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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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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?


  1. Ooh, Annie, I'm in NW Austin too (well technically NW/Central, off Steck) Are we neighbor-ish? Because I heart that canna, and I have some pretty bronze leaf canna I could probably share...along with the promised crinum lily... And isn't that skullcap pretty?

    I think summer's coming this weekend. 88 and humid tomorrow? Rats. At least I measured 3 inches of rain in my backyard this week.

  2. Consider the canna yours, Martha! My email address is in the profile - send me a note and we'll figure out the 'where'.

    Our rain gauge had just over 2" in our gauge - if you stick your head out the back door you can hear the mold growing!


  3. Tomatoes! How fantastic. Mine are only buds right now. I'm eagerly anticipating that first red on the bush. Yours looks perfect!

  4. Hummingbirds and tomatoes - I am so envious! Last year, I saw my first hummingbird on May 1, but none so far this year. And my tomatoes are baby seedlings, not even ready to be planted out yet.

    I thought I had lost my Black & Blue salvia this winter, but finally I see new growth sprouting from way underground. They're not really supposed to be hardy here, so every year they come up it's a bonus.

  5. Your tomatoes look very yummy, Annie.

    Do you have a hummingbird feeder? I have several hummers who seem permanently attached to my two feeders so far this year. One Black Chinned Hummingbird male guards a feeder very jealously. He's a regular little Napoleon. It's very cute to watch them zooming around the garden.

    Happy Humming,

  6. Everything looks so greeen and beautiful, and you already have tomatoes! I thinkk Austin must be THE place to garden.

  7. I enjoyed all the flower pictures, but I loved seeing that first ripe tomato! You definitely need to have a ritual eating of that beauty, even if you don't have a special satin pillow to put it on (or special silverware and plates for it). ;-) Be sure to let us all know how good it is. My tomatoe plants are still inside in the sunroom, but I'll start to harden them off this week, and then I'm still a good two months away from the first ripe one!

  8. Annie and Entangled--Salvia 'Black and Blue' is definitely an annual here, so be glad yours came back.

  9. Tomatoes already? Wow. Around here they won't even be planted until June!

    No hummers either. We had a thick layer of frost on the roof this morning.

    I hate being the last one to get going in the garden every spring!

  10. Those tomatoes look really nice, as do your flower pictures.

    We've had the occasional hummingbird (black-chinned) coming around for about a month. I can't wait until it gets warmer and they swarm around the feeder, though.

  11. According to http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html, the first hummingbird has been spotted in my area but I suspect it was at a feeder as there is so little in bloom right now.

    I love the Black & Blue Salvia! I looked it up and I might be able to grow it as an annual here. It wouldn't bloom until the end of summer but it would be worth the wait.

  12. Annie... I want to visit your house in early May. Every year! Tomatoes almost ripe, that beautiful blue salvia... surely seems like heaven to me. :)

    By the way, how is that stump garden going now that the last of it was ground out? I might have missed a post about this, but I wondered what you were doing with that birdbath I covet... *grin*

  13. I am looking forward to seeing if you find a satin pillow! All I can say is wow...it is amazing that you already have tomatoes ... and hummingbirds too!

    I love the double yellow Oleander and the adorable scullcap! I would so enjoy growing more varieties of Salvia. I have one or two that have survived the winter here.

  14. Vivé, last year we waited until after the recommended frost date - this year Philo planted early, then had to build the frost tents, but the tomatoes are much farther along than in 2006.

    Entangled, the tomato surprised us, but the hummingbirds have been in the other Austin gardens. This is zone 8B, so the salvia is usually okay here.

    Dawn, I don't have feeders, although the best photos seem to be taken near them ;-]
    Instead I use the hummingbirds as my excuse to buy 'plants for wildlife' ... but they're also plants for Annie!

    Anna Maria,, this is our first short tomato 'growing season'... then the heat hits and while midwesterners have tomato sandwiches, our vines are brown, and the garden bloggers are doing memes or writing about movies. Good weather comes back in mid-fall, with maybe another small tomato crop. So two short seasons, a not so bad winter, and a rough midsummer.

    Carol, any tomato from the garden is a special one! Philo and I will be sharpening the knife, to make even halves!

    Kathy, when I was in Illinois I tried a few salvia - they usually got frozen before they bloomed, so I really appreciate being able to grow them.

    Zoey - frost again? Sorry to hear that. Although that way you do get time to quilt when you can't be digging.

    Hi James, you've been catching some nice bird photos! I can't say we get a swarm, but there are usually a few around every day in summer.

    Apple, the first ones here were at feeders too - friends had hummingbirds at their patio feeder last month. My photo is actually the Salvia guaranitica, parent of 'Black and Blue'.. it will look almost the same but the stems are almost-black. They're both beautiful.

    Blackswamp Kim, sometimes April is even prettier - tomorrow will be a muggy 88º - high humidity.
    The stump garden is going nowhere fast - just the birdbath in a pile of mulch so far! So no post yet.

    Kate, the satin pillow really belongs to Carol - she invented that ritual.
    Do you have "May Night"? That was my main salvia in Illinois, along with azurea. The farinacea would usually reseed, but I had to buy Pineapple sage every year up there.


  15. Your salvia is beautiful. I'm jealous that you have a tomatoe that is almost ready to eat.
    That reminds me that about 9 years ago I just happend to look out my window as the guy who mowed our lawn was stuffing the first ripe tomato of the season from my garden into his mouth. My husband had to restrain me from going outside in my underwear and beating him senselss. Ah, good times.

  16. Oops! Guess I had better get my hummingbird feeder outside. I just know that this is the year I will finally have some in my yard.

  17. Okay, rub it in, Annie! The way spring is going on here in fits and starts we may never see summer. But I'm thrilled to see the lovely blooms in your garden and so envious that you've already had to cut a rose bush back "to 6 feet tall." If only!

    Tell that Early Girl she is way ahead of time, and more power to her!

  18. Congrats on the first ripe tomato of the year! Roll out the red carpet and get the satin cushion! And no fighting over whose *half* of the tomato is bigger. ;-)

    So summer has almost arrived in Austin? Here we had summer for the last 6 weeks but it seems we will be returning to our regular schedule quite soon. Brrrrr!

    BTW lovely flowers Annie!

  19. I'm going to have to find some of that sage you show in the first photo. The color is stunning!

    Ahh, tomatoes nearly ready to eat. LUCKY YOU! I just put my plants in last weekend, so I've got a ways to go yet. Yours look great!

  20. Wow - tomatoes! Mine are in pots too, but I got them in late. I must confess to being envious of your wet ground - still no rain here. It's cloudy today, but the showers are predicted to be so hit and miss that I'm not hopeful.

    I think that the perennial salvias are my favorites. All of the ones that you mentioned generally freeze back here (every year) - and I think I only have one starting to bloom - I think it's the pale blue/lavender 'Argentine Skies'. I wasn't familiar with the cherry skullcap - how nice (and it caught my attention that it can tolerate heat and drought). Didn't I also see in the pic with the larkspur the leaves of the variegated canna - those are so striking. I've never been a huge canna fan, but boy some of the varieties coming out are incredible - both with respect to the foliage and flowers. I think that maybe I could be converted.

    I hope that you get some good gardening in this weekend. Send some rain our way!!

  21. Tomatoes! Our home-growns aren't ready to eat until July! Farther north we waited until August. Wow.

    Glad you have some hummers hanging around. I made some notes from this post to attract more of them here. They loved the canna last year.

    This is the weekend we are all ready for new planting after the freezes but it's been raining non-stop since yesterday. But I can see so much life in the gardens now after a long drought.

    Thanks for sharing so much color!

  22. Your tomatoes look luscious, Annie. Bet you can't wait to taste them. Great photos. Your 'Black and Blue' salvia is especially gorgeous.

  23. Hi Annie!! Your photos look beautiful. I REALLY love your canna! I've never seen a pink one, that I can recall--they are so often red or orange here in Houston!

    My salvias are looking better right now than they ever looked last year. I think they were working on roots or something (first year in the ground) because they flowered very, VERY little. I've got two Mealy Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea) and two Black and Blue. I'm excited to see several blooms on one of the B&B (I only put that one in the ground this year--the one from last year is still alive but has never bloomed for me).

    Do you grow pentas there in Austin? I know they are liked by butterflies but I have no idea about hummers. I have some red ones that I rooted from cuttings last year. They are about to put out their first blooms of the year. I can't wait! :)

  24. I love your flowers. I am a Salvia lover from Australia, and they are just flowering on and on and on even though we are in the midst of a terrible drought.

  25. I'm looking at the green one and dreaming of fried green tomatoes !

  26. Your flower photos are just wonderful. I think I have 3 hummingbird feeders up with no food!! :( What's up with that?! They sure do look cute, though! I think I agree with you, salvia are just great. They are on my top 10 list.

  27. I love the electric blue flowers of the Salvia guaranitica. Isn't that hummer a bit late or do they stay around Austin all summer? Our tomatoes are only a dream with not even the hint of a flower. We would kill for your 2" Juliet instead of the tasteless store bought tomatoes.

  28. Annie, you must have a very good camera because those photos are exquisite. The colors are so vibrant.

    We're having a late spring/summer season today too. I'm actually still wearing my winter scarf with my coat. I have planted my hollyhocks, but I think they're going to get rust.


  29. Please count me among the people impressed by your ripe tomatoes! I finally have fruit (from plants planted out in mid-March)...ripe in a number of weeks I guess. )Sigh(

  30. Your tomatoes look like jewels. I too had almost given up after these rabid feral chickens repeatedly ate my whole crops, but then I got an idea. Here's how I get full size vine ripened tomatoes without they being eaten: (I grow them in 15 gallon black plastic pots-each pot Ive circled with a piece of 4 foot high wire mesh-I measured the pots and had them cut the pieces of mesh at the hardware.In your case you'll also need a piece on top, to make a complete "cage" . BTW I found that Costoluto Genovese and Fiorentino are great heirlooms for hotter climes. The other gardeners I know had great results with Heatmaster and Brandywine.

  31. Ohhhhhhhhhhh....tomatoes! I can't believe it! They look so wonderful!! I do the same thing (but much later...like July, if I'm lucky...but probably August!) and bring them in to ripen when they get just a touch of color. I'm not sharing with the wildlife if I can help it! Enjoy!

    Love your blooms, too! Still waiting on the larkspur here to bloom. I saw a salvia 'Hot Lips', I think it was called, at a garden sale thingie...almost bought it for the name alone...now I wish I had!

  32. I've planted nothing but bird and butterfly attractions....already have seen a monarch on the beards tongue

  33. I love that your Oleander has moved from home to home with you! It is so nice to see plants from other areas of the country in a real garden, not just a book. Maybe someday we will end up a bit further South and I will already have some favorites in mind!

  34. Chigiy - that is a great story... and that guy was really "Crossing the Line". This scene belongs in one of your screenplays.

    OldRoses, when we bought this house people told me that hummingbirds were never seen in this neighborhood. I moved in with pots of blooming Pineapple Sage, and they appeared right away. If they see your feeder, they'll come!

    LostRoses - this tomato came a month earlier than in 2006...surprised us, too.
    I've heard that some of the David Austin roses, which grew 2-to-3 feet tall in IL, can be 10 foot monsters if they survive the summer.

    Hi Yolanda, on Sesame Street the kids learned that one cuts and the other one has first choice... that works for old kids, too ;-]

    Christa, this is one of my favorite plants - and in my garden it's a spreader... I have to pull some up sometimes even though I hate to do it!

    Pam, I'm so pokey at answering, that by now you've had an inch of rain - thank goodness.
    At my last house the deer ate the lovely 'Argentine skies' but allowed the 'Indigo Spires' to grow and bloom.

    The canna is "Bengal Tiger" - and of course I'm a huge canna fan! They were so exotic in Illinois, but you don't even have to dig them up for winter here- just leave them outside- whoopie!

    Mary that surprises me - guess I thought you'd be close behind us! I'm glad you got some rain, too.

    Lindsey, you'd have some of these if you lived closer! This canna was one I brought from Illinois.
    Pentas are popular here - my neighbor has a protected spot where hers live over as a perennial, but my container plant died over winter. Maybe I'll give them another try.

    Hello Annie from Oz! We have read about your drought [Alice from "A Growing Delight" has posted such devastating photos]and you have every gardener's sympathy. I'm glad something is still blooming for you.

    Carolyn, since you're from the old South - bet you have a great recipe, too!

    Chris, I never got into feeders - the poor hummers would be out of luck if they depended on me to remember to refill!

    Ki - heck, they're pretty good - but not worth violence!
    The hummingbirds usually come in spring, and hang around until late summer/early fall. Later on they'll have Pineapple Sage and Cypress Vine. They also like Millionbells.

    Josie My camera's not fancy, but sometimes I'm lucky enough to catch the right light.
    A scarf in May - Yipes! When it gets warm you must all get a little nuts.

    Chuck, these are not the big slicers like we had in the Midwest, but we'll take any tomato we can get!

    Rabid feral chickens? Nicole, you really had to work hard for your crop. Thanks for the description of your method.
    We don't have a long tomato season here - we have two short seasons with hell in between. Some people have good luck with heirlooms - we've tried a few but they didn't do well in this soil.

    Gotta Garden, in late July and August we'll have .... nothing!
    'Hot Lips' was growing in the garden of author Jill Nokes when we garden bloggers visited it - it was spectacular in her garden. A few days later Pam/Digging bought it and some other friends also grow it and love it.

    CityFarmer - good for you! A lot of butterflies are around now, but no monarchs yet.

    Hiya CountryGirl! I'm glad that my son and daughter helped us move - they brought the oleander here.
    What you're doing sounds familiar. We used to vacation in Carolina when we lived in IL, so I'd seen things like oleander, crepe myrtle and magnolias and always thought it would be cool to grow them. Landing in Texas was a surprise... maybe you'll be growing Oleander some day, too.

    Thanks everyone - may all your tomato dreams come true!


  35. Hi annie -- Thanks for the tip on the yarrow. I only discovered recently I have 2 yarrow (achillea) in my front yard, but they get mowed over by the oxeye daisies. But I hear the yarrow is invasive. Anyway... when do you cut yours back? when they start to get ratty? Thanks! rosemarie


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