Monday, August 31, 2009


This last few days Austin gardeners have begun to see and feel signs that fall is drawing closer. A drier mass of air moved in from the north making outdoor activities more tolerable. The early morning pleasant temperatures stay around a little longer and those plants that have made it through the summer's heat are beginning to wake up.

The cross vine, Bignonia capreolata, has begun to bloom again just in time for the hummingbird migration. 

The Texas lantana, Lantana horrida, begins its bloom cycle with brilliant red flowers which fade to orange in the sun.

The senna, Cassia lindheimerei, flowers with clusters of yellow blooms. All these plants are deer proof and survive with  little or no supplemental water.

The pomegranates hang from the tree like Chinese lanterns. This year I have the biggest crop and their outer color is the brightest I have ever seen. It seems strange that the flesh around the seeds is not its usual bright crimson. Maybe they need to ripen a little more.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Every single morning, since our return 2 weeks ago, has been spent cutting back and pulling out. The mornings are the only time that I can be outside because I no longer seem to be able to tolerate the heat as I once did. Even now I have a hard time cooling off. However, there was much work to do and I'm slowly getting there.

. The semicircular bed in which the Philippine violet has center spot was over run with Salvia coccinea. It seeds everywhere, and while the humming birds love it, I do have to pull out many plants. I have cut back some of the plants so that in October they will be flowering again. All but one of the lambs ears, Stachys byzantina, were dead so that came out along with lots of purple coneflowers Echinacea purpurea. The bed has a  drip system so I mulched to keep down the weeds. 

Bit by bit I have been cutting back plants in the sunken garden. The mounding plant is the purple skull cap, Scutellaria wrightii, which is one of my absolute favorite plants. It flowers all summer long and is easy to grow from seed. I think many of the plants in this garden enjoy a cool root run under the flagstones.

I haven't the heart to pull out these amaranthus that has decided to grow along the edge of the path. I banned it from the vegetable garden this year but it chose a new home.

 I hope that the leaf color will become more vibrant as the temperatures cool off and it does have pretty pink tassel like flowers late in the season. 

One thing I haven't managed to do yet is to remove the Texas sunflowers from the back bed in the vegetable garden. Every morning the goldfinches are feasting on the seed heads. Plus they make a pretty posy for the house. The gravel bed also has blanket flowers which are another popular seed head.

The Spanish oak garden may be the greenest spot of all. This is because Ficus pumila has covered the wall creating the effect of a hedge. It needs just about as much work as a hedge too as it would love to take off into the wild blue yonder! Both over the wall and over the patio. That was this mornings job, clipping the hedge, until I came across a paper wasps nest and decided it was time to stop. I have a bad allergic reaction to their sting. 

Friday, August 28, 2009


This unnamed succulent, in a pot, resides on the wall of the Spanish oak garden. Some of the stems are a little scorched this year but the flowers appeared this week. I love these little flowers for their color and their shape. This is a plant that asks little and gives much. It would look perfect growing from a Medusa head pot as the stems drape down like dreadlocks. When they break off I stick them in a pot and in no time I have a new plant.
Late press- The plant is Huernia schneideriane, red dragon flower, of the Asclepiadaceae family.

I walked around to the garden to take a look at the tree trimming work D had done the previous day. The main feature of this garden has been the clump of Spanish oak which overhang the garden and have provided shade below.

Despite our best efforts to keep the trees alive, each year new branches have been dying. This year the die back has become very serious and there is a real threat that a storm will bring down those branches onto the roof. So, D got out there on the roof, and with ropes and the long pull saw cut off all the dead branches. In the end the whole tree will probably have to be removed but for now we will try to keep it alive.

It doesn't look really pretty but at least it should be a lot safer for the house.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Now this is what I call a hot flower. Tithonia rotundifolia x torch, a Mexican sunflower, has a  color hot enough to match our sizzling summer days. I had forgotten that I threw out a packet of seeds earlier this summer. As I cleaned away some of the invasive Texas sunflowers there she was. Butterflies love this plant and it is not surprising as the flower is a beacon in a sea of green.  But if you think this is hot look below.

I was repotting some succulents and left a plastic container with gravel in the sun. When  I went back later in the day the plastic container had melted! I might try cooking eggs out there tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It wouldn't be right if I didn't have rock roses, Pavonia lasiopetala, in my garden. I think the first one came from some seeds I picked along the edge of Lady Bird Lake. Once you have them there is no getting rid of them even if you wanted to, and I don't. They are a welcome flower throughout the spring summer and fall. They tolerate all kinds of abuse and seem to have no pests. The only thing that they are a little guilty of, is seeding themselves where you don't want them. Along with the rock rose are those annoying morning glories, Ipomoea, that also have similar habits. Both these plants are growing right up through the middle of an Indian hawthorn, Rhaphiolepis idica,threatening to suffocate it. They have been shading the hawthorn from the strong sun so if I were to remove them the plant would suffer from sunburn.

The flowers close up at night, as do the flowers of morning glory, but there is always the guarantee that there will be new flowers open in the morning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


As the relentless summer heat continues and my own garden gets crispier and crispier each day, I enjoy looking back at those green gardens we visited this summer.

This summer, while visiting England, we stayed with our friends who live in Worcestershire. They are both fine gardeners and it is a delight to visit with them and tour around their garden. They have an interesting house and garden arrangement. The house, a fine Victorian house, is  divided into two parts. They own the back half of the house and with that comes a large back garden, a carriage house, potting shed and greenhouse. 

On the end wall of the carriage house is an espaliered pear which is probably as old as the house. Roses climb as high as the roof line on both sides.

A stone pathway leads past the potting shed, opening into a terrace with a small pond. 

Our friends recently refurbished the greenhouse adding a conservatory area at one end. Sometimes, even in the summer, the greenhouse is a perfect place to sit any read the newspaper and enjoy a cup of tea.

But this greenhouse is a real workhorse, housing all manner of tropicals, succulents, and cacti.

Including some gorgeous blooms.

Many English gardens have great depth and afford the opportunity to divide the garden, as has been done here. Beyond the ornamental beds and the pyramidal yew are fruit trees, vegeables and compost bins.

The evergreen hedge, which runs down one side of the property, has an interesting feature which can be seen here.
and in close up below.

A yew growing through the hedge has been trained and clipped into an ornamental shape. 

Their gardening skills are not confined to the outdoors. They have a magnificent collection of orchids which seem to love the English climate.

Monday, August 24, 2009


It has been at least three years since I had an American pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, show up in my garden. The first time I had one I was just fascinated by the fruits, how they formed and the beautiful deep purple color they turned in the fall. Then I found out how invasive it was. The mockingbird came every day to feast on the berries and then poop purple all over the patio. Enough of that! Out it came and from then on every time a shoot appeared in the garden I yanked it out. 
Wily little things. Wait until she goes away and then pop up where she won't see us at the back of the bed. They forgot about the window in the wall. This morning I saw the plant and was once again bewitched by the drooping racemes. I might just let it stay for a little while, at least until I catch sight of a mockingbird.
The word pokeweed comes from the Algonquin Indian words "pakon" or "puccoon" which both mean dye plant. Once the dye from the ripe berries was used for red ink and for coloring pale wines. The latter rather strange as the plant is quite poisonous. Not to the mockingbird it seems.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Someone named this Fall Obedient plant, Physostegia virginiata. I'm afraid these blooms will be long gone before there is a breath of fall in the air. Pretty flowers, all the same.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


We always turn off our little water feature when we go away for fear that the pump will burn out due to lack of water. So it is one of the most important things to do when we get back home. Yesterday D worked on emptying out the old water , giving it a good clean and plugging it in. Voila! This simple water feature was made from an old planter with the drainage holes sealed up and a rock we found on our property with a nice hole. The hardest part of the whole job was digging that hole for the sump. The pump has been in action for 8 years which is pretty good going. We love the sound of the water trickling over the edges of the stone and so do the dragonflies.

Yesterday evening this little guy came to visit. I might tentatively identify him as Erythema vesiculosa, a great pondhawk, but I could easily be wrong. I think he was trying to chase me away because he kept flying around me and landing and taking off and coming back. I think he wanted to say thank you.

The drip system on the bird bath could not keep up with the unrelenting temperatures so it too was dry.

I have to fill it by hand every day.

This birdbath also relies on hand watering, but it is not a favorite place for the birds because there are no trees around. There is, however, plenty of food for them. They love the seed heads on the native cosmos, cone flowers and mealy blue sage. 

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Reading about garden history is not everyone’s cup of tea, certainly not mine. Most garden history books seem to me to be rather dry heavy volumes. However, I do like to know a little about the garden-maker when I visit a garden.
When I visit England I scour the charity shops and car boot sales for gardening books and am never disappointed. This year I chanced on a delightful little book called the “Seven Deadly Sins of Gardening.” Written by Toby Musgrave and Mike Calnan, it is a lighthearted look at the garden makers whose English gardens are visited by thousands every year. Many, but not all, are now cared for by the National Trust. As we were to visit two of those well known gardens, Snowshill Manor and Garden and Hidcote Manor Garden, the following week, here was my chance to read a little about the men and women who created these gardens. Both Snowshill and Hidcote lie in the county of Gloucestershire, in that well visited area known as the Cotswolds.

The 16th century Snowshill Manor was in a derelict condition when purchased by Charles Paget Wade in 1919. The house had once belonged to the sixth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr. Henry confiscated the land from Winchcomb Abbey at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. The garden, however, was the creation of Charles Wade, who believed “The plan of a garden is much more important than the flowers in it.” He terraced the steeply sloping hillside to create a number of outdoor rooms, each with its own character.

His story is included under Greed, but this has nothing to do with the garden but more to do with his obsessive collection of every kind of object you could imagine. Even so I think that this is rather unjust. After all he did leave his house to the National Trust so that everyone could share in his collection.
Every room in the house is filled with his collection, and there are many rooms, some dating back to Catherine Parr and others later additions over the centuries. The attics are filled with an incredible collection of bicycles dating back to the very earliest. Other rooms filled with clocks, kitchen paraphernalia, chests, Samurai warriors, bone carvings made by Napoleonic war prisoners. Every room is a jaw dropping experience. In fact he was so obsessed with collecting that the house became so full and he had to move out into the small priest’s house. Here was an eccentric man who caused Queen Mary to comment, on her visit, “that the most remarkable part of the collection was Mr Wade himself” What is even more remarkable is that he collected all these items in the second hand and antique shops in the vicinity of his home. At the time no one was interested in such items.

His work on the gardens began around 1920, with the help of his friend and landscape architect M H Baille Scott. The gardens offer a respite from the dark cluttered house in which the light levels are kept low in order to preserve the collection. He retained the dovecote, which had been part of the previous farmyard, and used the other farm buildings by adding walls to create garden rooms.

From the visitor parking it is a ten to fifteen minute walk along a pathway which skirts the hillside and giving the impression that the house is set deeply in the countryside. In fact, the house itself lies on the main street of the village of Snowshill. A long straight pathway leads up to the front door of the house. Entry to the house is by a timed ticket so we had an hour to spend in the garden before our time. To reach the lower terraces we took the pathway, planted on both sides by cottage garden flowers, which runs along the high stone wall.

We resisted the opportunity to enter through two gates, instead continuing down past the late medieval dovecote, now the home of white pigeons.

Charles Wade believed that it was impossible to reproduce nature’s green and used a turquoise, later known as “Wade Blue,” to paint gateways and benches. Here the gate at the lower terrace is painted in that color.

He believed that water should be included in the garden to bring in the reflecting sky which adds depth to the garden. The sunken garden includes a sunken lily pond. The small patch of soft lawn has at its center an antique well .

Beyond, a painted sundial clock, designed by Wade himself and known as the Nychthemeron      ( 24 hour clock), brightens the Cotswold stone wall.

Looking back towards the dovecote.

The plantings are understated with blue and purple predominating and spill over onto the pathways to soften the edges.

The Armillary Court.

A perfectly formed foxglove finds an ideal spot in the corner of the wall.
The Dutch armillary, used for centuries by astronomers, has been mounted on a shaft of stone that once served as gatepost to the farmyard.

The terrace walk planted with colorful climbers.

This is the cottage in which Charles Wade lived. On the wall a teak carving of St George and the Dragon, copied from a small French original.

Who would not be happy with a view like this looking over the lush Gloucestershire countryside. This garden should be on everyone's list of places to visit when traveling to England.  If you do plan to visit England then you might want to look into joining the Royal Oak Foundation. Membership allows free admission to 200 National Trust Properties, for American visitors.