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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, March 25, 2009

Our Kitchen Garden

Here at Circus~Cercis we have a Kitchen Garden. It's exciting to see and read about people all over the country deciding to grow food for the first time by starting "Victory Gardens" - we wish all you Victory Gardeners the best of luck! Our relationship with Kitchen Gardens is longstanding, so for us that name sounds better. Growing vegetables wasn't something we decided to do - it's something we've always done.

Little gardeners, annieinaustinPhilo remembers long drives to the small town where his grandfather lived, the small frame house and the garden with rows of beets and onions .
I remember my grandmother's small Chicago garden with Swiss Chard and Rhubarb and parsley and remember 'helping' my aunt with her suburban garden.

Tomato Boy, annieinaustinWhere Philo and I grew up, even if there were no rows of vegetables, most yards had some kind of food plants - apple or pear trees, a grape vine for jelly, a clump of rhubarb or a raspberry thicket.

Almost everyone had a tomato patch. I well remember the gross-out chore of picking hornw
orms off tomato leaves and there's a permanent photographic record of Philo's early success with tomatoes.

s newlyweds in the late 1960's we planted flowers and a few vegetables near the door of ou
r aluminum graduate school hut and squeezed in a few tomatoes and flowers around a rented townhouse in the early 1970's. Once we bought a house on a quarter-acre of land, we could begin the first of 5 real kitchen gardens. In all five gardens we've dealt with clay soil, semi-shade, tree roots and ravenous animals. The first three houses were in the Western Suburbs of Chicago.

Seventies veg garden, annieinaustinGarden #1 (1973-1977) had several large wild cherry trees on the lot but there was a sunny place behind the garage to grow beans and tomatoes and squash and peppers.

Gardening with pear trees,annieinaustinGarden #2 (1977-1987) was on a lot with old pear and crabapple trees and wild grape vines. Philo fitted the main bed into the semi-sunny corner of the back fence, eventually adding raspberry trellises and garden grapes.

Sandbox kids and veggie garden,annieinaustinAnother patch in sun on the opposite fence let the kids in the sandbox watch the zucchinis grow and a trellis on the side of the garage let us enjoy the new Sugar Snap peas.

1991 veggie garden, annieinaustinAt Garden #3 (1987-1999) we had a reasonably large space at the back of a long narrow lot. Even though the lot was overhung with wild cherries, mulberries and Box elders, this garden really pumped out peppers and tomatoes! Philo had all the salsa he could wish for but I never had enough zucchini. The fence helped keep out rabbits and groundhogs but couldn't save the squash from the squirrels.

Texas wirehouse garden,annieinaustinThen we moved to Texas, and instead of owning arable land we lived in the deer-filled Austin hills. At Garden # 4 we did our best to grow a few peppers in pots on the deck and tomatoes inside this 4 and 1/2 foot tall, deer-resistant wire enclosure. The soaker hose failed in this situation and the deer nipped every leaf that dared to stray outside the wire. Philo's tall tomatoes,annieinaustin Philo started our current Kitchen Garden #5 in fall 2004, a few months after we moved to this house and had Swiss Chard & tomatoes by June 2005. As usual, the plot isn't in full sun, the soil is heavy clay and tree roots creep in from the other side of the fence, but after 5 years of stooping over to fit into the wire house, this feels like a real garden!Meyers lemon, annieinaustinInstead of either Kitchen Garden or Victory Garden, Yolanda Elizabet uses the term Potager, encompassing not only her decorative vegetable plantings, but grapevines, fruit trees, cold frames, a greenhouse & conservatory. That very cool word may be a little too grand for a 9 X 10 sort-of-raised bed of tomatoes, peppers and a few salad vegetables. We have no greenhouse or conservatory but we've grown wonderful lemons, we hope each year for loquats, pomegranates and figs, were astonished by a crop of edible pecans one memorable autumn and all year long use the herbs planted in troughs and tucked into flower beds.Herbs in hypertufa trough,annieinaustin Marjoram and thyme grow in the hypertufa trough above, along with a plant of Italian parsley shared by Rock Rose Jenny. Squirrel with pecan,annieinaustinNo matter how long you garden, there are new things to learn. We no longer incorporate pecan leaves from our two large trees into the soil, but once the juglone-free Arizona Ash leaves fell this winter we had enough to redo part of the garden using a modified version of Renee's lasagna method. Lasagna bed,annieinaustinWe used timbers to hold up the 'lasagna' in two areas of the garden, one 3' X 4' square and another 2' X 3', making layers of existing soil, decomposed granite, various composts and the dry leaves, then watered regularly and waited.Veg garden ready,annieinaustin The front edge got a sprinkling of radish and spinach seeds, some shallots and a line of red onions. About 10 days ago I dug the rest of the bed over and made cedar mulch paths. I hunted around to find the soaker hose and decided to give it another try. Tomato scaffold,annieinaustinLast week Philo revised and reinforced the Tomato Scaffolding from last summer and we set it into place. On Sunday we planted a few tomato and pepper plants, adding more soil, compost and granite as we planted. 'Juliet' already has a few flowers but I'm still trying to decide whether it's a good idea in this climate to cover the soaker hose with mulch - what do you think? Juliet tomato plant,annieinaustinEven if the drought breaks, the intense summers mean we can't get yields in Austin like the ones in Illinois, but we'll enjoy whatever we can get!old wooden box,annieinaustinIn the back of the garden I'm experimenting with an old wooden box discarded by my youngest son and his friends. For years the guys kept it behind the shed, hauling it out once in awhile to use as a backstop. After long exposure to Austin weather one end started to rot off and the box was moved to the trash area, waiting for Bulky Trash Day. But then I had the idea to talk Philo into fixing the bad end and drilling drainage holes in the bottom. I lined it with roll window screen, put it near the fence where nothing ever grows, filled it with potting soil and even though it was a little late in the season, planted seeds. To keep the squirrels and birds out of it I covered the soil with some old racks from the garage. seed box with racks,annieinaustin On a recent visit my son took a look at the vegetable garden, and I showed him the seeds sprouting in the repurposed ammo box, saying that it might need a decorative sign. Peas have a chance,annieinaustin My son knows me too well...he raised an eyebrow and asked, "Peas on Earth?"

Pretty close - what I'd been thinking was "Give Peas A Chance".


  1. Your roots in kitchen gardening go way back (or deep as the case may be). I admire you for always having a vegetable garden of some kind, wherever you found yourself, regardless of the conditions. You exemplify the resourcefulness of gardeners who just have to garden!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  2. Love the peace peas in the ammo box! You've got quite a set-up now.

  3. Annie: Love the old pictures and the smiling children. You have perfected your methods and have a son with a sense of humor!

  4. Annie, thanks for taking us down Memory Lane to your past gardens. The photos really set the mood. Your present garden must be a labor of love since you have to go to so much trouble to keep out the wildlife. Best of luck. I think your drip irrigation should help in the droughty times. Good luck.

  5. Really enjoyed seeing your old pictures! When I was a kid, if somebody asked "Do you have a garden?", they meant vegetables. I'm glad to see edible gardens becoming popular again and it seems to be a global trend. [Visualize whirled peas] ;-)

  6. I can feel the happy memories coming from all those gardens. Children grow up so fast, don't they?

  7. Delightful post Annie...the photographs make me smile seeing your rich family garden history....If the squirrel with nut in mouth isn't a poster child for garden mischief...I don't know what could be! gail

  8. This was a wonderful post. I so enjoyed the history of your gardening, perhaps because it resonated with my own. Re-using items, fighting off pests, trying to stretch the season, finding a spot of sun. We finally finished the deer fence at great expense, but the one thing I love in retirement is growing stuff and refuse to give in.

  9. Annie,
    The old photos are wonderful! I wish we had a place for a kitchen garden... if we made one it would have be very small.--Randy

  10. What a charming post, Annie! I love old photographs--and I must say, Philo had some admirable sideburns! LOL! Gotta love the

    Love the repurposed ammo box, and can't help but think of the irony of a sign that says, "Give Peas a Chance". Perfect!

  11. LOL, Peas on Earth indeed. Well there are worse things in life and it ties in very nicely with your preference for the name kitchen garden IMO. ;-)

    Loved to read about all the kitchen gardens you've had so far. I also prefer kitchen garden to victory garden as I associate the latter with WW2, not the most happy of associations. I am still on my first kitchen garden and am very impressed by your five!

    My own kitchen garden is called potager simply because it's a much shorter name than ornamental kitchen garden, which is what mine is as I grow flowers there too and I try to make it all look as pretty as possible.

    But it's good news that so many people are, for the first time, trying their hand at growing their own food this year, very good news indeed. It made my day when I read it. :-D

  12. Annie, this is such a wonderful post--you should try to sell it to a newspaper or magazine. There's so much here, I don't even know where to begin.

    First, terms: I much prefer your "kitchen garden". Victory garden is just too trendy. It has a connotation that people are gardening only because of hard times and as soon as they feel flush again, they'll abandon the fad.

    Second history: I love that you showed all your kitchen gardens past and how they are woven into the fabric of your living. This is gardening for life. I'm glad that a lot of people have a new-found interest in gardening but thrift and gardening and recycling and conservation have always been part of my life, as it was part of my parents' lives--and sometimes I wonder where everyone else has been all these years. I'm glad to hear from another long term gardener.

    Third: innovation and creativity. The tomato structure is impressive. The peas drawer...that could have been a post by itself. That's really clever.

    Fourth: puns. I'm a sucker for puns. Great way to end the post!

  13. Hmm, I guess I didn't fill out the comment form correctly last time.

    I love this retrospective. And how did I miss the tomato tower?

    Hope your garden is recovering today.

  14. This is a marvelous post.

    And while I'm not sure the old notion of "Victory Gardening" is "trendy" (teehee) by strictest definition (the phrase dates back to 1600s), for those of us raised by farmers and gardeners, the simple phrase "kitchen garden" is both timeless and appealing.

    To see this surge in home gardening become a permanent fixture of American life (again), we need more and more of these stories told, region by region, gardener by gardener.

    Thank you, Annie! This was a treat.

  15. Good morning everyone!

    Thank you,Carol - your wonderful raised beds in sun may be our ideal, but we have to try no matter what, don't we?

    It's late to plant peas, but they're snap peas, Pam/Digging - even a handful can make a salad pop.

    Thank you, Layanee. It took time to poke through albums and scan them - we frequently posed children in front of flowers or shrubs but the veggies appear in very few photos.

    Hello Lisa at Greenbow -had to add the tag "Nostalgia" to this one. We've had to share with wildlife at every location...at least we have no deer in the backyard at this house.

    Love that old pun, Entangled! It used to be people older than Philo & me who equated garden with vegetable - bet now they will all be younger than we are.

    Oh, Kathy - they do, they do. The sandbox girl still likes to dig ;-]

    Thanks, Gail - just wish there were more photos from past kitchen gardens...many photos of flower beds, Apple Picking, Vacations, cutting Christmas trees from farms, family parties in yard but no tomatoes! All 5 kitchen gardens had mischievous squirrels, but only this one posed.

    You really do relate, Tabor! So far this house has been deer-free. Enjoy your retirement!

    This morning's NYTimes has an interview with Jackson, Alabama's own Felder Rushing, Jamie & Randy, telling people to grow lettuce in bowls set onto the back step. That's pretty small ;-]

    Thank you, Morning Glories in Round Rock - still do love some of that 70's stuff - even the TV.

    Welcome dear Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen! Your potager is an inspiration to gardeners all over the world. We have fruit trees and herbs mixed into the borders...maybe will plant a row of marigolds in with the tomatoes and make our kitchen garden a little more ornamental.

    I'm so glad you liked it, MSS of Zanthan Gardens - you know only too much about trying to make a kitchen garden in Austin.
    For those of us whose parents were adults during WW2, the term "Victory Garden" still implies a temporary reaction to a crisis rather than a way of living. With luck, some people will start out by following a fad, then realize growing food has become essential to their lives!
    Even if we sometimes grow it for squirrels and raccoons.

    Hello Vertie - sorry your rain barrels weren't installed in time!
    The scaffolding is broad rather than tall - Dromgoole emphasizes trying to get fast growth from tomatoes so the leaves will shade the fruit. This was an experiment to maximize shade on roots.
    Its shape also lets me see, reach and dispatch the leaf-footed stink bugs. It worked pretty well last year but was a little unstable, so Philo made adjustments.
    The whole yard is a mess after yesterday's hail storm and there may be other damage. We put up a YouTube video of the storm and some of the huge hailstones hitting the garden. Couple of the Divas lost windshields. Hope no one else got hail!

    Hello Pam Price! Tried to catch you on GMA but missed your segment on Victory Gardens, saw most of Joe's. Thanks for visiting and commenting.
    I'm an older boomer who heard tales of the Great Depression and World War 2 my entire life. There's a good chance the name Victory Garden will carry less baggage for younger gardeners - it's so much fun to see the enthusiasm!

    Thanks for the comments - guess the next post will be a survey of hail damage. Phooey!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  16. "Potager" is a great word for your edible garden. It looks like a great set up. I hope your garden recovers from the hail. That's just about the worst.

  17. As I read this post and looked at the old photos I was imagining how much time it took to pore through the photo albums for just the right pictures, and then scan them. I've been there, done that :) It's a lovely trip down memory lane, isn't it Annie? Loved seeing the old pics of the kids, and Philo too...looking handsome, I might add :)
    We've always had vegetable gardens too. Our college days garden was one of the best because Ross worked in the Ag buildings with a research project and brought home truck loads of rotted manure. Coupled with plenty of sunshine and rain, those 2 summers produced a fantastic array of veggies. We fed the entire neighborhood!...or so it seemed :)
    There's so much to say about this post, but this is supposed to be just a short comment!
    Wonderful reading! Thanks for sharing, Annie.
    Love your innovative ammo veggie box.
    Like mother, like son :)
    Peas man!

  18. Annie, I enjoyed this post so much! From the nostalgic photos from your past to the creative recycling for more space for vegetable gardening, it's easy to see how deep your roots in gardening are. You can also tell the songwriting talents in your family--I think both names for the new/old box are very clever:)

  19. I really enjoyed reading the history of your gardening. I particularly like your idea for deer proof enclosures. We are also thinking of some ideas for enclosure but it is to keep out the leaf footed bugs. They can do as much damage as the deer. The tomato scaffold is also wonderful.

  20. Annie, to segue to another subject (though your victory garden subject is great); did you get hit from last night's hail storm? We got a bit of rain down south, but no hail here. Hope all is well?

  21. That's quite the good history of vegetable gardens in your family. Made me think of the gardens / gardening passed down in my family.

  22. By jove, spring is in the air. Time to start my tomato seeds. I do hope that early blight doesn't claim them again.


  23. haha, "Peas on Earth" vs "Give Peas a Chance". I like the Chance one better, personally.

    i know what you mean about gardening being a compulsion. I know in my blog I always say "we decided" but there really was never any deciding. Both Shawn's mom and my mom grew up on farms--Shawn's mom in Amish country Pennsylvania, and my mom in South Dakota. So of course we both grew up with gardens. And when we moved here it was more like "Well, it's not a yard without a garden. duh." So in went the garden...and then the other garden, because the first didnt' do so well. eventually we'll get it.

  24. Surely a wonderful post on history and present projects. A little too early for tomatoes around here, I have a post up that basically is one big braggadocio about my daffodil collection. I like your revised ammo box.

  25. I certainly enjoyed this tour of your garden history...and I love the phrase Kitchen Garden! I believe I will 'borrow' it if you don't mind!

  26. Annie, I loved the story of your 'roots' in kitchen gardening and the wonderful pictures of what are obviously wonderful memories. You and Carol are making me want to do more veggie gardening!

  27. I love vegetable gardens. I always feel like my life is a bit 'in control' (yes, I know - it's an illusion) when I have vegetables growing. We get so hot in the summer and have such problems with blights, etc - but I've learned what loves the heat (eggplants!)...I missed some early stuff this year (I love your peas!) but yes - a garden is something I've always done - just like my parents always did (and they have always been canning freaks - they can the best spaghetti sauce EVER - my Dad is still doing it, with help from a neighbor).

  28. Hi Annie,
    What a fantastic post on gardens past and present! Just goes to show you what we'll go through to make things grow despite the limitations, eh? When I first moved here and lived alone with my dogs, I had a small garden that had once been the place where a previous resident had burned trash (when that was still legal), surrounded by cinder blocks. Amazing how many things I got to grow there! And that was back in the days when I poo-pooed ornamentals! Oh, how things have changed since then! :-)

  29. This post was such a fine read. I loved reading and seeing the evolutions of your kitchen gardens in Chicago to those of Austin. I love the tomato scaffolding and the ammo box filled with peas. And then I cracked up reading your "Give peas a chance". Sorry to see the hail damage! Envying totally that lemon.

  30. This was so nice and I loved seeing your love of gardening shared with all the homes you've had and all your family. I hope I can do the same!

  31. As Annie's sister I can say that we are so proud of her for all of her hard work and fondly remember any visit to her home where we would go on "Yard Inspection", especially with our parents, because we would take visitors to our family home on those inspections too and always had so many fun memories of racing ahead
    to the newest yard addition with our relatives while Dad and Annie (the real gardeners) slowly took their time going over every new little sprout along the way.
    Annie is SO talented and Missed .


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