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!

Thursday, January 13, 2011


2010 September, Buffy's Garden Day

The Oxblood Lilies were in bloom at my (Glinda's) house when I left to pick up Sophia for Buffy's garden day. Sophia had planted caladiums in the border with her Oxblood Lilies. Aren't they gorgeous? DivasoftheDirt,Rhodophiala bifida & caladiumThat generous Austin gardenblogger MSS of Zanthan Gardens had shared some of these classic Austin passalong bulbs with the Divas of the Dirt a few years ago and they've done well. Every September they pop up in older gardens in Austin - I've read they are a South American bulb, but were brought to Austin many years ago, divided and shared. We love being part of that tradition!
Sophia & I wrestled the tiller in my car and headed over to Buffy's house. The September date had given Buffy a chance to use autumn decorations and her table setting was delightful with tiny pumpkins and ceramic mushrooms. DivasoftheDirt,Buffy Autumn tableWe caught up on recent news while Buffy cooked hash browns and a spicy egg dish baked in the oven, part of a delicious, hearty breakfast and oh, those cinnamon rolls!DivasoftheDirt,breakfast plate
The day was going to be another hot one - we unloaded all our tools and started to work. One job was raising the canopy on a large Bradford pear. The swings from drought to flood spurred the tree to throw out weird long branches, shading an existing vegetable plot and threatening to cover the planned new one. After reshaping the tree, the prunings were reduced for recycling and the digging could start. DivasoftheDirt, reduce limbs to recycle
The secret garden also needed pruning, weeding & transplanting ... we tried out new ideas for this area we'd worked in so often, moving around pots and the birdbath and adding new plants. Then we got a little punchy from the heat and started playing with rocks DivasoftheDirt,Rock stackand the photographer played with the poster-edges function

I also had to take a photo of one of the succulents on Buffy's patio table - no ID but what a fun plant! DivasoftheDirt, succulent on patio

We were out there for hours on this hot day, talking and laughing even as we mopped our brows and thought about the aches that would hit the next day.
Lunch at Buffy's house was always worth working for!DivasoftheDirt, soup for lunch
It was getting late by the time we left, but seeing the renovated mulched border with new vines on the tuteurs was satisfying to the Diva eye DivasoftheDirt, vines on tuteurs
Isn't the new vegetable plot cute! DivasoftheDirt, Buffy's vegetable plotBuffy told us to each take one of the ceramic mushrooms home as a souvenir of the day.
Thanks, Buffy!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011



Mindy sent out an email about a plant sale near her with great bargains.
Karla couldn't go to the sale, but she shared an odd happening in her parking strip:

I don’t know what happened but realized one day that I had 3 stalks of corn growing in my bed between street/sidewalk...Hope everyone is having a great summer!!

Sugar was surprised: Corn?... do you actually have corn on the stalks?

Karla replied:
Yep...thought it looked like corn stalks, but was right beside those deep red daylilies ... thought they had multiplied kept getting taller and taller and the foliage no longer looked the same – one day..I noticed that something looked like an ear with silks coming out top ... maybe I should have used that area for a veggie garden!...

Buffy's September turn was fast approaching but the date set at the January planning meeting was now impossible for Mindy and Sugar.

Buffy offered to make it a week earlier:
I am really ready for some cooler days... Are you all ready to start gardening again? ... My back yard looks terrible and I can't wait to have you all over! I will try to keep us in the shade and I will have plenty for us to drink

Karla was fine with the new date: I really doubt that your backyard is terrible but I could understand if it did ...too many mosquitoes and then the heat – ugh!!
Looking forward to seeing everyone and hearing about the summer fun!

Glinda said: My only gardening has been watering just enough to keep some stuff alive... soon as it's done I'm ready to run back inside. The plants are downright shabby looking - never saw so many shredded leaves from caterpillars!

Diva-Annie: I'm ready to get back into the garden, the garden of somebody that still has some living plants. mine was doing pretty well for most of the summer, till we got to the really high temps and poof almost overnight everything has died!!

Mindy was happy with the change: I'm totally on board ...brilliant!..Let's do it!

Buffy had a good project plan:
I think I would like to extend my veggie/herb garden area and clean up some beds along with adding compost and mulching....
but she also indulged in a little garden fantasy:
I also want to build a greenhouse, make a path with decomposed granite, extend some beds in the front and add a new bed on the side by the kitchen. Also, add a layer of compost over the front and back yard. Who ever has the tiller don't forget to bring it. Do you all think we can get all of that done in a day??!!

Diva-Annie was not daunted:
Sounds like a great project for the morning! Only question is .."what will we do in the afternooon?"

Hurricane Hermine became Tropical Storm Hermine - arriving in Austin the week before Buffy's project day, dumping inches of rain in a few hours.

Glinda: ..there is no doubt that the ground at Buffy's house has been softened up a little! Oz ran out twice to empty the rain gauge & it added up to almost 12"... Our rolling trash cart (and a few others) floated more than a block down the street...I think Sophia's okay since she's wisecracking on FB ... hope Karla is okay, too?

Sophia chimed in:…12 inches-yowsza! I guess we will be lightly tugging on unwanted plants/weeds on Saturday! I kept waking up thinking we were going to flood but Roger reassured me that we are up pretty high. How is everyone else?

Karla's house stayed dry inside: ...I could not believe that it continued to rain that hard for that long - every time I woke, still going!..Hope everyone is ok!

Sugar's neighborhood is flat: house is dry on the inside as well...however, i have a swimming pool in my backyard! i didn't think it was ever going to stop...feast or famine!

Diva-Annie was fine: ...OK here too, although there are lots of muddy footprints on the carpet!

Mindy reported in: 8 plus inches here... high and dry on the hill, low water crossings went down quickly and all my mud puppies are out in the dog run ...get them in ... for a bath tomorrow...heard I-35 was shut down both ways at Jarrell...Will see everyone Saturday...hear it's gonna be a sauna!!

We were ready for Part 2 of the Diva of the Dirt year.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Mindy's Turn For 2010
Late May

Crowded June schedules meant we had two meetings in May 2010 - Karla's turn went well at the beginning of the month and Mindy planned hers for Memorial Day Weekend.

The temperatures were in the mid-90's but it was Red-White-and-Blue gorgeous inside the house...I may have taken as many photos of the spread in the dining room as of the work in the yard. Mindy's buffet arrangements were super! DIVASOFTHEDIRT, mindy's buffetMindy's dining room always looks inviting and holiday dress suits the French dishes

DIVASOFTHEDIRT, mindy's table
What a spectacular fruit platter - every bite was perfect...

DIVASOFTHEDIRT, mindy fruit platter
Outside, the border plants looked as if they knew it was late May - the Shrimp plants, impatiens and iris were fine...DIVASOFTHEDIRT, mindy entrance but what about those Barbados Cherries/Malpighia? These small native trees bloomed so beautifully in this photo from 2008!

DIVASOFTHEDIRT 2008 malpighia
But January 2010 brought record breaking low temperatures and many native plants died.
A close inspection showed that although there was some green under the bark at ground level, the entire tops, branches, and trunk were completely dead. What a shame!

DIVASOFTHEDIRT winterkilled barbados cherries
Cutting down the cherries began in front, with weeding, thinning and redoing the border started near the pond. Salvia darcyi does beautifully there, but repeated tries at transplanting divisions have not convinced this lovely Mexican Mountain Sage to live in Glinda's garden... phooey! DIVASOFTHEDIRT salvia darcyiMindy and Warren had a special houseguest - Warren's mom Ginger, who was staying with them while working on some health issues. Ginger is a great storyteller! Also with us were a few extra Divas of the Dirt, pals from our group of family and friends who joined us for some of the 2010 meetings and helped with a video. They worked under Mindy's direction to enlarge & redo a border near the side fence that we made back in April 2006... that border just wasn't working anymore.

The weather was already hot - after working for hours we were ready for air-conditioning and lunch and a chance to chat.

DIVASOFTHEDIRT, mindy table arrangementThe menu reflected this cooperative day - the enormous Build-a-Salad was supplied by Mindy (with fabulous bread made by Warren) DIVASOFTHEDIRT bread salad and beansand more dishes were brought by the guests including Deviled Eggs, pasta salad and beans.

DIVASOFTHEDIRT salad, deviled eggs
More time outside resulted in a good looking entrance, a redone pond bed, and a terrific new long border ready for new plants. DIVASOFTHEDIRTm bew border doneMindy walked with Ginger out to see the new border and its extra special centerpiece - a real plow. This farm implement wasn't just a decoration! DIVASOFTHEDIRT, Mindy's vintage plowThis tool didn't come from Ebay or an antique-vintage shop. Some years back, Ginger herself plowed fields with it and planted vegetables, growing food for her family... she can tell you all about being a Pioneer Diva of the Dirt!

Sunday, January 09, 2011


2010 Early May
Karla's Turn for 2010

We Divas of the Dirt like to tease Karla about being spoiled because her sister Callie has often acted as chef for meetings. But last May Callie had a broken leg & Karla had to cook!

The table looked fine and we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of sausages, a grits casserole, melons and strawberries.

Our garden project wasn't adding something new this time - it was the sometimes even more important task of subtracting what had died and maintaining the good parts that had made it through winter.

The hellstrip plants had done well - so well that they needed cutting back to keep the walk clear.

Look at that Rosemary!

The beds and borders needed weeding, edging, composting and mulching - we knew what to do!

Unfortunately the pomegranate tree that had done so well in past years was completely dead and needed to be cut down and the limbs reduced to fit in the recycling bags. I'd brought the pole pruner & loppers and had assigned myself that task, but while we worked, we also wanted to notice and admire the plants that had done well in spite of rough weather.

The Jerusalem Sage/Phlomis fruticosa had filled in and was blooming

Native columbine had not only done well - they'd seeded and made a colony! Their delicate bluish-green leaves were set off by the broad leaves of emerging Cannas.

Graptopetalum/Ghost plant survived and thrived, its intriguing shape and color making some of us decide to try it, too.
At one point a wandering canine saw the Divas at work and came over to keep us company. Sugar couldn't help making friends with the sweet dog
We made good progress, stopping for lunch mid-afternoon. Little Slider sandwiches of Central Market Chicken Salad and Pimiento Cheese and an enormous, beautiful salad were both reward and incentive to finish the job.... a delicious and visually appealing lunch indeed

I didn't take a picture of them, but we loved Karla's dessert - tiny chocolate cupcakes.

We finished up and left Karla's garden looking tidy, refreshed and well-mulched against the harsh summer to come.
The next day another sweet reward came via email from Karla:

Dear Divas,
Thank you SOOOO much for the all the hard work yesterday to make my yard look BEAUTIFUL!!! It still amazes me what 7 women can do in about 7 hours - WOW!! I got my coffee, paper and crept to the patio this morning to enjoy the beauty that I haven't seen in many, many months (oh yeah, since you were here last) and just got settled in when the sprinkles started. I gladly moved in hoping they would get a little heavier and make my plants even happier!!!!