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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, July 29, 2008

I Get Whimsical With a Little Help from my Friends

When the security guy pulled our daughter over to the side at the Seattle Airport back in 1993 it wasn't a total surprise. Our irresistible souvenir from Molbak's wouldn't fit in any of the suitcases, and Lily had gamely volunteered to haul it home in her backpack. The shape was unrecognizable on the screen so the guard opened the zipper and looked down at a concrete statue of a Fu Dog, sometimes called a Foo Lion. After inspection we were waved through to the plane.

We bought this small Seattle
version of a ferocious guardian lion partly because he reminded us of The Fu Dog Garden at Allerton Park in Illinois and partly in tribute to Henry Michell's foo dog. Our dog~lion stood in a clump of hostas in our Illinois garden for a few years, and when we moved to Texas he came along as the dean of our whimsical objects, here guarding a wax begonia.

This wacky confection greeted the people who stopped at our Illinois garden during a garden walk in the 1990's: Philo & I turned an old broken bedframe and some chickenwire into a whimsical Garden Bed - and if you look carefully at lower right you'll see the companion piece - a open suitcase rescued from the trash, painted and planted to complete this fanciful guest suite.

These dips into garden whimsy are rare - my natural tendency is to the functional and rather plain - a metal obelisk, wooden benches and chairs, undecorated clay pots, a natural stone fountain, hypertufa troughs and things like this windchime.

Long ago at a
Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin we met a vendor from Austin and fell in love with these simple tubes of metal, large and tuned to a Mongolian scale. The sounds they make are harmonizing low notes of genuine music rather than clanking or tinkling. It's my kind of wind chime.

But fear not - all is not Spartan here at Circus~Cercis! Thanks to friends and family there's no lack of whimsy in our garden. Although the attrition rate from Texas weather (and critters) is high and some decorations from friends and family have melted, faded and disintegrated, there are survivors:

A motion-detecting frog was a fun gift from one dear daughter-in-law with the turtle sundial coming from one of our sons. Our other dear daughter-in-law and and another son gave us the St Francis statue. While we still lived in Illinois one of my sisters gave us this wooden angel that has miraculously survived nearly a decade in the Texas sun.
A strong wind gust picked up the heavy ceramic St Francis and slammed him against a peach tree last year. Philo filled the decapitated statue with cement and put it back together.

sy seems to gravitate toward the secret garden - My friend-of-40-years, Roberta, sent the hand-painted wildflower sign. My friend Barbara sent this young girl, who reads and dreams under the pomegranate tree. Philo reused three discarded sections of ornate white iron fence to enclose the Secret Garden and that frog bench is a memento of last spring's visit from the fairy garden consultant. The squirrels and birds take it apart once in awhile and I rebuild it.

Many small decorations from the Divas of the Dirt are scattered around inside and out - including this sign Another sign came from Roberta - when she read the word "Diva" she knew who to send it to
Carol in Indiana had better avert her eyes now - here come faces in our garden!!

Philo and I bought a terracotta sun to hang on the chimney in Illinois and this face seems even more at home in Austin
Titania has led a rough life in the 15 years since Philo gave me her planter head - she's no longer pristine but bears repair marks from storms and squirrels and weather damage. Maybe someone else would evict her for being too battered, but I look weathered, too, and find her companionable.

Early this year Dawn and I spent a day together, each finding pretty pots. Now this seashell planter reminds me of days on the beach in Carolina.

Are any of us completely resistant to whimsy? Once upon a time I gave this sign to my no-nonsense, vegetable-gardener uncle and was touched that he kept it. The saying was amusing, but it turned out to be untrue - this final bit of whimsy returned to me as a sentimental legacy from an old gardener. I miss him.

This wallow in whimsy and nostalgia was written by Annie in Austin, photographed with the help of a borrowed camera- go to Gardening Gone Wild for links to other bloggers who are joining in this months Garden Design Workshop.


  1. I agree...you should keep Titania and all your other gifts...the thoughts they bring of friends and relatives are priceless.

  2. Everything there brings back memories for you. That's just as it should be,a s far as I'm concerned. It's much nicer than just collecting stuff.

  3. Of course you should keep your lady. Just because she has seen a lot of the world and it shows doesn't mean she should be discarded. Just think of the stories she can tell.

    You have plenty of whimsy in your garden Annie. I really like the Fu Dog story. It reminds me of the time we went to Mexico and I brought back several pieces of pottery. My DB was so embarassed with these things stuffed into my backpack and our luggage was so heavy. I am sure now days it wouldn't fly, literally.

  4. I really like the idea of the earth giggling flowers :)

    Are any of us completely resistant to whimsy?

    I confess. There's weird stuff in my gardens.

  5. How sweet it all is! You wrote this up wonderfully!

  6. What I like about your whimsy, and your whole garden, is how personal it is. Each sign, object, statute has its own story as do so many of your passalong plants.

    And thank your for the warning about the faces. I looked through half open eyes and it wasn't so bad.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  7. Like you, I tend to be spare on the whimsy...but I'm much more spare. Maybe I don't have as many whimsical friends.

    I do love the garden "bed". And I bought my pipe windchimes at a RenFaire too (but near Houston). Rather than the Mongolian scale, mine are tuned (can you guess?) to the Japanese scale.

  8. Hi Annie,
    What a fun post, and you have some very nice pieces in your garden, especially the Fu Dog and the Titania, my favorites. That's a great story how that one came home with you, and I have similar stories about bringing back gargoyles and lots of mustard on one of my trips back from France. LOL.

    The bed is cool! My sister's BF found some old metal headboards, painted them up and she is now using them as trellises in her back yard. I was envious when I saw them. It's a fun idea, and glad to she's not the only one who came up with an idea of putting a bed in the yard,lol.

  9. Your garden bed made me giggle, it's really fun, what a pity you don't have it anymore. And I love that Fu Dog, I want one too.

    A headless St Francis will not do, poor thing, so good work Philo!

    Sound in wind chimes is so important. Before I buy one I have to hear its sound or I won't buy it, however pretty it may be.

    That terracotta sun is great but is he glaring like the real sun is doing now?

    For a lady attacked by squirrels and bad weather Titania looks remarkably pretty and whole-some. ;-)

    It's nice to see such a whimsical collection of memorabilia from family and friends in your garden, Annie.

  10. I wonder if your foo dog would be allowed on planes these days! He is wonderful and a good guard for your garden and as you say, dean of whimsical objects. We have a few whimsical items, too. It's quite amazing to me how quickly they can accumulate.


  11. Oh, certainly, Annie, it's clear that whimsy is "quite rare" in your garden. Uh huh. It was fun to see all of the pieces (er...poor St. Francis, though - that was brutal!) and read their stories (loved the airport adventure). Thanks for sharing!

  12. Awww, I love that saying and I'm sorry he's gone. Very nice, Annie.

    Your whimsy collection is more than I expected! As whimsical as I can be, you'd think my garden would be full of it. Just a few things of whimsy, but I'm working on it.

    Your sad account of St. Francis' statue made me giggle (sorry).


  13. Cool pix. My favorite is the garden bed.

  14. Thanks for sharing all your whimsy. It's like we're seeing a whole other side of you. I think the weathering on Titania give her character. She's much better than a brand new one from the store. What is it with turtles & sundials? There's a turtle on mine too. Yours makes sense because the sundial looks like a lilypad. The bed & suitcase are just too funny.

  15. You have such interesting pieces! I love the weathered look of Titania, but my favorite piece is the girl reading. The bed and suitcase are so creative and fun. I too have some tubular wind chimes, but they are tuned to a Japanese scale like MSSs'.

  16. I like that all of your whimsy's have a story or friend behind them. I have a couple of pieces that make me smile but there is no special meaning behind them.

  17. Love your whimsy. It seems to be connected to memories family and friends which is the best.

    Always Growing

  18. If you lose all your things to a disaster and have to start over, you realize it was the odd or silly things you miss the most in your garden. You can replant flowers and plants. But that dwarf that was given to you by a sister in law,,can't be replaced. Or that pink bird given to you by your little neice at the age of four, you can't get back.
    It is not the perfect, always in good taste, garden, that you will remember in your old age but the things that set your garden apart.

  19. I've often admired whimsy in other gardens but don't have that much in mine as it is a small .

    My father used to hand carve whirlygigs and I was enchanted with them in my youth. I'd love to find some good ones to collect one day.

    I am like you in that my tendency is also to " the functional and rather plain. "

    Thanks for sharing your collection.

  20. What a wonderful tour of your garden's whimsy, Annie. I especially like the flowerbed--and the companion suitcase. Very fun!

  21. Hi Annie, your garden is full of the best kind of whimsy, gifts given with lots of love. We love Foo Dogs, I like to place them in front of the tree peonies for extra protection. Ones that can stay outside all year are hard to find. Your concrete one is perfect. He should protect one of your Asian specimens. I really love the sun face too.

  22. Oh, Annie, I think, like MSS, that I may be short on whimsy. But my Mom was loaded with it and viewing your post made me think of several of the things that was in her garden. Thank you.

  23. We'll just keep the gorilla glue handy, Leslie!

    Hi Jane Marie - yes, the reason to keep them is the people...it works for Christmas ornaments, too!

    Those days might be done, Lisa at Greenbow - your husband won't be embarrassed because UPS or FedEx will be cheaper than paying the extra fees!

    I've noticed that whimsy is an equal opportunity attraction, WiseAcre! Show us your weird stuff.

    Thank you, Tina - your bowling balls are in another class of whimsy altogether!

    Sentimental, Carol, that's what it is...especially when most of the givers are far away and only see this garden on the blog!
    It seemed fair to warn you ;-)

    You may be spare but when you fall, you fall big, MSS! There are no googly eyes on my cactus!
    That scale for your windchimes doesn't surprise me one bit.

    Thank you IVG - gargoyles and mustard? Some combination.
    The bed stayed behind in IL - it was wood and wouldn't have lasted long here anyway. Back in the nineties "Garden Beds" were in every magazine!

    It was hard to keep the plants alive in that bed, Yolanda Elizabet - I'd be watering it 4 times a day in Texas!
    I should probably put sunglasses on Old Sol, like the ones on Gail's pig!

    You do have quite a few whimsical objects, Gail - they do kind of sneak in and get lost in the foliage so we don't realize how many we have.

    Thanks for thinking the Design Workshop up, Nan Ondra - and for coming to visit!

    I guess the old gardener is me now, Mary - don't Bella and Chloe count as whimsical objects in your garden?

    Thank you, Mr Brown Thumb - it made a hit on that long-ago garden walk, too!

    No gardener is an island, Mr McGregor's Daughter? Cool stuff keeps washing up on shore!
    Poor Titania keeps breaking in new places - and I keep asking Philo to fix her... don't want a new one!

    I like the way the girl is concentrating on her book, Carol - her face isn't like mine, but the pose is identical to an old photo of me as a kid.
    You and MSS both have Japanese-tuned chimes? I'll bet they sound lovely.

    The connections make them special. Apple - and maybe one or two of the people will read this post and it will make them smile.

    Thanks Jan.

    Welcome Eve - there were other decorative things that wind, weather and heat have destroyed and some of these won't be around much longer. That's okay - I'll just enjoy them as long as they last.

    I remember seeing those whirligig toys at craft fairs, Carolyn didn't they sometimes look like flying ducks and cardinals? So for you, too, the sentimental factor would be the only reason to let whimsy in!

    We thought of the bed after we knew we were going to be part of the garden tour, BlackswampKim, and my daughter, my husband and I kept cracking up the whole time we worked on it. There were also a pair of Converse sneakers planted with succulents, but no photo - alas!

    Thanks, Frances - if I could grow a Tree Peony here it would be wonderful, but the Asian connection seemed a given to me, too...it doesn't show in the photo, but the Foo Dog is standing to the side of a Camellia and in front of a Chinese member of the Magnolia family, Michelia figo/Banana shrub. Can this one grow as far north as Tennessee?

    Thank you for the comments - hope you all have a whimsical weekend!


  24. Hi again Annie,
    I so enjoyed going through your post again and the marvelous comments from others!

    The other night I dug out the gargoyle one of my former students made for me in a ceramics class. He's very ugly and a bit worse for wear, but Fernymoss is going to touch him up a bit and he's going to go out in the Woodland Garden soon, to hide so that only we can see him from inside. I'm afraid that putting him in a more prominent area might lead someone to "lift" him (there's a well used sidewalk just next to the garden).

    Oh, you'll like this I bet ... for my birthday (thanks for your salutation, you were the only one to get that, lol), Fernymoss gave me the Criterion Collection restored and remastered 2 disc edition of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless and I'm excited that we're going to watch it tonight! I used to love teaching classes on Godard, he's such a prickly character and not for everyone but brilliant nonetheless. I'm sure you're familiar with at least a few of his films ... and did you know that Jean Seberg was an Iowa girl? She grew up in Marshalltown, which is just a bit of a jaunt from here...

  25. Love the flower bed! And the seashell pot is great. You should check out Isabel Bloom http://www.ibloom.com/ for some great garden pieces! They have some really beautiful pots.

  26. Whimsy abounds in your garden, Annie. I love the dog/lion, and I'm glad you patched up St. Francis. Thanks for taking us on the tour.~~Dee

  27. This post made me laugh - and then reminded me of things. A few years ago, the Fall Charleston Garden Festival did a gorgeous 'bed' filled with succulents - it was spectacular, with pillows and a patchwork quilt cover (with the patches being different succulents). And in order to practice my recent (and much appreciated) lesson from you linking in comments, you can find the bed here.

    (And I really hope that worked!).

    Oh, but before I find out: I don't have my things that one would call whimsical in my garden - a few things, like two 'lightning' bugs made by my friend Jeff out of wrought iron and these wonderful old light bulbs - and now a big round orange (more of a rusty-orange) 'ball' that sits in one of my bed. I'm enamored with the ball - it's out of clay, so not a shiny ball on a pedestal - but more of a big object just...sitting there. I kinda like it though.

    Thanks for the whimsical tour.

  28. Yippeee! It worked. Thank you!

  29. Touching and very lovely. Everything in your garden has such a personal touch to it.
    A listing of your whimsies feels like a nostalgic trip down the memory lane, and the 'final bit', to me, was the most beautiful.

  30. I enjoy all your elements of whimsy! This is the stuff that helps make the garden special and unique to the gardener, even more than the plants!

  31. I love fun and silly things in the garden, I want a pink flamingo in mine someday.
    The flower bed is fantastic, loving that!
    I also like that wooden angel. That would have rotted in our rain in just a few years.
    And.. a fairy garden consultant??!! Oh my gosh, never heard of such a person before, what a whimsical and fun job that must be. I haven't yet clicked on the link, will do that right away!

  32. Tee hee!! Just clicked on your fairy garden consultant link. How sweet she is.
    Well, there SHOULD be such a person as a faerie garden consultant! I'd love a job like that.

  33. Philo has a couple of indoor gargoyles, IVG - if they could take the weather I'd have probably "lifted" one off his shelf and sneaked it into the back garden.
    It's years since I saw Breathless - nice present. I have vague childhood memories of my aunt and mother discussing the hoopla around an unknown Iowa girl Jean Seberg playing Joan of Arc - they were interested in the Cinderella aspect rather than the movie itself.
    As for plebian Annie - hold on to the arms of your desk chair - my favorite Jean Seberg movie is Paint Your Wagon.

    Hi Tara! Congratulations on a whole year in Austin - and the tree frog planter on the link you gave is very cool!

    Just think how many years I've been around, Dee of Red Dirt - lots of occasions for gifts ;-]
    Thanks for coming.

    Hello Pam from the Lab - that's a great piece of Garden bed whimsy! And I'm also glad the link technique worked for you.
    Having works of art made by a friend is exceptionally cool.

    Hi Green Thumb - they're all little links to people, and that's why I keep them. Your container collection doesn't actually qualify as whimsy, but it seems to hold memories for you.

    Thanks, Lisa - now your containers are firmly on the whimsy side of the line!

    I'm amazed the angel hasn't rotted here, Salix Tree - I think that having only morning sun and being under an overhang has helped it stay intact.
    I'm glad you liked the fairy garden consultant - she'd probably love your fairy art, too!

    Thanks for the comments,


  34. Annie,
    I LOVE the tickle the earth sign! I must find some where in my garden for that saying to be placed. -Randy

  35. Hello Annie~

    I LOVE your bed in the garden! I have always wanted to have an iron bed entwined with flowers in my garden, ever since I was a little girl. Someday I will... Your pictures made me smile today.

  36. Could one suggest where to purchase a Sun terracotta identical to the one hung on your chimney in Illinois?

  37. Sorry Jean- even if I could remember where we got it, you'd probably need a time machine! We used to see quite a lot of terracotta & rusted metal garden decor in Austin area stores but they carry very different stuff now.
    I hope you find one somewhere.



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