Monday, February 24, 2014


Jumping back to Christmas Eve, 2013, the next stop on our Taiwanese journey was the oldest city in Taiwan, Tainan, settled by the Dutch East India Company. The house where we were to spend Christmas eve and Christmas day brought another big surprise. Notice the juxtaposition of the modern house we are to stay in and the Chinese temple in the background.

As soon as we stepped in through the gate I knew I was going to love this as much as the last place.

One can sit on the bench and listen to the water as it cascades down the wall into a Koi pond.

Shoes off at the door, of course, and traditional woven slippers provided for our comfort; concrete floors. Maowu is ours for the next 2 days.

There are more surprises on Christmas morning. We are to go next door to the main house for our breakfast.
You can't see anything over the high wall but when we open the gate this is the view.

There will be time to visit the garden after breakfast. We remove our shoes and put on slippers and enter the breakfast room. Soft Christmas music is playing.

Vivian hasn't opened her presents yet so we bring a few over to open at the table. What a table; a single piece of wood. Mark has requested a Western style breakfast and it is delicious. I wouldn't normally eat soup for breakfast but this one was so good. You can see that everything about this place is attention to detail.

There is a small water feature inside the room. I'm wondering if I could so something like that.

Then it is time to explore the garden. I am in love with the stone troughs.

And with this bronze bird sitting on a twig.

Just time for a group photo before we go back to our house, open presents and catch up with the family back home.

They are getting ready to go to bed in the USA

and we have plans to explore the town on the 4 bicycles the house has arranged for us. It may be Christmas Day but life goes on as usual in Taiwan.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Over the past week I have been working in the sunken garden. Things are finally starting to look a little tidier.

Let's see what grows here.
Skullcaps- Both the pink skull cap Scutellaria suffrutescens and the purple skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii. All have been pruned.  I prefer them to have a rounded appearance although some will never achieve the pretty ball shapes. this one is certainly looking like it has the potential to make the grade.

Pink crystal grass, Melinis nerviglumis I may finally be over my love affair with this grass. It seeds everywhere, in among the plants, and its wiry tufts are almost impossible to remove. Having said that I have cut many of them back to see how well they come out of winter dormancy. I used to think that Mexican feather grass was a heavy seeder but it is no match for crystal grass. It's going to be a big year for the blue eyed grass. I have never seen so many, some in beautiful big clumps. Some not well placed but I won't be moving them.

Asparagus fern, Asparagus densiflorus 'Srengeri'It begins to look as though the asparagus fern has finally won out over the Salvia greggii. And no wonder. The ground is bare around the plant and is filled with its bulbous roots. I have to decide whether to let it remain. It lost all its needle-like foliage this winter. I cut it back to the ground and now new leaf strands are shooting out of the ground.

I see a gopher plant seedling in one of the cracks. Not sure whether to try to remove it.

These two little iris, Iris reticulata, are the earliest of the spring bloomers and it is only by chance that I saw them today. They are almost buried by poppy foliage. I think they deserve a more prominent place in the rockery.

Here's the first bluebonnet flower. It's growing out of a hole in one of the ledge stones so its growth is a little stunted.

I had to redo the thyme bed this year. All the plants had become too woody and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. This time I planted, silver thyme, lemon thyme and German thyme. The gardener at Highgrove was not wrong when he talked about how much work it was to maintain the thyme walkway at Highgrove!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Usually the first blooms of the season are the windflowers, Anemone berlandieri, and sure enough today I spotted the first blooms.

The recent warm days have brought on a flurry of spring blooms.

Clusters of daffodils.


Grape hyacinths, Muscari

Gopher plant, Euphorbia rigida. Spring is on the way. Hurrah!

Saturday, February 15, 2014


The hard winter has left Texas gardens far behind how they would normally look at this time of year. It is a time when structure takes over from planting.

However there are signs that spring is on the way and with temperature in the 70s and 80s this next week it is going to come quickly. It is likely to be here sooner than we think.

Viburnum 'Spring Bouquet' is about to burst its buds. WIth its evergreen foliage, undamaged by many freezing nights it is a welcome addition in the winter garden.

A clump of paperwhites, always the earliest of the spring flowers.

With an 80° day promised these daffs will be open before the end of the day.

A pot of violas is a welcome splash of color. I planted these in November and left them to the elements. They needed no pampering.

My last flower is a patch of alyssum in the gravel of the vegetable garden path.
Is your garden still under snow? Do you see crocus and snowdrops pushing their way through? That will be a sure sign that a new gardening year is on the way. Please join Carol, at Maydreams for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


We knew we were not going to spend the whole of the two weeks, over Christmas, in Taipei. Mark had made some plans for us to tour around the island for the week of the Christmas holiday, which of course is not a holiday in Taiwan. However, we had no idea where we were going when we set off on the Monday.

We headed away from the bustle of the city and into the hills. This area is known for its persimmon farms and we were visiting at harvest time.

Most of the harvest was picked but there were still a few fruit trees with their fruit protected by paper bags. This was a sight we were to see frequently in other fruit growing areas.

The fruits are carefully sorted and put onto racks ready for drying under the sun's warm rays.

Unfortunately the weather was not cooperative on the day we visited so I could only take a photo of a photo that I saw hanging on the wall. The wicker baskets lead me to believe that this was taken some years ago, although they still dry the persimmons the same way; on racks in the open air.

The racks are in the garden several feet off the ground, with no covering, and the fruit is turned by hand from a ladder which is moved around underneath the racks.

Leaving the area we drove by this cemetery.

and several traditional Taiwanese houses. We were heading to our hotel for the evening.

Mark had arranged for us all to spend the night in a classical Chinese garden hotel in the mountains above the town of Hsinchu. After parking the car we walked on stepping stones through a young bamboo grove entering the reception building through large wooden doors. Here we were greeted with washcloths and tea before we crossed to the main part of the hotel and were taken to our room. It was not hard to see that walking down the hallways to our room, The One, Nan Yuan, was going to be a special treat.

I stopped to photograph this Chinese settee with a tray of herbs and spices.

We were to stay in a house which has been shrouded in mystery for many years. The property was the home of the late Wang Ti-wu, Taipei newspaper magnate, a gift from his sons. It was never lived in as a home but used to entertain dignitaries including Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev. Now after renovations it is a place to go to enjoy meditation, painting, music and their peaceful walled gardens. After refreshing ourselves from the day's travel in our Japanese style bathroom, black slate tiles and oversized tub, we joined the family in their room for a glass of wine before dinner. We had been instructed to be in the dining room by 6pm where there would be some entertainment.

During the early part of our 8 course meal we were entertained by a classical Chinese musician on a seven stringed zither called a Guqin. But I have to share the menu.

First came 'Hakka pancakes with fermented tofu', followed by 'Pork and vegetables salad with dressing by red miso and pineapple sauce'. Next 'Hokkaido scallop and prawn on a bed of salted Hakka herbal jelly and seaweed'. Next  a 'soup of clam seaweed with tremella and clam stuffed tomato, decorated with pearl oyster', 'steamed egg mixture of egg, cream, crab meat cuttlefish and Jinxing tofu, topped with clam and green bean'. Plate number six was 'Fried Oyster, accompanied with Cashemir crystal salt, lemon and shredded vegetables'. I chose 'Steamed grouper , seasoned with spices, kumquat-persimmon compote' for my main course. It was served with a 'seasonal vegetable and garlic flavored rice noodle'. The dessert was a small plate of petit fours with my favorite macaroons. Olive tea was served with the meal. Portions were small and elegantly presented so that we did not leave the table feeling we had overeaten. We spent the rest of the evening in the guest lounge area playing Uno.

At breakfast we learn that there is to be a tour of the garden, about which I am very excited. You just have to look through the window to know this is a special garden. Too bad it is raining. We are instructed to head down and meet our guide under the large banyan tree. We pick up large umbrellas out side the door and head down the steps to meet our guide.

The house and gardens were designed by Han Pao teh, and built between 1983 and 1985. In the style of the classical Chinese garden he was given free rein to design as he wished and created a series of wooden structures around a lake with an arched bridge. Bamboo nails were used throughout the building.

Chinese symbols are used throughout, the vase shaped door represents peace because the Chinese words for 'vase' and ''peace are homonyms.

Han used the finest craftsmen.

This pretty flower with its distinctive leaf pattern brightened a corner of one of the enclosed courtyards.

A stone bird rests on a water-worn stone. I am sorry we couldn't see the garden on a sunny day and better explore all it has to offer but the brief visit was one that will remain in my memory for a long time. It is Christmas eve and we must move on to the house where we will spend Christmas day.