Sunday, December 21, 2014


My dear husband made a new owl house this week. The squirrels and ants can have the old one! That one was set deep in the trees and although we did have an owl roost in there one time we have never had a successful nesting. It was also difficult to watch over.

Here is the new box in a much more open situation. The bonus is I can keep my eye on it from our shower. The new box has a hinged door on the front which will make it much easier to clean. Any signs of squirrels setting up house will be quickly interrupted.

Originally there was a regular bird house in this spot, which David removed yesterday. He only put it up last spring and to our surprise there was a beautiful nest inside. Should I have been surprised? Not really, because the wrens make nests all over our garden. I have no idea if they used this one but it is beautifully made with a deep cup lined with soft materials like wool, insulation and feathers.
One of the nice things about this bird house is that it has a sliding panel across the back which makes it easy to clean out. We plan to put this up again in the front garden.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for an owl family this spring.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


You may be dreaming of a white Christmas or there may be visions of sugar plums dancing through your head. Over here we are thinking of lots of greens. I am having a really super winter vegetable crop year. With only 2 frosty nights and lots of warm sunny days and a sprinkling of rain it must be perfect conditions. I even have peas! The first successful fall planting.

There's lots of this. Napa cabbage.

Although the the first pick doesn't have a very tight head I'm not complaining. You can see what dish I made at the end.

Homegrown broccoli is so tender there is no need to peel the stalks.

And lots more peas in the making.

This particular snap pea is called Cascadia. It is tender at all stages even when the peas have fattened up in the pod. You'll find it at Botanical Interests.

Delicious peppery arugula. Cut and grow back again.

Dinosaur kale, delicious stir-fried in olive oil with garlic.

More peppery mustard greens.

Beds of chard and broccoli.

Multiplying onions, from Bob and Renee. The lemon tree came out of the potting shed today and received a root pruning. We lifted it out of the pot, amended the soil bringing it up to the right level and pruned some of the long straggly roots.

I finally got around to thinning a row of the beets the other day, putting the trimming in a green smoothie.

So this is the salad we had the other night  using the Napa cabbage. It is Asian style with a peanut sauce. You can add whatever you have on hand. I used cauliflower, carrots, radish and bean sprouts. Topped with scallops and shrimp it makes a delicious meal. I have  Renee Studebaker to thank for the recipe, which she shared in the Austin American Statesman years ago. It's one of the reasons I grow Napa Cabbage.

Now to go outside and pick dinner.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Yesterday was a perfect day for the 72 mile Hill Country drive to Fredericksburg and Johnson City, to see the lights. Temperatures in the low 70s meant shorts and short sleeves for some but I opted for long pants because I knew when that sun went down, with such a clear sky, it would be mighty chilly.
On the way we stopped in at a couple of shops in Johnson City before continuing on to Fredericksburg to walk main street.

We'll be back later to see the lights on the Marktplatz and the traditional German pyramid, thought to be the inspiration for the Christmas tree.
Our favorite place to eat is the Navaho Grill and last night's meal did not disappoint. Cuisine of the south is an apt description. David started with a posole soup and I chose the corn and shrimp chowder which had plenty of southern heat. We followed this with main courses of Texas quail and braised short ribs( the Texas Wagyu organic beef raised like kobe beef) Both meals were wonderful but left us no room for dessert. The chef was even kind enough to come and and tell me something about the recipe for quail I had two years ago. I had been trying to replicate it, to no avail. We now returned to see the lights in the marktplatz.

Then it was on to Johnson City to the Pedernales Electric company and the fairyland of lights.

The dazzling display never ceases to fill me with a sense of wonderment. Our live oak trees sure dress up pretty.

We  encircled the courthouse, which always reminds me of a wedding cake, and then headed for home.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Mild days have meant that Texas gardens have not yet shut down for the winter. Many gardeners are reporting very early bloom times for plants such as iris and clematis.

I am a little sad that this mullein has decided to bloom early. Over the last month it has produced a rosette of leaves and sent out a flower stalk which is now in bloom. It was supposed to do this next year.

The same is true of the Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, which is usually a February bloomer in my garden.

Blanket flowers, Gaillardia pulchella, seem to bloom year round.

Heart-leaf ice plant, Aptenia cordifolia with welcome pink blooms.
But the general scene is one of a garden settling down for a winter's nap.

It's such a beautiful day I need to get outside and cut a few things back in readiness for spring. Wishing you a Happy Bloom day. Please join May Dreams Gardens and see what is blooming in other gardens.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

SISSINGHURST, Book review and giveaway

Are you dreaming about curling up on a chilly winter's day with a great gardening book? Then here is your chance. I am giving away a copy of this new book about the iconic British garden, Sissinghurst. Details at the end of this post.

When Vita Sackville-West first visited Sissinghurst it was love at first sight. She wasn't deterred by the crumbling buildings and walls, all that remained of a former Elizabethan Hunting palace. She turned to her then 12 year old son and said, 'I think we shall be happy in this place' and so she was. From May 1930 until 1962 she and her husband, Harold Nicolson, designed and planted the gardens at Sissinghurst castle.

The garden has an incredible history, and who better to tell the story than Sarah Raven who is married to the Nicolson's grandson. With access to all the writings, personal photographs of the Nicholsons and having lived at Sissingurst, Sarah is eminently equipped to tell the story of this garden. She shares the story with Vita herself whose writings are also included in the book.
I was surprised when the book arrived to find it a rather chunky 6"x 9" So much easier to handle than the usual books about gardens. Divided into 3 major parts and amply illustrated with family photos of  the garden through time, it is easy to see that Vita fulfilled her dream. A dream which is now in the care of the National Trust.
 Sarah Raven called upon the many writings of Vita, who wrote gardening columns in the Observer newspaper and Country Life magazine, her own garden journals and letters to Harold about the garden. The book is divided into 3 major sections.

Part 1 is about The People and the Place.
Part 2 Vita's Garden Themes. Descriptions of the roses and other plantings in the garden are to be found here as well as planting on walls, pruning, shrubs and seasonal advice.
Part 3 The Smaller Canvas. The seasons of painterly plants, cutting gardens and containers for indoors and out.
She has advice that I might well take myself. 'I advise every gardener to go around his garden now-and make notes of what he thinks he ought to remove and of what he wants to plant later on.'
How I loved to read about her style of gardening, not unlike my own. ' She also liked the abundance self sowing gave you, the miraculous appearance suddenly of of many hundreds of Californian poppies in the cracks of the Lime Walk paths which she banned the gardeners from weeding out' 'It was to be hospitable to wildlings'

My photo of the gardens from the tower, 2004
I requested the book to review partly because I have visited Sissinghurst on two occasions at which time I knew only a little of the history or of the making of the garden. I now feel equipped for a return visit. Whether on not you have the chance to visit this garden you will enjoy reading the story of how it came to be as well as the practical gardening information included in the book.

Vita Sackville-West was born in 1892 at Knole in Kent. She was an award winning poet, garden writer and published 12 novels. She died at Sissinghurst in 1962
Sarah Raven has written many books on gardening, cooking, flower arranging as well as gardening programs on TV. She runs her own cookery school at her nearby farm.

The book is published in the USA by St Martin's Press, New York.

If you would like the chance to win this book then please leave a comment on this posting. I will choose the winner by random number  and announce the winner on the evening of December 14th. Please leave information on where you can be reached in the comment. Offer open to US residents only.

Friday, December 5, 2014


We were gone for 9 days over Thanksgiving and I have been playing catch-up all week. I didn't miss much over the last few days weather-wise but today was a different story. Misty this morning but warm enough to wear shorts. Definitely a day to be spent outdoors. Weeding is the order of the day-and there are so many of them. But first a walk around to see what's in bloom.

After that short spell of winter with several frosts we are back to more seasonable temperatures. The kind plants love. The globe mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua,  is no exception. These milder temperatures always bring out the best in this plant.

The bees were also out today. Too busy to bother about me trying to hone in on a close-up. On previous warmer days they have been all over the alyssum but today they favor the mallow.

No one is visiting the yellow bulbine, Bulbine frutescens, save the gardener. I had a nice surprise this year when tens of seedling bulbines appeared in the cracks of the pavers. That is a first in all the years I have had them. It was a tough year for the mother plants as extremely cold winter temperatures killed many of the plants. Native to South America my zone 8 garden presents a problem during very cold winters.

This weather will be short-lived. Cooler temperatures are expected for the weekend but the plants won't mind.
I hope you have an enjoyable weekend in the garden or if the weather keeps you indoors then enjoy your gardening books.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


If you went to the stores at the moment you might be forgiven for not knowing whether we were about to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. After all we have been seeing Christmas trees and hearing carols for some time now. But it seems the nurseries might have it wrong too.

I picked up this plant the other day at my local nursery and it was labeled Christmas cactus. Didn't I remember reading somewhere recently that there were two species of this plant, the Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus?  So I did a little research and came up with this enlightening information.

There are two kinds of this cactus; the Christmas cactus,  Schlumbergera bridgessi, and the Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata. They come in a variety of colors such as red, peach, white and the pink seen here. But it is the Thanksgiving cactus which we normally see for sale around this time of the year as it comes into flower about a month before Christmas. There are two ways to tell the Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus apart. The first is by looking at the flattened stems, the phyllocades, which have 2-4 pointed projections on the Thanksgiving cactus, as opposed to more rounded projections on the Christmas cactus. But an easier way is to look at the anthers on the stamens which are yellow on the Thanksgiving cactus, seen above, and purplish on the Christmas cactus.

But there is yet another holiday cactus called the Easter cactus,  Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, which is named so because it blooms later in the year. It has the same flattened phyllocades but they are even more rounded. I have this one, seen above, picked up at a moving sale. Last year I noticed it start to bloom in June. I now know why.
The secret to good blooming around the holiday season is to give the plants increasing darkness from September on, and to keep the temperature as close to 68° as possible, with no more than 8-10 daylight hours. Only water when the well draining soil is dry.
So check out your cactus and see which one you have. I can almost guarantee that if you bought it at this time of the year it will be the Thanksgiving cactus. Mine is.

                                                      HAPPY THANKSGIVING