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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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Saturday, January 09, 2010

How Low Can They Go

My friend Pam/Digging recently made a great post for a regional gardening roundup of writers, all celebrating the kind of garden designs that emphasize what makes a region of the country unique - those styles, materials, plants and way of blending with existing landscape that makes sure no one will mistake a Texas gardens for one in New England or Alabama or even California. In a modest way I'm using these ideas in my front garden and parking strip.

But while I love the Austin in my garden - cherishing those yaupons and native plants - to look out every window at a garden grounded too strongly in Central Texas would feel claustrophobic. There are so many other places that hold my heart, so many beautiful plants that I've loved, so many years of gardening elsewhere, so much history.

What Philo & I have here isn't a reflection of the State in which we find ourselves at present, but a contrived world fitted together with pieces of our past, hints at other places we've lived, places we always wanted to see, of the areas our ancestors lived and the regions where our grown children and sisters and brothers now live. Moving to zone 8 meant I could finally grow plants beloved by garden writers like Miss Elizabeth Lawrence, Allen Lacy and Henry Mitchell In an attempt to connect with my mentors' worlds, a Magnolia and a Banana Shrub, Crinums and Loropetalums, Camellias and Myrtles were invited to live here.

I don't know which of the four previous owners of our house planted the boxwood and have no idea if they chose it for a special reason or just because it's common and available. What I do know is to that to me a Box Hedge was the stuff of historical romance, the bones of a classic old garden. I was shocked when my Austin friends suggested ripping them out! There were Bridal wreath spiraeas and Abelias scattered around the yard, and I kept them, too - enjoying their resemblance to shrubs that bloomed in my grandmother's garden, at my parents' house, and at three of our Illinois homes. I've allowed sentimental additions of daylilies, a gardenia, Weigela, my beloved clematis, Rose of Sharon, outdoor amaryllis and Siberian iris, while pushing the zone boundaries with marginally hardy Meyer's Lemon, Blue Butterfly Clerodendrum, Firecracker plant, Mexican Honeysuckle, Jasmines, Angel's Trumpet/Brugmansia, Duranta, Fan Palms and Evergreen Wisteria/Milletia. I took a chance on less hardy Central Texas plants like Barbados Cherries.

Last summer's heat and drought followed by wet weather knocked off some plants, including native scutellarias and salvias and some passalong heirlooms like phlox, corkscrew willow and a mock orange brought from Illinois in 1999.

This weekend may be the last one for other marginal plants as Central Texas experiences the lowest temperatures in many years. It appears my NW area of Austin dipped to 13F overnight, with another cold night to come. We had to unplug the bird-watering fountain to keep the motor from burning out. This morning John Dromgoole reminded us that with defrost, we'll become familiar with the scent of cold-slimed plants as they decompose.

Pam/Digging, Diana and MSS of Zanthan have already posted about Aloes & Agaves in danger. Unlike my friends, I'm not worried about agaves and aloes - the horrendous hailstorm of last March reduced my plants to a few pups. Obviously less hardy plants like Plumerias, Variegated Ginger, potted lemon, potted Mexican Lime, stapelias & Sambac Jasmine were moved indoors.My concern now is for plants that are supposed to do well here - the rosemary plants, the loquats, the Barbados Cherries and abelias, the star Jasmine and Coral Honeysuckle, the pomegranates and figs and the exposed flower buds of Texas Mountain laurel.

It will be a bad day if we lose the garden dreams along with the frozen plants.
And what happens if the plants that come through best are the ones we like to poke fun at? What if along with Steve Bender's "Cockroaches playing beneath a Trumpet vine" the survivors are the boring and potentially invasive Ligustrums & Privets, Photinias, Nandinas, Japanese Honeysuckle, Asiatic Jasmine and Bermuda grass? Now that would really be a bummer.


  1. I enjoyed reading about how your garden is a compilation of so many thoughts, places, ideas, and dreams. But I shudder at the damage you will find in your garden when it warms up again. Here's hoping for the best.

    (Knowing what you know now, maybe you could have planted a small lilac this past fall, and gotten it to bloom at least once this spring? Of course, you would have had to get one from "up north" that already had flower buds set...)

  2. This is such a lovely heartfelt post Annie. I am happy to have found you here at blotanical. I think it is great that you can grow plants that inspire memory of mentors and family. I do hope all your treasures will survive the cold. Best of Luck! Carol

  3. Hi Annie,
    I would call your gardening choices eclectic. Mine are, too. I like to grow some natives, but also choose different plants for different reasons. I don't have enough space or patience to grow plants that spread much. My garlic chives are in pots, and I deadhead them before they can plant babies.

    I'm sorry about all those cold temps in your area. My heart goes out to those losing plants and crops to the cold.

  4. Annie, I shook my head at the realization of everything our plants have gone through in the last 12 months; exceptional level drought levels that set records in a negative way, beyond extreme heat beginning in May for two years in a row, following a dry winter, then a tremendous hailstorm, an 8" rain in one night in September, now record level low temps! The ones that survive after this are definitely the keepers, aren't they? And please, let it be more than the ligustrum, jasmine, photinias, privets and yaupons.

    Your garden is more like mine...some natives, some sentimental, and some just cause they are darned pretty!

    Great post, thanks.

  5. I am sure that this morning you would be happy to be in Austin and just thinking about your garden back in IL. Here (just across the river from IL) in IN we are having a record cold. Brrrrr -2F. Luckily there is a cover of snow to protect the plants. Your garden of memories and favorites sounds just marvelous Annie. It is always best to follow your heart when gardening or doing most anything. Much more satisfying than following the beat of someone elses drumm.

  6. Thanks for the mention, Annie. I'm glad you wrote on this theme because I actually think your garden looks a lot like Austin too---the more Southern side of Austin. Pecan, loquat, crepe myrtle, boxwood, Carolina jessamine, the redbuds for which your garden is named---these mingle with selective natives and xeric adapteds that work well for your clay soil and slightly colder temps. Plus you've mixed in regional stone and that decomposed-granite extension to your patio, and voila! Another wonderful Austin garden.

    Here's to a quick recovery from the cold for all our gardens, and the continuation of our garden dreams.

  7. What a beautiful post! And thank you for doing it. I truly hate garden snobs. A garden is a place of memories and romance. If some of the beloveds crater this time, replace 'em. This doesn't happen very often. I had to laugh, though, because they other day I thought: nandina is now considered a despised invasive, but by golly, it can stand up through drought and freeze. But I bet we'll find that many of our romantic favorites will be okay.

  8. This post has really inspired me, Annie, especially because sometimes I get into a bit of a rut of "Austin" plants. Thanks!

  9. I agree with you that a garden should reflect the gardner's life, dreams, and whimsy. I'll bet that those "banal" plants will survive. That's why they're overused. It would be a shame to lose your garden dreams over this setback. I feel for you and all of the Southern gardeners struggling with this terrible cold.

  10. Hi Annie, I have loved your garden from afar since I first visited it. Each Every tour has felt like a personal tour and I've accompanied you around the garden with my ice tea in hand. I do hope that your favorites survive~they are treasures indeed. I am afraid that nothing has managed to kill off the Ligustrums & Privets, Photinias, Nandinas and Japanese Honeysuckle in my garden. gail let me know if I can ship any plants to you later in the season!

  11. Monty Don said that the most important thing in a garden was the gardener. You are not a Texas native (nor I) and I think it's absolutely appropriate that your garden should reflect your history and be a continuation of your previous gardens as well as a nod to your garden mentors.

    Native landscaping is great for commercial gardens and people who don't garden. A gardener's garden, such as yours, is the expression of the gardener's memories and dreams. It's personal. And who cares what anyone else thinks about it.

    I've gardened in this place for the last 13 years, beginning with the last big freeze in 1996 until now. What survives is what was here when I came. The nandina, the oxblood lilies, and some trees. (I did pull out my box. I liked it but it was planted awkwardly too close to the house.) Any mark I try to make on this tiny plot is stamped out by natural forces.

    I do not regret the loss of my agaves either because I dislike them and grow them only because they multiply like roaches.They are no more native to my blackland prairie than azaleas. If I were going to really go native, I'd give my garden over to shady live oaks and call it quits.

  12. I feel for you Annie. I hope more things come through than you fear. Mother Nature is certainly being rough on you and your garden.

  13. May your plants survive, Annie. It seems you were wise in taking the pots into a safer place. Who knows what the weather will throw at us next? I love that you have a mixture of areas represented in your gardens. So do we, all with memories attached. Some will survive, and we already know nandinas will take over the world.

  14. This winter has presented a challenge to so many gardeners, especially ones in areas like yours, Annie, that aren't used to these cold temperatures. I do hope your plants survive; this year has definitely been a test of "survival of the fittest" for your garden.

    I love the way you incorporate plants that have a sentimental meaning for you. To me, this is what gardening is all about--expressing our individualism and sharing a connection with our past.

  15. It's been a rough few seasons. I had to let some things go after the drought and after this hideous freeze I decided that I couldn't save everything and either it lived because it was tough (tougher than me!) or it didn't.

    But cheer up, said my husband to me, you just get to go plant shopping this spring.

    Ahh...he knows me well!

    I will be filling up another frequent buyer reward card at Natural Gardener. I may even expand to Barton Springs Nursery!

  16. I hope at least some of your favorites came through the cold OK. I'm feeling pretty bummed by the views out my windows!

  17. You're a thinker, Annie. You're a romantic, a nostalgic, a writer, a gardener, a musician and much more. All these things rolled into one make you a fascinating person, and one I'd love to meet! Any chance you're planning on attending the Buffalo Fling? I'm contemplating going. Hoping to! It sure would be lovely to meet you there :)
    The Clerodendrum is so delicately beautiful.
    I do hope your garden hasn't suffered too badly from those frigid temps.
    I'm off now to watch your Bloom Day video.

  18. Interesting post. I enjoyed it very much.

    13 degrees, wow, I didn't know it got that cold. I hope everything made it through okay. If not that will give you an excuse to get some new stuff.

  19. This was a fun read! My garden is the same way, loaded with "comfort plants" from the past and wannatryit plants for the future (along with the natives that were here). The upshot from this wicked weather will be spots for new plants, eh? :)


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