Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Mindy thought her courtyard was boring, but at least she could see it this spring. In this photo from November 2008 the stone arch of the courtyard is almost invisible. On that day the Divas of the Dirt met at Mindy's for our November project. DivasoftheDirt,rip off fig ivyWe spent that entire day taking down every visible piece of an out-of-control creeping fig vine, ripping it off stone walls, the arch, siding, the timbers of the roof overhang and getting rid of all the roots we could see. DivasoftheDirt,fig ivy underneathMindy climbed a ladder and balanced on the beams of the courtyard to clip and reveal the wood. DivasoftheDirt,into CY beforeWhen we left we knew the vine was only slowed...not vanquished.DivasoftheDirt,Stone wall B4 The walls were temporarily blank, but the odds were that the fig would come back. When it did - so would we!
DivasoftheDirt,B4 look out courtyardLast week it was Mindy's turn to be hostess once again for our March project. She and Warren had made enormous project on revamping the walkway & courtyard entrance- by the time we arrived there were gutters and the rain barrel above was in place, though not yet attached. Mindy hoped we could help to improve the view into the courtyard and work on the front of the house near the walkway. We were pleased that not too much of the fig had dared to show above ground. But first things first!
DivasoftheDirt,Mindy tablescapeThe breakfast table looked beautiful, decorated with Texas Mountain laurels picked from some of Mindy's large established shrubs. Her stone house is set on a couple of acres in a hilly part of SW Austin, where deer play and wild flowers grow naturally around the rock piles.

DivasoftheDirt,Morning glory muffinsWe feasted on country ham, scrambled eggs Benedict, berries and pineapples, blueberry juice and Morning Glory Muffins. They're wonderful! Here's a link to the recipe from Earthbound Farm.

DivasoftheDirt,pup & plantsButtercup the Golden Lab led us out the door to the courtyard where Mindy had a bunch of plants waiting in the shade. There were more plants waiting under a ex-peach trees, victims of age and the ongoing drought. The soil in the courtyard was daunting and it was pretty doubtful we'd get around to using all the plants but we'd try our best. Mindy had bought plenty of composts and mulches.

DivasoftheDirt,yuccasA recent fun project by Mindy and Warren was now revealed - they'd made a recycled wine bottle border along the sidewalk that led across the front of the house to the entrance courtyard. The border defined and area of decomposed granite. Burying wine bottles as a garden edging may sound new and trendy, but it's actually an old Texas tradition, found around historic homes where German settlers made their homes.

DivasoftheDirt,pyracanthas & recycled bottle edgeMindy knew the two tired pyracanthas against the house had to go. For one thing, that wall is scheduled to be redone and the thorny tall shrubs were in the way. And in spite of the thorns, the deer that munch on Mindy's landscape thought the shrubs were delicious, drawing them into the heart of the border.

Buffy and I were already on record as not being fond of the way the pyracantha (sometimes called Fire Thorns) looked against the house wall, so as soon as we had the go-ahead on demolition, we happily waded in with loppers while Mattie, Sophia, Karla and DivaAnnie started to dig up the courtyard beds and Mindy ran back and forth coordinating, bringing supplies and answering constant questions.

DivasoftheDirt,cutting pyracanthas
Chop! Chop! Chop! The tops were cut up small and put into yard waste bags.
DivasoftheDirt,Buffy & firethornsWe left enough of the trunks to use as handles, after taking off all small branches with their vicious thorns. Then we hauled, pulled and rocked the two pyracanthas, while using garden forks and spades to pry and dig the roots out. Buffy was triumphant!

DivasoftheDirt,right wall B4Back in the courtyard the almost-clean walls belied the reality beneath the surface.

DivasoftheDirt,Mattie, fig root
Mattie's ripping up the left inside courtyard - this is hard work! We'd pulled up at least 50-feet of thick roots last November -guess that was just practice!

About the photos in Mindy Parts I and II: The photos that were taken during the project are mostly mine. The photos of the courtyard before we arrived and the photos taken last week after we left are mostly Mindy's. We had so many fun pictures there just had to be two posts! On to Part II.


Photos taken during the project were by Glinda (that's me). Photos taken a few days after we left are by Mindy.

Karla thought our post needed this view of all the stuff we seven women use on these projects. In addition to the horticultural supplies like composts, mulches and plants, the hostess provides coolers full of cold drinks and we each bring an assortment of tools and totes. Sometimes we bring plants to share with each other, too.DivasoftheDirt,tools & stuff
Let's head back to the project:
DivaAnnie likes to work at ground level. She amazes us with her persistence and patience. Instead of using force or violence, she carefully untangles and clears areas ready for amending. And when she puts a new plant into the ground, it stays planted! DivasoftheDirt,Annie fig roots
In the outer courtyard here's Sophia prying up weeds along with some shrubs that were a previous experiment by Mindy. The coral berries were native, but they seemed to sucker too freely without looking attractive. That Mahonia/grape holly can stay - it will work in the new design. This time Sophia got to work at ground level - last November she was high on a a ladder cutting the fig vine off the timbers.
DivasoftheDirt,Sophia digging
Once the outer courtyard was in better shape, Mindy took the new tiller on its maiden run. It did a pretty good job, but when the Divas dug deeper than the tines could reach, more and more long, huge fig roots kept appearing. DivasoftheDirt,Mindy,new tiller

Mindy, Mattie, DivaAnnie and Karla continued to fight with the fig roots around the not-live-oak, then used hand tillers before replanting holly ferns. After the dying tree is removed piece by piece, the philodendron seen in the photo at the top of this post will live in the inner courtyard. Mindy told us the entire fig colony started from two small 4" pots from a local nursery.DivasoftheDirt,twisting tillers
Out around the corner Buffy had dug in compost and loosened the soil to plant a Chilopsis/ Desert Willow. Once established it should be drought-tolerant, and a good rain should persuade it to produce lovely flowers. This particular Chilopsis is a variety called 'Bubba'.DivasoftheDirt,Chilopsia plantedBuffy and I had fun reinstalling that huge 'spineless' cactus to the left of the Desert Willow. If you've never met one - spineless is a relative term. We had gloves on but still ended up with little spines all over our clothes and unprotected skin.

Hard soil, semi-shade, wandering deer and limited water make the courtyard a difficult situation for any gardener, but Mindy does not give up easily! After bags and bags of composts were added, the new planting of soft-leaved yuccas, holly ferns, Four-nerved daisies, bluebonnets, iris, lambs ears, Setcresia/purple heart and Mexican feather grass was set in.

DivasoftheDirt,rt CY afterThe flat-backed water barrel was in place for our Diva day, but not hooked up. There were full water barrels on the patio so we walked through the house carrying water from the back of the house to the front courtyard, giving all the new plants a good drink and then mulched them.

DivasoftheDirt,CY doneThe Divas hunted around the property for stones and used them to edge the left side of the courtyard. A Loropetalum went in against the wall, with pockets teased out for foxgloves, and more setcresia closer to the oak. Mattie got artistic at the corner of the house, fitting stones together under the spot where a rainchain would be hung. It was nearly 5 PM when Mindy called us in to eat - so not exactly lunch - but a delicious meal. DivasoftheDirt,soba ginger salad
The main dish was wonderful - Cold Peanut, Chicken, and Soba Noodle Salad
accompanied by Hot and Spicy Asparagus.

The lettuce was supposed to be a garnish, but we didn't leave one leaf! Mindy thought her cake was too crumbly but we thought the taste was perfect. Here's a close-up of the Texas Mountain Laurels decorating the table. DivasoftheDirt,TX Mt Laurels, table
We went back out and tried to get a little more done before packing up the tools and doing some clear up. We left Mindy and Warren with shovels in hand, using decomposed granite to fill in the bottle edges. DivasoftheDirt,Mindy & Warren, edging

Let's take a stroll from the drive down the sidewalk past this very Hill Country front garden. We like the way Rusty the metal horse sculpture looks in his revamped quarters among Hesperaloe, yucca, cactus, desert willow and salvias. DivasoftheDirt,Austin entrancePast the cactus and the crepe myrtles, we approach the entrance to the courtyard. It's a few days after the Divas met and the rain barrel is now hooked up. DivasoftheDirt,CY corner after
Now the new rain chain hangs on the left of the courtyard.DivasoftheDirt,CY afterInstead of carrying water through the house, Mindy can use the coiled hose to water the courtyard plants. DivasoftheDirt,Mindy new rain barrelEncouraging the bluebonnets to bloom.
DivasoftheDirt,cherub bluebonnetAnother cherub hides in the purple heart across the walk.
Cherub setcreaseaFrom the front door the view into the courtyard is a pleasing one
DivasoftheDirt,look out CY afterAnd at the base of the rainchain, Mindy will see a little souvenir of the day...when Mattie made the rock-splash, she tucked a heart-shaped rock into the very center. DivasoftheDirt,rainchain & heart