Saturday, February 28, 2009


Today a white California poppy bloomed in the sunken garden. Some years ago I purchased a packet of seeds called "white linen" Every year one or two plants pop up with the white blooms. I can never tell until they send out the first bloom. 
It was a bright sunny day in the garden but a fierce North wind is blowing. There is a threat of frost tonight and tomorrow night, so once again everything is tucked back into the greenhouse. It was 90 degrees yesterday!
Gardening in Texas is not for wimps.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Today I picked some of the spring flowers that are blooming in the garden today. They will be the centerpiece of the table for dinner tonight. Among them, larkspur, four nerve daisy, california poppy, German chamomile, alyssum, viburnum, jasmine, jessamine and a few parsley leaves for greenery. The arrangement only stands about 12" high so it is perfect for the center of the table.

The first of the rock garden daffodils are starting to bloom. I have no idea of their names but the flowers are no more than 1" across. 

It is a cheery sight after the garden trials and tribulations of the week. Not to harp on about the unseasonably warm weather and drought we are experiencing in central Texas, but there has been an explosion of bugs in my garden. I must have killed 200 harlequin bugs. They were attacking my napa cabbage, which has now been completely removed from the garden, and sweet alyssum. I just can't bring myself to pull out the latter so I am constantly on the prowl checking under the leaves. 

Another unwelcome visitor is a caterpillar. It has the look of a tent caterpillar and probably turns into some insignificant moth. This bug is at least 6 weeks early. It usually can be found on the bluebonnets after they have flowered and when the seed pods are quite far along in their development. I wonder if this coincides with birds hatching. if it does then it is going to be a lean year for the nestlings. This is the kind of damage they can do to the young plant.

Not only are the bluebonnets suffering from the lack of rain and caterpillars but yesterday I saw that some of the ones inside my walls were covered in red spider mites. I had to spray with Spinosad in the hope that this would reduce their numbers. 

The good bugs are lagging behind the bad bugs but here is one that is definitely a good one. A juvenile stage of the milkweed assassin bug Zelus longpipes. A few ladybugs are starting to show up. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Finally, a catch! Mr Mousy has no sympathy for the hispid cotton rat that was in the trap this morning. This is his patch and intruders are not welcome. If you read the link above you will wonder why on earth I am so kind to our furry visitor. I had been wondering why he could possibly need to be eating all my larkspurs and blue eyed grass when he must have collected thousands of seeds from the gomphrena over the summer and fall. The fact is they were just to  fulfill his daily needs. These rats do not store food! However I have learnt they like oats, so in future I won't be using tomatoes. 
I know there are tens more living in the garden so the trap will be set again tonight.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


An early bloomer this year is the Agarita, Mahonia trifoliolata. Its yellow blossoms have a delightful perfume which fills the air. To follow there will be small berries, which when ripe can be collected to make agarita jelly. It is no simple matter to collect the berries because the leaves have vicious spines, similar to holly leaves. The best way is to place a sheet under the bush and give the bush a good bat with an old tennis racket! Sometimes the bush is referred to as the nursery bush as it would certainly be a safe place to leave young animals.

The Texas mountain laurel is also in full bloom in the front garden. I'm sure these plants are blooming with such a heady scent to attract bees from hibernation. However, tonight there will be a frost and I suspect the temperatures will drop into the 20s. There is a strong north wind blowing and I am afraid these blossoms will suffer. Not only that but the leaves are just coming out on the pomegranate tree and a freeze will burn them off. We have had so many unseasonably warm days that too many plants have stirred from their winter dormancy.

These grape hyacinths should make it through OK but I have had to spend some time getting things back into the greenhouse and preparing for a cold night in there.

My greenhouse is loaded with seedlings of all kinds; tomatoes, basil, parsley, brachyscome, zinnia and rooted cuttings of roses, succulents and agaves as well as two lemons and a Mexican lime. To help out on cold nights I save all the gallon milk jugs, fill them with water, which warms up during the day, and place them around the perimeter. TDuring the night they will give off enough heat to keep things from freezing. When the cold weather is over I cut off the bottoms and use them as hot caps over tender transplants. Rather like a mini greenhouse.

Yesterday I added "pea brush" to help support the growing snow peas. This year I just used trimmings from the salvia and lantana. They have already started to twine their tendrils around the stems. I use the same idea with bush beans. It just keeps them off the ground.

This week I also did some severe pruning in the English garden. The knockout rose needed a good hair cut but even after watching a video on pruning shrub roses I really felt I didn't know what I was doing. It's a tough rose so I expect it to survive my pruning technique. The wall germander which edges the bed was also cut back. It has been in for 4 years and has become rather woody. If it doesn't make it then I will take cuttings to replace it next year. It is one of the easiest plants to root.
I hope everything is tucked in for the night.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


But keeps coming back! For several days I have been noticing a good deal of nibbling going on in the garden. For an enclosed garden this is quite distressing. First it as the larkspur, all pruned to about 6''. Then today I noticed blue eyed grass.

Then some desert succulents growing in a little pot.

I also noticed a lot of empty stalks on my violas and wine cups. I have been setting the havahart every night but nothing so far. I have a feeling it is the cotton rats as I saw one a couple of weeks ago.
To crown everything the harlequin bugs turned up today. I guess the 80 degree temperatures brought them out. They were on the napa cabbage so pretty easy to spot and dispose of. As most of them are going to seed I'm hoping that this will act as a trap crop.

I will finish on brighter note. My first California poppy bloomed today. It is growing in gravel with no decent soil beneath. Just what they like apparently.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Thanks to Carol at May Dreams I am out with my camera searching for February blooms. There are quite a few.

I know spring is in the air when the thimbleweed or windflower, Anemone berlandieri, starts to bloom. In shades of white to purple this is the first wildflower to bloom in the spring. The bloom period is short, just a matter of one or two weeks. What appear to be petals are not petals but sepals and all parts of the plant are poisonous. The center of the flower elongates which is an adaptation for wind dispersal of the seeds.

This bluebonnet flowering in the vegetable bed is flowering ahead of the masses. Most others are only a small circle of leaves. The recent rain and warm days should accelerate their growth but April is likely to be their peak bloom time. Notice the white marker on the flower: a guide for the bee. Once fertilized the mark turns red and the bee can no longer see the mark.

The four nerve daisy, Hymenoxy scaposa, has flowered all through the winter. It re seeds in the gravel and this one has produced a nice clump in between the path stones. It gets to stay.

The Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempiverens, perfumes the air with a delicate fragarance. To say this vine is vigorous would be an understatement. It sends its greedy roots for up to twenty feet. This particular plant is starting to show its age and will come out once it has bloomed. I will replace it with something a little less rambunctious. The plants around will be very grateful.

Erigeron daisy.

The ice plant is perfect a perfect companion for the viola among the stones in the sunken garden. I like it so much have rooted cuttings. It roots easily.

Alyssum is at its best during the cooler spring weather. I shall have to watch out for the dreaded  harlequin bugs who favor this brassica.

A lone coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, is getting an early start on the season. It is in a sheltered location where it receives some heat from the wall of the house.

Gaura lindheimeri "Siskiyou pink" also surprises with an early flowering. This drought tolerant plant, like many, has a deep tap root and for this reason does not transplant well.

In the same garden the Texas mountain laurel, Sophora secundiflora, is flowering on the lower more sheltered branches. 

Osteospermum will get a good cutting back this week.

The Viburnum tinus " spring bouquet" will take anything thrown at it. Dust, heat, drought and  pollution and still maintain it s bright glossy evergreen leaves. The buds start out pink and open white. 

Finally the white oxalis, my only flowering house plant.

Monday, February 9, 2009


This past weekend it was the Heart O Texas Orchid show at Zilker Gardens. The show happened to coincide with the arrival of English visitors who are avid orchid growers so you can imagine it was on our list of places to visit on Sunday. We were not disappointed. This year must have been the best show ever as local orchid growers and vendors from all over Texas displayed the best collection of orchids I had ever seen. 

Texas Parks and Wildlife had a display with information on native orchids of Texas. Of the 54 species, all are terrestrial and 36  are to be found in East Texas. Only one is on the endangered list but all are subject to the threat of logging and natural disasters such as fire and hurricane.
The sheer variety of color and bloom displayed by the Austin Orchid Society was almost overwhelming.

The temptation was great but I did resist knowing full well that I already had enough to look after at home. However, a leaf cutting of a night blooming  Epiphyllum was not too difficult to resist. I have now entered into a competition with our friends as to whose will be the first to flower.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


On the Master Gardeners' tour last spring there was quite a lot of interest in our paving stones. We made all the pavers in our vegetable garden, English garden and Spanish oak garden. Although I had planned to do a post on the "how to" it was not until Central Texas Gardener asked me this week if I had ever done a post on the stones that I actually got round to it.

The pavers in the vegetable garden were made using the above frame, the English garden using the round form and the larger pavers in the Spanish Oak garden were poured in place.
D has provide me with the following.

"First a disclaimer. If you can find the right size and pattern of stepping stone at Home Depot or Lowe's, buy don't make. We could not find an 18" square stone, so we decided to make. We already had a concrete mixer so we were not faced with an initial capital outlay of about $400 to get started. We used the standard concrete formulation: 3 parts gravel, 2 parts masonry sand and one part portland cement. If your project is modest you may want to use concrete premix; our project warranted bulk purchase of the ingredients. For enough to make three 18" square stones (2" thick), we mixed 6 shovels of pea gravel, 4 shovels of masonry sand, 2 shovels of portland cement. To vary the color of the stones we used gray cement and white cement in varying proportions and concrete pigment in varying amounts. We cannot offer precise color formulations; it was very much "trial and error". Since we made almost two hundred stones, we had plenty of scope for color variations; the more the better. We found the best order of mixing to be: water first, gravel next and then sand. As the mix dried out with the addition of sand, we added more water for desired consistency. Experience will guide you on the initial charge of water; I cannot remember. Our technique was quite tolerant of varying consistency of the mix but too thin made for a slow set and a weaker stone; we suffered no broken stones. 

We started with a single mould, increased to a double and ended with a treble. The key to building the mould is screw, don't nail, the sides together. We used 1 7/8 X 3/4 inch wood for the frame and 3 1/2 inch screws to assemble it. The easiest way to release the stones from the mould was by unscrewing the sides and dismantling the mould. We reused the same triple mould about fifty times. We laid the mould on a level bed of sand; it’s important to level the mould. Just prior to pouring the concrete we sprayed WD40 on the inside surfaces for easy release. We emptied the mix into a wheelbarrow and from there we transferred it into the moulds by shovel and garden trowel. We filled each mould half full, leveled it, and laid a pre-cut heavy gauge 2” mesh screen (16” square) onto the concrete as “rebar”. Then we filled the mould to the top. We dragged a 2 X 4 across the surface of the mould to remove excess concrete and form a level stone. Then we inserted a flat 2 inch trowel down the inside surfaces and worked it around the mould to "finish" the sides of the stone. Now came the most important step. When the surface water had disappeared, typically 20-30 minutes, we "finished" the surface to a smooth sheen with a 11 X 4 1/2 inch trowel. Finally, when the surface was firm, we used flat rocks to imprint a pattern on the stone. We then left the stones to cure for 24 hours.

For the large diameter circular stones we used black plastic planters. We filled the planter to within 3” of the top with sand and then followed the same procedure to form the stones. We upended the planters onto a thick cushion to release the stone from the mould; the larger mould was quite a challenge."

It all took a lot of time and effort! Thanks D for a great job.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Hello! I went down to the study to look for a genealogy book and what did I espy but two books that really looked out of place. My husband has been buying books on plants!!  Could it be that he is studying the flora in secret. Let's see what he says when he notices I have discovered this purchase.

Meanwhile, it was a wonderful day to be out in the garden. The mullein, Verbascum thapsus, came through the heavy freezes we had this week with flying colors. Many gardeners would not entertain this plant in the garden, and I have to admit that it requires control lest it completely take over. The mullein is probably more at home growing in the disturbed areas along the road side, and that is where I saw it the first time. I spotted a lovely rosette of leaves growing on the side of the road at the bottom of our street. Later on in the year it sent up a flower stalk and I saved some of the seeds. From then on I have had mulleins growing in the garden. They pop up in the most unexpected places. This one is growing alongside the raised beds in the vegetable garden. The mullein, which belongs to the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae, produces this soft rosettes of leaves which grow close to the ground. The flower stalk can be as tall as 6' and produces thousands of seeds after the yellow flowers fade. I am careful to remove the stalk before the seeds fall to the ground.
Many years ago we were hiking to Betatakin, in the Navaho National Monument, and our Navaho Guide was identifying plants used by the indians. She described the mullein as a plant that was used for baby's diapers. The plant was also used by the Quaker ladies. Unable to use makeup they would rub the leaf of the mullein on their faces to achieve a rosy look. One has to wonder about the baby's bottom. The plant also has a history of medicinal uses despite the fact that it contains the poisons coumarin and rotenone. Coumarin is an effective blood thinner and rat poison! The plant is native to Eurasia and was brought to America for medicinal purposes. 
The gardeners at Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, were not allowed to remove mulleins because it was a favorite flower of the duchess.