.

    Thank you for all the comments!


  16. Annie,
    You are such a wonderful writer. I love your post.
    The change of daylength affects me a lot but I just go with it. In the summer I'm out of bed earlier and stay out later of course, I do more gardening, more out door physical activities. In the winter I do a lot more cooking, reading, knitting, small mosaic work and writing.
    The problem time of year is now, when it's colder and darker in the morning and I can't get out of bed. I can't wait for daylight savings time to end so I can get that extra hour of sleep, whaaaaaaaaaaa.
    It has been a very cool fall.
    The temps are a good 10 degrees cooler at night, ick.
    Thank you for the daylight info. It was very interesting.

  17. Annie, so that's what autumn looks like in Austin? Where's all the dead stuff and withered leaves and vines? I think you have summer all year with the bad part being 90 degree temps! Love your red garden and your daylight report. I dread the days of winter when I'm driving home from work in the dark. I also hate getting up in the dark so I guess I'm happiest with long summer days!

  18. Annie, what interesting data. Stuff we sort of know but never looked into closely.
    Some plants seem not at all affected by day length only temperature, others will not flower or set seed without the requisite changes, first longer then shorter daylight hours.
    Some birds move on in migration by light clues others food source, being able to fly long distance in a single day so not likely to be caught off guard.
    Maybe people are the same. Wherever we were born and stayed there are more adapted to the status quo. With easy mobility in people causing them to move on to better climates where they will thrive.
    Shorter days are fine with me. I slow down,settle in earlier, sleep longer. I still spend much time outdoors even in winter. I have promised Colleen to be available in January for cutback at the Lurie on the Lake front. Only freezing rain or monsterous winds will keep me indoors.
    Red looks good with evergreens,buff grass, and seedheads. I like your garden.

  19. Hi Annie, What an interesting post!
    I, secure in my superficial knowledge of Geography, always thought that it is equinox everywhere on 21st, be it Austin, Austria or Australia!
    Yes day lengths do affect me, and medically too, decreased daylight time induces depression, but here in India, I am so scared of summers that I do not mind the drop in tempratures and daylength at all.

  20. Gorgeous colors in your garden. I love the colors this time of year, when it all seems to go to those blazing reds and yellows and oranges.

  21. Annie, that was fascinating. I know in Vancouver, summer evenings can last until 10:00, and it starts to get light again at 4:00 in the morning. When I was in Hawaii, I noticed the sun just fell into the ocean around 6:00. It was bizarre. There were no long daylight evenings.

    Your photographs are always exquisite. You must be an excellent photographer.


  22. Nice set of photos, Annie. You garden looks great even in the fall.

    I am ready for spring already.

  23. Chigiy, thank you for your kind words! You do such adventurous sports stuff that winter must cramp your style - although something like mosaics would give you a good reason to get up!

    LostRoses, once those leaves get going they're like a part-time job... and right when getting ready for the holidays is at its peak. We still get the gloom of fall, but later.

    Hi Gloria, that's what it seemed like to me - we learned it, but it affects us differently at different times and places.

    You could be right about the mobility - it will be interesting fodder for studies as the years go on!

    Hello Green thumb, my geography skills need lots of work! Since bloggers keep sending each other off to new links, maybe we'll all keep learning longer?

    Many people in Austin get a kind of summer-sun-sadness, too - and are rejuvenated once the temperatures drop in fall.

    Bonnie, the red started with wanting to please hummingbirds, but it ended up pleasing me, too!

    Josie, we have some family in Seattle, and have been there in summer and late November, so I know a little of what you experience. Hawaii shocked me, too - got off the plane with some light, but by the time we were in the rental car it was pitch dark!

    Hello DFF, thank you. Spring here will look more like your traditional autumn - the oaks will lose their leaves and the big shrubs get red leaves!

    Thank you,


  24. h, but we classify our seasons differently in the warmer parts of the world. Based loosely around the wet and dry parts of the year... lol.

    Thank goodness we have just passed the spring equinox. Looking forward to a nice hot christmas of swimming and barbeques.

    And school is only 6 weeks away from finishing up for another school year. Groan, nearly 2 months of little darlings underfoot again from early december till feburary, saying 'I'nm bored'.

  25. Wow, your hummingbird garden is amazing! OK, when I retire my goal is to replicate that in my backyard ;)

    Yes, the length of days getting shorter affects me as a gardener since like Carol, I used to like gardening in the evening and now I usually run out of time.

    At least I don't live in Wisconsin anymore...nothing like walking home in the dark from work at 5 PM. Yick.

  26. Thank you for that informative post! I'm not as affected by the length of the day as many folks...just a tad crabby at first when my garden time gets cut down. But I really enjoy winter, and the change in seasons overall. When I was a kid, we swam at Daytona beach for Christmas-it was too weird and I didn't like it.


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