Sunday, July 23, 2017


A friend went away for a couple of weeks leaving her indoor cat with only an occasional visitor to feed and water him. When she arrived home the cat never stopped meowing for over an hour. He had so much to tell her, mostly about how much he had missed her but probably about leaving him for so long too.

If plants could do the same thing I know I would be getting an ear-full right now. While I was busy swanning around Europe for a month my poor garden was slowly desiccating. I really did try my best to prepare it for my absence but I also rely on a little rainfall to help out. It was not forthcoming this time and my drip irrigation system is no match for this brutal Texas sun. (The garden is too much of a responsibility to leave to someone so I let it fend for itself.) There is a lot of damage out there.
You probably had no problem identifying the desiccated individual above. When I left there were a couple of nice green cantaloupes, which I carefully wrapped in netting, to thwart the critters.

I was so looking forward to enjoying a plate of melon with prosciutto, just as we have had many times in the past 4 weeks.

So, you can imagine how I felt when the reality sank in that my lovely cantaloupes would not be on the menu. Ah! well, maybe next year.

All my cactus and agaves are in pretty bad shape. Most of them were under cover where they only get morning sun but the dry heat has most of them shriveled and sunburnt. There is plenty of sun scald on the ones that are in the open.

But I have learnt one thing over the years and that is that these will mostly repair themselves when they get a little water and temperatures moderate. For now I am getting out the sunscreen cloth to give them a little relief and next year I will put them under the trees outside the garden.

It is never a good thing to arrive home in the late afternoon, when the day has taken its toll. That first  walk around the garden can be heartbreaking.  Much better to wait until the morning when new flowers will have opened on the gaura and will be wafting on the early morning, cooler air. Cooler by Texas standards at 75° and enough to give a little respite for the plants.

My first morning, jet lag had me up before 5am and, in the dark, doing my first job; filling the stock tank pond in the entry garden which was down about 12" Fortunately because the plants are in floating islands they had survived the drop even though leaning. As daylight broke there were a couple of lovely surprises. Both the white echinopsis and the plumeria were flowering.

Then I began to water with the hose giving the plants growing in the gravel a much needed drink. That has been my main focus for two days in the short window of cooler mornings. Just a little water each day to get the plants used to the fact that I am home to take care of them. And this morning a water lily in the recently filled stock tank bloomed with a beautiful white flower. ( A passalong from my friend Cat at the Whimsical Gardener)

Things are already starting to look up.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


This will go down in my gardening history as the year I pruned. It wouldn't take much for anyone visiting my garden to see that pruning is not high on my list of gardening skills. Pruning usually comes as a last desperate measure to deal with the unruly growth about to swallow the whole garden. The first to be pruned was the Rosa Zephirine drouhin in the front courtyard.

This is a last ditch effort on my part to save this rose. It was in terrible shape with mostly old wood that had become unproductive. All kinds of errant shoots were interfering with our sitting comfortably in this area. At the same time the wire supports along the wall were sagging and looking quite unsightly. I came across the idea of replacing the wire with wood at East Ruston Old Vicarage and thought it would look well on this wall, the lines playing off the over head beams to the left. A quick word with David and no sooner said than done. The rose liked it too because it has sent out all manner of new shoots with a promise of a better flowering next year.
The 1x2" boards are offset from the wall using a piece of cut sprinkler pipe. That gives me enough room to tie in the canes and and provide breathing space behind. I am looking forward to a floriferous rose next year.

Pruning job number 2 was a much bigger job. It involved the pyracantha in the herb garden. If only I had pruned it annually keeping its growth tight against the wall.

When a job becomes a repetitive nightmare then you know it is time to do something. The pyracantha had just become a wall of solid, thick green growth with the need to constantly prune. A couple of times in the past the weight had caused it to fall off the wall. The job of climbing the extension ladder to deal with the top growth always fell to David. Then this spring, on the Master Gardeners' tour I learnt a better look for a pyracantha. It may take some time for mine to look like this but I think I will get there in the end.

It took over a week of work to get it to look like this. Up and down the ladder deciding which branches should be cut back. I did all the lower work unaided but needed David to prune out the top section, as I told him which branch he could cut. I am pleased with the result and hope that in time I will get it all pruned back to hug the wall. Already it has sent out new shoots and I have been cutting back all the new growth. I think the mocking bird will not be happy as this is his winter hangout.

And if it doesn't work I can always start over. In the meantime that wall needs a good cleaning.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Twice this morning I was surprised by a new heady fragrance in the air and I think I know why. At 9:30am even though the thermometer said 82° it felt like 93° and that humidity is picking up the fragrance.

After many weeks without appreciable rain, 4 weeks ago we had over an inch. It seemed to wake everything up. We have moved into summer mode with daily temperatures in the high 90s and insufferable humidity. I'm sure it never used to be like this. Houston maybe but not Austin.

I can only bear to be outside for a short period of time before drowning in sweat. Very early I was out in the front courtyard, which has had little supplemental irrigation. The day lilies were going into a serious decline with brown withered leaves. A little hand watering was in order. That was when I noticed a fragrance and turning to look I realized it must be coming from the summer phlox, Phlox paniculata 'John Fanick'. I bent down to sniff and sure enough that was the source. I must get more of this plant next year.

A short time later I was crossing the driveway when another blast of fragrance hit me. There is only one plant blooming out there and that is the retama, Parkinsonia aculeate, which is in magnificent flower. The sound of bees along with that fragrance shouted 'Summer'.

In the vegetable garden I feel like I am in California with the fragrance of citrus. A long dry period followed by rain seems to have triggered a second bloom.
The same with the Meyer lemon. I could never have too many of those so I am hoping this will mean a bountiful crop. I hope it isn't too warm out there for the bees.

Calamondin orange tree with new blooms. I'm hoping for another marmalade making day in the winter.

Lots of plants have responded to the rain. The Texas sage, day lilies, California poppies and iris are all flowering for the second time. I'm wondering what the rest of the year holds in store for us all.

Saturday, June 17, 2017


Do you have a hard time finding the perfect plant to fill in the spaces in your pavers? If you've tried thyme you know how much work it is to keep it looking presentable. The same with grass. But quite by accident I found the perfect plant.  Creeping oregano, Origanum vulgare humile.

I had originally planted it in my herb garden but finally moved it to a new home last year, outside the potting shed. It was more than happy there and began to spread into the spaces between the pavers. It's tight, low growing appearance makes it perfect for this application. The original plant was variegated but much of that has been lost with just the odd few places still showing their former character.

Just the odd trim now and then maintains its neat and tidy appearance. Because it is so compact it takes foot traffic well. I am hoping it will creep to the front of the potting shed door and replace the mint. In fact I am more than happy for it to spread throughout the paving. But then it would have to oust the mint and I'm not sure it could do that.

Friday, June 9, 2017


One thing that always surprises me, and more so this year because we had such an early spring, is how much is still blooming in the June garden. Our recents rains have probably helped extend the life of some plants, like the California poppies, which make a great companion for the Bee Balm, Peter's purple.

And when I thought the white one on the edge of the pool looked ready to pack it in for the year it decided to bloom again. Admittedly not quite as perfect and the flowers are smaller, but it still has a few days of bloom left before I cut it back.

This nameless day lily, a plant rescue, is the last of the day lilies to bloom. A parsley plant, going to seed, adds a fine backdrop.

The sunken garden is due for a big tidy, which involves cutting back the skullcaps, chocolate daisies, and blanket flowers to keep them blooming.

The same applies to the gaura which seems want to take over.

I have struggled to grow cleome in the past but this year seems to be the year for it to do well. I wish I had bought more than just the one.

I am thrilled with the hanging basket that I purchased this year. It was in a smaller basket and when the wind knocked to the ground breaking one of the plastic hangers, I was forced to repot it in a larger basket, in which I used baby diapers line the bottom! I pruned it back and it has now made up for lost time.

It hangs outside the kitchen window where I can admire it.

 In the front garden now that the spring bloomers have faded, there is just the odd pop of color from a flowering cactus.

Or the peach brugmansia which opened up a whole new display of flowers today.

What a show!

For a little respite from all this color I just have to take a walk outside the gate. There everything is green and serene.

Monday, June 5, 2017


When I saw this flower growing in Melody McMahon's garden in San Antonio she promised me some cuttings. I met up with her last summer at the Texas Hill Country Olive ranch where she passed on a couple of those cuttings. I was delighted when they survived the winter indoors. I repotted them in late winter and a few weeks ago I noticed what appeared to be a baby flower bud. Yesterday the bloom opened and I was there to photograph it.

The flower is a member of the hibiscus family, Hibiscus schizopetalus, known more commonly as coral hibiscus, Japanese lantern and native to tropical East Africa. The lacy flowers, which hang from a long pedicet, are deeply pinnately lobed and curve backwards to expose the stamens.
 The bloom was short lived and today had fallen off. So glad I caught this beautiful bloom and hope the summer will bring many more.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Also known as the paddle plant, desert cabbage or dog's tongue Kalanchoe thyrisiflora, is one of the easiest succulents to grow. Not only that, it will keep you and your friends supplied for the rest of your life.

In the past I have kept them in a shady location with only a short spell in the morning sun. But I was reading recently that it will take quite a bit of sun and sun will result in it taking on that orange glow around the edges. That definitely gives it a little more pizazz.

This year I moved the hypertuffa trough from the Spanish Oak garden into the Front courtyard garden
and filled it flapjack plants that had been in another planter. They are exposed to the full afternoon sun and seem to be doing very well.

This one in a similar exposure has only faint tinges of red. The plant is monocarpic so when it flowers   that will be the end of its life, but it will leave plenty of children and grandchildren behind.

Either way it has a become one of my favorite plants.

Friday, May 26, 2017


Wander to the back of my vegetable garden and you'll find a 4X2' stock tank water garden tucked in behind the potting shed wall.

 We added it a few years ago to fill in an empty spot that was an awkward shape. It had become a weeding nightmare and covering that extra area meant less weeding. It did not mean less work! Beautiful as a pond may be it does involve some maintenance but the rewards are high. This week I had 5 of the 'Colorado' water lilies open at the same time. Later the dwarf yellow Nymphaea Pygmaea Helvola ' opened its first bud. This water lily is more hardy and can be wintered over quite easily in freeze areas as long as the water doesn't freeze to the bottom the pond. I remember reading a long time ago that exotic water lilies will be up on stalks and hardy native ones will be floating on the water. I wonder if this is true?

Both these water lilies were divisions from my friend Pam Penick who gardens at Digging and who has an 8' stock tank garden. In the summer the Colorado water lily can quickly cover the surface of the pond. You need that to keep down the algae bloom.
To add a little height I added a couple of native limestone rocks, on which sit a ceramic frog. Today I noticed that a seed from the dwarf papyrus had settled in one of the depressions in the rock.

I have a couple of plants growing in floating islands, A variegated Japanese sedge and a dwarf papyrus. Directions on how I made these floating islands can be found here. Regrettably my lovely fish fountain succumbed to the two nights of 18° temperatures this winter. The water continued to flow which at least kept the ice from completely freezing over but caused the concrete to spall and eventually break apart. So sad to see it go. It has been replaced by a small bubbling fountain.

Those water lilies were down at the bottom of the pond during this freeze period so they survived to bring me joy again this summer. The papyrus and sedge in large buckets in the greenhouse.

Monday, May 22, 2017


Let's look at the really rewarding part of gardening; the walking around and taking in what you have achieved and then those, somewhat rare for me, moments, just sitting and enjoying the sights smells and sheer loveliness of nature.

On Thursday, I went out, camera in hand, to see if there was anything new. Wow! The Echinopsis was blooming. Three gorgeous pink flowers on what I believe is Anastasia. Isn't she gorgeous? It is a fleeting flowering with the buds opening during the night and closing by lunchtime. Their job over.

I can't tell you the number of times I have missed that fleeting moment, but not this particular day. Thank goodness I walked around in the morning because I could so easily have missed the open flowers. You can see another bud between the two flowers and that one opened on Friday. One of the withered flowers is visible to the right.

I don't know if there are night-time visitors. Maybe they don't exist here because this is not the natural habitat for the Echinopsis which comes from South America. The only visitor I have ever seen is a tiny bee and he was there again today rolling in the pollen. In fact there were two of them.

That was not the only cactus to be blooming on Thursday. Along the outside edge of the walls I found another cactus in bloom. This one is the Nipple cactus, Coryphantha sulcata, a Texas native. The flowers last a little longer, usually a couple of days. I'm happy to say that the rains last summer have prompted number of babies to pop up around the base although it will be years before ti forms a good sized clump.

There was another surprise in the front Bluebonnet( currently bluebonnet less ) meadow.

A single stem of standing cypress, Ipomopsis rubra. Where did that come from? It was right next to the clump of lace cactus and I had never noticed its feathery foliage before. The one standing cypress I did have in this bed, and which I had been watching for weeks, had had its top nipped off. Deer!!! I must think about getting some seeds to plant in this area in the hope of more flowers.

I was surprised to see the first Mexican hats, Ratibida columnifera, blooming. I wonder how many different colors of flower will show up this year?

That prompted me to go up to the top meadow and see if there were any more colors. A little disappointing this year.

But I did observe all this activity on the milkweed pod.

I left them to it and walked down the culvert where I saw these tiny beauties.Mountain pink, Centaurium beyrichii, and the tiny yellow, ubiquitous daisy. I must try to collect seeds from the mountain pink because I think I have a place for it inside the garden.

And returning through the gate there was the anole waiting for a photograph.

Even if you don't take your camera with you take a walk around your garden every day. You may find some surprises.