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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, November 29, 2009

Another Gift for the Garden

Y'all are going to think all we do is shop - but like last Saturday's rain barrel, this week's purchase was also a response to summer's toll. A year ago the peach tree so badly sited by a previous owner was still alive - growing at an angle, non-fruiting and smack under the shade of two pecan trees - but alive.We watched it decline and die inch by inch this summer and by the end of October knew it had to come down. Even before the saw came out of the shed, I'd decided on a replacement.

The Camellia sasanqua 'Shishi Gashira' which is planted next to the shed has done well with a minimum of watering, even through record-breaking heat. Two weeks ago I saw a white-flowered Camellia japonica 'Morning Glow' with a dozen buds and I bought it. The price was less expensive than a bouquet of flowers and I want to see what the flowers look like when they open. The plant should like to grow where the pecan trees add shade in summer with the shed wall to block intense, low winter sun. Philippine violets do well here and so do Oxblood lilies, paperwhites and small daffodils like this unnamed paperwhite above that opened over the weekend.

The trunk came down but the peach roots will take a long time to disintegrate. After the Arizona Ash was removed from the front yard in 2007, we helped the process along by piling on mulch & compost after the stump was ground and sinking container plants on top of the mulch. The water, fertilizer and compost that seeped through seemed to help the roots decompose more quickly. We'll see if a container and mulch will work on peach roots, too.

The shopping word in the plan was "container" - off to the nearby Countryside Nursery we went, in search of an attractive pot to hold the camellia. Countryside carries an assortment of natural and organic products like Medina and Cottonbur Compost. We buy plants there - it's where I found the 'Julia Child' rose you've seen in bud and bloom. And we buy pots there, like the big blue pot in the secret garden - still full of dark purple potato vine as winter approaches.Out on the lot we chose a slightly smaller version of the blue pot, liking it even more after Philo brought it up to the counter and the sale price was 20% off the label. I found more treasure inside the building. Every year I remind myself to order Hyacinthoides hispanica, so I can try to copy the Spanish Bluebell display at Zanthan Gardens. But once again I didn't order any - what a lucky break to find Spanish Bluebell bulbs on the rack at Countryside!

Back home I found a black plastic nursery pot of the right size. Philo sawed off the top few inches so it could fit inside the ceramic pot as a liner. That should make it easier when it's time to transplant the camellia into the ground. As always, I cut pieces of roll window screen to cover the holes in both ceramic pot and plastic inner pot. John Dromgoole says the screen helps keep ant colonies and pillbugs from invading containers. I removed the camellia from its starter pot and planted it with Lady Bug Brand Rose Magic soil mixed with extra peat, watering it in with Maxicrop Seaweed w/Iron. ( Products are named not because anyone is paying me but because my blogs have replaced my memory. If this idea works the names will remind me exactly how it was done.) I hope the Camellia buds open white as promised and I hope the plant can live and grow in the pot for a couple of years. By then the roots may be rotted and the ground mellowed enough to be ready to receive it. Then will come the fun of thinking up something new to plant in the blue-green pot.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Successful Shopping Saturday at the Natural Gardener

Can you believe that Philo & I went to the Natural Gardener yesterday and came home without one single plant or bulb? Here's how it started - around 2006 I planted a rooted cutting of a passalong corkscrew willow into a big patio container, placing it under the metal trough that directs rainwater off the roof and tucking in a few starts of umbrella plant. Annieinaustin,Corkscrew WillowThe rain fell, the tree grew and the Cyperis alternifolia thrived so I added an amarcrinum bulb filched from one of the borders and some passalong Agapanthus from Pam/Digging. Eventually the combination was so successful we could barely squeeze past the pot to cross the patio.
Annieinaustin,summerkilled willowThen came the summer of 2009 - and the willow died. (Don't worry - I have another rooted cutting and MSS of Zanthan Gardens has one, too.) I'll miss the willow but was glad to have a chance to get rid of that huge pot! I dollied it out to an empty corner of the vegetable plot - soon it will be upended and the Umbrella Plants, Amarcrinum and Agapanthus will be separated to find new homes somewhere else in the garden.

Annieinaustin, roof rain troughWith the pot gone I could try a new idea for the space. Some normal rains have returned to Austin. I set a garden tote under the trough and watched what happened, finding out that even a light rain - say 1/4 of an inch - was enough to fill the 10 gallon tote to overflowing. Our house is small and the patio is essential space. We drove to the Natural Gardener yesterday and came home with a rainbarrel that could catch that runoff & save the rainwater for the patio plants while looking good in our Outdoor Living Room. This house was made without the usual gutter-and-downspout design, but I think the shape of this Cascata Rainbarrel will work!
Annieinaustin, Cascata RainbarrelCan I make May Dreams Carol jealous with my hoe story? I'd admired the Diamond hoe used by my Divas of the Dirt friend Mindy to cut off grass and weeds at ground level. Here's the hoe at work during the Divas' February project.

Annieinaustin, Mindy's Diamond HoeIn September the Divas had redone my parkway - replacing mostly dead turf with waterwise plants. Then the rains arrived, sprouting a million seeds of upturned annual ryegrass. To avoid sitting in the street to weed, I need a Diamond Hoe, too!
Annieinaustin, parkway plantingThe hoes were out of stock last time I visited the store - but this one was waiting for me yesterday...

Annieinaustin, Corona Diamond hoeWe bought one more non-plant addition to the garden yesterday - it wouldn't fit inside, but two ingenious guys at the Natural Gardener figured out how to attach it to the car roof.

I've looked at these trellises a dozen times, knowing exactly the spot along the NE fence where we could put on someday.

Annieinaustin, wire fan trellisSomeday was Yesterday.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Garden Blogger Bloom Day, November 2009

Every month Carol of May Dreams Gardens invites us to share what's in bloom. She thought of this idea back in January of 2007 - meaning some of us are close to the end of Year Three and you've become familiar with most of our plants.

So for this third edition of November Garden Bloggers Bloom Day I decided it could be fun not only to show you what's in flower, but to show you how each plant fits into the garden as a whole. Let's wander around, following the numbers on this rough and simplified map. - it gets a little bigger if you click: Annieinaustin, GBBD mapThe bed near the front walk is #1 - here's Rosa mutabilis in bud and bloom, sending up new shoots.
Annieinaustin,Mutabilis rose

A few leaves from the whitebud have fallen on a clump of Creeping phlox. It only bloomed once a year in Illinois, but decorates the edges of this bed in both spring and fall. The Yellow Bulbine is trying to take over the whole bed.
Annieinaustin,creeping phlox, bulbine
Cross the driveway to a bed anchored by three Spiraeas, #2. I like how the pink cuphea and a fragrant mistflower mix it up - a Red Admiral butterfly approves.Annieinaustin,admiral butterfly on cuphea
The Pink Entrance Bed, #3, has whites and purples and blues, too - like this blue-violet Duranta. Can you see that branch with different leaves? It's the 'Rumba' weigela - still alive after the summer of 2009! Annieinaustin,duranta

There is plenty of Pink in the Pink Entrance bed, including this froth of pink Gaura backed by a fading 'Belinda's Dream' rose. This is the only open Belinda flower, but more buds are swelling.Annieinaustin,pink gaura
Let's go toward the Garden Gate - first passing the fuzzy purple Mexican Bush Sage at the corner of the garage, #4, with colors even more intense than at October GBBD.
Annieinaustin,salvia leucantha
Once through the gate we're inside the privacy fence passing the NE fence border #5. Salute the Salvia madrensis, but you'll have to look up to do it.... the wooden fence is 6-feet tall. It was just starting in October and is now in full bloom.

Annieinaustin,salvia madrensis

Buttery yellow 'Julia Child' rose grows in this border - also displaying only one rose today, and saving buds for later.

Annieinaustin,julia child rose
While we walk the grass path you'll see yellow glowing on both sides - in the triangle at right, Bed # 6, the Mexican Mint Marigold is at its peak with Russelia equisetiformis, Firecracker plant adding a touch of orange
Annieinaustin,mexican mint marigoldI've planted both the sunny fence border and this first triangle bed with shades of yellow & blue, with lots of white and touches of orange. I've called this Blue Butterfly flower Clerodendrum ugandense until now- Pam/Digging showed it with the current name, Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense', in a recent post. But an assortment of clunky names can't make the flower any less lovely.
Annieinaustin,clerodendrum, rotheca
On to #7 Back in the corner of the vegetable plot is a raised planter with an old-fashioned Rose of Sharon bush and a yellow mum below. I used to hate the word 'mums', but at least I can remember it - had to look up Dendranthema x grandiflora, Prophet Series 'Yellow". This mum was here when we moved in, still had the tag.

Annieinaustin,yellow mums

The other day I dug up and divided a clump of cannas, replanting some of them and setting aside the other half for my friend Ellen. Until the pecan leaves fall the vegetable garden is in dense shade so I plopped Ellen's cannas into a big pot and stuck them in the abandoned tomato plot. One of her plants had an opened bud - since they're still here this counts as my bloom, right?Annieinaustin,red canna
This time let's walk back between the triangle beds...the path is still "grass" now, but we have plans for granite. On the obelisk in bed #6 the Blue Pea vine has more pods than flowers but what's there is cherce*. (*Tracy & Hepburn, Pat & Mike)
The tropical milkweed is as pretty in bud as in bloom, and the Mexican Mint Marigold shows through the network of vines from the other side.
Annieinaustin,clitoria ternatea
On the south side of the path at Triangle #8 there's are tiny larkspur and cilantro seedlings and various annual salvia seedlings but the only flowers are on the dependable white reseeding Zinnia linnearis. The green shrub is a dwarf Greek myrtle.
Annieinaustin,zinnia linnearis

Bed # 9 is the best spot in the whole garden, offering morning sun, afternoon shade, shelter from hail and cold north winds, access to the hose faucet and attention from the gardeners who use the back door. Currently blooming in this desirable location are the pink mouse-faced cuphea and the big Brugmansia/Angel Trumpet. The Meyer's Improved lemon ripens a handful of beautiful fruit.
Annieinaustin,brugmansia, Meyer's lemons
Before we head for the patio a close look reveals a beautiful green spider who has captured a bee.
Annieinaustin,green spider & bee

On the South end of the patio, #10, impatiens bloom in one pot, Sambac Jasmine is budded in another and a potted Meyer's lemon promises Cranberry-Lemon relish for Thanksgiving.
Annieinaustin,patio chair & lemon tree

The arch connecting the patio to the grassy area under the pecans is covered by a Coral Honeysuckle in both beautiful bloom
Annieinaustin,coral honeysuckleAnd delicate, graceful bud.
Annieinaustin,lonicera buds

Cross the grass to the South fence where #11 was designed as a hummingbird bed with lots of Salvias. Right now Gregg's salvia, Pineapple sage, Salvia coccinea, Salvia 'Black & Blue', Salvia guaranitica, and Salvia farinacea each have a few flowers in red and blue, but when the Cuphea llavea/Bat-faced cuphea combines these two colors the result is so cute it gets the photo.
Annieinaustin,batfaced cuphea
Enlarging one batface on a different photo surprised me - How old is this plant? It looks like it's growing a beard: Annieinaustin,closeup batfaced cuphea
The hummingbird bed merges with a shady long bed as you move to the right - first bats, now toads? The Toadlily plant is half the size it was last fall, but it survived in shade and managed to push out a few spotted flowers. Annieinaustin,toadlily
As we head toward the garden shed, stop to look up at my beloved Loquat, grown from a seedling, now flowering and covered in butterflies 12-feet up in the air. The buds are just beginning to open on the lower branches.
Annieinaustin,loquat in bloom
The sasanqua Camellia started blooming this week in the bed along the garden shed, #12.
Annieinaustin,sasanqua shrubA new shrub might have died but I planted it in 2004. Being established in filtered shade meant that the camellia not only survived but made a few dozen buds and flowers. Austinites on Hill Country terrain don't usually succeed with camellias, but they're not uncommon in my part of Austin. Annieinaustin,sasanqua flower

A few feet away is the Bulb Bed, # 13, jammed with leftover Christmas amaryllis/Hippeastrum, with dollar store Daffodils, with non-blooming Agapanthus, old Easter lilies, freesias and other bulbs picked up on sale. One pot of Oxalis regnellii 'Atropurpurea' , sometimes called Purple Shamrock, has been divided over and over and appears in a dozen clumps front and back. The flowers seem paler here than in real life.
Annieinaustin,purple oxalis

Through the arch to #14 - where more dark purple comes from a Potato vine in a blue pot, annual Impatiens act like perennials in this sheltered spot and green Oxalis bloom white. Annieinaustin,potato vine, blue pot
The wooden privacy fence surrounds this little area and separates the front and back yards. I've heard this kind of space called a Dogleg, but after we cleaned out the junk we christened it the Secret Garden. When May Dreams Carol visited my garden I joked that the secret was that I would never let the Air-Conditioner appear in any photos.

Annieinaustin,sweet olive flowersBut here's the real secret of the Secret Garden: Three Sweet Olive/Osmanthus shrubs are spaced around the south end of the house, with inconspicuous flowers wafting a lovely scent over the whole back yard. A visitor might wonder where the fragrance came from, until I tell them the Secret.

The complete GBBD list with my best shot at the botanical names will appear is now up at Annie's Addendum.
To see more than 100 Bloom Day posts from around the world go to Carol's roundup at May Dreams.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Troy-Bilt Cordless String Trimmer Draws the Lines

As Graham Stuart Thomas once noted, "It is my opinion that it is even more important to attend to the edges than the mowing: slightly shaggy grass can be forgiven so long as the edges are trim."

Even when it's not 100 degrees every day, even when there is rain, even when we're not under Stage 2 Drought restrictions, our idea of an acceptable lawn is pretty laid-back and reasonably drought-tolerant. This isn't a well-fed and watered lawn - it lives on whatever rain falls, and whatever seeps via osmosis from the adjoining beds, shrubs and small trees which I hand-water. And even in this dreadful year when much of the grass in sun died, it survived in the shade under trees.Shorn meadow might be a better description than lawn for the green stuff connecting the beds, borders and walks. It's kept reasonably short, can be walked on year-round, and keeps the dust down. When native anemones bloom in the grass in spring or rainlilies pop up in it in late summer it becomes our flowery mead. Even with beds and borders providing height, color and texture, it makes a difference to sharpen up the line of the edge.

We've used an assortment of string trimmers during our 30+ years in 5 different yards - my husband Philo was ready to throw the most recent off a cliff. Fellow garden blogger MSS of Zanthan Gardens began a test of a Cordless String Trimmer for the Troy-Bilt company but was unable to complete it. It sounded good when she suggested that we take the assembled machine, try it out and write a review. Once this was proposed to the Troy-Bilt people they agreed we could have the string trimmer to keep at no charge, asking only that we post an honest review on our blog, with no restrictions on what to say.

Troy-Bilt 20-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Electric String Trimmer (model TB57)

Different lawn grasses present different problems. St Augustine doesn't grow by seed or in neat clumps.... it has wide blades, and it throws long runners out in every direction, looking for a spot to root and grow. In just a couple of weeks the stolons will sneak in and make a crisscrossing mesh over the soft, watered soil of a flower bed that will need hours of hand-weeding to remove. Sometimes in a dry summer we may skip mowing the center of the lawn for a month but the grass next to the beds looks ragged in a week. The whole garden would look better if the edges of the beds could be sharpened up whenever the grass looked ready to jump.

This kind of impulse-edging never happened with our corded electric trimmer.... just thinking about unwinding the cord and winding it back up again was enough to skip the task. And when we do get enough rain to make the grass grow we don't want to use a tool that is plugged in. I hoped the cordless model would encourage light maintenance rather than drastic all-day jobs.So far this trimmer has done a good job. Philo has used it more than I have - to hold the trimmer the right way seems to be easier for a guy (or perhaps it would be easier for a more flat-chested woman). Unfortunately I have found it almost impossible to press the trigger button for more than a couple of minutes. I can mow for a long time because the safety switch has me grip and hold a spring bar against the handle, but on the trimmer my fingers are unable to stretch across, bend a certain way and depress the button without pain.

Here's what Philo has to say about the Troy-Bilt Cordless Trimmer:

The trimmer feels well balanced and is comfortably natural for me to use. Being ambidextrous, I found it equally easy cutting left or right handed and I find myself switching often to speed the trim. The bi-directional trigger release allows hand switching and accommodates using the forefinger or thumb to be used for release.

After trimming about 500 feet of walkway, the lithium battery still had 75% charge - the charge remaining lights are a nice feature. I can cut our entire yard twice over a 2 week period without needing to recharge. This is about 1-1/2 hours total run time.
The variable speed motor is easy to control and is smooth at all speeds. I’ve never before used a trimmer at low speeds, but this machine does an excellent job at low speed and can do some slower more delicate cutting (if you can call line trimming delicate at any speed).

The two line spools that come with the trimmer are a thoughtful addition. They’re small enough to fit in a pocket and can be swapped in few seconds when one runs out. However, the automatic line advance could use some improvement. During every cutting session the line gets reduced to an unusable short length at least once. The manual states that line tangling is the likely cause and recommends removing the spool to correct the problem. I have never found a tangled line but I soon learned that there is a push button release below the spool that quickly advances the line without having to remove the spool. The release button is not mentioned in the manual.

The Troy-Bilt handled the long, tough stolons of the St Augustine grass very well! Above is another of the tasks that this line trimmer did well - buzzing down the horrible bermuda grass that has invaded the expansion strip in the driveway.

Thanks, Troy-Bilt, for giving us a chance to try and use this machine.