Human Flower Project

Gardening Weenie: Surrender to Win

After nine years of meager success, little fun, and too much hideousness in the yard, we cry UNCLE, Uncle Stan.


Unconditional Surrender

to Texas weather, personal failing, Stan the expert

Photo: Bill Bishop

Shear your own sheep and card your own wool and spin your own yarn and knit your own hairshirt. Let’s hear it for DIY! Self-reliance gets a good rap, and deserves it, from anyone who as much as skimmed the Whole Earth Catalogue – also, from Emersonians, bomb-shelterites, the Amish, small children, Millennialists, and cheese-making monks. As for gardening, do-it-yourself goes without saying. Otherwise it doesn’t amount to gardening at all – you’re just possessing property and grinning stupidly at undeserved compliments.

We are all for self-reliance, except when the self is unreliable. As in Will not countenance the thought of the desert plants even though said-self inhabits what is for all practical purposes a desert environment…

imageIceplants? Something we never would have dreamed of, much less bought or planted, but now, iceplants it is

Photo: Human Flower Project

As in Refuses to endure mosquitoes while hand watering on 100 degree days (of which we have had at least 44 in 2008, and the year’s not over yet!)…

As in Deeply prejudiced against succulents.

As in Weaker-willed than bamboo.

As in Lacking the designer gene.

You know what’s coming. Yes, we are ashamed to admit what we are nonetheless elated to witness: that someone is turning our ugly front yard into something beautiful and we are paying him for it.

Stan Powers was recommended by our neighbors the Todds, whose yard we love. Its compatible plants actually seem to enjoy living in Austin. Though Stan selected and put in the plants, David Todd is outside working lots, pulling up weeds and trimming, sowing wildflowers; his diligent example will have to guide us.

imageThe Todds’ yard,

our inspiration

Photo: Human Flower Project

But after nine years here, yanking away ivy, dandelions and Bermuda grass, after spreading several big loads of topsoil, after many plantings (and deaths) and even some sporadic watering, we were left with a desultory scene. There was a hodge-podge of heights and scales. The “grass” – a mishmash of St. Augustine, horse herb, Bermuda, and misc. ?—was uniformly brown. With this year’s drought, which continues, the few prettyish things needed IV fluids and rehab; meanwhile, bamboo, runaway periwinkle and hackberry sprouts all marched on.

Stan talked and listened. He gave a lot of thought to the lot, the neighborhood and the plants that could do well here. He managed to use most of what we hadn’t killed, moving things to more congenial locations. And principally, he cleaned everything up. The healthy old nandinas have been transplanted to the north side making a friendly fence. Straggly roses have been brought out into full sun where they’ll stand a fighting chance. The old broken elm came down, and two weird Desert Museum Palo Verde trees, with trunks chameleon green, are settling in. Stan broke up a thicket of agaves, keeping the five biggest plants and, we trust, sending the pups off to good homes. There’s lots more happening and in the works….

Self-reliance? Happily, we will continue our own formless limp-along gardening in the side yard. We can hold as many anarchist meetings among the poppies and nests of lantana out there as we like.

imageGetting a new start on the moonscape

Photo: Human Flower Project

Meanwhile, the house and huge old oak out front appear to have gained considerable self-esteem – which we know is “Stan-esteem.”

There are some miracle gardeners around this city—Zanthan, Pam Penick, Jill Nokes, Lucinda Hutson,  and Annie, the Transplantable Rose, to name a few. They get up and do what needs to be done to make a parcel of Austin, Texas, beautiful and keep it healthy. Our hat is off to these reliable selves…

as it is off to Stan Powers, for taking on what we were no more capable of doing than removing a cataract or making cheese.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12/29 at 05:34 PM


Where is it written that everyone has to know (or have the time) to turn their property into the garden of their dreams? Julie, you are to be congratulated on working with a talented designer to get the garden you want. I think it’s a smart move. And it will still be YOUR garden since the design reflects your desires and you’ll be involved in the maintenance.

I truly hope you’ll show us the progress of your new garden’s creation, Julie.

P.S. Thanks for the very generous shout-out too.

Posted by Pam Penick on 12/30 at 12:30 AM

Sorry that you had to “cry UNCLE” though it’s reassuring that the HFP guru has garden woes too.  Seems like you are in good hands with Stan Powers.

Posted by Georgia on 12/31 at 01:18 PM

Well, its a gorgeous house and if Stan the Man can make you a garden like he made the neighbors, I think you are going to be one happy homeowner. I am waiting for the results!

Happy New Year!

Posted by M A on 01/01 at 04:33 PM

Hi Julie,
Here’s a little something about making a garden. Don’t you love her name?
This is from a very early Garden Club of America Bulletin (1914)

“Failures and Successes of my Garden”
by MISS FLORENCE L. POND, Garden Club of Michigan

The first disastrous crop of my garden was a rotation of destructive
swindlers calling themselves gardeners. Each destroyed something his
predecessor had planted. Their misdemeanors included the uprooting
of Delphiniums and Roses, exposures and killing of seedlings, lopping
the lower branches of two fine Spruce trees and discharging themselves.
while threatening to “go to law” unless paid for their unfinished engagements.
Finally a really good gardener appeared, intelligent about growing,
but taking no responsibility for the grouping of plants. By that
time it was too late to start perennials, and local florists were short of
annuals, so kind neighbors and Garden Club friends contributed seeds,
cuttings and advice.
In desperate haste and without regard to color or symmetry every
growing thing available was thrown into the zealously fertilized earth.
The June sunshine being propitious, vegetation started into activity
with a vengeance.
Castor beans sprung up in a night, overshadowing Sweet Alyssum
and Mignonette. Tall red Cannas fought for ground with pale pink
Cosmos and Shasta Daisies. Sweet William tried to strangle yellow
Marguerites. Blue Ageratums were lost in a border of Coleus. Rose colored
Zinnias resented the neighborhood of Scarlet Salvia, which, in
turn, blushed at the proximity of Bachelor Buttons. “Safety first”
seemed to be the slogan of the Snapdragons, which lay hidden all summer
under massive Elephants’ Ears. There were August days when all
the flowers in the garden fairly screamed at one another, and were only
quieted by being taken into the house where, segregated in cool comers.
they gradually regained their equanimity. Eventually the garden riot
was quelled by the arrival of some quiet orderly platoons of Dahlias.
Gladioli and Asters, but the great success of the season proved to be
the fact that one garden ignoramus had acquired by experience a few
of the rudimentary principles of planting a garden

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/01 at 06:24 PM

“We are all for self-reliance, except when the self is unreliable.”  Great words of advice for the well-intentioned do-it-myself person that I am! I intend to move that plant, fix the leak in the pond, divide the perennials, amend the soil with compost, and generally make heaven on earth, or at least my little plot. Maybe it’s time to call in help?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/01 at 08:33 PM

Thank you so much, all, for these rejoinders, affirmations, and provisos re: “Swindlers.” Things seem to have stalled around the holiday, but I have faith. Stan and his assistant Alfonso are above all plantsmen, and they understand—having witnessed it—the extent of my laziness. Xeric we go.

The drought has really been brutal. I know I’ll never see the likes of some of my favorite plants and flowers again until we uproot and leave Texas—then again, the grey sodden days we spent in Kentucky are reminders. Every garden comes with a price.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/01 at 11:26 PM
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.