Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Sugar emailed the Divas of the Dirt:
I'm looking so forward to seeing everyone & catching up on their summers. If you have any questions, let me know. Otherwise, I'll see you guys on Saturday I've heard it's actually supposed to get cooler again by then. I hope that is correct so let's keep our fingers crossed.

Annie: Weather forecast is for only 97 degrees, a cool front!!!

Sugar: I saw that! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that's definitely the high for the day!

By mid-September very little of the outdoors anywhere in Austin looked good - but indoors a pretty table graced with Hydrangeas made us forget what was on the other side of the door.
Divasofthedirt,hydrangeas on table Is there such a thing as too many berries? Sugar dared us to find out and we took up the challenge! Divasofthedirt, berries for breakfastThen she presented a fantastic basil, spinach and egg casserole with two kinds of tomatoes. Divasofthedirt,two tomato casseroleWe went outside to see what could be done. In front, the Indian Hawthorne was surviving the summer reasonably well but that groundcover just wasn't working. It spreads all over but isn't dense enough to keep out the grass. We debated its identity - didn't look like the kinds of liriope the rest of us had - maybe it was some kind of Monkey Grass? Whatever it was, Sugar wanted it gone. Yes, we can do that!Divasofthedirt, border work aheadA while later I discovered another reason to dislike this grasslike groundcover - Mindy noticed there was a cluster of Brown Recluse spiders in that mess! And one of them was crawling on my back!

Some shrubs on the side of the house needed clipping back - they may need taming, but Hey- these Abelias & Shrimp plants and rosemary may not be native plants but they are survivors. The cannas are alive, but about 1/4 of normal size and not blooming this year.Divasofthedirt, shrubs need workIn back there are plenty of chores large and small - cutting back, hoeing weeds, repotting the inhabitant of a container that cracked.Divasofthedirt,work for all
A ash huge tree that used to be in the back yard was now gone - look at that footprint! The ash had once provided shade but trees don't live forever and when huge limbs randomly come crashing down, a tree no longer seems like a friend. A tree in decline can be a looming, overhanging threat to the house and its inhabitants.Divasofthedirt, footprint of ash treeThe blue plumbago managed to survive and even thrive in horrible 2011. What's that tool next to the bed?Divasofthedirt,cordless tiller w plumbagoPretty cool! - a rechargeble mini-tiller - this will let Buffy enlarge that back bed so there will be a place for Sugar's pots of agapanthus. Divasofthedirt,buffy likes minitillerThe creamy molded salad with mangoes, dressed with sour cream and honey was perfect for this warm day.
Divasofthedirt, molded mango salad
A chicken-wild rice salad was delicious too, but the surprise hit of the lunch menu was something Sugar knew from a visit to France and had recreated for us in her kitchen. This is Celery Root Remoulade, kind of like Slaw that has gone to heaven. Sugar's recipe is pretty close to the Ina Garten version found here
Divasofthedirt,chicken rice & RemouladeSwirly frosted cupcakes were a sweet end to a memorable Diva lunch.Divasofthedirt, swirly frosted cupcakes
In addition to wonderful food - Sugar's two small dogs provided entertainment! Here's a replay of their video from fall 2010

Now there's a blank spot for planting in frontDivasofthedirt, blank space for next yearand a border ready for more plants in backDivasofthedirt, plumbago & hymenocallis foliage
... thank you all for your hard work yesterday. the back bed looks the best it's looked in a long time....added the agapanthus to that bed ... it gets good sun back there now since the ash tree's gone... also put the almond verbena in the front beds & am praying they live!!
...so, thanks for your help.

Before we leave Sugar's garden - let's take a closer look at that Plumbago auriculata - what a fabulous color! Divasofthedirt, close-up, Plumbago auriculata


My project was scheduled for June. My husband enjoys making hypertufa troughs and planters and the Divas of the Dirt were interested in trying to do it themselves.
DivasoftheDirt,thinking abt Hypertufa
The plan was that Oz would head a hypertufa workshop and everyone would go home with a small trough.
I sent out a note:
Glinda: Oz has the perlite, peat, Portland cement, cardboard molds & a base to work on. For mixing the hypertufa each Diva will need to bring a plastic dishpan/tub thing that holds approximately 12-quarts/3 gallons ... some kind of waterproof, flexible gloves (disposable are fine) so the skin on your hands doesn't come in contact with the hypertufa mixture...We'll be working in the garage - no A/C but shade and a breeze.

Karla: what tools do we need to bring to work in yard while stuff is drying/setting?

Glinda: don't know what we can do out there if we don't get rain... the ground is like a rock.

Mattie had done a lot since her Diva Day: Thought I’d share… After many exhausting hours of sweating I have completed the first stage of the front. I got chopped brick at the stone yard-three trips totaling 1,000 lbs for the border. Might need more but I need a good rain (don’t we all?) so I can see how it settles. Filled in with soil and mulch and plants from friends... What do you think?

Divasofthedirt, new front edging
But we never had summer Diva Day ... so many things happened in both our personal lives and in Central Texas during the summer of 2011.

We stood with hoses in hand, trying to keep gardens alive. We watched the bills for air-conditioning soar and we ate a lot of salads!

We had many happy family visits, went on vacations, said sad farewells.

The weather continued its brutal attack on living things... by June 14th Austin had already experienced 10 days over 100°F. The lake levels kept dropping and the usual Fourth of July fireworks were cancelled. All green things were stressed and we heard reports of even native trees ready to die from the drought.
By July 30th we were on Day 44 of temperatures over 100°F. On August 11th we broke another record... the LOW for the day was 82°F.

We'd given up the idea of a summer date - by the third week in August the possibility of having autumn project days seemed dicey.
Buffy: Does anyone think it will cool off into the 90s' by the time [September] the 17th comes?

Annie:Hopefully, but I doubt it!!

Glinda: It looks as if we will tie the all time days-over-100-degree record today and blow it away tomorrow. Oz bets that we'll then get frost by Halloween.

Mattie: I have been hand watering my new shrubs and trees and hope they make it. Scary when they say that we won’t see the full extent of the damage until after the first freeze. There are so many trees dead already. Yikes. This has been a good incentive to creating more plans for plantings and to rip up more grass…later, when its cooler.

With the drought, the heat and the hot winds came fire - a dead tree or piles of branches could no longer be thought of as brush... now they looked liked FUEL.

Welding started one fire, outdoor cooking another... eventually all outdoor grilling was temporarilly forbidden.
In mid-August, fires in Leander damaged 15 homes

August 24th - we broke the 1925 record for 70 days of 100°F

August 28th tied the all-time Austin high temperature of 112°F set in September 2000.

Fires popped up all around Central Texas from west of Fredericksburg to Steiner Ranch, north to Cedar Park/Leander and far east to Bastrop and Canyon Creek. The devastation was enormous and we all knew people who were affected. Many people were evacuated, some lost property and vehicles, many lost animals in the blazes, some lost everything.

Notices like this went out from government agencies:
More than 4,000 homes have been evacuated in Bastrop County as a wildfire assails the area. With tinderbox conditions raising the specter of more blazes in Central Texas, you might want to consider what you should bring if your neighborhood is evacuated. The Texas Department of State Health Services has helpfully compiled a list of recommended items.

The Bastrop Fire was historic and tragic.

September 11th was day #82 of days over 100°F. The Bastrop fire statistics were given as 1500 houses burned, 35,000 acres burned with several people still missing. The fire was only considered 50% contained. Most of Lost Pines State park had burned, a loss for everyone.

Here we were in the middle of September and for many parts of Austin, the last measurable rain had been a mere inch in early June. New fires kept popping up and it was still hot. Sugar's turn had been planned for mid-September & she decided to stick with that date since most of her project was cutting back, cutting out hackberries that had seeded into borders, removing bad liriope and adding mulch.
We could help her do these tasks... but more than that - we needed to see each other!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Email about Sophia's garden day flew back & forth in the Merrie Month of May.
On Tuesday before the big day we heard from Sophia:
Let's first start out with a weather report. I am hearing we have a small chance of that wet substance coming down. I haven't seen it for so long that I'm questioning if we will ever get some.
We will be working in the backyard (no more pulling of the asiatic jasmine in the front-ha) expanding the beds where the grass dies every year.
General composting, mulching, etc...
Come by at 8 am-breakfast will be served at 8:30. I am thinking we could get started earlier taking advantage of the cooler morning and avoid some of the heat later.

I would like your opinions on a bay laurel tree I just purchased-should it go in the ground or keep it in the pot for now?
Whoa-thunder just now! maybe there is hope...
See you all Saturday

Weather reports came in reply on Thursday

Glinda: Yay! We should be digging in nice soft soil on Saturday ... think my yard had about 1.3" of rain today and heard that some parts of Austin got 3". And right now the predictions are low 80's so Sophia's workday will be different from our last few hot & dry projects.

Mattie: You said it! I swear that I feel how happy the plants are. I know my yard was parched and all the buckets I left around are now filled with rainwater. Sounds like a great day at Sophia's house.

Sugar: YAY Rain!!! I’m in Houston & it poured for about 3 hrs yesterday here....I called my neighbor & she said we did get it pretty good. Wonderful. Hopefully it’ll make things much easier at Sophia’s when we start digging in the dirt! See you all then.

Annie: Yipee! I got rain here too, think about 2 inches. It really made all that grass sod you laid soooo happy! Me too! See everyone in the morning.

Mindy: Well, my rain gauge in SW Austin only has a half inch in it but that is better than none!!! Guess the rain dancing finally paid off ..sweet dreams!!!

Before going inside on Saturday morning we checked out the raised vegetable beds that were our project last April.
- the tomato plants were looking bouncyDivasofthedirt,raised tomato bedand look at this cucumber plant mixed in with the peppers..Divasofthedirt,peppers & cukes raised bedCloser - here's a cuke!Divasofthedirt,cuke closeThe dining room looked dreamy -Divasofthedirt,breakfast tableSophia and Roger started this summery day with a trio of melons- Watermelon, Honeydew and Cantaloupe, with Juice & coffee to ready us for the day ahead while an egg bake with asparagus & mushrooms, banana bread and chicken-apple sausage patties were just plain delicious.Divasofthedirt,asparagus egg bake, sausageOn the patio we found that Sophia had collected lots of stuff to pretty up the garden - annual flowers and some small shrubs. The hope is they'll soften the wooden fence now, their roots will catch hold and eventually they'll give some screening and privacy to the back yard.Divasofthedirt,things to plantA large area along the back house wall was once a sort of banana plantation, but they had not survived. Sophia wanted it to be a larger bed with shrubs and trees - she hoped the Bay Laurel could be planted as the anchor of the border.Divasofthedirt,the no-grow spotThe beds along the side and back fence were too narrow and undefined - enlarging & edging would give space for the shrubs.Divasofthedirt,border needs helpThis corner looks OK in summer when the burgundy-leaved cannas are tall, but it looks barren for months when the cannas go dormant in cold weather.Divasofthedirt,burgundy canna cornerDo you think Sophia has gathered enough mulch & compost? How much do you want to bet that we will use it all?Divasofthedirt,compost and mulch bagsThe Divas fanned out and started making a difference. Over the next few hours they will weed, divide, scavenge rocks, move around plants and ornaments, and compost and mulch everything that can't run.Divasofthedirt,tasks for everyoneNow there's an evergreen shrub behind the cannas. This is a division of an old-fashioned Lindley's Butterfly Bush - a passalong from Roger's mom. It looks a bit exotic, attracts bees and butterflies and has done remarkably well even in heat and drought.Divasofthedirt,buddleya behind cannasThe bay laurel bed is coming along - liriope divided from another part of the yard and some passalong Bengal Tiger cannas are now in.Divasofthedirt,bay laurel bed afterThe canna corner is now edged with rock, planted and mulched against the heat.Divasofthedirt,canna bed afterAnd the side fence bed is also composted, planted, edged with rock and mulched... and we Divas amused ourselves by reorganizing and redistributing Sophia's garden ornaments to go with the new plants.Divasofthedirt,fence bed after

Lunch was Spectacular!
Bowls of Gazpacho were perfect (the Ina Garten Food Network version ). Two kinds of "Not your usual Grilled cheese sandwiches" offered creamy, melted hearts of either Smoked Cheese with Pear Slices or Cheddar with Apple Slices on nut bread. A fun touch was Sophia's huge bowl filled with kettle chips, served with slotted spoon, and a Chess Pie was the perfect ending.Divasofthedirt,special grilled sandwiches
That was the end of the feasting, but that wasn't the end of the garden day. Sophia had shrubs for the back fence: a Xylosma (often recommended by John Dromgoole), a Southern Wax Myrtle and a shrub she'd found on sale called Leucothose axillaris or Coastal leucothoe - this one was an experiment.Divasofthedirt,Xylosma on back fenceThe Bay laurel bed is edged and mulched, tooDivasofthedirt,mulched bay laurel bedAnd after its grooming session the oft-worked-upon seating area is once again a star!Divasofthedirt,seating area after
We always have a good time at Sophia's house and we liked her reaction:
Happy good-morning-day-after diva day to you all! I am sure you all are pretty sore after yesterday...but what a marvelous job.
Thanks to all of you from the bottom of my heart for the superb garden help I had yesterday. WOW! WOW! and WOW!It looks beyond fabulous!
You all added your special touches and your unique personalities really show in the garden. I watered again later yesterday afternoon and everything looks so perky this morning. I think I'll go work a little more today. I also see a road trip for more flat rocks.
...can't wait until our next date at your house Glinda!

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Our fourth garden project for 2011 had been set for the end of April. In addition to some tree pruning, weeding, edging and mulching the front beds, our hostess Annie had a flat area that needed lawn replacement. She arranged a sod delivery for her project day so we could help her with it.

Buffy had a realtor emergency so she missed this delicious breakfast of fruit salad, French toast with almonds & glaze and bacon, but she planned to join us later in the day.Divasofthedirt,april breakfastThe sod-truck had arrived! Divasofthedirt,sod truckDiva-Annie had ordered a full pallet of St Augustine grass for front and side. We have much more experience in digging up lawn to make new borders than in putting it in, but for a variety of reasons lawn was a reasonable choice for this particular area at this particular time. Divasofthedirt,work areaWe went to work getting the ground ready while discussing how best to arrange the pieces so there were few gaps.Divasofthedirt,stack of sodSome Divas tilled the ground Divasofthedirt,tilling flat area
Some worked on getting the squares laid straight and flat and tight, Divasofthedirt,fitting squares of sodSome Divas weeded, fluffed up, composted and mulched the front beds Divasofthedirt,weeded bedWe took time to admire what was in bloom. Those lantanas are doing well!Divasofthedirt,orange red lantanaWe brought our pole pruners to take off bad branches on the Arizona Ash. This electric pruner was perfect for shaping the Chinese Pistache.Divasofthedirt,prune chinese pistache
It made us sad to see the Cassia tree - once a full and beautiful native evergreen - reduced to a few sticks by the previous winter. Austin always gets some freezing weather, but the temperatures usually bounce above freezing sometime during the day. February 2011 brought us 72 straight hours of temperatures below 32°F with most areas dropping into the teens at night. That solid block of freezing cold turned out to be too much for many plants - even native shrubs - to handle. But the Mexican oregano looked good and was in bloomDivasofthedirt,mexican oreganoBuffy arrived in time for lunch. She had saved Diva-Annie a trip to the nursery by stopping on the way to pick up even more mulch & more bags of compost. Lunch was Chipotle-style chicken bowls with beans Divasofthedirt,chicken bowl luncha big bowl of lettuce and a lavish array of toppings. (Does anyone else read the word "Toppings" and imagine it as said by Paul Rodriguez in the wonderful movie "Tortilla Soup"? That scene cracks me up every time. Toppings... heh, heh. )
Divasofthedirt,tortilla toppingsA Diva birthday was on the horizon so Sugar helped us celebrate with this beautiful handmade birthday cake.Divasofthedirt,birthday cakeWe loved the bird theme for Annie's table- from cloth to napkins, to vintage Czechoslovakian bird flower holders. And each place was set with a pair of white ceramic salt & pepper shakers in the form of birds. You can imagine how delighted we were to be told out these were gifts for each of us to take home!Divasofthedirt,bird-theme lunch tableWe went back out for awhile and got more done. The day's temperatures had reached the low 90's by late morning, but a cool front now came in, bringing more seasonal 70°F by late afternoon. Even for Austin this was shaping up to be a hot year and 'Hot Lips' Salvia may soon be our signature plant!Divasofthedirt,Hot Lips Salvia