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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, January 07, 2009

A Five-Gallon Plant in a Three-Hour Hole

Yaupon berries, AnnieinaustinThe tall native Yaupon Holly at the garage side of the house gives food and shelter to the birds and delights the eye with its white bark, evergreen leaves and red berries. But it's not visible from our windows - we need another yaupon, planted where we can see it. In mid-December we bought a small, berried Ilex vomitoria at the Natural Gardener and for a couple of weeks moved the container around the yard, looking at it from the breakfast room window, from the bench near the gate and from the table on the patio. We settled on this spot with morning sun and afternoon shade. If we live long enough, the slow-growing yaupon may soften our view of the neighboring house.
Where plant yaupon, Annieinaustin
Wouldn't planting a tree on New Year's Day be a good way to start 2009? It should be a snap for two people to plant one 5-gallon container. We know how to plant native trees in Austin: dig the hole no deeper than the depth of the rootball but at least 2 or 3 times as wide. But knowing and doing are not the same thing when we've been here only 4 and 1/2 years while the house and garden have existed for 3 decades.
Two Cobrahead tools removed grass easily and the digging fork and spade made a small dent - time to bring out the mattock.Mattock at work, AnnieinaustinThe expected fist-sized rocks appear but what the heck is under the grass? With effort we pry out something in 3-inch thick, broad, flat chunks. This seems to be a rather broad and solid layer of ....what? Not exactly rock....it's hard but the edges crumble when smashed with a tool.... could it be compressed sand?
Philo examines grooves molded into this not-quite-sandstone substance
He thinks the grooves were made by the plastic liner of an above-ground pool or pond. Perhaps the weight of the water compressed a thick layer of sand into this rock-like layer. The chunks of compressed sand are hauled off to the no-man's land between vegetable garden and fence.
Sailing is still not smooth - mattock, breaker bar and sledge hammer are needed to crack up larger subsurface rocks so at last they can be taken out in pieces. We need all our tools. That's Philo's older Cobrahead with the yellow handle; my prize from Spring Fling is light blue. The breaker bar is heavy black iron. Philo made the bench.
Tools on wooden bench,AnnieinaustinThe rock chunks are added to the pile under the pecan on the south end of the yard.
Three hours after beginning this project the yaupon is watered in. Grow little tree!
After all these photos of rocks and dirt you deserve something pretty. The pink climbing rose has one bloom - out of focus because I had to hold the camera way over my head.
Pink rose in January, Annieinaustin

One camellia flower shows behind the Chinese Witch Hazel/RazzleDazzle/Loropetalum chinense, which is unexpectedly in bloom now.Loropetalum in January, AnnieinaustinOne paperwhite has opened in translucent beauty. Lori the Gardener of Good & Evil has been tweeting her attempts to find a good-smelling paperwhite. This bulb has been in the garden a few years but it was originally potted for indoor forcing with no species listed on the gift package. Paperwhite narcissus in January,Annieinaustin When it bloomed on the windowsill its beauty was equalled by its stinkyness - I'm glad paperwhites can grow outside in Austin!


  1. It seems that your tree planting evolved into an archeological enterprise. What a lot of work, but as you said, in a few years you will be greatly rewarded.

  2. Gracious Annie! I don't know if I would have kept digging or not. Although, we have found spots just about that hard in our yard.

  3. What a job Gize. Isn't it amazing that you have to be a detective as well as a gardener when working in the garden. Your holly looks very nice where you planted it. It looks happy in the last photo.

    That rose is a beauty. It is so nice seeing some color in a garden.
    Now you can sit on Philo's bench, relax and watch your tree grow.

  4. Annie,

    Wow...it looks like a driveway or patio was once there? I hope you rewarded yourselves after that! Thanks for the rose and loropetalum...we gardeners with too much brown loved it! Is there possibly a good smelling paperwhite? I want them if you find any;) gail

  5. That seems to have been quite a job! All the best for 2009.

  6. I'm hoping that when my 3 bulbs of Avalanche open, they'll smell better than Ziva. The thing I keep hearing, though, is that Ziva is the hands-down most reliable paperwhite for the Austin area. But I shall persevere! Barton Springs Nursery had a few other varieties that I think I'll try next fall, and then report back on the results.

    Also, I think I got the same yaupon holly at The Natural Gardener as you guys did-- Pride of Houston, right? I had no idea that they would grow so slowly, though. I guess I'll see what kind of magic a few yearly applications of SuperThrive can work. ;)

  7. Hi Annie, what an ordeal! I was wondering what you were going to show us as you were having so much trouble with that hole. Paving, buried treasure? Not so dramatic, but the yaupon looks quite happy and ready to please you and the wildlife for years to come. :-)

  8. 3 hours? I know it will be worth it! :)

  9. You and Philo really had your work cut out for you, it seems. What a chore ... I'm impressed with your perseverance and stamina! I know it will all be worth it when the yaupon settles in and starts growing.

    Happy New Year!

  10. Your loropetalum looks wonderful...mine is several years old and looks pretty much the same as it did when planted...short and small. I like the idea of adding to privacy and I hope your Ilex does well!

  11. Hi Annie,

    My paperwhites may have been ahead of yours, but your loropetalum is ahead of mine. I think I'll water it tomorrow.

    Y'all did a great job with the yaupon, and I really enjoy seeing other gardeners' tools. I use those same little sprinklers.

  12. I felt your pain removing those rocks. Isn't it amazing how long it can take to dig a hole and how much stuff comes out of that hole. If the digging isn't enough getting rid of the stuff is even worse. We have those very same tools. ---Oh, but what a lovely rose. You are so lucky to have something so wonderful blooming in January.

  13. and I thought it was hard to garden in heavy clay - you beat that! For all your effort, may you receive a yaupon laden with berries next winter! Mary Beth

  14. Hi Annie.
    So happy you made it past the gound "treasures" and got your yaupon in the ground. How tall will this one get?
    Did you choose this particular variety for a reason?

  15. I'm glad that we are not the only ones with a no-man's-land corner in the yard where all the strange "found" things end up. Hooray for both of you that the shrub got planted, and you could still find beauty after all the trouble.

  16. I totally sympathize. At least a year before it even occurred to me to be a garden blogger, I removed several garbage cans full of garbage from my garden. Or rather, my pre-garden. It was an appalling range of materials, some of it clearly very old, and lots of concrete blocks just like yours.

    The yaupon is lovely. Anything with the species name "vomitoria" has got to be good.

  17. Hi Annie!

    I sure hope that after all that work you'll feel all the more satisfied when that yaupon grows up a bit. It looks like you're taking good care of it!

  18. Annie, it's amazing the building materials that get buried in yards when they are originally built by builders who don't care. It sounds like old concrete to me? And why do you have to plant natives with an extra wide hole but no deeper than the rootball? I didn't know that! Robin

  19. Gardening is always full of surprises, isn't it? And not all of them good ones. Well, digging that hole was quite a job but it's done now so the little tree can grow to its heart's content.

    How pretty your Chinese Witch Hazel is. Love that colour and leaves!

    A Blissful 2009 to you and yours Annie!

  20. Isn't it amazing that Austin is so green with lovely trees and other plants when they have to force their roots in between so many rocks? We dug a three-hour hole very like yours, only deeper, for a basketball goal pole recently. Ah joy.

    Your little yaupon looks quite cheerful in its new home. May it grow well and berry prolifically!

  21. I really am missing the garden since reading about digging the hole for your tree had me totally spellbound. I feel much better now that I've lived vicariously through your tree planting (even if it was back-breaking work). I think you have a perfect location for the tree ... and I hope it grows quickly! The paperwhites bloom and buds are beautiful growing outdoors. (I'm probably one of the only people who loves their scent!)

    The rose and the camellia are beautiful!!

  22. I hope you and Philo gave yourselves a treat after all that work! The holly looks great where you planted it and will provide you with enjoyment for many years.

  23. Hi Tabor - at least we didn't run into buried old glass - had that happen in Illinois.

    Hi Randy & Jamie - we've hit some rock in other parts, too, but it was unexpected here.

    There were 3 (or possibly 4) owners before us, Lisa from Greenbow and I am curious about what they did! Keeping my fingers crossed on the holly. Philo made the bench portable but I like it near the gate where there's shade in early afternoon.

    I think Philo's guess of compressed sand from a pool is more likely, Gail - the grass grows well there in spite of this layer.

    Thank you Nicole - hope your 2009 is great!

    Let us know how the 'Avalanche' turn out, Lori - I find 'Grande Primo' very dependable and like them outside, but not inside!
    Yep- Pride of Houston. I've heard that in east Texas yaupons are almost invasive and seed like mad. Maybe you can try to fool your holly into thinking it's in Houston?

    It wasn't the work, Frances - you should have seen what we did at the last house! But we never expected this particular spot to be a pain. I'm hoping for closeup bird views.

    The funny part, Phillip is that we intended to dig the hole the same depth as the rootball, but once the rocks and chunks came out the hole was too deep.

    Hi Cindy from Katy - it was a lovely day and we don't watch football - at least this kept us outside ;-]

    The loropetalum was pretty small when planted in May 2005, Leslie, and it just sat there for a couple of years. It's barely bloomed until this week. Who knows why?

    Hello Iris - I did soak that loropetalum a few weeks ago when we had the wind advisories and red flag warning...think that made it bloom?

    I dug several buckets-full of the fist-sized brown rocks when planting the Belinda's Dream in front, Lancashire Jenny - they're all going into a fake river running along the south end of our lot. I don't know the name of this rose but it's pretty and smells good.

    So far we haven't hit any solid ledges, MaryBeth - that happened in our old neighborhood where nurseries send out guys with jackhammers to plant trees. Happy New Year!

    I hope this yaupon will eventually be a small tree like the one in the side yard, EastSide Patch - about 12- 15 feet. Pride of Houston is just a selection of the native tree - should get around 15-feet.

    Our hope is that water and weather and some smacks with the shovel will help that stuff fall apart, Walk2Write, but at least there's a place to throw it that's out of the way! Happy New Year!

    Hello ChuckB - these chunks don't seem to be concrete...hit them hard enough and sandy edges come off. I think the area we live in was just scrubby grazing land until the mid-seventies, so we haven't found anything very old - mostly broken plastic kiddy toys!

    Some sites say when Native Americans used this holly in ceremonies the large quantities combined with the high caffeine content in the leaves made participants barf, and this reaction made the European settlers assume it was poisonous. Could be true.

    Hi there, Anneliese - hope the new year is treating you well - and that lots of people are buying Cobraheads!

    If you see it in person, Robin at Get Grounded, you could tell it's not concrete - but it's hard to show that in a photo.
    I've heard this method of tree planting recommended for years for Austin soils - think it was from John Dromgoole, arborist Don Gardner and TreeFolks.

    Do you remember the stories about Sissinghurst, Yolanda Elizabet? The old shoes and bedsprings? Guess you have to dig in a place where people have lived for a long time to get that!
    It's easy to see why 'Razzle Dazzle' is a nickname for the Loropetalum - raspberry is the right word. Happy 2009 to you, too.

    I hope your kids appreciate that basketball goal, Pam/Digging - sounds like a big job. I think planting small-size trees and shrubs lets them do part of the work!

    Hello Kate from the Frozen North! It was a surprise to see so many comments - guess many of you are feeling cooped up and needing the feel of earth.
    Maybe you just have a better variety of paperwhite in Saskachewan?

    Does leftover lasagna count as a treat, Prairie Rose? Think we found a few cookies from Christmas, too.

    Thanks for all the comments -


  24. That's some serious digging... you almost need to be a geologist!

  25. I'm glad you're documenting what it's really like to garden in Austin. I think one of the reasons I like to grow plants from seeds is that I don't have to dig a very big hole to put them in the ground. Even so, just clearing a bed down six to eight inches can take all day. Sometimes I'm tempted to rent a tiller (I tried that once) but I know it's fairly useless against the rocks and tree roots.

    I've never understood how people are able to dig up plants and move them around. Maybe it's also because so many of the plants that can survive in Austin have long taproots.

    For big plants I dig as far as I can (usually no more than a foot) and the make a raised bed around it (to add about another foot).

  26. Annie - I'm with MSS -- I recently planted bulbs and couldn't get down even 6 inches -- so I supplemented with much needed healthy soil and compost on top of the hole since what I dug out was clay. Your rose is just beautiful, as is your Yaupon. Enjoy!

  27. Annie, I've been defeated many times by those "3 hour holes." In my case, it's rock-hard clay. You are one tenacious gardener!

  28. It would be good to know more about geology, Carol, since some strange rocks show up! The odds are they came in as fill during construction so knowing their ID might just be confusing.

    In Illinois I kept my plants on the hop, MSS of Zanthan, digging them up and swapping them around until I had the locations just right. That kind of tweaking is just a memory!
    For something like the vegetable garden we've raised the bed and also made a mound bed in front where the Arizona Ash came down but couldn't do it here, where additional soil could smother the roots of adjacent trees like the pecan.

    hear you on that, Diana! We also had to mix in compost and decomposed granite to what was left!

    There may have been easier places to dig, but I wanted that yaupon in that exact spot, LostRoses - which may be more bullheaded than tenacious!

    Thanks for the comments!


  29. I never have the strength or tenacity to dig anything more than a 1 gallon hole! Your Yaupon looks very happy in it's new home...hope it enriches that part of your garden. Loved the Witch Hazel too. Does it's blossoms have a fragrance? It is amazing to me that you have a rose blooming--I guess we are in a frost line in Round Rock--almost everything is dormant.

  30. Ha! So they have rocks in Austin too? Whenever we dig anything around here there are always impressive piles of rock coming out of the excavation. When we put in our vineyard we had so much rock coming out of the trenches that we are still trying to figure out what to do with it. Hence, the beginning of the Indian Mound out in the savannah. Maybe I'll post about that some day. Sounds like the people who had the sand under their swimming pool added some mortar to it to make it more stable.

    After all htat prep work, I'm sure your new tree will grow beautifully.

  31. Annie, Hubby the geologist says if there is a rock you can't positively identify just call it chert. Kind of like what I do when I see a flower that resembles a daisy, even though I know it's not. If it looks like it might be in the same family, it qualifies.

  32. Yeow! And I thought I had it bad in clay and sandstone ridden central Oklahoma. I got nothin' on you. I was surprised to the Chinese Witch hazel blooming. Mine won't until March or so. I have a regular Witch Hazel sitting in a pot waiting to be planted. I've moved it all over the place.~~Dee

  33. hi, i found you through blogger on twitter. the flowers are just beautiful! have a great week!

  34. I don't have a garden right now but love to have one one day..and get my hands dirty

  35. A great blog!

    The digging reminded me of when my wife and I lived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada.

    Being near the coast, the ground was heavily sown with clunky, big rocks. Everytime I thrust the spade into the ground I would hear that awful grinding sound as its tip fetched up on another stone.

    Keep up the good work.

    I invite you to visit my site at garyross.ca.

    Have a healthy, prosperous and rock-free 2009.


  36. The end results look worth it to me but then my back is not broken! Yowzer that is quite the soil you have there! I love the species name of that holly...makes me laugh and think of younger years. Happy New Year Annie/Kathy. I can't wait to see your holly grow.

  37. Annie, congratulations on being chosen by Blogger as a Blog of Note! You are going to be inundated with visitors over the next few days.

    A well deserved honor!


  38. Just loved your gardens! I did! Hugs!

  39. I've never had a green thumb, but I've always enjoyed gardening, obviously not as much as you, haha! ;) The flowers are lovely!
    Oh, I like the way you say you are a singer-songwriter-garden blogger. It rhymes! :p

  40. Hi Annie!
    That's a really interesting looking holly, and I've never seen that variety before. We just have the garden variety Ilex japonica "Blue Prince/Princess," which are some of our few evergreen plants that can tolerate the ton of snow now burying them.

    That's quite the tale of an arduous planting! Just goes to show that we think it's just a bunch of dirt down there, but we're often sooo wrong! I remember when we first started digging our beds way back when and it was amazing the stuff that came out of the ground ... old crockery, glass, bricks, rocks, glass marbles you name it! My favorite find was turning up a 1933 Mercury silver dime in the front bed ... who knows when that was lost and how long it spent in the ground! Much better than rocks and glass shards!

  41. Congratulations on being a blogger of note!!!!

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  43. thats cool! :D
    i love your pictures

  44. And I thought we only grew rocks that size in Arkansas! One of the joys of gardening I've discovered since moving here. Also just discovered your blog. Lovely. I'll be reading regularly - mostly to see if you ever do find the pleasant-smelling paperwhite because I'll be in line to get that one!

  45. Annie,

    May all your efforts be rewarded! The struggle with that hole makes me so glad that I don't have rocks here in the gardens. I lived that life at a previous house, so I feel for anyone trying to dig around rocks.

    Your gardens/blog is wonderful. I'm a garden blogger too (on Blotanical with so many wonderful folks).


  46. Just lovely, Annie! But mostly I'm just amazed that there are people in the world who can garden in January! It was a nice warm trip for my frozen mind so ... thank you!

  47. (P.S. I am roughly 1,000 miles north of Kate! Gleep! [Hi fellowette Canadian Kate!])

  48. Hi Morning Glories in Round Rock - Loropetalum has the nickname witch hazel, but doesn't have the fragrance of the real ones. The big rose is on the SE wall of the house under an overhang - it's a microclimate! Banana plant, zinnias, cannas are all frozen.

    Something like 5 different soil/geology areas meet in Austin, Healing Magic Hands, so some people use the huge slabs of rock and boulders dug up during construction for their gardens. We haven't hit anything like that here! Your mortar in sand idea makes more sense than any other theory. We did that for patio making in IL but never thought about it for a pool base. Thanks!

    HA! That sounds like a useful idea, Walk2Write. Philo says he flunked geology because he took everything for granite. What a pair.

    This Loropetalum has been a slacker until now, Red Dirt Dee, but other Austin bloggers showed it for GBBD so maybe this is the normal time?

    Hello Ms DragonFly - thanks for stopping and commenting . Twitter is fun!

    Thank you Anonymous.

    I hope you get your wish to have a garden some day, Henzy...thank you for visiting!

    Welcome, Gary from Ottowa, Canada - your historical book sounds interesting.

    We were so spoiled with the deep prairie soil in suburban Chicago, Layanee - deep and fertile...but every rock cost money! Happy New Year to you, Layanee!

    I couldn't figure out what was going on, Josie! I'd just seen your post on being Blog of Note right before the visiting started. The spam got out of hand so had to put the letter recognition on, darn it.

    Thank you for visiting, Wagner from Sao Paolo, Brazil - I appreciate your comment!

    Hello Reyjr from Manila - thanks for visiting - love your blog name and profile!

    The yaupons are native, IVG but only hardy to about zone 7 or so. My luck with holly in the north was all bad, but we grow the yaupon, Chinese holly and Burford easily in Austin. Marbles and glass showed up in IL but this was scrub land - not much history!

    Thank you Tabor - it took me awhile to catch on! How does this happen?

    Thanks for stopping and commenting, The Villager from Yorkshire - I browsed a bit through your blog and must go back. And am jealous about your seeing Leonard Cohen in Manchester!

    Hello FAT GIRL - glad you enjoyed the photos - good luck with your goals!

    Hi Melodieann from Arkansas - thanks for stopping by. From posts and comments on other blogs, a non-stinky paperwhite would have a built-in market!

    Hello Cameron from Defining Your Home - thanks for visiting and commenting. Now I see we're both on Twitter - cool!

    If Kate has -40F what in the world is it like 1000 miles north of her, Colleen? Your photos are wonderful- thanks for visiting from The Pancake Chronicles!

    Thank you for all the comments!


  49. I guess you and Philo got your exercise with that job. Talk about an excavation!
    The little tree will reward you, I'm sure, by enhancing your backyard view. It's pretty already. I hope it surprises you by growing more rapidly than you expect.
    How lovely to have a rose in bloom!

  50. Hi Kerry - if I weren't so stubborn another spot might have been easier. The yaupon looks okay so far, but it's hard to tell with evergreens. Thanks for coming!


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