Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The mists of February barely dampened the ground and the heat was firmly in place by the time we met for our March project at Buffy's house. As always, entering her beautiful dining room made us feel special.DivasoftheDirt,Buffy dining room
Then the delicious eggs, potatoes, sautéed peppers, fruit and biscuits kept that special feeling going... good grief! Buffy had cooked up a batch of homemade Apple Butter for the biscuits!DivasoftheDirt,march breakfastThe long bed next to Buffy's drive had been on her wishlist for a few years but some other task always took precedence. Today she designated the drive bed as the #1 Project.
When the bed was first made more than a decade ago, the rosemary and Cenizo/Texas sage plants were chosen for their toughness and drought resistance. But even tough plants wear out here. Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) can look good for quite awhile in the home landscape, but within Austin city limits, our hot nights & high humidity eventually win. Buffy's Texas sage was half dead.DivasoftheDirt,B4 drive bed
The rosemary was alive on the outside but a ratty, brown mess underneath. It insisted on growing over the driveway, the sharp branch ends attacking cars and passengers. Now not only Buffy but scratched-up family members were calling for a complete redo. DivasoftheDirt,drive bed to do
Some Divas of the Dirt began the dismantling of this bed, others worked on the border near the fence gate or the yaupon border or the long parkway border. There was enough cutting back, weeding, composting, mulching & pruning of shrubs to keep us all busy. Back at the drive, it took a long time to get the old plants cleared out. Newer subdivisions in Central Texas usually have the utility boxes in the front yard, making access easier, but disguise more difficult:DivasoftheDirt,clearing drive bedThe Texas Sage/Cenizo trunk had been wrapped in vines - making a twirled design in the bark. DivasoftheDirt,cenizo down to stubThe Texas Sage may have been half-dead, but it sure did not want to leave!DivasoftheDirt,trunk of Texas sageAt one point we called my husband Oz and asked him to bring a chainsaw, but by the time he arrived, Buffy & Mindy somehow hauled that monster plant out of the ground.DivasoftheDirt,roots out on Texas SageThe existing stone blocks were reused, and new ones sawed to reshape the bed and give it some definitionDivasoftheDirt,sawing stone blocks

Now the bed could be replanted! A native Anacacho Orchid Tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) would be the new centerpiece, with starts of heat-and-drought tolerant plants like salvias, Butterfly weed (Asclepias curassavica) Blackfoot daisies and Russian sage set in place. It doesn't look like much now, but give it time! DivasoftheDirt,Drive bed replanted
The Shrubby Germander (Teucrium fruticans) and Fall Aster looked good after the shady yaupon/oak bed was weeded, composted & mulched DivasoftheDirt,shrubby germander
The strip along the street was back in shape, too - this mulch will help the plants survive an Austin summer. DivasoftheDirt,Curb Border redone
Inside the cool house, another feast awaited the tired-out Divas of the Dirt as Buffy served up fish tacos with a wonderful soup - Black Bean with avocado sauce:And for dessert, a triumph of a Flan - DivasoftheDirt,Buffy fab Flan

Set on a plate with fruit, bathed in caramel sauce and topped with home whipped cream. DivasoftheDirt,Buffy's Flan on plateWe said goodbye, knowing we'd be together in three weeks, each leaving with a precious jar of that Apple Butter. Thanks, Buffy!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


February is always an iffy garden month in Austin - sometimes pleasant, sometimes cold and rainy. But in more northern states little real gardening can ever be done in February. Here, at least, "iffy" does not mean impossible!

For the February meetings of 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 & 2009 we enjoyed decent, sometimes even beautiful weather. It was off-on mist in 2006 and we were totally rained out in 2003, 2005 & 2010. What would this year bring? January had been cold, and the beginning of February was positively brutal - setting records for both low temperatures and the number of hours under freezing. This was not the Austin we Divas of the Dirt had signed up for!

The inside of Mindy's house was warm and welcoming and unlike the freeze-blackened landscape outside, here were bright flower faces - primroses to take home.The scent & sound of chopping chives told us breakfast was in progress
Mindy claims she'd made Mock Eggs Benedict a few years ago but it tasted new to us: the eggs were gently scrambled, spinach added, scooped onto sandwich rounds and her favorite Hollandaise Sauce poured on. With a huge fruit bowl and country potatoes, this was a substantial breakfast!There was no real rain falling - just mist & drizzle - so we went out to see what we could do to get Mindy's yard ready for spring. We know this garden well - what a shock to see what repeated dips to 15°F had done to old favorites like the Barbados Cherry trees and Fragrant Mistflowers
Beauty came from raindrop-spangled spiderwebsThe sprouts from the live oaks were not discouraged by winter - removing them from this bed, weeding and mulching took a long time

The dead trunks of Barbados Cherries were cut low, but these shorter stems may resprout. We cleaned up around them and added compost and mulch.
The gate beds needed help - assessing the damage from winter, weeding, cutting back & mulching were the tasks needed here. Deer-resistant evergreens like rosemary and artemesia did not have a happy winter
The opposite gate bed is now ready for March
We continued to work on the back yard and pond edges but soon the scents of cooking and baking pulled us back inside. We noticed the tidied front door area as we went in for the delicious meal Mindy & Warren had made -Warren's homemade bread, sandwich flats, shrimp salad!

Chicken salad !

Fruit salad, lettuce, pickles!
And a finale of Red Velvet Birthday with whipped cream...
We got part of Mindy's new project done, too - her dream was a Paisley-shaped border around a big-ole Cedar tree (that's a juniper to you Yankees). The shape traditionally resembles a teardrop or maybe a mango As usual, the shape was laid out with the hose. Whenever Mindy & Warren dig a hole, some rocks have to come out - these rocks are homegrown! They were scrounged from various piles, rolled and moved over, set in place and compost and soil were added. We did the preliminary work, leaving the planting design and acquisition for Mindy to do - maybe she'll take a photo this summer so we can find out how this new bed worked.

Maybe the weather in March will be more like spring!

Friday, May 13, 2011


Buffy had a craving for applewood bacon, so she suggested Manny's Uptown Kitchen for our annual planning meeting - we were glad she did. The Divas of the Dirt arrived at the Gateway Shopping Center in drizzle and mist on a gray Saturday morning.DivasoftheDirt, Manny's Uptown Kitchen, Austin, TX
In just a few minutes the people in charge had our group set up in the cozy & comfortable main room. Other commitments meant a few Divas of the Dirt had to leave early and/or come late. Diva-Sugar was out-of-state, so she couldn't be there at all. We set up the schedule for the year as best we could: Mattie was returning for sure but Sugar's return was still a question mark. And since we garden in Austin, the weather, as always, would be a bigger question mark.

Divasofthedirt planning meeting
There was no question about how we liked Manny's - the food was wonderful and the service impeccable. Pancakes! Omelets! Blintzes! Yum! Five of us lingered for conversation and decided we want to come back to Manny's another time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Divasofthedirt invitation Dec 2011We always get together in mid-December - and not for a project/work day - just for fun. The Divas of the Dirt take turns being hostess - in 2010 I was the lucky one.

The tree was up:

The table was set. I was in a nostalgic mood and decided to use the tartan cloths from decades-ago Christmas dinners in Illinois:
Divasofthedirt, Xmas table 2011Diva-Sugar was out of town and Diva-Mattie was not well but we other 6 Divas were in holiday mood. December can bring beautiful days in the seventies, just right for a stroll around the garden. The weather had been so mild that Salvias, shrimp plants, gaura, pansies, Lion's Tail and tropical milkweed were untouched by frost. We saw rosebuds and caught the camellia in bloom, wondering how long it would be before real winter arrived. (This photo was taken a few days before our party.) DivasoftheDirt, CamelliaMy camera had broken a few weeks previously and we weren't used to the new one so while our group was very together the group photo was quite unfocused!

Diva-Mindy brought champagne and the ingredients for Poinsettias - and in keeping with the nostalgia theme we drank them from vintage silver ombre glasses - very Mad Men Sixties, aren't they?
Divasofthedirt,vintage silver glasswareI put the salad in a vintage bowl too, but for the main dish I tried something new - Chicken Marsala with double the mushrooms and double the wine called for in the recipe:
DivasoftheDirt, mushrooms cut upMindy's cocktails and Buffy's Antipasto salad on crackers were a good start
Divasofthedirt,Mindy & SophiaSophia had hinted at a special soup - we hoped it was her famous Italian Wedding Soup and were glad to be right!

DivasoftheDirt, 2011 holiday banquetKarla brought a fantastic California wine along with delicious bacon bundles. Buffy arrived last, bearing the ingredients for risotto (and her cool ceramic-covered Dutch oven) prepared to cook up a treat. Mattie stopped by for a quick visit- she wasn't strong enough or well enough to join us for dinner, but she stayed long enough to sip a cup of Sophia's special soup.
DivasoftheDirt Buffy,Annie,Karla,GlindaDiva-Annie wrapped up the menu with a dish we never tire of -Amaretto Bread pudding - enjoyed while we played our grab bag game. Everybody plays... and everybody wins that game!

Friday, January 14, 2011


2010 October - Sugar's Compost & Horseherb Garden Day

Sugar is one of the founding members of the Divas of the Dirt but she had dropped out for a few years and we hadn't worked in her yard for a long time. She warned us that it needed help:

We won't be doing much other than pulling weeds*, weeds, & more weeds, then adding compost... I am planning on building a new garage... etc... can't plant anything until all of this is done. I know it won't be very exciting, but maybe next yr we can do some of the pretty stuff!!!!

*One of the weeds in Sugar's yard is seen below- Calyptocarpus vialis AKA Straggler daisy AKA the hated Horseherb. The native, tough and extremely aggressive Horseherb can work as a groundcover when it's in the right place, but the very prominent central area between decorative front driveway strips was not the right place!DivasoftheDirt horseherb
Glinda replied to Sugar's note:... we've had such a long stretch of bizarre weather that even people who weeded, watered and fertilized the whole time have crummy looking gardens! All the garden bloggers are whining.

Sugar had another request: ... would you mind bringing your tall handle branch trimmer... ?

Sophia was optimistic: ... Maybe a cool front will sneak in! Keep your fingers crossed!

Glinda: God willin' and the crick* don't rise higher than it did last time, I'll be there with the pole pruner, Sugar. Just make sure there are lots of yard bags ready & I'll try to fill them!

Diva-Annie was realistic: Yeah, I've seen Sugar's yard and it's going to take a lot of bags!!!

A 10-cubic yard pile of Revitalizer Compost from the Natural Gardener awaited us in front of the house... while a table set for six rather than seven (Mindy had a schedule conflict and couldn't be with us at Sugar's house) awaited us inside. Divasofthedirt pretty tableBaked French Toast, bacon and beautiful fruit for breakfast - yum, let's eat!

DivasoftheDirt bacon and fruit

The food was delicious - we shared recent news with each other and discussed Sugar's latest plans and projects as we started the day. We weren't too sure how this project would go... our team lacked one member and the air in Austin was hot and loaded with mold & pollen. The counts were so high that most of us were already sniffling, coughing, and not feeling too peppy.

divasofthedirt french toast
We walked around the yard and saw a lot to do. A long hedge of overgrown photinia hung over the chain link fence from the next yard, its heavy branches weighing down the top rail Some of the large dead photinia trunks were deforming the fence and no sun could reach the ground through the mess. Since this area also got runoff from the neighbors' pool it was muddy work to saw & prune the neglected shrubs.

divasofthedirt muddy shoes
While the dead wood was being removed and the shrub prunings were slowly being reduced for recycling by a couple of Divas of the Dirt in the back yard, up in front the other Divas of the Dirt worked with spades, forks, and hand tools. The front beds were weeded, crowded plants like liriope were divided then replanted and/or transplanted and composted. The recently rebuilt, attractively-patterned driveway strips gradually emerged from the crabgrass and horseherb.

divasofthedirt weeds
In newer parts of Austin you usually find solid wide driveways of asphalt and concrete (I'm pretty sure they are mandated by some home owner associations) but Sugar's cottage is on a larger lot in an older neighborhood. Here, parking strips with a center space of mowed lawn can add vintage charm, allowing water to sink in rather than run off. Unfortunately, there was no longer any mowable lawn in between the strips - just lumpy ground choked with weeds.
Hours of grubbing at ground level does get you close to nature! Take a look at the beautiful big green caterpillar we found...

divasofthedirt green caterpillar
At some point we started filling and hauling garden carts of compost to the back yard, sprinkling, spreading and raking the wonderful stuff over the surface of the large lawn section-by-section with other Divas watering the completed areas. divasofthedirt revitalizer compost
Eventually we broke for lunch - stopping to admire a speckled yellow canna, backlit in the autumn sun divasofthedirt backlit yellow canna

Sugar is a wonderful cook! She presented a chicken casserole with silken, home made Bechamel sauce, divasofthedirt chicken casserole

a crunchy salad full of good things divasofthedirt big saladand a home made cake to cheer us updivasofthedirt cake Sugar's two small dogs put on a comedy show that sent us into gales of laughter.

We went back out and worked on that pile of compost until late afternoon, but knew we'd never get it done. We're pretty strong as a team but but we'd already spent hours doing the pruning, weeding, digging, transplanting and rubble-reducing so were running of time. We also did not have the right equipment for a job like this... we needed real wheelbarrows and wide mulch shovels, not plastic garden carts & narrow garden spades. divasofthedirt compost in drive
We'd done our best for Sugar, but we told her that the next time she called for a compost delivery, she should also call for a couple of young guys with contractor wheelbarrows!