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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, May 27, 2007

Passalong Plants - The Book

Passalong Plants -the April/May Selection for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club.
By the time this book came into my life, my world was already filled with plants passed along by other gardeners, so Felder and Steve [we were instantly on a first name basis] didn’t introduce me to the concept, but they gave all of us a great name for what we were doing, validated our experiences and filled an entire book with objects of desire. We were introduced to some quirky yard art as well as some truly odd plants.

The two authors, Steven Bender and Felder Rushing talk about individual plants in a neighborly, anecdotal way, sometimes lurching over the line into Jeff Foxworthy territory, but with genuine horticultural information under the kudzu. I have no resistance to this kind of Southern- style writing, treasuring old paperbacks by Lewis Grizzard and Celestine Sibley, enjoying the YaYa Sisterhood, and loving movies like Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes. If you can’t swallow garden writing served with a side of cheese grits, you may need a lot of iced tea to get you through the pages, but the plant stories are wonderful. I love my copy, sometimes rereading the book for fun, and sometimes using it as a reference for specific plants.

Many of the most tempting stories are about plants that won’t grow above zone 7, giving the Northern gardener a case of zone envy. Felder and Steve are currently considering a new book about Passalong Plants for colder zones, so if you live where camelias freeze, read this book first and hope they’ll write a companion volume in the future.
Last March, I posted about meeting Felder Rushing, and mentioned that my copy of the book was written-in, and stuffed with notes. The extra pages at the back of the book were blank when I bought the book, but were soon covered in lists of plants and people. I noted daylilies named ‘Timeless’ and ‘Charm Bracelet’ as coming from Bernice, that Sweet Autumn Clematis was given to me by Ruth, whose plant came from Sophie. The Malva moschata was from Dorothy, Iris from Lorraine, Peonies from Patty, Sweet woodruff from Sherry, orange lilies from Laverne and that the Jack in the Pulpit was passed along to me by my mother. Most of the passalong plants in our Illinois garden stayed there when we moved to Texas in 1999.

But among the passalong plants in my present garden are two that traveled long and winding roads to live in Austin, Texas.

Look into the photo above and you’ll see some tall while phlox, cavorting with a white Echinacea and some Perovskia last July. The family legend says that my great-grandmother grew the phlox in Michigan in the early 1900’s. By 1924 she'd given a division to her daughter, my Grandma Anna, who took them to Chicago. Grandma passed them along to my parents in the 1950’s. Decades later, I took some of the white phlox with me to a rental townhouse, then to our first house. Another four years passed, I redivided the burgeoning clump and took some to our second house, then repeated the process and planted them in the square garden at the third house, seen below.

The phlox are blooming in the upper left corner of this decade old snapshot - with the head of an 'Annabelle' hydrangea flopped artistically across the center.
In the mid-nineties our son M. took some of the white phlox for his garden and after we moved to this house in 2004, M. returned the favor, bringing a division of the heirloom phlox down here - to make this the fifth home where we’ve grown them.

The journey of another plant began on April 13, 1992, when a garden club speaker in Illinois gave me wands of corkscrew willow - extra greenery from an arrangement. I managed to root one of the slender twisted branches and grew it in a whiskey barrel. The wand eventually expanded into an attractive tree, from which I rooted more cuttings, one for my son M. and a couple for my friend Barbara.
We left the original tree in the whiskey barrel in Illinois, but after a while I missed it, and wanted one here. Both M. & Barbara gave me wands from their now larger trees, with no luck at first, but this piece from Barbara finally made roots in 2005. The young willow now grows in a big pot, placed so any drip of condensation from the roof will land in the container. Also in the container are some passalong agapanthus plants from Pam/Digging.
I started writing this while waiting for a couple of passalong daylilies to bloom, but as I waited, the draft grew longer and longer, and now the daylilies need a whole post! Since I want to tell the stories of the passalong plants in our garden and the people who shared them with us – let’s call this Passalongs/Part One.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bossing The Blooms

No, I haven’t found a magical way to make peonies grow in Austin – these flowers appear by permission of my youngest sister - she took their photos in her Illinois garden. They’re lovely, fragrant, old-fashioned, doubled peonies, ready to cut for vases.

My sister said she wished she could hold back the peonies until out-of-state guests arrive in a couple of weeks. That reminded me of an old trick for keeping peonies in storage, ready for June graduations and parties. Maybe you already know about it? Or is this another of those things that longtime gardeners mistakenly think everyone knows? Please let me know if you’ve done this, too.

The hard part is that you have to live where peonies grow – which eliminates many of us! And you need a couple of established peony plants like my sister’s. If I were at her house we’d go out and cut stems about 10 or 12 inches long, with buds that show some petal color, and are just starting to swell – something bigger than a golf ball – smaller than a tennis ball. There are several good buds at lower right in the photo below.

The flower buds need to be perfectly dry so you don’t get mold! Remove any leaves. Wrap each stem individually in paper towels or newspaper, bundle 6 or 8 stems together and slip them in a plastic bag. I used to use the sleeves in which the newspaper arrived. Cut a few more than you need, since some may be duds.
The bundles go on a refrigerator shelf, with the heads facing in. About twenty-four to thirty-six hours before you want to arrange them for your table, you take the peonies out, recut the ends and put them in water and most of them will be fine and unfold. Then make your arrangement, adding fresh peony foliage to make them look just cut. Be amused as your friends search your garden looking for the peony plant that blooms after all the others are done.

You can use this technique to delay peony bloom for a couple of weeks… wait too long and they'll probably still open, but the flower petals get dry on the edges. Have fun!

Carolus and the Clerk

This photo was taken in 1988, at the Chicago Botanical Garden in Glencoe. I haven't been there in some time, and don't know how it looks today, but back then my younger children loved the intricate details and large three-dimensional quality of this portrait of Carolus Linnaeus. On every visit, and there were many, we walked around it, trying to identify the individual leaves and flowers that were sculpted and blended together to form his image. Today, the 300th birth anniversary of Linnaeus is being celebrated not only in Sweden, but in the hearts of gardeners and scientists all over the world.

This day is also the birthday of a modern gardener, the wonderful, intricate and three-dimensional Hank the County Clerk - if you have a chance to read some of his essays on Linnaeus [make that essays that use Linnaeus as the jumping-off point for many thoughts!] you will be amazed. Here's a link to Linnaeus, Son of No Man.

Happy Birthday, Hank... and Carolus, we do not forget you.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's A Blooming Mystery

Flowers bloom on their own time, a fact that seldom bothers me in my daily life as an Austin slacker. But now that I’ve become a Garden Blogger [note those capital letters!], I occasionally need blooms on my plants for a certain date – like last week's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day on May 15th. Nothing makes me drag my feet more than a direct order to hustle, and my garden behaves no less stubbornly. That must be why the Rose of Sharon refused to open one single bud for the 15th, but opened a dozen flowers on the 17th, instead. Should I call it the "Roses of Sharon" since this is more than one shrub in a clump?

There were buds on the Hemerocallis ‘Prairie Blue Eyes’ by the 15th, but none opened until today. It’s not a fancy daylily by today’s standards, but I’ve loved it for a decade, bringing it to Texas from Illinois.

We Garden Bloggers have another scheduled event coming up - the Garden Bloggers book club is due by the end of May. Writing about the book, Passalong Plants, is easy – heck, I’ve even met one of the authors - Felder Rushing - but it’s not so easy to get flowers to open on time. I absolutely need photos of some passalong plants from my own garden to use as illustrations for this post, but will they get their act together and bloom within the next 11 days?

There’s no schedule involved for this next group of plants – just a hope that one of these days they’ll flower for me –

The Pineapple Guava above should bloom in spring – my friend Diane’s shrub was covered in its oddly beautiful flowers just a couple of weeks ago – but this young plant had a rough winter and was frozen back before it had a chance to make any blossoms. The botanical name is Feijoa sellowiana, so it is not actually a guava. Although it would be interesting to taste the fruit, described as Pineapple mixed with strawberry, I’m more interested in seeing the flowers.

Since this pomegranate has leafed out and I like the way the leaves and branches look, is it greedy to want delectable orange flowers, too? I’ll give this young tree one more year in this spot, but if it doesn’t bloom next spring – it will be transplant time the following fall.

Next we have a pair of non-blooming plants. The amarcrinum at right may take a few years to settle in and I’m not worried about it at all… but that perfect weed of a Brugmansia? Angel Trumpets are supposed to love water, sun and organic fertilizer, growing so quickly that even when cut to the ground over winter, they bulk up and hang long, fragrant bells. This one has been treated like a queen for a couple of seasons, given everything it wants, and if it was labeled correctly, someday the bells will be yellow.

I’ll ignore these poky plants, and pay attention to the ones in flower now – a couple of daylilies, annual moss roses, and the last of the larkspur; yellow Achillea, white and gold lantanas and the "Roses" of Sharon; short annual violet Verbenas and tall Verbena bonariensis, a sea of Salvias, budding Cannas and a Butterfly bush in bloom. The view from the back door is just fine today.

Many of us were dismayed to find that Kimas Tejas Nursery, southeast of Austin in the Bastrop area, had closed its doors last fall. But it wasn’t permanent – I had this news via email from the nursery:
Kimas Tejas has reopened on a seasonal basis. For the months of March, April, May and June, Kimas Tejas will be open Wednesday through Saturday, closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
The nursery will be closed for the months of July and August, then will reopen for the fall planting season in September, October and November. Then close for December, January and February.

One of these days I’m going to buy the DVD of Monsoon Wedding. Did anyone of you also see it? Have you had a special fondness for orange marigolds ever since? The director Mira Nair has a new movie in the theaters, which Philo and I enjoyed this week.
You might like it, too – The Namesake has some wonderful actors with memorable faces, is full of humor, intelligence and sadness, touching on the immigrant experience and Indian customs, separations and reunions, focusing on a coming-of-age story and several becoming-in-love stories. Mira Nair looks at things we’ve seen elsewhere, but from a different perspective. How many times have you seen the Taj Mahal in movies? A dozen times? Usually it looks like a postcard, but this time, it’s seen as the total of many designs and many parts, making us somehow recognize that individual people made those parts.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day for May

It's the fifteenth of the month - time for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.
The Salvias, Buddleja, Achillea, and Verbena bonariensis seen in the last few posts are still blooming, while many other plants are just forming buds. At Country Girl & Apple’s garden blog, Apple says she feels as if her garden is in a time warp, lagging behind other nearby gardens. In a similar way, it seems that my garden lags behind the other Austin Garden Bloggers - Purple Coneflowers glow on their pages, but my coneflowers are still covered in green promises.
A few flowers started their bloom cycles this week – here are some favorite Daylilies, opening apricot, diamond-dusted flowers every morning:

Good old Malva zebrina, a short-lived plant but one that reseeds easily, has appeared and bloomed under the white crepe myrtles. A Southern nickname for them is French Hollyhocks.

Since the word Southern has come up, here’s my Southern indulgence from last summer, a bit larger in size, covered in buds and bloom and smelling like Heaven – this Gardenia was the subject of one of my favorite posts from last summer

The original Meyer’s lemon is still doing well in its patio pot. Christopher C in Hawaii convinced us to buy a second one to plant in the ground near a wall that should provide a microclimate. The new lemon tree is covered in tiny lemons and oh-so-fragrant flowers.

The Shasta daisies have just started to open, backed with Salvia farinacea.

There aren’t many stars in the garden now, but a few character actors are making an appearance. Several 6-feet tall Abelias grow along the south fence. The white flowers are small and not showy as individuals, but are very pleasing when massed, and attractive to butterflies.

The May 4th post featured a cherry pink native plant called Scutellaria suffrutescens, Pink Skullcap. Here is a blue cousin, Scutellaria wrightii, its beauty somewhat dimmed by the litter of the pecan flowers.

The female pecan flowers have been fertilized, and the nuts are forming. We won’t get to eat any pecans, but the squirrels will be happy.

Under the canopy of the two large pecan trees the male flowers are falling, turning everything mustard brown. I’ve seen tinsel on Christmas trees that looked less deliberately placed than these flowers strewn over a crepe myrtle.

Another new flower is the yellow umbrella on the fennel, accessorized with Swallowtail Cats for Baby V.

When one of the caterpillars objected to the camera he inflated his osmateria – the yellow-orange ‘horns’ with which he’s trying to frighten us away, and Philo snapped this photo. A disturbed caterpillar also emits a strong and rather unpleasant odor to show the predator that he’ll taste as bad as he smells.Since we want the caterpillars to turn into butterflies, we're glad they have some defenses against whatever wants to eat them.
The Mouse and Trowel Awards were announced yesterday – congratulations to all the deserving winners, and a special shout-out to my friend Pam/Digging and the legendary Tom Spencer/Soul of the Garden. Both Tom and Pam were born elsewhere, coming to Austin as adults. Recognizing them seems appropriate for today's Bloom Day post – they may have been transplanted, but both now bloom here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Solidly Summer

It was pretty late last night as I put away the garden fork and picked up the hand tools, trying to find them all with the light fading fast. There was a flash, and another, and another as the fireflies lit their lamps. I was tempted to try to catch a few and see whether my camera could focus on them, but decided that such treatment of these small sweet visitors would serve no purpose but to ‘feed the blog’. So they flitted unmolested and I watched them and was happy to live where they live.

We called them lighting bugs when I was a kid, and they were around every summer in Illinois. When we moved to our first Austin house, for five years I saw no fireflies. Was it the rocky terrain? Drier weather? Whatever the reason, May has brought us fireflies in the three springs we've lived at this house, and their appearance also confirms that we have crossed the line from Spring to Summer.
The butterfly plants that were mere buds in the last post have opened and the garden is alive with bees and butterflies. Buddleja “Black Knight” has exploded in dark, blue violet wands, with the Achillea Moonshine adding golden landing pads for insects.
The Verbena bonariensis is able to pull passing butterflies right out of the air – do any of you grow this plant? Philo took this photo of a swallowtail seeming to caress the flower.
This verbena was an annual in the north, but once you got it going, it almost always reseeded, even after below zero winters. Here it acts like a short-lived perennial, tall and bony in nature, useful for the edges of the border, where it acts as what Allen Lacy used to call a ‘scrim’ plant – a see-through curtain, softening the view and adding to the drama. The seeds tend to sprout at the edges of the bed, so as old plants die and new ones grow to blooming size, the curtain moves to work its effect on different scenes of the garden’s stage.
With no satin pillow for the first tomato, I looked around for something special enough.
This rosewood platter was made by my daughter in wood shop a few years ago. At that time, the philosophy of the middle schools was that every person should know how to do basic things – so all the students, both boys and girls, learned how to do some cooking and some sewing. Everyone took shop, everyone had some personal finance instruction and all students got basic consumer education. This little platter wasn’t a regular project – my daughter loved woodshop so much that the teacher allowed let her make this as an extra treat, and let her choose from a cache of small pieces of unusual wood. I loved it from the minute she brought it home, and could think of nothing finer as a salver for the Juliets. They tasted just fine! And the Early Girl might be ready tomorrow.
The Salvia guaranitica seen in the last post has opened more flowers, and on the opposite end of the bed, the Salvia guaranitica cultivar called ‘Black and Blue’ is now open, too, ready for bees and hummingbirds. The flowers are very similar, but this one has dark stems and the calyx is very close to black
Some of you in cooler climates are planning to grow Salvia guaranitica as an annual - I wish you lots of luck and hope you get to see these Salvias yourselves. Down here they grow so well they take over whole beds, needing to be pulled up like weeds before they smother their neighbors.

There’s another flower looming over us – the Pecan trees are in flower, too. The female flowers grow on spikes that emerge from the ends of some branches, but the male flowers hang down like this, in long trailing bunches, wafting pollen in the wind like cheerleaders shaking their pompons.
Soon the long strands will turn yellowish-brown and drop off by the hundreds, covering the area under the trees and inducing allergy headaches in the gardener who is trying to clean them up.

Congratulations and many thanks to Pam from Digging, who wrote a very cool story about the Austin Garden Bloggers. Some photos were taken the day we had our Ground Robin and they appeared in the paper, along with Pam’s article which was printed in the Austin American Statesman last Saturday.
We promised not to say anything before the article came out in print, but now we can proclaim it – you’re wonderful!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Crossing the Line

I saw the first hummingbird of 2007 on Thursday morning – it stopped at a Salvia ‘Nuevo Leon’, then moved to the still blooming Coral Honeysuckle/Lonicera sempervirens. I lost sight of it for a few seconds, before catching its final dip toward a Salvia greggii. He was lucky to find something blooming!

I’ve planted plenty of butterfly & hummingbird plants, but they’ve been slow to bloom this year. If the rain stops and the sun heats up we may rapidly cross over that line from Spring to Summer this weekend. I’ve already cut back the once-blooming pink rose to under 6-feet and shortened the iris stalks to make the plants look neater. Another wave of flowers are budded and ready to take their turn.

Last winter’s cold and ice killed the Salvia guaranitica, the Pineapple Sage/Salvia elegans and the hybrid Salvia ‘Black & Blue’ to ground level here in NW Austin. All three Salvias were hummingbird favorites last summer, but the Pineapple sage is still struggling up from the ground, the Black & Blue has only buds, and the Salvia guaranitica in the photo above just started to open in the last few days.

The first Larkspur flowers showed color on Monday, weeks after they were blooming in South Austin gardens. Larkspur/Consolida ambigua self-seed each winter, and usually grow quickly in April. This cooler, wetter spring seemed to delay their growth at first, then allowed them to grow way too tall and top-heavy. Recent thunderstorms toppled some, and the heavy wet soil is making some plants rot at the base. Whenever we expand our planting areas I move a few seedlings to the new beds, leaving it up to the Larkspur if they want to grow there.

The first flowers opened on the double yellow, fragrant Oleander from Plant Delights. I bought the rooted cutting [Tony Avent thinks the variety may be 'Mathilde Ferrier'] in March 2001, and grew it on the deck at our last Austin house. It’s lived in a series of containers, with the most recent transplanting done in February 2006 by my friends the Divas of the Dirt.

This week brought the first flowers on the Achillea 'Moonshine', also called yarrow. Both yarrow and lambs ear look good now, but they're frequently a ratty mess by late summer. I just cut them back severely and hope for new fresh foliage. Those buds to the right of the yarrow belong to a lemony yellow reblooming daylily, ‘Happy Returns’.

Around the side of the house, the shelter of the brick wall has persuaded one Canna 'City of Portland' that it's already summertime. I grew this Canna in Illinois and brought a few pieces with me to Texas in 1999. Since it multiplies easily, it's definitely a Passalong plant... I always have some to share.

This bright pink, tidy native is the Cherry Skullcap/ Scutellaria suffrutescens. The plant is generally evergreen here, although the tips were frozen back this winter. Skullcap grows slowly into a mounded sub-shrub that can take sun, heat and is drought resistant.

Okay, so it’s only a two inch ‘Juliet’ tomato, and it’s in a container not the ground, but it’s still a tomato!

We also have a “real” tomato almost ready to eat – an ‘Early Girl’. This is actually the second to turn orange - we lost the first to the critters, which is why we've given up on vine ripe tomatoes and I’m bringing this one inside. In another few hours, if the squirrels haven’t taken out a chunk out of it, some bird will have pecked a hole in it.

Where’s the satin pillow?