Chapter 1 of my Great Adventure
First stop on my great adventure was Austin and environs, where I went to visit my friend Cynthia, whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years. Cynthia very kindly chauffeured me to the gardens of three of the many Austin bloggers, but she insisted that we take them a dozen “Round Rocks” from the Lone Star Bakery in Round Rock, Texas. We had to get them warm. And we had to eat ours immediately, before we arrived at Pam’s garden. This was the only thing Cynthia insisted on during my entire visit, so of course I felt obliged to oblige her.
It may have been the first time I had ever had a still-warm doughnut from a bakery. It was very good, but what intrigued me was the light orange color of the pastry. What was in these doughnuts? I asked the ladies of Austin, as we shared the rest of the box at Pam’s house. Many had heard rumors, but no one knew. The best speculation was that sweet potato flour was the secret ingredient.
Digging Pam’s Garden
Being familiar with Pam’s blog, I immediately recognized the bench and birdhouse in her front garden. But as I stepped out of Cynthia’s car, something greeted me that no photograph could prepare me for: fragrance. Fruity, with a hint of mint. “Oh, the car door probably brushed against some salvias planted there,” Pam casually remarked. Salvias! They are all over Austin–and Oklahoma as well–inciting envy in this cold climate gardener. Yes, there are some hardy salvias, but many of them rot out in my clay soil, if not during (what used to be) a typical summer with regular rainfall, then during mud season in late winter/early spring. After a while on my travels, every time I saw a plant I liked but didn’t recognize, I muttered, “Must be a salvia.”
Later, as we strolled around her garden, Pam caught me admiring some red oxalis. “I’ll be glad to dig you some, Kathy,” she offered solicitously. “Thanks, Pam, but that’s a houseplant where I come from, and while we haven’t had a frost yet, we’ll have one soon. No sense bringing it home.” (Though to everyone’s surprise, we haven’t had a frost yet.) Even if I felt the need for another houseplant, it would have been a trick to keep it alive through the rest of my trip.
Pam’s property is small, but she makes the most of every square inch. She uses garden ornament artfully. Everywhere you look you see another vignette, but I never felt like I do in some people’s houses, where there is just stuff all over. And she is decisive. If it is no longer contributing to the garden, out it goes. Or, “off with its head!” a la the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Except Pam isn’t crazy. On the contrary, she is committed to her vision of what she wants her garden to be.
M. Sinclair Stevens is a scientist at heart. She probably could have called her blog Zanthan Laboratories, but perhaps that would give the wrong impression. I could have sworn I took pictures here of the banana plantation, the two tier cosmos and various vines that threaten to take over. But none of them showed up on my digital camera card. (I have a vague memory of some little icon flashing in my view finder, and I bet it was telling me “no can do” for one reason or another.) What I remember most about her garden is that she had just removed a tree or trees, and a good part of the garden that had been in shade now had sunlight.
Lunch at the Shady Grove
Dawn and Diane joined us for lunch at the Shady Grove. We ate outdoors, where a huge pecan tree shaded what could have merely been a parking lot, but was instead turned into the restaurant’s best asset. Several times throughout the day I was asked if I felt hot. This was understandable, considering the name of my blog. But the weather had been unseasonably warm in upstate NY for weeks at that point. The day before I left for Austin, the temperature rose to 89 F (32C). And while it was ten degrees warmer in Austin, it was less humid, there was a nice breeze blowing, and we were in the shade of that pecan tree at lunch. A more typical late September high temperature for my area would be 69F (21C), and 99F (37C) would have been quite a shock then.
Moving on to the Transplantable Rose
By the time we got to Annie of Austin’s garden, I was feeling spacey from lack of sleep and general disorientation. I saw where the limb broke off her pecan tree and a lot of other plants that I recognized from her blog, and her secret garden. But when Annie suggested we go inside, I was more than happy to sit in her kitchen, eat some wonderful cookies and drink iced tea. And Cynthia, Annie and I had a real gab fest. I remember we talked about gardening and genealogy, and I know we talked about a lot of other things I don’t remember. Then we moved to the living room, settled into some comfortable upholstery, and talked some more. Annie is so warm and enthusiastic, she just draws the conversation out of you.
Eventually it dawned on me that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in Annie’s living room. I was leaving pretty early in the morning on a flight to Oklahoma City, where I was going to speak on gardening blogs with some other people I’d never met. Furthermore, the details of the presentation weren’t all worked out yet, and didn’t I have to print out my boarding pass? Cynthia and I said goodbye and we returned to her house for a light supper and a battle with the airline website, which was eventually resolved.
If you had told me even one year ago that I would be visiting these women and their gardens, I wouldn’t have believed you. Life sure is full of surprises. Well, there is a lot more of my trip that I could tell you about, but you know, I am torn between writing about the past and moving on with the present. I am probably going to intersperse trip posts with other topics that come to my attention. So you’ll probably be hearing about this trip all winter long.