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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 27, 2008

An Autumn Critter Post

Yesterday the sun shone on the soil yard at The Natural Gardener, and the 87°F/30.5ºC air was ripe with the scent of manure as we filled bags of compost and rose soil. This morning the wind gusted merrily, knocking over potted plants and the thermometer read 53°F/11.6ºC - much more like fall.

Some of the small creatures around our garden tend to disappear once cool weather arrives and my chances for better photos of them are disappearing, too. So these pictures are not art but witness - a reminder to me of some creatures who shared our space in 2008.

Our first Meyer's Lemon tree did well in a container and back in 2006 I debated planting it in the ground but worried about hardiness. Christopher (then in Hawaii but now Outside Clyde in North Carolina) encouraged me to quit dithering and buy a second tree. After I took his advice and planted a second lemon near the house wall in 2007, the tree survived winter, has made a handful of lemons and is now about 5-feet tall.

ately some of the leaves looked chomped but I didn't know what was eating them
. Then a couple of days ago I saw what to the unassisted eye almost looked like a bird dropping on a leaf - perhaps 3/4 inch in length.

But do bird droppings turn their heads when a flash goes off?

This seems to be the caterpillar of a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly - found fairly easily by searching for Bird Poop + caterpillars. A few eaten leaves won't matter on this larger tree so I'll leave it alone and hope for butterflies. The cat even looked a little bigger this morning. If a bird poop caterpillar appears on the other Meyer's Lemon, which still grows in a container and comes inside the house for winter, it will be relocated to the in-ground plant! I want that potted Meyer's Lemon to hold onto its leaves and give me flowers and fruit, but wish the tropical milkweed looked less pristine. I enjoy the flowers but the reason I grow two large plants of this Asclepias is so they can be eaten by Monarch butterfly larvae. This fall I've only seen two Monarchs and not a single caterpillar. I fell like a hostess who sent out invitations for dinner and had no one show up.

ow long will the geckos stick around? They're always high up on the veranda walls, ca
tching insects that swarm to the porch lights. None seem to be native - guess this one is a
Mediterranean gecko Hemidactylus turcicus

I've also read that another introduced gecko is found around Austin, so wonder if this pink one on the brick could be a House gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus. Doesn't it look a little like a newly hatched bird before it fledges?There are some interesting other species described here: GeckoWeb Profiles.

Another non-native critter appears on the sidewalk outside the back door when we get rain - small snails. I rarely see snails that look like the ones in cartoons - with a round high-top shell.
Ours are conical brown snails - predators of the round top types. They're used as a
natural control in citrus groves. Decollate Snails

Earlier in summer my son noticed an odd insect - it looked as if parts of other insects like a moth, grasshopper and a praying mantis had been glued together. Because one of its legs was missing it was easy to gently place it on the windowsill for a photo before we released it back into one of the big containers where we'd found it. A search found more about our M

The large critters are getting bolder! Last year I spent hours trying to sneak up on the squirrels and would have been happy to have a photo like this.

This year I took the first photo, then kept moving closer, and the squirrel held its ground for a close-up.
I didn't have any trouble sneaking up on this last creature - because only the name is animal. My friend Ellen gave me a start of a toadlily in early spring and although the leaves show the stress of the hot, dry summer, the flowers still opened. They're about the size of a quarter and don't look impressive at a distance but sure are fascinating when you move in really close.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Austin Maker Faire 2008

Maker Faire Austin pedal guitarMaker Faire is billed as the World's Largest DIY Festival - and it's back in Austin for a second time this weekend. Philo gets Make Magazine - he was at the first Austin Maker Faire last year while I worked with the Divas of the Dirt. I'm sure glad I went this time!

Who wouldn't want to see lofty electric guitars played when pedal power spins them past a stationary pick? The kids were lined up for a chance at this 'ride'.

Wind and pedals ruled outside the main building - with Kites flying in the perfect blue sky while one odd contraption after another was tried out in the Bike Zoo - the 80-foot White Snake, hooked-on-bikes and more.

Maker Faire Austin Whitesnake BikeAfter playing the pedal guitar, kids took turns pedaling to spin bike frames around like a carnival ride. Some had trouble getting the rhythm but these two girls made an impressive team.
The New York Times called Maker Faire, "A wondrous thing: the gathering of folks from all walks of life who blend science, technology, craft, and art to make things goofy and grand."

When we went inside the Show Barn we saw an enormous Robot suspended from the ceiling - goofy or grand? Maybe a little of each! This Mantis was one piece of the amazing metal art produced by blacksmiths working on a 1200°F forge. Maker Faire Austin Praying mantis art
One of the cool things at the Austin Modders booth was this computer case. I loved the idea of being able to see inside the computer as it worked. Maker Faire Austin Modders case
The Arts and Crafts included jewelry, bookbinding, scents, bead makers, fabrics, fashion and yarn - did you know there was an Austin Lacemakers' Guild?

It was pretty cool to see replicas of robots from Star Wars at booths

But even cooler to see delighted children turn around and see R2D2 roll up next to them.Maker Faire Austin Kids and R2D2Philo says he comes for the science, technology and art, but I suspect that Fire Plugs shooting Flames may be an even stronger reason.
Actually, I could not resist the Ring of Fire either!
Maker Faire Austin Ring of FireIn the Food Makers area there was actual food to taste, eat and buy (Torchy's Taco's!) and booths for The Green Corn Project, Permaculture, and Organic Landscaping. You can find an array of foods from pastries to hummus to vegan hand-pounded chocolate to the turkey legs enjoyed by these guys, who were kind enough to pose for a garden blogger. My husband wished he'd seen the turkey legs first and joined the Carnivore Club.
Maker Faire Austin, guys eat turkey legs
None of my photos of the wonderful, musical Tesla Coils came out, darn it. I didn't even take photos of the Life Sized Mousetrap game, intricate Lego layouts, the robotic shop tools, innovative musical instruments, art cars, musical groups, Rocket launching guys, the treadle-powered Land Boat, Hula Hoops, Green living exhibits and what for many people may be the main event - a series of RoboGames competitions held in the arena building inside a separate, bulletproof see-through arena with bleachers and announcer on loudspeakers.You have one more chance to get there - Maker Faire continues tomorrow from 10 AM to 6 PM at the Travis County Expo Center, 7311 Decker Lane, Austin, Texas. My plan is to collapse on the sofa with a DVD and rest up for another event tomorrow.

Philo took some video of the Singing Tesla Coils... sooner or later I hope it appears HERE.

If it doesn't show up - or to see all our videos - use this link to Annie and Philo's YouTube Station.

Edited Sunday AM: Here's a look at the Ring of Fire:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 2008 - Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

The air doesn't feel like autumn yet, but certain plants tell me it's here - the ones that bloom when the days begin to grow shorter. That's Salvia regla above. I found a starter plant on sale at the Natural Gardener last month and put it in a gravel area with some afternoon shade. I love the color! Another name for this salvia is Mountain Sage.and with luck it can become a four-foot tall hummingbird shrub.

Last month's Oxblood lilies finished flowering and turned to putting up fresh new green leaves. The lily above is the only one that made a seedhead. MSS of Zanthan Gardens - she who gave me the Oxblood/Rhodophiala bifida bulbs- mentioned occasional seed formation a few years ago .

The asters have been blooming for about 10 days - these aren't the tall New England beauties, but are shorter hybrids called Aster frikartii 'Wonder of Staffa'. It seems they get to keep their botanic name of Aster while the native fall asters and Michaelmas daisies have been moved to Symphyotrichum.

In spring I transplanted one Mexican Mint Marigold plant from a hypertufa trough to the larger triangle bed. It's a foot taller than the other Tagetes lucida plant still in the container and is already blooming.
Here's a closeup of the flowers - the leaves can be used as a tarragon substitute in cooking.

With cooler weather the Salvia 'Hot Lips' got its lips back -blooms were solid red or white a couple of weeks ago.
Some bloggers posted Hyacinth bean flowers/Dolichos lab-lab months ago! Mine got a late start, but they're doing well on the arch Pam/Digging passed along to me last November.

Next to the arch the Barbados Cherry/ Malpighia glabra shrub is blooming - this small tree had a rough winter and skipped the spring bloom. Did you notice how good it looks in the rain? We had a half-inch overnight - Hallelujah!

These are buds, not blooms - it's a recent passalong plant from my friend Ellen who got it from another friend. All we know is that it's some kind of Toad Lily/Tricyrtis. If the flowers open I'll have to look for help to identify it - these links show what happens when you enter 'tricyrtis' in the search box at blogs of the Iowa Victory Gardener , Mr McGregor's Daughter Don the Iowa Gardener and Blackswamp Kim .

White impatiens have bloomed for months but never get their photo taken. They looked too pretty to ignore after those welcome raindrops washed their faces. Once the rain ends I may put a list of other plants in bloom on my Annie's Addendum blog. Those lists are a pain to make, but really nice to have as a reference!
Edited October 16th - complete list with my best efforts at botanical names is now up.

More stalwarts of the garden - the Blue Pea vine/Clitoria ternatea, the 'Julia Child' rose, and the Blue Butterfly Flower/Clerodendrum ugandense have blended their soft colors for months. The obelisk doesn't belong exclusively to the Blue Pea Vine - it's shared by a vine of Ipomoea alba.

You didn't really think you could leave without seeing at least one Moonflower photo, did you? I've been enchanted with the Moon Flower Vine for years.

May Dreams Carol has links to Garden Bloggers around the world who are joining her in the monthly celebration of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not Berry Many

Many northern bloggers posted photos of their berries weeks ago - an idea that seems to have started when Lisa of Greenbow made a comment on May Dreams Carol's post on Beautyberries. After the challenge to display our berries was taken up by Mr McGregor's Daughter photos of beautiful berries appeared on garden blogs everywhere.

In my garden the yaupon hollies and Burford hollies are still developing their green berries - they won't turn red for weeks. Birds stripped the beautiful purple berries from my Beautyberry a month ago.
I'm tired of waiting to post! I found only a few berry-like subjects to photograph and for some of them the definition of berry needs to be a fuzzy one.

Above are berries on what is called a Japanese Yew here in Austin. If you live in other places that name usually refers to some cultivar of Taxus japonicus (as in the famous Green Moustache) but my young shrub belongs to Podocarpus - maybe Podocarpus macroplyllus. Another name for this plant is Buddhist Pine.

I've seen related plants at the
Hartman Prehistoric Garden - their plant list calls them Cephalotaxus fortunei - Chinese plum yew and Cephalotaxus harringtonia - Japanese plum yew. On our first visit to the Hartman Dinosaur Garden I fell in love with the place and I've tried to recreate the effect with similar plants in my garden.

Even if they weren't growing at the Hartman I'd have wanted a 'Little Gem' magnolia. It's made flowers in the 3 years since we planted it, but didn't make seed cones until this summer - they sort of look like berries glued together so I'm counting it.

I found a few berries left on the liriope edging in the Secret Garden. The birds aren't giving them a chance to turn dark this year.

Can you see the St Augustine grass in the background at right? That might give you an idea of how small the leaves on this plant really are. It's called Dwarf Greek Myrtle, Myrtus communis 'Nana'. I first saw this plant growing in the garden of one of the Divas of the Dirt. Buffy's pair of myrtles were already medium size shrubs when I saw them around 2001 and the tiny neat leaves were attractive. After we moved to this house I added three 10-inch tall plants of these compact Greek myrtles in the back garden, thinking they might have impact at some future date.

When we met at Buffy's house for a recent Diva project I was stunned to see that her compact myrtles had reached 8-feet tall. They're planted to shield the view of her Secret Garden from the gate and do their job well. Mine are less than 18 inches high, but I'm keeping an eye on them!

Buffy had beautiful berries in her garden - produced by a shrub I've already killed once but will probably buy again. For a look at the luminous blue berries on Buffy's 'Spring Bouquet' viburnum see the October 12th post at the Divas of the Dirt Blog.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

2008 Austin Garden Conservancy Tour

Even though they don't know me, the owners of seven gardens in Austin let me into their gardens yesterday.

Today we still don't know each other, but there have been introductions and conversations and parts of their gardens are burned into my memory.
Thank you very much for letting me come to see your gardens!

The stress of planning her move to a new house didn't prevent Pam/Digging from also planning the route we'd use for the 2008 Austin Garden Conservancy Tour. As she drove I acted as her Dr Watson - right down to the bumbling. It was wonderful to catch up on news and talk gardens as we traveled around Austin, making it to all seven locations.

We discovered that we'd both zeroed in on Stone Palms as a must-see - and so did everyone else! Just a few minutes after opening the garden was humming with visitors. Before we reached the ticket table Pam met two people she knew and I'd reconnected with Mary, whose lovely pond and ingenious stock tank filter were among the images I used for the post and video of "The Pond Song". We took this as a sign the day would be a special one and entered garden #1.

This intensely personal garden was all I'd hoped for and more, from the entrance palms created from Edwards Plateau karst, (those cool holey rocks we all love) to the enchanting dining area surrounded by wisteria vines, its shady space brightened with shimmering green reflecting balls. The garden owners are a landscape designer who works with stone (he told us that the table is also one of his creations) and his wife, an artist who works in shells (the sideboard was her design).
Incredible containers graced every corner and a large umbrella filtered the light without the heaviness of a permanent roof.

We noticed many places to sit and talk. One thing I loved was the way these conversation areas let the sitters look outward while still feeling enclosed by the garden. This structure does double duty as a greenhouse in winter, protecting tender plants with the addition of transparent sides and if necessary, warmth from a fireplace that is tucked around the corner.

Not too far away was the second garden, Fatal Flowers, where I was charmed by seeing our beloved Oxblood lilies used in a raised bed with other colorful and tough plants.

Other bloggers will give you the big picture - I was caught by details - like the way the entrance was put together with a little roof running lengthwise over the top of the fence and a low bench right next to the gate. Another gate had a similar roof, flanked by a stacked stone wall with space inside for the roots of a Whale's Tongue Agave.

I forgot the right word for the kind of open meditation porch in the photo below and also don't know the name of the interesting large leaved plant with yellow daisy shaped flowers. Could it be Ligularia dentata? Other plants I found fascinating were a finely divided form of Nandina and a real yew - not the Podocarpus called "Japanese yew". The garden owner said that this Taxus chinensis will survive in Austin. Also exploring Fatal Flowers were Diana of Sharing Nature's Garden and her friend Maria - it was fun to see them!

I hope the charming owners of Fatal Flowers won't mind if I show the cleverly designed area behind the house. It is beautifully fitted out with potting surfaces and space for growing on potted plants, a compost area, a clothesline and built-in brackets for hanging plants, all neat and all accessible.

The next house, Modern: Inside and Out was just as described, "simple and serene". The large carport had a ping-pong table set up and a new-looking area for growing vegetables. These neat kitchen gardens with brick paths really appeal to me but I'd want that chainlink fence to disappear if it were my potager. At the modern garden we met up with fellow blogger and budding entomologist Vertie and her friend Sheryl (guessing on spelling). What fun to find out Sheryl and some friends formed their own version of the Divas of the Dirt after reading about us in the newspaper. Hanging out with Pam and Vertie meant another introduction - they both know Linda Lemusvirta, the producer for Central Texas Gardener who also writes her own fantastic gardenblog.
What a thrill to meet these women!

With so much lawn and few flowers this spare design seems more about landscaping than gardening, but when you stand near the house looking out at the angled areas, it seems like a fabulous place for a party - too bad I'm not on any 'A' lists!

If you've seen other posts about this tour you already know the garden bloggers were surprised to discover that there were a few locations where the visitors were allowed to tour the gardens but were not allowed to photograph what they saw.

The G. Hughes and Betsy Abell Garden was designed by Scott Ogden and when we arrived in the courtyard -

there was Scott himself, with a preview copy of his newest book, Plant Driven Design, written with his wife, Lauren Springer Ogden. Since this was one of the no-photos gardens, I snuck a tiny book cover from this most intriguing book off the Amazon pre-order site.

A wonderful wordsmith could tell you about gardens without using photos.
I can only say that the entire house and its grounds felt like falling into another place and time - Mexican-Spanish-California-Colonial? From the time we passed the ballustrades into the garden, I was sunk. We saw Agaves sprouting from the tile roof, areas that were sheltered under the main body of the house but were still outside, balconies and paths and Lake Austin river in the distance, palms and bamboo. It felt as if it had been there for generations, so it was a revelation to hear that house and garden were less than a dozen years old. I don't know why I liked the whole thing so much, but if it were mine, that basketball court would be an outdoor dance floor with musicians floating hot notes from the balcony above.

There are also no photographs from the Granger Garden, with large expanses of lawn and views of Lake Austin. The owner greeted guests and told us about some interesting plants including a very cool Mexican Olive, planted against a stone wall and a very cool grass...some kind of fancy zoyzia... that alternated with pavement on the sloping entrance to a secluded courtyard. (More people knew Pam at this garden, too.)

Yet another garden also has no photographs - the Ofman Garden, also on Lake Austin. This garden had roses in bloom and views of the river. The service area at the back of the house had been made into a plant-filled shady tunnel with a water feature that could be seen through a window from an area inside - something I found quite charming.

Even if you haven't seen the other bloggers' Conservancy Tour posts, the photo above could have clued you in on which garden Pam saved for Dessert! In addition to Pam's photo-essay about the garden of James David and Gary Peese at the 2006 Conservancy tour, visiting this garden was a highlight of Spring Fling in April, and the Flingers set loose a flurry of wonderful posts with great photos. So many bloggers took their own version of the scene in the photo above that MSS even wrote a post about it!

Yesterday's visit was my third stroll on the stones and paths of the David~Peese garden - high time for me to snap a picture of the formal lawn and share more glimpses of this extraordinary place. As you might guess from the shadows in my photo, it was late afternoon when Pam and I arrived. The owners greeted the visitors near the entrance table and even after all the hours of answering questions they were still gamely identifying plants and talking chlorophyll with enthusiasm.

Although I'd been here before, this visit was different. A faint scent of something like Tea Olive could be discerned in the entry garden,and for the first time my response to the garden was not just respect and awe and amazement, but affection - something that surprised me!

While the hardscape is astounding and imposing, the plants are approachable and irresistible - there's a blue Skyvine (Thunbergia grandiflora?) scrambling up other plants like scaffolding and there are unusual evergreens (maybe the one near the entrance is a Kashmir Cypress?) and the succulents alone are too numerous to identify - there are hundreds and hundreds of kinds of unusual plants.

We walked out on a new path to a part of the garden that's in progress, then turned and looked back toward the house. How can a wire box of rocks, a plain metal spout pouring water into a large basin, some sloping decomposed granite and assorted succulents combine to make such a pleasing scene? Is it the perfection involved in choosing each individual element?

I liked the way this small pool looked in that late afternoon light with the semi-circle of ripples, but wish I'd remembered to take a photo of the fig ivy 'Eyebrows' set over two semi-circular windows on the house...something I loved at first sight. The eyebrows are under strict control, but shortly before the tour ended at 5 PM we noticed that another plant was allowed to roam. Some type of gourd or squash vine climbed over structures and shrubs, up and into a tall evergreen, hanging one large fruit way over our heads like a green lantern waiting to be lit - time to go home!
But before we headed to the car, Pam ran into another friend. It was a delight to meet Roxane Smith, the Open Days regional rep and her husband - a volunteer we enjoyed chatting with at an earlier garden. Knowing other gardeners has expanded my world in so many ways!

Thank you for the wonderful day, Pam!

Austin Garden Bloggers who have already posted on the Conservancy Tour are Lancashire Jenny, Diana, and Julie/Human Flower project.
Edited Oct 7- Pam/Digging took a break from unpacking and posted the first entry in her Open Day Tour series: Stone Palms.