Monday, June 29, 2009


Sophia's garden day looked like a tough one:
"... just looked up the temp for Saturday-97 degrees! ...All I can offer is a little shade, cool beverages, and ... vinca to pull out (the sequel to (Mindy's) Bermuda Triangle!) We will be working in the front yard on the bed close to the house and ... in the sidewalk strip, make a bed there and top with decomposed granite... will have breakfast ready by 8:30 so we can get out there early enough for a cool breeze or two to hit us-ha!"
Diva-Annie was at Sophia's door when I pulled up - the scents from the kitchen were enticing! Sophia and her husband Roger were ready for the Divas of the Dirt.
We'd worked on the back garden for Sophia's 2008 project - doing the preliminary work on replacing the unhappy grass with a granite path leading to a seating area. The completed path looked great and I snapped a few photos in the morning light.

We'd worked back here in 2006 and 2008 - what fun to see this pretty, functioning shady patio garden unfold over the last few years!
The oatmeal pancakes were delicious and the hearty Potato-Egg dish enticing but the compote of fruit totally amazed us - Roger had combined fresh figs, peaches, blueberries and prosciutto in a killer combination with one of his special vinaigrettes.

Out in the front we agreed with Sophia - some of the grass in the parkway needed help and some of it should be torn out and better plants installed.

Grass didn't grow on the front edge - time for a redo - the Divas decided that although the separate, smaller beds with established plants looked pretty good, one large border surrounded by stone edging would be even better. Luckily Sophia and Diva-Annie had collected a wheelbarrow full of freebies because it was time to Rock this Bed!

Mindy's diamond hoe flew so quickly it looks like a blur as weeds and Bermuda grass disappear from the center area of the bed where the new plants will go.
All the tools are ready for turf-removal (some of it will be transplanted to the North end of the parkway), digging and mixing in amendments.
A garden hose outlines the interior shape of the new unified border. Sophia's front yard is overhung with a few large Cedar Elms - sometimes a pain for pollen and leaves - but their filtered shade lets in enough light for foliage plants and flowers while shielding the garden from the worst of summer's sun. With a little breeze even a day in the nineties was tolerable.
We weeded existing beds and Diva-Annie took on the task of digging up many square yards of invasive Vinca major which had started out as a rooted cutting from a friend but now had overwhelmed the fern bed near the front porch. Sometimes Annie had help, sometimes she worked alone, patiently working in the tangle, determined to free the ferns from captivity and make space for the beautiful caladium plants that Sophia had bought. Caladiums can usually take heat if they are in shade and Sophia has that! She also bought a couple of gorgeous hostas - if anyone can make them thrive in Austin it will be Sophia.

Everyone is a gourmet cook at this house! We'd been spoiled by Roger's culinary arts at previous meetings...this time he started the banquet with Caprese salad and a luscious Cantaloupe soup. Next came piquant pasta salad paired with Sophia's homestyle stuffed peppers. We were thrilled to hear that Sophia's son Mark had made a Tres Leches Cake for dessert. It seemed impossible that the amazing chocolate cake Mark made for us in 2007 could be equaled or surpassed, but his Tres Leches belongs on a pedestal...wonderful!

Mindy had suspected that the reason everything died in the parkway was the soil - what's put in by contractors is frequently the sandy loam nicknamed "Red Death" by gardeners. Her idea was to dig in amendments and raise the bed before making a new flower bed in the center of the parkway and replanting the far end with turf that was removed when the beds were joined together. We hope the resprigged parkway can make it.

On the other side of the walk the Divas used our new Mantis tiller to make everything ready, then built a cool foot path before adding plants. You can see the caladiums sitting ready in their pots near the front porch. This kind of shade is just perfect for those Aspidistra/Cast Iron plants near the tree trunks

At the South end of the unified bed are two 'Mutabilis' roses which had a rather drastic pruning. Taking out some of the oldest rose canes might let the adjoining Bauhinia regain its shape and the pruning should encourage the roses to rebloom in late summer or fall.
Before we left at 7PM that night we'd placed the caladiums but not planted them. I went back a few days later to take "after" photos and with the Divas' cars and tools removed from the view, saw a transformed landscape.
The new layered look with rock edging seems to work well for Roger & Sophia's front garden from the new parkway bedto the outlines of the new unified bed
to the shady area of ferns, hostas and caladium near the front door

There's a whole colorful world for Sophia and her family to enjoy!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Part II - Previous post has Part I

A week after Karla's rained-out garden day the Divas of the Dirt tried again - hoping the possible storms would wait until evening. We started in quickly, determined to finish at least part of what Karla requested. Last June we'd worked in Sophia's garden when the temperature hit 96°F ... the same heat was predicted for Karla's day.

This time Diva-Annie was with us and she'd brought her new pruning stick with her. The ligustrum seen in the last post was brought back into line and dead branches pulled down.

We fanned out and tackled all the work we'd talked about the week before - starting with the front of the house and the sidewalk edge.

The front entrance was dug up and redone and the new liriope was planted. Cheerful gazanias grow in the sunnier spot to the right of the liriope.

Karla puts impatiens in the shade at the far end of this bed each summer - this year the color is a cooling white. Mattie designed a rock path across the side border - with so many flowers it's good to know where it's safe to step!

The front looked lovely when composted, watered in and mulched.

Around the back Diva-Annie and Sophia tackled the back border and the woodland area an to the north of the patio. This is one of those jobs with no end - it will absorb all the hours a person is willing to give.

Karla didn't have to make breakfast for this make-up session, so she decided lunch would be a Fiesta. All the elements of a Mexican Stack-Up were arranged on a colorful, placed on different levels around the table. She instructed us that to properly enjoy this vintage recipe we needed to go around the table, spooning some of every single ingredient onto our plates, in exact order and no exceptions!

We obediently piled on taco chips, rice, ground beef, cheese, tomatoes, olives, peppers, sour cream. tomatoes and could that be pecans and coconut? Yes!

Peach cobbler with ice cream- oh, yes. In the shady back yard Karla had this Fatsia japonica/Aralia and the variegated Aucuba in containers for awhile. She's used lattice to screen the utility boxes in the back yard and these shade lovers went in front of the lattice as further softening and screening.

Karla still had some decomposed granite piled in the driveway - it came in handy as a path to the compost corner Mattie had in mind. An open wire composter collected dry leaves, grass and twigs. Buffy, Mindy and Mattie got the black plastic composted assembled and ready and Mattie edged the path.

Diva-Annie, Sophia and I were still working on that woodland bed and trying to reset the birdbath when the first lightning bolt and crack of thunder made us jump. This time there was no period of hesitation when we thought the rain might lighten - this was a toad-strangler and Karla's Diva Project was declared officially over.

Karla: Good Morning Divas ...I have seen my yard get more beautiful each day. After the rain storm ... I had to replant a couple of things, move some dirt/mulch back in to the beds and prop a few plants up, but everything is looking so perky and happy. It is such a delight to look at now – as opposed to the very overwhelming feeling when looking at it before your great effort. I love all of the revisions to the back yard and how it just keeps evolving into something more wonderful each time you are there. Thank you so much for all of the hard work!
Have a great wk and again, thank you Divas – you’re the best!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


This is part 1 of 2 garden day posts for Karla

Bring the usual tools – mostly we will be cleaning up the beds (I know, it’s mid-May and I haven’t done that yet!!), composting, mulching, trimming – planting a few things. My goal is to have breakfast on the table at 8:30 so we can get in the yard before the temp reaches broiling point.

I might need some limbs cut on the ligustrum, Glinda, so if you want to throw your pole cutter in, that would be great. The only tilling we will need to do is a small bed beside air conditioning unit.

Looking forward to seeing everyone!!

By 8:30A the buffet table was ready and the flowers were on the table. One-by-one 5 Divas arrived for Karla's May garden day, dressed in work clothes with every tool in our arsenal. Diva-Annie was not in town - we'd miss her calm presence. With Karla almost everything has a backstory.... usually one that has us in stitches. It turned out that Karla saw the flowers when she went to check on her sister Callie's house while the family was on vacation. Such a giant bouquet obviously needed a group to appreciate it so Karla liberated the lavish floral arrangement and brought it where it could be admired.

We enjoyed Karla's menu of Baked French Toast Casserole w/Maple Syrup, Hash Brown Quiche, Berry compote and juices - isn't the Scottie napkin ring cute? After breakfast we went out to survey the garden and take a few "before" photos of the areas that Karla wanted us to do. The Rose of Sharon in the front corner was getting an established look and the parkway (AKA Hellstrip) mainly needed tidying - that rosemary badly needed pruning.

When grass grew in the parkway it never did well but the Lantana that replaced the grass was very happy indeed! A little snipping and mulching and they'd look great.

This didn't look like too bad of a work day - the long front border we worked on last year looked pretty good - just needing neatening and cutting back, composting and mulching.

The edge where the entrance walk meets the foundation bed has been a problem area for most of the years we've worked in Karla's garden. It gets too much sun at some times of the year, not enough sun at other times and gets washed away in heavy downpours. Karla wanted to plant some variegated liriope in this spot - it's a tough plant that might be able to take those conditions.

Karla was right - that ligustrum needed the pole pruner.
After Karla's garden day last summer we'd left this path edged and ready for decomposed granite. Since then a mountain of granite had been delivered and used to fill in the very Austin looking walkway. We like the result, Karla! In back the beds needed a Spring Cleaning, too - Karla and Mattie had some ideas about a compost corner and screening shrubs for the utilities. Maybe this wasn't going to be a short day after all!

CRACK!!! Thunder and lightning suddenly changed the focus of the day - we headed inside, in hopes it was a passing shower. Weather info was pulled up from TV, phone and computer. Mattie decided to work on the houseplants while she waited - taking them to the kitchen for grooming and watering them one at a time. "What's the usual procedure when weather interrupts a garden day?" Mattie, our newest Diva asked.

The rest of us looked at each other and realized we'd never dealt with this situation in 10 years of Diva-Days. We'd cancelled a few dates the night before and or very early in the morning, and on more than one occasion we'd worked through steady drizzle but we'd never had a lightning storm hit after we were already together.

The weather reports grew more ominous - it was time to quit and go home. It wouldn't be fair to make Karla cook breakfast again - we'd eat that at our own homes next Saturday, then arrive at 8:30AM ready to work....but would still hope for a great lunch.

Monday, June 08, 2009


In the weeks between Mindy's March garden day and Buffy's April date we in Austin experienced a Weather Event. On March 25th hailstorms pummeled parts of Austin setting records for the amount of damage. I took a video of the hailstorm and put it on YouTube and the photo above is from Sophia. The storm's path was erratic! Mindy and Diva-Annie escaped unscathed, but the other five Divas had been hit pretty hard.

Some of us would need new roofs and skylights. Karla was in the middle of traffic and Sophia was also on the road when the hail hit - it was terrifying to be inside a car as hail smashed their windshields, pounded the cars and turned the road to slippery slush. Our windshields were intact, but neither Buffy nor I could save our cars from being hammered. Mattie missed being in the middle of the storm by mere minutes. In addition to our homes and vehicles, we gardeners we were distressed to see our evergreens, perennials, annuals and trees get trashed - Sophia & I lost our newly-planted tomato gardens.

So we had to take some time out of Buffy's garden day to check out the demolished windshields, broken trim and actual hail potholes on the car bodies as we marveled at the power of ice the size of golfballs falling from the sky.

Buffy's garden is well established so it seemed unlikely we'd be removing turf but renewing beds and pruning existing trees and replacing plants that had failed or disappeared in the Texas weather fell under normal spring maintenance. The hearty breakfast of Italian sausage, Rosemary Strata with Sundried Tomatoes, Rosemary-Currant Muffins, Blackberry Muffins, Hash Browns should have been a clue that Buffy wanted us to work - she even tried to get our creative juices flowing with a drink called Brain Juice.

The Hellstrip that had been our project in 2007 was looking bedraggled, needing cleanup and replacement plants. Buffy likes natural stones set in as edging for areas like this - when she told us "I'd like to Rock this Bed" the phrase was perfect to describe what the Divas have done in so many of our gardens. Buffy had collected a quantity of fist to grapefruit-sized rocks for that task. Back in 2002 we'd removed the turf to encircle a small grove of trees in the front of Buffy's house into a large mixed border featuring native and adapted plants. Each year on her annual garden day we'd do some pruning and weeding and renew the plants.

Being part of the cycle in our friends' gardens, revisiting previous project and sharing the effects of time and weather on what we've done together, is part of the fun. We're invested in each other's gardens, sometimes getting quite emotionally involved with the results!

As usual, Buffy had bought a variety of plants. Even though we'd never get all of them planted in one day it was fun to see the variety - Buffy has a soft spot for Four-Nerved Daisy and it appears that the newish 'Diamond Frost' euphorbia was irresistible. We intended to also tend to the secret garden beds and the long shady bed along the side fence in the back garden but as we split up and began working we kept in mind that the most important part of the project as far as Buffy was concerned was to complete the Entrance bed outside the gate. The photo above from October shows how much we'd been able to do with this bed at Buffy's last garden day. Now it was time to move forward with the renovation.

The Texas sage was whacked back even further and given another chance and the viburnum left in place, but other plants were overgrown, exhausted and out of shape. Buffy had an entirely new design in mind once the soil was renewed - she would give gardenias a try.

Lunch was delicious - flavorful Greek turkey-meatballs served in pita bread with Red Pepper-Leek Soup and assorted crunchy potato chips.
Diva-Annie looks comfortable in the shade but in reality she was under the thorny, rambunctious 'Mermaid' rose, so beautiful, but so uncontrollable. That ground was littered with pieces of vicious rose cane out to get her if she wasn't vigilant.
By the time we left the Hell Strip was a parkway garden once again and according to Buffy's plan the Divas had Rocked the Bed. This is a very popular look in our Divas of the Dirt gardens - these rocks may not be as formal or glamorous as cut stone, but we can usually get them at no cost and they look as if they belong here in our Central Texas cottage gardens.

The Entrance Bed was planted, mulched and ready to bloom - glad we could help, Buffy! We'll hope for a follow-up post with some photos of the new bed as it becomes established.