About Me
My Photo
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.
View my complete profile

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Intent of the Gardener - GGW Picture This Photo

The theme for this month's Picture This Photo Contest is "The Intent of the Gardener", something I've pondered ever since we moved to this small plot of land in July 2004. Rich Pomerantz, the judge for the contest, advises us to look for the unifying principle of the design and also "Look to see if the designer took her cues from the land".Annieinaustin, for sale 2
Are there many cues when you buy a 25-year old house on a boring, irregularly-shaped lot in a subdivision? Bulldozers shaped the land, men built the houses and privacy fences carved it into wedges, trapezoids and rectangles. There is, however, a slight rise toward the center back of the lot, which we tried to enhance.

Annieinaustin, moved inI know exactly what the unifying principle is in this garden... it's the same principle that 'unified' every one of our gardens, although it may only be obvious to Philo and me. Underlying everything is our wish to Not Be Bored. This does lead to a rather messy looking garden - the back yard went from blank to busy in one day after our kids helped us bring all the portable landscape items from the previous Austin house - more than 100 containers full of trees, shrubs, vines, a metal arch, hypertufa troughs, the birdbath from Illinois, wooden benches and patio furniture. Annieinaustin yard BeforeOur intent was to have somewhere to go, something to do, someplace to be - and with luck - something to eat. So far so good. I tried to get the yard from the same angle as in the Before photo above. Click this After photo and it should enlarge. Annieinaustin garden after, large size
This smaller version is my entry for the contest. Annieinaustin, Intent of the GardenerThe rules say the photo should be under 500 pixels on the long side and when uploaded this was 495 x 359 pixels. What happens now is up to Blogger.
Edit 10 PM - website says size rule no longer in effect.

GardeningGoneWild has a photo gallery for the contest, where you can view the more elegant entries.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Farewell, Tomato - the Tomato Report

Farewell, Tomato -the Tomato Report, was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose Blog

My tomato report can't be as scientific as the yearly evaluations by MSS at Zanthan Gardens... she records facts and can give you quantitative data. I forget to write things down, collect impressions rather than data and make comedy & music videos for YouTube rather than face the realities of gardening here.

Philo & I have planted tomatoes each spring we've been in Austin (that's 5 tries at the other Austin house and 6 attempts at this one) and the entire harvest for those 11 late springs/early summers wouldn't add up to one good year in our old garden in the Western Burbs of Chicago.

There are supposedly two tomato seasons here - spring and fall - two really short seasons fitted around the midsummer heat that halts pollination. Squirrels and stinkbugs are a pain, the area we have for planting isn't large and constantly shifting shade with tree roots in clay soil isn't what tomatoes want. But we must have tomatoes!

An old adage says "Eat Dessert First" - so before the lists of varieties and laughable numbers please watch the music video -it's just over one minute and I hope it makes you smile!

A few years ago Philo made a wooden framework that could be dismantled and stored. It was short enough for me to reach over without a ladder and when the plants are in place the whole thing covers an area about 6-ft by 8 1/2ft, a size that can be draped with a bird net. Every year we add organic matter- this spring some of it came from my lasagna/sheet compost experiment and some came in bags from the Natural Gardener. Before setting up the framework Philo borrowed the Mantis tiller belonging to the Divas of the Dirt to till it all in. Then we set up the frame and buried a soaker hose around it.

The ground was cooler than usual this spring and so was the air. We bought tomato plants in early March, repotted them into slightly larger containers, took the plants outside any day when the temps were above 60°F and brought them into the garage every night. With frost warnings issued through the third week of March, we delayed planting until March 28th... then kept covers ready for near-frost nights. We kept the peppers in transitional pots, bringing them in and out, finally planting them on May 6th.


We bought some tomato varieties that we'd grown before
Solar Fire (2 plants) we were quite pleased with it in 2008 but we couldn't find it 2009.
Early Girl usually dependable, producing tomatoes even in that horrible heat & drought of 2009
Juliet We've grown this grape tomato 6 or 7 times - the taste is not spectacular but it has a long season and it's a nice bite
Celebrity usually dependable, but didn't do well in 2009
Black Krim in 2008 we had a few delicious tomatoes from one plant and wanted more. But in 2009 one plant was hit by hail and the other faded fast.

We tried some new ones
Sun Gold a very small cherry type with good press from Austin gardenbloggers
Paul Robeson not only a highly praised black tomato but one named after a singer!
Green Zebra highly recommended by many people and it looks cool
JD's Special Texas another black-type, also recommended

We had one very large container at the back of the garden for two plum types
San Marzano a famous tomato - last year it was lost to the hail storm of 2009
Roma - a plum tomato we'd grown in IL but not in TX

Most of the tomatoes came from the Natural Gardener but we also hit Shoal Creek Nursery, Countryside Nursery and the Zilker Park Garden Festival. We really wanted two varieties called 'Carmelo' and 'Costoluto Genovese', which had done well in 2009, but we couldn't find them in 2010.

The tomato plants were planted around the outside of the frame near the legs, so they could be tied as they grew. I also poked a couple of Tomatillo varieties, 'Demilpa' and 'Toma verde', into the hard-to-reach middle of the frame. One short side got a few pepper plants, including one hot 'Garden Salsa' and a couple of frying types.

A few weeks after the plants were in the ground we put more compost around them, covered the whole area with sheets of newspaper and covered the paper with Cotton Bur compost.

Every few weeks the plants were foliar-fed with Medina Hasta-grow and I put seaweed on them twice.

Everything was growing like gangbusters when the 'Green Zebra' sort of collapsed. A few weeks later the 'Paul Robeson' did the same thing, but more slowly, so that the tiny tomatoes that had already developed were even more pathetic. We keep trying heirlooms but in previous years other heirlooms - 'Arkansas Traveler', 'Persimmon' & 'Brandywine' - didn't do well either.

The first tomatoes of 2010 were the little 'Sun Golds' - tiny but tasty.

Some 'Early Girls' had set fruit as did the 'Solar Fire'.

'Juliet' sat there - no flowers- no developing fruit

'Celebrity' wasn't doing anything either but 'Black Krim' had a couple of tomatoes in progress.

The' JD Special' also had a couple of tomatoes looking as if they'd make it to maturity.

Small 'San Marzanos' & 'Romas' were forming, but the two plants were so entwined on their tomato cage that I wasn't sure which was which.

Toward the middle of May even though we had the bird net on, something (a bird? a squirrel? an unmentionable rodent?) got under and wiped out a precious 'Black Krim' and a couple of 'Solar Fires' that were low on the plants. Then stink bugs invaded.... not the large leaf-footed stink bugs of former years, but some smaller ones that came in clusters. I hunted and smooshed. Then the big leaf-footed type stinkbugs read the veggie news and returned for a share but it was harder for them to get through the birdnet. It was easier to see and squish the bugs as they flew onto the net at the front edge of the patch but the container with the plum tomatoes had no net and they were attacked by everything.

With birds and squirrels circling I grabbed tomatoes the second a pink blush appeared and let them finish inside in safety. Even with the A/C running our house stays about 78 degrees F - warm enough for them to ripen.
The 'Early Girl' and 'Solar Fire' made quite a few tomatoes by our reduced Austin standards and the 'Celebrity' woke up and made some, too.

We cherished each and every tomato as they gradually ripened inside.

When you have a short tomato season and a small patch there is no need to can, or freeze, or make sauce... there were only one or two ready per day.

In the lower left corner of that tray you'll see the only 'Black Krim' that we got to eat. In the upper two corners are the only JD's specials - others on the plant were destroyed by critters.

Yes, we purchased and grew three black tomato plants and had a grand total of three black tomatoes from them. Were they worth it? You betcha.

We took photos of the tomatoes at the solstice, then ate them while I wore the shirt. We baked bread for them.

We celebrated the larger of the 'JD's Specials' (it was the biggest tomato of the year, and one of the best tasting)

We toasted the JD with beer, garden garlic in olive oil, fresh mozzarella and more bread. (the Little Kings Ale is mine - Philo likes RealAle from Blanco),

In Illinois once the tomatoes came in we could keep picking until frost killed the plants, and even then might have plenty of green tomatoes to fry, but here, even with real rain supplemented by hand watering, once it got hot the plants stopped setting fruit and looked terrible. We still had a few good tomatoes and an excuse to keep baking.

But many of the newer tomatoes were smaller, were marred or didn't ripen evenly - since they were not proper slicers we could use them to cook and bake!

The ripening tray was replaced by the ripening plate as the numbers declined
The 'Solar Fire' kept making fruit but the stinkbugs ruined it
Finally we were down to one last full-sized tomato

We're still getting 'Sun Golds' and last weekend I tried to squeeze a few more tomatoes from the 'Celebrity' and 'Solar Fire' by cleaning up the vines, cutting them back, lightly feeding them and making sure they don't dry out. Even if we get no tomatoes for the next couple of months, there's a chance that one or two plants can survive until fall and pop out a few more tomatoes.
The peppers are still blossoming, and a few peppers are forming. Just a few will be enough for pepper and eggs on the weekend and if there are a few hot ones for salsa that will be great.

The tomatillos grew into enormous 7-ft plants that tried to smother the peppers and lifted the bird netting off the ground. They've flowered like mad but made not one tomatillo. I chopped the stalks back to 4-ft but otherwise am treating them kindly.

A few days ago I noticed a couple of unblemished tomatoes the size of walnuts and remembered reading that a Texas Gardener on one of the GardenWeb forums used organza Bridal Shower goodie bags from the dollar store to protect her fruit from stinkbugs.

Think it will work?

Farewell, Tomato -the Tomato Report, was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose Blog

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, July 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, like Tax Day, falls on the 15th of the month. Carol of May Dreams Gardens may not haul me off to the pokey if I don't pay up in petals, but a skipped GBBD means no Permanent Record of what-happened-when in the garden.

{Most photos enlarge when clicked.}

Unlike the sweltering summer of 2009, this July hasn't topped 100°F yet and there has been real rain. We love looking out at the garden and birdbath fountain from the breakfast room. Annieinaustin, through window

The 'Little Gem' Magnolia has a few flowers, orange cosmos and self-seeded sunflowers add bright colors to the center of the back garden and a blue/purple haze near the yellow chair contrasts with the shockingly green grass.Annieinaustin, back yard with cosmos

Those purple, white and blue colors come from a 'Catawba' crepe myrtle, Mealy-blue sage, 'Miss Tilly' balloon flowers, a division of the 'Blue River II' hibiscus and 'Diamond Frost' euphorbia.Annieinaustin, Catawba crepe border
Behind the euphorbia is Salvia vanhouttei, of doubtful hardiness, but at $2 for a starter plant that's already shrub-size, worth growing because the hummingbirds love it.

It looks like this now... a little ragged but still intense in color - and you can see that it seems designed for hummingbird bills!
Annieinaustin, salvia vanhouttei flower
Ten days ago I caught the partially opened buds - part of a Red, White & Blue post that never happened.Annieinaustin, salvia van houtteii text
In the smaller triangle the starter plants of 'Black Pearl' pepper are settling in, with white, yellow and orange Portulaca around it. This year I added some stubbier Flowering Purslane to the reseeded and more delicate Moss Rose types. White Zinnia linearis also reseeds, adding daisy shapes to the scene.Annieinaustin, black pearl peppers and portulaca

In the larger triangle bed it was a surprise to see that the Hemercallis fulva (AKA Ditch daylily, a passlaong from Lori) sent up a scape loaded with buds. It bloomed in May - what is going on? At the left on the obelisk you can see leaves of the Blue Butterfly Pea winding upward in preparation for an appearance at the August GBBD.Annieinaustin, ditch daylily buds
Perennials are wonderful, but Green Bones that add mass and form along with bloom give solid satisfaction - here is the 'Little Gem' magnolia framed by white semi-dwarf 'Acoma' crepe myrtles, my neighbor's common pink crepe and a froth of evergreen Abelia at mid-level.Annieinaustin,
Along the bed to the left the Cenizo/Purple Sage is in full bloom - some people say the blooms are a promise of rain, but others say it's a response to rain. Another nickname for this plant is "Barometer Bush". Annieinaustin, Cenizo in bloom

Near the back door the blue Plumbagos have rebounded from last winter's freezeback, blooming blue with a self-seeded tropical Milkweed and the purple oxalis which has decided to rebloom rather than go dormant.Annieianaustin, blue plumbago with milkweed

A few feet away the first blooms have opened on Amarcrinum 'Fred Howard' - pink and fragrant.Annieinaustin, Fred Howard amarcrinum

On the patio the Blue Butterfly Clerodendron looks a little smug after being the subject of its own post last week.
Annieinaustin Blue butterfly clerodendrum

Around the corner in the Secret Garden green prevails, with color coming from a tall crepe myrtle showering watermelon-pink petals from high overhead, a few coral-pink canna buds at the 3-foot level and this pink false indigo down close to the ground.

Annieinaustin, pink false indigo

There's a new pink flower in the Pink Entrance Garden - John Fanick's phlox. The passalong phlox that came from my Illinois grandmother is barely alive and not blooming but this Texas Superstar was selected to do well here. Annieinaustin, John Fanicks phlox

Another passalong from Illinois seems to like Texas just fine - it's a small, reblooming daylily bought at Mileager Nurseries of Wisconsin in the mid-1990's as 'Pinocchio'. Every summer it has an initial flush of bloom, rests and regroups, makes a smaller number of scapes, rests a little longer, then pops a few more. Those are more 'Miss Tilly' balloon flowers in the background.
Annieinaustin, Hemerocallis Pinocchio daylilyBy next week a list of everything in bloom today with botanical names will go up at Annie's Addendum...

but next up will be the TOMATO REPORT, a long overdue post with a new song.

Have fun checking out a world of garden blogs in bloom right here.

JULY 22, 2010
The complete list of blooms with botanical names and a few more photos is now up at Annie's Addendum

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Blue Butterfly Bush Clerodendrum ugandense

Can there be too much blue in the garden? Not in my opinion, so this Blue Butterfly bush is one of my favorite plants, no matter what you call it...in addition to Clerodendrum ugandense the botanical name Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense' shows up as a synonym, along with Clerodendrum myricoides.Annieinaustin,2010,July, Blue Clerodendron
These delicate-looking blue flowers have graced many a Garden Blogger Bloom Day since 2008 but my plant barely survived last winter when our temperatures dropped to 13°F. It took months before one tiny sprout reappeared from the dead sticks at the base so while it was still on the "Dead-or-Dormant List" I searched local nurseries for a second plant with no luck. My friend Sophia from the Divas of the Dirt checked out Houston nurseries but also came home empty-handed.

Then my garden blogger friend Robin from Getting Grounded found a beauty for me at It's About Thyme. The new plant is blooming in a patio container and how I love those blue flowers!
Annieinaustin, 2010, Clerodendrum ugandense at nightThe original plant (a Passalong Plant from Sophia) has sun for a good part of the day with a little shade when the vines fill in the nearby obelisk. I've added compost and do have to water it, but not excessively. Right now the new plant looks happy in its patio container next to the Pineapple Sage, but it was already nearly 3-feet tall when Robin bought it and it will need repotting soon.Annieinaustin, 2010,7,Pineapple sage with Blue clerodendron
My plan is to bring it inside during cold snaps ... either into the garage or near the window in the breakfast room. Maybe that way instead of putting all its energy into survival and regrowth after winter, it can just concentrate on being beautiful!