About Me
My Photo
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.
View my complete profile

Friday, June 22, 2007

Back in Texas and Trying to Catch Up

These 'Blue River II' hibiscus were the subject of my first blog post in June 2006. They weren't blooming when I left, but two weeks later are in full sail, cheering me on to weed, prune, clip and mow our damp, buggy, mildewy jungle, making it look like a garden again.

My plan for Illinois was to stay with my mom at her house as she recuperated from surgery, and to try to persuade her to sleep better and eat more. I wasn't very successful with that last part, but in between household reorganization, a little yard work, adventures with plumbing, and electrical outages, it was great to have the time to look at photos, sing a little, talk a lot, and watch movies, including the newer version of The Parent Trap and Helen Mirren as The Queen. It was also great to see all my brothers and sisters, Philo's sister, and their extended families, along with our dear daughter & son and their wonderful spouses.

Most of you are younger than I am - maybe staying at your parents' house is something you've done routinely? I've returned as a visitor on hundreds and hundreds of occasions during the 40 years since I left the family home, but usually stayed overnight elsewhere. It felt very odd to sleep once again in the house in which I grew up, where some things are unrecognizable, and other things haven't changed since I was a young school girl.

Back then I first encountered what we called 'the locusts'. Here's a souvenir photo of one of them- actually one of the brood of 17- year, periodic cicadas that are humming again all over the Chicago area. I was glad that my visit to Illinois coincided with their June appearance. My mom's trees were full of cicadas, and we enjoyed sitting on her patio in the afternoon when the little buzz saws were at peak volume.

Some people hate them. One of the health care visitors shocked me by stating that everyone should exterminate the insects now so there'd be none in 2024. But my mom and my sisters and I enjoy them as a fascinating natural phenomenon, and my sister's dog considered them to be a delicious treat! The cicadas provided a 'white noise', muffling the sounds from nearby highways and the racket produced by several neighbors engaged in remodeling projects - their background sound almost seemed like ocean waves.

So many cicadas emerged from the roots of Mom's bur oak that the shells looked like mulch on the ground:

These cicada photos were taken by my daughter. She & her husband and our IL son & daughter-in-law took Mom and me one afternoon on an outing - to a restaurant with great pizza, some history and perhaps a few ghosts. The building had an old-fashioned interior, and a very comfortable atmosphere. Supposedly Al Capone owned the century-old building at one time. There are tales of paranormal events in the bed and breakfast upstairs: radios turn on by themselves and alphabet blocks spell out words. I don't know whether the ghosts are real, but if you prefer thin, crisp crust for your pizza, with quite remarkable sauce, homemade Italian sausage and good beer, it's worth the drive out to Willow Springs.

Last year this restaurant featured bocce ball, but the area has been converted to a cornhole bag court. You may all know about it, but this beanbag-type game phenomenon, with sewn cloth bags of corn thrown toward an opening on a slanted wooden board was new to me.

Everyone in Illinois seems to play it now - a brother-in-law compares it to a more democratic version of horseshoes. Back in the nineteen-fifties the women kept the kids out of the way while the men tossed the heavy iron shoes, aiming at a metal stake but frequently taking out nearby trees, shrubs and ankles.

Tossing bags is safer, but still requires skill. It needs less space, and both males and females of every age can play, so when the boards were set up at a family gathering, the entire group of kids and adults had fun together.

While I was listening to cicadas, cooking, and talking nonstop, Philo was here in Austin, engaged in a furniture project he'd been planning for a long time. Shortly before I left he finished this sunny Adirondack chair:
After I left, Philo designed and built a settee version for another part of the garden. On my return, we pulled into the drive and he hit the garage door opener, revealing a classic garden loveseat built for two.

You've all been writing like mad - it will take quite awhile to catch up with my real garden and your many posts. But right now I have to get the flashlight and go outside. According to some calenders, including Entangled's, Midsummer's Day falls on June 24, the Feast of St. John the Baptist. So tonight is Midsummer's Night Eve, and there might be fairies in the garden.

*** Added Monday, June 25th - Carol's comment sent me back out with the camera to see if the hibiscus really were as big as a dinner plate. The plate measures 11-inches across - guess the flower is about 10 inches. And not a single fairy/faerie showed up, just mosquitos. ***


  1. Welcome back. That hibiscus looks like it is the size of a dinner plate, but everything is bigger in Texas, they say. Even the chairs. Philo did a great job on those.

    Sounds like some good fun in Illinois. We had a big 17 year brood of cicadas a few years ago, and though some people were creeped out by the noise, I enjoyed it, like you did. And I've seen no real harm to trees.

    I'll go out now and check for fairies, so if you don't hear from me for a few days, send a search party.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens (where I do try to garden in such a way as to entice a few fairies to come and stay!)

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed such good times with your mom and family. Singing, talking, watching movies..and that old restaurant...all sound wonderful.
    The hibiscus is gorgeous. I'd like to try a hardy one here. I've seen huge red ones in Canada so I know it can be done!
    The cicadas were also a part of my childhood. We called them locusts too :) My brother and I would get up very early and go into the woods (we call it "the bush" in Australia) to find them...and bring the poor creatures home in a cardboard box. There were all shapes and sizes.
    Philo did a marvelous job on those chairs. What a lovely surprise the love seat was! You have a sweet husband.
    I'll be sure to go out tonight and see if I can spot some fairies. I hope the cats don't frighten them away :)

  3. Glad to see you back, and I hope your mom is doing well. Philo's Adirondack chairs look wonderful and I was just thinking how nice they'd look next to my hammock :-)

    The 17-year cicadas emerged here a couple of years ago. I thought they looked cool, but their noise was eerie and LOUD. The funny thing is, I don't remember the sound from the previous cycle.

    I didn't find any faeries, but the St. John's wort is blooming.

  4. Glad you're back, love the chair and the love seat is divine! I was interested in hearing your version of going back home after so many years. I live two miles from where I grew up and stop many times a week to check on Mom and Aunt Hope. If anyone reading hasn't been home in quite a while it is a fun exercise to find a comfortable seat, close your eyes and re-visit some home where you felt comfort. Walk up the walk and into each room in your mind. It is amazing what you can remember and the warmth it generates! Nice post, thanks.

  5. Oh my god those seats are gorgeous. Wish I had a Philo of my own! Susan

  6. Hi Annie,
    It's good to have you back. You are a good daughter. Enjoy your mom while she's here. My mom passed away six years ago and I miss her every day.

    I love the yellow chairs. I have bright purple and red Adirondack chairs in my yard.

    What did you think of "The Queen"?

  7. Hi Annie - Glad you are home. Isn't it neat how you can "go home" and also "come home". I guess home is just where our loved ones are. Your hibiscus is beautiful, glad you didn't miss it! Sounds like Philo was busy, the loveseat looks comfortable. It's nice he made the back flat, some of the adirondack love seats curve up in the middle on the back so cuddling isn't so fun. Looks like he though of that.

  8. Annie, it's so nice to have you back. It sounds like you had a great time visiting and being generally useful, and how nice that your mom is still in the family home. I agree that must be a strange feeling to be back in your childhood bed! And listening to the cicadas, no less!

    I finally saw 'The Queen' and it was better even than I thought it would be. Helen Mirren aced that one. And didn't you like the updated happily-ever-after feel to the later version of "The Parent Trap"? I just realized the other day that the delightful little girl in that film is none other than Lindsey Lohan, who gets so much press for her wild antics nowadays.

    That Philo! What a lovely surprise to come home to.

  9. Hi Annie,

    You really proved the saying that you can't go home again wrong ! I'm glad to read of your visit with your mother and family.

    Meanwhile back home Philo was busy making garden art. What a wonderful surprise for you to come home to.

    I've yet to see or hear even one cicada, probably due to their nests being destroyed by construction in the city.

    Please visit my blog tomorrow because I am announcing something I want you to participate in.

    We're glad to have you back !

  10. Welcome back Annie. Did you see any faeries? Our 17 year cicadas emerged two years ago like entangled's. I wonder why there's a two year gap in different locations? Funny but we just saw the Queen last week too. I didn't quite understand the scene with the stag? Was it to intimate that she was more concerned about animals than her own daughter-in-law? Kudos to Philo for a very nice set of Adirondack chairs!

  11. I love the Hibiscus, they add a bit of a tropical touch for us northern gardeners. I have to echo the sentiments about spending time with your Mom, do it while you have the chance!

  12. Welcome back! I was wondeirng where you'd been off too..

    And I love Philo's chairs. Can i borrow him? ;-)

  13. What a beautiful treat was awaiting you on your return home. It sounds as if you had a wonderful trip - it does feel strange sleeping in the same room that one remembers from childhood. Everything's changed but nothing has really. The same furniture, shelves and remembrances.

    No doubt you will be busy getting your garden weeded. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

  14. welcome back home!

    take your time and catch up, but we are all anxious to catch up WITH YOU!

    And those chairs... wow. Did Philo use a high gloss paint? They look spectacular. I love the design, craftmanship and finish.


  15. Carol, the photo is in the edited post - the plant grows bigger here, but the flowers are the same size as in Illinois.
    I'd cover a small, new tree but don't think the cicadas do much permanent damage, either.

    Kerri, we have some in Texas that hatch out every year, but not in huge numbers like these periodic types. I'm passing on your compliment to Philo!

    Hello Entangled, Philo has considered a hammock, too, but he probably wouldn't use it!

    Hi Layanee, for three decades we lived about 40 minutes from my parents, but 8 years ago we moved to Texas, meaning a 1200 mile journey for every visit. We've made it back at least once or twice a year. Mom's house has changed a lot, so I might try that mind-exercise to reimagine my aunt and uncle's house instead!

    Hi Susan, thanks and I'll pass on the compliment.

    Chigiy, my sisters and brothers are the really good ones - they live there and have had some hectic and scary times in the last few months. I arrived kind of the comic relief pitcher. We all do know how lucky we've been so far.

    I thought about brighter colors, but chickened out. Philo used a green very close to the wood trim on our house and garden shed. house trim.

    I really liked "The Queen" - Helen Mirren has been a favorite since "Excalibur", and Steven Frears is a cool director. The actor playing Tony Blair looks like someone to keep an eye on, too!

    Hello CountryGirl, I was glad I went, but wanted to be here, too. Our family lives in many states now, but the heart of it is still in Illinois.
    Your observation is exactly right! He told me that's why he rejected the double back designs!

    LostRoses, I'm the oldest kid and left home first. The bedrooms have changed around several times over the years so I was sleeping in the room that belonged to my parents when I was a kid, and boy did that seem weird!
    Hayley Mills is my contemporary, and I own the DVD of her version of "Parent Trap" but I enjoyed this newer edition, too - Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson were so touching as the parents. Lindsey Lohan breaks my heart - she showed so much talent in "Freaky Friday" and "Prairie Home Companion". I hope she can straighten up and succeed again.

    Carolyn, it was an odd experience - I see my mother as often as I can, but we were kind of on 'the island' this time!

    Ki, there weren't even any toads out there and I'd like frogs and toads as much as faeries!
    I know there are different broods of cicadas around the country, with some different cycles overlapped in a few areas, but New Jersey to Virginia is a lot of territory. I guess Carol's are yet another brood.
    I'm not sure about the stag, either - at first I thought the scene referred to old Britain when the leader had to run with the stag and sometimes die to bring fertility to the land... sort of how Elizabeth followed her destiny and submitted to duty to keep England whole, but I may have been reading too much into it. The hunting-as-therapy idea was an eye-opener, wasn't it!

    DigitalFlower Pictures, this Hibiscus came with when I moved to Texas.. it used to spice up my Illinois garden, too.
    We're all keeping our fingers crossed that we can keep visiting each other for a long while to come.

    Hi Martha - did you notice the bronze cannas in with the hibiscus?
    Philo is pretty pumped about these chairs - he's pondering whether he should try to make some for sale.

    Hello Kate, it was a lovely surprise.
    The room I shared with a sister is now my mom's, and the furniture we used is long gone. The guest room I had was originally my mom & dad's room, still containing their furniture, which I know well from the days when polishing it with Old English was one of my jobs. My sister had the BonAmi and the bathroom sink. [Weird what one remembers, isn't it?]
    We've had so much rain that gardening is like hacking through the jungle right now.

    Hello Hank - I'm not moving fast, but I'm still moving so it's okay.
    Philo used a cad program to make and lay out the design... the paint is good old rustoleum American Traditions glossy - hopefully very washable because we have a lot of birds in our yard!


  16. OMG, you could go rafting on that thing. I don't think I have ever seen a white hibiscus. And I know I have never seen one so large or beautiful.

    I have an area in my yard that I want to turn into a tropic-esque garden. I would love to get some hibiscus.

  17. Hey - I hope that your Mom is doing well and on the road to recovery. That white flowering hibiscus is just beautiful - but the dark green chair built for two looks just perfect, and what a nice surprise! (and I agree with several of the commentors above: can I borrow him too?).

    When I was in Virginia, the cicadas would be so loud during some summers - I too became attached to their sound. They're definitely interesting creatures.

  18. Welcome back, Annie. I love the white hibiscus, it's beautiful. I agree with the others, Philo did a wonderful job on those chairs.

  19. Hi Annie,
    Wow, that's a big hibiscus.

    It has been twenty-eight years since I stayed overnight at my parents house. Of course I now live only one mile away from them so there is no need. LOL. I can imagine how strange it was for you.

    The Adirondack furniture Philo built is just beautiful. I am sure you will enjoy sitting and admiring your beautiful gardens.

  20. Hi Annie,
    I'm happy for you to have that precious time to spend in your childhood home with family and friends. I'm sure it was quite deja vu? I'm originally from St. Louis and my husband marvels at the history and the 'realness' of it all. Here in Dallas, things aren't always what the seem to be..if you know what I mean! What a blessing to be able to care for your mom.

    The flowers are wonderful and the settee is to die for! How cool that your husband would build it for you.

    You are just the person I wanted to to talk to... we will be in Austin for the weekend mid July. We are going with another family who lived there and they will be showing us what is fun to do there, but I hope to visit at least one nursery. Tell me your favorite.

    Again, welcome back! And can you believe all this rain???

  21. I forgot to comment on the cicadas. I always loved the sound of them when I was growing up. It was so comforting!! I don't know, though, if I ever laid an eye on one..thanks for sharing!

  22. Hi, Annie, and thanks for your message about orange lilies and Jimi Hendrix.

    Heard this a.m. we are 10 inches above normal rainfall.

    Here's to para-normalcy in all forms!

  23. See, it IS as big as a dinner plant! Thanks for the additional picture... And how do you know for sure no garden fairies showed up? They could easily hide behind flowers this large.

  24. Annie, I'm so glad you are back! I've been having a hard time catching up, too.

    My God! I've never seen an 11-inch hibiscus. You always have something odd and wonderful to show.

    Take care of you and that garden.

  25. Welcome Back home -- I hope your visit back to IL was a good one. The weather's been really great lately. Plus, I agree that the sound of the cicadas is so soothing at night, I'm sad to see that there are fewer and fewer as the days go on.

  26. Count me in as another reader happy to have you back! I hope your mom is doing well...this summer marks the tenth anniversary of my Mom's death and I think of her often in my garden..her garden was one of her great joys in life. The chairs are beautiful and I'm sure Philo could sell them! We moved from Ohio when I was 16 so I can't go back to the house I grew up in but I do sometimes picture it when I go wandering down memory lane...but cicadas??? We had to hit the laundry on the clothesline with sticks to get those creepy things off so we could fold them...not a pleasant memory in my book! That was one of my first thoughts when we knew we were moving...at least we'll be gone when the cicadas come back...

  27. I hope you had a wonderful visit with all of your family -- sounds like you did! Glad you are back and posting again! I really LOVE the yellow chair -- can you tell me what the paint color is?

    I'm sure you are tired from the trip. We just went to Muenster, TX to see my husband's family (we took a roundabout route to collect one of our grandsons) and it took us over 7 hours one-way. We were exhausted when we got home! But, it was so good to see everyone and visit. We also sat on the back patio one evening and listened to the cicadas. We don't have any here in suberbia but in the Texas countryside outside Muenster they were singing in abundance.

    Welcome back!

  28. I'm back because I forgot to mention a few things.

    Love those chairs!

    I had never heard of cornhole until I moved to NC two years ago. Our neighbors play it a lot on the weekend. Odd game, but I tried it and I think I like it a lot better than horseshoes! Cornhole is big in NC.

    Sleeping at the house you grew up in must feel strange. I got married and never spent the night with my parents again until they became ill and were living in an in-law apartment. The house I grew up in was sold back in 87 but I still remember a lot about it.

    Cicadas - I'm hearing them, too.

  29. That furniture is really awesome. I love the yellow chair. It makes me happy just looking at it. I'm glad you like cicadas too. A lot of people hate them. To me it is an important sound of summer. Like crickets in the evening. Glad you are back.

  30. Annie, you're back! You know, if you look very carefully, you can see a faerie peeking over the rim of the plate.

    Frankie's Roadhouse looks like fun.

    I didn't realize there were cicadas in Illinois. We have them here too, and I absolutely love them. The sound is wonderful. Don't let anyone exterminate them. I love the sounds of crickets too, but we only get them in the late summer and early fall here.

    Glad you had a great trip!


  31. Welcome back! If you get tired of all that rain, please send me some! I love the cicada noise, too...I even saved a "skin" from one after all these years! (I have a small "memory box" of various crap from my childhood.) Glad you had a nice time with your mom...I want to visit home this year, too. LOVE those chairs! And that hibiscus! I've had no sucess growing them yet, but I won't stop trying!

  32. Chigiy, this is a plant I bought years ago, and brought with to Texas. Other hardy white hibiscus had red or pink eyes, and I liked the total white effect. It's a Malva moscheutos, dies to the ground and goes dormant over winter- could that work in California?

    Pam, it won't be an easy or fast recovery, but she's getting a lot of help from my brothers and sisters. We're all hoping she can gain strength in time.

    The green loveseat is in the shed, now - until the monsoon moves off.

    Hi Robin, thank you - Philo's always had an affinity for sawdust ;-]

    Zoey, you could go sleep there overnight and report back in a blog post!
    I sure hope we get to sit on that green loveseat - while some of you need rain, Central Texas is waterlogged and full of mosquitos.

    Hello Chris, yes I do know what you mean - my family was in Chicago by 1870, and it was already a big city then. The majority of the current generations still live there.

    There's a core of old city and history here, but Austin's growth came fairly late, formed with outwardly growing rings of houseing developments. Most of the people seem to come from somewhere else, so their history is also elsewhere.

    Maybe the weather will be dryer for your visit in a few weeks! My favorite nursery is probably John Dromgoole's Natural Gardener. I wrote a post on nurseries with lots of links - check the last entry in the sidebar under Austin Garden links.

    The annual cicadas are bigger and greener, I think - the 17-year periodic ones are smaller but more numerous.

    Julie, Normal? Haven't seen that since we moved here, HA -every year seems to bring broken weather records, and this year we're breaking the ones for rain. Para is okay, but we're over the line into Hyper!

    Carol, the fairies would have to be good climbers - this flower was about 5 feet off the ground... oh, wait, fairies - yeah, I guess they'd just fly up.

    Mary, it's nearly a week later and I'm still in a mess.

    If you planted some, these hibiscus would do the same for you - not magic, just genetics!

    Rosemarie, neither mom nor I got much sleep...otherwise it was a good trip. We'll get the annual cicadas here later in the year - and the katydids will be noisy, too.

    Hi Chuck - you only posted a million photos in the last few days! That's one of the reasons I never catch up, and one of the reasons I love your blog!

    Hello Leslie, here's an area where we have similar life paths. Although I'm lucky to have my mom, we lost my dad in that same summer ten years ago. When I go back to IL all the trees and shrubs he planted surround the house.

    This is the fourth time I've seen the Illinois cicadas - as a kid thought they were interesting but didn't like to touch them. The last three times my scientific side took over!

    Mimi, it's Rustoleum Painter's Touch, indoor/outdoor in 'Sun Yellow', on some days the only sun in the garden.

    You had a lot of driving from Arkansaw to Texas, but at least with driving you're always moving forward... with planes there's always the possibility you will go nowhere!

    Hello again, Mary - thanks for the update. Horseshoes are fun, too, but few people have a place with enough room where they don't care if the grass gets wrecked.

    I'm beginning to suspect that the cornhole bag game and NASCAR exist in the same plane.

    After reading your answers and Zoey's, I wonder how many women ever sleep in their childhood rooms after they're married?

    Meresy, thank you on Philo's behalf, and on behalf of cicadas and crickets [and maybe katydids] everywhere ;-]

    You have better eyes than I do, Josie - I'd like to be able to see Mustardseed and Peasblossom!

    Hello Lisa - the people in Marble Falls wish they could share their 17-plus inches with someone- we're okay so far, but there's flooding all around us.

    Tropical hibiscus are beautiful but a pain - hardy hibiscus are pretty tough once you get them going...good luck!

    Thanks from Annie


A comment from you is like chocolate - maybe I could live without it, but life is more fun with it. I'll try to answer. If someone else's comment piques your interest, please feel free to talk among yourselves.