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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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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!


  1. Your daughter's platter and your tomatoes are a wonderful combination. Did she do any woodworking after leaving middle school?

    I grew Verbena bonariensis last year for the first time, and the butterflies loved it. It seems to be coming up from the base of the plant again this year, but so far I don't see any self-sown seedlings. I started more from seed purchased this year. I was trying to grow it as a "weaver" amongst taller plants, but from your description of how it self-sows perhaps it doesn't really like to grow that way.

    I've said it before, but it bears repeating - the Austin Garden Bloggers rock!

  2. Your flowers are all pretty, and now it is time to watch the birds and butterflies, to finally relax a bit in the garden!

    It has felt like summer here in Indiana, but the peonies haven't even bloomed yet! May has been warmer than normal.

    I like the rosewood plate, a good substition for displaying your first tomatoes if you don't have a satin pillow. ;-)

  3. Your photos give me a little view into what I can look forward to up here in Michigan in a few weeks :-) I can't wait until my buddleias start blooming---they attract dozens of monarchs. And, I'm glad to hear that verbena is a reliable self-sower up here. I'm growing it for the first time this year.

    Your daughter's platter is just beautiful! I'd be thrilled to get a gift like that :-)

  4. You're a fantastic photographer, Annie but I know where your true passion lies...

    Your garden is supreme! Has Austin received much rain? Everything looks so lush and green and moist.

    Like your daughter, mine took wood shop and I saved her pieces. The importance of those types of courses are often overlooked!

    And, we called them lightning bugs, too. The children used to catch them in their hands and put them in a jar to watch. Mother and Fathers opened the lids after the children were in bed... Although they're a beautiful sight for summer, they stink.

    Now I'm off to visit Pam.

  5. Annie — I love verbena bonariensis and have grown it in the past, years ago, and can't remember why I don't still have it. I seem to remember it being plagued with some kind of funk, aphids or powdery mildew or something. Do you have any problems like that with it? I may have to try it again.

    My salvia guarantica "Black and Blue" (that I put into the ground from a pot; earlier I thought it was dead and you offered me some to replace it; thank you very much but now my revived plant is huge and trying to take over; not quite blooming, maybe today!).

    And, I've already got the brown pecan worms all over my garden. I have pecan trees on both sides (none in our yard) so I'm covered evreywhere (and have baby pecans coming up all over, planted by the squirrels!).

    — Susan

  6. This is the first year I've seen fireflies in Zanthan Gardens for many years. I'm guessing it's the rain because I often see them in the Zilker Botanical Gardens and not here in drier years.

    When did you plant your tomatoes! The platter is better than any satin pillow. I have three green tomatoes that I look at lovingly every day.

    My pecan is male, too, and my car covered in a sheet of pollen. I envy your buddleia. I've tried several but have never gotten any to look like the photos I've seen.

  7. I've never seen a pecan in flower Annie, so I'm very keen to see some pics when these turn yellowish-brown.

    I'm envious of all your garden colour. Spring is certainly warming up.

  8. Hi Entangled - she never stopped! Went on to make a captain's bed [with Philo's help], constructed huge art projects through college and still likes woodworking as an adult.

    The seedling used to come up near the edge of the drive, sometimes under mulch - where it was well-drained but not totally exposed.

    Carol, there's always a lot to do, but when wings flutter - you have to look!

    Colleen, I haven't seen a Monarch, but have enough fennel to keep the Swallowtails coming. Good luck with the verbena.

    Mary, once in awhile I get a good shot, but most of them are delete, delete, delete. I've been trying to catch the caterpillars for days! How do you get those birds?

    Susan, it helps to be nearsighted and to have so many plants that if one is buggy, you can cut that one back and look at something else! I'm glad your B&B is okay, but am not happy at the thought of the worms.

    HelloMSS - I don't know enough about the firefly lifecycle but I think they like large, old shrubberies, and I have that!

    I think Philo put the tomatoes in around the last week in March, earlier than last year, and then had to construct tents in the middle of April!

    Stuart, I can try to get a photo for you - which is safer than the real thing. This pollen is a major allergen in Austin.
    Actually, there's a lot of plain green, which we appreciate when there's normal rainfall like now.


  9. You are talented at capturing insect life in your garden, Annie. Nice photos!

    I saw the first lightning bugs in my garden about a week ago. They seem to prefer open lawns in my neighborhood, and every year we see them in the evenings, though not so many as I remember from my childhood.

    Thanks for your kind words about the Statesman article. It was fun to give the Austin bloggers a little limelight while speculating on the reasons why Austin has become the garden-blogging capital of the world.

  10. Wow, tomatoes! They look gorgeous. I need to go check on mine, although I know that none are close to ripening. It's so interesting to follow gardens in other parts - your gardens are definitely a few weeks or more ahead of ours here, and I'm not sure that I would have expected that. My 'black and blue' hasn't started to flower yet - well, one has, but the whole 'patch' hasn't come close. Perhaps it is our drought? That might make some sense. I don't think we're quite summer, but close. (ps your daughter's rosewood platter is beautiful).

  11. I'm trying Verbena bonariensis for the first time this year. I'm glad to hear that it attracts butterflies.

  12. Wow, fireflies already. It's so much associated with summer when we see them here.

    Your daughter's woodshop project is way better than what I produced, actually what everyone in the class was required to make, pineapple shaped bookstands! What a completely worthless class. The teacher only trained one person to use the bandsaw to cut out all the pineapple blanks because he didn't want the liability of someone cutting off their fingers so all we did was rasp, sand and sand and sand....

    Lovely salvia and grasshopper. The black calyx only accentuates the electric blue of the flower. Very cool looking plant.

    Congrats to Philo on his great butterfly photo. I never have the patience to keep tracking one long enough to take a picture.

    How were the tomatoes?

  13. Annie, your daughter's rosewood platter is a perfect place for the first tomatoes. I loved hearing the story behind it.

    Oh the Salvia guaranitica is gorgeous as is the little grassshopper (?) sitting on a bloom - That is a beautiful photograph.

    I, too, have never seen a Pecan tree in bloom - well, to be more accurate, I have never seen a live Pecan tree - so it is quite exciting to see closeup photos of yours.

    And the butterfly bush is a beauty ...the dark blue violet colour is spectacular.

    Your garden tours are always a treat ...

  14. I'm developing a serious case of jealousy. I know, I know, when the rest of the country is sweltering in the dead of summer, in San Francisco we'll be wearing sweaters in the fog, but somehow that doesn't sound so great right now.
    Love that pecan tree and I hope you'll be posting photos when it carpets the ground with its strands.

  15. Oh yes, lightning bugs! Part of my childhood but alas only seen now when I visit my daughter in Tulsa. And "golden landing pads for insects"? I love it! Nicely done, Annie.

    I've finally found verbena bonariensis bedding plants after wanting them for a number of years. I can't wait to see how they do, I have visions of airy purple flowers threading through the neighboring plants. We'll see!

    Nice article and picture of all you busy Austin gardeners. You're famous!

  16. Hey, that plate looks rather familiar! ;)
    All of your photos are wonderful- it is that time of the year when every trip into the yard brings a new surprise.
    I have to admit that I really miss that smell of the lightning bugs that would fill the air in Illinois. We don't have them here in Seattle. To me, that smell is synonymous with the turn from Spring to Summer, and the sign that school was just about done for the year!
    Beautiful post, Mom!

  17. Wow, nice post! Flowers, butterflies, tomatoes...I'm months behind in weather, but it's great to see your gardens coming along so nicely!

  18. What a beautiful swallowtail, Annie! I've seen a couple monarchs on my milkweed, but it's not a daily event. I remember there was a large swallowtail in your garden during the Ground Robin. Nice memories. :-)

    Have a lovely Mother's Day!

  19. Pam/Digging - thank you - my focus skills are hit or miss and I got lucky on that one.
    There seem to be a lot of lightning bugs this year - maybe because we have lawn surrounded by beds?
    Your post asking your readers to delurk was so much fun! I was lucky, and found you back in February 2006.

    Pam, it's not exactly a crop yet, but the first tomatoes are always special.
    My 'black and blue' just started, and the rain made the plants very lush. The timing seems pretty close to last year.

    OldRoses, if you grow fennel and verbena you'll have the whole life cycle in your garden.

    Kit, it will be too hot for them when we hit the official week in late June.
    My four kids all had wood shop - I still use the cutting boards and a clock, too!
    Juliets were good - Early Girl is dinner tonight.

    Kate, thank you. I think it's a grasshopper - at first thought it was a katydid but the legs don't look right for that.
    I'll take some more photos of the pecan.

    Hello anna maria, maybe the old 'to everything there is a season' idea applies here, but it would be nice to be transported instantly between the two climates, as on Star Trek. I could eat the tomatoes here, but sleep somewhere with night temperatures that are cool.

    Lost Roses, do you think the lightning bugs need plains rather than mountains?
    I hope you like the Verbena bonariensis, and that it naturalizes for you.

    Hello Sweetie! I'd like to have you here in person, but blogging is good. You can at least see the garden even if you can't smell the lightning bugs. I wonder what the range is for these insects? Thanks for commenting!

    Hi Lisa - you may be behind on flowers in Wisconsin, but you're way ahead on bees and porcupines!

    Dawn, maybe when the milkweed blooms a monarch will come - the fennel means a succession of swallowtails. I've seen skippers and Red Admirals and some others, and love the photos that you've posted of your butterflies.
    I hope your Mothers' Day is fun, too.

    Thank you all for commenting!


  20. Resting a spell between digging in all the nooks and crannies of my house and garden, my Verbena bonariensis is blooming it's first blooms too this year. I am on my third crop. It grows and blooms for about 18 months then gets old and I cut it down and wait for seedlings to appear in good spots.

    Now I am off to read the article in the paper about the internationally famous Austin Garden Bloggers.

  21. I knew I forgot something. Fire Flies, as my family calls them are a regular summer event on a certain mountaintop in North Carolina.

  22. Unbelievable - you have tomatoes already. Arrggghhhhh. My weekend will be putting in the first tomatoe plants and herbs - two weeks before recommended to be sure of no frosts. How daring! Actually not daring at all - just can't wait any longer. I, too, saw my first hummingbird this week and the first Baltimore Orioles. It's so hard to wait for the Bee Balm, the Butterfly Bush, the Peach Tree blossoms - etc., etc., etc. I'll just have to keep coming to your blog site to get my gardening fix!

  23. Love that insight into Austin's gardening season. Verbena b. is a lovely self seeder here in New England and you description was poetry. Fireflies are as delightful in summer as the peepers are in early spring. Can't wait to see them along with the sound of the whippoorwill.

  24. I am just green with envy. My garden is just starting and yours is in full swing. How cool is that? Lovely plate by the way.

  25. Enjoyed the article on you all! I'll have to make my way over to check out some of the others.

    I have quite a bit of Verbena bonariensis...lol! It's been shared and has expanded its space, but I don't mind. While I see the reseedings, I sometimes think it may (strangely) overwinter in some areas (microclime, perhaps).

    Your tomatoes look perfect and I hope they tasted that way also! What a beautiful platter! Talent is bursting out all over your family!

    I enjoy very much the views of your garden!

  26. I've spent the last week in the garden..now to sit back and watch it grow....you are somewhat ahead of the midwest...HMD

  27. My first time here and I loved it. Nice composition on the tomato shot and thanks for posting the Pecan flowers. I hadn't seen those before.

  28. There are no fire flies where I live, I'm sorry to say. Love that beautiful Buddleja Black Knight.

    Verbena bonariensis I've been growing for 3 years now, and the butterflies love it as much as they love the Buddleja.

    A very nice presentation of the first tomatoes, always a very important occasion. How wonderful to have such a handy daughter.

    I've never seen a pecan tree in flower, neither the male nor the female and I'm glad to say that I can watch it on your blog from a safe distance, a very safe distance. ;-)

  29. Wow, Annie! Are you saying Black and Blue Salvia will take over? (yikes!) I have two of them in a small raised bed with my rose. Last year the one that I put in DID NOT FLOWER AT ALL. Today I'm seeing it's first ever flower (for me)! The second one, I planted this spring, is flowering like gangbusters!! I didn't realize these might spread and try to take over. I will have to watch that carefully. I am just glad they are finally blooming in front of my pink rose (Belinda's Dream). My rose is going nuts this spring as well! I just counted 15 buds, and it seems to be adding new ones daily.

    Wow. i will have to be REALLY careful. I have a blue plumbago cutting in that flowerbed (which just flowered for the first time) as well as two mealy cup sage (which are measly but flowering more this year than last).

    I think all the plants like the alfalfa tea I made them twice this spring! :D

    I love your pictures Annie...especially the butterfly. :)

  30. Christopher, mine bloom for a long time, but unlike yours - also were frozen!
    The group photo has already disappeared but the article is still there, I hope.
    Fireflies - another thing to look forward to!

    21 CharlesStreet, we're hitting the nineties and will sizzle soon, while you are hitting your lush season - happy spring!

    Hi Layanee, I've heard whippoorwills, but not lately - it is a lovely sound. Thank you for coming.

    Hanna, that's been one of the most fun parts of this whole garden blogging thing - to watch what happens as the seasons change in gardens all over the world.

    GottaGarden Thank You! We have quite an eclectic group - both on the page and in person.
    I enjoy your garden very much, too!

    Hi CityFarmer, we're a little ahead, but once the midwest gets going, you catch up fast, and your tomatoes will keep going.

    Hello Digital Flower Pictures, thank you for coming and commenting. Pecan flowers were new to me too, just a few years ago. But they're gettin' old pretty fast!

    YolEliz, that's very interesting - do you have the insects called glow worms instead?

    The pecan trees have both male and female flowers on one tree. Their value to me is the shade, such a necessity in Austin. Unlike the cedar elms that grow in Zanthan Gardens, the pecans don't leaf out until late spring. Bulbs and early bloomers can grow in pecan shade.

    Hello Lindsey - the 'Black & Blue' seems to spread less than the regular guaranitica for me... but who knows what it will do in Houston. It might be a good thing that your Belinda's Dream is so robust, if it has B&B salvia, and plumbago - you'll probably have to keep snipping back, but the combination should be extremely beautiful and worth a little maintenance.
    Philo is the one who caught the butterfly - the salvias stood still for me ;-]

    Thanks to all of you - I hope your own gardens are all making you smile,


  31. Hi Annie,
    I grew "Black and Blue’ in my cold climate two years ago and it did quite well. The hummers loved it.

    Lovely wooden platter your daughter made. My mouth is watering looking at those tomatoes!

    I haven't seen lightning bugs in ages. As a kid, I used to love going out at night with a glass jar with holes punched in the lid to catch them.

    Very enjoyable post.

  32. Annie your garden is looking good. After living in the North where we are just planting tomatoes how do you know when to get started?

    You have the first sighting of fireflies I have come across. I was under the impression Texas did not get fireflies.
    Average moisture and non turf areas make for firefly habitat with open areas being good courting space. A garden without pesticides is perfect.
    It should be another 6 weeks before fireflies mature and begin courting in Chicago.

  33. Your daughter's handmade plate is beautiful! The tomatoes must feel special sitting on it!
    I wish I could smell those lemon blossoms... mmmm...

  34. I've had a lovely time this morning catching up on all your latest posts Annie. Gosh, it's a while since I've spent time reading many of my favorite blogs! I'm too far behind to ever catch up.
    You've done well to post so often during such a busy time!
    Your daughter's plate is wonderful and a perfect backdrop for your delicious-looking first tomatoes. Ours aren't even planted until the end of May!
    I'm fascinated by Salvia and badly want to find some to plant.
    Philo's photos of the butterfly and caterpillars are wonderful!
    I bought a buddleja to plant. The last one I had only lived through 2 winters and didn't grow much.
    I grow a vebena with lacy looking foliage. Don't know what it's called but I love it.
    Marvelous daylilies and clematis!!
    Wish I could smell your lemon tree!
    Happy summer!


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