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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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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

In Transition

We only have a few Thanksgiving decorations to put away, but they were still lying around Sunday when we started to put up icicle lights on the veranda. This time of year was hectic in the North, too, but it seems even more chaotic down here, where the garden never sleeps and the ground doesn’t freeze.

Many things have been started – few things have been finished – most things are stuck somewhere in the middle. At the beginning of this year the word I chose as my theme for 2006 was, “Decide” – and now in November it’s time to drag this word out again and repeat it over and over, hoping it can jolt me out of my mental inertia.

It’s been so warm that I didn’t bring the two Plumeria trees inside yet, and still haven’t figured out where I can fit them. After 7 months in the garden, both are in larger pots with much longer branches, so the corner of the garage is going to be really tight. The Hawaiian White Ginger needs to go in the ground, but where? The evergreen Hibiscus used to fit in the kitchen near the window, but it’s doubled in size. Should I prune it severely? Will that kill it? Can the Aloe vera stay out or is it tender? The Meyer’s Lemon is still in the pot by the door, and will probably come in and out for this winter. I’m still not sure where I want to put the daylily from Pam. There are a few peppers left hanging in the vegetable garden, in hopes they’ll be a little bigger by the time the cold cuts them down.

The weather has been pleasant and dry and the leaves are falling – so I'd better water all the containers and whatever’s been recently planted & transplanted. We want to put the Christmas tree up this week, so I'll start to move the furniture from that corner. I need to do some Christmas shopping, but I don't have a car today. Maybe I should write a few cards… but first I’ll answer email. I haven't posted in a week, but first I'll read a few garden blogs. I'll make up my mind after I eat the last bowl of turkey soup.

Then at 3 AM Monday I woke up to the sound of rain hitting the roof, maybe a third of an inch, bringing down another batch of leaves. The prediction now is for possible drizzle, with a few more warm days – then a freeze on Thursday and Friday. So my dithering must end and it’s time to Decide.

For decades of Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas dinners in Illinois, my mom has made a raw cranberry relish, and we use her recipe here in Texas. You’ve probably tasted it or maybe you make it yourself, with a bag of raw cranberries, a whole orange and a little sugar, chopped fine in a food processor or in batches in a blender. The Meyer's Lemon tree has produced some ripe fruit, with half-a-dozen lemons still to come. This year we made our relish with 2 bags of raw cranberries, 2 Meyer's lemons and one whole Satsuma orange, adding just barely enough raw sugar.

We were amazed at the sparkle and flavor the lemons added to this old favorite.

You see? I couldn’t even decide how to write this post! Should I talk about the relish recipe or whine and ramble about indecision at the end of November?


Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Essential Earthman

When Carol chose The Essential Earthman for her Garden Bloggers Book Club, I was pretty sure the garden bloggers would enjoy it, but wondered what an average new gardener would think about it. Henry Mitchell started writing his garden columns in the mid-1970’s, around the time that Philo and I bought our first house. Back then, the gardeners we knew might have a basic reference book or two, but were likely to ask friends for advice or use the library to look up plants and their care. Learning how to grow things came with homeownership, stick trees abounded, and the front yards in some neighborhoods became startlingly similar, as neighbors grew and passed around divisions of the same variegated hostas, orange daylilies, phlox and iris.
If you could remember a few botanical names, liked to mail-order unusual plants and were building a collection of garden books, you became known as a ‘plant nut’, and I earned the label while gardening at our second house in the eighties. At some point, I left the ‘how-to’ books on the library shelves, taking home writers like Allen Lacy and Henry Mitchell, whose detailed observation, passion for plants and personal garden philosophy outweighed many tomes of instruction.

Twenty years later, anyone can Google, so no one needs to search through 14 or 15 books to identify a single perennial. News stories tell us that few people will wait for shrubs or trees to grow – they flip the house after a short stay. I read that half the homes in the US use a lawn service - do the owners ever learn the names of what's in their yard? How can gardeners find a personal style of gardening when they learn about gardens from television? Those instant makeover garden shows instill the personality of the TV host, not the owner.

There also seems to be an undercurrent of antagonism in horticulture news – homeowners associations attack native plant advocates, lawn afficianados & and neat freaks square off with organic gardeners, and those newly converted to ecology seldom tend their own gardens, preferring to criticize everyone else’s instead.
It appears that a garden is now an investment; a garden is now a stage on which to display wealth; a garden is now a political battlefield.

Along comes Carol, sending today's gardeners out to find The Essential Earthman. I cannot imagine Henry Mitchell looking at his lot as real estate – this man inhabits every square inch of his garden! He jams the plants in too closely, grows difficult, exotic plants from all over the world, starts trees from seed, succumbs to zone-envy, takes an entire day to get three tomatoes planted, and is overcome by the beauty of roses and iris. He speaks of the impact of a single marigold in a sea of petunias. He rejoices in small triumphs like one perfect daffodil in bloom, he putters and fusses with his stock tank, gloats over his Chinese bronze dog, and loses track of time. He encourages us not to lose heart as we deal with unpredictable weather, because “It is defiance that makes gardeners”.
I hope he will be an antidote to these depressing news stories, and that H.M.'s words will be like oxygen for those who still want genuine, experimental, personal, overreaching, messy, ridiculous gardens, not reading the pages on fast-forward, but savoring his thoughts, like this one:
... it is the Spectrum not the color, that makes color worth having, and it is the cycle, not the instant, that makes the day worth living...
Henry warns us, “ Your garden will reveal your self. Do not be terrified by that…”
I pondered those words in June as I clicked ‘Post this blog entry’ for the first time, knowing that once seen, my garden was sure to give me away, revealing my self.
I believe in Henry Mitchell’s kind of garden philosophy. His plant-specific advice, however, was written a quarter-century ago, for gardeners living far from Austin, and being under that influence got me in a bit of trouble here.
By 2000, I’d read and reread H.M.’s description of the wonderful yellow ‘Mermaid’ rose. Deer ate the roses in my own neighborhood, and I couldn’t grow any, but my friend Diane needed a climbing rose for her large new wooden arbor. I talked her into buying a ‘Mermaid’ just so I could see this rose in full glory. Henry did allow that it could be a 'large' rose, but Diane’s plant went way past “Mermaid’-size, way past ‘Manatee’ size, all the way up to Rosa ‘Orca’.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Read All About It

On the top of this garden blog there’s a note telling you that I write the Transplantable Rose as Annie in Austin, and the Divas of the Dirt as Glinda. Maybe some of you have looked at the Diva site already?

The women in our gardening group have had a pretty exciting experience recently – the Austin American Statesman became interested in our story, and featured us in today’s newspaper. The article in the Austin American Statesman is called Digging, Dishing and Derring-Do, written by Julie Bonnin.

To make it even more fun, another Julie, Julie Ardery from the Human Flower Project used that story as the nucleus for her post today. If you’d like to take a look, here’s the link to the Human Flower Project take on the Diva article, with links to the original Statesman article.

If you want even more Diva adventures with photos – there’s now a YouTube with our theme song on the Diva page. I'm going for a few more antacid tablets now - this has been a little stressful!

"We Are The Divas Of The Dirt"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Mexican Mint Marigold

This is the Mexican Marigold/Tagetes lucida photo that would not show up in the last post. There's a Lavender behind it, with an old Rosemary plant in bloom in the background. All three of them are in the gravel herb bed, right outside the patio door, and all three have fragrant leaves. Even if you don't cook or make lavender sticks, these herbs are worth growing for the sensual pleasure of brushing your hands across them as you go past, releasing the fragrances.

Hallelujah - now I can go to bed.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wish for a Walk

The soldier in the photo is my dad, still recuperating from the malaria he contracted in the South Pacific during World War II. A few months after he was sent back to the US, my Mom took the train from Chicago to Virginia for their wartime wedding, along with two of her sisters and my dad's baby sister - that's one of my aunts on the left.
November 11th was a good day to remember my father, because he was a veteran, and to remember my aunt, because November 11th was her birthday – the day was known as “Peace Day” back in the twenties when she was born. I talked to my mom earlier today and she thinks that the flowers in my aunt’s hand were Sweetpeas.
If my dad were alive and here at my house, and if my aunt were alive and came for a visit, we'd all be taking a garden walk together, because they were gardeners, too. I can’t take them on a November tour, but I can take you.

The leaves of the hardy white Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Blue River II’ are one of the few things in the garden that have changed to a yellow autumn color. The Salvia elegans/ Pineapple sage is at its reddest, and the Salvia guaranitica is at its bluest at this time of year.
If Blogger would be ever work right, there'd be a photo of Mexican Marigold/Tagetes lucida right here. Mexican Marigold doesn’t bloom until late fall, and the Rosemary is also blooming right now. Mexican mint marigold leaves can be used to give a tarragon flavor in cooking, helpful in Central Texas where tarragon is almost impossible to grow. Whether I cook with them or not, the color is just right for November.
The Snail Vine/Phaseolous caracalla has been a solid performer since spring.

It's been covered in flowers during summer, and is still making buds and blooms today, but in all those months, I’ve never seen a seed pod. This vine has completely engulfed the obelisk, needing frequent clipping – it's been two weeks since the last clean-up, and the vine is sending long tendrils in every direction, reaching out all over the bed, trying to strangle the Duranta erecta/Skyflower.
The rampant nature of the snail vine makes me think I’d rather put something else on the obelisk next spring. The vegetation is very densely packed, forming into a huge blob toward the top that casts too much shade on the other plants, as if it's trying to shade out whatever it hasn’t been able to choke to death. Snail vine is not supposed to be hardy, so I probably won’t have to evict it, just let winter edit this part of the garden. Perhaps I'll let the Moon Vine grow on this obelisk next year, so the flowers can rise higher that the fence, and will have four sides on which to flaunt those fragrant white flowers, instead of the flat, 6-foot fence.

There are signs of autumn here, but they’re quite different from the gold and red leaves of the North.
I know it’s fall when my Camellia japonica ‘Pius IX’ starts swelling round buds all over the branches.

There’s a Sasanqua camellia in the garden, too, but it didn’t like the weather last summer and is sulking this fall, without a single bud. The japonica has had full years and sparse years, but ever since I bought it in the autumn of 2001, each winter there have been flowers.

The other signal that autumn has arrived is a tree in bud, and I so wish my dad and aunt could have seen this one.
It’s the lovely Loquat tree, [Eriobotrya japonica] stretching out long panicles of flower buds, which will open in a few weeks, sending their fra
grance all over the garden.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Not Zanthan's Mystery Weed

Check out the Mystery Weed photos and comments at Zanthan Gardens, [linked at left]… she’s received an identification on her mysterious, tradescantia-family plant via Valerie at Larvalbug, [linked at left], but my plants are not quite the same. Both small, jointed, green, ground covers have larger leaves than Zanthan's ¾ inch Callisia repens exhibits.

Here are the two green-leaved ones that grow here, with a ruler for scale. I think the smaller-leaved plant at the left side might be the Tradescantia fluminensis suggested by Julie from the Human Flower Project, [linked at left], since the leaves are in the 1 ½ to 2-inch range. This plant was already growing here when we came, possibly rooted from sections that fell from a hanging basket.

The mysterious tradescantia-looking plant on the right side of the ruler has even larger leaves, between 3 to 4 inches. The leaves don’t have the succulent feel of some houseplants called Wandering Jew, or like the Purple setcreasea at left, which also grows in my garden – the leaves of the larger green plant are almost papery.

The green mystery plant was growing as a groundcover in the garden of one of the Divas. I rooted some several years ago, and they grew in a hanging basket on the covered porch. The coco liner was disintegrating when we moved here, so I sort of flipped the whole thing out into my new woodland area, the Divas of the Dirt project for October 2004, just leaving it on top of the soil. The little colony quickly rooted and has been very happy in this shady area - seeing them at this time of year makes me happy, too.

The flowers are appropriately scaled somewhat larger than the possible T. fluminensis. They’re such darling little flowers, but my point-and-shoot can’t show this. [It also can’t take photos of bees on flowers – many failed attempts have proven this!] Whatever the name, this plant has lived through heat, drought and some freezes, with minimal watering and attention. The flowers are even useful when I make an arrangement on a needle frog, adding greenery and some delicate misty white to whatever else I can find in bloom in my garden.