About Me
My Photo
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.
View my complete profile

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Labyrinth of Lawn

I used this phrase a few days ago in a comment, and can’t stop thinking about it. The comment was at the Dirt Divas blog, and the subject was gardening as a solace in time of trouble. The Dirt Divas have a name similar to the group I belong to, Austin's Divas of the Dirt, but these divas live in Alaska.

So my thoughts concern mowing, but they're not about the current Lawn versus No Lawn discussions. It’s an interesting topic, but it’s not mine. I’ve been thinking about what happens to your mind when you’re engaged in something like mowing.

When I was a teenager, I occasionally pushed a mower for my parents, but my husband cut the grass once we bought a house, and my sons took over as time went on.

In the late nineteen-eighties, the garden grew more important, and we bought a mower that I could handle. I took over the lawn like a prairie version of May Dreams' blog photo, in denim skirts and a wide-brimmed hat.

One reason to mow: When you're mowing, your family is less likely to interrupt you with the usual demands. The dads mow in suburbia, so when a mom does it, it must be an important job. The sound isn't pleasant, but it becomes a white noise, blocking out the background. I couldn’t hear the airplanes on their way into O’Hare; I couldn’t hear the phone; I couldn’t hear car motors; I couldn’t hear any squabbling. I could think. Some of my best garden plans were developed as I went back and forth and around, mowing my yard, looking at everything from changing angles, noticing and evaluating and concentrating.

Another reason to mow: I knew what was out there and how close to get. I didn’t accidentally mow down struggling young lilies and hostas as weeds, because I was the one who planted them. I also saw things that were not ‘right’ as I passed - catching a shrub before it smothered another, or stopping a perennial before it completed a takeover move.

A possible reason to mow: A non-self-propelled mower means some load-bearing exercise. I use a mulching mower and overlap the lines, and don’t put grass in yard bags.

A sad reason to mow: In the months after my dad died, I could act normal most of the time, but once I started cutting the lawn, the tears wouldn't stop. Was it because mowing was something my father did, for as long as I could remember? Even in his last years, Dad would use his cane to steady himself as he climbed aboard the riding mower.

Or was it the action of mowing, the walking and the formation of patterns in the grass that released bottled-up feelings? In retrospect, now that I see labyrinths designed for walking appear everywhere, at retreat houses, on church grounds and in meditative gardens, this idea seems pretty likely.

Am I alone in feeling like this? Do you mow and think, or mow and plan, or mow and weep, or do you let someone else walk the Labyrinth of your Lawn?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Evolution of a Veranda

The word veranda didn’t come to mind when we first saw our house in 2004. We were focused on interior dimensions, gardening space, and price. The long front porch with two center steps and a ramp at one end was just another part of the house. Once the house was ours, however, I began to ponder the word, savoring the possibilities.

Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines a veranda as a large open porch, usually roofed and partly enclosed, as by a railing, often extending across the front and sides of a house. Did our space pass this test? The porch extends thirty-seven feet across most of the front of the house, with open sides, wooden columns and black metal railings on the front edge. The whole thing has an overhanging roof, shading the house from the Western sun. I began calling our porch The Veranda.

It sure didn’t feel like a veranda at first. The pierced metal ramp was handy when the movers rolled the piano to the door, but rain or water transformed shoes into skates. Visitors slipped and our family grew wary. After I flew off the slick surface twice, landing hard on the drive, Philo sawed off the ramp & then contemplated angles, as he designed and constructed new steps.

We added a wooden bench, a plant stand and two metal chairs from the deck of the previous house. Furniture and doodads made the porch feel more like a room, but greenery was essential to my idea of a veranda.

Philo attached metal hooks for hanging baskets; they’re stuffed with pansies in winter and they produce a veil of ornamental potato vines in summer. A parlor palm and houseplants spend most of the year out on the porch while the center steps are flanked by two large hypertufa pots filled with purple oxalis.

On many gardening sites, new owners describe how they transformed their older houses, removing old hedges to 'open up the view' to the porch. Abundant flowers replace the hedges, Smith & Hawken add pizzazz to the scene, and the happy owner stands on his new stage, while neighbors marvel at the improvement.

I like to read these stories, and am glad their homes have become the right setting for their lives.

But as someone who has spent years envisioning a Southern garden, I could not chop down my mature boxwoods . I rather enjoy hedges, shade, mystery, privacy and a feeling of enclosure. Rather than banishing our shrubs, we encouraged the boxwood hedge to grow slightly taller, clipping it level with the railing.

Now, after working in the yard I can lounge on the bench, waving hello and conversing with my neighbors, but my muddy knees & battered shoes aren’t on display. Instead of taking center stage, we prefer the Box Seats.

Life can be a little more civilized when you have a Veranda - a place to sit and sip, to read or talk, a place that’s not exactly inside, yet not quite outside.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Living It Up In South Austin

Between too much fun with friends and too much to do in the garden there’s no time to write a real post. Should I write a big story of my own, or hop around the blogosphere reading what everyone else has written, leaving comments behind me? Guess which one won?
You see, I was a garden blog reader & commenter long before I was a blogger and I still want to visit everyone. If this post is very short, it’s because you’re all too interesting!

Earlier this summer I had to confess that I’d been in Austin for 7 years without ever lunching under the trees at the Shady Grove. MSS from Zanthan Gardens decided it was time for me to act like an true Austinite and drink a margarita on the patio. I wore one of my Hawaii shirts! It was incredibly relaxing and conducive to conversation! I feel hipper already! [After eating an enormous mushroom burger, maybe that’s actually 'hippy-er'.] Thank you, M!

Wandering around Floribunda was another South Austin experience to savor. I got to sit on the grass sofa and admire their imaginative nursery. Isn’t the entrance agave amazing?
Floribunda had an enormous selection of colorful ceramic pots too. I found one that will be just right for repotting my old Jade plant.

That’s it – I need to take photos of my ‘sort-of’ Veranda for another post on another day. It's not like the wrap-around porches that adorned the houses in Susan's Charleston story at GardenRant, but it counts for a veranda in this family.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


This photo was taken at a place I dearly love, the Elisabet Ney museum in the Hyde Park area of our town.
Tomorrow is Museum Day in Austin – some locations are open free of charge, others have special events for the day and a few have food involved. Here’s a link to the Austin Museum Partnership.

There’s an Iris sale at Zilker Botanical Gardens, [today and tomorrow] sorry - it was Saturday only - so no new iris for me, darn it!.

Scroll to September 9th for details.
I grew at least 50 varieties of Iris in Illinois; some were hybrid cultivars with fancy names and fancy pricetags, while my passalong plants bore personal names like "Ruth's prairie iris", "Dad's blue Siberian" or "Vi's dwarf white".
I liked them all, and planted many tall-bearded, quite a few dwarf-bearded, a handful of Siberian and a few species like reticulata and pseudocorus.
In this 10-year old photo you can see a couple of the bearded iris that grew in our front garden in Illinois. [I have no resistance to the purple shades.]
The varieties of bearded iris is stuck at #4 in our present garden, but the numbers may go higher as more lawn is converted to mixed borders. Along with producing lovely flowers, the plants seem to do well here, so why not?

This is an interesting time to be an Austin gardener who also enjoys reading about Austin gardening. In addition to long-time local garden sites like Soul of the Garden, [from our tireless public-media multi-tasker Tom Spencer], Garden Bits by naturalist/photographer Valerie, and Zanthan Gardens from M Sinclair Stevens, there is a site on herbs and herb gardening called Horsetail Haven from Ann Marie.

While not primarily a garden blog, 'Rantor' also posts entries about what's in bloom in South Austin at Rantomat. The Hill Country landscape is frequently the subject at Lifescapes, by mystery writer Susan Wittig Albert, the creator of the herb-themed 'China Bales' series. Susan Albert lives to the west of Austin, but we'll count her as one of us!

Pam Penick has been writing and posting incredible photos at Digging for quite awhile, with newer blogs R Sorrell’s Great Experiment and my Transplantable Rose beginning within weeks of each other in June.

On August 28th, we heard a welcome new voice when Austin Susan started telling us garden stories at South of the River. A few other sites that sometimes talked about gardening, like Martha's, are not active now, but may return some day. Are there any more local garden writers that I've missed?

I'm happy to be one of the Austin Garden Bloggers in such an interesting town.

Sunday AM: I think the Susan Albert link will work now.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Luke, Mike, and Idiocracy

Although I’m not a movie critic, I’m definitely a movie fan. Philo and I joined the Austin Film Society soon after we arrived in Texas, a great organization that oversees Austin Studios. I really like Luke Wilson, and when Mike Judge, the man behind “King of the Hill”, Office Space, and “Beavis & Butthead”, cast Luke as the star of his untitled set-in-the-future movie in Austin, it sounded like a sure thing. But something happened between the completion of the movie and its very odd and scattered release this week.

The movie is now titled Idiocracy, with Luke Wilson playing an army guy named Joe, and Maya Rudolph playing a hooker named Rita. As the most perfectly average people on earth, they’re chosen for an experiment, end up in the future and find out that the current dumbing-down trend has progressed to…. well, if this sounds funny, it is.

Austin movie critic Jette Kernion put out the word at Slackerwood that Idiocracy would be in very limited release this weekend.

Jette, longtime blogger and recent author, reviewed the movie in another of her blogs, Cinematical.

We saw Idiocracy today. Luke is perfect as Joe and Maya Rudolph was fun to watch as Rita [did you know that her mom was the late singer Minnie Riperton?]. The movie is savagely funny. Its targets are practically every current popular form of entertainment, clothing, language, sports & celebrities, along with DINKS, the government and every large corporation in America. Oh, yeah, it also makes fun of Fox news. It’s an R movie for good reasons, and under the humor there is anguish and anger. If you can’t stand either Beavis or Butthead, or didn’t like A Boy and His Dog, this one won’t work for you. If you like your humor over the top and with a bitter edge, find out if it’s in your city this week. In a very oblique way, Idiocracy has agriculture as a plot element, with crops endangered by corporate interference, so maybe this movie does belong on a garden blog!

In my photo collage there’s a snapshot of Luke, speaking to a reporter at a benefit showing of My Dog Skip a few years ago. I was inches away from him at the Stubb’s Barbecue party following the movie, but was too chicken to say a word, darn it. Now don’t misunderstand – this isn’t a Mrs. Robinson thing – more like imagining Luke as another one of my adult nephews, who could hang out on the patio and tell me about movies and acting while I fed him homemade peanut butter cookies. In my dreams!