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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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Monday, November 19, 2012

Grandma Anna's Pfeffernusse

This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog. 

When I was a child, my grandmother made pfeffernusse cookies. My younger brother liked them better than I did, but he also liked licorice - which I hated. Anise may not be quite the same as licorice, but the flavors and scents were similar enough to turn me off. And pfeffenusse were hard! No wonder the nickname was Pepper Nuts. Adults liked them with coffee but the children preferred chocolate chip cookies. 

We didn't have the recipe after Grandma Anna died so my mom tried recipes from cookbooks and the kind of pamphlets that were often passed out with ingredients bought at the store. The results were okay, but they didn't have the same texture as the adults remembered. Years went by and Anna's grandchildren grew up to have homes of their own.

One year my sister Josie hauled Grandma's old cabinet-style treadle sewing machine up from our parents' basement, wanting to clean & polish it and give it a place of honor in her home. After a stuck-shut drawer was opened, Josie discovered a cache of silk and cotton embroidery threads, along with a tattered yellow newspaper clipping with the recipe for the pfeffernusse.

Josie kept the threads but the clipping was turned over to me - by that time I loved to bake for the family and I'd also learned to enjoy the flavor of anise.My dad and uncle gave the Pepper Nuts a thumbs-up after tasting them, agreeing they tasted like Grandma's.

There was no clue on the paper to tell us where Grandma got the recipe or how old it was, although we're sure it was in use before the mid-1950's. In a few weeks I'll use this recipe again, to bake and pack and share the cookies with my far-flung family.


Heat together until blended:
1/2 cup molasses ( I use dark full-flavored)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup lard (the original recipe called for lard but I always substituted vegetable oil.)

Cool the mixture for 45 minutes. Add 1 beaten egg*.

Combine the following spices and stir into the molasses mixture:

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered anise (or 1 and 1/2 teaspoons anise extract)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Sift together 3 and 1/2 cups flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Mix well. Cover dough and let stand overnight at room temperature.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Bake on parchment paper at 350 degrees F for approximately 12-15 minutes. When cool, roll in powdered sugar. Store in tightly covered tins in a cool dry place for several weeks to mellow the flavor.

* Since the dough sits out overnight I prefer pasteurized eggs for this recipe.

I have a vague idea that some of the dough used to be rolled out and cut with an angel cookie cutter to be tied on the Christmas tree as an ornament. I can remember the angels hanging, but I'm not sure if it was really the pfeffernusse dough or if it was gingerbread dough. Either one should work.

This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Blue Clerodendons & Pecans for November GBBD

         This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.

Our Austin gardens have flirted with Jack Frost a few times, in the hours just before dawn on clear dark nights, but Mr. Frost has not yet done the deed. The Forsythia Sage/Salvia madrensis still spreads her blossoms unmolested in the big front bed.

One Blue Butterfly Clerodendron cavorted with a Mutabilis rose a few weeks ago but their romance faded as the sun's angle changed and the shade from our two pecan trees deepened.

The rose stopped blooming and the Blue Butterflies float alone now. After the leaves fall the strong winter sun may tempt the rose to bloom again, but the clerodendron plant will die down once the temperatures drop below 30°F.

The pecan trees dominate the back garden year round, casting light shade when leafless, so we can grow a spring vegetable garden, but in late fall their shade is at its heaviest, casting a gothic gloom over the south end of the yard.

I first sang to the trees in public in March 2007 when the demise of an Arizona Ash called for a music video. That was nearly six years ago! The pecans are even more important in our little garden world so they should have a turn, too. Last weekend my husband Philo and I turned my "For A Tree That Keeps On Giving, Plant Pecan!" song into a music video, intended to amuse anyone who has ever lived with a very large, very messy tree:

I hope you'll soon be singing along ..."for a Tree that keeps on giving "Plant Pecan!"
A collection of our garden songs and videos are at our Roots in Austin YouTube station

Since so many of the plants in bloom right now are the same flowers that have been in bloom for months, they'll go in a Garden Bloggers Bloom Day List (with more photos and my best shot at the botanical names) over on my companion blog Annie's Addendum That way the rest of this page can be filled with photos of the Blue Butterflies still whirling while old Jack F. lurks in the shadows with his ice-crystal knife.

I'm not sure what name will on the tag if you buy this plant in a nursery... it could say Blue Butterfly Clerodendron or Blue Cat Whiskers, Clerodendrum ugandense, Clerodendrum myricoides 'Ugandense' or perhaps Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense'. The zone 9 plant is marginally hardy here in Austin - a couple of my plants have lived through winters with temperatures around 18°F, but even with heavy mulching they died back hard and were slow to recover the next spring. I've tried to hedge my bets by keeping at least one plant in a container in the garage over winter.

Here's the plant that was in the garage last year, now on the patio

The Blue Butterfly plant is so lovely that I wanted more! I've had some luck getting cuttings to root in potting soil lightened by the addition of perlite. (Don't be shocked when the not-lovely scent of the cut or crushed foliage reaches your nose... it stinks!) Some of the cuttings failed but a few plants made it. They were very slow to get going, but two were finally robust enough to go to friends this spring. A third was planted here near the Meyer's lemon on the back housewall. This bed is my magic spot, with a faucet nearby, the area bathed in morning sun but protected from hot west sun and north winds, the soil regularly composted and the plants tenderly mulched. No wonder the Clerodendron is More than Happy!

Since the winter months of January and February 2012 were relatively mild, the original passalong plant from my friend Ellen had an early start in the triangle bed. Now it's more than 5-feet tall and still blooming, with wide spread branches. I took this photo this afternoon and decided to make it into a poster.

Happy Garden Blogger's Bloom Day from Annie & Philo in Austin! Please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see her roundup of garden bloom posts from all over the world.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It's Good to See You Again

 Written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog

The ground is already covered in leaves and twigs and pecan husks so that August looks like Autumn, but the days are still hot. An inch-and-a-half of rain last weekend brought a few surprises this week, including flowers that were not seen last summer.

One clump of Schoolhouse/Oxblood lilies in the front woodland/seep garden is in bloom - and the flowers are Rose-red instead of dark red. This is the earliest date yet for these bulbs, which usually come in September. 

A few flowers opened the expected Oxblood color in back

The long cold spells in January & February 2011 killed my small shrubby Bauhinia forficata not just to ground level but below. I really thought this passalong from my friend Ellen was gone forever but by midsummer a few shoots came up from some live piece of root deep underground. The shoots were too small to bloom last summer and I had doubts they could do it this year. But I was wrong - the large white flowers of the Brazilian Orchid Tree are blooming again.

A few tomato plants were cut back, most died, but there are 3 seedling tomato plants almost mature enough to bloom. I've lived here too long to call a tomato "ours" until it is safe inside and on the plate, but we can hope!
We do get most of the peppers - just a few lost to birds, insects or other animals. 'Jalora' is growing under one of the cages we made last summer.

 A mix of 'Jaloro' and 'Mariachi' smelled wonderful when roasting and Philo liked them just fine.

A patch of  Malvaviscus - Red Turkscaps was planted in the front years ago. It's stayed alive and managed to bloom last summer but sparingly on a few straggling stems. The plant is almost unrecognizable this year - partly because the weather has not been as hot and dry, partly because an overhanging Arizona Ash trees had to come down last spring. This bed still gets partial shade from a live oak but a little more sun as well as a little more water has made this plant thrive.

One more nice surprise - the white form of this Malvaviscus or White Turkscap has grown in the Secret Garden since 2006, never thriving but surviving. Last year it didn't make one single flower.
And this year? As my friend Vi would say, it's still "not setting the world on fire", but it is alive, and it has flowers and buds, and it looks reasonably contented to be here. I guess that goes for the garden as a whole, as well as the gardener. 

 Written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose blog.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day July 2012

My neighborhood has been very lucky! 
Over the past 9 days we've had a series of storms with time in between for the rain to sink in - six precious inches of rain as of last night. That's enough to make a real difference after last year's heat and drought. 
We'll probably heat up again soon, but for now, the trees have had a deep, quenching drink. If you are living in one of the places that needs rain now, I wish & hope that it comes to you soon. 

Every day we see hummingbirds sipping from this salvia. Years ago I bought two colors of the reseeding annual Salvia coccinea (the standard red Hummingbird Sage) and the lovely Salvia coccinea 'Coral Nymph'.
Seedlings sprouted in following springs - some light coral, some red and some white. I love the white version and have let it reseed all along the edge of the patio. 

 Last year this dark coral version appeared in a patio pot & the hummingbirds were crazy for it. Instead of being annual, the plant died back to a stub in winter then quickly regrew to make hummingbirds happy again. 

The Crocosmia is back! There were few flowers in 2010, no flowers and few leaves last year. I wondered whether the small stand had died out but here it is, blooming again with Purple Heart/Setcreasia

We always grow a few vegetables every year but had not tried cucumbers in Texas until this spring. A few seeds of Sweet Marketmore from the Natural Gardener turned into rambling vines with huge leaves, yellow flowers and edible cucumbers. I like to watch them grow but don't eat them - Philo has had 9 or 10 so far and says they're delicious. I have a feeling this is beginners' luck because the squirrels haven't seen them growing before... might be a different story if we try again next year!

One stalk of an Amarcrinum 'Fred Howard' opened flowers about 10 days ago which was appreciated but not unusual. The a few days ago this second stalk came up on the same clump - totally unprecedented.

My friend Ellen gave me a passalong plant of Blue Butterfly Clerodendron a few years ago. In 2010 I bought another and then cloned a few more. Right now there are 4 plants in my garden, one in bloom, one with only leaves and two plants in bud. These buds are near the Amarcrinum, making big promises.

Tropical milkweed has lived over in some places and seeded in others. This seedling near the back door had a caterpillar on it. We see more Queen butterflies than Monarchs here so I'm not sure but there appear to be only two sets of filaments so it may be a Monarch caterpillar.

It's dropping blossoms now but on Saturday the Cenizo was gorgeous!

 Early last summer every pepper plant in the garden collapsed and died. In July I found a few new plants for sale, planted them in containers and got a few peppers. I used containers again this spring and we've had a small, steady supply of small peppers for weeks. The 'Cubanelle' and 'Carmen' are sweet but the 'Mariachi' can be pretty hot.

More than 50 years ago my grandmother grew a white garden phlox in Chicago. She divided it and gave pieces to her children, who divided it and gave pieces to their children. I gave some to my son and it's grown well for him. My dear son brought a piece to me last spring and I struggled to keep Grandma's Phlox going through last summer. Here it is, small and way shorter than in Illinois but every bloom is precious to me.

The red Turkscap is having a very good year... twice the height it was last year and covered in red flowers. These blooms were at eye level ... you may also have heard them called Wax Mallow or Malvaviscus.

You can see more of the tropical Milkweed in the background but what's in front is not really a flower. It's a developing Meyer's Improved Lemon, on the tree that froze back to a leafless, stubby framework in February 2011. I don't know if the dozen or so lemons can make it all the way to fall & maturity, but it is certainly a novelty having little lemons hang overhead when you walk down the sidewalk.

The finches were probably relieved to see seedlings of the cosmos sprout up - much later than in other years. We've seen both housefinches and goldfinches hanging on the plants like ornaments, trying to get the seeds.  

My attempts to divide and clone this plant have failed so far but I'll try again. It's a hybrid Skullcap called 'Dorota Blue', supposed to be a useful groundcover in some places but a pampered pet here. I really like the color. 

Watering the rainlilies doesn't work - they are not fooled by a hose! But real rain brought them out of hiding. This pink rainlily came from Plant Delights nursery, but in the front yard I saw buds emerging from native white rainlilies and native yellow Copper lilies - maybe I can catch them in flower, too.

Thanks for visiting the Transplantable Rose ~ I wish you enough rain and enough sun to make your garden happy and many friends to enjoy it with you!

For the complete list of what is in bloom and a few more photos, go to my Annie's Addendum blog.

To see a roundup of gardeners who have joined in for the July 2012 edition of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, the invention of May Dreams Carol, go here to Carol's blog.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Tomato Garden Follies

At the end of year 6 of the Transplantable Rose blog, what better way to start year 7 than with tomatoes? We like peppers and tomatoes. We like growing them and we like eating them. I even wrote lyrics about the end of Tomato season for a music video called Farewell, Tomato.

After Philo made our small vegetable plot in 2004 we tried different ways to support & protect the plants.  

For a few years we just staked them

Our next phase lasted a few years - a large, strong, painted wooden framework that could support plants, bird netting & shade cloth. We hoped the net could slow down attacks by squirrels & birds.

It’s been fun trying new varieties every year, cramming in 9 or 10 tomato plants and 7 or 8 peppers, watering them by hand while knocking leaf-footed stink bugs into soapy water every day, with the reward of some salad tomatoes and frying peppers.

A post on GardenWeb suggested tying net gift bags over the tomatoes to protect them from the stinkbugs. I was too cheap to buy more than 2 – a good thing since the squirrels chewed off the whole tomato stem & ran away with the bags.

On Tom Spencer’s radio program we heard him mention one gardener who painted wooden balls red & hung them in the garden while the tomatoes were green. The idea was that any critter attacking the fake tomatoes would be convinced that hard, bad tomatoes grew in that garden. We tried it and saw no effect, but at least they’re decorative! 

Recent years broke the weather rules and what worked before no longer held up.  Last summer after every pepper plant in the vegetable garden died, I found a few new plants at a local nursery, put them into containers and those survived. The bird netting kept the birds from taking the tomatoes, but it allowed them to poke their beaks through the spaces to puncture the tomatoes.

The tomato frame filled the entire center of our little plot, making it difficult to get in to weed, prune & tie the plants and even harder to reach the stinkbugs. The stakes & frames gave the birds a good place to perch while they attacked the fruit. But we gardeners had no place to perch - the seat made from a slice of tree trunk had rotted.  

So we tweaked the vegetable plot, moving the compost enclosure and changing the layout. A central path looks better and gives us better access. There are fewer plants this year. Five pepper plants grow in containers and we’re getting a small, steady supply. We bought only 5 tomato plants and we’re getting a few of those each day, too.

The tomato vines are sort of draped over wire cages to hold the fruit off the ground but they’re not staked. In place of the garden netting I bought a few yards of inexpensive nylon net to sort of pouf over the top, using recycled bricks to keep it from blowing away. With a tighter weave and no convenient sticks for birdie feet to grasp, they have to work harder to punch holes in the tomatoes. 

They can still do it… our Blue Jays boldly cling to the kitchen windows and tap on the panes! The squirrels will chew through anything and possums and raccoons lurk at night. We know we can’t beat any of them but we're trying to stay in the game. 

If a stinkbug lands on the outside of the net it can’t fit through the small mesh. If the little monster is already inside clinging to the net I use the net to enfold & squish it.

A central path now leads to the concrete bench, relocated from the Secret Garden to the Vegetable Patch. Last June we turned two old compost bins upside down, painted them, added handles and called them tomato guards. This June they cover two tubs bought at some long ago garage sale, painted white. The tub on one side of the path has a pepper plant and a ‘San Marzano’ tomato grows on the opposite side. There’s something going on here but it doesn’t fit the usual categories… it’s not Potager and it’s not Austintatious and it’s not Garden Junk. Maybe it’s Transplanted Frugal Midwesterner?  

Two of the tomatoes were supposed to be our favorite ‘Black Krim’. At planting time I noticed a ‘Better Boy’ tag down the side of the pot. And that one ‘Black Krim’ has now turned to None. Look at these tomatoes! They all came from the same mislabled plant – not ‘Black Krim’ but it might take a tomato-genealogist to figure out what they are.

On the other hand, when that heirloom-lumpy tomato at far right finally ripened, it weighed in at over 13 ounces. Folly it may be, but what a delicious folly it was. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Three Sisters Bloom Day for May 2012

 This post was written by me, Annie in Austin, for my Transplantable Rose Blog.

Philo and I enjoyed the flowers that bloomed here on the 15th but May 15th was not my target date this month. The truly important date came a few days later when my sisters popped in from Illinois for a long weekend. They really came to visit our Austin family, not to see plants, but I still wanted the garden to shine.

Josie and Hannah have visited Austin before but only in fall. This time my gardening sisters and I would have our own special Garden Bloom Day for May. Some favorite plants didn't cooperate... 'Julia Child' rose had just finished a bloom cycle and it's too early for the 'Acoma' crepe myrtles

but a few Magnolia buds looked promising


We planned on meeting other family members at local restaurants for some meals but in a pre-houseguest tizzy I also cooked old favorites like Shredded Chicken with Peppers and baked a Cheesecake. Philo and I could hardly wait for our beloved guests to arrive! 

The front-garden greeting committee included the Mutabilis Rose. This enormous shrub rose used to be in shade by mid-May, but since the recent demise of Arizona Ash #2, it's still in sun and has continued to bloom.

Although Hesperaloe is called Red Yucca, it sure looks fluorescent pink to me. That's why this native relative of asparagus grows in the Pink Entrance Garden with Cherry Skullcap at its feet. Things would have been even more gaudy but the 'Belinda's Dream' rose behind the Hesperaloe was Resting Between Engagements.

The Vitex agnus-castus/Chaste tree caught Josie's eye as she went to the veranda steps. It had started to open over the weekend, the shrub resembling the unrelated Butterfly bushes while the color and shape of the blooms look a little like lilacs.
Like many plants here, the look of the flower draws you to smell it, but Vitex flower heads have only a vaguely herby-meadowy smell rather than a scent worth making into perfumes. 

In a similar way you can be drawn to the beauty of many Salvias while being repelled by the funky smell. Mexican Mint marigold flowers are not as beautiful as salvias, but the foliage smells better in an inside vase.    

For more than 50 years a peony that once grew in my grandmother's garden has been divided and shared around the family. In Illinois, Peonies and Lilacs rule the month of May with both color and fragrance but they can't live here so I had to leave them behind.
Luckily, Grandma's peony still blooms in the gardens of my sisters and cousins. My sister Hannah cut three flowers that were just beginning to show petal color and tucked them into her suitcase. I recut them and put them in water, and the first one opened two days later. 

My sisters' daylilies bloom at the end of June and during July, but in Austin they flower in late April and May. The old-fashioned orange daylily bloomed with Larkspur in April but by the time my sisters came it was done and the larkspur was going to seed. 'Devonshire' had open flowers, with purple-blue supplied by Mealy blue sage.

I brought 'Prairie Blue Eyes' to Austin with me in 1999 and it still looks good. 


A passalong daylily from Pam Penick, 'Best of Friends', was having a spectacular year - nine stems with 8 huge flowers open at once

 The dwarf 'Vi's Apricot' daylily had been blooming for weeks, a passalong from a friend in Illinois. My sisters took divisions of this little flower home to plant in their gardens - even though Vi can no longer garden, her special plant will keep on blooming.

My sisters saw the buds of the citron daylily - the original plant didn't live through summer 2011 but I'd moved a small division near the house. One flower opened yesterday.

The Cenizo/Texas sage had popped some flowers - today it's covered in blooms

Hannah & Josie liked the 'Red Cascade' climbing mini-rose mixed into the Rosemary

They liked the two-tone flowers of 'Hot Lips' salvia

They wondered how tropical milkweed would do in Illinois

And liked the pure light blue of Plumbago with Purple oxalis

They were here when the Hydrangea x Bliss 'Sweet Carol' bloomed for the first time since 2008.

They got to see dwarf pomegranates forming

 and to see small Meyer's lemons growing on the tree behind the house

The garden was full of birds this week - we watched them from the breakfast room and in the garden- here's a white-winged dove herding a fledgling under cover

And before they left, they encountered a genuinely lovely Southern scent - Magnolia blossoms on the 'Little Gem' tree.


We had a wonderful time but the few days went by in a blur - the entire family group liked Trudy's patio

 But all too soon they were rolling the suitcases away 

Now it seems like summer instead of May... yesterday we got the first tomatoes of 2012. 

This post was written by Annie in Austin for her Transplantable Rose Blog... probably much too late for the roundup of GBBD posts by May Dreams Carol 

Ed May 25, 2012. The complete list is now up at Annie's Addendum.