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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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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bringing the Plants Inside

This post, "Bringing the Plants Inside", was written for my blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.
Last Wednesday I planted bulbs while wearing shorts, because it was 89°F in early afternoon. The temperatures quickly dropped and we woke to 38°F on Thanksgiving morning. The cool weather lasted all weekend bringing an inch-and-a-half of needed rain. When I heard that a frost warning was issued for pre-dawn on Monday I was glad the two 7-foot tall plumerias were already inside the garage. It takes two people and a wheeled dolly to move them, but the smaller plants are easy to grab and move inside the garage. Just in case we dipped below freezing, I also cut one stem of the iris in its improbably late November bloom.

The frost was very light - just the basil, the tips of the impatiens and the sweet potato vines looked injured. The frost did less damage than last week's fight between a cat and a raccoon - that loud, midnight skirmish destroyed a large container of impatiens.

The Meyer's Lemon can shuttle between garage and patio until it gets really cold, but what about the four Christmas-type cactus, the aloe, the small jade plant and the unnamed Haworthia? They summer outside but they're frost-tender and the only window with enough winter sun for plants is in the breakfast room. Some of the plants had grown so much they had to be repotted and some of the pots were too big for the narrow sill. Philo came up with a solution. He built a two-legged table that fits over the sill, doubling the depth so more plants can fit.

Three of the Christmas cactus had set buds and went on the new shelf. The poky fourth one went out to the patio table.... maybe it will still set buds and catch up.
The salmon geranium at right has been blooming in the breakfast room window since March of 2006 but the red cyclamen at left was a recent impulse purchase. One of the jade plants was tucked in, a just budded Mother-of-Thousands came in from the patio to stand on the floor at left and the aloe vera is jammed in back. When it gets colder the Meyer's Lemon can stand on the floor on the right.

So our inside garden will be safe when the real freeze arrives. Perhaps I should have left the iris outside to take its chances but there's something so interesting and surreal in seeing them on the table [with a couple of sprigs of lavender!] on November 27th.
Outside, the light frost hadn't affected the Cestrum nocturnum on the south wall. This night-blooming jasmine usually releases its scent only after dark but I could smell its powdery scent today at 10 AM.

The 'Champagne' mini rose continues to bud and flower in the secret garden.

Cilantro plants go to seed when the heat arrives. The leaves are cilantro, but the seeds are coriander. After the seeds dried on last spring's plants I tossed them around and a few seedlings have sprouted to grow in cooler weather.

Most of the pecan and ash leaves are still on the tree - actually they're still green - but there were lots of wet, brown pecan leaves to rake. They don't add much fall color, do they? In the background you can see the second Meyer's Lemon, planted in the ground near the south wall, still shrouded in its frost-cover.

While raking I found a bunch of pecans and picked them all up. You know how you sort of learn to guess the relative weight of an object with experience? When I was in college I worked in a deli, and after some time could know what a half-pound was. This fall we learned to pick up pecans and know instantly which nutshells will be full, which empty, and which only partially developed. The good nuts are the smaller group lined up at the bottom and the larger group at the top are all empties.
Pecans and iris at the same time! Who could have guessed this would be our November harvest?
This post, "Bringing the Plants Inside", was written for my blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Old Dogs Learn Something New

This post, "The Old Dogs Learn Something New", was written for my blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.

Philo and I were invited to a pig roast on Saturday afternoon. As I gathered ingredients for corn bread and some Meyer's Lemon/Cranberry relish that morning, Tom Spencer's garden radio show played in the background. Tom's answer to one caller sent me running down the hall to the office - Philo had to hear about this! A woman wondered whether she should put the shells from her pecans into the compost or use them as mulch - and she was told it might not be such a good idea... while pecans are not as allelopathic [not alleopathic*] as Genie's infamous Black Walnut, they do contain juglone, a substance that can prevent the healthy growth of certain other plants.

With that large canopy of pecan trees hanging over our garden and the ground covered with husks and shells discarded by the squirrels, how concerned should we be? Was this the reason our tomato plants grew well the first summer, but seemed progressively more spindly the last two seasons?

We'd heard for decades that some plants, including tomatoes, wouldn't grow under Black Walnut trees- friends in Illinois had that experience - but we hadn't realized Pecans also had some juglone. The two of us started searching and reading, finding references to
Black Walnuts, Pecans, Allelopathy and juglone in many articles, advice columns, forums, sites from universities and extension sites. As always, clip-and-paste ran rampant, with many sites using exactly the same wording and the authors disagreeing completely on the toxicity.

The conflicting articles stated that the leaves had juglone but the shells did not; that the juglone was concentrated in shells and bark; that it could persist for a long time or that a few weeks of composting eliminated it; that there was enough juglone in pecans to stop the growth of tomatoes or that the amount was so minimal it didn't count. Whether the soil was sandy or clay seemed to make a difference, as did the amount of moisture. Some sources recommended that adding lots of compost and improving drainage could remedy an area with high amounts of juglone. We read that juglone from black walnuts is used in traditional medicine to heal ringworm in humans and also read that allelopathy* swings both ways - the Department of Horticulture at Oklahoma State in Stillwater found that bermuda grass may inhibit the growth of pecan trees.

When I browsed a Project Gutenberg book called Growing Nuts in the North by Carl Weschke, one chapter told of the author's experiments in the early 1920's. It was pretty funny to hear him call the pesky squirrels "bushy-tailed rats" - that was definitely a bonding moment with someone from the past.

Our tentative conclusion after a couple of hours research was that for most areas of the garden, any juglone found in the pecan tree did not seem to have done any harm. On the other hand, it had probably been a mistake to incorporate such large amounts of pecan leaves into the tomato & pepper garden over the last 3 years and the waterlogged conditions of early summer may have intensified the effect.

Although our conclusions are tentative, we've noticed that several other plants in the nightshade family declined when in the root zone of the pecans - the Brugmansia got smaller instead of larger and only grew when moved to the far side of the garden. So to be on the safe side, we'll keep the pecan leaves, twigs and hulls out of the vegetable garden and not use them anywhere unless they've composted for a year. We'll add different compost to the tomato bed in spring, perhaps treating it with liquid compost now. A few weeks ago I transplanted that Solanum in the photo above to the triangle bed. It's one of the ornamental potato flowers but it wasn't growing or flowering. Now I realize this member of the nightshade family was also under the drip line of the pecan. Was that a factor in its failure to thrive?

This is more than you wanted to know about juglone, isn't it! If a pecan appears here again, I promise it will be in a pie! Let's move on to flower photos.

There were a few openings since the blooms were posted on the 15th - here's the peach iris unfolded. It sure looks odd backed by blue Plumbago, lemons, a 9-foot Brugmansia and the pink cuphea in bloom!

The Sasanqua camellia 'Shishi Gashira' opened a few flowers yesterday, but a fast moving gust of rain and wind shattered the flowers. More buds await their turn.

The next flower is difficult to photograph - a polaroid filter held over the lens helped a little.
That white line is the odd flower of a plant called Hoja santa, or Piper auritum, with large aromatic leaves that are used in Central Mexican cuisine. We once tried them parboiled and cut into squares, then filled with a chicken, pepper and rice mixture before folding into packets and baking.

Austin garden photographer Valerie was the person who first introduced me to Hoja santa - she has more information on the plant.

A cold front with rain is expected tomorrow evening followed by a weekend of cold, wet weather with highs in the fifties and lows in the upper-thirties. [from 10 degrees down to 2 degrees for you who use Celsius].
But today I can still admire a gulf fritillary on the pink cuphea.

Today I can enjoy the red berries on the Yaupon holly as it arches across from the left side of the path to the gate, mingling with the sharp and pointed leaves of the holly tree growing next to the garage.

This post, "The Old Dogs Learn Something New", was written for a blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from Philo and Annie in our garden in Austin, Texas.

*Edited Nov 26 - my son pointed out that the words are allelopathic not alleopathic, and allelopathy not alleopathy. Thanks, kiddo - still learning .... Arf, arf.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for November

This post, "Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for November", was written for my blogspot blog called The Transplantable Rose by Annie in Austin.

In addition to starting the book club, Carol from May Dreams Garden has asked us to post about what blooms in our gardens on the 15th of each month. Go to the comments to see who else is posting for November. The year is winding down for gardeners - will we be showing houseplants next month?

Since we haven't had a frost, there are flowers to be found here in November - not masses of bloom, or a riot of color, but tucked in here and there. If that frost arrives on schedule this will be the last bloom day for most of my flowers. In the mailbox bed the Pavonia lasiopetala, also called Rock Rose, still blooms.

You can't see much if you stand back from the borders, so move in close to see the Salvia 'Coral Nymph', with flowers open and seeds ready to start the next cycle of sprout, bloom and reseed. It's also growing in the pink entrance garden and around the far side of the house.


In the footprint where the Arizona Ash grew most of the wildflowers show only leaves but Gregg's Mistflower has a few fuzzy puffs to attract butterflies.

Along the veranda the lilac-pink impatiens and white flowered oxalis keep opening new flowers, but the sweet potato vines are looking ragged and tired.

Over in the pink entrance bed that pink Gaura keeps blooming and the native pink skullcap does the same. A large pink Cuphea blooms nearby.

When we go through the gate to the back, this Salvia guaranitica is near the garage wall on the right. I cut it back severely when trying to combat mealybugs so it's good to see a few flowers.

Around the corner the plumeria has finished flowering, and I don't see any buds on the 'Julia Child' rose - after so many months of bud and bloom, she deserves a rest!

The pink and orange cupheas are fuller than ever back here. This is the orange one, called 'Cigar Plant'. I tried to get a photo of the pink cuphea, but it was too windy - every shot was blurred.

After freezing down to 10-inches tall last winter, the brugmansia grew strongly all summer and now the flowers hang above my head. They're in a fairly sheltered place next to the back walk.

I like the leaves of the 'Bengal Tiger' cannas whether or not they're in flower. This Perovskia/Russian Sage was right in the middle of an area that was dug up during the recent border redesign by the Divas of the Dirt . It was a little battered looking afterward, but soon recovered and rebloomed.

I was able to get this photo of the Cuphea llaeva, also calld Bat-faced cuphea, but the Pineapple sage refused to appear this month, even though it's still blooming. Something about the wind and angle of light defeated me.

For Kate in Canada - there's one flower on the 'Butterfly Blue' Scabiosa, and a couple of buds-in-waiting.

Down near the vegetable patch a milkweed grows, with a few Monarch caterpillars and a zillion aphids attached to the leaves.

What's this ? A confused iris in bud?
It wasn't labeled as a rebloomer, but then again, it wasn't labeled as a pale peach iris either but that's what color the flower will be. This plant was labeled purple when I bought it.

The Mexican mint marigold is in full bloom, with a few lavender stalks joining in the herb party.

This unnamed clematis blooms in spring, then sort of pouts all summer with most of its leaves turning brown. I pick them off in September and wait for the autumn show.

At its feet I let the blue Plumbago romp all over and cover the step - cold weather will kill it back to a stub to start again in mid-spring.

Near the shed a Sasanqua camellia has a few buds just beginning to show color. Please don't tell this evergreen that it's not supposed to grow in Austin.

Let's go around the far corner of the back yard and then turn around and look back at what we just walked through:

Isn't this a cool arbor? A friend of Pam/Digging owned the arbor and was looking for a new home for it. Wonderful Pam remembered that I was using white metal in this part of the garden and told her friend I'd love to adopt it. This 'Secret Garden' has been coming along very slowly, but thanks to two kind gardeners, it now has a proper entrance and that makes it feel more real.

Last winter my mom and sisters gave me a 'Champagne' mini-rose which was split into three small shrubs. One grows in the pink entrance garden and two are in containers here, blooming better now than in spring.

The other white ginger plants have finished, but in the Secret Garden, this one is still opening buds.

Also found in the secret garden is a wonderful Sweet Olive- not one bit showy, but its tiny white flowers cast one of the sweetest scents you've ever smelled.

Let's go back out to the patio and see what's waiting to be planted in the next few weeks.

Here in Austin the pansies and snapdragons grow in the cooler months - we're expecting a frost sometime in the next month, and these winter annuals will replace the impatiens and add some color to the long border.

I'll also be planting this rose soon, so that its roots can grow while the ground is cooler, giving it the strength to make it through the long, hot summer. This is an antique China Rose called 'Mutabilis', one that I'd wanted long before I came to Texas.

That's just one plant growing in a large raised bed at Zilker Park - I'd better give this Antique a lot of space. Happy Blooming Day to all of you!

This post, "Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for November" was written for my blogspot blog, The Transplantable Rose, by Annie in Austin.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Garden Bloggers Book Club - Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi

Added December 2 - here's a link to the roundup of all the posts on Green Thoughts with some interesting questions for discussion from Carol of May Dreams-

This post was written for my blogspot blog, The Transplantable Rose, by Annie in Austin.
Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi is the current selection for the Garden Bloggers Book Club started by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

For a dozen years, I took Green Thoughts out of the town library on an annual basis, then didn't see it for a decade until I recently bought my own copy. How could I have gone so long without an occasional bracing dose of this sophisticated, precise writing? Although Eleanor Perényi wrote this book in 1981, not only does it seem timeless, most of it seems current! She uses the alphabet to organize her essays, speaking of design, color theory, the weather and the delights and disappointments of growing new plants. But it's not a how-to book - her interests range from garden history [with an accent on the female side], to botanical language, cooking and sociology. These essays are delightfully informative and rivetingly opinionated- no wonder they turn up so frequently in anthologies and collections.

If you've already read Green Thoughts you probably have your own favorite topics - if you haven't read this book yet you're missing out on a wonderful set of essays - dip into "Blues", "Herbs", "Tools" or "Woman's Place" for entertainment, enlightenment and enjoyment.

When Mrs Perényi wrote this book, more than 25 years ago, she'd already encountered most of the ecological problems we still face, with Global Warming the exception. Her discourses on fresh vegetables fit the way we cook and eat now, her approach to things like watering, mulching, pesticides and compost make her words timeless. If you find yourself balancing on the border between respecting nature and loving to garden, read her essay on "Naturalizing" and know you've found a companion for the journey.

Reading Green Thoughts again after such a long interval made me wonder how much I'd been influenced by those earlier reads - in addition to what she taught about growing plants, when it came to garden philosophy there were so many points on which we agreed! But which came first? Did Eleanor's words form my ideas or did I enjoy those words right from the beginning because they reinforced what I was already feeling?

It's not necessary to know a lot about Eleanor Perényi's life to enjoy this book but I was always curious about her. That worldly air… that confidence… that exotic name… those hints at life in other countries…a mention of a poet and how her garden ended up in his poem. The biography at the back of my copy of the book tells us of her marriage to a Hungarian baron, a son, and a garden in Connecticut. She was born Eleanor S. Stone in Washington, DC. Eleanor's father was an attache with the Department of the Navy; her mother was an author and a descendent of the founder of the New Harmony Colony in Indiana. This Navy family was posted abroad so young Eleanor lived in several countries with exposure to other cultures.

I found references to Eleanor’s mother Grace Z. Stone, the very popular novelist who sometimes wrote as Ethel Vance. Several of her books were made into movies with major stars playing the characters... how I'd love to see The Bitter Tea of General Yen, which starred Barbara Stanwyck and was directed by Frank Capra!

On another site I read that Eleanor Perényi was only 19 when she met and married her Baron and lived on his family’s estate in the late 1930's. This land was once Hungarian but borders changed so it was part of Czechoslovakia as the second World War began. Eleanor told their story in the book More Was Lost – another title for my wishlist! She was nominated for a National Book Award for writing Liszt: The Artist as Romantic Hero, a biography about composer Franz Liszt. She edited and was a contributing writer for magazines like Madamoiselle, Harper's Bazaar, Atlantic Monthly and Esquire.

The garden in Green Thoughts existed in coastal Connecticut - a historic town first settled in the 1600's, somewhat rural, but with both Boston and New York City not too far away. Amherst professors and famous writers spent their summers there and it would seem a perfect setting for the author's personality as it is revealed in this garden book. One of the chapters of Green Thoughts mentions Gertrude Jekyll, the garden designer who at age 89 sat in a chair while firmly directing workers in the garden. I think Eleanor Perényi is near to that age herself now. I hope she still has a garden in Connecticut - and I hope she knows how much her readers appreciate her.

Before you go online to get the book, please check out the current post on my other blog, Annie's Addendum, and help me identify a few plants. Over there you can also see a larger photo of the intriguing treehouse drawing seen at the top of this post. The covers were changed for later editions, but since Eleanor refers to the drawing in one chapter, you might like to see it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sometimes the Gift Outlives the Giver

I thought about my Aunt Phyl a few days ago. At the beginning of November the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos and the Feast of All Souls remind us of family members who have died and my aunt has been gone for many years. Remembering her now might be appropriate but the calender didn't bring her to mind - it was an unexpected bud on a plant.

Phyl loved clothes, parties, plays and gourmet cooking, but she was also a gardener. I can remember being a child in her flower border, watching as my aunt showed me how to squeeze the sides of the blossom to make Snapdragons talk. A few decades later, when impatiens was a newish, trendy annual, she showed me how to snap off a few flowering stems and arrange them on needlepin holders for a sunny table, telling me that way they'd look good while growing roots to make more plants for the garden. She handed out divisions of Siberian iris and Annabelle Hydrangea and Jack-n-the-Pulpit - all still growing in the gardens of my family back in Illinois.

Aunt Phyl gave me starter plants of another passalong back in the late 1980's. It grew as a houseplant in Illinois but has been a porch plant since I brought it to Texas. Here's that bud unfolded:

Its names are Starfish flower, Carrion flower, and Stapelia - possibly Stapelia gigantea. The thick stems look almost like a cactus but are relatively soft and have no spines.

I brought one plant with me and have started several more in the last 8 years. I lost a few to sudden cold snaps - this plant is happy outside in mild weather but the pots must be taken in and out of the garage when the temperatures approach freezing. This was the first flower in a couple of years - strange and spectacular, with long hairs all over the edges, and they emit a faint scent of meat to attract a pollinator - flies!

Once the flies showed up I realized that white shelf was a little too close to the door and the floral display moved down to the other end of the veranda.

It seems ironic that such an odd plant brings memories of my rather glamorous, well-groomed aunt - but it's the only passalong from her that made it to Texas. Maybe she'd be amused.