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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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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Flowers, Fruit, and Pack-Along Plants

This post "Flowers, Fruit and Pack-Along Plants" was written by Annie in Austin for the Transplantable Rose.

Breaking news from Chicagoland: Do you remember seeing a peach tree in full bloom at my sister's house? It sprouted 4 years ago when my my nephew Jake and his parents planted a Harry & David peach pit. Jake is proud to announce there are real peaches hanging from those branches!
Memorial Day weekend is sometimes called the Gateway to Summer, but we in Austin passed through that gate quite a while ago. Yesterday was another hot day, reaching 99 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon, the kind of day where the birds hide and only the bugs look busy and you hope for any little movement of the air. Then with a whoosh, the wind swept in yesterday evening, tossing the trees and plunging us into the low seventies overnight, rebounding to the nineties by lunchtime.
I was sure the 'Cupani' Sweet peas would fade once the heat hit, practically writing their obituary in the May 15th Bloom Day post, but they fooled me - still hanging their rose and blue-violet flowers on the obelisk near the 'Black Knight' butterfly bush, the Tropical orange & yellow milkweed, Salvia farinacea and yellow lantana.
The Pink Entrance Garden never had its photo taken for Bloom Day - there doesn't seem to be any time of day when photos taken there are free of shadows or glare or there isn't something ugly intruding on the view. This one taken looking NW toward the street isn't too bad, once I carefully cropped the trash cans from the photo!

Facing back in the direction of the garden gate you can see that one plant of 'Purple Stars' Coneflowers have finally opened, rioting with pink gaura, heirloom petunias, some lingering larkspur, the first balloon flowers and at lower right, a fully loaded pink chrysanthemum. This spring bloom cycle of chrysanthemums seems normal to me now, but I was surprised back in 2000 to find that a plant that was a sure sign of fall in the north was both a spring and fall plant in Texas.
The 'Little Gem' magnolia is never covered in flowers, but it opens them one or two at a time, off and on once May arrives, enough so there is a light fragrance whenever I'm within 10 feet of the small tree. I caught this flower after it opened, but before pollination led to the stamens browning and dropping into the cup of the flower.
In the previous post I talked about Austin Passalong Plants - but what can we call those toted-from-one garden to another plants that we originally bought from a nursery? I think they must be Pack-Along Plants. The daylily below is 'Prairie Blue Eyes', one of the daylilies that I brought from my Illinois garden in 1999. It barely survived life on the deck at the other Austin house, dwindling down to one leaf by the time we moved to this house in July 2004. After we made the Hummingbird garden that winter I planted the tiny thing, and was pleased to see it thrive.... it has five budded stalks this year! But no matter how beautiful the flowers are, the thing that looks and smells like summer for many of us are tomatoes. We have enough room to make a 10X10-foot tomato patch at this house, but could have used a few of VDBD's Grow-Boxes at our previous house so we could have grown tomatoes on the deck instead of keeping them enclosed in a wire structure. Meems has been taunting us for weeks with the tomatoes she's harvesting from her Florida garden! Vertie in Hyde Park had lots of green tomatoes last, but was a little too busy being part of a Central Texas Gardener taping to give us the current status.

A few days ago Bonnie at Kiss of Sun
showed us her vegetable garden and mentioned that the 'Brandywine' tomato wasn't doing much. We planted one of these potato-leaved heirlooms, too - and it's finally starting to make flowers.
That's the only variety without at least a few green fruits-in-progress. Philo made a new structure for the tomatoes this year, an interlocking wooden grid with the plants lightly looped up just enough to keep them off the ground. In the North many tomato growers prune excess leafage and tie the plants to stakes so they get more sun. Down here I've seen advice to use foliar feed and adequate water in order to produce lots of leaves, in order to give protection from excess sun to the developing fruit. That's what we're trying this year.

Last year's flooding was not good for tomatoes, and we still wonder whether traces of Juglone from too many pecan leaves in the garden had a negative effect. Since last fall we've added lots of cotton bur compost and also used products like John Dromgoole's Terra-Tonic for soil. It's hard to know whether what happens in a vegetable garden is actually a result of anything we've done or if it's a response to things beyond our control, like weather, but the plants do look better than in either 2006 or 2007.
Leave the fruit on the plant one minute past the pale orange stage and you can kiss it goodbye- some bird or critter will get it. The tomatoes take just a few days inside to be ready to eat. We've already eaten a dozen of the small, grape-shaped 'Juliet' tomatoes and those slightly larger 'Viva Italia' plums will soon be red. Large slicing tomatoes for sandwiches may still be a dream, but Pico de Gallo can be a reality!

This post "Flowers, Fruit and Pack-Along Plants" was written by Annie in Austin for the Transplantable Rose.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Passalong Plants - Austin Style

This post, "Passalong Plants - Austin Style" is another entry in my Passalong Plant series, which began with A Passalong Plant From My Father, and includes Passalong Plants~The Book, and Passalong Plants ~ The Daylilies. The following photos were taken at various times of the year - they're not actually all in bloom at one time! Written by Annie in Austin at the Transplantable Rose.

In order to play the Passalong plant game, you need plants that can be shared through seedlings, cuttings, offsets or division, and they have to be established enough to divide. You also have to somehow bump into other gardeners who like the passalong idea! Some of us are lucky enough to have friends and family who pass plants along, but there are other ways.

1] Conversations with neighbors may unveil someone who has a conventionally boring front yard with the interesting stuff behind the fence. They may be glad to have a fellow gardener to share with when plants get crowded.

2] If you can’t stop talking about flowers, your family and friends will label you as "the gardener" (or possibly as "the garden nut") and immediately think of you at plant-thinning and plant-rescue time.

3] Many members of gardening organizations like the Hemerocallis and Iris societies are dedicated traders.

4] The regional boards of forums like GardenWeb [including the very active Texas group] may clue you in to a plant swap in your town, where you can have fun and meet other plant people.
Up in the Cedar Park/Leander area northwest of Austin, a group of women met through a swap group... Diva Mindy and I had the chance to meet them last summer when they explored the idea of forming their own cooperative garden group - kind of like our Divas of the Dirt.

5] Please share those great stories about how you found your passalong plants!

As a neighbor at two Austin addresses, as a friend, as an Austin Garden Blogger and as one of the Divas of the Dirt, I’ve given plants and received them. Having a blog now lets me acknowledge many of
the kind Texas people who added interesting plants to my collection since 1999 - I hope they found my Passalongs interesting, too.

Sherry and I met when our sons became friends. We both liked to garden, so when Sherry was overwhelmed with starter shrubs and seedlings, she shared some surplus plants from her mother's garden. I recognized seedling Indian hawthorns, but what was the foot-tall mystery plant with the long leaves? Eight years and one move later - the long leaves grow on our 11-foot tall Loquat tree in the photo above.

My neighbor Gail passed along some kind of an Equisetum. This plant has lots of nicknames, including Horsetail Rush and sometimes Scouring Rush because it has so much silica that pioneers used it to clean pots.

My Horsetail would probably love to live near a pond but has had to survive life on the windswept, sunbaked deck at the previous house and then endure the indignity of being plunked next to the BBQ grill to hide the tank.

It's staying in that patio container - although I enjoy the sculptural qualities of this native, Equisetum can be very aggressive where it's too happy.

Diane gave me Salvia leucantha and Salvia greggii for our first Austin garden - perhaps they still bloom there. Three years ago she gave me a seedling from her loquat tree (yes! I have two!) and the nice large-leaved sedum that's seen above at left in the hypertufa container. Diane also gave me a start of the gently spreading patch of the Texas wood ferns that grow in the secret garden, seen here last summer with Indigofera from my friend Carole.

Carole's has a small stand of Indigofera in her garden and she was kind enough to give me a start a while ago. One piece took root and it bloomed this spring. I don't know the species name - but sometimes it's called Pink False Indigo.

Carole also shared some Shasta daisies with me while I still gardened on the deck at the other Austin house. They grew and bloomed in that container for several years then really took off once planted in the ground here. The Shasta daisies have already been passed along to other people and so have Carole’s passalong Lambs Ears and the wacky succulent called Mother of Thousands - it reached 5-feet tall in the breakfast room window last winter and bloomed for months.

Macky passed along the bridal veil type plant above- possibly Tradescantia geniculata, which now grows in a small woodland garden - making tiny white flowers for months on end. She also gave me the young Barbados cherries seen above, some beautiful clear red Salvia greggii, and garlic chives. Her passalong Barbados cherry plants have made it through a couple of winters - the larger plant I bought at a local nursery bailed at the first freeze.

My friend Sue had Salvia leucantha to share, and it’s growing more strongly than the plants of the same salvia from a nursery. The flowers look good in person but I can't seem to photograph them.

Christi had a couple of extra boxwoods - they stayed small while in containers at the other house, but are growing since they were planted in the ground here.

You’ve seen Ellen’s wonderful purple iris earlier this spring. She also gave me unusual plants from her garden-happy mother-in-law - a small Bauhinia, a blue butterfly flower, Mexican honeysuckle [all too small to bloom yet] and this weeping Buddleja in the Secret Garden. Ellen gave the original alligator plant to Carole, so they're both responsible for this mid-winter display in my breakfast room.

Susan, Sue and Carole all gave me bulbine, over and over! If the sixth try is the charm, it may finally live in the new front border.

Jane gave me a cutting from her red plumeria a few years ago - it took awhile to bloom, but is now a small tree in a large container, brought into the garage over winter.

In summer 2006, Sandy gave me fine bladed monkey grass and some cuttings of Aucuba japonica to root. The Aucuba is small but alive and the monkey grass looks good in front of the bench in the secret garden.

Passalong plants from garden bloggers grow here, too, and their presence is doubly sweet – because it means that we writers met in person – something that didn’t seem likely two years ago.

After conversations on her Zanthan Garden site, MSS and I met for the first time in the spring of 2006 when she gave me bluebonnet seedlings. That fall she shared some Oxblood lilies, and in fall 2007 shared more with all of us Divas of the Dirt. If they multiply we can pass them along to other gardeners, advancing the mission of MSS to keep this plant an emblem of Austin.

Pam from Digging is a wonderfully generous gardener, offering starts from her beautiful 'Amethyst Flame' iris. She also passed along a start of Heartleaf skullcap, a huge pot of Agapanthus, (Pam - they make great leaves but never bloom... what am I doing wrong??), a start of Anisacanthus which is starting to look happy in the new front bed, a Mexican oregano plant that grows in the Pink Entrance Garden and a stripey aloe.

Pam also gave me a start of her famous 'Best of Friends' daylily. This photo is from last summer - no sign of blooms yet this year.

In spring 2007 I finally met former garden blogger/now Mommy Blogger Martha – Martha gave me crinums and crocosmia which are growing but haven't bloomed. I'll have to wait to see what those flowers will look like, but other passalongs from Martha bloomed last year. Don't these beautiful burgundy-leaved cannas look good with the tall salvias? Martha also gave me roots of the canna below, which was so tall that a few volunteer Blue Pea Vines used it as a green trellis!

Looking back, it seems likely that the trees, shrubs, perennials, ornamental grasses, tropical plants, bulbs and groundcovers I passed along back in Illinois could fill an entire garden. Once moved to Texas it took years before I could share daylilies, Carole's Shasta daisies, Malva zebrina seedlings, 'Bengal Tiger' and 'City of Portland' Cannas, 'Telstar' dianthus, Lambs ears, Larkspur seedlings, Purple oxalis, 'Labuffarosea' Rainlilies, white iris, 'Amethyst Flame' iris or this Hedychium coronaria/Ginger lily. In recent months I've sent off a climbing rose, a couple of mini-roses, Purple coneflowers, 'Nuevo Leon' salvia, and Stapelia/carrion flower in addition to divisions of the fragrant orange iris seen at the beginning of this post.

Other gardeners are such generous people that it's very hard to follow my grandmother's rule and never say "Thank you" when someone gives me a plant. Maybe the best way for me to say how much I appreciate all of these wonderful people without actually saying it would be to just keep playing the passalong game, spreading the leafy love around.

This post, "Passalong Plants - Austin Style" is another entry in my Passalong Plant series by Annie in Austin for the Transplantable Rose.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, May 2008

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, May 2008 was written for the Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.

I'm happy to join in the May 2008 edition of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, one of the wonderful creations of dear Carol of May Dreams Garden. Carol just won a bunch of Mousies including Best NA blog, best post, innovation, Blog of year and blogger you'd like as a neighbor ~ congratulations to you and to all the other Mouse & Trowel winners, and to Colleen, who after thinking up the Mousies last year, decided to have a sweet new baby at Mousie time this year.

No, those daffodils aren't blooming in my garden! And I don't have peonies sending up red stalks either - this scene is from my sister Josie's garden in Illinois, taken about 10 days ago.

And this lilac belongs to my youngest sister, Red - yay! I got to smell lilacs for the first time in years!

Back in my Austin garden, the flowers aren't as showy as the lilacs and tulips that will be appearing in all the Northern blogs... there are small flowers of herbs like Cilantro, small but intensely colored flowers of various salvias, and some daylilies.

The first daylilies to bloom are small reblooming varieties like the lemon-colored 'Happy Returns' and the above passalong called 'Vi's Apricot'. Here's the view from the back door. That clump of intense blue near the obelisk is Salvia farinacea. The common name is "Mealy Blue Sage". For some reason that sounds creepy so I'll stick to botanical Latin for this flower! I used to grow it as annual in Illinois and was happy when it occasionally reseeded. Here in Austin it's frequently perennial when grown where the roots don't get too wet in winter. The purplish-pink flower in the long border is Mexican oregano/Poliomintha longiflora. Moving around to the back fence there's a Hummingbird Garden with Salvia guaranitica and Salvia 'Black & Blue' [both with deep blue flowers] and three kinds of Salvia with red flowers: Pineapple sage/Salvia elegans, Hummingbird sage/Salvia coccinea, and Salvia greggii. These small flowers barely show up if you're more than 5-feet away, but the hummingbirds can usually find them!

Passalong Shasta daisies are blooming too, and this year I added red zinnias. Right now the plants I like best in this garden don't even have flowers - look at those tall burgundy leaved cannas! We've had some storms and rain in the last couple of days - and tornado sightings had our computers shut down last night. Even when the grass is wet the patio usually dries off pretty quickly, so I took a few photos to show what it would look like if you were seated at the table. From the table we can look at the hummingbird garden across a container filled with Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips', Salvia 'Nuevo Leon' and a stray double lilac larkspur. The 'Hot Lips' and larkspur are shown in the closeup above with the long view below. Frances of Faire Garden is also a 'Hot Lips' fan, so this would be a good place to offer congratulations to her for winning a Mousie for best new blog. Swing your eyes over to the left and closest to you is the patio extension made of decomposed granite with the Disappearing Fountain and herb troughs. A narrow triangle garden with its base at the right comes next. This is a new bed, with a few annuals and some lavender so far. A larger triangle with the base to the left, parallel to the house, extends next, enclosing the obelisk, daylilies and other perennials, and the 'Little Gem' magnolia. The final 'layer' in the view is the long mixed border along the wooden fence. So even though the area isn't large, when we sit and look across the space, there's always lots to see.

The vegetable garden is at right behind the yellow Adirondack chair - the radishes are done and we're watching the 'Juliet' tomatoes closely. What's that spot of blue-violet between the Magnolia and the obelisk in the triangle? It's too early for Balloonflowers - Holy Cow! It's a confused 'Amethyst Flame' iris, a lovely passalong from Pam/Digging that bloomed in early spring. Speaking of Pam - congratulations to her on winning Mousies for both design and photography! Now that I'm closer to the obelisk another flower shows up - these sweet peas were planted at the end of January but unlike the yearly spring show for MSS at Zanthan Gardens or Karen's crop at Savannah Diary, mine did nothing until last weekend when buds finally appeared - here's the first flower.

Rather than putting up hummingbird feeders I've chosen to add plants that are supposed to give them nectar - like this form of bat-faced cuphea in a hanging basket near the breakfast room window - Cuphea llavea 'Totally Tempted' is showy, but it's not very "Bat-faced" is it?

On the shadier side of the bay window is a plant less likely to thrive here, but it was only a couple of dollars. My justification was that sometimes hummingbirds go for them but the truth is that I really miss seeing fuchsias in bloom.

The side garden has one tree in bloom - for the first time our pomegranate made buds and sort-of opened petal-packed, frazzled looking flowers. Maybe we'll luck out and get fruit, too!
Also in this side garden is a little Mock orange brought to Texas as a seedling. For a 9-year old plant it's very small, but unlike the enormous and thriving Mock orange seen on the April Blooming Day - this one has the delicious and traditional Philadelphus fragrance.
Congratulations to all four of the Garden Rant team on their Mousie for Writing and to Yolanda Elizabet at Bliss for Best International Garden Blog. Wow! I just realized that I've met several of the Mouse & Trowel winners in person - May Dreams Carol, Faire Frances, Austin's own Pam at Digging, and three of the Ranters - Susan Harris, Elizabeth Liccata and Amy Stewart...how cool! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Yolanda will be on that met-in-person list some day, too.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, May 2008 was written for the Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

May Dreams Hoe Down

May Dreams Carol is having a Hoe Down and my hoes were invited. I didn't dress them up, but they did get splashed with the garden hose before their photo was taken.

A trio of hoes lean against the door of the shed, dazed at being out in the sunlight... they're semi-retired hoes now, once called upon to take care of some nasty, weedy characters in Illinois, but having few assignments in Texas. The vegetable garden here is hardly large enough to swing a cat, let alone a tall, skinny hoe, whether the one at right with a rectangular shape or a the pointed triangular one at left. That third, flat hoe in the middle is for chopping ice - not a specialty much in demand around Austin.

The hand-hoes, however, lead an active life - they're called upon almost daily to dig out weeds and grass. The Cape Cod weeder in the center once had some shine and varnish, but is worn and grimy now, although a few swipes with a ceramic sharpener results in renewed edginess. The yellow-handled Cobrahead has been around for a while, brought home after a lucky encounter at a Park festival. Philo kept this one reserved for his own use while I preferred the Cape Cod weeder. Once I brought home the blue version of the Cobrahead, however, I could understand the attraction and began to experiment with the newest hand hoe myself. We're now inseparable.

Howdy to all you hoes and rakes - sure hope the turnout was good! It will be fun to see all the posts at May Dreams Garden after I get back to Austin next week.