Monday, March 02, 2009


Austin set a heat record the day before our first project of the year - ninety degrees in February! It was a relief when we Divas of the Dirt woke up to cooler weather on Saturday. Heat would not be our foe, but the fierce wind never let up the whole day. Mattie presented a perfect breakfast - berry bowls, English muffins and two broccoli-cheese quiches (one cheddar & one Swiss). Here's Diva-Annie admiring the pretty table. We had a lot of catching up to do on what had happened since our January planning brunch - neither conversation nor meal could be rushed. The Divas thought it might be fun to use this blog to record our projects instead of waiting a whole year to put them on the website. So this experimental post tells of current events, using photos taken by both Mindy & your correspondent, Glinda.

The day was still chilly and even more windy when we went out to see the supplies and new plants Mattie had bought and discuss how
to best help Mattie with her wish list. We noticed a fine looking Loropetalum/Chinese Witch Hazel, ferns, Texas Sage, Lantanas, Viburnums, small trees, shrubby Germander and some flowers that were new to us. Mattie's neighborhood has deer - that would be a deciding factor in plant placement for this project. The deer sometimes roam in front but the back is protected with a privacy fence. Some parts of the yard get partial shade and the soil is usually dry even when we're not in drought.

What we hoped to accomplish:
#1, replace a dead holly in front of the house with another shrub. It was deci
ded to replace the holly with a native Southern Wax Myrtle

#2, In the back we'd replace some shrubs and add new evergreens to make a screen in the back left corner. The large Crepe myrtle added height, but it's deciduous - no good as a screen once the leaves fall. Some of the plants used here were a second Wax Myrtle, two 'Spring Bouquet' Viburnum and a Xylosma . A pair of young Barbados cherries could be moved from the border to a bed near the back of the house. Our dry spring meant the planting holes would be dug then watered and allowed to "set" before the new plants went in.

#3, make a new quarter-round bed where drive met street. The grass doesn't do well here and Mattie wants waterwise plants. A small Cenizo/Texas sage wouldn't look like much at first but with time will be a large, silvery green shrub.

#4, make a new bed in the blank far end of the front yard. This is another place where lawn is unhappy! A senna tree and a second Cenizo would work here along with some experimental plants. With luck that senna will become a beautiful tree.

#5, fiddle around with some blocks to make a raised bed and decide the location of a future path at the far end of the house back. We decided to prune an existing ligustrum to arch over the projected path and to plant a loropetalum on the opposite side. The Loropetalum/Chinese Witch Hazel would contrast its feathery beauty with the solidity of three small existing boxwoods.

The Divas got to work in different parts of the yard, naturally moving to whatever area needed help. Since the drive bed was the part of the yard that Mattie saw every time she left or returned, it had to be a priority. Buffy raked and Mindy used her special diamond shaped, sharp hoe to clear the spot for the drive bed. Divas worked on the dead holly, adjusted the layout and dug holes for the back shrub border and cut up dead branches for yard waste pickup. Sophia went to pick up a borrowed tiller and another Diva-delegation went shopping for even more mulch & different composts... in spite of the chilly wind blowing dust and debris in our faces, we were on a roll!

Finishing task
#1 was fast and straightforward - soon the new Wax Myrtle had been composted, planted, watered in and mulched.

#2, planting holes in the shrub border were watered and left to mellow.

# 3 went much faster than anticipated once the borrowed electric tiller was started up.

#4, we laid out the edges for this proposed bed with a garden hose, but we didn't start turf removal. If we ran out of time, this border was the expendable project.

#5, the old Ligustrum was pruned into a tree shape above the path, the Loropetalum planting was in progress and the arranging of the concrete pavers was begun by the time lunch was announced.

Oh, my - Mattie has set the bar very high for 2009! Karla and Mattie had made glowing, healthy bowls of Carrot, Apple & Ginger Soup with Cheese Crisps (find this wonderful Whole Foods recipe here). The delectable Crab Cakes nestled on baby spinach also came from Whole Foods - did you know that Whole Foods started here in Austin? Mattie's lean old dog Bianca limped in and out of the room a few times, then went back to her pillow by the fireplace. By the time we'd moved through Sherbet to Lemon Bars with a perfect crust we Divas were looking for pillows, too. It was hard to get up and go back out into the dusty wind. But we did it... we got everything done! One by one the shrubs were settled into the back border.

Soon the drive bed had been planted and watered. The many small rocks that turned up everywhere we dug were collected and used to line the front bed. Some medium-sized rocks were set in as accents. With the hose as guide, the Divas edged the Boomerang Bed - its shape appeared as the grass disappeared. Large rocks took time and effort to remove - they were saved for use when the bed was done - eventually framing the small Senna tree Mattie is placing. Founding Diva Sugar stopped by to say hello - we're always glad to see her and this time Sugar not only cracked us up with amusing stories, she and DivaAnnie foiled a jailbreak. Delicate, elderly, limping Bianca slid out the open gate while mulch was being carried in, and suddenly dropped a decade in dog-years. With a look of determination she headed down the sidewalk for parts unknown, gaining a one block headstart before the humans caught on she was gone. DivaAnnie set out after her on foot while Sugar drove in pursuit, confusing the escape artist by slowly turning and stopping the car as a barricade across the sidewalk. DivaAnnie is a Dog Whisperer, and Bianca was soon safe at home getting attention. We moved around from one part of the garden and enjoyed seeing the changes. The shrubs were small, but with a little imagination one could see that the layered green screen in the back garden will look great in a few years. In the front yard the new Boomerang Bed framed the lot and looked pretty cool. Mattie hopes this Lion's Tail/Leonotis menthofolia will keep blooming in cheerful orange.

By 5:30PM, we'd used all the mulch, added final touches and gathered our tools. As we said goodbye Mattie handed each of us a pretty rain gauge on a stand, filled with water to act like a vase for a stalk of Alstroemeria . It would be fine memento of this long and satisfactory day.