Tuesday, February 28, 2017

RELIVING OUR HONEYMOON

We had a most unusual honeymoon. I arrived in Austin, Texas, on a Monday, on the Saturday we were married and on the Sunday we visited Hamilton Pool. That was our honeymoon. David was a graduate student and I had yet to find a job so we had no money. One of the guests at our wedding lent us his red Triumph Spitfire for the day, as a wedding present, and off we headed into the Texas hill country.


Someone must have told us about Hamilton Pool. The drive there, from our apartment on Speedway, was a lot more tortuous than today. At the time Hamilton Pool was on private land with a $1 entrance fee. Still a bargain today for those with a concession. As we took the rocky trail down to the grotto I saw my first Texas armadillo. So much excitement in one week!


We have visited Hamilton Pool many times since our return to Texas in 1994.mostly the day after our anniversary but sometimes on the day. Things have changed quite a bit over the years. With the explosion of residents in the greater Austin area you now have to book to visit after May1st. We weren't anticipating a crowd on our arrival at 10:45 am. in February, despite it being a Saturday. We were wrong. There is limited parking and all the parking places were taken. We had to wait until someone left and vacated a parking spot. I think it was about 15 minutes but as we were leaving a few hours later the line of cars waiting for spots reached almost to the road. I'm not sure I would have that much patience.
The trail drops quite steeply from the parking lot to the river. We first took the trail to the left which heads down to the Pedernales river. What started out as a chilly morning was turning into a beautiful day.


The creek, which feeds into the Pedernales, was running quite well. We have seen it with almost no flow, especially during the drought, although there is always some water from the springs that feed the creek. Bald cypress stand with their roots in the water. Soon they will be in leaf.


Mexican Buckeye just coming into bloom


Along with the Mexican plum.


and agarita


I even spotted this fossil ammonite on the trail. This area was once an ancient seabed during the Cretaceous period and there is plenty of marine fossil evidence to be found.



We finally arrived at the Pedernales River. After years of drought 2016 brought replenishing rains. Our lakes are full and the rivers are running full once again.


We retried our steps and continued on the trail to the grotto. Long before we arrived at the pool we could hear the waterfall. Hamilton pool is a collapsed grotto and the creek leading up to the waterfall a collapsed river. As water passed through the more permeable years it hit a layer of less permeable material and began to flow sideways eventually eroding until it collapsed.
On entering the grotto if you look to the left you will see the keeper of the cave. I am sure I am not the first to notice these eyes watching as I entered.


It's a scramble over the rocks


 and in some places tight squeeze.


And you can't help but look up and wonder when the next layer is going fall down.


As we returned to the parking lot I noticed this piece wood. I only saw one name written on the cave wall. Maybe their idea is working.



We found a picnic table and had our picnic lunch. Another honeymoon over!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

O. Bee E.

Whenever I say OBE I think of my uncle. Not that he received this honor, Order of the British Empire. It was just that he felt most of the time it was other b--s efforts that had resulted in the award.
That is true for a little bee who has been busy sealing off the hole in this mud pueblo.


He didn't build the pueblo. Those efforts were made by a small mud dauber wasp a few years ago.  He has just rented it out for the year when the occupants left.  Just outside the kitchen door, it has been there for a few years and I have witnessed several tenants over the years. I would remove it but it is just too much fun watching to see who will be next.  Don't they see the special bee house I made for them near the lemon trees?



This year it is an orchard bee, Osmia lignaria. The orchard bee is a solitary bee which favors the pollen of fruit trees. I saw one on my citrus the other day and now he is securing the future of more bees by using this empty nest by the door.


He's quite distinctive having a blue sheen to his abdomen. He has been gathering pollen from my lemon flowers, rolling it into a ball with saliva and then inserting it inside the nest. He lays an egg on the top of the pollen ball, seals that cell and then repeats until the nests filled. Usually about five. Then he seals the hole with clay. The egg will hatch, pupate and wait until early next spring to leave the nest. The first egg laid in the nest will be a female and the last a male. Obviously he has been hard at work all week as he is now putting a door on the nest.
Now he will have to hope that the parasitic wasp doesn't come by, drill a hole in the door and lay its own egg on top of the other one. Oh! yes, I witnessed that one year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A ROSE FOR THE HOUSE

I have never thought of bringing the Lady Banks' rose into the house before. Her blooms are small and really look better when seen en masse. But today, I tackled the arching branches of my lady which have reached over the wall scrambling into the far distance. How could I let those blooms go to waste.


You may be more familiar with the yellow Lady Banks' rose, Rosa banksias lutea. This white one  Rosa Banksiae Banksiae, has an interesting history, having been brought from China in1807 by William Kerr. The expedition was paid for by Sir Joseph Banks who named the rose for his wife. The cuttings were taken to Kew Gardens in London and in 1885 a visitor to Tombstone, Arizona, brought a cutting of this rose for her friend. The rose still lives. You can read all about my visit to the Rose Museum in Tombstone, where I purchased a cutting of the rose.
Blooming is about a month early this year due to our very warm spring and should continue for a few weeks.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

THE NEW COMPOST BINS

David has been hard at work on a new project; new compost bins, to cope with the ever increasing waste from the garden. We were sorely in need of larger and better placed bins to replace the wooden ones down the side of the greenhouse.

Today the final cap stone was placed on the new bins.


There are three new bins and they are constructed of masonry units. Despite the fact that the blocks are not mortared the structure is incredibly sturdy. They are filled with limestone rubble with only the caps glued in place.


Congratulations David for another fine project. And just in time for all that late winter pruning.

Meanwhile I cleaned out the old compost bins removing the stuff that wasn't composted and adding it to the new bins. Then a barrow load of mixed compost-this needs screening before I put it into the garden.


And finally about a 6" layer of the fine rich compost. I have a hundred places where I could put this.


I'm hoping that composting will be easier in the new bins. At least easier to turn. The old beds will be dismantled and the area tidied up.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

EARLY SPRING

I have never looked upon early February as being spring before. Usually our first spring bloomer is the Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens. And yes, this year it is just starting to bloom.


But our warm weather has brought a host of plants to challenge this spring bloomer. Many are the flowering bulbs, like Ipheion uniflorum with its star-shaped blue flowers.

iph

And the summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, the southern answer to the snowdrop. Why is it not called the spring snowflake?


Both theses are about a month early this year and today a solitary flower on the blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium sp. caught my eye. These are native to this area and now grow in the garden from gathered seed. This year is going to be a spectacular year for them as favorable conditions have meant an explosion in the number of plants with their iris-like leaves. Hopefully their bloom will not be spoilt by the unseasonably warm temperatures.


I dragged the citrus out of their winter home because I could see flowers beginning to develop. Within a few days this one plant was in full bloom. This was a plant I had root pruned last year and had only one or two lemons. I think it is going to make up for the this year as long as we don't see a hard freeze.


The bees have been busy for days and I can already see tiny lemons forming.


There are still plenty of lemons on the other trees and tonight, for dessert, we had crêpes drizzled with sugar and lemon juice. No need to wait for Shrove Tuesday this year.


Growing up, as I did, on the west coast of England there was never a time when I asked for it to rain. Quite the contrary I was always asking for it not to rain. As those rain-laden winds blew off the Irish Sea and rose to climb over the Pennines, they dropped their rain. But here in Texas, with no rain for weeks,  I have been praying for rain and it looks as though finally we will get some. It may be too late for some plants. My Lady Banks rose has already started blooming but the the blooms are small and many quickly dried up in the heat.


There is still the white Lady Banks in the back garden. Lots of buds but no open flowers.
And yes, the rain came. Only and inch but maybe some more next week. For now Spring continues.

Monday, February 6, 2017

GOOD GRIEF!

Just when we were enjoying some seasonable days with drizzle-love gardening in this kind of weather- they tell us it is going to be 89º tomorrow and 85º the next day! As a gardener I don't think I can take much more of this. I have spent the last few days beginning the clean up from the rain, terrible cold and even the long lasting results of the terrible hail event we had two years ago and I dread to think what this weather will bring. There is sure to be another freeze.
I might expect a little of this; paper whites in bloom, but even these are a little early for my garden.



Even a little false garlic, Nothoscordum bivalve.


and the odd grape hyacinth, Muscari starting to peak above their stringy foliage. When will I find some grape hyacinth that have more upstanding foliage?


and before the week is out the gopher plant, Euphorbia rigida, will be blooming.


and roses about to bloom. I had to put a stop to that because they need cutting back and I am not waiting any longer. Forget February 14th. It has taken me two days to cut back the roses in the birdbath circle. And I cut them back hard. Last year I didn't do a hard cut so I shouldn't have been surprised, but was, to see that many of lower branches were showing that hail damage. Now it is out and it only remains to see whether the rose will come back. If not then I will replace them with some new ones. I think they have been in there 10 years.

Bark damage caused by hail
Yes, it's a wintery scene in the English garden which doesn't get as much sun as the other gardens.


Having spent the day with the pruners I turned my attention to finishing another little job I had started at the weekend. Painting the small styrofoam cooler I was converting into yet another trough. So much easier and quicker than making the hypertufa trough and one I am starting to favor. This one was discarded by some party goer on. Dumped in a waste bin I quickly saw its potential and snapped it up. People are so wasteful. At the weekend I did the roughing up and sealing job and all that remained was to paint it, which I did this afternoon. Ever eager to get it planted I found some plants that were in need of a new home. It joins the other one I made which has a bunny ears cactus.


I have one more styrofoam trough garden to go and it's a big one. Maybe I'll get started when the temperature soars to near 90º tomorrow.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

IT'S MEYER LEMON DAY

Today is all about lemons as we drag the lemon trees out of the potting shed to get some much needed fresh air. We will probably drag them back in a gain before winters over. I probably would have left them in there a little longer were it not for the fact that they are starting to bloom. Also, it will drizzle on and off throughout the day and these plants need to be acclimatized slowly to the outdoors.


I may have to go around with a paintbrush to do a little pollinating as the bees are not around at the moment.


A couple of the trees still have lemons and today was the prefect day to make some lemon curd. You can also make lime curd using the same recipe.


The recipe is simple.

3oz butter
3 eggs
8oz sugar
juice and rind of 3 lemons. I used only two as the lemons are really big.

Combine all together in a double boiler or in a bowl over a pan of water and stir continuously until the mixture just begins to thicken. Care is needed to make sure the eggs don't scramble so you really have to watch the thickening process.


This amount will make two jars. Pot up into clean warm jars( I usually sterilize the jars in the oven) Keep in the fridge or freeze.


I am planning to take this as a hostess get tonight.