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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Monday, October 15, 2007

My Gardens ~ My Environment

Carol of May Dreams Garden invites us to share buds and blossoms on the fifteenth of each month, calling it Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. October 15th of this year has been named Blog Action Day with bloggers invited to post on the environment. I thought about both of these concepts as I wandered around with the camera, then flipped through old photo albums.
Philo & I enjoyed our first vacation as a family in 1970, driving from our small apartment in a Chicago suburb to a cottage in Wisconsin. We liked the lake, the trees and the hikes through the hills, and our toddlers had fun with their Tonka trucks, making roads in the soil around the porch, studding the ground with rocks and sticks. We were saving money to buy a house, one with soil for tomatoes and flowers, with shrubs and trees around it. It would be our own chunk of the greater environment...what Webster defines as the "air, water, minerals, organisms, and all other external factors surrounding and affecting a given organism at any time".

1970 was a year filled with war, destruction, monsoons, Kent State, space exploration, strikes, explosions and the break-up of the Beatles, but in ecology and the environment there were signs of hope: Mother Earth News was first published in 1970, Earth Day was declared for Sunday, April 22, 1970 and in December the Environmental Protection Agency was founded. The focus on insecticides and weedkillers intensified and by the time we had the down payment for that house the weedkiller DDT had been banned. The US government stopped using Agent Orange in Vietnam, and the connection to lawn weedkillers like 2 4-D became public. Robert Rodale spread the word on organic gardening in press and on television.

By the time we moved into our first house in 1973, it seemed logical to avoid pesticides and weedkillers on the land where our children would play, to use compost, to grow vegetables and fruit and to plant lots of trees, shrubs and flowers. It still seems logical 35 years later.
I like to read about everyone's gardens and it usually doesn't matter that we don't grow the same things, or live in the same zone or dig in similar soil. We can share a love of gardening without needing much in common.

But when it comes to advice about how to garden responsibly in a specific garden, something positive is needed - advice based in personal experience focusing on local information. Clipped and pasted pronouncements intended for general distribution may work in one place, and be useless somewhere else.
Allen Lacy told us, "It is impossible to write a book on gardening that is universal. Everyone gardens in the highly particular, on one spot of home ground at the intersection of this degree of latitude and that degree of longitude."

I miss those highway signs in Texas that encouraged us to 'Drive Friendly'. They seemed positive rather than negative, implying that people knew what was right if they followed their best instincts and were flexible about who got to the stopsign first. So I won't give you orders on what you should do in your garden, but let's look at some flowers as I share my attempts to 'Plant Friendly' on my little spot of home ground here in the NW part of Austin, Texas.

To have beauty without spraying I can choose plants with some built-in disease resistence - like the 'Julia Child' rose, with a bloom or bud in evidence every day since April.

It's not in my power to remove and replace every plant on the City of Austin's invasive list, but I can cut the flowers off nandina to prevent seed development and clip any berries I can reach from the ligustrum where it hangs over the fence from my neighbors' yard. I do this so the birds won't eat them and spread seeds in natural areas. I think a certain amount of flat green grass is necessary for comfort, as a design element, and for my sanity, so I won't dig up all of my casual, seldom watered, but acceptable-to-me lawn. [And like Carol of May Dreams, I actually like to mow.]

But I can and will shrink the lawn - we've already replaced some of it with plants for people, birds, bees and butterflies. Here's a garden for birds and butterflies, planted in the footprint where the Arizona Ash used to grow. Another thing I can do is to try out environmental ideas that take effort rather than money - like my in-progress seep garden to slow down storm runoff. Native plants Rivina humilis/pigeon-berry and White mistflower/Ageratina havanensis are young and still getting established.

I can learn to be flexible and take advantage of the unexpected in the garden - when a huge limb fell off the pecan last month all the shade plants were suddenly in sunlight.
The impatiens found space in shade near the Cast Iron plants and now the native Barbados Cherry/Malpighia glabra has enough sun to make buds.

I can try to water with care and attention and respect, appreciating the labor of those who came before us to this land of violent floods and killing drought to build the dams and reservoirs which make it possible for our city to thrive.

I'm willing to handwater my tropicals and other beautiful plants - like the clematis - this is a small garden and I think beauty is worth the trouble. But when choosing permanent landscape plants for the harsher western exposures, I'll look for tougher plants - native and adapted ones that need less supplemental water. That's what we did in a triangular area where the lawn turned brown too easily - the flowers in the pink entrance garden are doing well and are more fun.
When I talk to my neighbors I can tell them the reasons we won't use things like weed and feed while sharing divisions of plants from my borders. My neighbors may never be reconciled to the way I keep the lawn, but they may not be able to resist flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Blooming off camera:
Moon Vine
Angel's Trumpet
Salvias greggii, leucantha and 'Nuevo Leon',
White ginger
Rock rose/ Pavonia

Edited October 23 - Mr Brown Thumb has gathered links to other garden blogs with posts for Blog Action Day.


  1. What a wonderful and personal look at both your garden and your mindset on gardening and the environment you've created there. I'll come back to this post, I'm sure, as one of your new classics.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  2. Nice post, Annie. I'm glad to hear that your Barbados cherry is setting buds for you now---the silver lining of your broken pecan branch.

  3. Annie, you weave these two concepts together wonderfully. I must say that I particularly appreciate you keeping your post positive. I may "borrow" some of this approach as I keep trying to sell my Dad on abadoning the weed-and-feed regime. (I try to educate him about some of the stuff like this that I really care about-- from that natural feeling of wanting those you love to care about the things and ideas that matter to you, not from any sense of needing to evangelize.)

    I'm so excited that your Barbados cherry is setting some good flowers for you. As Pam said, it's the silver lining of that broken pecan branch.

  4. Lovely post, Annie. I really enjoyed your old photos, as well as the gentle, positive approach you take to gardening in an environmentally-friendly way. I agree with Carol...this post is definitely a new classic.

  5. Well put, Annie...I love the look back at the 70's...there is a lot of environmental talk now and it is exciting to see some of those ideas I first heard back then becoming more mainstream now. Your pink garden is really looking nice! And what a nice list of blooms!

  6. You do a great job of remaining positive. I, too, remember those heady 70s: Earth Day, and the Rodale Press, and the idea that small can be, and is, beautiful. And I look around now, 35 years later, and wonder what happened. Why the McMansions and the SUVs and the desire to consume but never produce.

    I, too, try to tend my little patch of the world as gently as I can. But I no longer do so with the hope or idealism I had 35 years ago. Perhaps I've become rather selfish in my old age. Or maybe I feel that my circle of influence is now quite small. My best is but a shortterm stewardship of a small patch of our lovely planet.

  7. Wonderful post Annie. Nice flashback to some of the things that influenced me growing up as an impressionable kid at the time.

    The early environmental movement was logical to a kid who ran wild in the woods and the beautiful gardens of my grandparents. Why would people want to kill the magical things that lived there?

  8. Great post! I didn't know that the Julia Child rose was so carefree. I need to check on that one, as if I need another rose in my garden! :)

  9. Your Wisconsin getaway with the family brought back memories of just such visits to Wisconsin and the pristine shores of Mackinaw Island in Michigan. The kids loved the wonderful natural settings where they could learn about nature.

    A wonderful post, Annie, combining both GardeN Bloggers Bloom Day and Blog Action Day.

  10. What a BAD GBBD post Annie. ;-) It's very interesting, personal, down to earth and optimistic too.

    I do not water my gardens anymore now that most plants have been in for more than one year and have devellopped good deep roots. The only exception is my kitchen garden where new seedlings and plants need more water occasionally. Then I do a spot of handwatering using rainwater from my waterbut.

    Like your blooms, especially the clematis!

  11. It is a magnificent post-very interesting, hugely inspiring, and straight from the heart. I wish I could borrow your train of thought. Thank you Annie for being an inspiration.

  12. "I like to read about everyone's gardens and it usually doesn't matter that we don't grow the same things, or live in the same zone or dig in similar soil. We can share a love of gardening without needing much in common."

    This expresses to me exactly why I blog about my garden. Beautifully put!

  13. Thank you for liking it, Carol - and thank you for thinking up Blooming Day.

    It is a silver lining, Pam, but will it last? With more sun the neighbor's Arizona Ash may just grow faster!

    Hello Blackswamp Kim - sometimes I do jump up and down and scream, but it's hard on my joints. My daughter-in-law has been working on her dad, too... I hope you both prevail!

    Thank you Colleen - I love it when other people post old photos, too!

    Hi Leslie, it's funny to think that organic food was once considered very weird... now it's cool and pricey!

    MSS, believe me, it takes an act of will to have hope on some days. But it's in the nature of a Sagittarian ENFP to bounce.

    [your old age?? HA!]

    Thank you EAL, I appreciate the comment!

    Hi Christopher and thank you, So far we seem to have influenced our kids, too - and it is logical!

    Hello Phillip - we had many days in midsummer where the plants were damp for days, so 'Julia' has had some blackspot on the lower leaves but nothing like what's happened to normal roses. I'm impressed with this variety so far.

    Thank you Carolyn - we Chicago area folk have been accused of treating Wisconsin as if it were our back yard, and that's probably true!

    Oh those acronyms, Yolanda Elizabet! BAD GBBD... bet we could make up other words to fit the initials ;-)

    Green Thumb, writing this post was difficult and exhausting for some reason, but words like yours make me glad I did it.

    Hi Katie - thank you - and I for one am glad you're a garden blogger!

    Thank you all,


  14. Brilliant post Annie. This is the very heart of what will make a difference to our world environment - finding the can do's in our own little worlds.

    Much of BAD saw the universal do's and don'ts but very few approached it from the personal view.

    If everyone did what you have just done - the world could be a much healthier place.

    Huge Kudos.

  15. Hi Annie, I agree with Carol, this post is a classic. Thank you.

    I have spent my private and professional life (as a horticulturalist and designer) live the organic life. Your column reminded me that my principals were guided by my grandmother who, in upstate New York, farmed and gardened according to Rodale rules. She was a stanch advocate of companion planting and taught me the value of compost and composted manure! As I matured through the 70's, I had her as my guide. Thanks again for the memory jolt and for setting out your principals so elequently.


  16. Annie your post was just so right. Thank you for your exhausting work. It was well worth the struggle.

  17. Annie, I intended to come back here and comment after I had thought about your post for a while - and there was lots to think about! Then I got back here and found that MSS wrote pretty much what I was thinking. But I remember that a lot of the worst types of air and water pollution got cleaned up in the 70s, so I think change is possible. Not with my dad, though - he'll never give up weed-and-feeding his green carpet of a lawn.

    Really enjoyed your reminiscences!

  18. I can't believe I did it again - not doing word verf. twice after writing about just that a few minutes ago.

    I saw an interesting program on NOVA last night about epigenetics and how pesticides/herbicides alter the way parts of genes are expressed or supressed by epigenetic encoding often causing disease. Apparently your exposure to toxin or environmental stimuli can affect your progeny and their progeny. Smokers who use the excuse that they are only harming themselves are using a specious argument. They are actually altering their genes which are encoded and passed on to their children and to the children's children. Quite fascinating and a good reason to limit your exposure to toxins and environmental insults. So even if the smoker doesn't get cancer he/she may be passing on defective genes that may make their progeny susceptible to cancer and they in turn will pass the defective gene on to their children. Scary. So your telling neighbors about why you don't use weed and feed is right on the money and you have scientific data to back you up but I'm afraid it's like turning the Titanic.

  19. Great post, Annie! I was too young in 1970 to appreciate all that was going on (except the moon walk-we watched that at school), but I did help my parents in their garden. And although they weren't organic at the time, at least the general gardening bug bit me. So I tweaked it organic over the years to suit my own philosophy, and if my father's stubborn daughter can change, there's hope for everyone!

  20. Terrific! I can tell you spent a lot of time on this one.

    There was a lot of turmoil back in the late sixties and early 70's but a lot of good concepts emerged from that era when people started putting some emphasis on the good earth and our environment. I don't think much regard was given to "saving our planet" prior to that.

    It was a pleasure to see your photographs of the old and new. We bought our first house in 1977. That's when I planted my very first vegetables garden, bordered with marigolds.

    Have you come a long way with gardening, Annie, or have you always had a green thumb?

  21. What great blooms, Annie! I'm happy to see your milkweed looking so bright and cheerful. Have you found any monarch caterpillers yet? I haven't, but I haven't lost hope. I love your pictures from the past. What a sweet baby! :-) And thanks for the invasive plant list. That's always a good reminder.

  22. Annie, what a great post. (Gosh, I remember Kent State University). Has it really been that long?

    I love coming to your blog and looking at your photographs. Your garden is lovely.


  23. Very cool Annie. I love the vintage feel of the first half of your post.

  24. Annie, never underestimate the power of positive influence and gifts of plants! Even if your neighbors are stubborn about yard chemicals, you've planted a seed of a thought... (and after a while the right conditions might come along for seeds of thought to germinate into full grown AHAs!)

  25. Rodale has been a big influence on our generation and taught us some good practices.
    We seem to have reached a happy medium here I think, without obsessing about the environment, and manage to do our gardening without adding harmful substances.
    There are some environmentalists who seem to frown on everything, without offering any sensible alternatives. Extremes that interfere with progress hinder rather than help, it seems to me.
    I hope I'm not sounding too muddle-headed here. I'm having trouble expressing my thoughts.
    Love your old pictures Annie. It's fun to look back on the 70's and think of those days when our mindsets were being formed.
    I love your Julia Child rose.
    Can anyone possibly resist flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds? Your lawn looks great to me!

  26. Because of my work I'm often thrown into the 'depths' of the environmental thing - walking through Dept of Energy sites that are so contaminated that I've been left speechless (well, at least for a few minutes) - I just didn't know that places like that could exist on the planet without EXPLODING. But your post captures what caring for 'the environment' means - and how it's individual and small but how there is power in individual's talking, for example, to their neighbor while sharing a plant with them. A really nice post to read after a long day.

    Oh, and I like to mow too. I have an acre and just have a push mower. People think I'm nuts but there's something wildly therapeautic and ritualistic about getting the grass mowed. Sometimes I think about all of the other stuff I could be doing - but really, mowing is just fine.

  27. my gardens are a mess...they are beckoning me for this weekend....they'll be put to bed.

    nighty nite

  28. Annie, a very thoughtful post, especially for me, who remained silent during Blog Action Day. I have a distinct aversion to being told everything must be done a certain way, and I appreciate hearing about your quiet and personal path of doing what's right for your garden and our beautiful world.

    I love your "old" photos too!

  29. Annie,

    Wow. You truly have a gift for written expression. This was one of the best posts I have ever had the pleasure to read. You touched on so many things that I am passionate about, and the fact that I lived in Wisconsin for seven years (which is where I first learned to garden) made your post all the more personal and touching to me.

    I grew up in Houston during the 60s and 70s. It was one of the most foul places I have ever been. The chemical plants and refineries pumped out toxic waste by the boatload 24 hours a day. Trucks spraying some sort of nasty mosquito repellent drove through our suburban neighborhood every night during the spring and summer, and us kids used to play in the mist as they went by. Perhaps that is why I am such an avid proponent of organic gardening and all types of organic products (certified is possible, of course).

    Thank you for taking the time to create these wonderful posts.


  30. What a thought-provoking and wonderful post, Annie. I love the photographs from the 1970s and the way you connect the past to the present. Gentle persuasion and showing by example seem to work - even if we only change the habits of a few people because they see that our gardens are places of refuge and beauty, then we will have done something positive.

  31. Oh Annie,
    WHY don't you live next door to me??? I WOULD appreciate your lawn, weed & all! I would CHERISH birds, blooms & butterflies!!! REALLY, I would! We spent the weekend making a HUGE island bed in my front yard, taking away at least 1/2 of the lawn. I was planting the last of the lantana @ 11 tonight by moonlight, before the storms arrive. Don't you know that was a sight! I'm wondering what it will look like by daylight!
    Something you wrote made me remember something I will do this spring...a passalong party. Got the idea from Pam (Digging). I'm going to invite the whole neighborhood and see what happens. I so enjoyed your post!


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