What the Divas Did in 2004, Part 1

2004 January

The wonderful 2003 Christmas party at Donna’s house had lulled us into a false sense that Diva life was settled & things were going smoothly. Surprises were in store as the new year 2004 began.

Breaking with tradition, we met for breakfast in a different restaurant - Chez Zee on Balcones Drive in northwest Austin. This place is famous for lavish breakfasts featuring seafood, and beloved for serving late night desserts that are the definition of decadence.
Buffy’s recommendation of Chez Zee’s turned out to be a very elegant experience, indeed. She had no problem convincing us to meet and share those croissants with strawberry butter. There are few restaurants that escape the personal review of our Buffy!

In another break with tradition, Sugar was not present to enjoy the breakfast meeting. The clues were there, but we’d preferred to ignore them. For quite a while, Sugar had been juggling a demanding new job, complicated house renovations and increasing family obligations. She wasn’t exaggerating when she said that she no longer could fit in time for gardening. Attending the Diva meetings was becoming impossible for her. We were sad and surprised, but could not argue with the facts.

Sugar said “You have all become great friends & very important to my life. Now, get out there & find someone really great to take my place! Thanks for all of your hard work, advice, great times & camaraderie! Please keep in touch… Love ya all.”

Finding a new Diva has never been a problem so far – there are usually several friends who’d love to join our group. When we met at Chez Zee, the Divas had some candidates and one name was drawn. Sugar & Karla are cousins, but this year we will have Divas who are sisters – Wilma, Donna’s sister, is the new member. She lives on the far north edge of the Austin area up in Round Rock, an expansion of territory for us. Donna was on the phone immediately to give Wilma the good news.

We pulled our months and set up the schedule for the next year – would this be a lucky season, with no projects called on account of rain?

DivasoftheDirt, snow art treesFebruary surprised Austin with some genuine snow! If you were out driving at 2 in the morning like me, you’d have seen some excited people building snowmen by porch-light! There was a beautiful, magical snow scene for a few hours, until the next afternoon. This was a warning that the year 2004 would have some wet weather – approaching the all time records for rainfall in Austin.


An email came from Buffy, “Garden Club is still on at my house, weather permitting! I know we really need all of this rain but hopefully everything will be dry by then. We will be doing some bed maintenance and some major pruning, so bring all of your pruning equipment.”

February up North was never suitable for gardening – even in the nicest years, but in Austin, February can be one of the most pleasant months. We spent a lovely day working at Buffy’s house, starting out with a breakfast casserole, hash browns, and fruit. We’re kinda slow to get going on the first garden day of the year, so the coffee maker had a workout.

Our newest Diva was at Buffy’s house bright and early. Wilma knew her own sister Donna, of course, and she also knew Mindy. Now Wilma got to meet the rest of us, and pitch in with the garden project – mostly spring cleanup, bed renewal and pruning.

DivasoftheDirt, consultThe Divas all found lots to do, like digging and replanting one of our earlier projects – a large bed surrounding a clump of trees, mostly live oaks. Over the last couple of years the soil has been gradually improved, and Buffy keeps tried a variety of plants, experimenting to see what will be
best up there.

Some Divas were reworking another group of shrubs that had overgrown the living room window. Others were cutting back and delineating a bed of tough, waterwise plants including the native Salvia leucantha, Copper Canyon daisy, some silvery artemesia and Perovskia [Russian sage] located where the drive meets the sidewalk. They are root hardy plants [the artemesia and Perovskia even grew for me back in Illinois] but the tops die back to some degree, with the extent of dieback depending on the severity of the winter. These sturdy plants won’t need a lot of attention during the growing season if they are weeded, pruned and mulched now.

I brought my extending pole pruner, just in case. Good idea! As we Divas went to tour Buffy’s back yard, the large pyracantha waved thorny branches at us in a threatening manner.
DivasoftheDirt, pyracantha B4
“I just pruned it in late fall,” lamented Buffy. “I love the way the berries look, but it grows so darned fast!” Her firethorns had not always been a problem. We think that the installation of an automatic watering system a few seasons back may have ensured that nothing dies of drought, but has also ensured that the pyracantha will be growing way too well!

DivasoftheDirt, back bed B4Buffy’s garden is amazing and full of delights. It’s a good place to go for inspiration. She has both structures and structure in her landscape, with a boulder and gravel path area in shade, vegetables in sun, a covered patio, a nice wooden storage and work building, a rose arbor with a bench and a vegetable garden with lots of herbs, too! DivasoftheDirt, main wall B4Buffy grows a broad range of shrubs, perennials and annuals. A tour of her garden can be a short class in plant identification. Her North Austin lot is not huge, but it contains antique roses, Feijoa sellowiana [pineapple guava], a glorious Loquat tree, nice crepe myrtles, ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon, Indian Hawthornes, verbenas, daylilies, Salvias, Rudbeckias, Echinaceas, dwarf Wax Myrtle, daylilies, Gerber daisies, columbine, Poliomentha longiflora [Mexican oregano], the charming Bat-faced Cuphea llavea, ferns, Ruellia brittoniana [the dwarf blue variety named ‘Katie’, variegated ginger lilies, Melampodium leucanthum (Blackfoot daisy), Dolichos lablab [Hyacinth bean] and a lot more!

DivasoftheDirt, outside fence aftAfter working quite a spell, we needed a break and were delighted with Buffy’s lunch idea, thinking it made a virtuous contrast to the lavish breakfast. And since this soup was so full of vegetables, we could have a few cookies for dessert!

A note from Buffy contained this frequently requested recipe:

Zucchini Soup

7 Chicken Bouillon Cubes
4 Cups of Water
6 Zucchini - sliced
2 Carrots - peeled and grated
1 Onion - chopped
1 8 oz package of cream cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Dissolve bouillon cubes in water, add zucchini, carrots and onion and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 15 min.
Process vegetable mixture with cream cheese in the blender, add salt and pepper to taste.
*When pureeing the vegetables you will need to do it in batches. Be careful because the mixture will be very hot. To cut calories I use low fat cream cheese. This soup is good hot or cold!!!”

Back in the garden after the break, the Divas returned to the front bed we’d made a few years ago, surrounding and connecting a group of live oaks. Every year the soil is improved a little more, with different plants added. Next, the unruly bed under the living room windows was tamed and groomed for the new season:
DivasoftheDirt, back bed aftGood thing Buffy had a pile of yard bags handy. Between the various clean-up jobs and the enormous amount of pyracantha prunings, she’d have a lot of debris for the yard waste pickup. But the entrance gate now was welcoming and berry-spangled rather than looking like the thorn-encircled front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

DivasoftheDirt, pyracantha after
We could have kept pruning for another whole day. We had to leave before we ever got to the enormous ‘Mermaid’ Rose!
DivasoftheDirt, Mermaid rose after

The invitation came for the second meeting of the year, at Donna’s: “Hi Divas! I am very excited about garden club next week. Essentially, we are going to create two large greenery beds in the back corners of our backyard. As for tools, we will need shovels, pitchforks, Mindy's tiller, and whatever else you guys can think of to aid in this process. If you can think of things we might need for the project, let me know so I can have them ready. Looking forward to digging with everyone!”
DivasoftheDirt, rock wagonWe arrived at Donna’s house in Central Austin and knew we had quite a day planned for us. There were two enormous piles of soil and mulch blocking the alley, a wagon piled with stone blocks, and a huge array of flats and containers awaiting our attention. DivasoftheDirt, plants readyAs we buzzed around looking at all the cool stuff we saw holly ferns, wood ferns, columbine, liriope, bignonia, oxalis, butterfly iris, and a ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud. It was the biggest single planting we’ve ever attempted.
DivasoftheDirt, more plants ready
We went inside & tucked into Donna’s delicious frittata and melt-in-your-mouth cherry cheesecake, served by Wilma who had come early to act as Donna’ assistant.
The project encompassed a kind of cleared area under trees that stretched across the entire back of Donna’s yard, up against a wooden privacy fence. Donna dreamed of a restful, beautiful retreat and had enlisted the help of a garden designer, who had drawn sweeping drifts of layered shade plants covering the area under Donna’s tall old trees. But before the restful part could begin, there would be digging, amending the beds, placing edging stones, and then planting trees, shrubs, ferns, perennials & vines with mulching as the final step. This is the left half of the area before we began, with a glimpse of the mulch & amendment pile through the gate.

DivasoftheDirt, B4 west bed
We spent several hours of work to get the plants ready for the actual planting. The amendments were mixed in and the rock edging put in place along the perimeter. As the work progressed, it became obvious that while using a pencil to position a plant on paper is quite simple; actually making that planting hole in a bed full of tree roots and rocks is not simple. DivasoftheDirt, E bed in progressThe tree trunks were not aboveground columns, but had extended structures making unexpected patterns under the soil. We wanted to make a shade garden, but we didn’t want to kill off the forest with our excavations! With everyone consulting and advising, design adjustments were made and the project progressed once more.

DivasoftheDirt, pup and plantsAfter a break for tuna salad and some hearty breads, we got back to the project. Luckily, Donna’s husband Joe not only helped with the rock edgings, but also pitched in with some of the heaviest digging. DivasoftheDirt, consultThe beds were finally planted, and then we reduced that mulch pile and rejoiced as we completed the transformation from scrub to tranquil woodland garden.
DivasoftheDirt, East bed done
DivasoftheDirt, west bed done
“Dearest Divas, Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the hard work yesterday…our back yard truly looks amazing…My booty is sore and I'm exhausted-how does everyone else feel? I hope not too tired and sore… Again, Joe’s and my deepest appreciation for everyone’s super hard work yesterday. Now we just have to keep it alive! Donna”

Mindy had this to say, “OOOOhhhhh Yeah!!! Sore booty, sore hamstrings, sore shoulders--but the result was TOTALLY worth it. Hey, no gym in town has a better work out. I loved it. [BTW] I wish everyone could see our Mountain Laurels. I was thinking before Saturday they're looking much better than last year, but yesterday while working the property, even Warren agreed the bushes and abundant blooms are just spectacular!!”

Karla chimed in, “Yes, that "keeping it alive" is always the big issue with me. Donna, I didn't feel that you had tortured us enough on Saturday, so I spent Sunday afternoon working in my yard. It has a very long way to go before having that wonderful view like you now have. .. I got a Forest Pansy Redbud at Red Barn yesterday - they had about 3-4 left. Mine was a little smaller than the one you had…Now, I need some help as to best position it so I can get it in the ground.”

Annie wrote this note, “I'm so glad that you are enjoying the view from your backyard. It was hard work (seems to be the largest project so far) but totally enjoyable. Yup, plenty of sore muscles, but that only means haven't been using them enough. Got out in my yard some on Sunday after the rains stopped (got a good drenching) and trimmed and pulled some weeds. Your yard is so totally peaceful and beautiful. If you find me hanging over your fence some day just to take a look, please don't send me away. It's an oasis!!”


What the Divas Did in 2004, Part 2


We’d had some problems with the scheduling but finally Karla set the date: “Hello Divas, since Donna & Buffy have something the following weekend, we’ll keep this Saturday. I was planning to do the walkway to my back yard in granite and work a little on the small terrace bed. Just bring the usual tools, including pruning tools. Glinda, please bring your [pole pruner] because I do have some tall photinias that need to go. Mindy, we’ll be okay w/o the tiller… things will probably still be wet unless we have a lot of sun between now and then. Looking forward to seeing you!”

DivasoftheDirt, mulch and graniteOnce again we started our garden day with a huge pile of garden supplies in the driveway – not mulch or soil this time, but a truckload of a local stone product called decomposed granite. Karla was ready to get rid of her mud track along the side of her house to the back, replacing it with a
packed granite path.

DivasoftheDirt, lattice

Before we started hauling granite, we were served a lavish breakfast. Occasionally one or the other of the Divas would make two versions of an entrée, leaving out the mushrooms on the part they’d serve to Sugar. Sugar always turned up her nose at anything in the fungi arena. [This is in no way the same as the fun guy arena, where Sugar is known as une connaisseuse.] Well, Sugar had deserted us, so the previously proscribed mushrooms ran rampant through the menus. Karla made us scrumptious mushroom quiches, serving them with great biscuits, and lots of fruit.

DivasoftheDirt, Donna and KarlaThe entire area that the path would traverse also needed a lot of work. Local gardeners have been seeing a lot of die-off in their redtip photinias, and this was happening to Karla’s hedge. An informed gardener would probably not choose to use Photinia now, but when you buy a previously owned home, you inherit lots of plants that were bought before their deficiencies became apparent. Who knows which of the current plants favored by the experts will surprise us with unforeseen problems? For now, we’ll just try to do the best with the hands we’ve been dealt in life.

Here is the side of the house, dead Photinias in view.
DivasoftheDirt, future path
We set to work to remove a couple of the dead photinias, clear the ground of old rotting timbers and general junk that was here when Karla bought this house in Northwest Austin, make a 40-foot long path of decomposed granite, and renew the flower beds in the terraced area. [All in one day, remember!] Creating that terrace had been an enormously satisfying project a couple of years ago. Some blue Plumbago auriculata plants had decided that one side of the patio was their personal domain. Later in the year they’d be a mass of pale blue and fresh green. In April, the Gaura was already sending pink wands waving in the wind. Karla had bought a ‘Forest Pansy’ Redbud. It was growing in a container, ready to be planted in the bed we’d made along the fence a couple of years ago. [Yeah – you’ve heard that name ‘Forest Pansy’ before, and you’ll hear it again!] Some Bulbine passed along by Sugar had grown and bloomed in its long loose bright yellow fashion, the Nandinas were thriving and some cannas were ready to bloom.
DivasoftheDirt, Wilma and KarlaWe started the preliminary work on the path and the terrace beds. Buffy and I were restless, feeling more in the mood for destruction rather than plant placement. We grubbed out the photinia roots [narrowly missing the barely covered wire for Karla’s cable TV], then sawed up the pruned off limbs, bagged and smashed and hauled junk out to the curb, while the other Divas dug, amended, planted and made the terrace beautiful. We all knew the big gravel-hauling job was coming up so we didn’t hesitate when Karla produced pimiento cheese, Sun chips, tarragon chicken salad, and Whole Foods cookies for lunch. Karla is so sweet that she even remembered the Dr Pepper for Donna and me – Wilma also turned out to be a Dr Pepper fan. After many, many wheelbarrow loads and lots of raking, the decomposed granite path was in shape, DivasoftheDirt, new path goodthe previous Photinia area was dug with a few perennials installed in it and the terrace was once again a beautiful place for Karla to escape and relax.

DivasoftheDirt, terrace viewKarla wrote us, “My yard is so beautiful. I just find myself standing at the door, window, and when it stops raining long enough, on the patio admiring how wonderful it looks. I am so eager to get some work done on the front bed, but the weekend was all rainy. I won't complain too much because I remember last year this time, I had no rain. I got more bedding plants out and got about 1/2 of the front bed weeded, composted and mulched yesterday afternoon after work. I still haven't looked for something tall and thin for along the chain link fence where the red tips were, so let me know if you see something that I have to have!!”DivasoftheDirt, karla and annie


2004 was shaping up to be one of the rainiest on record, and Annie spent some time wondering whether we could come, “Divas, As I sit here … it is pouring rain, with the forecast for heavy rain on Friday. The prediction for Saturday at this point is just 20%, so hopefully it will not be a wash.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing everyone, also Mindy's Mom. I will need the creative, artistic minds of everyone to help me with my garden design. Plan on bringing tools for making new beds and rearranging some other stuff. Maybe even bring a rain poncho or boots!! “

Although the real Martha Stewart is in trouble and sentenced to prison, we have our own domestic goddess, Annie, safe in North Austin. As always, her house is like a haven of civilization in an ever more ugly world. What a charming table setting for the breakfast! She presented us with a casserole composed of bagels, eggs & bacon, fruit, and an heirloom apple cake. We also had the chance to welcome Mindy’ mother, Lillian, who was spending some time at her daughter’s home. One look at these two women sitting next to each other revealed the secret of Mindy’s beautiful complexion. You have to inherit it, I guess!

Some of Annie’s wishes were that we redo the front bed, a previous Diva project.
(Ed:Here's a picture from October 2003)
DivasoftheDirt, flower bed
At that time we’d divided and reset a lot of Shasta daisies, which unfortunately were thriving at the expense of the rest of the plants. The Shastas were throwing off the proportions of the planting. Annie also wanted to try some perennials in one section of the parkway, replacing the grass, which was refusing to grow in that area. There is a crepe myrtle at the center of the bed, so we decided to leave a few daisies at the back, behind the myrtle, with the less pushy plants like the penstemon and santolina in the front. The new parkway bed is small now, but it will be interesting to see what it all looks like by next spring.
DivasoftheDirt, new bedsAnnie also had an idea for a new bed next to the front porch, which would make a floral statement in the entrance area. She had a few miniature crepe myrtles there, kept as a low hedge, but wanted a more sweeping and graciously shaped flowerbed. Everyone got to work with clippers, shovels, forks, trowels and weeders, Some overhanging branches made everyone duck and weave, trying to traverse with their tools from the cars to the door, so tree pruning was included in the scope of this renewal project. We were working hard, but did we really deserve a second cake? Apparently Annie thought we did, because the lunch featured tuna salad, a cold guacamole soup and the second cake – a luscious lemon one this time.

The front entrance garden would have peach cannas and assorted interesting perennials. I’ve probably mentioned some of Annie’s plants in other years. Besides the multiplying Shasta daisies she grows Salvia leucantha [Mexican bush sage], Leguminosae scuttelaris suffrutescens [a native pink skullcap], Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), Vitex agnus-castus [chaste tree], Rosemaries, a white-flowering Plumbago, and Rose-of-Sharon.

Annie finds unusual and exotic plants in unexpected places – then convinces them that it is okay to live in Texas. One of her newer pets is an Oxypetalum Caeruleum "Heaven Born", also known as a "Tweedia". It is a wonderful shade of blue. And she was the first to find another beautiful plant, long before Skip Richter recommended it as the Plant of the Week on the Central Texas Gardening Shaw on KLRU. Here is her gorgeous Philippine violet [Barleria cristata]:DivasoftheDirt, philippine violet“Divas, Last night after you all left, I went and got more compost and some root stimulator. This morning I watered everything and did some more work. I cannot express enough my gratitude to everyone for the hard work, dedication, and creative landscaping on my yard. I am so excited
about what you all did. Can't wait to see how it will mature. I love the English county garden and having LESS of those daisies!! Wilma, we missed you. You missed out on a wonderful transformation. THANK YOU AGAIN DIVAS!!” was Annie’s response to her garden day.

(Ed: later in summer 2004 this photo was taken of Annie's Texas Mountain Laurel with Salvia leucantha and caladium in bloom at the base. )

DivasoftheDirt, Tx mountain laurel

Mindy sent out a note in June, inviting us to participate in a completely new kind of project.

“…Saturday's goal is to do only projects in the shade. I would still like to focus on deckscaping and calling on the wisdom and support of the divas to help me determine what is salvageable and appropriate for my deck area and how to arrange it. I also need to have cushions and pillows made for the deck furniture and would like to ask opinions on that… will see you all on Saturday at 8 a.m.”

We headed out toward Dripping Springs, sure that this would be an interesting day! We began with a lovely breakfast, featuring a specialty of the Beaumont area. There is a kind of shrub called Mayhaw that grows along the coast and Mindy served us biscuits with a jelly made of this fruit. It didn’t seem that special at first, but by the last bite of the first biscuit, I became addicted to Mayhaw jelly. Here is Mindy’s delectable casserole recipe. She has had constant requests for the recipe. When we see a dish that is so substantial appearing on the breakfast table, we feel warned that there will be a lot of work to do!


This recipe makes 12 servings when cut into squares. Allow about 25 minutes for preparation time; the baking and standing time is about 50 minutes.

8 frozen, prepared hash brown patties [get the gently pre-browned, 9 per package kind]

12 ounces shredded mozzarella or Swiss cheese

12 ounces shredded Colby/Jack cheese

6 ounces canned, sliced mushrooms, drained [or get the fresh ones and slice & sauté them yourself]

2 tablespoons margarine or butter

1/3 cup chopped green onions [you can add more if you want]

Half of a medium red bell pepper, chopped [or just throw the whole pepper in]

8 ounces ham, julienned, or 8 ounces sausage, cooked and crumbled [Mindy probably throws the whole pound in here, too]

1 cup of milk or half & half [as if lowfat milk would make any difference at this point!]

One teaspoon dry mustard [do not even think about skipping this ingredient]

2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped

12 eggs, beaten [or use a low-cholesterol egg substitute – yeah, right!!!]

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place cheese in large bowl and toss to combine.
3. Spray a 9 X13 inch glass casserole with non-stick spray.
4. Layer one: arrange 8 hash brown patties in the bottom of the pan. [Freeze the extra one in a zipper bag.]
5. Layer two: evenly spread half of the cheese blend.
6. In a medium skillet, cook together green onions and peppers until tender. If mushrooms are fresh, cook them, too, otherwise add them once peppers and onions begin to soften.
7. Layer three: arrange sautéed vegetables evenly over cheese.
8. Layer four: arrange ham or sausage evenly over vegetables.
9. Layer five: spread the second half of the cheese blend over meat.
10. In a large bowl, use whisk to blend half & half, parsley & eggs together.
11. Layer six: pour egg mixture over the top of the cheese.
12. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, until set and beginning to brown.
13. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
14. Cut into squares and serve.

To make ahead of time, follow the recipe through to layer five, then cover and refrigerate the casserole overnight. Next morning prepare the egg mixture and finish the recipe, but allow a little extra baking time since the ingredients will all be cold.

If you make this recipe 8 times, you'll have 8 hash brown patties in that zipper bag, and then you can make it for the ninth time. This recipe is not just popular with the Divas - guys love it! And it's great as a do-ahead recipe for a holiday morning, served with fruit and croissants.

We’d done some major planting at Mindy’s house in previous years, so we checked out the progress in those beds. Some things were doing great, but the deer had nipped some shrubs here and there. They leave her red-flowering native plants alone – one nicknamed ‘stinky sage’ is actually Texas Red Betony, a Stachys like Lamb’s Ear. Another is Malvaviscus arboreus called Turk’s cap, or sometimes Wax Mallow. Mindy has a shady, protected area by the front door, and the stone house wall is clothed in Ficus pumila, the creeping fig vine. Her cannas grow in this area, too.

On Mindy’s day, Donna was gone on a much needed vacation trip, and Buffy was present, but not in full form. She was over the worst of a bad bout of bronchitis, but was not able to do anything that would set off a coughing fit.

There was some weed grubbing to do – the entrance path was overgrown, and a great deal of Bermuda grass had invaded the area next to the barbecue smoker. Annie and Karla went after the bermuda, which is a major pain in many of our gardens, and I tackled the weedy path. Mindy and Wilma dragged furniture and plants off the deck and patio, sorting the plants by size, condition and their needs for sun or shade, and keeping the thirstiest ones separate. Some plants needed water, which was dipped from a rainwater barrel. There were small herbs and culinary plants like garlic chives, flower, some hydrangeas and large pots with cool stuff like Plumeria [Frangipani in Hawaii] and a Star Jasmine.

Once the space was cleared and swept, we would have the pleasure of reassembling all the elements in a new and hopefully better design. The next part was so much fun! Who could resist a combination of gardening and decorating?

Buffy sat in a deck chair, surrounded by bags of soil and amendments. Plants in need of repotting were brought over to her. We tried various arrangements for the deck furniture, making areas for conversation and solitary sitting, and had some of the chairs face the pond. Tiny lizards made an appearance on shrubs near the pond – concerned whether our project would impact their life here in paradise. Mindy had all kinds of rocks and interesting stuff in the yard, like a stone bench that was not doing much out back. It was dismantled and the sections hauled up to the deck, where it became the center of a group of containers, adding weight to the grouping, and raising some plants to add height.

Mindy wanted more unity in the look of the containers, so Karla appointed herself in charge of making white and grey plastic look like terra cotta, with the help of some art store spray paint. Once the larger pots were in place, the smaller ones needed to be situated where they would do well.

Some very serious thinking was going on as the Divas wandered around, containered plants in hand, trying to find the "perfect spot". Mindy liked the results as well as we liked the process!

“a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone for all the hard work on the June deckscaping project. Warren and I just love it!! Of course I've been watering like mad to keep everything alive at this point in the season. I sent a few pix to Mom after the project was done and she loved the results. Big Green Hugs to everyone!”
(Ed: If there are any copies of those pix you sent to your mom still around - they'd sure dress up this post, Mindy!)


It was time for our first meeting at Wilma’s home, “Are you ready for some refreshing digging (in someone else's yard)?? Next Saturday we'll be at my house (see attached map) and I really hope the mornings continue to be as cool as they have been! We'll be totally rebuilding one bed, and also aerating, composting, and mulching the existing beds. Don't worry, the property is quite small... Just bring your garden claws, shovels, wheelbarrows, and appetites! Does any one want the 12" x 21' of dwarf mondo grass covering the bed we'll rip out? See you next Saturday.”

The directions were pretty good, and we easily found our way up to Round Rock to Wilma’s area. But Buffy, Karla & I arrived just a tad late. We couldn’t help it – one of the families in Wilma’s neighborhood was hosting a garage sale, and from the street we noticed a few items of furniture displayed among the knickknacks and clothes. Who among us could pass furniture without a look? We pulled over and checked out the merchandise spread out over the driveway. One medium-size vintage table apparently had Buffy’s name written on it in invisible ink. – That table was soon tucked in the back of her van among the garden tools.

Back in the van, we were watching for the right house number, but that was totally unnecessary! There was no question as to which house belonged to our newest Diva – the driveway contained a huge pile of various soil components and mulch. In most neighborhoods the delivery of amendments is equivalent to putting a sign in the driveway: SOMETHING BIG WILL BE HAPPENING HERE! This pile was already drawing attention from passers-by.
DivasoftheDirt, mulch pile
From the size of the mulch pile it was obvious we’d need sustenance, and we were glad to see that Wilma had an heirloom family recipe called “Cheesy Breakfast” ready for us. It is simply lovely breakfast dish with eggs and English muffins, a traditional family recipe. She also served a local treat in honor of Donna - a gigantic, chocolate frosted TEXAS donut, the specialty of the local Round Rock Donut Company. This was better than a birthday cake – it was a birthday donut for Donna, and very appropriate, since Donna was celebrating a nice Round

Wilma’s house is not new, but there is very little in her yard that she did not plant or transplant. She’s only been there a couple of years, but has softened the wooden fence along the back with fragrant honeysuckle vines, and made beds with lots of annuals and perennials including various salvias, Rudbeckia, Tecoma stans [usually called Esperanza or Yellowbells], some daylilies and iris, and she is having remarkably good success with the charming Rosa mutabilis and another rose, the famed "Souvenier de la Malmaison". Like Mindy, Wilma has a rain barrel, keeping a
goldfish inside so that mosquito larvae would not be a problem.

DivasoftheDirt, place for camelliasOur biggest task for this day was a really big one - digging down two feet deep next to the front walk, completely removing the existing soil, in preparation for Wilma’s dream project - a row of espaliered camellias. This area looked like an archeological dig after some hours went past. No old coins or precious pottery turned up, but the amount of soil that comes out of an excavation always seems to be twice as much as you could imagine!

Wilma didn’t actually have the camellias yet, but she would be ready for them after we refilled the future garden with a special camellia blend. This special soil was mixed from the huge piles in the driveway, using a discarded kiddy pool as a big mixing bowl. Wilma’s lunch was delicious – she served ‘Fiesta Chicken’ and ‘Mexicali Salad’, saying the recipe came from an Austin Junior League cookbook called Necessities and Temptations.

During our day in Round Rock, we also worked on the two corners of the back yard, which is enclosed with a wooden fence. Wilma had made beds along the front sidewalk. The beds were fairly new, but some of the plants were growing too well! They were hanging into the walkway, jostling each other for space, and needed to be divided or transplanted. In one corner of the back, we combined the extra plants with some existing shrubs. In the other corner, there were a lot of wild morning glories that needed to be removed, and some pruning and weeding.DivasoftheDirt, corner plantingWe did run into some trouble along the back fence – Mindy noticed that a vine growing in the area behind the wooden fence bore the dreaded 3 leaves of poison ivy. A spate of garden tool scrubbing and hand washing followed, but it was too late. Annie and Donna soon had itchy spots on their hands, and after 48 hours it was apparent I had been kneeling and digging right in the roots of that hidden vine. I now know too much about Toxicodendron!

DivasoftheDirt, group
We received this email from Wilma: ” This side of my fence…looks fantastic! This misty, cold, morning I caught quite a few morning glories trying to grow up under the honeysuckle.
They're gone, now! The "new" bed [In the left back corner] looks fabulous... mealy blue sage just carrying on as if it had never moved…the [excavation site] has sunk down a bit, It rained three days in a row… soon after y'all left! So now everything's blooming and perky, thanks to the DIVAS!! I appreciate all the hard, sweaty work you put in! Can't wait until winter, when I can email you a picture of the vines starting up the espalier.”


During the summer, Ozz and I had moved from our hilltop house in deer country, to a house with an enclosed yard, in the same Northwest Austin area where Karla lives. [Actually, our floor plans are pretty similar, too.] We’d spent 5 years installing deerproof landscaping at the previous house, had grown a few tomatoes in a wire cage, and had managed to accumulate nearly 100 pots on the protected deck. [Darling Diva Annie had helped move an awful lot of those containers!] Now we were ready to make a real vegetable garden and use the small trees, flowering shrubs, herbs and perennials in the pots to landscape our new home grounds.

We also had to thin out the existing crepe myrtles. There were more than 20 crepe myrtles on our small lot, and those getting enough sun to flower displayed only one color - an intense deep pink. The myrtles had seeded along the house foundations and were growing in every area where the soil was exposed. Although we liked crepe myrtles, this quantity was actually making the air in the garden look pink. We would let some of them stay, but many would have to go!

I was so glad to have the Divas’ help to renew the front of the house. Tiny struggling nandinas surrounded a dying abelia and crepe myrtles and roses tried to grow in semi-shade. There were no flowers in the beds, but the liriope edging and boxwood were doing okay under the tall trees.

I’d lost my heart years ago to the ‘Forest Pansy’ variety of redbud when it was featured on the Victory Garden on PBS -possibly back in the late 1980’s. I couldn’t plant it then - too tender for northern Illinois. I’d watched these trees appear in Karla’s yard, and Donna’s too – now I would get a chance to grow one. Mindy could not make the garden date on Saturday, but she and Buffy came for a pre-planning session during the week, new Texas landscaping book in hand, and we figured out what could be accomplished on Saturday.
DivasoftheDirt,dig up sun plantsSaturday came, and the Divas arrived one by one. After breakfast enchiladas, they set to work digging and amending the beds along the front of the house. In the photo they are making a new woodland area – after the unbelievable speedy removal of an 11 foot-tall crepe myrtle, several spindly roses, the nearly leafless Abelia, strange weeds and dwarfed Indian Hawthornes. The Divas dug in wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of cotton burr compost, turkey compost and decomposed granite (Ozz hauled it from the u-dig section of a local place called Garden-Ville.)

The dug-up abelia was severely pruned and then potted. Donna adopted the bed under a window – transplanting into it a few of the better nandinas and a nice Sago palm that had been in a deck pot. Buffy, Annie and Karla worked on the woodland bed, planting a Callicarpa Americana [Beautyberry shrub], Rhodophiala bifida [Oxblood lilies], snowflake bulbs, yellow Texas columbines & Thalia daffodils. Garden guru Scott Ogden recommends a hard-to-find Tazetta daffodil called ‘Grand Primo’ for the Austin area. At the Anderson Mill Gardeners open house & plant sale, held at the replica Anderson Mill & Museum, I had found some ‘Grand Primo’ bulbs. They went into the new bed. The Divas left a space for the Forest Pansy redbud, bought the next day at Kimas Tejas Nursery near Bastrop.

For lunch we had Chicago style beef & pepper sandwiches and an old-fashioned cream-cheese frosted carrot cake for Karla’s birthday. There was more garden work, including the removal of more stunted shrubs and the redigging of two beds near the front steps, which Wilma decided
was her territory. She planted my Amarcrinum there. These bulbs [one from Plant Delights and the other from the Men’s Garden Club of Austin] had been living in containers for years, not very happily. DivasoftheDirt, platycodon inAnnie dealt with a triangular bed where the house meets the drive, digging and
amending it, then releasing some white and blue Balloonflowers [Platycodon grandiflora] and a reseeding kind of Coral salvia from their pots. My specialty turned out to be taking photos and falling off the porch.

Many of our Diva garden days wind up with an excursion to the Red Barn Nursery on Pond Springs Road. This day was no exception – although the parking turned out to be trickier than usual. This was Pumpkin Fest weekend, with hoards of kids added to the usual mix of gardeners and browsers. We had some ‘Pumpkin Bucks’ to spend, and we found lots to entice us – including fabulous Chrysanthemums, Lavender asters, Michelia figo [also called Banana Shrub], Camellia, and Aucuba ‘Gold dust’, a cool evergreen plant.
DivasoftheDirt, forest pansy done
The next week, Ozz & I dug up three more of the crepe myrtles. These were a more manageable size, about 6 feet tall, and the ground was accessible. This time we proceeded carefully, keeping the roots as intact as possible. Wilma appeared with her van, and hauled them away to her own yard, where they would have a chance to be attractive and useful as a screen along her back fence. We planted the Forest Pansy, and the miniature Woodland glade was a reality.

“Hi Divas, Thanks again for the fantastic work you did on Saturday. Your removal of the inappropriately placed sun-loving plants, pruning, digging, composting and lots of planting changed everything for the better! It was also incredibly valuable to have all of you see our new homegrounds, and make comments and suggestions; you noticed things that we missed, had great ideas, and were so very inspiring!” Glinda

2004 Holi-Diva Day

That was the last of our work projects for the year, but we set the date for another important meeting while we ate the beef sandwiches- our annual Christmas party.

We try to take turns being the hostess at Christmas, and Annie, Karla & I were all hoping to have a turn. Annie was an original member of the Divas of the Dirt, but had never had a chance to hold the Holiday party at her place. We thought that Annie should have priority if her schedule allowed; Karla & I had joined the Divas about the same time in 2001, and would be the backups. After a few weeks, both Annie & Karla had to drop off the list, leaving me thrilled to be the hostess. Having the Divas here for the holidays somehow transformed our ‘new’ house into our home.

As usual, we divided up the menu into categories and each of us brought part of the feast.

The announced menu was as follows:

The traditional Poinsettia cocktail, a combination of cranberry juice and champagne, along with “Mom’s Creamy Green Jello & Pecans” on curly lettuce, and butterflake rolls came from Mindy;

Appetizer - Pepperoni & pecan spread on crackers; by Karla;

Salad – Mandarin Orange salad with sweet sour dressing; by Wilma;

Entrée- Hill Country Beef Rouladen stuffed with dill pickles; by Glinda;

Vegetable – Special sweet Potatoes with a yummy crunchy topping; by Donna;

Potatoes Anna, in an iron skillet, by Buffy.

Vegetable We did a surprise switch for the next entry, saying that Annie would bring a new and different dessert, but in reality Annie brought a lovely Olive Garden-style minestrone and roasted asparagus.

The dessert was actually the traditional Amaretto Bread Pudding with a pint of sauce, brought in person by special surprise guest Sugar. It was fun to have her back for the day with all the Divas.

The 11th of December presented us with gorgeous weather in Central Texas. We decided to take the drinks and hors d’oeuvres out to the patio.

Since this is Austin, the patio is strung with little Christmas lights that will stay up all year. They didn’t have to be plugged in that afternoon - we enjoyed the pepperoni spread and sipped our cocktails in bright sunshine.
DivasoftheDirt, Xmas bistro
We came back inside for the rest of the meal, and laughed our way through all the courses, as the stories came from every side. All the Divas can cook, and everything was delicious!

The grab bag game followed, with each person in turn deciding whether to ‘steal’ from the previously opened gifts, or find out what is in one of the unopened packages. The gifts are supposed to have a garden theme, and these certainly did:

A beautiful calendar and stationery featuring an Impressionist garden theme, won by the artistic Donna

A pocket wall hanger for garden gear, with a handy soil scoop, scooped by Wilma

Two large wreaths, one of them loaded with festive red berries, acquired by Mindy

A metal nightlight sculpted in the form of a dragonfly, now glowing at Annie’s house

A metal hummingbird weathervane & floral file folders, borne home by Buffy

A birdhouse in the shape of a hat, (it was even in a pretty hatbox) that now hangs on Glinda’s fence

And the most stolen item of the day – a jeweled-wire tabletop Christmas tree from Smith & Hawken, which went home with Karla.
DivasoftheDirt, Glinda table
2004 was filled with things that don’t belong on this garden page. Like those of all women, the daily lives of the Divas bounced around from glee to grief, from tranquility to exhaustion, from boredom to exhilaration. There were bike rides, books, breastfeeding, bowling & Bunco. Some Divas relax after work by hunting down antiques, some are passionate about movies, some need to hear live music and keep up with football games, some are first in line when new restaurants open their doors, while others run the Motorola Half-Marathon. [Go Mindy!] There were graduations, concerts, family gatherings, charity events, high school reunions, church functions and conferences and some romance.

Some of us traveled to Chicago, Kentucky, or Las Vegas, California, Minneapolis, Hawaii and all around the country while others just explored the Austin area;

Some, like homing pigeons, headed east to Houston & Beaumont, or south to San Antonio.

One Diva won national recognition for excellence in her field. [Yea Annie!] Several Divas changed jobs, one changed her address, and one [we’re not telling] Diva had 2 fender-benders in the same day! Many of us had to deal with illness within our family circles, feel the day-to-day
wonders of raising the next generation, care for the previous generation, and hardest of all, some experienced the death of people they loved.
DivasoftheDirt, 2004 groupWe may have begun as gardening associates, but as we work together & we share these joys and cares with our fellow Divas, we are becoming friends for life.


What the Divas Did in 2003

January 2003 Subject: Re: Garden Club Breakfast!!!

Sugar: “Why don't we plan on Elsi’s at 10???”

Donna: ”Well, after grumping about time and place, I may not make it. I went to the doc yesterday and found out I have bronchitis. Lovely.
Mornings are my worst times, but I am getting better. Where is Elsi’s in case I make it?”

Buffy: “You need to take care of yourself. Bronchitis is nothing to take lightly, especially in your condition. So unless anyone totally objects let say Elsi’s at 10:00.
Looking forward to tomorrow!!!”

March 2003

It’s the end of March and we are finally having our first working day of 2003 at Karla’s. Mindy’s date should have been in February, but we’d been rained out again. The weather has been very windy here, with high gusts every day, kicking up all the pollen. Spring has been cool and dry, all our schedules have been weird, and Mindy has had to deal with several deaths. We feel bad for her, and these sad events have also made it hard for her to get together with us. We’re all just doing the best we can right now!

Karla made one of her wonderful casseroles with biscuits and fruit on the side. Pimiento cheese and cookies with pink icing appeared as a later treat. We hadn’t seen each other since the organizational meeting in January, and had a lot of catching up to do.

The day started at 8 AM, and ended at nearly 7 PM! A lot of it was spent pulling out old overgrown shrubs, digging new beds, etc. Karla likes shrubs with some grace and movement, but the brick ranch she moved into a few years back had very solid, large shiny evergreens – primarily Burford Hollies. They were overgrowing the whole front & blocking the windows. We managed to get them out, mostly in pieces, but were able to transplant one smaller holly to the far side of the front yard. Some small snakes were pretty ticked off when we cleared out the leaves that had collected under the shrubs.

After the main tasks were done, we again headed to Red Barn, wandering the aisles and buying some interesting plants. Donna is expecting a baby in a few months – she is still hanging out with us, but we don’t want her to do anything dangerous or overtaxing. We set the next meeting for two weeks later; we’re doing our best to catch up the schedule.

April 2003

Today the Divas met at Mindy’s ranchette in the Hill Country. We made rock edged beds right outside of Mindy’s entrance gates, and installed small gardens, emphasizing native plants, on either side of the drive.

A low, meandering stacked-stone wall existed when they bought this place years ago, but it is being redone. Some of the stones are being recycled into various projects. Mindy’s husband is good at welding, so he is making the iron gates himself, and many of the stones are becoming stone pillars with sections of ironwork in between. They might keep the deer out and the dogs in! Mindy has several acres in a country area, patrolled by 3 big Labradors. There are peach trees and a pond with goldfish, and a huge lawn under old live oak trees. We have been teasing her that she has good potential here for a wedding venue. The separate guest apartment could be useful as a dressing room for the bride and attendants, and lots of tables would fit under those live oak trees. The cooking is quite wonderful here too – it was a delicious pasta salad today.

May 2003

Our forces were diminished for this busy day at Sugar’s house. The day was pretty warm, with temps in the 90’s. Donna is only 2 weeks away from due date, not a good time to be working in that heat! Buffy had bronchitis and had been very ill. Mindy was entered in a half-mile swimming event in the early morning and arrived a few hours late.

The Divas' scheduled project was digging a large new flowerbed, transplanting a lot of stuff, mulching, etc. Buffy and Mindy are the strongest Divas, so Sugar, Annie, Karla and I really missed them. Luckily for us, one of Sugar’s neighbors came over for a while and worked with us. She said it was worth the labor to get some of Sugar's cooking. When we left, the garden was looking great but the Divas were a wreck!

Here is the breakfast recipe from Sugar:

1 Lg. onion – chopped


2 (16oz) can tomatoes

1 can Rotel tomatoes

3(4 ½ oz) cans chopped green chilies

2 cloves garlic – minced

Oregano to taste

Ground Cumin to taste

Salt to taste

½ lb. bag tortilla chips, divided in ½

12 eggs, beaten

1 ½ lb (or less) Monterey Jack & Cheddar cheese, grated & divided

3 cups of sour cream (or less)

Green onions, chopped

Sauté onions in oil until clear. Add tomatoes, chilies, seasonings, & simmer until thick. Place a layer of half of the chips in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish. Add ½ of the sauce, ½ of the cheese, & all of the eggs. Top w/ remaining chips, sauce & cheese. Top w/ sour cream & sprinkle w/ green onions. Bake at 350 degrees for approx. 40-45 min’s or until eggs set. Test w/ a knife in center. Serves 8

June 2003

In spite of our January hopes, the Divas are having another one of those years – we couldn’t get a weekend that would work for most of us until now. Donna had a lovely little boy a few weeks ago. We hope to see her soon, but she is still recovering. Our original intention was to start early since the day was heading into the mid-90’s, as usual. That’s all we have seen lately – 90’s and rainless, with no relief in sight. My extended family in Illinois has been crabbing about their too-cool weather, but we wouldn't mind swapping climates for a while.

Buffy made a wonderful casserole (one of those overnight ones with lots of cheese, bacon, eggs poured over milk, refrigerated and then baked in the morning), scones, pear preserves, biscuits, clotted cream from England, blackberries, mango, raspberries, grapes, hash browns. Annie and I were there right after 8, with the others straggling in a little later. Constant interruptions from the doorbell and the phone made breakfast a little late, but we didn't care - we were happy to catch up on talking.

After trying to make a dent in the lavish breakfast, we put on our sunscreen and went out in the heat - did a lot of pruning oak trees, and weed trees, filling up recycling bags, enlarged one flower bed and got all the sod in bags, dug up another and added compost, then transplanted stuff from the back to the front. It wasn't all that arduous, just slow and thirsty work. It made a big difference in the appearance from the street. I took a couple of photos, but the roll is new, so heaven knows when they'll actually get out of the camera.

As a counterpoint to the rich breakfast, the late lunch served at 3 PM had recipes from Weight Watchers. Buffy’s gazpacho was an uncooked recipe with fresh corn, tomatoes, peppers, avocado & fat-free chicken broth, along with lime-marinated chicken salad.

We all do this kind of thing. When you cook for your girlfriends, you know you can try fun recipes and get a very positive response. This works especially well for Buffy since her guys are not too fond of innovative dishes stuffed full of vegetables and herbs. She goes all out with cooking for the Divas, and boy do we appreciate it!

September 2003

Glinda’s turn! The Divas of the Dirt were here early on Saturday morning, and once again their task involved banishing something to which I am allergic. It’s not too logical to be a gardener when one gets rashes from plants, sinus infections from mold, and allergy attacks from pollens, but who wants to give up gardening? Not me! This time the girls dug up a bunch of Copper Canyon daisies, which are large ferny, wand-like, root-hardy shrubs with yellow flowers in late fall. They are invaluable perennials for deer country, but I am now afraid of contact. The row of plants along the utility line aren't a problem, but the ones mixed in with the more civilized flowers in the other beds had gotten totally out of control. While I was avoiding them, they grew into monsters and had smothered a lot of the other plants and flowers.

Soon the bullying daisies were gone and the east front bed had some of that black rubber edging installed to slow the creeping Bermuda grass.

Mindy brought along a guest who is starting to landscape 5+ acres, needs ideas, and wanted to see how our group worked. She is thinking of starting her own landscaping co-op and stayed a few hours, working along with us.
(Before shown above)
The Divas removed turf by the front sidewalk for the new design, giving the entry some personality. They distributed the removed grass around the east side of the house, filling in the few remaining bare spots left from last year's juniper removal project. Buffy was stuck doing the stonework, as usual - large white limestone blocks. I was the last Diva to be the recipient of rocks/stones/bricks by Ms Buff... in the other six yards there are already one or more of her constructions. The blocks were combined with decomposed granite from the Natural Gardener. This makes the entry more defined and level. Now there is a perfect space to put the two new handmade hypertufa pots, made by a local craftsman. I had oleanders in the previous [terralite] pots, but our strong winds blew them over almost every day. The oleanders are lovely, scented, and double-flowered pale yellow. I ordered them from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina a few years ago. They’ve grown beautifully and made it through some very cold winter temperatures, but they are not happy by the front entry. They can go up on the deck and get more sun. For this lightly shaded area, Donna offered me some of her extra container plants - a couple of potted boxwoods, which are hopefully deer resistant. The boxwoods look very cool in the new hypertufa containers.

When Donna came to this meeting she had her darling, nursing baby in tow; Karla worked even though her foot was in a cast; we had one spot with terrible Bermuda grass that had to be pulled; several of the Divas had run-ins with some insect they were calling a no-see-um, and in the afternoon, Sugar started rashing up... maybe the daisies or the no-see-ums? She ended up in the shower, which helped the itching.
A few weeks ago, several Divas had urged me to give them a bigger job this time, since the 2002 juniper project had not been challenging enough for them. They sure earned their breakfast today!

My hormonally distressed brain forgot that Savory Cheese pie had been last year’s menu, and I served it again. Here’s the recipe as it has evolved over the years:


Oven 350 degrees F

1 frozen pie shell, Marie Callendar if you can find it

10 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated and tossed with

2 Tablespoons flour and a little pepper

3 Tbls. Fleischmann's unsalted margarine)

2 large onions (or one really giant Texas sweet one)

1 tablespoon chopped basil (fresh off the plants on the deck!)

2 large firm tomatoes, or four Romas, sliced

3 eggs [I use free-range eggs]

3/4 cup half-and-half

Melt the butter in a large skillet, slice the onions thin and sauté them very slowly and gently until they turn golden. This takes about a half hour, but it is critical to the taste.

Meanwhile, grate the cheese and toss it with the flour. Beat the eggs and cream. When the onions are transparent and golden, turn on the oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle a third of the grated cheese over the uncooked piecrust, then arrange the onions in a layer on top of the cheese.

In the still buttery onion pan, gently heat the tomato slices with the chopped basil for a minute or two. Arrange the tomato slices over the onions, then cover with the remaining cheese.

Pour the egg mixture over the cheese. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 40 - 50 minutes, until the top browns nicely and a knife blade comes out clean.

For lunch we had Chips and salsa, and a chicken salad with fresh basil that I have been making forever. I also used a recaptured recipe from my mom’s childhood, called Burnt Sugar Cake, which my grandmother made back in the 20's and 30's. My mom knew what the caramelizing
procedure should look like, and had a good idea of the ingredients, but no one ever found a written recipe after my grandmother died. I looked through libraries for years with no luck, but one day Google turned up a winner that matches my mom’s memories.


Burnt-sugar syrup:

¾ cup regular sugar

¾ cup boiling water


2/3 cup butter, softened (I use Fleischman’s unsalted margarine)

1 cup regular sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs, separated

3 cups cake flour, sifted with 3 teaspoons baking powder and a dash of salt

¾ cup milk

½ cup of the above burnt sugar syrup

Burnt-sugar Frosting:

1/3cup butter or margarine

1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted with a dash of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Reserved burnt-sugar syrup

Pecan halves, for garnish

Burnt-sugar syrup: In small heavy skillet or saucepan, heat 3/4 cup sugar, stirring, until a brown syrup forms and mixture begins to smoke. [They really mean this, so have your exhaust fan runnin' on high!] Very gradually stir in 3/4 cup boiling water and remove from heat. Cool thoroughly.

Cake: Cream butter and sugar until light. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup burnt-sugar syrup. (Reserve the reminder for the frosting.) Add vanilla, then egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk, beating until smooth. Fold in stiffly
beaten egg whites.

Pour into two 9-inch layer pans lined on the bottom with waxed paper. Bake in moderate oven (375 F) about 25 minutes. Cool and frost. Top with nut halves if desired. [I always desire pecans on everything, how about you? I put them on in a nice spoke pattern all over the top and sides, and had no complaints whatsoever.]

Burnt-sugar Frosting: Cream butter or margarine. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, salt, vanilla, reserved burnt-sugar syrup and enough cream for spreading consistency.

Google source: Alberta Ruthrauff/ Woman’s Day Cookbook (1950s)
After we were done, Buffy, Sugar, Annie and I drove over to an area that was having their twice-yearly 'bulky pick-up'... meaning anything can be thrown out for no extra trash removal charge. The local sport of dumpster diving was in season. Two years ago Buffy scooped a vintage metal porch table that was being pitched out. No such luck this year, but I got some linking metal plant supports, and the other girls found a ton of those zinc plant labels on wires. It was more of an excuse for conversation and checking out other houses for landscaping, anyway!
The boxwoods are still in their plastic containers, hidden inside of the new hypertufa ones. That way, if the deer find boxwood irresistible, I can move them to the fenced deck. I hope they are indigestible and can stay in front!

October 2003

This Divas' meeting was at Annie’s house - lots of fun, and a nice project. There was a delicious biscuit, eggs and Swiss cheese sauce dish for breakfast, along with plums and white peaches. Annie made a few Martha Stewart recipes for lunch, too - Summer Corn Chowder & Angel Food

Annie always finds interesting plants. One of the flowers she planted was a gorgeous blue-flowering sort of shrub called a clerodendron. Some shrubs & trees in her garden are a Desert Willow, crape myrtles, a camellia, Chaste tree (Vitex), Abelia and Rose of Sharon.

Mindy was out of town with her family, Karla’s broken foot was better, but Buffy’s knee was swollen and she was on painkillers, Sugar had broken toes and had her foot in a walking cast, Donna had to leave after a few hours because she was leaking milk, and I was alternately okay or having that allergy cough. In spite of these ailments we still dug two new beds,

( front before)

(front after)...filled 4 yard bags plus another can of junk and weeds, emptied an old container of soil that smelled pretty rank, hauled compost and mulch around and planted lots of cool new stuff. After we finished the garden work, I bailed and went home for allergy medicine, but the four remaining Divas had the stamina to go check out some wheels at a car dealer and visit one of Annie’s local plant vendors.(Ed: above is the trellis from 2002)

Our tribulations inspired Annie to send this poetic note:

“Thank you Divas one and all,
Your contributions were BIG certainly not small!
With a broken toe, arthritis, allergies, back pains, lactation, and STINKY dirt too,
YOU didn't quit until we were through.
My yard looks amazing
My gratitude to you!! “

December 2003

Donna’s chance for a project was lost to pregnancy and bad weather this year, but she was gracious enough to volunteer to be the hostess for the annual Christmas event. We were all charmed by her 6-month old baby, and Hudson (the cuddly cocker spaniel) was delighted to have so much female attention.

Annie started the feast with a crab dip and a prosciutto & cheese roll up, both on crackers. Donna’s mother-in-law had given her a fabulous recipe for the pork roast sizzling in the oven. Karla brought green beans in an amazing sauce; Mindy’s delightful side dish was roasted caramelized vegetables - baby carrots, baby beets, fennel bulbs & mushrooms. Glinda made a creamy potato casserole with lots of marjoram, dill & savory. Sugar had been requested to produce our annual amaretto pudding.

We sat around drinking poinsettias and waiting for Buffy. Not wanting the pork to be ruined, we began to eat without her, just a few minutes before she flew in with a lovely mixed green salad with marinated orange segments & pomegranate seeds. We decided to serve the salad after the main course, as in Europe, and this was a good idea. The traditional amaretto bread pudding tasted even better after our palates had been cleansed!

Here is Donna’s rather terse recipe for the pork roast:


“Frozen box of spinach,

Salt & pepper,


pine nuts or pecans

a pork loin

olive oil

boursin cheese

Microwave spinach to get warm. Squeeze out water. Mix with boursin cheese, pecans, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Cut pork in half lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper- add stuffing. Tie together with baking string. Then cook 20-30 minutes per pound at 350.

Yummy!”The grab bag items were fun: a collection of gardeners’ toiletries; a metal tuteur for training vines or holding Christmas lights; a rosemary topiary in a ceramic pot; a fanciful tote shaped like a watering can; Smith & Hawken gloves & trowel; a clay dish with bird décor, which could be either bird feeder or bird bath; imported oil & balsamic vinegar.

We went upstairs to tour the baby’s room, which had been stenciled with vines, dotted with leaves, bees, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects, and had little frogs perched around the windowsills and door frame. While we were cooing and awwwing, the unchaperoned Hudson saw his chance and devoured the ham & cheese. A later lapse in attention on our part allowed him a portion of amaretto bread pudding. According to Donna, he had to be sequestered in an uncarpeted area on the following day, but we were all still smiling from our lovely Holi-Diva-Day.