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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.


  1. Annie,

    If I comment on everything I want to comment on (it's a good post you've written) I will be writing a post! So I will be brief! As if!

    ~Loved the photo of the clean Magnolia blossom.

    ~Goodness the plant list I began in my head of my 'pack alongs' is pages too long!

    ~BTW, Prairie Eyes is a great looking Day Lily, I love how much she wanted to thrive.

    ~Thanks for the link to 'Playin Outside' another fun read with great comments.

    Tomatoes...yes they do smell of summertime.

    ~ I love your garden and the photos are lovely.


  2. Hi Annie! I agree, the universal look & smell of summer is the Tomato, no matter where you garden. That is quite a support system Philo built for your tomatoes. It adds a certain sculptural, architectural element to your vegetable garden.

    And all your flowers are pretty this time of year, in spite of the heat.

    Stay cool!
    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  3. Congrats to Jake!!! How cool, for him to see those little peaches... cute, and hopefully tasty soon, too.

    Your 'Cupani' sweet peas are beautiful, and I love that grid that Philo made. Very pretty and functional, both.

  4. I'm glad to see you still have such a wealth of blooms despite things heating up! And I also love the tomato grid...is it permanent or easy to dismantle? My tomatoes are far from being ready to enjoy...only a few Early Girls that are still small...we had a hot (over 100) couple days and are back to 50's at night, 70's days...not too conducive to tomato growth.
    Congratulations to Jake! What a great experience for him...a real gardener in the making!

  5. I'm already pointing out Philo's tomato support to AJM and saying, "Couldn't we make something like that?" Of course, one of our problems is that we don't have a regular vegetable garden...the tomatoes are scattered all over the yard.

    The 'Cupani' sweet peas are supposed to be more heat-tolerant than other types. I'm not growing any 'Cupani' this year. I do have a couple of flowers left on 'Perfume Delight' but the vines are already completely brown so I'll be tearing them out soon.

  6. mmmm.. vine-grown tomatoes. I have those in Holland when I visit my Mom.
    Tomatoes don't grow too well here in Ireland, it's a bit too cool. But I may try them again someday, I'm sure by now they would have made cool weather tomatoes for us in the cooler climates.

  7. It IS amazing those sweet peas are hanging in there since you have summer already! How long does the summer last in TX? In TN by mid to late September it is cooling off.

  8. I'm going to have to get me some of them 'Cupanis.' I would so love to have Sweet Peas. Jake's peaches are awesome! As a native of the Chicago area, I can truly appreciate his achievement. Wow!

  9. Hi Annie, what a wonderful post, so full of good stuff. We have to pick our tomatoes as they begin to turn or the birds poke holes in them. The ripen nicely on the kitchen shelf, clean and blemish free. We have little green jobs, nothing close to ready, but the cherry tomatoes are close to ripening size. Your tomato grid will be shown to the gardoctor, as well. All of the blogdom will be sprouting those next summer. Wonderful daylily too.

  10. Mmmm tomatoes! I'm just beginning to see cherry tomatoes turn orange. I couldn't wait and tasted one this morning. Your tomatoes are way ahead of mine.
    Do you find that the pretty sweet pea flowers don't have the fragrance that the older solid-colored ones do? I'm going back to SWEET-smelling sweet peas next year.

  11. Hi Annie - Love your Larkspur and Coneflowers. My conflowers aren't quite ready to bloom yet, but they getting happier with the heat. Your tomato supports are great - I hope you have enormous tomato plants to support this year! I pick mine just before they are ripe, too. The birds are just plain mean, aren't they? Waiting until that perfect ripeness to steal them out from under you. I've got my fingers crossed that they will continue to set with this heat.

  12. Thank you very much, Gail! I figured many other gardeners had to have pack-along plants...they're as important as dishes and pans! I'm glad you liked VDBD's Playin' Outside blog and hope you get to smell tomato leaves.

    The wood fits together like a puzzle, Carol - and Philo sure hopes it will last more than one summer...it looks black in the photo but is painted dark green. The blue jays are already too fond of it.

    I sure hope Jake and family get to eat the peaches, Blackswamp Kim - the squirrels would get them here.
    MSS talked about 'Cupani' so when this variety showed up on the seed rack there was a light bulb moment.

    It's dreadfully hot, Leslie, even for Austin...we'll see what plants can take it! The grid sort of snapped together and I hope it will unsnap later on. I think we have an 'Early Girl' in there, too.
    Having some success does lead us down the garden path, doesn't it!

    It's an experiment, MSS, but the regular supports didn't work well anyway, and this looks cool!
    Each day I go out to look at that 'Cupani' and each day it's opening new flowers. Amazing.

    We have to get our plants growing fast, Salix Tree, so they can start making fruit before it's too hot. After they make those Irish tomatoes the plant scientists might think about helping rhubarb live in Texas!

    Well, Tina, that depends... sometimes we don't get a frost until mid-December. September has been pretty brutal in recent years, but Novembers are frequently nice.

    I hope they do well for you, Mr. McGregor's Daughter - guess you'd start them inside?
    I remember Michigan peaches, but not Chicago peaches!

    Thank you, Frances! Yes, it's mostly birds that go after ours... and of course we want both birds and tomatoes. Hope your tomatoes turn red soon!

    Hello WeepingSore - I thought California would be faster, although we're both way behind Florida!
    I have very little experience with sweet peas, having tried them a few times in IL with little success. 'Cupani' is a Sicilian variety grown since around 1695 according to Julie's Human Flower Project. It has some fragrance, but it might have more if we had temperatures in the 80's instead of the 90's.

    Only a few of the coneflowers are blooming, Diana, but mine are always later than Pam's at Digging.
    So far the supports are working. We've learned not to expect huge crops like we had in Illinois, but are hoping there'll be a few big enough to slice.
    I wonder if pollinating the tomatoes manually would make a difference? That's what I usually do with the peppers.

    Thank you for all the comments!


  13. Some years it doesn't get warm enough to harvest tomatoes in San Francisco, and I'm a little worried we're heading in that direction this year. My plants are still small and only a few flowers. I love the smell of the foliage tho'.

    In Texas, I guess you (or birds) could even expect to harvest some tomatoes from volunteer seedlings, huh?

    That's thrilling news about the peach tree in Chicago. Now tell us what they say when they taste the fruit.

    I like all those purples in your garden right now.

  14. Wow, Annie, your garden looks great. I love the colors in the coneflower bed and really like your tomato supports. And thanks for the shoutout. I do have a follow up on the green tomatoes coming!

  15. Congratulations to your nephew on his peaches. Those will be the best he has ever had.

    The magnolia blossom is beautiful. There is nothing like a pure white magnolia blossom.


  16. What's more lovely than a lemony-fragrant magnolia blossom? Just beautiful. Your pink garden looks good to me, but you know how I appreciate coneflowers.

    Good luck with your tomatoes this year.

  17. Hi, Annie! I haven't been doing a lot of blogging lately, but I love to come by and look at the pictures on your blog. Beautiful! I love sweet peas.

    Summer is finally starting to arrive here in Canada too. Finally!

  18. Wow...pretty neat that Jake's tree has peaches! I hope they get to harvest them before the critters and that they taste delicious (the peaches, not the critters)!
    Ugh, 99º does not sound like fun in the sun!
    I'm happy that your sweet peas are still blooming. It's such a pretty grouping with the butterfly bush and salvia, etc.
    Some gardens, and certain flowers are hard to photograph, aren't they? Your pink garden looks pretty in both of those photos.
    Love that daylily!
    Our tomatoes are still in six packs. They'll be planted this week....it may finally be safe now, but we'll still have to watch for frosts.
    That magnolia bloom is glorious!

  19. I love your daylily "Prairie blue eyes."
    I don't envy the heat you're having right now, but I do envy the tomatoes! It's been so wet here that I wan;t able to plant tomatoes until yesterday. I got a little carried away this year and may spend September making gallons of tomato juice:)

  20. Hi Annie,
    I have just been catching up on all your lovely blooms. Those coneflowers really caught my eye. They are, as you said, a riot of color.

    I hope you are staying cool in those high temperatures. We Michiganders can't take too many days of 90+ degree weather!

  21. Can't wait to hear if the peaches taste as good as they look. And your sweet peas make me groan and punch my self in the arm as I pulled mine out after getting mad at them for not growing faster. Looks like I jumped the gun on that one.

    And...flowers on the brandywine but no fruit. I think it is just too hot for them to set fruit right now.

  22. I love your pink bed. And the daylilies. And that modernist-looking new tomato cage. I'm afraid that my own backyard got boring once the roses were done, thanks to more shade than I expected from some seriously fast-growing new trees. But I take heart in the new full-sun (for now!) front yard flower patch. I should post a picture. Oh, and I finished 'People With Dirty Hands.' It was fabulous, and laugh-out-loud funny in spots. :D


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