Friday, February 21, 2014


This post, "2013-June SOPHIA'S GARDEN DAY" was written by Annie in Austin/Glinda for the Divas of the Dirt blog.
We in Austin do like the idea of local food, by supporting Farmers Markets for example. Some of us also try to grow some of it ourselves. But in heavily wooded neighborhoods like the one where Sophia, Karla and I live, planting vegetables is often a statement of support for the home garden rather than an action resulting in food for humans.

Sophia & Roger had given growing vegetables a good try after we installed square raised vegetable herb beds for her Divas of the Dirt project a few years ago. They produced the odd pepper or cucumber and some herbs, but not enough to equal the water they used and it was impossible to keep weeds and tree seedlings from growing in the beds and the entire area around them.

Sophia reluctantly decided the square beds would have to go. She wanted to reuse the square stepping stones already set in that area and she hoped we'd have some ideas on how to make that side of the drive better. If possible, Sophia also hoped we'd help her with the usual weeding, grooming, mulching and adding color to existing beds in front.

On a hot June day we gathered for her project. Mindy and Sugar weren't able to come at all, and Buffy told us she'd arrive late and then would pop in-and-out for the rest of the day.

When we arrived we could see that Sophia had taken advantage of some deep markdowns on plants - some plants were practical, some just for fun. She'd found a 'Bubba' Desert Willow on sale - quite a good find!

There were a couple of nice abelias and some native plants. She also found some inexpensive baskets of annuals that could be taken apart and used to add color to existing beds. We looked the plants over and plotted how they might be used... but some were very exotic - none of us had ever tried growing a Dragon Fruit!

Because Sophia's work schedule had been very heavy she was glad that Roger has major cooking skills! Sophia planned a Pancake Party for breakfast with the dining room looking a little bit country.

We were offered eggs and sausages and a big fruit salad along with three... count 'em... three kinds of pancakes- these are Jalapeno & Corn.

Also on the menu, Lemon Pancakes with Lemon Zest and Oatmeal pancakes. It's impossible to choose so we had to taste each one - served with raspberry sauce.

After breakfast we went out and surveyed the front garden. The vegetable frames did look sad!

But the Golden Leadball tree Leucaena retusa had delighted Sophia by becoming more established. The Artemesia in front of the Leadball however, was a little TOO happy... pruners, anyone?

The project started out rather smoothly with ground-workers tackling existing beds and tiller-wranglers pulling up the wooden frames for reuse by another garden friend of Sophia.

The tiller has been a great tool for getting an area dug over but not this time - oh, no! Some kind of metal post was poking up from the ground, smack in the middle of the area where it needs to be smooth and level for the stepping stones.

After digging around the pole, what looks like concrete is exposed. The best guess was this was once the pole for a basketball hoop, installed by some former owner.

Mattie and Karla worked on the whole bed, but that post annoyed them so they kept going back to attack it. 

The sledgehammer didn't budge it.

Finally Mattie and Karla were able to crack the concrete in half, but the darned pole still would not come out.

As the hot day wore on, the neighbor came out to see how we were doing, saying he appreciated Sophia making what would be an improvement in his view, too. A little while later he came back with a Cobra mister - a very nice thing to do!

I went home (just a few blocks away) to get my breaker bar, hoping it could help. The 6-foot metal bar is so heavy and I was so hot and tired that I asked Ozz to put it in the car for me.

Only a few minutes after I returned, Buffy the Queen of the Breaker Bar, arrived. She was fired up from a very successful meeting & raring to go to work!
When Buffy first moved into her house her entire back yard was rock - she spent months prying up and moving boulders to make the raised borders of her garden. Apparently she hasn't lost the knack because with all that preliminary work done, it took just ten minutes after her arrival for success!

With the obstacle removed, the bed redo moved along. It quickly became apparent that more decomposed granite and more of the red blocks were needed so Roger headed off to buy more.

The long front border now had attention from Mattie, Annie and Karla... soon some of Sophia's bargains were planted there.

We were called in to a country-style late lunch/early supper. Inside the air-conditioned house, Chukster was so excited to see us that his photo was a blur. I turned him into a poster. 

Chukster had been low dog until a few weeks before our meeting, when top dog Tedster died. Chukster would be a lonely only for a while, but Roger and Sophia intended to add another rescue dog to the family later in summer.

Roger & Sophia had become intrigued by recipes in an Appalachian-style cookbook they'd bought called Cider Beans, Wild Greens and Dandelion Jelly by Joan Aller. Using some recipes from the book and some from other sources, they'd put together a down home kind of menu for the afternoon.

Cookbook author Joan Aller said that sitting down to the main dish, Chicken Noodle Casserole, was like going to your mam-maw's (Grandmother's) house in mountain county. The sides were Cider-baked beans and a crunchy green bean salad  with Best in the West Berry Cobbler for dessert. And for parched, hot gardeners, Rosemary-Mint Lemonade was the perfect drink.

We went back out and managed to get almost everything done, using every bit of the additional granite and every square block that Roger brought back.

Buffy is really good at setting stone

By the end of the day the artemesia had been tamed in the corner bed, giving room for Ixora, verbena, petunias & one Dragonfruit plant (the other went into a patio container).

The left front bed soon had a mix of native and adapted plants with one off-the-wall hollyhock in bloom, just for fun.

The right front bed got some plants that are tough and will last, some annuals that will live for the season and some experiments from the bargain table. The weather here in Austin is so variable from year to year that even the most solid native plant is a bit of an experiment, and odd pockets of soil, shade and microclimates can allow a plant to live that by all the rules should fail.

The main project, removing the vegetable beds and replacing them with some hardscape and tough plants, succeeded beyond Sophia's hopes. It was, as usual, more expensive than originally estimated, but it's also much more permanent looking, adding structure to that side of the house. In addition, the plantings help minimize the presence of the oh-so-necessary but oh-so-clunky looking utility boxes.

We headed home for showers and cool drinks, pleased that we'd been able to help Sophia, feeling a little nutty and ready to stretch out and relax after our long Divas of the Dirt garden day.

This post, "2013-June SOPHIA'S GARDEN DAY" was written by Annie in Austin/Glinda for the Divas of the Dirt blog.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2013 - Between April & June - NXNA

This post, 2013- Between April & June - NXNA, was written by Annie in Austin/DivaGlinda for the Divas of the Dirt Blog

Late spring 2013 was a very unsettled time for the Divas of the Dirt. The May meeting was cancelled when the hostess got sick.

And it was a rough year for pets...  besides Libby, here in her prime on Buffy's patio

Sophia lost her dear old Tedster... seen here with long gone partner Woody.

And although Diva Sugar's pups Junior & Skeeter were OK, her cat Honey left for kitty heaven. (Wish I had a photo of the beautiful but elusive Honey.)

One fun thing happened on June 1st - a new garden tour was started up in North Austin called the NXNA Garden Tour and we wanted to go!

Four of us were able to meet and drive around North Austin, visiting a very eclectic mix of gardens & styles. Time pressures meant we saw only half of the locations but we had a great time.

Mattie drove while Divas Annie, Sophia and Glinda watched the street signs and "helped" Mattie park. I didn't take many photos... mostly snapped unusual plants.

This one was a puzzler! It has many names, including Variegated Devil's Backbone and Redbird Cactus, with botanical name Euphorbia tithymaloides.

The warnings of toxicity in this Wikipedia article , made me glad that none of us touched it - but the large number of gardeners giving positive marks to the plant at Dave's Garden made me wonder just how dangerous it really is.

A really eyepopping Canna greeted us at one house - could it be 'Lucifer"?

A tiny sliver of space in an art-filled garden so intrigued the Divas of the Dirt that Mattie had to take a picture

An artist's studio was graced by this Mexican Olive, AKA Anacahuita, botanical name Cordia boissieri.

Austin's own Pam Penick designed one of the gardens for owners who wanted to do the plant acquisition and installation on their own. The result was a fun garden where the flamingo colors were echoed by Caladium leaves...

Wouldn't this be a cool place for a party?

The most awe inspiring plant was one that a few of us grow - variegated shell ginger, botanically Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata'. We haven't seen flowers on our plants, but in this protected spot, where the plant did not freeze for a couple of winters in a row, the large ginger had exploded with blossoms.

I sure hope the NXNA group holds more tours in future.

We four said goodbye, knowing that we'd meet up again very soon for Sophia's June project.

This post, 2013- Between April & June - NXNA, was written by Annie in Austin/DivaGlinda for the Divas of the Dirt Blog.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


This post, "2013 -April Buffy's Garden Day", was written by Glinda/Annie in Austin for the Divas of the Dirt Garden blog

Back in March, all 8 Divas of the Dirt were able to come for Karla's gardening day, but by April things had changed... Karla & Sugar were out of town and Sophia had been injured in an auto accident the week before our meeting. Plucky Sophia came to be with us, but she was on medication and had been ordered to take it easy.

In the dining room, the beautiful botanical cloth on Buffy's table was sparked by vibrant blossoms and metallic flower-shaped chargers.

Buffy loves buying flowers at the Cedar Park Farmers Market! A second bouquet made the breakfast room table glow.

And a third vase held snapdragons so tall they had to stand on the floor in the entry

The breakfast preparations were still in progress as the Divas of the Dirt arrived, so I popped out back for a few photos. The previous winter had been unusually mild and the garden was already in bloom.

Wow! Look at the loquat! It's been pruned, thinned and shaped and the air and sun can now flow around it.

We'd worked on the Loquat-'Mermaid' tangle over the years, but this vigorous combo needed professional help with professional tools and Buffy had called them in to great effect. And the Shrimp Plants/Justicia brandegeeana below the tropical looking Loquat/Eriotbotrya japonica and beautiful-but-rampant Rosa 'Mermaid' have responded to the increased light & air by blooming madly. 

The red shrub roses, yellow columbines and oak leaf hydrangea/ Hydrangea quercifolia were at their spring peak.

A spectacular breakfast awaited us: two quiches - one broccoli-vegetables and the other ham & cheese. Petite muffins were tempting and kiwi, pineapple, blueberries and melons mingled in a delicious fruit salad. And who can resist Potatoes Anna, cooked to perfection?

Buffy's planned project seemed like a lot of work, but not impossible - she wanted to redo the part of the Hellstrip-parkway that wrapped the corner of her lot, getting rid of the unhappy grass, replacing the lawn with plants native & adapted that can take this difficult western exposure. But before the Divas could use the tiller, the first order of business was finding the retractable sprinkler heads!

Buffy divided her time between the garden and the kitchen, Sophia did as much as she dared and DivaAnnie and I usually work best at ground level.

Luckily both Mindy and Mattie can run the tiller.

Progress on the parkway was excruciatingly slow - the ground was like a rock, the roots tangled the tiller and bucket after bucket of rocks came out of the "soil".

While the corner parkway slowly was dug up, we also worked on the south-facing part of the parkway, first made as Buffy's 2007 Divas of the Dirt project.

That section looked like this before we started.

Central Texas weather is variable so some plants do well for awhile then it's the turn of another plant to shine. This spring the stars are Damianita/ Chrysactinia mexicana and Blackfoot Daisies/ Melampodium leucanthum.

Let's zoom in see those bluebonnets ( Lupinus texensis) that seeded themselves on the lawn side of the walk.   

The original central bed begun in 2002 also was weeded, pruned and groomed

Buffy's sister and a nephew stopped by to say hello and volunteered to help get out some of the rocks - thank you! Sophia followed doctor's orders and went inside where Buffy was glad of an assistant cook.

Eventually the new section was cleared, amended and ready to be planted by 4 PM, when Buffy called us in.

We were delighted at what she presented for our late lunch - an elegant tomato-artichoke aspic, bread from the Cedar Park Farmers Market, a salad of avocado with mixed greens, a shrimp pasta salad, a second round of the fruit salad and an absolutely wonderful Cajun chicken salad from a chef at Cedar Park Farmers Market.

The grand finale was Lemon Curd Cheesecake, completed just before we were called inside.

The cheesecake was unexpected and absolutely delicious

It was wonderful to stop working and sit down with friends to talk and laugh and share food together.

To play with visiting Barbie

And say hello to the ailing Libby... sure wish my photo of Libby was not so blurry - she left this world in the summer of 2013 and we'll all miss seeing her at garden projects.

We went back outside and not only finished planting and mulching the new parkway bed...

we also groomed the bed along the driveway.

This bed had a major Divas of the Dirt redo in 2011 and we were pleased to see how well the plants had taken hold - the 'Sunny' Yellow Knockout rose looked great and so did most of the other plants. We needed to pull out a great deal of thorny smilax that had invaded the soil - then we needed to dig out and clip back some of the Salvia leucantha/ Mexican bush sage. It had quickly grown enormous, almost smothering the slower-growing young Anacacho orchid tree/ Bauhinia lunarioides.

The front view shows how well the yellow daisy-shaped Damianita/Chrysactinia mexicana, Salvia leucantha, Red-orange tropical milkweed/ Asclepias curassavica and soft yellow and gray Phlomis fruticosa/Jerusalem have blended and become established. They only needed a clean-and-tidy to look great.

We'd had a good day but it was almost 7 PM - time to pick up our tools and go home. 

This post, "2013 -April Buffy's Garden Day", was written by Glinda/Annie in Austin for the Divas of the Dirt Garden blog