I have decided to name the Blue gilia, Gilia rigidula, flower of the year. Any flower that blooms multiple times during the year, can weather the infernal heat of this past summer, no water for months on end, tolerate a soil with little but eroded limestone and then after a gloomy December week of rain, drizzle and fog put forth some new buds deserves all the accolades I can give it. I'm not even waiting for the New Year's Honors list!
As soon as the sun comes out that little bud is going to pop open and look just as stunning as it did last spring.
The wildflower book is wrong when it says the bloom period is from March to October or maybe this is just another crazy upside down year.
I have never seen the seed or plants for sale but have been successful moving it from outside into my garden. It's a perfect plant for the sunken garden.
Everyone likes to see pretty pictures of life in the garden, but that is not a real gardening life. Sometimes things aren't quite so pretty.
I shouldn't have grumbled so much about the mockingbird sitting on my patio and pooping on the floor. At least that was easy to clean up. He has now taken up his winter residence in the Spanish bayonet and several times a day he sits on the tips of the leaves and, quite frankly, makes the most awful mess.
Even the rain is no match for this, washing everything down to the stem where the seeds will soon start to sprout! It is quite apparent that I provide too much food and a comfortable, if not prickly, home for him.
Think that a little tinsel and a snake would scare him away.
Thy leaves are so unchanging" So goes the old German Christmas carol.
The carol seems quite fitting as my little Christmas tree is a German goose feather tree. Standing only 18" tall it was given to me for my first Christmas. You can imagine that it has great sentimental value and was one of the things I brought back from England 3 years ago after my mother passed away.
We were back in England the Christmas after my mother died and I brought out the tree as my mother had done every year since my childhood. All I really knew about the tree was that a customer to my grandparent's shop (they had a bakery and we lived over the shop) gave this to me as a gift.
That Christmas we were watching the Antique Roadshow and there was a little tree just like mine. It was the first I knew about the leaves being made from goose feathers. I got up and took a look and sure enough I could clearly see the leaves were made from feathers. The base is solid wood and says Germany on the bottom. How strange that just a few months before I was given the tree we had been at war with Germany.
Apparently during the late 1800s there was grave concern over deforestation in Germany. People would top trees to use for Christmas and the government decided to put a stop to the practice. The making of these artificial trees began as a cottage industry. The branches were made far apart because they would attach candle holders to the tree. My tree was a later edition and was wired. I still have some of the original lights although the voltage difference means I must dress my tree with tiny ornaments.
Years ago I gave up on an artificial tree in favor of the real thing. From now on I think we will just use this little tree. It has witnessed Father Christmas (Santa Claus) come down the chimney so many times.
I think I'll tell David he can get rid of the Christmas tree stand that kicks around most of the year.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, tra la la la la, la la, la, la. 'Tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la , la la la, la.
Bring your garden into the house to celebrate the festive season. Make it an all natural Christmas celebration. Go out into the garden and pick holly or other evergreens, tie together and fasten on a raffia bow. What could be more simple.
Gathering greenery from the countryside and bringing it into the house during the dark days of winter was how people celebrated years ago. The evergreen branches were an important sign that life carried on despite most plants and trees shedding their leaves. At our house sprigs of holly were hung over the mirrors, picture frames, sconces.
Why not brighten up your indoor arrangements with berries and garlands.
A couple of months ago I decided rather than buying flowers for the house I would make up a basket of potted plants. I had picked up this basket at a garage sale for $1. I bought $10 worth of green plants, added one or two of my own ( thanks for the Kalanchoe, Diana). Now I am adding some pine cones, leaves and garland to dress it up for Christmas.
At the front door some holly and pyracantha in this planter made by our blogging, gardening friend Bob at Draco Gardens who makes the most incredible metal work. You name it, he can make it.
In the family home mistletoe was hung over the light just inside the front door. It was a way to welcome people into the house with a kiss! I remember going to parties as a teenager when the boys would carry a sprig of mistletoe to steel a kiss. What they didn't seem to care about was the fact that for each kiss they must remove a berry and when all the berries were gone then no more kissing. Because mistletoe was not easy to come, and therefore most had only a small sprig, you can imagine there were more kisses than berries. How they would have loved my branch of mistletoe. So many berries. There is no problem finding mistletoe in Texas, but our mistletoe is a different species from the one I grew up with in Europe. The Texas species, Phoradendron, meaning 'tree thief' in Greek, is almost always found on Spanish oak, elm and hackberry. Easily visible in the winter months, the plant, which is a parasite, rarely kills the tree but a heavy infestation might cause the demise of an already weakened tree.
Although most of these customs have their roots in pagan rituals they have become associated with the Christmas season.
Just a few simple decorations are all it takes to make the houses festive during December.
Last evening I went out to pick herbs from the potager. I love my newly named vegetable garden and the herbs that are growing so well now that cooler temperature are here. I suppose now that I have given the garden a little French flair I should call them 'erbs, but the fact is herbs they are and herbs they will always be. Sorry Julia!
I picked chives, parsley, thyme and oregano to but in the polenta we were having for dinner. Along with parmesan cheese it just dresses up the flavor.
To cook without herbs... Well it doesn't bear thinking about.
That is what my father called it when my mother got busy around the house and in the kitchen, and that is what you do when it rains endlessly for 3 days.
I don't think I have spent so much time indoors in years. I did manage to get outside for a short period of time yesterday when the rain and drizzle held up for a few minutes. I transplanted some Napa cabbage seedlings. I should have a great crop judging by the number of seedlings which came up. It began to rain again and then I was back in the house.
So what was I up to, you may ask.
You may remember my really great crop of Meyer lemons. The trees are now in the potting shed keeping warm and dry. The lemons are ripening gradually and I have begun to use them.
I have made two batches of lemon curd. Most of it will be given away as gifts but we have already enjoyed this delicious treat over Chobani natural fat free yoghurt. A spoonful of this curd over the top and a few berries is heaven.
Here's the recipe in case you would like to try it.
Mrs Beaton's Lemon Curd
3 large eggs
3 oz butter
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons.
Whisk the eggs and add remaining ingredients to the basin of a double boiler. (No double boiler, then use a bowl over pan of hot water making sure that you don't let the pan touch). Stir continuously until the curd thickens. Watch carefully as the eggs will scramble if you let it get too hot. Pot up in warm sterilized jars. Lots of ways to use the curd; on pound cake, in a jelly roll, over ice cream and on toast. Yum.
Wondering what else I could do with my Meyer lemons I came up with this website at the LA Times. 100 things to do with a Meyer lemonand even more here at Becks and Posh! No, that's not David Beckam and Posh Spice writing about Meyer lemons but you have to take a look here at all the recipes. I'm going to be going Meyer lemon recipe crazy! Maybe I can center a whole meal around Meyer lemons like my friend in Boise who centers her whole meal around garlic when she harvests her garlic crop. Garlic ice cream indeed!! I digress. This is a really interesting web site if you are at all interested in food and cooking.
I picked all my peppers this past week before the frost destroyed them. They have been ripening in the kitchen. Today I will roast them and freeze for later use.
I made a large batch of beef stew and a big pot of great northern beans. A good night for that, tonight.
I made toffee, sugar coated roasted pecan nuts (thanks Elaeanor), wrote Christmas cards, wrapped Christmas gifts, knitted. That's enough nesting for the day.
If you don't live in the southwest then you may be wondering what ghastly thing I have done to my finger. If you do live here then you will probably know I've been poking around in the prickly pear cactus. Carefully, I might add.
A prickly pear cactus has established itself under the red oak above the house and a few days ago I noticed a colony of Dactylopius coccus has taken up residence on some of the pads. I did try to separate the insect from its waxy coating but had no success.
Back in the 1500s I could have made myself a lot of money cultivating this white fluffy stuff-or rather what lies beneath. Often referred to incorrectly as the cochineal beetle it is in fact the cochineal scale insect.
When the Spanish explorers voyaged to South America, they were amazed at the beautiful scarlet robes worn by the inhabitants. In Europe the red dye they were using, made from an insect called the kermes, was not nearly so brightly colored. When they learnt about the origin of the dye the Spanish cornered the market and managed to keep the origin a closely guarded secret until the 1700s. The import of of cochineal from the Americas was second only to silver. Cloth dyed with cochineal became a sign of wealth and importance. It was used to dye the garments worn by the cardinals of Rome and the redcoats of England.
I first learnt about the cochineal scale about ten years ago when I was doing the docent training at the Wildflower Center. Now, I like to search out a cactus pad with scale and tell visitors about the little bottle of cochineal in my mother's kitchen cupboard. She used it to color cakes pink. As I demonstrate the existence of the scale on a prickly pear I also tell visitors about all the other products in which cochineal is used as a dye. It is the only natural red dye and used in products like lipsticks, candies, jello. If you think that's bad then think again about the substitute often used for cochineal. Red dye 40 is made from coal tar. Which would you rather eat?
I did. It is the first day of Advent in the Christian calendar. A time of expectation and waiting. This year I sent my grandchildren an Advent calendar without chocolates.
I even have one on my own computer and today the first door I opened was on Big Ben. On the hour Big Ben chimes according to your computer clock. It gave me quite a shock the first time it happened. This London scene is a reminder of all the wonderful buildings in the city and portrays a snowy scene. A delightful, musically animated scene greeted me with the opening of the first door and from time to time, on the main page, people with dogs walk by on the snowy street, a flag unfurls in the wind, on a tall building and a train goes. Maybe tomorrow the London Eye will revolve. I'm just a child at heart.
We had our third freeze of the winter earlier this week. It came with a howling cold wind. As the wind blew it froze the water on the bird bath into a raised solid lump of ice on the right hand side.
With little moisture in the air there was just a light dusting on the plants.
It was enough the kill off more flowering annuals. Those that had survived the last frost, being in a more favored location.
This year, thanks to reading about this little gadget on Ally's blog, I am hoping that I will be able to keep a better handle on the temperature in the greenhouse. Ally has a very sophisticated set up in her green house. I am just happy to have the greenhouse as a winter house and place to start seeds in the spring. It then spends the rest of the summer empty.
I have never been happy with the way this heater switches on and off. It would still be blasting away when the temperature in the greenhouse was like a summer's day. Hopefully the thermo cube will keep it in check. It is purported to turn the power on when the temperature gets to 35 F and off again when it reaches 45 F. We shall see.
The second method of keeping things warm in there is passive solar. I collect all the wine bottles and milk bottle and fill them up with water. They give back their heat during the night. Wine bottles are the best as the water gets quite warm in there.
A few succulents are in the house, probably for the winter. They are positioned here and there in south facing areas. This little succulent, which I purchased two years ago in California seems to prefer this indoor climate. Outside all summer it just wasn't happy. With few blooms left in the garden I am delighted to see it blooming.
Tonight we will have a hard freeze. No more mucking about with covers.
Except, that is, for the large A. desmettiana in the raised bed by the side entry. I am seriously hoping that it will make it through the night because if it does my plan will be to remove it for the winter. I do this with all the smaller desmets. because they will not survive a winter in this part of town. Small ones are pretty easy to remove. This one has only been in the ground since the spring, having spent its whole life in a pot, so I am hoping it will not be too much of a fight.
You may wonder why I bother. Only because it happens to be one of my favorite agaves and such a 'pupper'.
These two in the greenhouse were pulled from their summer place and potted up in a loose soil for the winter. I never had thought of putting one in a hanging basket before but this one I picked up at a garage sale for a dollar. I was really thinking more about the coir insert than the basket.
The lemons are now in the potting shed. There will be no more potting this winter. There is barely room to move.
I'll just be popping in there to pick the odd lemon as they fully ripen.
The time has come to bid farewell to the little zinnias along the path.
and the gomphrena, sheltered by the wall of one of the vegetable beds. I fear they will not be with us by morning.
Are you and your plants tucked in well for the night?
Do you count things in the garden? I do, and today was the day to count the lemons.
I have four lemon trees, all in pots. They are improved Meyer lemons and I can tell you that you will never want to buy a grocery store lemon ever again once you have tasted the Meyer. Thin skinned and wonderfully fragrant, no bitterness.
They spend the frost free months against the house on a south facing wall. They are watered separately from other plants in the garden using a battery powered timer and drip irrigation. During our long absences, this terrible summer, this watering system did the job of keeping the plants healthy.
I have to go to some lengths to maintain the trees because they must find a place sheltered from frost over the winter. At one time, I would keep them in the house and enjoy their fragrant winter blooms, but when travel takes us away during winter months they have to find a home in the potting shed, greenhouse or garage. The lemon tree in the foreground was left out two winters ago and when the temperatures dropped into the low teens I was sure it was lost. However, when spring arrived the tree started to grow new leaves. It did not bear fruit that year but this year the lemon count is 27. This convinced me that I must protect during the winter. The trees will be too set back to produce if I leave them outside.
The prize for the most lemons goes to the tree at the back; total count 38. The total count for all four trees is 106. Hm!! let me see what shall I do with them...........
I have decided to rename my kitchen garden. I'm going to call it the potager.
Surely this French word for kitchen garden has to have been derived from potage, meaning soup. Lots of things for the pot in my garden and also quite a potage of other things too.
As summer turns to fall there is much work to do to prepare for the winter potager. We have an excellent winter growing season here in central Texas and green crops are already well on the way. But it wasn't always like this. There was lots of work to do before I could even begin to grow vegetables.
First came laying the pipework for a drain which would be located in the center of the garden.
With that done we then built a short retaining wall along the back edge of the garden. We already knew we would have to build raised beds because this area had been filled with rubble. This was my way of laying out how the beds would go. Once again several angles to contend with. I finally settled on seven 4'x4' square beds and four 4'x8' beds, which David built for me.
Looking towards the house I decided it would be better to create a paved area which we did with pavers that David made by hand. If you look closely you can see the original 3 he made as a trial. He went on to make over 180.
But there are more than vegetables growing here.
In this area I grow herbs. Some edible some more decorative like this santolina and Dittany of Crete.
A wayward mullein which will be allowed to remain until it flowers.
All kinds of plants soften the paving. Alyssum, chives, blanket flowers, feather grass, Mexican marigold mint, verbena, cosmos. If it looks good it gets to stay.
In the winter beds I am growing, pak choi, sugar peas, radish, mustard, lettuce, broccoli, Napa cabbage, garlic. Two beds are planted with a cover crop of Austrian peas. Among the pavers and in the gravel are California poppies, blanket flowers, cornflowers, cilantro, dahlberg daisy. Yes, it's a veritable potage.