What the Divas Did in 2002

January 2002

At this time every year we all meet for breakfast at a restaurant and get organized for the new season. Because the ground never really freezes here, but the summers are brutal, we try to use the months of February, March, April, May and June. We skip July and August if possible, and meet again in September and October. This gives each of the 7 members a turn at being the hostess for a project. We met to select the name of a month while enjoying black beans, strong coffee, migas and fresh corn tortillas. At this meeting we pass the tortillas instead of the ibuprofen.

Melanie came to Elsi's with her adorable baby daughter in tow. What fun to hold a new little one, while visiting with everyone. I hope the scheduling will work out better in the new gardening year and that everyone will get a turn. Texas weather and busy Diva lives means an awful lot of schedule juggling, but being in this group for a whole year has been incredible.

February 2002

An email came from Sugar:

“Please bring everything you can to build a bed - shovels, claws, tillers, cutters, you name it, we can probably use it!!!!! If someone has a wheelbarrow they can bring, that would be great. I have one, but it seems to be nice when we have 2 to work with.”

It was a cool but lovely spring morning when we met at Sugar’s. We started with baked French toast casserole from a recipe she got at a bread and breakfast. She also served juice, coffee, bacon, melons, kiwi, mango and best of all, CHEESE GRITS! Oh boy, do we all like them.

Sugar’s home looks like an old-fashioned cottage. The one story, two-bedroom house sits on a large lot. It was built around 1954, with the front door right in the middle, protected by a small portico. One large, shutter-edged window is centered on each of the two long walls on either side of the front door, almost but not exactly symmetrical. On the right end was a huge euonymus; on the left were a nandina, another big euonymus in the middle, and a flowering quince beginning to open.

We like these projects, but we’re not nuts. So on the Thursday before our weekend meeting, Sugar hired a team of two burly guys to dig out the 3 big shrubs from under the left window. They replanted the euonymus at the far left end to balance the one on the far right.

She saved the rest of the digging and replanting for us. We sawed the large root ball of the Nandina (AKA ‘Heavenly Bamboo’) in half to divide the shrub, and replanted the halves on opposite sides of a wire fence to the far right past the garage. Then the quince went in a barren fence corner around the left side of the yard. Pairs of Indian Hawthorns were planted under the front windows, and a long bed was dug along the whole left side of the house, reaching toward the back (it extends about 5' by 22').

Some rampant old roses were pruned by one Diva, while 4 others dug, divided and reset existing shrimp plants, cannas and amaryllis. New abelia, holly ferns, and lantana were added to the beds. While the others gardened, guess who used that collection of bricks we’d salvaged last fall? She made a drain field along the left front, and wrapped it around the side, past the air-conditioner. You win if you guessed that Buffy was the one doing most of that brickwork!

Watering in the transplants and mulching the beds finished off our long, busy day. There is such instant gratification in seeing a transformed landscape. We then discovered the biggest mistake of the day – no camera. Resolved: bring a camera to every project! We need 'before' and “after” photos, to record these amazing transformations.

During the lunch break of this meeting, the Divas were reminiscing about being back in high school, when it was common to go out in the evenings to 'wrap' a house, or 'plow' a yard. Apparently, Texas women have to make everything, even mild forms of juvenile delinquency, sound like decorating or home improvement. 'Wrapping a house' is what a Northerner like me might call teepeeing, and 'plowing a yard' involves driving a car onto a lawn, putting it in neutral and ripping the grass by flooring the engine. It must have been kinda wild in Central Texas a few years back!

March 2002

A few days before the Diva-day, Buffy and I met Annie at her house for a joint consultation. Annie & I checked out brickyards, Annie made her decision and we were loading 125 cream colored edging blocks into the van. We stacked them in Annie’s driveway, ready for Saturday. The Divas of the Dirt are a fun bunch, and they will try and tackle just about anything. This past winter, Annie rebuilt the privacy fence surrounding her mid-80’s frame ranch as a solo project.

Our day at Annie’s lasted from 8 AM until about 5:30 in the evening. For breakfast Annie used a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Magazine. She started with sliced croissants, filled them with a cream cheese/orange marmalade mixture, then she sautéed them like French toast. We also loved the potato/egg/cheese casserole, accompanied by melons & berries.

Karla, Sugar, and Mindy worked in one large flowerbed and we all tended several smaller beds, lifting, dividing and replanting daylilies, Shasta daisies, penstemon and salvias.
Buffy did her magic with the edging bricks, forming a gracefully undulating edge and small retaining wall, and we finished by raking, mulching and watering the whole thing.

Annie had access to some bamboo, freshly cut in San Antonio. She and I had creative fun wiring the pieces together to form a 7 X 5 foot trellis. We planted a star jasmine vine and a Passionflower vine at the base. It looks darned professional!

Since Annie had worked on everyone else’s garden last year without getting a turn as hostess, we were especially happy to do something extra good for her on this day.

April 2002

We arrived at Karla’s house at 8 AM, and didn't leave until after 6 on Saturday night. The last time we were here, the work took place in a big shady bed near the front sidewalk, and Karla had many compliments from passers-by. This time she told us we'd done enough for the neighbors - she wanted some personal landscape in the back yard.

There is a sliding door off the main dining area, opening to a 30' X15' concrete patio. The yard is a rectangle, wider than it is deep, and the patio stretches across the back of the house, lengthwise. Karla’s job is intense and she needs a private oasis when she is at home. We tried to grant her wish.

As you stand in front of the sliding doors, from the patio looking outward, you are facing west. There is a 6-foot wooden privacy fence along the right, back and part of the left lot boundaries. The actual patio is screened on the left by lattices with evergreen Carolina Jessamine on it. There is a hidden walkway between the lattice and the lot line that gives access to the front yard. The far left front part of the patio has a nice small rose bed in front of it, but the middle and right edge of the patio had 5-foot hulks of solid shrubs, mostly evergreen hollies, so that you couldn’t see the yard from the patio. There was also a 12-foot pomegranate tree stuck in the shrub border.

Karla’s lived with this confining, closed-in garden since she moved in a couple of years ago, and hates it. She said that she wanted to be able to see the whole space from the patio, so everything must go!

We cut down or pulled out these huge bushes and their roots. We pruned the ligustrum (a kind of evergreen privet) and red-tip photina, changing their dense blobs into graceful shapes along the right back and right fence.

We connected 5 small squidgy beds into one long sweeping border that curves along the back, right, and next to the right edge of the patio. Then Mindy started up ‘Mr. Tiller’ to loosen and add compost to the dug-up area. We dug a trench along the edge of the long border & Buffy did the stone fitting.

Now the whole edge of the large 'S' curved bed is delineated with big, 18-inch long blocks of white cut stone.

Karla wanted us to take down the pomegranate at first, too, but Buffy persuaded her to wait and see. Once the evergreen hollies were out of the scene and we had pruned the interior of the pomegranate, it was revealed as a lovely small tree. You can see through it, and it gives a sense of dimension to the landscape.

The other Divas didn’t think Buffy should have all the rocky fun, so several of them decided to gather all of the flat flagstones stones that had been scattered throughout the yard. They fitted them together into a 7-foot wide path leading from the center of the patio into the lawn area.

The front edge of the patio, where you step into the garden, now has a sunny flowerbed to the right. The beds are all dug, amended with compost and ready for Karla to plant shade-loving plants where the light is low, and perennials in the sunny parts. When we were done it looked like a magazine shoot. The weather was sunny and 80's, the stone blocks for the retaining wall were heavy but the whole back garden is transformed, and we were thrilled with our work. We actually get a little high on the endorphins created by the combination of exercise, the food, the laughter and the sheer delight in seeing a finished product!

There will be a change in the makeup of our group as of this meeting. The new mom Melanie, our seventh member, has been unable to attend meetings for a variety of personal reasons, and regretfully decided to resign. Mindy brought her recently married young friend Donna as a prospective member and she pitched right in to work with us. We all liked her and hope she had fun with us.

Sugar, our most smartass member, told Donna that we were really an eating club, and that we only gardened to work off the food. Since Karla had served us breakfast enchiladas, a huge platter of freshly cut fruit, and homemade cinnamon buns for breakfast, we could not deny the truth of that statement!

Here is Karla’s reaction to our day’s work, “OH MY GOSH - What a wonderful surprise to come home this week from my weekly travels to find it was not a dream - my back yard IS beautiful!! It is exactly what I had wanted, but didn't know how to get there and never believed it would transform so beautifully. Can you tell I am still a little excited??? “

May 2002

The day started off kind of oddly – I arrived at Buffy’s, didn’t see her car, but rang the bell. Annie answered the door – she was the first arrival, but Buffy was still at the grocery store buying the ingredients for breakfast. Eventually everyone (including our missing hostess) straggled in, and it was all delicious and entertaining, if a bit unorganized. When Buffy takes her turn as hostess the spread usually resembles a Martha Stewart episode. She was entitled to be Lucille Ball instead, at least for one day!

Buffy’s lawn sprinkler system was due for installation the next week. She wanted to avoid doing any planting or improvement that could get torn up during the installation process. She set us to thinning out some overzealous ‘Katy’ Ruellia and red Salvia greggii, and smoothing the outline of
one flowerbed. The edge had begun to resemble cartoon boobs instead of the desired Hogarthian curves. (This job was referred to by Buffy as a “flowerbed breast reduction”.)

Buffy told us that Ruellia pops its seed like bluebonnets do:
“Early in the fall I was hand watering one of my beds and kept hearing this sound that I thought were some kind of bugs… then I realized that it was the seed pods popping on the Ruellia. It just shoots those seeds everywhere!”

The medium size trees in the front had sent out a forest of suckers and had stray branches reaching out to the sidewalk. We ended up doing a lot of pruning on these trees and many other shrubs, and we dug a large bed around one clump of trees facing the front corner.

Buffy’s pretty house is now framed by the remaining trunks and branches, with no scraggly look to the trees. And it will be fun to see what she decides to plant in that new, front & center flowerbed.

August 2002

Way back in January I had pulled the month of June, but since then all our lives were a jumble. We kept trying to find one weekend that would work, but practically everyone had out of town trips. We simply could not coordinate our schedules.

The only option was to delay my turn until early August. I knew that in August the heat would be too fierce for real gardening, but it wouldn’t stop some demolition. This was fine with me - destruction was exactly what I needed but could not do for myself.

I’ve been in this house for 3 years, making some good landscape additions, but the plantings at the exact front of the house looked terrible. The villains in my landscape were several huge, spreading, 6-foot tall junipers, growing right up against the house wall, and around the corner, where they blocked the path to the back. I can’t even touch the darned things. I break out in hives and need steroids from contact.

To bribe the Divas for this task I served my version of “Savoury Tomato Cheese Pie” (the original recipe was in the Vegetarian Epicure cookbook), along with lots of cut-up fruit, hash browns and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. (Yep, they finally made it to Austin.) The group included Donna, who has decided to join us. She will take over Melanie’s planned day in September.

The wonderful Divas then went out and banished my monsters, roots and all, filling bag after bag of debris. With the canvas cleared, a new plan (one not involving prednisone) has a chance to emerge. I didn’t go anywhere near the junipers, but fetched tools, took photos, brought out chilled water and GatorAde and offered much appreciated expert advice to those doing the actual labor.

After the bags were filled, we all drove over to Donna’s newly built house and consulted on her upcoming project. Next we drove up to Buffy’s for a quick tour while she fetched requested garden books, then over to the nearby Red Barn Nursery. A ride through a ritzy new subdivision gave us the chance to glean ideas, while dissing some tacky landscaping. The last stop was back here for lunch, Glinda’s signature dish of shredded chicken & sweet peppers in barbeque sauce. It was a great day!

September 2002

Donna hasn't been married long and her house is a newer one. It’s a two-story home... maybe you could call it Craftsman style?? There are great big natural wooden porches across the front and back. The back porch is shaded by another deck/porch on the second floor.
Something about the porches reminds me of houses in Frankenmuth.

This was an interesting project since there was so little landscaping in place.

The yard was sodded with St. Augustine grass and there were a couple of existing trees. Donna had been having fun at the Great Outdoors Nursery, and had a driveway full of plants in containers, bags of compost and more bags of mulch, and a stack of red river rocks in the back.

We were one worker short, since Mindy was celebrating a family birthday at a big party, and couldn’t be with us. The temperature was 90 degrees, but the rock-like ground had been softened by nearly an inch of rain on Friday night.
The Divas’ session was as usual both exhausting and amazing. We are lucky there has not been a gapers’ car accident when we do a front yard project. The sight of 7 women with tools must be the fulfillment of some guys' fantasies. A lot of cars roll slowly by, baseball-hatted heads hanging out. We do a better job than speed bumps as traffic stoppers! It also got out the folks who live there, and Donna and her husband met some of their neighbors.

We dug a long bed across the front of the house, edged by Buffy with the large tumbled red river rocks, and we made a smaller bed out near the drive/street junction. Some of the plants used were plumbago, black foot daisies, esperanza, salvias and an orchid tree.

The Divas also met a few of the neighbors, and took a walk to see some really interesting stuff done by owners of some of the older houses in the neighborhood.

Says Donna,” I cannot thank everyone enough for all the work done on Saturday. I've been watering daily, and all the plants still look perky. Mostly, it just makes me so happy to look out over my beautiful lawn. I can't wait until next month.”

October/November 2002

At our planning meeting back in January we had discussed news articles concerning La Nina and El Nino. The long-range forecasts told us a stormy season was coming, and we’d wondered if our garden days would be regularly rained out. It didn't actually happen until this month. The
weather was a bad deal for Mindy, but the rest of the year had been better than originally predicted. Mindy’s original date was the 19th of October. When 2 inches fell by Friday the 18th, it was obvious that the date could not be kept.

Mindy had done a lot of preliminary work, getting ready for us. The focus of the project was to be the front of the house, where a large triangular flowerbed slopes from the house wall down to a concrete sidewalk. The walk leads to the front door, where creeping fig covers the mellow stone.

She’d had a small bobcat level the area and dig in some amendments. The result was 400 square feet of garden bed to plant, using the large group of plants in containers that had been delivered on the 17th.

Many emails flew back and forth on weather and the project - and one went out from me announcing that Judy Barrett's Homegrown Magazine was publishing an article I'd written about our group. "Digging With the Divas" would appear in the next issue. What fun!

Meanwhile, the planting area was covered with a tarp, the dozens of plants languished in the driveway, and weekend after weekend, our project was washed out. We finally met on November 2. The plants and amendments had to get into the ground. By this time, as Annie put it, “ We might have to trade our umbrellas for long johns on Saturday, but I'm up for it.”

(Ed: We made that front path above at Mindy's 2001 day - Barbados cherries did well!)
On the actual day, there was mist and drizzle, but no downpours. We were able to weed, dig and plant with great difficulty, but with even greater determination to complete the project! Our shoes grew to twice their usual size with encrusted mud oversoles… we were getting pretty tired and draggy. Mindy had a good bribe – she’d rustled up a simmering pot of fresh pinto beans – mmmm.

December 2002

In December the Divas of the Dirt met at Buffy’s house for our Jolly Holi-Diva-day. Here’s the beautiful table, set with vintage linens:

Just as we join forces to garden, the Divas all cook for the feast. We started with Glinda’s Spinach-Artichoke Dip on crackers, with wine, lots of happy conversation, and one of those silly gift exchange games where you repeatedly ‘steal’ the wrapped package from the original recipient.

The gifts need to say ‘garden’ or ‘flower’ in some way. Some of the prizes were a decorative outdoor thermometer, a rubber tote for garden tools and a darling little birdbath.

The main dish, prepared by Buffy, our hostess, was a wonderful Broiled Salmon in Dijon & Caper Sauce.

Annie’s Whole Green Beans in a Secret Sauce proved that eating vegetables is a delight. The Rice Pilaf brought by Karla had the Christmas sparkle of Pomegranate Seeds. The Homemade Sprouted-grain Rolls arrived with Donna. Mindy’s Traditional Texas Green Jello with Pistachios
rounded out the side dishes.

The dessert was brought by Sugar, our continental cook. She has learned new techniques from a cooking course in France, but this was a pleasing old family favorite, her delectable Amaretto Bread Pudding.

Here are recipes for the appetizer and the dessert – y’all will have to think up your own main dishes!


Melt 3 Tablespoons butter in a large saucepan on medium-low heat. Gently sauté 2 cloves of minced garlic in the butter, then add a thawed, drained box of frozen chopped spinach, and a 12 ounce jar, [or 14 ounce can] of chopped, drained artichoke hearts (the plain kind – NOT the seasoned & marinated in oil kind). Cook gently, stirring frequently for a few minutes. Add 2 packages of cream cheese (the 8 ounce size), one cup of sour cream and a cup of grated Parmesan cheese, stirring constantly over low heat until smooth, thick and hot. This might take 10 or 12 minutes. You can serve it on crackers, rounds of bread, dip little carrots on it, or whatever!

If you manage to tuck a scoop of this dip in the refrigerator before the guests arrive, it makes a great topping for a morning bagel.


A loaf of French bread

A quart of half & half

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

3 eggs

1 and ½ cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons almond extract

¾ cup golden raisins

¾ cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear the bread into chunks and place it into a 9X13X2 inch greased baking dish. Sprinkle the raisins and almonds over the bread, gently mixing together.

In a small bowl, beat together half & half, eggs, sugar and extract. Pour over the bread mixture. Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown and not mushy to touch. Remove from oven; let cool while you prepare the sauce.

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 egg, well beaten

4 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, mix together the butter and sugar, then stir constantly until sugar and butter are dissolved and the mixture is very hot. Whisk the egg well, blending into the hot mixture. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the sauce cools to room temperature. Add the Amaretto liqueur.

Pour over the bread pudding and serve immediately.

It seems to me that Sugar doubled the sauce recipe – and probably upped the amount of Amaretto, too!


What the Divas Did in 2001


For a couple of years, my friend Buffy has been telling me about her wonderful gardening group. A vacancy occurred this winter and the rest of the members suggested prospective replacements. Lucky me! The paper on which Buffy had written my name was pulled out of the pile. On a Saturday morning, Buffy & I went to breakfast at Elsi’s restaurant to meet several of the other women: Annie, Sugar, Mindy and Melanie. One missing member, Gail, was unable to be there. I hope I can keep up with them – their projects sound pretty ambitious!

We each drew a month when we will have a turn as hostess/project recipient. The first working meeting was set for Buffy’s house in mid-February, at 8 AM on a Saturday. We're supposed to bring shovels and pruners, because we're pruning crape myrtles and making a new flowerbed. After the organizational meeting, we ended up buzzing through 6 or 7 antique shops and an upscale fabric store just for fun.


The Divas met at 8 AM at Buffy’s house, where we were treated to eggs, cheese, chorizo & jalapenos combined in a breakfast casserole, along with hash browns, wonderful biscuits, 4 kinds of preserves and flavored coffee. The prettiest dish was a fabulous fruit salad with layers of blackberries, pineapple, pears, strawberries, blueberries, melon, etc. These funny, easygoing women have such great Texas voices!

We stepped outside into a perfect 60-degree day and started pruning every crape myrtle, lantana, salvia, and artemesia in sight, getting ready for spring in Texas. The Bradford pear trees are popping into bloom all over town. The redbud trees are swelling their flowers, ready to start, and little leaves are coming out on the twigs of the dormant shrubs and perennials. After we pulled up the weeds, removed sod, pried up rocks, and packed the debris into yard waste bags, we dug a flowerbed at the base of Buffy’s new rustic wooden rose arbor. Her future plans include acquiring a bench to be tucked under the arbor, shadowed by her heirloom rose. This rose is a single-flowered, pale yellow climber named 'Mermaid', that she found at Barton Springs Nursery. There will be flat rocks, herbs and fragrant flowers around the rose’s base. It took only 4 hours for us to complete all this, leaving time for a trip to a great local nursery, the Red Barn.

Buffy’s white stone, two-story house is only a few years old, with nice clumps of medium-sized live oak trees already growing in both the front and back. She had a wooden privacy fence built right away to enclose the back yard, with an attractive gate to the front, so her garden plan began with 'good bones'. In addition to her artistic talents, Buffy has great strength. The day she moved in she started digging beds, prying up boulders, and planting wonderful things. Her garden is already lovely, and being flat and fully fenced, is also safe from deer.

An exotic looking Asian tree called a loquat can grow here in Central Texas. It blooms from November through January. If the weather is decent at pollination time, a loquat can produce delicious and exotic fruits. Buffy’s 8 foot tall Loquat has the little fruits forming now.

My loquat is only 16 inches tall, still in a pot. It came as an unidentified six-inch tall discard from a friend. She’d been overwhelmed with plants from her mother, and didn’t know (or care) what it was. Maybe it will bloom some day?


The ‘we-never-met’ member Gail didn’t show up on the garden day. Apparently her life has taken some hectic turns, including an upcoming change of address. She has missed several meetings, and told the club to fill her space. After a lot of back and forth messages, the next person from the waiting list was able to join us. Her name is Karla and she’s Sugar’s cousin. Karla lives only a couple of miles from me, and it will be great to have another newcomer. Gail’s scheduled month was March, so more notes flew -we’ll be going to Melanie’s house next time.

MARCH 2001

Melanie’s email said we would be adding some perennials for color, planting new annuals, mulching, weeding the front and back gardens and re-setting the stones in the front beds. We needed shovels, garden claws, clippers, weeders, & gloves. She also asked for someone to bring a wheelbarrow for mixing the two mulches together.

Melanie’s stone ranch is the farthest south of the members’ homes. I think it is only a couple of years old. It has a nice floor plan, and is centered on quite a large lot, with a wooded area to the back. We were served scones and clotted cream, a new treat for me. Karla was introduced – she already knew some of the Divas. Anyone can see she is going to be a lot of fun. She and Sugar told some stories about themselves during their college days.

This day’s project involved weeding, transplanting and generally shaping up a large ‘natural’ garden in the front yard. My bluebonnets have to live in pots and hanging baskets on our deck, because the deer eat any they can reach. In Melanie’s garden they grew rampantly and had even seeded themselves into the centers of wanted perennials. It sure felt weird to weed out bluebonnets!

When we arrived, the ‘field’ in the deep front yard looked like a weed patch, but we left it looking like a meadow! This was a fairly short day, since Melanie had a late afternoon shower to attend. Some of the Divas headed off to the outlet malls in San Marcos since we were already so far south.


APRIL 2001

Annie had to cancel her turn as the hostess, when her mom needed surgery. The scheduling for this month had not been going well anyway. Some members had trips planned during the school break, Sugar was biking 150 miles for an MS Benefit Ride, and Karla was gone several weekends on business trips. We hoped to make up Annie’s session at a later time.

MAY 2001

Mindy’s turn was a warm and busy day. Her ranch style house is set on several acres of land in the far southwest part of town. There are many old live oaks and lots of rocks in a very picturesque and natural looking setting. There is a small separate building, a guesthouse, used when the extended family visits.

Mindy’s place is a kind of ranchette, but the herd is canine, not cattle! Mindy also has a deft hand with a power tiller, which speeds up many of our projects. There are lots of rocks in one corner of her land, and we went back and forth, ‘shopping’ for flat shapes, and hauling them over to the work area.

We were redoing the entry to the house. I guess it is technically the side door, but it’s used as the main entry. She also gets some deer coming to munch, but the dogs must make a difference, since she grows plants in her borders that must hide out on my deck.

Buffy took a lot of square stones and made edges for a path between the driveway and the door. The center of the path was cleared, then covered with layers of newspaper, and finally lots of wood mulch finished it. This was a technique I’d used for years in the North, so it was sort of cool to see that they did it, too.

The breakfast featured an asparagus, red pepper and zucchini frittata with waffles and blueberry sausage, unbelievably delicious. There was a fabulous chicken salad with tortilla chips for lunch, too. During the break, Melanie surprised us with the news that she is expecting a baby in late fall. What happy news!

On the way back we just had to stop at the nearby John Dromgoole’s Natural Gardener Nursery. It is one of the best in the area, but not close enough to my house to just pop in; it’s at least a half-hour’s drive from me.

JUNE 2001

My first turn as hostess was lots of fun! The Divas arrived around 8 AM and we caught up on the latest news over sweet potato pancakes, spinach quiche, fresh fruit and Canadian bacon.

I asked them to help me make two large beds, one surrounding a newly planted white crape myrtle, and another where the driveway meets the street. We also reworked an existing bed. The new plants include Rosemarys, Lantanas, Salvia greggii in purple, white and pale yellow, Salvia leucantha, Cenizo, Copper Canyon daisy, Santolinas in both the grey and the green, and several dwarf yaupons. Once established, this landscape should be fairly drought resistant and the deer should not find it particularly palatable.

The project only took us a few hours, so we had time for a swim, before a late lunch of chicken salad and salsa. This refreshed us enough to drive the 6 minutes to the Red Barn. There was some buying but even more looking and talking. On the way back home we stopped at two model homes - huge, stone McMansions that were open for viewing.

It was a long day, ending in tremendous satisfaction. A large section of the front landscape had emerged: dug, planted and mulched in one day. No more black plastic flapping around, no plants struggling to live in pots, and when we drive up to the front of the house, our yard no longer looks like the “bad house” on the block. The women are all so witty, and have such diverse lives, that the time flies by while we are working and talking.

JULY 2001

July is not a usual month for a working meeting, but the membership changes and business trips had complicated things, so we had a scorcher of a meeting. Thank heavens Karla has a shady front yard with some good size live oaks, and a bottomless cooler of bottled water and GatorAde. We arrived at 8 AM, enjoyed the lovely breakfast, and were soon outside working (with a lunch break and lots of stops for drinks), not finishing until after 4PM. The heat topped out at 98, but the shade helped, plus there was breeze from a bunch of women talking!

We were clearing out the area under a clump of trees in front near the drive, digging up all the tree seedlings, weeds and rocks and making it into a mulched, raised bed with shade plants and a rock edging, plus digging and leveling a path for a sand base with pavers on it. I just love the look of one of Karla’s new plants, a ‘Giant Liriope’.

The cool thing was to see a real eyesore transformed into a lovely little entrance area through one day’s work with your friends. Richer people can buy instant landscaping but so far, the stuff we have done looks better than the purchased work we see around town.

Karla sent us a note saying how much she liked the final effect:

“A great big THANK YOU girls for working so hard Saturday and making such a wonderful improvement in my yard…the guy next door was even out taking pictures of it. I know it was hot and miserable, but I had a great time and really enjoyed being with you all, as usual. At least, when you work in my yard, you really get a "before" and "after" difference.”


We had been thinking of September for a possible garden date in combination with a baby shower for Melanie. Then the events of September 11 pushed thoughts of a meeting aside. I did meet Sugar on one afternoon in mid-September. We wanted to go someplace that had kind people and natural beauty. We ended up at the Red Barn, where other gardeners strolled and spoke, also needing to see friendly faces, to smell the fragrances from the aisles of flowering plants, and to hear the classical music playing softly in the autumn air.


We had our first meeting since early July. The last project was hot, but this weekend was just right. We met at 8 AM, and enjoyed a breakfast featuring pancakes and venison sausage. Soon we were tearing into the flower borders at Sugar's 1954 one-story frame house. She moved into it around the beginning of this year, and has some rehabbing to do. The previous elderly owner was no longer able to do any yard work, but there must have been some kind of garden at one time.

We started poking around and digging - Whoa! We found piles of rocks, lots of bricks from a grown-over, decrepit path, a sea of monkey grass, and a grove of weed saplings with 15-inch tops and roots that were 3 feet long. It turned out to be a very long day, with a 3 PM lunch break. We didn’t leave until it was too dark to work. But what an incredible difference to Sugar’s landscape! It changed in a day from overgrown and neglected, to tidy cottage style. We filled 10 or 12 of those big brown paper yard bags.

Sugar had recently been to France, where she spent a week immersed in French cookery. The lessons took place at what sounds like a fabulous inn. We enjoyed her descriptions of the incredible flowers and the education in French cuisine, but have to wait for the photos. We should get to see them at the Christmas get together.

We had presents ready for Melanie’s new baby, but she wasn’t able to come. Mindy said she’d get the gifts out to Melanie’s house. I sure hope she makes the Christmas party.

Sugar had an idea for Sunday afternoon: “I'm ready to go to a movie baaaaad! I haven't been to see anything in soooo long I'm sure we can find something good. John Cusack is top on my list as well! What's the movie he is in now - Serendipity?? I'm game for that if you are. Buff, you up for it too? I always love a chick flick!!!!”

We met at the Arbor Theater & had a good time. The Divas will forgive the adorable John Cusack anything – even a silly movie like “Serendipity”!


The Divas’ annual Christmas party was held at Mindy's stone ranch house in the Hill Country. We’d worked on the entry when Mindy had her garden turn, making a new path to the door, and it was still looking good 7 months later. We’d hoped to see Melanie and maybe even her new baby daughter, but Melanie couldn’t make it.

Last May, we appreciated Mindy’s shaded porch, the salsa and the salads and the cold beer! Now in December, rain fell and the temps hung in the low 50’s outside, while we sat around the fireplace with Christmas music playing softly in the background.

As hostess, Mindy provided the main course of Cornish game hens (they were awesome), with the sides by everyone else - rice pilaf, a mellow butternut squash dish, mandarin salad, homemade rolls, and pear chutney. Sugar made scrumptious amaretto bread pudding. We were drinking Poinsettias, made by mixing champagne with cranberry juice. Then came the grab bag game, where you draw numbers & chose a gift from the pile. A high number is desirable, since one’s newly opened present is fair game for the next in line. It was too much fun, and Mindy had to push us out the door.

Buffy & I felt we needed to check out Cowgirls & Lace before heading home – found a few Christmas gifts there, and on sale, too!

Digging With the Divas

(This article was written by Kathy Kloba in 2002. It appeared that year in a publication by the Lilacia Garden Club and in Judy Garrett's Homegrown magazine.)

Have you ever stood in your garden, envisioning new beds, or wanting to renew old ones, but found the idea overwhelming? Don’t go out there alone, nibbling away at your landscape while wishing you could afford help. Have fun with your friends and form a landscaping co-op.

Here in Central Texas, our Divas of the Dirt were formed in the 1990’s by a core of friends who brought other women into the group. When a former member dropped out 3 years ago, the remaining Divas put new nominees into a pool. I believe my guardian angel put my name on the slip that was drawn out.

Each member is the hostess once a year. In a good year we might get 8 months in this region when we can work outside – that’s why we stick with seven members. In January we have breakfast at a favorite restaurant and get organized. The seven Divas pull names of the seven most usable months. Our group tries to meet on the second Saturday of those months, but we’ve learned to be flexible. We’ll also have a Christmas pot luck and grab bag, visit nurseries, cruise antique shops, and email jokes and inspiration to one another.

When the first Digging Day of the season approaches, the hostess plans her project, often with the help of other Divas. Mulch, compost, stone and plants are assembled; emails describe the project and suggest the needed tools. When the Divas start drifting in at eight AM on the big day, they are greeted with wonderful aromas and fresh coffee – because these gardeners also love cooking for others. We’ve shared egg casseroles, waffles, pancakes, French toast, hash browns, bacon and venison sausage, quiche, fabulous fruits, and creamy cheese grits. We might need those calories! If the project goes on into mid-afternoon, a lunch or snack better show up, too.

Once we’re out in the dirt, with a cooler of bottled water and sports drinks in the shade, the work goes at an amazing pace. Rocks, stumps and bags of compost that would tax the strength of one woman are easy for three working together. Each person brings some talent we need…one loves to prune, one to dig, another can lay stone, one always sees the way to balance the landscape and one always knows where good stuff is on sale.

We have been incredibly lucky with this blend of personalities. The conversation swirls and individual members work for a while as partners. As the tasks shift and change, the small groups separate, and re-form, so all the friends work and talk one-on-one during the day. They are efficient and gutsy – trying any challenge. Since they’re women, they clean up as they go along, leaving a minimum of mess for the hostess.

They are so hilarious! It is astounding how much gets done in one day. Is it work? Absolutely! Is it fun? Oh, my, yes! And the sheer drama of these transformations is becoming addictive. What a joy to watch my friend’s face as she saw her garden dream materialize.

All our Texas yards and gardens needed major renovations – maybe you have a great landscape but need help with maintenance. Imagine six women meeting for a two-hour weeding and clipping party at a different house every week. Two hours outside with a few friends is safer and more fun than those solitary marathons. And we learn so much from each other – horticulture and pop culture, biography and real estate, movies and music.

A few cautions – your members need to be givers not users, and with a love for gardening, not just for the results… otherwise, the magic will be lost. See if our ideas of chlorophyll and cooperation will enrich your life, too!