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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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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tough Enough Trough

Our scanner had been acting really weird, so we weren’t surprised when it gave a final grinding sound on Friday. My husband installed a new one Friday night. Since a new toy must be played with, I thought it would be fun to scan some old garden photos from our albums for this blog. Once Susan at Takoma Gardener posted about her 4-year old hypertufa, it was clear which photo belonged here.

Here's how our hypertufa trough looked in July of 1996. This trough is over 10 years old, originally made for our Chicago-area front garden and used for annuals that needed good drainage, like Portulaca. It’s been through 4 Illinois winters with sub-zero temperatures, spent another 5 years on a south-facing Texas deck with temperatures ranging from 116º down to 12º, and now rests on a sunny area of decomposed granite. Internal layers of chicken wire gave it enough strength to survive moving vans and freeze & thaw cycles.

Here is our Austin herb garden, a few steps from the kitchen. The old trough at the left now holds a prostate Rosemary and some thyme. To its right, a trough built in 2005 holds Mexican Mint Marigold, Tagetes lucida, and a lime-scented Thyme. Behind them at far left is a taller pot, made about 1998, containing an upright Rosemary that was mentioned in one of my old garden diaries.

When I bought this plant in Illinois, the date was Sept 25, 1991, it was a 3-inch seedling from the grocery store, and I paid all of 58 cents. Rosemary is hardy in Texas, but in Illinois this herb spent 8 winters on a south-facing windowsill, stems pressed against the glass to keep it cool without actually letting it freeze.
Out of camera range, another large trough holds cooking sage & a scented geranium, and we have a few tabletop-size hypertufa troughs, too. One of the small ones dates from 1996; the others were made recently. I like to use the small ones for different kinds of sedum.


  1. I am coveting your trouhgs. I gotta make me one!

  2. I keep saying that I really need to make some of these... and I still really need to make some of these, especially after seeing how beautiful yours are. I am definitely going to use the chicken wire infrastructure idea, too.

    I love the story about your old rosemary. I managed (barely) to overwinter one indoors this year, but will try putting mine closer to a cold window this coming winter to see if that helps.

  3. Nice trough! I've got some nice styrofoam containers (eg: used to ship whole frozen turkeys) I've been wanting to use for this purpose. I also wonder if it would be possible to do a free-form in sand or dirt, sort of like a sand candle?

    And I finally got blogger to accept an adjusted raccoon photo.

  4. I love the trough or raised-bed idea, because you control exactly what goes into the soil. It's a smart way to garden, and I don't know why I haven't ever gotten around to actually doing it. I'm too impatient to first lay down the "bones" or infrastructure, of the garden - like all the books advise. I rush off the to the plant store before I've even doped out a place for the garden. You can see where my priorities lie. Trying to cure myself of that garden-gluttony, and your picture of these containers is good inspiration. Thanks! MLFull Fathom

  5. I like the look of herbs in containers. Some seem to do better that way, too.

    That's neat that your Rosemary has lasted the move and beyond!

  6. This year I have tried some container gardening. Yours are gorgeous. Mine were a bust. I think that is due to the potting soil I used. When I read the ingredients, they all sounded organic, but in the end I found out the company used chemicals to speed the composting process. So, I think the plants were "poisoned." Do you use potting soil or garden dirt in your containers/troughs?

  7. Thanks for all the comments! It's a big mess to make hypertufa, but worth the trouble. The original large trough was formed on an overturned, heavy cardboard box. There were a few smaller birdbaths made with salad bowls, old garbage can lids, and we sandcast one back when we still had a kid's sandbox. Some in front were made with wooden forms so they have smooth, tooled-looking angled sides. What we have is amateur compared to some of the creations on the hypertufa forum at Garden Web, but it works for us!

    The herbs do well - we swing from drought to flood, and have clay soil, but these stay well drained.

    Judith, there's no telling what soil mix I ended up with! We moved here from another Austin house in 2004, with over 100 containered plants. Some of our trees were just seedlings that we moved from one pot to increasingly larger containers over a period of 5 or 6 years. We try to get soil from one of the local organic places, but it's sometimes in bags from a nursery; I do add perlite, sometimes peat, manure compost or cotton bur compost. I use organic liquid fertilizers from Medina and Ladybug, both available in Texas.

    Thank you all!


  8. Annie these are great. They look very 'natural' grouped together like that with the herbs in them. Very clever.

  9. Hey Annie...great looking 'Tufa. There is a brand new Texas-based craft site that you might want to take a look at that covers cement, concrete & hypertufa. It's...www.thegardenartforum.com

  10. This stone pots (sorry, how do you say) are wonderful. I like old stones, and we have a lot of stones in our garden, they *grow* there.


  11. Annie, you didn't describe how much these hypertufa troughs weigh. Are they very light?

  12. Annie, about how much these hypertufa troughs weigh?


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