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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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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tough Enough Trough

Our scanner had been acting really weird, so we weren’t surprised when it gave a final grinding sound on Friday. My husband installed a new one Friday night. Since a new toy must be played with, I thought it would be fun to scan some old garden photos from our albums for this blog. Once Susan at Takoma Gardener posted about her 4-year old hypertufa, it was clear which photo belonged here.

Here's how our hypertufa trough looked in July of 1996. This trough is over 10 years old, originally made for our Chicago-area front garden and used for annuals that needed good drainage, like Portulaca. It’s been through 4 Illinois winters with sub-zero temperatures, spent another 5 years on a south-facing Texas deck with temperatures ranging from 116º down to 12º, and now rests on a sunny area of decomposed granite. Internal layers of chicken wire gave it enough strength to survive moving vans and freeze & thaw cycles.

Here is our Austin herb garden, a few steps from the kitchen. The old trough at the left now holds a prostate Rosemary and some thyme. To its right, a trough built in 2005 holds Mexican Mint Marigold, Tagetes lucida, and a lime-scented Thyme. Behind them at far left is a taller pot, made about 1998, containing an upright Rosemary that was mentioned in one of my old garden diaries.

When I bought this plant in Illinois, the date was Sept 25, 1991, it was a 3-inch seedling from the grocery store, and I paid all of 58 cents. Rosemary is hardy in Texas, but in Illinois this herb spent 8 winters on a south-facing windowsill, stems pressed against the glass to keep it cool without actually letting it freeze.
Out of camera range, another large trough holds cooking sage & a scented geranium, and we have a few tabletop-size hypertufa troughs, too. One of the small ones dates from 1996; the others were made recently. I like to use the small ones for different kinds of sedum.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Austin Tropicalesque

Sometimes my attempts at tropical flowers don’t work – my Brugmansia/Angel Trumpet still looks like a big weed, unwilling to bloom the way Hanna’s did on July 8th. Other exotic flowers are happy in my garden. Here are a pale yellow Plumeria flower , a rose-red Plumeria flower, a Hawaiian white ginger/Hedychium coronarium bloom and a Loquat tree/Eriobotrya japonica. The Plumeria flowers are also called frangipani and both colors smell wonderful. The white ginger smells wonderful. When they bloom in winter, the flowers of the Loquat smell wonderful. They all have big, tropical leaves, and make sitting on the patio seem like a vacation.

When the temperatures approach freezing, the Plumerias leave the patio, moving to their winter quarters in the garage, fasting and abstaining from fluids until spring. The ginger will usually die down to the ground, and sleep until April, protected by mulch, but the Loquat tree can take cold weather to 10º F. We’ve been lucky enough to get flowers every winter, but getting fruit is very chancy – just one dip into the mid-20’s can be the end of that year’s loquat crop. It would be cool to get the fruit, but we like the tree whether we get any loquats or not.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Self-seeded beauty

Last year some sunflowers appeared along the back fence. At first I thought the squirrels dropped them, on a trip from someone’s birdfeeder. But they looked like a taller version of the ones along the roadside – a wild sunflower instead of one cultivated for seeds or oil. The clump was too crowded so I thinned them, used some twine to stand them up after a storm and gave them a little water. The sunflowers bloomed, were demolished by squirrels, then died over the winter.

New sunflowers appeared this year in the same area. Once again I chose a couple of the healthiest seedlings, gave them a drink now and then and watched the biggest one take off, tying it to the fence as it reached upward. The top of the boards is six feet high, so these are tall flowers – laughing at the weather with just a little help from a friend.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Liberty Hill, where quirky rules

To see the scope of these ponds you really had to be there. While the quirky touches can be seen in the photographs, I can't capture the actual experience of being in the Texas countryside, walking around this engaging creation. All I can do is add one last picture of the miniature Hoover Dam.

My dad traveled to Las Vegas just to see that dam, and we're going to get there some day. Last Sunday the water and sun had me imagining things. I love the romantic comedy Fools Rush In, an admittedly goofy movie in which Hoover Dam plays a role. When I saw a small blue, truck-type vehicle placed on the road atop the model dam, I couldn’t help pretending that it was being driven by Salma Hayek.

The Ponds at Liberty Hill, next photo

The Austin Pond Society tour took in quite a large territory this year, reaching up past the northwest corner of Austin to encompass ponds in Cedar Park & Leander, then tossing a lasso up to Liberty Hill. Past the shopping centers, past the faux-Victorian subdivision houses, up to where the streets have horse names, the houses have a few acres surrounding them, and there is room to swing a cat – or a backhoe.

This pond owner/builder told me that he had an advantage when building his pond – he owns the backhoe, and lives in an area where rocks abound under the soil. Some pond gardens in more urban areas are designed for specific reasons: to muffle the sound of traffic, to add resale value to the property, to provide an impressive area for entertaining, to enclose the koi so they’re not pierced by herons, to provide privacy from close neighbors or to bring a feeling of nature to the city. This pond plays in a different arena – creative expression by a hard-working man who is having fun. It's actually a series of ponds, built in stages, displaying an adventurous & masterful use of plants, and decorated with whimsical touches. Along the back border of the pond area, native trees, shrubs and drought tolerant plants provided a colorful backdrop. A recent addition was standing cypress, Ipomopsis rubra. [You can see it at top left in the previous posted photo.] The owner intends to scatter the seeds of this beautiful flower, extending the bed into a border. Within the pond there was an area with bog plants, among them the red-flowering Lobelia cardinalis, happy to have damp feet in Central Texas. Wonderful water lilies are mandatory, of course! The bloom season of the water lilies is one reason for the mid-July timing of this annual tour.

With this large, well-built and well-planted foundation in place, the owner added many quirky touches, thus invoking what the tour brochure promised, “the essence of South Austin in Liberty Hill”. The effect was playful, charming the adults and delighting the children as they wandered up and around the ponds, discovering the Mariachi band, a lighthouse, a dry hill with cacti & a windmill, and dancing frogs tucked in along the way.

Sunday at Liberty Hill

When we went up to Liberty Hill, we not only enjoyed the ponds, but also found a stand with the best peaches we'd had this year.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ponds at night and a Leander RR

Over the hot, hot weekend we saw 25 of the 28 ponds on the Austin Pond Society Tour – if you drove fast and were efficient you might make them all, but for those of us who get into conversations, two days is too short! We took just a few photos - you’ll have to wait for more from the Austin Pond Society website.

Two of the locations were in Westlake, open on Saturday evening. Both featured impressive, beautiful ponds, streams and gardens, softly lit with lanterns. One even had violins sending classical music over the terraces. Many people loved the romantic ambience of the ponds at night, but it didn’t quite work for me. Climbing stone steps and feeling with one’s foot for an unknown path was rather awkward in the dark. For a plant person, it was very frustrating to see vague shapes and shadows of the leaves, and to not see the colors or flowers. But you did get an idea of how cool the parties must be at those homes!

These photos were taken in Leander, northwest of Austin, where the pond owner told me that a base for a miniature railroad track had come with the house, buried under the soil in a hilled-up area. Previous owners started it but never got very far. When the new owners recently built their pond, they decided to use the base and work the railroad into the design. This imaginative garden is still in progress – a viewing platform was built just the day before the tour folk arrived- soon the owners will use bonsai trees to complete the landscape and give a sense of proportion to the layout.

For the plant person there were huge stands of Pride of Barbados in the garden area, and the ponds were lovely, with waterlilies in bloom. In addition to the cute factor, there’s a historical factor: this miniature train is a replica of the one that once carried marble to Austin, to build the State Capitol.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Austin Pond Tour - still time

Today was the day for the first half of the Austin Pond Society's 2006 tour. DivaAnnie met us and we viewed 12 gardens with water features, generally located in the southern half of the Austin area. There is something new this year - two gardens will be open in Westlake this evening. Then tomorrow [Sunday] there will be 14 additional water gardens, spread out over the northern part of the greater Austin area. Even if you missed today's water gardens, it's worth the ten bucks to see the second half tomorrow.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006


My garden is in Austin – I’ve been an Austin gardener for years. Why, oh why did I buy this Gardenia jasminoides ‘Veitchii’? I knew it was dumb even before I read ”the infamous gardenia thread”.
So why? Well, for one thing, it was on sale at Red Barn, and cost less than an ugly bouquet at the grocery store. And the plant was already budded, ready to pop. There’s even a chance it’ll live, since a fairly large gardenia shrub grows about 6 blocks from here, blooming on the East side of a brick house. Miss Scarlet made me do it. On June 30th, seventy years had passed since Gone With the Wind hit the bookstores, and I decided to reread the book. Although the romance seemed the same, there were aspects I hadn’t noticed when I was younger. Had Margaret Mitchell always talked so much about the landscape? The pages are full of pine trees, peach trees, apple trees, magnolias, oaks, cedars and dogwoods. People gather on porches, rock on verandas, sit in arbors and stroll in rose gardens. Mockingbirds & jays make noise, while Scarlet passes over lawns made of clover and Bermuda grass, and remarks upon daffodils and jonquils, yellow jessamine, Cherokee roses and violets, blackberry brambles, crab apple trees, honeysuckle, sweet shrubs, hills of sweet potatoes, rows of peas & beans, fields of cotton, palmettos, wistaria, crepe myrtles, bald cypress, live oaks covered in moss, ivy, smilax, moss, and grapevines, coleus, geranium, oleander, hydrangea, elephant ear, rubber plants, nasturtiums, hollyhocks, crimson, yellow & white roses, ferns and gladioli. The young women wear fragrant Cape jessamine & pink tea roses in their hair or pinned at the bodice. Most of these plants summoned some sort of mental image, but ‘Cape Jessamine’ was unfamiliar. This turned out to be another name for Gardenia, loved for scented wrist corsages. So when that sale plant beckoned, to own my own fragrant Cape Jessamine was irresistible.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Yesterday I headed over to the shed, intending to bring some potting soil to the patio table. But instead of taking the direct route through the arch, my path went the long way around. I suddenly realized that I seldom walked through the arch that connected the patio with the rest of the yard. Why was I doing that?

Apparently it was just too darned unpleasant to walk under the Snail vine. Twice-a-week pruning was not keeping its rampant growth under control, and the lilac flowers were always covered in ants, which liked to crawl onto the gardener. Why was I tolerating this? I never even wanted a Snail vine – the label read fragrant Corkscrew vine! The color was bland! There was no fragrance! It was an ant magnet! Where are the pruners?

Once the Snail was gone, the native Coral honeysuckle was revealed, pretty but also scentless. Instead of fragrance for me, the hummingbirds got one of their favorite plants. For years I’ve grown the delicate, rather invasive Cypress vine, Ipomoea quamoclit, and Cypress vine seedlings pop up in a few places every year. I found one and transplanted it to twine on the arch. With a little luck we’ll have a magnet for hummers instead of for ants.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Blue & Moon

Two annual vines are growing on the NE fence, winding themselves onto twine that was threaded through some metal eyelets. The individual flowers last just a day, but keep coming for a long time. The white one is Moon Vine, Ipomoea alba, opening at night and scented. The blue one is Clitoria ternatea, usually called Butterfly Pea or Blue Pea Vine, which opens in the daytime, but was still intact as the moon vine opened.

Friday, July 07, 2006

This Old Rock

As more gardeners put the daily events into garden blogs, will anyone still make entries in paper journals? In the nineteen seventies & eighties I used the kitchen calendar to jot down frosts, rains, bloom dates and first tomatoes. By 1989 the garden had expanded too much for a small square, and I started filling the first of a series of blank books. The entries range from rapturous descriptions to weather complaints, to terse mentions of plant names and dates. Sometimes the subject has nothing to do with gardening, as family joys and tragedies, politics or world events take over the pages. Because I kept notes, even in my slapdash style, I can look at this photo and know that the holey rock with the sedum growing out of it was bought on July 7, 1993, in Cave City, Kentucky

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Goth Acomas

Our previous house had a deck, and we wanted to grow plants with white blooms on it, to glow in the evening when we were in the pool. We chose a semi-dwarf crepe myrtle, Lagerstroemia ‘Acoma’, for its white flowers and smaller size.

The original plan was to grow the crepe myrtles in pots for a year or two, then plant them in front of the house. That plan fizzled, and our two young trees were trapped in their large cylindrical, clay containers for more than 5 years, where they rarely produced a flower. By the time we moved here, they were barely 2-feet tall, and they’d contorted themselves into twisted, cascading bonsai specimens, sending their almost leafless branches down over the sides of the crumbling pots toward the deck, away from the sun. Using them as normal trees was no longer an option, and we were advised to just ditch them and start over.

But Philo & I like to experiment, so we gave them a second chance, pruning out the interiors, and coaxing them into a sort of espalier form along the fence. Two years of reshaping have encouraged them to grow trunks, with branches arching upward and outward, and the Acomas now graze the top of the 6-foot privacy fence. By next summer, they should filter our view of the neighbors’ pink tree. The trunk shape is spare, flat & angular, while the branch tips bend with the weight of the flowers, and there is enough air and light around the trees for other plants to grow.

Our Acomas bear little resemblance to the multi-trunked crepe myrtles growing like separate, huge, stalked bouquets around the shopping malls, for their charm is not that of a natural plant grown well to its full potential. Instead these blooming survivors cast weird, skeletal, interesting shadows on the fence.