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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, October 30, 2006

Directed by Duplass

In this movie-mad town, everyone knows someone who was an extra in a movie or who was a member of the crew. Austin bloggers reported their strange experiences with antique uniforms during the filming of The Alamo, and some friends described doing time with Johnny Knoxville as extras for The Ringer. They'd moan about the tedium of filming, then two seconds later were saying how cool it was to see how movies are made. We’d heard similar good/bad stories from people who were extras for movies made in Chicago, and hoped we’d get a chance to find out for ourselves.
Early last week I got an email, inviting us to be extras for a movie being filmed by Jay & Mark Duplass. As soon I saw who the filmmakers were, I emailed back a definite 'yes', asking that both Philo & I be put on the list. We liked the Duplass brothers’ last movie very much. It was one of two movies I talked about in my June 21st post if you want to check the archives.

Back then I said that this ”…combination road picture/relationship movie is called The Puffy Chair. Jay and Mark, the Duplass brothers, some-time-Austin residents, made the film on an incredibly small budget using many ways to keep costs down: one brother is the director and cameraman, the other stars and acts as producer, family members were talked into giving financial support and taking roles as actors, the homes of family & friends are used as sets, and the number of takes was kept short.
The performances are a delight, and we want to see these people again. Rhett Wilkins is making a habit of playing quirky brothers, since he is the main character’s nature-boy brother in this movie, and the main character’s older brother in Jumping Off Bridges. There are parts of this movie that leave you limp from laughing.
The Duplass Brothers were present at our showing of the movie, and they are hilarious and articulate in person. Mark Duplass has an intense and expressive look, reminding me somehow of Martin Landau when he was very young. Back in 1959, Landau had to be the villain in North By Northwest, but Mark gets to be the lead in a world that better appreciates interesting faces.”

You can read more about the movie at the Official Site. This October, after screenings at festivals and some theaters, The Puffy Chair became available on DVD through Netflix. Now even if you live where access to independent films is limited, you have a chance to enjoy this movie.

Last weekend we went to the filming site for the new project, and found out that many of the other people were experienced at being extras. There were some professional film actors in the group, as well as a local stage actress. We heard about their previous movie work and noticed that some extras brought additional articles of clothing and reading material. All we brought was a tin of Altoids.

It won’t be giving anything away if I tell you that we extras portrayed members of an audience in a movie theater – that’s already been in the movie blogs
It won’t be giving anything away to say how fascinating it was to watch Jay & Mark and their cast & crew in action.
I’ll only give away my one, tiny ‘extra’ moment which happened during a brainstorming session about one line of dialogue. I made a very audible wisecrack, causing Jay Duplass to look up, smile and say “That’s really funny!” Then he laughed. I found it very cool to make a movie director laugh, especially since he’s the same age as my kids.

Twenty-two years ago we had a big party, and I dressed as Magenta from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. For 2006, this hat and official Puffy Chair T-shirt will be my costume!
Happy Halloween!

EDITED JUNE 15, 2008
We didn't know what the movie title would be back when we were extras in October 2006, but the Duplass brothers named their horror/relationship comedy Baghead. It played Sundance and is now premiering in Austin (playing at the Regal Arbor and at the Alamo Drafthouse) even before it opens on East and West coasts. Philo and I saw the movie (yes, we are visible!) and I'll be posting about it soon.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Destiny or Delusion?

In March I read about a Meyer’s Lemon tree in bloom at Zanthan Gardens, learning that MSS brought it inside only in the coldest winter, and that the butterfly-magnet blossoms smelled really good. This description intensified my desire to grow a Lemon tree, but I thought they were too expensive and didn’t actively search for one.

In April, Philo was looking for lumber, and I was bored and looking for trouble, tagging along to the big box store, cruising the garden section as I entered the building. It must have been Destiny when I stopped in front of a batch of newly unpacked little trees. These trees were small, “produced in Texas”, and labeled “Improved Meyer’s Lemon. They were tagged at only $14.88 so owning this lemon tree was affordable. In addition to the lure of the beautiful glossy foliage, there were even a few tiny lemons developing on one branch, proving that this particular tree had borne flowers.

We put the pot on the patio near the Rosemary where we could see it from the breakfast room, watching the tiny lemons grow slowly, so that by June they looked like medium size limes. There were also a few more blossoms, creamy and fragrant.

It’s nearing November now and my baby tree has held onto most of the fruit, even through the drought. The lemons are now turning yellow.

This little tree pleases me whenever I look at it, and whether or not the fruit turn out to be as delicious as the tag promised, they’re beautiful.

I should now be thinking of a place inside my house where the Lemon can get light all winter, but since last Saturday I’ve been envisioning a different future for my tree.

Over at Digging, Pam has been posting a photo journal of last Saturday’s Garden Conservancy tour. Philo & I went to several of the gardens, including that of Deborah Hornickel. Deborah’s garden is wonderful and dramatic, with interesting plants and great design – she was featured in a recent issue of Cottage Living Magazine. If you go over to Pam/Digging's Post you’ll see Deborah’s huge Meyer’s Lemon tree, planted outside, sheltered by the southwest-facing wall of her house. The lemons are enormous! Deborah told me that hers was just a small plant similar in size to mine when she took a chance and set it into the ground 5 years ago.

I really want to try this! Although it’s not exactly a blank area, there’s a perfect spot on a Southwest-facing wall at the back of our house. A large Nandina that was planted by one of the previous owners is there now, and we neither like nor dislike this Nandina – it just came with the house. Luckily for me, Philo was quite taken with the lemon at Deborah’s house, too, and he’s willing to oust the Nandina so we can plant our Meyer’s Lemon tree there. There’s an overhanging eave for ice protection, and it’s close to the back door – increasing the chances that we won’t forget to water it, and can quickly cover it with a blanket on a cold night.

A new batch of blossoms opened last week and are now turning into another set of tiny fruit, which will need months of sun and water to turn into juicy globes. I don't know what will happen if they get too cold and I don't know if the lemon could come back from the roots if we have a mini-ice age in Austin. But I’m ready to take a $15 chance on something wonderful. Do you think this plan is crazy, or would you also plant the Meyer's Lemon outside?

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Continuing Evolution of the Patio

The Veranda, as described in a September post, was already there, and except for the steps, its evolution didn’t require hard labor. But more than vision was needed for the Patio at the back of the house – it’s taken two years of muscle and materials, and it’s still evolving. If we had a bigger landscaping budget, lived in a colder climate or owned a house from a different era, we might have chosen other methods or materials, but our plan suited this house, this town and two mature people with time and energy.

This is not a How-to-do-it post – more a What-we-did story.
The patio looked like this when our realtor showed us the house – it was the usual 20’ X 12’ poured concrete rectangle, possibly installed by the builder in the 1970’s. A sidewalk starts at the patio and passes in front of the breakfast room window on its way to the gate. A door from the house opens onto the patio. We were pleased to see that we could fit the table & chairs and the grill on the concrete, with room left for a few pots.
A few pots? We moved here with over 100 container plants in the summer of 2004, carried from the deck and porch of our previous home. Some of them were supposed to be patio plants but most of them belonged in borders and beds. Since we hadn’t yet made the borders and beds, the patio was wall-to-wall with furniture and terra cotta, genuine and faux, overflowing onto the grass.

We had perennials: clematis, heirloom daylilies, agaves, hibiscus, balloon flowers and Amarcrinums. We had tender plants that moved inside for the winter like the Plumeria. We needed a place near the kitchen for the burgeoning herb and hypertufa collection.
A forest of young trees and shrubs had started out as one-gallon starter plants but many were approaching landscape size: one Southern Wax Myrtle, a Camellia japonica, a 4-foot Osmanthus fragrans/Tea Olive, two ‘Celeste’ Figs, an heirloom Philadelphus/Mock orange, a couple of Boxwoods, a large double-yellow Nerium oleander, a Callicarpa Americana/Beautyberry, a Lady Banks Rose, yards of Carolina Jessamine/Gelsemium sempervirens, a little Vitex, two Lagerstroemia/’Acoma’ crepe myrtles and 6-feet of Loquat/Eriobotrya japonica. We also had a tall metal arch that could work for the long side of the patio.

The front panes of the breakfast room window looked across the lawn to an old metal shed, smothered in Hall’s honeysuckle. Seedling crepe myrtles grew against one side pane of the breakfast window, with the sidewalk and grass below. All this had to go - we wanted to see flowers, herbs, birds, bees and butterflies.

As the first winter approached, I planned my long border, dollying pots with selected plants to their future positions along the back fence. I crammed the remaining pots together right up to the edge of the patio, hung the plants with mini-lights and called it our Bistro.

While I puttered around, Philo measured and planned. He had figured out how to enlarge the patio, not by pouring concrete but by using a gravel-type product called decomposed granite, a technique we’d seen on tours of well-known Austin gardens.
His plan was to delineate an area adjoining the perimeter of the concrete, remove the grass and dig out 6 - 8 inches of soil. Philo would use edging to contain the area, we’d replace the soil with one layer of pea gravel, then top it with several layers of decomposed granite totaling 4” in depth, packing each layer in turn. In this way we could keep the furniture and foot traffic on the concrete surface, while using the gravel pads as transitional areas where container plants could meld the patio to lawn and garden.

The first gravel bed was a test. In spring 2005 we made an 8-foot quarter-circle on the sunny end, fitting it between patio and sidewalk, so that the rosemary and herb troughs could be seen from the breakfast table. We bought the gravel and granite from a nearby organic materials dealer, shoveling them into reusable 5-gallon bags, and loaded the car with 8 or 10 at a time. The herb bed worked well, drained perfectly and looked good all summer.

When fall arrived, we added a second quarter-circle on the opposite end, where it could function both as a walkway to the far end of the yard, and as a place for semi-shade plants. Earlier in 2005, we’d taken the Loquat out of its pot and planted this broadleaf evergreen tree near the far end. In time, it should add shade and privacy.
We started work on the next stage in March 2006, when Philo decided to add a two-foot band across the front edge of the patio. He set the edging and we began to dig, sure that this amount of space would be enough.

The metal arch was set into the decomposed granite, a large precast concrete square was set in front of the arch and large containers were placed on each side. I bought our Lady Banks Rose in 2000, bumping it up to a larger container every year. That’s Lady Banks in bloom on the left side of the arch. This spring I bought a native Coral Honeysuckle/Lonicera sempervirens for the pot on the right. The honeysuckle was very small, and I wanted some scent so I added a second small plant, labeled fragrant Corkscrew vine. I figured they’d be okay together.

Wrong! Although it looked good at first, the non-fragrant vine, now recognized as a Snail Vine, tried to murder the honeysuckle. Another Snail vine was thriving elsewhere, so this one was expendable. After I cut the Snail down to a clump & potted it for adoption, DivaAnnie, who liked its flowers, let it come to her garden. Philo added two more precast squares to make an entrance walk, the rose and honeysuckle did reasonably well, and an annual Cypress Vine was accepted by the main characters for the rest of the summer. But something looked wrong - the shapes of the pots and the arch resembled security barriers guarding an entrance.
Last week we added more gravel to make a curving sort of apron for the arch and took the honeysuckle and rose out of their containers, planting them directly into the ground. The whole area was mulched with the decomposed granite.
So far, it seems to work. The patio looks less blocky with the arch moved forward, no longer in line with the large containers along the front edge. I like the way the vine shapes join the trellis nearer to ground level rather than at the top of the containers. Both the Lady Banks rose and the Coral honeysuckle had minor damage from the move, but they’re recovering, and should do well.

Now I can rework the large patio containers, make better combinations, and transplant more of the plants into the beds and borders. Having a transitional area can be handy as plants grow and change! The Loquat is already making the far end shadier, but we’ll have options, because the gravel areas are mutable and the containers are moveable.

About the frequently used ‘we’ in these posts… it’s not an Editorial 'We' or a Royal 'We'. No other word seems to work for a couple with years of experience in working together on house & garden projects. In this case, it’s Philo who swings the mattock to break up rock layers, and does most of the heavy digging, the heavy thinking, and puts in the edges. I help to fill and haul the granite at the U-Dig place & do most of the plant wrangling and planting. I also do a pretty good imitation of Lucy stomping the grapes to compact the layers of gravel.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


As the Northern gardeners retreat into their houses, we’ve finally had a few days this week when it was mild enough to turn off the air-conditioning and open the windows. Today’s high was only 83º, a perfect day for the Farmers Market.

The Austin organization called TreeFolks began in 1989 and today, "TreeFolks grows the urban forest of Central Texas through tree planting, education and community partnerships."

The group held their first ever benefit tree sale today at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market. There were all kinds of trees available, and a large crowd took home new additions for their own part of the urban forest. The Treefolks even offered delivery and planting services!

My friend Shanda was part of the sale crew – here she checks out some of the fruit trees. Shanda is a member of Treefolks, and also one of the Divas of the Dirt. After some consideration, we bought a Texas redbud for a spot that needs a hardy native ornamental.

Once the tree was stashed in the car, we strolled the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, buying tomatoes, pecans, cucumbers and oranges. Whenever we come to the Farmers Market, we always go to JimJim’s Water Ice stand [Philo’s favorite is Mango] and I check out the plant vendors. Today I found a Chocolate mint for a couple of bucks. I’ve tried them in containers but August was too brutal -this one will go in the ground, and maybe it will live through the next summer.

Live music is part of the Market, too. Jimmy Natoli is frequently seen and heard, but today there was a group of young violinists sending their music aloft. I hope TreeFolks did well with their sale!

Friday, October 13, 2006


When you look at this photo the conifers might tell you that it wasn’t taken in Texas – in fact it wasn’t taken in this century. A woman named Pam snapped the shutter in June of 1993, as she looked out on the Vermont countryside from the Tearoom of the VonTrapp estate. Pam was part of a group of gardening friends who were touring New England, but not as part of a garden club or a horticulture class. Back in those pre-blogging days, they’d all met on the Prodigy garden bulletin board, where they found soulmates – other people who were obsessed with perennials, bulbs, flowering shrubs and creating personal landscapes.

The Prodigy gardeners went to Readsboro, Vermont where these Hostas graced the grounds of North Hill. Garden authors and partners Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd started this garden in 1977 and thirty years later, they’re still holding open days for groups and fundraisers.

I was one of those long ago perennial maniacs, going online as Kat in N-IL whenever I had time to spare. Despite having only plain text to express our thoughts, slow response times, single phone lines with dial-up, and no way to post a photo or a drawing, it was addictive and exhilarating. Since I couldn’t meet with the others in New England, the garden at North Hill and the Von Trapp estate came to me in photos sent around the country after the trip.

This is also from Vermont - I think it's at Cady's Falls Nursery in Stowe. We never met in person so I can’t even put names to the faces, but loved their words and wonder where they are and if any of them are now garden bloggers, too.

Shout out to all you Gardeners from the Prodigy bulletin boards – Niko in Norwalk, Connecticut, Allen in Linwood, New Jersey, Marion from Waterbury, Vermont, Denise in Minnesota, Ellen & Deb from Illinois, Margaret in New York, Pam in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Bargyla in San Diego, California, Don from Saginaw, Michigan, Joyce in South Carolina, Nancy from Norcross, Georgia and all the others - I hope you’re still in the garden!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Full Moon in October

A few days ago I picked up the camera, and tried to catch the Moonvine Flowers gleaming in the light of an almost-full moon. They’ve been blooming off and on since July, entwined with a Clitoria ternatea/ Blue Pea Vine.

While trying to take a photo of the Moonvine, something fluttered in front of me – an adult Sphinx moth. I used the flash, and caught him at work. The eyes look pink in the photo, and that’s how they looked in real life.

Last April, before my debut as a garden blogger, I’d taken photos of a White Sphinx Moth caterpillar on my Gaura. Pam/Digging posted a photo of her Sphinx caterpillar around the same time, a sort of bonding experience – for me, anyway!
I wonder how many generations of White-lined Sphinx moths have followed since April?

The Moonvines had followed the support wires, and one tendril had reached up to climb into the neighbors’ pink crepe myrtle, opening a flower 9-feet in the air… in the dark it looked suspended rather than supported.

I was awake late last night, and at 2 AM, decided to go on the patio to stand under the full moon.
The October moon is usually the Hunter’s Moon, and some towns, like West Lafayette, Indiana, are holding Hunter’s Moon Festivals this weekend.
But according to the Farmer's Almanac, the date of last night’s full moon was closer to the equinox than the date for the September moon, making the October moon the Full Harvest Moon, with the Hunter’s Moon still to come in November.

I opened the patio door and walked out, loving the way that moonlight can make shadows, sure that I could actually see in colors. Ten yards to my left the white discs of the Moonvines hung on the fence. As I turned toward the fence, something low and round came barreling out of the dark corner of the fence corner straight at me – just as my brain said, ‘neighbor’s cat’, the head came up, we locked eyes and I saw the mask. I stood still, and stared back - the raccoon decided to rotate and run, climbing the fence and disappearing in a couple of seconds. He may have known it was the Harvest Moon, but wasn’t sure whether I was celebrating the Hunter’s.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it...

Does anyone else find it impossible to pass the ‘Rescue Table’ without at least taking a look? It’s that section of a nursery where the dried–up, the bloomed-out and the too-late-for-this-season sit abashed in their liners, hanging their heads in dishonor under the sign of ‘clearance’. The price might be a couple of dollars, or maybe a quarter. Annie/Diva claims to have found a few of her exotic treasures for a dime, but she’s got bargain radar extraordinaire. A lot of these bargains turn up at the big box stores, so we always use the garden entrance, even when buying filters for the air conditioner or light bulbs.

It's not just the price – there’s something appealing about being the plant’s last hope, about taking something one step away from the trash and making it live. If the mission fails, there’s no disgrace when even the vendor had given up on the plant.

I don't look for shrubs or trees. Early maltreatment or root damage can show up years after you plant it, and I want the best possible permanent residents. I stick to ‘just for fun’ plants, those annuals and perennials that are interesting but not essential elements in the design.
One of the bargains that revived to bloom again were seen here on June 29th, the ‘Crème Brulee’ coreopsis. That was 3 months ago, and they’re still opening new flowers. Making it through winter without rotting won’t be easy for them in my clay ground, but I hope they’ll live to bloom again next summer.

An end-of-season bag containing 3 oriental lily bulbs was less than $2 a few years back. It was past mid-summer when I planted them in a good-sized container. They sat in semi-shade and were watered regularly. The soil was light with lots of humus, and there was a layer of wood chips on the bottom of the pot. Nothing happened that fall, but some stalks emerged the following spring – all leaves, no flowers. Another year, some time and care and the pot overflowed with fragrant lilies, in bloom when our house was up for sale. I brought the pot along when we moved here and planted them in the ground the next year. They didn’t do much last summer, but this July they bloomed again.

Sometimes you see cardboard cartons of clematis roots, with the roots enclosed in a plastic bag of peat moss. This is not the kind of clematis to buy if you’re putting together a garden – get one in a decent container from a good nursery. But I was just fooling around, trying to see what could grow in a container on a deck in Austin, Texas. One section of that deck was more test plot than garden. I noticed that one of the clematis in a carton on the clearance table seemed to have viable leaf buds, so I brought it home and potted it. It grew in that pot for a couple of years, making a substantial root system.
When it eventually bloomed, the Clematis was not the variety pictured on the cardboard, but I liked the color. I planted it near the back door when we moved here, with blue plumbago to shade the base. This August the clematis looked like heck, with most of the leaves turned crispy brown. But the stems retained a hint of green, and several weeks ago new leaves appeared, followed by buds, then once again, the purple flowers.

A decorative container with 9 dying lantana plants stuffed into it was $2, but lantana is basically a weed - all I had to do was get them out of the pot and into the ground.

I have to post this photo, too, and admit that I haven't won the plant rescue game every time.

I had such high hopes for this pitiful Alocasia ‘Hilo Beauty’, a deal at $2 instead of the original twenty. Bought last fall and looking ratty back then, too, this plant lived through our winter in a dormant state, and awoke in spring.

Will it ever forgive me for making it live in Austin this summer? My mission could still succeed if I'm patient and lucky.


There have been a few changes to this post - new information is in red.

This post lists addresses for local places where I’ve bought plants and supplies. Most of them are independent. I usually try to get things at an independent nursery first, but if I’m in a Lowe’s, I’ll check the plants out and also will look at the plants outside groceries like Sun Harvest or HEB. [Both Lowe’s and HEB grocery frequently carry some organic products.] I also go to sales held by a garden clubs and plant societies and to sales run by Austin organizations like the Wildflower Center; I've found many plants at the Spring festival at Zilker Park; it's now called Zilker Fest, but long-time Austinites may prefer the former name of Florarama.

John Dromgoole’s The Natural Gardener, far SW near Oak Hill, tons of plants, décor and supplies, including dig-your-own soil amendments. It’s an amazing place! Go there! John also has a call-in radio show and appears on television.
[If you're at work, turn down the sound, or your coworkers will hear a rooster crow.]

Garden-Ville for compost, potting soil, and dig-it-yourself decomposed granite, 10624 N FM 620, far NW Austin. Gardenville no longer lets people dig and bag the soils, composts, etc., themselves - we were there in May 2007. There's a chance they may allow it again if they can redesign the materials lot, making a separate loading area for small, hand dug orders; they wish to avoid having humans and machines working in the same area.

Sunset Valley Farmers Market has several vendors who sell interesting plants, including vegetables, herbs, banana plants, brugmansia, and perennials;

Red Barn Nursery, 12881 Pond Springs Rd, in NW Austin, perennials, annuals, vines, shrubs, trees. This area was originally called Jollyville, and the building was once the historical Thompson home. Some of the Divas of the Dirt remember when the grounds were a mini-golf course. Phone 335-8093.

Hill Country Nursery Gardens, 13561 Pond Springs Rd, in NW Austin, Trees, pots, plants, annuals, vegetable plants. Well-known for hanging baskets. Phone 512- 258-0093.

Countryside Nursery & Landscaping, 13292 Pond Springs Rd, NW Austin,
Perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees and a lot of organic products. Phone 512-249-0100

The Great Outdoors, 2730 S. Congress Ave. Central South Austin, plants and containers in a lovely setting, with a little venue for coffee & tea and stuff to go with them. See an enormous windchime hanging in a humongus live oak.

McIntire’s Garden Center, 303 Leander Rd, Georgetown, TX, an old fashioned place with roses up north of Austin

It's A Jungle, 907 Kramer Lane in North Austin off Lamar. Tons of roses, orchids and exotic plants.

Shoal Creek Nursery, Hancock Drive (between Mopac & Shoal Creek) Austin, TX 78746. Phone is 458-5909 .

Barton Springs Nursery, 3601 Bee Cave RdWest Lake Hills, TX 78746(512) 328-6655 is a favorite of many friends, including Austin Garden Bloggers. I need to get there, too!

Kimas Tejas Nursery , 962 State Highway 71E , Bastrop, Texas 78602, , far southeast, organic type place in the country, trees, plants and supplies http://www.texasgrown.com/ [Back in January, we heard that this nursery had closed. I had a note from Steve Bridges in May 2007, "We have since opened back up and will be here now on a seasonal basis; March, April, May, June – Wednesday thru Saturday, closed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.
Closed July and August. Open for fall in September, October and November. Closed December, January and February."]

MSStevens from Zanthan also recommends Sledd Nursery, near downtown Austin.
Last year we visited Floribunda, a design studio with gorgeous pots and unusual plants, 2041 South Lamar Blvd., Central South Austin.

Pam/Digging links to her list of nurseries on the right sidebar at her site

Gone But Not Forgotten

Marbridge Garden Center, part of the Marbridge Foundation in far south Austin used to sell lots of plants and unusual shrubs, but as of December 2006, Marbridge no longer sells plants to the public, reserving the gardens for horticultural therapy. Here is a link to the announcement: