Tuesday, March 13, 2012


The weather was mild and schedules were tight, but the Divas wanted to make up my missed summer date during November. That sounded wonderful to me but my friends had so many things going on that they'd have to pop in-and-out during the project day.

Divasofthedirt,Hypertufa day
Let's experiment with a Saturday in November as a kind of open house Diva Day of hypertufa. We'll figure out some dishes that can be kept warm, or maybe stick to coffee cakes, breakfast rolls and sandwiches so whenever you get here and are hungry you can hit the buffet counter. It won't be our usual kind of work day but it could still be fun!

Soon Diva reply emails arrived, insisting that the Hypertufa day should still include some work in the garden - yay!

I've been thinking about the "real garden day" part. Oz says the right way to do it is to mix and build the trough, then go do something else for a while, return to check the trough and make adjustments as the mixture settles, go do something else again for awhile, come back and make more adjustments, etc. So there is a lot of fine tuning involved. Instead of a big project, I have a lot of smaller gardening tasks that can fit into those intervals .... rubber/waterproof gloves are needed. We have a few pairs of disposable ones if you don't have any. Bring an expendable plastic dish tub thing if you have one. Also - wear old garden clothes.... concrete can splash! Coffee & baked stuff will be ready at 9 AM so just arrive whenever it works on your schedule. Guess I'll try to time lunch for around 1:30 PM or so?

Instead of a cooked breakfast on Saturday Oz made a fruit salad of Rio Red grapefruit, Satumas, fresh pineapple, seedless grapes and I used an old family recipe to bake several kinds of pastries including Lithuanian Bacon Buns, Raspberry Kolaches and some Sweet Cheese Bundles - a few are left on this tray near the flowers.Divasofthedirt,flowers and pastries
The Hypertufa Day went great! Oz has been making hypertufa planters since the mid-1990's and he was glad to pass along what he's learned.

He had mixing tubs in placeDivasofthedirt,mixing trough
He had cardboard forms made and work stations set up in our garage. Under the form is another piece of cardboard with guidelines for the thickness of the walls.
(over the years Oz has used plastic bowls, trash can lids, old hanging baskets and wooden forms. Here's a miniature rose in a planter made from a plastic pot)Divasofthedirt,minirose in hypertufa
The ingredients are equal parts of Peat Moss, Perlite and Portland Cement (not Concrete Mix!) and water. Waterproof gloves and mixing tubs, too. For some projects he's added masonry dye to the mixture, but today we're keeping things simpleDivasofthedirt,peat,perlite,portland cementThe first step was to sieve, measure and moisten the peat mossDivasofthedirt,moss through sieve
The Divas watch as Oz shows how to measure & mixDivasofthedirt,how to mix hypertufaIngredients are blended Divasofthedirt,blending ingredients
Soon each Diva of the Dirt has a batch of mixed ingredients ready for the next step - adding waterDivasofthedirt,ready to mix
When the mixture is right is should resemble cottage cheese. After the mudpie stage it will be time to cover the cardboard forms.Divasofthedirt,mixing fun begins
The aim was to keep a fairly uniform 1 and 1/2 inch depth all aroundDivasofthedirt,check depth hypertufa
Divas arrived, ate, mixed - sometimes left for a while and came back - and sometimes let their creation settle while they worked in the garden. I was thrilled at what they accomplished!

Last spring the whitebud (Cercis canadensis texensis , in the alba or white form of the Texas Redbud) in the big front bed had bloomed beautifully, but it never leafed out well, then dwindled through the summer and was dead before September. (BTW - both the birdbath and the container by the steps were made from Hypertufa)Divasofthedirt,whitebud, march 2011
Thinking that a crepe myrtle would have a better chance in that spot, I bought a 'Muskogee' in June and had grown it in a series of ever-larger containers, getting it ready for planting in fall.Divasofthedirt,Muskogee crepe in pot
Not only was the 'Muskogee' now planted - the entire front bed was cultivated, edged and mulched -Divasofthedirt,muskogee planted
Oz & I want to surround the square stepping stones in the path with decomposed granite but the grass had to be dug out first.Divasofthedirt,grass in path
Now the grass is gone - soon this will be granite!Divasofthedirt,path cleared for dec granite
I'd reduced the amount of Asiatic Jasmine around the yaupon but the Divas banished it and mulched the bedDivasofthedirt,weeded mulched yaupon bed

Some of the plants in the parkway survived summer well, but some were dead. I bought new plants of Flame acanthus/Anisacanthus quadrifidus for the parkwayDivasofthedirt,parkway after summer

After the Divas of the Dirt were done it is renewed and ready for a new seasonDivasofthedirt,renewed parkway

Somewhere in there we went inside for lunch - Red pepper & cheddar corn muffins, Chicken with Butternut Squash soup, and Salad with Avocado dressingDivasofthedirt,table set for lunch

And pie - it's been a long day and we deserve some good old Apple Pie. This one was not made with a time-honored, hand-me-down recipe - it was a hand-me-up recipe that came from my daughter.Divasofthedirt,Glinda with apple pie(photo taken by Diva Sugar)

After a few days the troughs were cured enough to go home with their makers - don't forget to drill drainage holes.Divasofthedirt,troughs curing
Thank you so much, dear Divas of the Dirt!

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Karla sent out a note:
Maybe we will have a nice weekend like the past one, but I won’t hold my breath on that... we will probably be cleaning beds, compost/mulching, etc. Glinda, I know you have to leave early – no problem.

Before we met at Karla's an email came from Mindy. She had friends from fire-ravaged Bastrop staying with her and they had all witnessed something amazing:Divasofthedirt,mindy monarch butterflyHey there Divas!!! My friends yelled from the deck yesterday morning ... I saw my evergreen sumac swarming with dozens of GORGEOUS MONARCHS!!!! (After) my milkweed bit the dust during the drought ... couldn't imagine ...such a display of the little nectar sippers... Divasofthedirt, mindy sumac w monarchsequally astonished with the millions of rain lilies that have exploded in the yard after we were blessed with over 3 inches of rain...Can't wait to see you all at Karla's next weekend...Divasofthedirt, monarch by mindy
... I’m looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow – usual tools – I will have breakfast ready at 8:30 so we can make use of the nice cool morning – hopefully some of it will linger into the afternoon!! Have a great Friday and see you in the morning!

Karla's table was a delight - decorated in fall colors with a sense of fun & graceful motionDivasofthedirt, karla beautiful table
The buffet in the breakfast room displayed more delights - granola with yogurt & honey, a grits & ham casserole, a bountiful bowl of berries, kiwi fruit & bananas and tiny muffinsDivasofthedirt,buffet breakfast
In the back garden we admired Karla's pretty Anacacho orchid tree, planted as a memorial to a beloved family member. In spring it had been covered in tiny orchid-like flowers and this Bauhinia gets extra points for being a native tree!
Divasofthedirt, Bauhinia,Texas orchid tree
Every year when we first arrive, Karla's yard looks so neat that we have a hard time believing that it needs our help - but Karla always lets us know we are wrong!Divasofthedirt, asiatic jasmine border needs helpThis time Karla told us that cutting down the native, yellow-blooming Carolina jessamine/Gelsemium sempervirens on the lattice privacy screen was a priority. The vines had become leggy over time while drought and heat made some parts of the vine die and drop leaves. The only new growth was concentrated at the top, where it fluffed out to shade the lower part, making it even spindlier. That privacy vine gave no privacy at all!Divasofthedirt,lattice screen
Karla wanted to chop down the jessamine and rip out the roots, but she was willing to let us try a drastic experiment first. We would severely prune the vines quite low to let the sun back in at the bottom, then wait to see if the promised rains would help it grow and fill in again. We hoped this plan would work, because digging out those entrenched roots to start over with new plants would not only be difficult - digging around the base could make the entire lattice wall unstable. Divasofthedirt,screen not working
DivaAnnie & I went to work with our pruners, but I hung out at ground level while she climbed the ladder.Divasofthedirt,pruning Carolina jessamineSophia took on the congested Canna bed and the other Divas fanned out to to other beds and borders near the house. Divasofthedirt,redo canna bedThe thuggish Asiatic jasmine was once a few small sprigs, but it's hard to control now... spreading and invading the fern bed - Diva Mattie to the rescue!Divasofthedirt,redo jasmine fern bedOctober in Austin can be like summer in other places - Mindy knows that it's wise to take frequent water breaksDivasofthedirt,water breakThe photinias are leggy and need some help from KarlaDivasofthedirt,leggy photiniasThe sunny bed with blue plumbago, Cast Iron plant and ferns will soon look good - more mulch, Sugar!Divasofthedirt,bed needs more mulchNow the roots of the cut-down Carolina Jessamine on the lattice will have a chance to regrow and provide screening. And with luck, when it blooms again, instead of yellow bell-shaped flowers opening high overhead, they will appear where Karla can enjoy the fragrance. Divasofthedirt, lattice vine cut downThe newly done orchid bed looks greatDivasofthedirt, weeded mulched bed
Karla announced lunch - and the main dish was a winner - delectable Chicken Bundles made with crescent rolls patted into squares, folded around a center of cream cheese, butter, onions, and boned cooked chicken, sealed, rolled in crumbs then baked in a 350°F oven.

Chicken Bundles are an old favorite dish in Karla's family, but this version was made even better than the original recipe when Karla's sister, AKA Chef Callie, added her special touch by sautéeing the onions first. This intensified the flavor while making the filling more tender.Divasofthedirt, Savory crescent Chicken squares
A hot work day can make one appreciate a really nice green salad, and this was a REALLY nice green salad.Divasofthedirt, big saladThe sweet endings to our lunch were individual compositions of 3 mini-brownies and what Mattie described as a "mountain of ice cream". Back in April 2002 after a feast at Karla's house, Sugar told a guest that the Divas of the Dirt were not actually a garden club... we were an Eating Club that gardened to work off the calories. We haven't changed much in the ten years since she made that statement!

Karla's house was decorated to celebrate the autumn season. Summer of 2011 had been so horrible that everyone was in the mood to celebrate fall's arrival!Divasofthedirt, Karlas autumn decorI was fascinated by the tiny "pumpkins" used by Karla in glass containers - they looked like some kind of seed pods but what kind of plant were they from? Searching online for "seed pods" & "tiny pumpkins" brought up the information that they were sometimes called Putka pods, and were seed pods of an Australian tree named Glochidion ferdinandi.Divasofthedirt,seedpods like tiny pumpkins
Other sites put them into a different species, but they're probably still genus Glochidion.

There are no end-of-day photos for this project. After lunch I waved goodbye to the other Divas. They went outside to work in the front garden and I went home to my out-of-state houseguests.

Thank you so much for all of the hard work and beautiful improvements you made in my yard yesterday - this is the first time all year that the entire yard has looked so groomed. Everything that was moved or planted looked happy today when I watered. The guy across the street said when you all come over, I always have the prettiest yard on the street!!! I will definitely agree with him on that! Ray now knows why I enjoy being a part of it so much. But ...WHEN ARE YOU EVER GOING TO STOP SAYING "THERE'S NOTHING TO DO" WHEN YOU GET HERE??????