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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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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Farewell Followed by Freezes

Depressing weather is on the way, appropriate right now, since Molly Ivins died yesterday. How can both Molly Ivins and Ann Richards be gone? Whether you agreed with their ideas or not, the world needs more smartass women, not less.
[Cowtown Pattie has some good words about this Texas legend, and James of Austin has a good story, too.]

For the past week there’s been sniping among the weathermen [they seem to be all men], with some insisting that Austin should prepare for the coldest temperatures since the mid-1990’s, and others scoffingly sure we'd barely sustain a freeze. The latest prediction falls somewhere in the middle: a cold front bringing a hard freeze tomorrow night, followed by three nights in the twenties.

Philo and I went to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center last Saturday for the tree event, but we also looked at some paintings and strolled the paths.

One section of the garden celebrates the plant hunters and botanists who are remembered in the specific names of many native genuses. Austin gardeners who include Salvia greggii among their favorite plants can pay tribute to Josiah Gregg. Other plants with his name include Acacia greggii, Eupatorium greggii and Dalea greggii - those grey leaves surrounding the sign belong to Gregg's Dalea.

We didn't buy any trees, but we came home with several shrubs. That’s our new Evergreen sumac, Rhus virens, in the black container at the front.
The mature specimens of sumac on the trails were quite beautiful. We'll do our best to help this shrub thrive, by planting it as recommended in a raised bed with decomposed granite added to the soil.

There's a dwarf Nandina growing in the large terra cotta pot behind the sumac. Its leaves are green in summer, but the first cold snap turns them red, and they stay that way for months. So think twice before counting on dwarf green Nandinas as a green background for your flowers ... those ruby-red tones might screw up any spring color scheme using delicate pastel tones!

Look behind the Nandina for the Gardenia, subject of a July 14th post. That gardenia should probably go into the garage for the weekend.
Our tall, white-flowering evergreen Abelias look unchanged after the ice, but not the one Abelia that blooms pale pink.
The leaves on this Abelia still had medium green leaves in October, seen here with the stripes of Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ in the background.

Now the canna is a cluster of brown stumps, and the Abelia leaves have responded to the ice by turning a sort of dark burgundy.

When the ice storm bent their tree branches, the result was so dramatic that the Loquat, Magnolia and Oleander got all the attention. They gradually rebounded, with some lost leaves, and a few branches that appear to be permanently bent. Philo thinks the ice actually improved the shape of Magnolia 'Little Gem'! But in the week following the freeze, everything didn't bounce back like these flexible evergreens.
Plants that usually grow easily here, some of them natives, gradually gave evidence that they may not be returning this spring. Every Salvia guaranitica, growing robustly in large stands around the yard, in different soils and various exposures, died down to the ground without leaving the usual tuft of green at the base, and the Pineapple sage doesn't look good. Texas native Tecoma stans, also called Esperanza or Yellow Bells, turned hard and brown, with no signs of life, and both Barbados Cherries look very bad. If any of the Cupheas, Durantas or Lantanas are alive, they’re hiding it well.

Although all the ice-covered Camellia flowers turned brown and mushy, the Camellia buds emerged from the ice to produce another set of blossoms.

All the blue pansies in hanging baskets and containers lost open flowers, too, but in a few days they started blooming again. This colorful scene greets me every morning when I open the curtain - but what will I see on Monday?


  1. Don't count your salvia guaranitica out yet, or the lantanas or Tecoma stans. I bet they'll all come back just fine. The Barbados cherry and cupheas are more tender; I sure hope the pink cuphea you gave me survived.

    My warmer garden didn't sustain as much damage from the ice as yours. My Barbados cherry is still green, and there are even a couple of small green leaves on my salvia guaranitica. My yellow bells froze to the ground, but I know it'll come back. It always does.

    Your camellia is beautiful. I'm not used to seeing those here. Reminds me of east Texas.

  2. Annie, I forgot to say that I was saddened to hear about Molly Ivins's death too, especially coming so soon after Ann Richards's. We've lost two great Texas women.

  3. I hope the weather forecasters are wrong and all of your absolutely lovely plants fare well. You are a great source of information for me - gardenias, canna, nandinas are all new to me and newly planted last summer. I can't wait to see the canna bloom around my pond soon :)

  4. I continue to be impressed by how much you know about what grows in Austin compared to Illinois. You are transplantable! Though the weathermen are saying the high temperature on Monday will be 9 degrees here in Indy, I think it is worse for you to have below freezing down there. At least the plants here, for the most part, will survive this cold.

  5. Pam, I sure hope you are right! Most plants disappeared underground in an IL winter, so I'm fine with the concept of dormancy -it's permanent dormancy that I'm afraid of!

    Mary, I feel like a teacher who is reading the lessons one chapter ahead of the class - I'm learning, too! I knew plants like Camellias, Nandinas and Gardenias from books, not in real life, until a few years ago.

    Carol, I've been trying to figure out Austin gardening for seven and 1/2 years - but can still be surprised. Zanthan & Pam's blogs have made me realize how different it is in my garden just 10 miles NW of the more sheltered parts of Austin.


  6. Our weather forcast for tonight:
    9 °F / -13 °C

    Breezy...colder. Partly cloudy with numerous snow showers through about midnight...then partly cloudy with scattered snow showers. Accumulations 1 to 2 inches. Lows zero to 6 above zero. Southwest winds 15 to 25 mph. Chance of snow 70 percent. Wind chill readings down to around 10 below.

    Gah!!! Time to pull out ANOTHER comforter!

  7. Is that a particular dwarf nandina? I like that color in the winter garden ...although I'm not quite ready for red in the summer garden. I imagine the cuphea won't be back...I gave up on it a few years ago and we've never had the ice that you did this year. But don't give up on the rest...even without evidence of life they might just be waiting a bit longer!

  8. I'll keep my fingers (and toes) crossed that some signs of life will appear in the weeks (month) to come! We're still 'below normal' but I don't think the hard freeze is predicted nor the nights in the 20s - I think that the zone(s) that we live in always have gardeners living on the edge...when I lived in Michigan there was little doubt what would make it and what wouldn't - but down here, I keep slipping in a few things: my Meyer's Lemon is now in the ground. It lost all of it's leaves on a 19 degree night in December (I had it wrapped in blankets too) - but so far it still looks alive, just leafless. I love S. guaranitica! Oh, the patience that is required in winter! (Oh - thanks for the info on Josiah Gregg - I have all of these 'greggii's" but never knew why!)

  9. Jenn, those temperatures may be in the normal range for Michigan, but I can't even read them without shivering. Keep the comforter handy!

    Leslie, that nandina was given to me as a little passalong plant in 2000, but I've seen dwarf nandina used in masses for parkway plants or at the entrances of commercial buildings. The big ones may stay green, but these small ones are usually red in winter. The mass use makes me think it's a common and inexpensive cultivar. Bat-faced cupheas grow fast and aren't too expensive - in just a couple of months, a plant in a 4" pot grew to bushel-basket size, so to me they're worth planting as an annual.

    Pam, it's so easy to keep pushing the edges, isn't it? As spring commences, please report on what happens to your Meyer's Lemon in South Carolina. The camellia photos on your blog are so incredibly lovely - I'm still amazed at the sturdiness of this delicate-looking flower.


  10. Hi Annie,

    Love the blog thanks for stopping by mine and commenting. Good luck with the cold weather.

  11. Annie, I agree with you 100% about the world needing more smartass women! :) I love the color of the abelia leaves, too... reminds me of the color of my bergenia.

    I don't even want to talk about temps, though. The pipes to the second floor bathroom froze last night in spite of having the sink running. I'll be leaving the tub faucet running tonight, too, to see if that helps. (Ah, the joy of living in a beautiful, character-filled old house... lol.)

  12. Okay, I couldn't resist actually posting our temps anyway. Tomorrow's ambient temperature is supposed to be in the negatives! YIKES!

  13. Annie, I hope the forecasted freezes didn't happen after all, your plants have been through enough! I'm amazed at how bravely they pulled through after being encased in ice, no less. Just look at those fat camellia buds defying what Mother Nature has thrown at them!

    I enjoyed the sunny photos at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and your new sumac, and I sure hope you see the "return of the natives" in the spring!

  14. It appears that the worst-weather-hysteria mongers were wrong this time - although this group were also the only forecasters who correctly predicted the ice storm. It's so hard to know who to trust! The temperatures have gone below freezing, but not into the twenties.

    So Mr Brown Thumb - we're just flirting with frost while you guys in Chicago are in the deepfreeze at -5º right now. I wish you good luck with the truly cold weather you're having.

    Kim, I hope the water drip works in Ohio - guess you've got all the cabinet doors open, too? Lost Roses showed that precautionary measure on her garden blog a few posts back. We've dealt with frozen pipes many times and it's never fun.

    So don't worry about us in Austin, but let everyone know how you're making it through some genuinely frigid weather!


  15. With barbs such as 'shrub' and 'stick him with a fork, he's done' they will be sorely missed.

  16. Molly Ivans was deservedly famous. She was one of the most talented political writers around. It isn't easy to do humor, but Molly always seemed to pull it off.

    Here in Houston, I always count on my lantanas and durantas to make it through the winter without major damage. I guess one of these days they will get bitten badly by the freeze bug.

  17. Oh, boy, I bet you are missing Cook County right now....yep, I can hear it in your tone. You sound like you are really happy in the south, but I know it's killin' you to have all that green stuff in February, Annie!!

  18. It's interesting to read about the effects of the ice and cold temps on your gardens Annie. I do hope the salvia and others survive. It's sad losing our "plant friends".
    Your camelia is beautiful. How lucky you are to have those blooms to look at during these frigid days of February.
    I'm happy my plants are insulated with a layer of snow now.
    I hope your temps don't get too much colder!!!
    Glad you made it to the tree event.

  19. Annie, it's all relative... we're not really any worse-off than you are, if you think about it on a sliding scale. We'll probably lose a few plants as our temps drop below zero, you'll probably lose a few if your temps get as cold as you chicken littles--er, weather forecasters--predict.

    I didn't mean to minimize your predicament... just empathize. And vent a little, too! :)

  20. Ki and Gary, did you happen to see the Molly Ivins tributes at the Texas Observer site?
    I especially like Garrison Keillor's words about her.

    Sissy, although I was born in Cook County, our last Illinois house was in DuPage - so is that better or worse?? People I miss; lilacs, tulips and peonies I miss; the Field Museum and Morton Arboretum I miss; maybe I even miss snow - but never temperatures that start with a minus sign!

    Kerri, I should not have been so easily panicked - after all, when one plant leaves, it makes room for a new one. [Although the Loquat was raised from a 9" seedling, and I would take that loss personally.]
    Some of my insecurity comes because it's the recommended-for-Austin plants which look dead, while the plants from Asia have shrugged off the weather and have buds and blooms. Maybe those recommended plants will only grow in the cool parts of town where Zanthan and Pam/Digging live!

    Kim, I deserve some ribbing for overreacting, kiddo - so minimize away!


  21. Annie,
    We owned a condo in Lisle, right off Ogden and just down the street from Yorktown Mall, twenty years ago. We sold it for 50,000.
    It is now worth four times that!!!
    I worked at the Omega on Ogden and Rosie O'Grady's on Ogden...sound familiar??

  22. Sissy, I've seen Cryptomeria in Seattle but don't think it will grow here. Zilker Park grows azaleas, but I heard they have to bring in special soil - we're really alkaline, so my camellia needs special acidic fertilizers, and the magnolia needs some, too. Memphis soil must be more acidic, maybe??

    Your restaurants don't sound familiar, but we were more likely to hit Portillos. We used to go to Lisle for the Morton Arboretum - we were members there. I loved that place!


  23. I was very sad to hear of Molly Ivans death. What a loss.

  24. I am learning so much from you Annie. That Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sounds like a very educational place and I'd love to see it some day. I so love all the wildflowers on the highway medians. Thanks for the info and link!


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