Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2014 - October SOPHIA'S GARDEN DAY

This post, "2014 - October SOPHIA'S GARDEN DAY" was written by Glinda/AnnieinAustin for the Divas of the Dirt Blog.
Showers overnight into morning had put more than an inch-and-a-half of welcome rain in the gauge - but would it be too soggy to work in Sophia's garden?
Diva Sophia said breakfast was going to be on the table and someone had better be there to eat it, work or not!

Sophia likes to have a theme for her garden days (last year she'd dived into an Appalachian-style cookbook and come up with winners) and this year the theme was The Experimental Kitchen.

The table was set with colorful plates and bowls and harvest decor - pumpkins rule October!

Our Diva number was down by two - Mattie was on an out-of-town business trip and Mindy had just returned from a journey halfway around the world. Since she'd arrived in Austin one day before, there was no way Mindy could come.

Buffy was helping out at a breakfast benefit for a local organization so she would show up a little late.

Glasses filled with candy corn and battery candles made the dreary morning bright.

Chefs Sophia, Roger and Mark had a great menu planned - they're pretty practiced at working together in the kitchen. Karla and Annie were there when I arrived, with Diva Sugar following soon after - then Surprise! In walked Mindy, ready to garden (and eat) and not even appearing jet-lagged.

Red and yellow raspberries, strawberries and blackberries topped with whipped Mascarpone cheese, apple juice, orange juice, great coffee and English muffins made a colorful start to the day.

Main dishes of scrambled eggs and a creamily delicious potato & Gouda casserole were not to be resisted.

The rain had just slowed, so we didn't hurry over breakfast - there was a lot to talk about! Soon Buffy joined us and we seven went out to groom the garden. There would be no planting or major digging this day. Sophia's request was for us to clip back, to prune, to weed, to cultivate, to compost and to mulch everything we could see.

Weeding was so easy after the rain! We pruned the red tip photinia and weeded the groundcover area near the covered porch. One of the pickiest tasks was to groom the cast iron plants, individually cutting out the damaged and/or drought-browned leaves and cleaning up around the huge clumps.

This was time-consuming but when finished, all the plants of Aspidistra elatior looked happy and green. What good things the Divas will do for each other!

A mutabilis rose can be one of the prettiest things in Texas when it's in bloom but when the flowers stop that's a good time to cut it way back, ready for the next bloom cycle.
Sophia's Rosa mutabilis shares a border with an orchid tree - if the boisterous rose isn't pruned regularly, that orchid tree can disappear! Here's the border, done and mulched.

The parkway bed (AKA the hellstrip, or the parking strip, or the curbside bed) had some weeds, some dead plants, and some overgrown perennials. Attention from the Divas made it ready for fall.

On the other side of the sidewalk a grouping of blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata), burgundy oxalis (Oxalis regnellii 'Atropurpurea') and native inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) has filled in beautifully - but it looks even better when the weeds are banished and the dark native hardwood mulch sets off the leaf and flower colors.

We didn't neglect the far parkway bed or the long bed along the driveway. This area had been revamped in 2013 - on a hot day that called for a breaker bar, a sledgehammer and a tiller. Today's grooming session was much easier! The blocks and gravel had held up well - it was satisfying to see our previous project look so good.

Sophia's Experimental Kitchen had come up with an amazing late lunch for all of us. Ooh - look at all those interesting toppings - green olives, black olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and cubes of cheese.

(Maybe you've probably heard me say this before, but does anyone else immediately think of the movie Tortilla Soup when you see the word 'toppings'?)
If the bowls and plates made you guess soup and sandwiches were up next, you are quite right. But when the cooks are Sophia & Roger & Mark there will be nothing ordinary about that soup and those sandwiches.

Italian Wedding Soup! Sophia was a bit hesitant about making it, because she's served it a few times before. We were glad - why strive for novelty when you have reached perfection?

And there were Panini sandwiches, loaded with grilled eggplant and grilled zucchini, a salad ready for the toppings and crunchy breadsticks.

Then, the finale made by Sophia & Roger's talented son Mark - simply the best Italian Cream Cake, ever - can this be a poster if Mark ever opens his own bakery?

If you've heard our We Are the Divas of the Dirt song from 2006 you may remember this line, "...spend all day working with our friends, before we go inside for cake..."

Some things do not change and we like it that way.

This post, "2014 - October SOPHIA'S GARDEN DAY" was written by Glinda/AnnieinAustin for the Divas of the Dirt Blog.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


This post “2014 – June GLINDA’S GARDEN DAY” was written by Glinda/AnnieinAustin for the Divas of the Dirt blog.

Glinda here, with a few photos from my garden day in 2014. The project day took place in June, but the project idea was a response to the depressing view of our vegetable garden all winter through spring as we looked out the breakfast room window.

In general, our pepper & tomato plants grow better in containers than in the ground, where greedy roots from neighboring trees steal all the water and nutrients. But our motley collection of big plastic pots was not lovely – worse in winter but bad enough in spring.

The vegetable plot was adjacent to a mixed border but the two areas didn’t mesh right – how could we make them more coherent and connected?

I thought adding planting boxes for iris might work to soften the view and distract the eye without shading the vegetables, especially since I had a lot of dividable iris and they’re usually evergreen here. Ozz built one cedar rectangle and we set it on the grass to see how it looked.

Soon he built the second rectangle and we hauled home a large concrete paving block from the home center. We soaked the area, covered it in black plastic and set the boxes and block in place, hoping a few weeks of hot sun could kill the grass so it would be easy for the Divas to dig out.

By the end of June the weather was solidly summer hot. My friends were coming! A stars and stripes theme would be just right  -it was only a few days before the Fourth of July. Red, white and blue d├ęcor joined bowls of blueberries & strawberries and pineapple on the table. Under that mesh guard the Divas of the Dirt would find pecan muffins and blueberry muffins.

The makings for breakfast tacos were set out on the kitchen counter – beef chorizo from Whole Foods, sliced avocados, a few chopped tomatoes from the garden, grated cheese and salsa made by Ozz. On the stovetop, cubed, fried potatoes and scrambled eggs were just about ready. Time for sharing food and conversation!

After breakfast the Divas dived into the project.
But when we pulled off the black plastic it was obvious that the black plastic had not done its job very well! The St Augustine was daunted, but certainly not dead. Digging out the grass was going to be more difficult than expected. We also worked on making the curve of the adjoining bed blend in with the new boxes – scoring a line, moving stones and digging out grass.

Barbie had come to cheer on the workers. Mattie and Karla worked on the new beds and Annie weeded the path.

The work area wasn’t very large so Buffy decided to weed and reset the stepping stones inside of the garden perimeter.

Once the grass was banished, bags of soil and amendments were worked in and the planting began. Some of the tall purple iris (a passalong from Sophia) were divided from the front yard to go on the left, with a small daylily division in the center. The right side would have fragrant peach iris and a small ‘mystery’ daylily start from a garden blogger friend. A large bowl of a small mystery iris was dismantled. Some of it went in the front corners and some of it went home with friends who wanted to try it out.

It was an odd but interesting day. Annie had reached a milestone at work so there were posters & photos. Sugar couldn’t come and Mindy was on the injured list, but conversations are as important as the work! Warren brought Mindy and a couple of Sophia's family members were also there. Everyone could visit while those who were able could dig. Once lunch was ready, Ozz and Warren joined us at the dining room table and Buffy’s sister and nephew arrived in time for dessert.

I never got around to taking photos of our indoor picnic lunch – a simple spread of Mary’s Gone Crackers, croissants, some Artichoke-Spinach spread, chicken-basil salad, small tomatoes and a green salad with avocado dressing. There’s no photo of the double-dark chocolate oatmeal cookies, but this photo from a different day will work – my cheesecakes always look the same!


The day was hotter than expected and the job was harder that it should have been, but the Divas of the Dirt pressed on. By the time my friends went home it was obvious that the boxes and step would work well with the existing path. Here’s the view from our back door.

Less than a week later, the iris were settling into their new space, with the square stepping stone adding dimension and an illusion of height, the curve smoothed out and the reset round stepping stones also giving that illusion of going up… everything working to make a harmonious group.

When September rolled around the total effect was quite pleasant.

And this spring? The new wooden boxes had Iris in bloom!

This post “2014 – June GLINDA’S GARDEN DAY” was written by Glinda/AnnieinAustin for the Divas of the Dirt blog.