Wednesday, October 29, 2008


If you haven't already certified your garden as a wildlife habitat let me tell you that it is very easy. All you have to do is to provide food water and shelter for the various animals that live in your neighborhood.
Two evenings ago we were having dinner outside at dusk and a large owl came swooping down and landed in a tree. We both looked at each other and said "wow" and then talked about how we enjoy so much wildlife in our garden. We hear owls calling every night. Judging by the number of mice and cotton rats this is pretty good hunting territory. I caught this little guy in the potting shed. He had been shredding gomphrena flowers and making a big mess. I'm not sure what he is but when I let him go he hopped away just like a kangaroo. He probably came back the next evening unless he became dinner for the owl.

Or maybe this snake. Our rocky terrain and dry stone walls are just the kind of habitat the snakes prefer.

For a couple of weeks the wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) have been visiting the open area around the house. The other day there were turkeys and deer feeding together. It was quite a sight to see 20 or more turkeys moving around pecking at the ground and mingling with the deer. I might like to invite them into the garden to eat my snails but I'm afraid they might make quite a mess.

Last June they certainly had a good look around.

They are looking remarkably healthy with their iridescent bronze feathers. Thanksgiving dinner for someone I suspect, unless they stay pretty close to this house.

While deer and turkeys are not welcome to come in through the garden gate the anoles and lizards are welcome. These fence lizards don't usually pose for the camera unless you sneak up on them.

Not so the anoles, who are more than happy to have their photographs taken.

I wish I could capture all the butterflies, monarchs, sulphurs, fritillaries but they just don't sit still for me.
Our bird visitors are numerous. Wrens, mockingbirds, scrub jays, doves, hawks, chickadees and various seasonal birds, humming birds and cedar waxwings. The wrens are very busy at the moment and are always in the potting shed. I think they are looking at the old bird house which is on the shelf after being replaced by a fine English bird house. They turned their noses up at it last spring!

We'll never forget the foxes who moved into our garden whilst we were away this summer. They returned every morning for about a week and then our comings and goings obviously were disturbing their daytime sleep so they moved on. I hope they found another safe haven away from the coyotes.

Of course there are some who are not welcome. I just can't find anything good to say about the harlequin bug. I don't think anything eats these stink bugs and they can devastate crops overnight. They are particularly fond of the brassicas but don't stop there. I would probably reduce the numbers if I removed all the alyssum, which I was surprised to find is a brassica, but I do so love this sweet smelling and low growing plant. There is nothing for it but to keep a vigilant eye and try to hold down the population by removing any I see. The adult can over winter and I have removed a few this past week.

A few aphids are OK but a recent hatching on the new growth of pyracantha caught me by surprise. Not a ladybug in sight! Another reason not to prune too late in the year.

The garden is as much for these visitors as it is for us. It is important that we keep everything in the garden in balance.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


This morning there was frost on the roof and the sheets covering the tomatoes and beans. Hopefully it wasn't enough to kill the plants or I 'll be making that green tomato chutney sooner than I expected. Last night when I went into the potting shed in the evening I found the wrens had decided to bed down there for the night. I took that as a sign that it was going to be a cold one. I wonder if such an early frost was a record? There was no mention of temperatures below 32 on the news this morning so maybe this was just radiation cooling and it doesn't count. It's a gorgeous morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008


When the weatherman says there is a possibility of a frost in the hill country I take note. Although we are only considered to be at the edge of the hill country I know from experience that we get what they get. On top of that we are part way down a hill and the cold air sinks into the gardens. So this morning I set about moving some of my more fragile plants into the greenhouse and house. 
This plant was the first to come indoors and as I walked down the hallway I noticed and anole plastered to one of the leaves. I did a quick about turn, hoping that he would not jump off before I got outside. I think he was too cold to move and he was quite happy to pose for the camera.

Next I turned my attention to the agaves. Several Agave desmettiana variegata in pots were moved carefully into the greenhouse. This is a pot within a pot so quite easy to move. I see lots of pups around the base which will be potted up next spring. I always keep lots of this agave in pots to use in the garden next year. Despite the fact that labels show this plant to be hardy to 25 degrees I have not found this to be so. The protected pups usually survive.

There is no possibility of moving this one. Last winter I surrounded it with a wire cage and filled it up with leaves. An additional cover over the top protected it from the winter weather. It may be too big for that treatment this year.

Next came the citrus. The smaller citrus will get to over winter in the house. It takes quite some effort to do all this moving around but these plants are worth every bit of it. I couldn't live without the agaves or the meyer lemons and limes.

Finally the Mandevilla inside for its second winter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


It is nice to have one or two plants in the landscape that demand little attention and the Knockout rose is one such plant. This single variety shrub rose, "Radrazz", bred by William Radler, has bright green foliage, blooms continuously throughout the season and  is resistant to blackspot. What more could one ask. A yellow one? I think I heard someone talking about that at the nursery one day so maybe one is in the works. Yes, I know this rose is showing up everywhere in the landscape but I still have a spot for it in my garden. I'll leave the fragrance to Felicia.

I know who the stars of this garden are going to be in the spring,  judging by the germination of seedlings which occurred following the inch of rain we had last week. Bluebonnets, and they are everywhere.

 Never mind that in the spring I pulled many of the plants up before they threw their seed just to stop this kind of germination rate. I have gradually been redistributing the bluebonnets around the lot over the years. They still love the granite areas the best. 

The tomatoes have made a remarkable recovery now that the evening temperatures have dropped below 70 degrees. Years ago, when I grew tomatoes for the first time, I would go out in the garden every day and count how many tomatoes I had. The numbers grew daily in the cool Canadian evenings. I don't think I have counted tomatoes in 38 years. That is, until today when I counted 74 on this one plant. I'm thinking now that I may be making green tomato chutney after all. It is unlikely that many of them will ripen before we have the first frost, but you never know. Stranger things have happened this year. The larger ones can be removed and wrapped to ripen indoors if frost is in the forecast.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


It's that time of year again when the turkeys come out of hiding and mingle with other wildlife in the garden. This was the tail end of a group of about 20 seen on the septic field on Friday.
It won't be long before I hear the guns pop popping. Every year in November I have heard the sound and I know it is someone hunting close by.

This garden spider, living in one corner of the house has made its first egg sack. It is attached to the wall by strong silk ties. The sac contains thousands of tiny spiders. I never know what happens to them because I only ever see one or two adults.

Friday, October 17, 2008


What more could one ask for than a pot that plants itself. This pot has been sitting in the corner of the vegetable garden for months. I removed the spring planting which had died during my absence this summer. The level of the soil that remained was about 4" below the rim of the pot. A few weeks ago I noticed that some dahlberg daisy seeds had germinated along with vinca and  allysum. Must move those into the garden I thought, but never did. Now the pot is looking pretty full. I see bluebonnet seeds sprouting too. Wouldn't it be nice if all pots were so easy?
Maybe the pot is saying thank you because I mended it last spring. It had broken in two and I used construction adhesive to put it back together.

What more could one ask for than a husband who hearing the wails and cries after the rabbit ate the newly sprouted beets, set to work making a frame to cover over one of the beds. This will not only stop animals but also butterflies from laying their eggs on the mesclun and will be easy to cover when frost threatens. I feel so lucky to have a partner in my gardening efforts.

I prepared some of his favorite foccacia using the rosemary from the garden as a topping.

The house smells so wonderful. To go with it I have a big pot of lentil soup on the stove. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


October is usually a very colorful month of the year in Austin, as long as there is enough rain to keep the plants going through the summer. Many of the flowers respond to the shortening days.

The Japanese anemone, Anemone x hybrida, is standout in the fall garden. Unfortunately I am not sure of the specific name of this one but it has been an easy grower in my English garden. The blooms rise above slender but firm stalks and needs no staking. It spreads by runners so easily makes a good clump. One of the spreaders I am not unhappy to enjoy in my garden.

The Philippine violet, Barlena cristata, is related to the Mexican petunia, and is far more mannerly. It forms a shrub, of about 4', which is root hardy in Austin. Never seems to get bugs or diseases and the leaves are always green. My kind of plant.

This is my first year to try the datura, having been seduced by its frilly purple blooms at a friends house last year. Unfortunately the leaves have not looked their best so I might forgo this plant next year.

This amaranthus was another experiment this year. The seeds were also given to me. The spiky flowers have been a favorite of hummingbirds, finches, and bees.

I got the surprise of my life when I was weeding under the yaupon holly yesterday. Columbines in flower. I have no idea from where they came and what they are doing flowering in October. A nice surprise, nevertheless.

The white Mandevilla vine is finally coming back to life. A holdover from last year I just may keep it over the winter. Next year it will go in partial shade because I think it just can't take the full sun in Texas.

It looks as though the whole garden is awash with pinks and purples. I mustn't forget the narrow leaf zinnias, Zinnia linearis. They have been the mainstay of the garden throughout the summer  and are still looking wonderful.

Sweet alyssum, despite having taken a beating from the harlequin bugs in the spring, is growing again by leaps and bounds. It is a fragrant addition to the winter garden. It appears each year in shades of pink, purple and white although the white always seems to be more prevalent.

Blue mistflower is quite happy in a dry spot in the garden. 

Finally,  the wonderfully fragrant rose, Felicia. My husband's choice when we visited the Antique Rose Emporium. He chose well because this is one of the most fragrant of all roses. It's a wonderful time in the Southern garden.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I have decided this is about as close as I will get to ever writing a diary. Maybe sometime in the future a descendent will be a gardener and will read about my garden efforts. 

The week began with finishing tidying up the beds around the dry creek in preparation for new planting. D dug in a yard of Hill Country soil to amend the beds. An agave waits for planting. Still undecided which other plants to use in this area but whatever they are they will not shed leaves. Too much work cleaning them out of the dry creek.

I began moving some of the cactus into the potting shed where they will spend the winter. They still enjoy a sunny spot on the west facing counter.

Tuesday was a day off from the garden. I went to Westcave Preserve with a group from the Wildflower Center. This is one of my favorite places to visit and we always take visitors if they are with us at the weekend. This is the only time that the public can visit as a guide must take you down to the grotto. Like Hamilton pool, Westcave is a sunken riverbed with grotto. Even in the hottest months the grotto is 20 degrees cooler than at the top of the canyon. I first went to Westcave about 8 years ago before they had a visitor center. Now they have a wonderful center which serves as a classroom for schoolchildren during the week.

Dave Bennett leads the tours. He extremely well informed about the plants and wildlife of the canyon. There are almost 300 species of native plants growing within and along the rim of the canyon.

Back into the garden again on Wednesday I removed a large Miscanthus grass which was growing in the vegetable garden. I used a pick axe to get it out.
Planted another square foot of mesclun lettuce and three more squares with pink California poppies, Allysum saxatale, and Gaillardia( noted that there were only 5 seeds in the packet so I was shortchanged on those).
Picked the leaves from lemon basil and made pesto, minus the parmesan cheese, for the freezer. I freeze on wax paper then pop into freezer bags.

Thursday I removed the zinnias in the English garden from around the roses and dug over the bed. Checked out all the drips on the bed to make sure they were not blocked( a frequent problem with the Submatic drips).
Friday was the day I bought the 6 packs of winter annuals so I have been busy potting them up in 4" pots.

I noticed today that the Hesperaloe seeds I had planted just 7 days ago, in the pumice, had germinated. I think that's a record for me. I love that pumice(purchased at the Desert Botanic Garden in Phoenix) and wish I had bought 10 bags. It is great for rooting cactus and succulents.
Still nothing in the trap today. I have borrowed a larger trap from my neighbor and hope that I don't catch a skunk. I have set the smaller trap in the potting shed because the cotton rat has been busy shredding flowers in there again. I really do need to keep the population down.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Did you get your gardening stimulus package this week? I did. One of the offerings was a real deal and I have already used it. Of course just like the other one it benefitted the big box store but then they are the ones who sent it out so I didn't have a whole lot of choice. $10 off a purchase of $25 is more than I can turn down. I rushed over there to purchase a large bag of potting soil, seven six packs of winter annuals and a package of bird netting.
I haven't worked out whether it is economical to buy 6 packs and pot them up into 4" pots but I think it must be. This is generally what I do in the fall with violas and snapdragons, as I feel it gives them a much better chance when I put them in the ground. Those six packs are usually a little root bound having been forced into flower with goodness knows what. 
The netting is for a newly conceived project. 
 My beetroot seedlings are eaten down to the stalk. That is what awaited me yesterday morning when I went out into the garden. Not only that, but the chard as well. Who was that overnight marauder? I could guess that it was the hispid cotton rat again- annoyed with me for having pulled out many of the Gomphrena. For the last three nights I have set the havahart trap with tempting strawberries and apple cores and every night the trap is triggered, the bait eaten but the trap empty. We have a little Houdini on our hands. The only thing we can surmise is that the critter is a big one and the door closes on his back, after which he backs out with booty in mouth.
So the beds must be covered every evening to protect the other seedlings; lettuce, pak choi and arugula. That is what the netting is for; a frame work which will cover over the square foot bed and protect it , not just from this houdini but from the cabbage white butterflies. For now the the beds are covered with the frost covering, the trap is set again and we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Limeys love limes and have done ever since the 18th Century when they discovered that lime juice added to the sailors' diet would prevent scurvy. Each sailor was given an allowance of one lime every day. However, they didn't know exactly why until 1923 with the discovery of vitamin C.
So it stands to reason that having grown up in England, ( I don't really like being called a limey as I didn't sail over here) I would just have to have a lime tree in my garden. In fact, I have two. The tree from which the limes shown in this photograph came is a Persian lime. This plant was labeled a Persian lime because it was grown in Florida. The same tree is called a Bearss lime in California. It is the lime with which most people are familiar as the source of the large green limes you find in the grocery store. I also have a Mexican lime tree which bears the small yellow/green limes which are normally sold in bags. 
My limes are in pots because I know they wouldn't be hardy in the ground where we live, although down in the city I am sure they would be OK in the ground. So, I bring the pots inside for the winter. They do just fine and come spring when they begin to flower they perfume the house with a wonderful fragrance.
This year my Persian lime produced 21 limes and the tree is barely 2' tall. I may have been unwise to let it bear so many and hope it hasn't exhausted itself for next year. The Mexican lime is a constant producer and I don't pick them. I just wait until they fall off the tree by which time they have turned yellow.
With such a big crop at one time I juice the Persian limes and freeze it in ice cube trays for use during the winter in margaritas. Then there's key lime pie, salad dressing,  a sprinkle over vegetables and fish and ceviche. Could not do without my lime trees.