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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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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tomorrow is Another (Garden) Day

Annieinaustin, Ash w sunbeamYes, the weather is hot and it's very dry. Yes, we could be heading to the kind of historic drought that gripped Central Texas in the 1950's. At my house the container plants get water and so do the borders. I water the tomato patch and the young trees and non-established shrubs but not the lawn. The grass looks okay where it grows next to the borders, the lawn is hanging on unwatered in the shade, and it is dying in the parkway and in the sunny parts of the front yard.

But I don't want to talk about any of that! Today I want to be Scarlet O'Hara, ignoring reality to concentrate on what's still good as we mark a "late-1970's ranch-style home" anniversary...it was five years ago that Philo & I bought this house, got the keys and began the move here, bringing a pile of plants along.Annieinaustin, containers old deckWe'd spent the previous 5 years living in another part of Austin, in a tall house on a canyon with deer in the front yard, a view, and nearly 100 pots of plants hiding from the deer on the deck. Losing the view was not fun and it would be very different to live with a flat, fenced back yard. That almost-blank slate was pretty exciting, even though the backyard was smaller than the front yard and shaped like a trapezoid. Annieinaustin, yard in 2004 flyerIn the photo above you see the original long view across the back of the oddly-shaped back yard. Two pecans grew at the far end and most of the yard was grass. The concrete patio was a rectangle large enough to hold the table & grill.
Annieinaustin, old shed 2004When you entered at the gate a few medium-sized pink crepe myrtles grew along the left fence and a metal shed held tools and the mower. Nothing terrible, just normal and kind of boring. But what we wanted was something interesting. We wanted to walk out the back door and feel as if we were going Somewhere.

Five years in are we closer to that goal? When we open the gate the white Acoma crepe myrtles have filled in along the fence and reached up to soften the magenta explosion from the next yard:

Annieinaustin, acoma crepe myrtlesLook down the long axis today and it's obvious that the pecan trees have grown, that the grass has been turned into mixed borders and that the patio has expanded. Annieinaustin,2009, july back yardOur original view from the breakfast room window was the inside of the old shed - now we look out to watch the fountain add sound and motion to the life-giving water flowing for birds & beasts.Annieinaustin, july fountainWhether you come in the gate or come out from inside the house there's always something to do, something to see, somewhere to go - perhaps to check out a magnolia with edges browning almost as soon as it unfurled, its decrepit beauty still appreciated by a bee.
Annieinaustin, Little Gem magnolia flowerMaybe I could take a photo of an open flower on the Bauhinia/Orchid tree from my friend Ellen so the image can be used to help identify the species.
Annieinaustin, Bauhinia flowerI can take back my earlier complaints about partial shade delaying the formation of blue blooms on the Duranta and instead rejoice that the shade gives the plant some relief from the intense sun.
Annieinaustin, Duranta blooming
Taking out the trash can be an adventure since it brings me near enough to admire the yellow Plumeria/Frangipani against the blue sky, even while hoping for dark clouds! Annieinaustin, plumeria and sky
I can bend down to pull a few weeds and see the Crocosmia flames and Yarrow sparks at the base of the white Acoma crepe myrtleAnnieinaustin, crocosmia and yarrow
Against the back fence a few tomatoes haven't given up - not the sturdy grape tomato 'Juliet', which sets fruit in heat and not the old favorite 'Early Girl'. A couple of 'Carmello's have set and might grow to maturity while the single plant of 'Costoluto Genovese' produces one small fruit every day. Annieinaustin, tomato tentThat's not shade cloth from a garden store - it's an old cotton curtain bought for a slider door, then used on an interior doorway, now draped over the birdnetting, held up by Philo's homemade wooden tomato scaffold.

Annieinaustin, developing squashAt the back of the small plot the volunteer Pattypan makes tiny perfect squashes.
Annieinaustin, inside tomato tentAnd in the shade under the curtain the tomatoes do their best. As you saw in the last post, I bring them in the second they show any color and put them on the counter, ripening just fine because the kitchen is always at least 80°F. Annieinaustin, tomatoes on counterDeveloping inside is a good idea right now. I've finally caught up with the 2009 events at the Divas of the Dirt blog and am gradually reworking the archives from 2001 to 2008, using the text from the original website with added photos. A new song is in the works, too, but until then, here's the Pond Song I wrote last summer - the 18th and 19th of July are the dates for this year's Austin Pond Society Tour.


  1. Hrmn.

    After I saw the video by MSS on YouTube I wondered why anyone would want to garden in Austin, TX.

    Taking your garden tour and seeing what you have growing that I can't grow in Chicago makes me understand why you all go through the trouble.

    Sort of like: "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."


  2. The Plumeria is like having a little piece of Hawaii in your backyard. I love it.

    I had lawn not that long ago. My constant walking on it wore a path near the beds, the path got muddy when it rained...the lawn had to go. You must walk on your lawn to/from and around the beds too, yet your lawn looks so nice..! How does that work?

  3. Hi Annie,

    Enjoyed your post very much. How much your garden has improved in such a short period of time. Very impressive and it all looks great now, despite the weather.

    Here we finally had rain after weeks and weeks of hot sun and not a raindrop in sight. The hot weather made me think a lot about my gardening friends in Austin who have to cope with this sort of thing every year.

    And then, to cap it all off, you treat us to one of your fab songs, thanks my dear, I really enjoyed that. Made me all nostalgic (sniff) for the pond in my old garden. But, if things go according to plan, there will be a pond in the Bliss garden soon(ish).

  4. You have done so much to be proud of in your yard. I hope to keep the patience so that my yard may look as nice someday. Is your plumaria in the ground or do you have to bring it in? I thought Austin got too cold in the winter.

  5. Hi Annie, you have lemonade from the lemons in the hot climate and flat land in Austin! The view is definitely of a Somewhere, wherever one looks. That magnolia is anything but decrepit. All of our white flowers or most, brown on the edges from the beginning, no pristine photos here either. The tomatoes under the shade curtain look fantastic. We pick ours the second there is color too. No loss in taste at all, and no loss to critters either. Glad to hear you are working on a new song, can't wait to hear it.

  6. Annie, it is interesting to see the before and after of your garden. Happy 5th Anniversary. It appears that you have created a beautiful space in your trapezoid.

    I enjoyed your pond song too. I would like to be a little girl again visiting the water. Have fun and show us lots of photos of this years tour please.

  7. Annie, I remember one of the first posts I read on your blog was about that pond tour, when you featured a pond where someone had built a miniature replica of the Hoover Dam. Now your garden has so many features, you really have made it your own, Miz Scarlet! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  8. That's a remarkable transformation in just 5 years. And even more so when you consider all the droughts, hailstorms, and ice storms you had to contend with. Happy 5th Anniversary!

  9. Happy Garden Anniversary Annie! What a wonderful "show and tell" of the changes you've wrought. I'm sending good thought for some heat relief...I hope your plants hang in there.

  10. Annie, five years have made a beautiful difference! I love that Bauhinia ... I hope you can find out which one it is!

  11. Music with my lunch today, provided by the illustrious Annie in Austin...what a treat! :) And there's more!
    Oh for a whiff of that Frangipani!
    I love seeing these before and after pics. Your garden is a real tribute to the love and care, not to mention hard work, you've put into the yard of Circus~Cercis. Well done, and happy anniversary to you and Philo!

  12. Gardening isn't a choice, Mr Brown Thumb -it's a compulsion. I'd have to try no matter where we ended up! My part of Austin has different soil from where MSS and Lori garden, and the shade from existing big trees makes a difference.

    The plumeria is fun to have, Chuck B - it came from a Zilker garden fest.
    In Illinois paths got muddy but St Augustine grass is different. There's a slight slope down from the back fence. In a heavy rain the water runs parallel to the sidewalk and then out the gate. The lawn looks much better in the photos than in real life!

    Hi Yolanda Elizabet - we had all those plants in pots so we had to keep digging just to get some in the ground!
    I hope the pond works out - you need one!

    Hi Tabor and thank you. I think you're doing a better job on hardscape - we need to work on that. We get hard freezes in winter so the plumeria pots go into the garage for about 4 months.

    Thanks, Faire Frances. Even with brown edges the magnolia flowers smell wonderful!
    I read that once the tomato has any color the abscission layer has already separated and no more moisture or nutrition gets through, almost like the fruit is superglued onto the plants. It's fun to know you bring them in, too.

    I didn't even show the front, Lisa at Greenbow - as you've shown on your blog, it can be a challenge when a tree goes down and a space turns from shade to sun. If we get to the Austin Ponds I'll try for good photos, ...last year my camera broke in the middle of the tour.

    Oh, the Hoover Dam! That pond was fun, Carol! A garden designer would think there are too many 'features' no doubt, but it's working pretty well as a place to be in rather than a place to look at.

    Well in that first photo you can see we started out with trees, a fence and grass, Entangled - not the sunbaked treeless squares so many new homeowners get. That was the advantage to buying an older house - fixing that now 30-year old house is the price we paid for the big trees!

    Thanks, Leslie- yes, now we have to hope we can hang on to what's been done. The graphs on the drought that MSS has on her Zanthan website are terrifying.

    Hi Cindy from Katy - right now I'm leaning toward Bauhinia forficata. I saw a photo on a University of California at Berkeley website that looks pretty close.

    You've traded Frangipani for Lilacs, Kerri - guess it's an equal trade? I get ideas but it's Philo that makes them possible. In the front of the house three of the beds started out as Divas of the Dirt projects, so they deserve credit, too. When I talk about what "we" did, it's apparently the editorial WE ;-]
    Thank you for enjoying my song.

    And thanks for the comments!


  13. Wow! Quite the transformation. I've been at it for four years and - well lets say I'm definitely not in your league. Happy 5th anniversary.

  14. Talk about setting the bar, high, Annie! Just kidding--I'm just envious of your positive attitude. (I'm working on it, though.)

    I love your before and after pics! Y'all have created such fun, lush, and peaceful outdoor areas. Happy 5th and thanks for the inspiration!

  15. You can't tell you are having a drought from your photos. We got some much needed rain this past weekend. That is a lot of progress in five years. The song is so beautiful!

  16. What a nice retrospective, Annie! You have to be pleased by how far the garden has come in 5 years... you certainly have lots of interesting things to look at now. I'd say it's a success all around! :)

  17. I'd say you've managed to put your mark on your back yard. I love before and after pics. It's one of the ways we prove to ourselves that we make a difference. Especially in gardening, when changes are often measured in years rather than days.
    Your tomatoes look delicious. I'm in full canning mode, but still using farmer's market heirlooms. These days, I'm experimenting with roasting and canning 'em whole, packing them tight and adding a bit of good olive oil.
    Thanks as always for sharing your lovely flower pics too.

  18. And you thought you were done with covering plants with sheets when you left Illinois! You have carved a paradise (albeit a dry & toasty one) out of a funky shaped lot. That's quite an accomplishment in only 5 years.

  19. I wish I had photos of our yard before I started working on it. It is amazing the difference five years have made.
    I feel for you with the heat. That's what we had until about a week ago when some rains came through. I was having to do the same as you - watering only the borders and containers. Now that we have had three showers, plants are perking up. Hope you get relief soon.

    Always Growing

  20. Annie, you have certainly created a beautiful space with so much to see around every corner. I love the fountain area; I could sit and watch--and listen to--a fountain all day. It may be hot and dry in Austin, but your garden doesn't show it. And I am drooling over those tomatoes!

  21. Sheer joy! And a nice song, too. What could be better than a visit to the Transplantable Rose

  22. You really have changed the place a lot, Annie. And for the better, I might add.

    Of all the things you have though, I have to say your wonderful fountain is the one that makes me the most jealous. I have gotten over the fact that you have all those subtropical plants which make me covetous.

    I'm not sure how I would do coping with the hot dry Texas summer.

  23. Annie, The changes from yard to garden were much like ours...I wish I had photos but that was before I kept track....but walking through your changes took me back...."We wanted to walk out the back door and feel as if we were going Somewhere."...I never said that outloud but it sure fits us, too.

    Thank you for the link to Gardenrant over at C&L...I had to read about The Susans.


  24. How much you and Philo have achieved in just 5 years. I think your garden looks like an oasis in the brutal Texas summer. You still have so much in flower. What about that Juliette. I had one grow from seed this year and it has been prolific- and no one seems to want to eat it. I have picked a colander full and have brought them with me on the road. A little bit of home whilst away.

  25. Happy Garden Anniversary Annie! I enjoyed the pond song again this year, and I can imagine how welcome and refreshing a pond must be this hot, hot summer in Austin.

    Your hard work transforming an ordinary yard into a lovely garden really shows. The changes are quite dramatic!

  26. Only gardeners can appreciate the work that is not shown in the beauty of your transformation. It has changed a normal yard into an adventure every time you walk in. There is always something to see or something to do. Your own little oasis, and it's beautiful Annie. You've done a good job.

  27. The front isn't moving very fast, Apple - guess I like hiding behind the fence better than the "public areas"!

    You're probably too young to remember The King and I, Iris, but there's a song about whistling a happy tune to cover up fear...this post is a little like whistling. But the spaces are laid out, even if the plants are replaced by mesquite and cactus.

    I'm only showing you the okay part, Phillip - leaf curl on big trees and bad grass in front and in the side yards. I'm sure glad you got some rain!

    Thanks, Blackswamp Kim - it feels "ours" now, but you should see the wish list of future projects!

    Hi Weeping Sore- afters are easy, but it's hard to remember to get the before shots, isn't it? Have you checked out the blogs for my gardening group the Divas of the Dirt from my sidebar? Lots of before and afters of their gardens.
    The tomatoes ripened so gradually we just had a few a day- never enough to put up. But your roasted tomatoes sound wonderful if we ever again have a tomato year!

    I hardly ever covered anything in Illinois, Mr McGregor's Daughter - down here have so many in the garage there should be a separate linen closet for the garden. Funky shaped lot sounds better than trapezoid!

    We've done stuff to the house that had no befores taken, Jan - why didn't we make it a habit when we bought that first house? It's good to know some dry parts of the country got rain - gives me hope we'll get a turn ;-]

    If you ever get to Austin you can sit inside the breakfast room with me and spy on the birds in the fountain, Prairie Rose - my husband and I never get tired of the show! You'll have your tomatoes soon!

    Wow, your praise can make a person glad to be a blogger, Ed Rowe - even though you've decided to cut the cord, yourself. Glad you liked the song.

    The fountain gave the whole back a focus, Healing Magic Hands, and since we made it, anything I add somehow has to relate to its existence. It was made as a memorial, so was special from the beginning.

    It's very pleasing to think my words fit you, too Gail - and can't read the word Black Eyed Susan without thinking of you!

    The shade is the only thing that makes it an oasis, Lancashire Rose - it's funny that right where the big sunflower leans over and makes a shadow, there's a strip of greener St A grass.
    We grew Juliets since about 2002 and like them. Leaf-foot nymphs do go after mine and the birds punch holes in a few. I like the idea of them as snacks for the road!

    Thank you Garden Girl - the song was fun to make and I'm glad you liked it.
    Just saw the dueling comments about ear critters sent between you and MrBThumb on his blog -yuccchhh!

    Thank you, Bob- it really does feel different as we hit that 5 year mark, and I'm glad you like it. It's on a very small scale compared to your spread - hope to read you've had some rain start filling up those ginormous rain tanks!

    Thanks for the comments everyone,


  28. I think it's funny that Mr. Brown Thumb's starts off the comments with saying he wondered why anyone would want to garden in Austin after he saw my video. Austin is filled with gardeners. What town this size can boast so many independent nurseries or garden bloggers or a great local gardening show like CTG?

    You've managed an amazing transformation in 5 years and I'm lucky enough to know from hands on experience that your garden is the real oasis that it looks like in these photos.

  29. I love what you said in response to one of your commentors above 'Gardening isn't a choice, Mr. Brown Thumb, it's a compulsion'. That made me laugh! And it's so true.

    It was fun to see the earlier images of your Austin garden - I don't think I realized that you lived elsewhere in Austin first - so seeing that deck with all of the plants in pots put things in an interesting perspective.

    That orchid tree - that was new to me! It looks beautiful.

    Recently I found a pic of my front yard - of me mowing grass in it - that I need to scan and post. There was lots of grass - and a tiny magnolia tree - where now there are cypresses and perennials and the magnolia is huge. The transformation of your back garden - from a rather traditional suburban back yard to a real garden - is wonderful, isn't it? It's nice to think that we transform these little pieces of the planet, one plant at a time...

  30. Following your compulsion to garden on your blog has been one of the highlights of the past several years online for me, Annie. I'm where you were five years ago, starting over with a new garden, a lot of potted plants to get into the ground, and more lawn than is wanted. Five years from now I hope to have created a "somewhere" oasis as you have.

  31. I just saw on the evening news how dry Texas is - I knew that you guys were dry, but I didn't know it was that bad (and coupled to the over 100 degree temperatures - yikes!). After two years of being dry we have finally gotten some rain this summer - but I'm sorry to hear that you guys are in such a drought. I know you are watering - and that you probably have to - but here's to wishing for a nice gentle rain soon in Texas!

  32. How's Austin in July? Would you believe it's in the 70's today? Its been a really cool summer (i don't have a pool so I'm not complaining).

    I really love your yard and all that you've done to it! 5 years isn't really that long in gardening years is it?


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