When Jay told me at the beginning of the year that he wanted to start a regular feature on gardeners from around the Lone Star state – not necessarily professionals, he said, but regular people who just happen to have a garden instinct and a green thumb – I immediately jotted down the names of several people. Right near the top of that list was this month’s featured gardener, Carolyn Williams.
Hailing from a line of Texans five generations long, Carolyn has a certain credibility and contentment in her role as a gardener. She is not just a good gardener but a fun gardener, with a deep love for her family, her roses and tomatoes, her Texas roots and her Longhorns.
Our paths first crossed in the spring of 2000 while attending the training course for the Travis County Master Gardeners. At the time Carolyn was the office manager and travel coordinator for the University of Texas Longhorn Band. Can you imagine the logistics involved in such a job? From booking travel and lodging for the band to locating misplaced uniforms, she shepherded thousands of students through the frenzied and demanding season of marching band and football, all the while lending a supportive ear to their queries and quandaries. And as fate would have it one of those band kids was my oldest daughter, Katie, who earned a spot on the UT drumline in the fall of 2004. During those years Carolyn would occasionally lend ME a sympathetic ear; but as quickly as I could voice a concern over Katie’s studies and other responsibilities outside of band, Carolyn would calm any worries with comforting assurance of the organized, cooperative and capable environment of the band family.
When she retired they had to hire two people to take her place – that tells you that Carolyn is a take charge, get-it-done kind of person, and after retiring from the Longhorn Band she eagerly began to transform her backyard, utilizing the knowledge gained as a Master Gardener to give her garden new life.
As Carolyn says, “It’s so much better when you have a garden that sings to you rather than one that moans to you.”
Name: Carolyn Williams
Location: Austin, Texas
Years gardening: 50+, started helping my grandmother in her garden when I was young.
Years gardening in this garden: 37
Favorite thing to grow: Spring – roses & tomatoes; fall – salvias/sages/roses, etc.
Best growing tip: Learn what grows naturally or easily adapted in your area! Amend your soil with compost every year. Keep records and learn from your mistakes.
Best pest control tip: Empty all water in the summer for mosquito control (somewhat), pick tomatoes when they first start turning pink or the birds/squirrels will eat them. If you have deer, make sure you research what plants they (mostly) will not eat.
Best weed control tip: After a rain and/or watering an area, pull up weeds in order to get the roots out or you’ll just have to redo a week later.
Biggest challenge: To maintain a large yard/garden and try to improve it along life’s path.
Favorite soil amendment: Compost always first, followed by a good overall fertilizer.
Preserving your harvest: This year I put up some Purple Hull peas and by the end of summer I will put up some fresh tomatoes to use for soups/stews during the fall and winter. Always freeze cut-up basil & oregano with olive oil and then pop them into freezer bags. Great for using throughout fall and winter!
Favorite advice: Gardeners make great friends to share life’s bounty with!
Postscript: Though Carolyn bleeds orange, I believe she has a little soft spot for the Maroon and White. The beautiful ‘Peggy Martin’ rose that survived Katrina would never had made it to the retail trade – and Carolyn’s backyard – without the concerted efforts of retired A&M horticulture professor and rose expert Bill Welch. Read the story here: http://aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/southerngarden/PeggyMartinrose.html.
And she would not have had the opportunity to become a Master Gardener in the spring of 2000 if it hadn’t been for an Aggie – Skip Richter – Travis County’s Extension Horticulture Agent at the time. With an earnest desire to become a Master Gardener, Carolyn contacted the organization to sign up for the spring class only to be told that it was full. Because of her UT obligations taking a fall class was not feasible so she contacted Skip to plead for a spot in the spring class, explaining her involvement with the Longhorn band. This was just a month or so after the Aggie Bonfire tragedy in November 1999, and when Skip realized Carolyn’s connection with the Longhorn band and their moving halftime tribute at that year’s post-Thanksgiving game (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rLj3vw5fwI) he arranged for her to take the class. A wise decision on his part as she went on to lead the organization as President and continues to be actively involved 15 years later. As I said, she is a get-it-done type of person, with a kindhearted and gracious spirit – just what we need more of these days.