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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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Monday, February 26, 2007

An Author, A Project, and the Oscars

Last Friday night, Amy Stewart came to Book People, and four of the Austin Garden bloggers were there to greet her. I’m so glad that I went – her talk was great, Book People is a wonderful local bookstore, and it’s always fun to get together with friends.

Book People had copies of Amy’s new book Flower Confidential for sale as we walked in, so I bought mine then went upstairs, meeting MMS of Zanthan on the steps. We found seats and were soon joined by Pam/Digging and Julie of the Human Flower Project, and we had some time to chat and catch up before Amy arrived and we started waving at her. Amy was so much fun and so enthusiastic, in spite of her hectic schedule.

Amy brought in fresh flowers she’d found at a nearby Whole Foods. She used them to illustrate points in her presentation, giving us glimpses of what she’s written about in her book - plant breeding, the way flowers are bought and shipped, and how safety and ecological concerns are impacting the consumer decisions.
After the talk, she personally thanked us for coming out and then a swarm of people brought their books up for inscriptions, followed by clerks bearing stacks of books bought by people unable to attend, but who'd requested signatures.

We garden bloggers were in no hurry and waited until the line had gone down. With her tumbled curls and delicate skin, Amy looks so Elizabethan that she should have used a quill instead of a pen.
She signed my copy and told me to take a flower home - I couldn’t resist one of the pale apricot tulips.

Amy Stewart with the Austin Garden Bloggers.
If you’ve been to Pam’s blog recently, you’ve already seen this group photo with Pam from Digging, MSS of Zanthan Gardens, Amy Stewart, ‘Annie in Austin’ and Julie from the Human Flower Project.
Yes, we are now revealed, so if you’re in Austin and you recognize us – please say hello! [What are the odds this first happens at a nursery?]

Although I’ve only had time to read the first 30 pages of Flower Confidential, it’s fascinating so far, and I’m glad I bought it.

There's a story about how the 'Stargazer' lily became such a big hit, partly for it's packable qualities. Just reading about oriental lilies was enough to send me to old photo albums, to find a picture of these beauties growing in my Illinois garden back in 1997. The one I loved most was not 'Stargazer', but 'Casablanca'.

But this was not a reading kind of weekend, with warm, dry temperatures and the garden calling. We’ve been constructing a new border, and had the preliminary work done. One Saturday Philo and I went to GardenVille, shoveled compost and decomposed granite into sacks and hauled the stuff home. We went to pick up some free rocks; we stopped at Pam’s house and swapped a few plants [the advantage was all on my side ~ thank you Pam!], and shopped at the Natural Gardener, finding shrubs for the new border, a palm for the patio, and some perennials. The wind was fierce on Saturday afternoon, and local fire departments struggled to put out fires that had started in fields and soon threatened homes. Sunday was a calmer day – and we made more progress on the border.

On Sunday night I watched the Academy Awards show, because it's still fun, even when you don't care much who wins. Of the movies nominated for direction, story, performances etc., we’d only seen Little Miss Sunshine, Babel, An Inconvenient Truth, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Illusionist. We’ll eventually catch up with many of the others, like The Queen, Children of Men and Little Children, but although I’m glad Scorcese got his Oscar, it’s doubtful that I’ll make an effort to see The Departed – my pick of Scorcese movies is Bringing Out the Dead. Among my favorites this year were the wonderful, imaginative Science of Sleep, the biting and relentless Thank You For Smoking, and the supposedly unfilmable Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story – with not a nomination among them. No wonder I have few movies to cheer for at award shows!

And at the risk of alienating those of you who love "American Idol", and even though I think Jennifer Hudson is darling, [and my cousin works with Jennifer Hudson’s sister so I'm just a few degrees of separation from this Oscar-winner], the current style of singing doesn't do much for me - listening to more than one song like those from Dreamgirls gives me a headache. Cranky old Annie prefers Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the singing Johnson Sisters in A Prairie Home Companion. That’s the movie that earned my money in 2006 – both at the box office and when I bought the DVD.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Two Gardeners, A Friendship in Letters

Many thanks to Tracy of Outside for suggesting Two Gardeners, and to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for starting the book club.

In 1988 Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence were included in Allen Lacy’s anthology, The American Gardener : A Sampler and one taste made me want more from these writers. A couple of their books showed up at our local library and eventually I owned several volumes of my own. My reading of Two Gardeners was less discovery than revelation, as their collected letters to each other unveiled a long relationship. I already felt affection for them - what a pleasure it was to see their connection grow once Elizabeth writes to open the conversation.

This is no vague or gushing fan letter – Elizabeth packs her first missive with information, ready to explode when Katharine opened it. I like to imagine Katharine opening the envelope, then feeling a bit overwhelmed as she learns a great deal about her unknown correspondent: Elizabeth lives in North Carolina; she is not only familiar with the New Yorker, she has connections to one of its writers; she is glad to hear about a previously unknown catalog; she offers addresses and names of other catalogs with detailed descriptions and criticisms of the covers and contents; she also establishes herself as a rose connoisseur, compliments Katharine’s husband while declaring herself a fan of Charlotte’s Web, and gives glimpses into her personal economic situation. What Elizabeth does not mention, is that she is herself a published garden writer of books as well as a newspaper column. Elizabeth didn’t seem to be good at promoting her works, and Katharine is left to discover the wealth of Elizabeth's knowledge from other sources. Katharine soon realized that her new friend was an invaluable horticultural resource.

Although that first letter arrived in May of 1958, Katharine’s literary world has influences in today’s news. The New Yorker magazine is still vibrant, the New Yorker on DVD is a popular item, and a star-studded movie of Charlotte’s Web, written by Katharine’s husband E.B. White, was released at Christmas. Garden Blogger OldRoses just reviewed a flower show with arrangements that cry out for skewering by a new Onward and Upward in the Garden article. It was fun to see names from Katharine’s letters echoing in the present day – Katharine writes of her frequent dealings with William "Bill" Shawn, the famed editor of the New Yorker – and I recently read newspaper articles about his sons, Wallace and Allen. Wallace Shawn, a writer and actor with roles in films from The Princess Bride to Woody Allen's, appeared in theater reviews this winter; Allen Shawn, composer and writer, was the subject of a recent NYTimes article in the Home & Garden section, with reviews of his latest book in another issue. (Just to keep things even more circular and gossipy – Allen is the ex-husband of a previously selected Garden Blogger Book Club author, Jamaica Kincaid. While this celebrity scoop may not rival Britney’s tattoos, it was amusing to me!)

The editor clues us in that Katharine is a decade older, a New Englander, married, divorced & remarried, a mother and grandmother with a long career in the high pressure world of literary editing, her personality infused with the editor’s emphasis on exactness, a recent transplant from the lively city to a farm in Maine.

Elizabeth is a Southerner, never-married, a dutiful daughter and affectionate aunt, living in Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the first women to enter professional landscape design, which she does for a living while writing her column. Elizabeth is a much more active gardener than Katharine can be. Because this book includes some wonderful photos, we can also see differences in their looks and demeanors.

I'll have to read their individual biographies to find out more about their early lives. They’re so familiar with a broad range of literature - did they come from families where reading was respected? Was their gracefulness in manner, correctness in behavior and fluency in expressing themselves instilled from earliest childhood? When these women begin to use each other’s first names, I felt a quite Jane Austen-type thrill at this bold step toward intimacy.

The Presidential campaign of 1960 caused rifts across the country, and there’s a point where our Elizabeth and Katharine reveal their feelings about John Kennedy’s election. They accomplished this quite delicately, letting their positions be known via anecdotes and conversations couched in tactful words that would not mar their friendship. But such courtesy does not mean weakness! Both women had to be strong as they dealt with health, employment and family problems, researched relentlessly to ensure the integrity of their work, and when pain and grief laid them low, they found refuge in their conversations about gardening and garden writing.

Has much changed in the gardeners' world? Terrible and unprecedented weather events threatened their beloved plants, they worried about the ecological effects of chemicals, and bemoaned the closure of favorite nurseries. They wished for the good old days, when people respected fine, opinionated, detailed garden writing.
And even half-a-century ago, publishers chose to give contracts to writers of money-making, didactic, how-to-do-it garden books, while refusing to print reflective, specific garden writing stuffed with botanical names and references. Weren’t similar feelings about boring garden writing one of the factors leading to the establishment of GardenRant?

Through The Garden Gate is a collection of Charlotte Observer articles written by Elizabeth Lawrence over many years. For the book the articles are arranged by the month in which they appeared, and thus Elizabeth takes us through the cycle of the year, investigating customs, seasons and holidays, describing gardens and talking to gardeners. For a dozen years I’d been touched by her poignant July entry for the poet Robert Vernade, but not until reading Two Gardeners did I realize that Elizabeth's research for this article was blocked until Katharine used her influence. These events unfold through the letters between the two women. When I reread that story now, it still touches me, but I also treasure it because I know more about the friendship in letters between Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine S. White.

The American Gardener : A Sampler by Allen Lacy (Editor) May 1988

Onward and upward in the garden, by Katharine Sergeant Angell White, 1979

A Southern Garden by Elizabeth Lawrence, originally published in 1941, special 50th Anniversary edition, 1991

Through the Garden Gate, Elizabeth Lawrence (Author), Bill Neal (Editor)1990

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Promises of Spring

My book review of Two Gardeners is in progress, and it's been perfect weather for digging – today's post will be photos and short notes:
To prove that spring is coming, here’s a White-winged Dove perched among the swelling buds of my neighbor’s Saucer Magnolia. I didn't touch the color in the photo - the sky really was that blue today.

Mrs Quad posted photos of a fun Mardi Gras dinner at a restaurant on her blog – mine may not have been quite so authentic as hers, but our homemade version of Chicken Gumbo tasted fine, the Sweet Potato pie [infused with Southern Comfort] was pretty darned good, and a few of the camellia buds were open, so I floated them in a bowl on the table.

Northern gardeners have been asking for flower photos –
before their gardens thaw out and we are taunted with a zillion pictures of lovely, unattainable tulips -
my small bunch of Ice Follies daffodils are now open!

Amy Stewart managed to avoid the ice and arrive with the daffodils… I’m planning on going down to Book People this Friday night and hope to meet her. Flower Confidential has been getting great reviews everywhere. More information can be found on Amy's Garden Blog.
Of course I have nothing to wear.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Carol at May Dreams Gardens has requested that the Garden Bloggers post lists of what’s in bloom on the 15th of each month. Here in Austin we may see more today than on the 16th. The low was 29º overnight, with 25º predicted for tonight. That's not going to impress any Northern gardeners who are buried under snow! But it’s cold for us because rather than being dormant, our gardens are only half-asleep, and quite vulnerable.

The Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, has thousands of yellow buds, massed and ready to open.

Three daffodils are open or in bud. We found a few bulbs here in the yard when the shed was contructed and moved them into this border. I'm pretty sure these are 'February Gold'.

The Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’, planted in a front bed near the drive, and another near the garden shed, has a total of 6 heads blooming with small, lovely florets.

A few miniscule white blossoms are open on one of the Tea Olives, Osmanthus fragrans, and as in the garden of Pam at Digging, we have Rosemary and Pansies in bloom, as well as these small Violas.
The Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora was shown in the “Green Screen” post. Can you see the buds, looking almost like caterpillars? Since it will be so cold tonight, I hope they can still survive and bloom next month.

The native Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, has started to make buds and blooms, probably a little too early.

Indoors in the breakfast room, a Salmon geranium [really a Pelargonium] has been a source of color for months, and the Meyer’s Lemon pops a flower once in awhile. There is a single bud on the tree, and half-a-dozen tiny lemons developing. When this tree was outside, the blossoms were pollinated by insects, but this winter the Bee was Me. I used a new paintbrush to lightly touch the blossoms as they opened, and it worked!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tagged By Mrs Quad

Happy Valentine's Day!

This version of the tag game calls for a list of "five things that you might not know about me" – Hmmm. How can my revelations be interesting in the wake of people like Mrs Quad, Nelumbo, Jim and Kerri? Kerri parents actually owned a pet store when she was growing up! I must admit that finding out a few things about other people was pretty cool, so I'll be cooperative.

Five things that you might not know about me:

1) When I was about ten years old, I seriously considered becoming a Catholic Nun, driving my sister and cousin nuts with my pre-adolescent piety. [I got over it.]

2) I entered college at 16, intending to become a junior high teacher. I left after completing my junior year and never went back. So there’s no degree after Annie’s name. [It was of course, all Philo’s fault – no way was I letting him go to grad school in South Carolina alone.]

3) Our four children are widely separated in age, so they were born in three different decades - 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s - at different hospitals, with different groups of doctors, and at the time of each birth, Philo & I lived at a different address.

This age range also meant that once the oldest turned 13, my husband and I began an unbroken 23-year stretch of living in a house with a teenager. Four of them. One after another.

4) Genealogy is another of my interests, and I’ve done a lot of research for friends and family, frequently using online resources. While at those sites I bumped into a couple of previously unknown cousins who were doing the same thing.

5] I dislike the taste of watermelon, cucumbers and licorice, and don’t like their scents, either. But even if Philo has been eating one of these things, I like him more than I dislike watermelon or cucumbers or licorice, and will gladly kiss him anyway. [This was the Valentine part of today's post.]

I hesitate to tag anyone - but sure would like to know more about most of you – Ki? Lost Roses? Julie? Stuart? Pam in TX or Pam in SC? Anybody?

Here’s a squirrel photo for Nelumbo in South Carolina. This one is gobbling up the sunflower seeds, even though I covered them in hot sauce. The birds can’t taste it, and the squirrels are supposed to find it distasteful but it didn’t work out that way. It's possible that since everyone in Austin grows hot peppers, and the birds plant the chile pequin type in natural gardens all over town, an entire subspecies of salsa-loving tree rats is evolving here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Green Screen

Those of you with larger lots may see little need to plant trees and shrubs for privacy, but where houses are crowded onto quarter-acres, there are some of us who find a green screen is not just a nicety, but is essential for sanity. Two pecans, probably planted in the late 1970’s, shade the right half of the back yard.

When we first hauled our 100-plus pots to this house in the summer of 2004, that part of the yard looked and felt leafy and private, but late that fall the leaves fell, revealing not only the bare boughs, but the surrounding roofs, walls and windows. This depressing vista proved that almost everything along the fences of our adjoining yards was deciduous – pecans, crepe myrtles, ash trees, oaks, tall Mockoranges… even a magnolia ID’d as evergreen turned out to be a deciduous saucer type instead. So the next spring we added some broadleaf evergreens along the back fence, and also planted young trees on the treeless left side of the yard. When we’re sitting outside, it's not exactly our own little kingdom, but the loquat helps, and the six-foot ‘privacy fence’ makes a good background, and the greenery will fill in eventually.
While we’re waiting for that sense of enclosure to develop, let’s see how tall everything is now.
Our idea is that once these crepe myrtles get their crowns above the fence line, they’ll soften the horizontal line of the wood, and their irregular branches will break up views of roofs and house walls. The tips on the left one stretch to 6’ 6” now, and the right crepe myrtle has just hit 6-feet. By the end of this summer we may be able to tell whether our theory will work.

Halfway between the crepe myrtles is a tiny evergreen with potential. This is Pinus pinea, the Italian Stone Pine. I bought it at some garden club sale at Zilker Park a couple of years ago, and it's supposed to do well here. At the time it was an unbranched sapling, about 10” tall, growing in a plastic tube for $1. Now it has branched out, and reached the amazing height of 17”. This pine is seen in classic Italian paintings, and is the source for pinenuts. Who could resist an Italian classic for one buck?
You've seen our Magnolia “Little Gem’ folded over in the ice photos.
'Little Gem' was measured at 56” last February, and it has grown some, but not much, to 60”. But as you can see, there's more than 4" of new wood on the individual branches: Apparently, when the weight of January’s ice fanned the tree branches outward, some of the height was transmuted into breadth.

This loquat was a foot-tall seedling with a few leaves when I got it in 2000. It’s been in the ground for over a year and has reached 9’6” tall, and can actually cast a little shade on the patio. It's also branching out, so it's starting to look like a real tree, instead of a sapling.

Diva-of-the-Dirt Buffy gave me another foot-tall loquat seedling in spring 2005. I keep moving it to larger and larger containers, while occasionally taking off the bottom leaves. This loquat is now 35-inches tall.

We need beauty and fragrance as well as privacy, so we planted a small, evergreen shrub in the Triangle Garden. It's called Texas Mountain Laurel, botanically Sophora secundfolia, from the pea family, totally unrelated to the Eastern Laurels. At 26” inches tall, this slow-grower won’t make much impact for awhile, but it has a few flower buds!

In this photo from 2004, you can see what we hope for this spring.

We had three mountain laurels at our previous Austin house, and took a closeup of the beautiful, fragrant purple- blue flowers. The fragrance is described as grape Kool-aid or grape bubble gum.
It might be easier to catch the fruity fragrance once the flowers are at shoulder level rather than near our knees.

Do any of you grow Michelia figo, also called Banana shrub? It’s related to Magnolias, and the small flowers really do smell like bananas. I bought a one-foot, one-gallon plant in fall 2004, so at 38-inches, it’s done well, but will have to do a lot of growing if it's going to reach the fence top. Off to the right there are two unseen evergreen shrubs, a 40" Loropetalum, and a 30" Podocarpus, sometimes called Buddhist Pine.

Last February I remembered to measure the camellia and recorded it as 55” tall. So what happened – a year later it measures only 54"!! Since the branches show new growth, I guess this is another case where the shrub is now growing outward instead of upward.

Philo estimated the larger Pecan to be 40’ tall, and it's probably been here a quarter of a century. But we don't need our plants to be 40-feet tall - eight or ten will do, and we like watching things grow, so we'll try to be patient as we wait for our green & private Eden to develop.