Saturday, January 30, 2016


I wasn't planning on my spring window box looking so good in January. I'm afraid it will be worn out by the time the real spring comes in March and April. But what's a gardener to do? Always be on the ready for something different. This is Texas. No two years are ever the same. This time we are having another dry spell but plenty of sunshine and warmer than expected days.

Exactly how long those ornamental cabbages will last I don't know. I remove leaves from the bottom fairly frequently so they are getting taller each week. Maybe it will leave more room for the pansies and violas. At the back are stocks and red flax, which I started from seed, and snapdragons.

I bought this planter from Gardeners' Supply with a gift coupon. It is self watering and holds 3 gallons of water in the reservoir. This certainly makes watering a lot easier. It has been one of my major success purchases, so yesterday, tempted by the fact that they were on sale, I bought another one. That means I will be able to plant up another one in readiness for when this one is finished. It's a luxury but I still had money left on the gift certificate and have decided it is a gift certificate well spent.
Elsewhere in the garden there are some early bloomers. I wish they would wait because it is going to get cold again. Grape hyacinths among their tangle of foliage. Is there a grape hyacinth that has shorter foliage?

The first of the square-bud primrose, Calylophus berlandieri.

And a very early blooming blanket flower, Gaillardia pulchella, sheltered between the walls of the raised beds.

It isn't so much that these last plants aren't hardy enough to survive a few frosts, they have already had at least five, but I would like to see them in my spring garden.

It's good there is something out there for the bees because they have been in evidence once the day warms. They love the sweet smelling alyssum, which has great depth of color in the winter. This is one plant I never need to buy as it seeds itself readily.
But don't leave here with the impression that my garden is full of flowers. It still has that winter look.

The English garden
 It may not have quite the bare look of winters gone bye but I think there is probably time for that to happen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


It was such a lovely, sunny winter's day Sunday and we spent the afternoon at our friends' ranch near Blanco. They have done some amazing work out there with their landscape structures and this time we were going to see their pizza oven in action.
It might just have been an uninteresting concrete pathway that led out to the oven but, but no, they have fancied up the concrete with some leaf impressions.

I am still puzzling over these first ones because in the photo you would swear they were in relief. The sun, low in the sky must be creating the illusion.

 Either way they captured my attention when walking out towards the patio.

Here's their magnificent pizza oven.

So how exactly do you serve pizza to a crowd? Everyone is in charge of their own pizza. First you have to roll your own dough. You pinch a piece off the dough from the bucket, roll it out, put it on a piece of parchment paper on a plate. Next you choose your toppings. Spoilt for choice might sum this up.

Then it's time to take your pizza out to be baked. It slips into the oven on its piece of parchment which I am told helps prevent the bottom getting burnt.

A short time later out it comes.

The pizzas came out in pretty rapid succession and one or two were made extra large for sharing while waiting for others to bake.
On the way home David was wondering where we could built a similar oven but that's one project I don't think will never happen.

Friday, January 22, 2016


The pillar in the herb garden, which is normally topped with a square planter of agaves, has been sitting naked for weeks. The planter spends the winter in the potting shed.

Surely I could find something to put on there for the winter months. Unbeknown to me, until the other day, I had just the perfect item in my potting shed.

I had a pair of gate pillar toppers, picked up at a garage sale, and no gate pillars on which to put them. Now I found the perfect place for at least one of them.

They were made by CHRISDON, of some kind of heavy resinous material. I checked out the name on the internet and found many items made by them but nothing like this pair. I am remebering back to the day when I found them. The end of a garage sale with lots of outdoor objects. I also found the pair of doves that sit on the bird bath as well as the stone balls in the front garden. The doves need a bit of a touch up to bring them back to their former glory.

So what to do with the other orb. Then I remembered the bird bath pillars in the front garden. I bought the two of them at a going out of business sale at Pots and Plants. They were missing their tops and at the time I thought they might work well to hold two glass globes I had inherited from a Gardeners' Supply photo shoot. This one survived the hail storm but the other globe, in a more open position, was smashed.

Then I spotted another found object that was without a real home. A pot tiki torch. The colors were just perfect for the other pillar. I can't think why I didn't think about it before.

 The colors are just perfect and almost look as though they were made for each other. i must decide what to do with the stainless steel oil reservoir int he center.

And I still have to find a home for my other orb. Meanwhile it goes back on the potting shed shelf.

Monday, January 18, 2016


In July we began a four week trip through Europe. Follow me on the first leg of the trip from Marseille to Rome.

July 1st-2nd 2015
It was the first time for us to take the British Airways direct flight from Austin to London, Heathrow; an evening flight which brought us into Heathrow Terminal 5 in the morning. Overnight flights are never much fun especially in economy. We had plenty of time to get to Terminal 3 for our ongoing flight to Marseille. Changing terminals at Heathrow takes some time and as well as the distance between terminals once again you have to go through security and the security is much tighter in the UK. My concern over whether my titanium hip replacement would show up on the X ray was unfounded. It was actually the balled up tissue, which had been through the washing machine, in my pant pocket, that instigated the wand and pat down. A decidedly unfriendly security lady.

BA serves food on even the shortest of flights so the late lunch ham sandwich and bottle of wine, served on the short flight to Marseille, were most welcome. We arrived in Marseille, picked up the bags and headed to information to find out how to call our hotel-Holiday Inn Express, booked through Hotwire ! The plan to spend the first night in Marseille was a good one after an overnight flight and second travel day. Directed to go outside to hotel pick up we waited for the bus. I don't think either of us was expecting to feel the blast of hot air that greeted us as we walked outside. Apparently we had brought the heat with us. When the shuttle bus arrived, 'No!' it did not go to our hotel. We went back inside to discover that the hotel had recently changed its name and was now called The Golden Tulip. Back to the same place and this time the bus arrived and took us to the hotel.

Lobby of the Golden Tulip

Patio and pool area
The hotel had been recently modernized and our room was modern and comfortable. Tired after our long day we showered and headed to the restaurant for a meal of Bocaux. It's the new rage and one we were to come across again several times. Everything from appetizer to dessert was served in containers or small casseroles.

After our dinner we went out to have a little walk around the grounds before retiring. So many of the plants around the hotel were the same as the ones we grow in Texas but this isn't surprising as this part of France shares the similar kind of limestone formation with alkaline soils. Slept well.

July 3rd 2015
Next morning we enjoyed breakfast on the terrace and David went off to pick up the car. We loaded up and were on our way-or so we thought. Getting out of Marseille airport was more difficult that we expected. In all it took 3 airport returns before we finally found the right way. We were heading for Crillon le Brave via country roads. Passing through the French village of Loumarin we discovered it was market day. It was around 12 and many were leaving which was probably the only reason we managed to find a close-by park. What a great market. Oh! the olives, the cheeses the breads-the everything. I want to come to this market every week.

We didn't have any problem selecting a couple of quiches and a selection of olives for our picnic sitting on the grass at the edge of the village.

We continued on our journey but it wasn't long before we had to stop to take photos of this beautiful field of sunflowers.

We have driven past many a field of Texas sunflowers in the past but never quite as accessible as this one.
We continued on the delightful drive to Crillon le Brave and our hotel for the next few days. Unlike my parents, who never booked their hotels ahead of time and found themselves in great difficulties in the South of  France on their 1955 trip, David had everything booked for the whole trip, hotels, buses and trains. This looks like a great start.

Once a thriving village of more than 500 residents, Crillon le Brave started a decline towards the end of the 19th C. By the end of WW 11 the village was in ruins. Then in the 70s people started to return rebuilding the ruined homes and returning life to the village. You would think it had always been this way because nothing of the character of the original buildings has been lost. It retains the look of a wonderful hill-top French village.

We had an incredible view from our bedroom window....once we had climbed the 64 steps up to the room! We joked about being under the leads, in this case the tiles, as Cassanova when he was imprisoned in the Bastille. We did have air conditioning which was a blessing because it was a very warm day with many more to come.

 A quick change into our swimwear and we were down to the pool, passing by the dining room on the way and reserving an outside table for dinner. What a beautiful setting. There were a couple of Côté Sud magazines in the bedroom and I took those down to the pool. David ordered drinks, a beer from him and a wine cocktail for me and, settling down on a lovely chaise, I was in seventh heaven.

Of course we were the first down for dinner and no one else was dining as early as we were so there was no problem in getting one of those front row tables. You couldn't find a more perfect setting. Don't you love the color palette. So chic.We decided to have the Menu d'été, a whopping 66€ each for entrée, plat, fromage et dessert au choix with two amuse bouche before we ever started. It truly was worth every euro. And so to bed. Another market day tomorrow!

Saturday July 4th 2015
We had a leisurely breakfast, again on the terrace. They had beautiful eggs which you boiled yourself. There were egg timers with 2, 3 and 4 minute sand timers. The eggs were enormous and judging how long to cook them was a challenge. It took me the whole 3 days we were there to get it right! It was such a luxury to sit on their beautiful terrace reading the Times newspaper. Really! did we want to go rushing off for the day. But, yes, we must.

There was a market beckoning in the village of Perne les Fontaines. With no indications of which way to go when we got to Pernes, but having seen people walking from one direction with shopping bags, we managed to find a parking lot, parked and headed off on foot. Soon we came to the old city walls and an ancient fortified gateway.

Walking though the arch we stood rather helplessly trying to decide which direction to take, finally we dragged our high-school French out from the cobwebs asking a man in a shop the way to the market. He directed us to the pathway which ran alongside the river. It was going to be another warm day in Provence.

Once again the market stalls were a feast for all the senses.

The town is named for the many fountains  and there is a walk which takes you around the town and to all the fountains. But first we took a pathway up towards the church.

More steps and by the time we reached the top the bells were ringing. There is nothing more wonderful than the sound of real bells. We were to hear so many but never once were we kept awake at night.

Retracing our steps to the village we followed the signs which marked the way to the numerous fountains. There is no shortage of water in Provence. All the fountains were running.

By now it was after mid day and after a quick stop to look at the old sign outside abattoir we headed back to the car and our next destination- Carpenteras. We had a date at Chez Serge!

Market day in Carpenteras is on a Friday so we were not met with market day crowds and had no trouble finding a park. How lucky! It was right across the road from Chez Serge.

 I had come across this restaurant on the internet and the rave reviews had me hooked. We were going to have a meal with truffles although the chances were that it might involve more eggs! By all accounts the truffle omlette was the cheapest thing on the menu.  There were no long lines outside and once again our luck held and we managed to get a table in the courtyard. that sign by the fountain was one I remember from being in France in my youth. None of the water was potable in those days.

If I had known that they would be bringing us an amuse bouche of goat cheese and truffles I would not have ordered that omelette with truffles( the only modestly priced truffle meal at 19€) But there you are. The order was already placed. We had come here for the truffles. I decided it was a lot of hype and for anyone else visiting there I recommend choosing something from the regular menu. It was enough of a truffle experience with the little plate they brought us.

And this was the omelette plate...

which we washed down with a bottle of local wine. 

So taken were we with this wine that we stopped at the vineyard on the way back to Crillon le Brave and bought a couple of bottles.

That night we chose to eat a more modest dinner next door to the hotel. Not a great choice on our part even thought the presentation looks good.

Sunday July 5th 2015

After a leisurely breakfast on that glorious terrace we drove to the village of Séguret, a fortified hillside village surrounded by vineyards.

How can plants possibly survive in such poor soil?

 All was quiet in the village, the narrow streets empty. Of course it was Sunday so nothing was open. There were many artisan shops but closed for the day. It was nice to be able to enjoy the narrow streets without the hustle and bustle of tourists.

We climbed up to the church and then came back down and found this delightful little restaurant. After all it was nearly 1pm.

You may have gathered that food plays a special part in our travel and what could be nicer that an alfresco lunch on a gorgeous day with a carafe of French rosé and a dish of olives.. to begin! 

I ordered the Salade Corse- lots of interesting meats from Corsica and chèvre cheese.

David chose a more healthy main course. It was all very wonderful and I could have lingered there but we had other places to visit.

Next stop Orange and the famous Roman theatre. This theatre is considered to be one of the finest of all Roman remains, the theatre wall being extremely well preserved and still used today for concerts. You can see the stage props from a recent concert.

Those steps were a lot steeper to climb than they appear in the photograph, especially in the baking sun.  If I hadn't mentioned this before Europe was basking in a heat wave and the afternoons were particularly brutal. Everyone was trying to get in the shade and finding none.

An artistic impression of how the theater may have looked in its glory days.

Entry also included a visit to the museum across the road with its many mosaics and Roman artifacts.

It had a been a long hot day and we were happy to return to the hotel, to swim and rest before dinner. We had one last dinner in the hotel as the next day we would be driving to Nice.

Monday July 6th 2015
The car loaded up and we were on our way. Although the original plan had been to drive the coast road to Nice, as my parents had done all those years ago, in the end time constraints meant we must take the motorway arriving in Nice around lunch time. We went straight to our hotel, Le Hameau, which was in Saint Paul deVence. David had imagined that the hotel was in the countryside, which is wasn't. However, it was very close to the medieval village, which we planned to visit the next morning. We checked in and then after a snack lunch in the garden (not very good) we drove off to find an HSBC bank in Nice. Earlier that day we had found ourselves in some difficulties at the motorway toll booth  because we had no cash and then found the machine would not accept our credit card. As we held up all the traffic behind us they took forever to take down particulars of driving license and credit card.
We found the bank and with Euros in hand headed off along the Promenade des Anglais towards Èze. I had read about a wonderful garden there. Unfortunately my directions confused Èze with Èze-sur-Mer so we wasted some time on the narrow winding streets of Èze-sur-Mer before realizing we would have to retrace our steps back along the coast to the turning for Èze village. Once there we found a park and began the hike up to the medieval village. All these French villages are popular tourist spots and this one was no exception. The narrow winding streets were lined with tourist shops. The large car park was filled with tour buses although as it was now 4pm most visitors were coming back down the hill. By the time we reached the gardens at the very top we more or less had them to ourselves.

The view of the coast with Èze- village below and Cap Ferrat in the distance was splendid, the gardens a paradise for cactus and succulent lovers. You can read more about this garden on my garden blog Rock Rose
Retracing our steps back through the medieval village we took a different route marveling in the stonework.

Back at the hotel we showered and on the recommendation of our host had dinner at a small family restaurant around the corner. I had a plate of stuffed peppers and squash. Delicious.

Tuesday July 7th 2015

The hilltop village of Saint Paul de Vence forbids cars to drive in. There is some parking on the streets below and our plan was to drive up there, park and walk the village before breakfast. It was a good plan. At 8am there were no tourists. But of course there were more steps to climb. Onward and upward!

Saint Paul de Vence is clearly a high end artist colony with pieces of sculpture embedded in the rock walls. It didn't matter to us that the shops were closed. We gazed in the shop windows at the beautiful sculpture.

Finally we reached the high point in the village- the church, looking down on the immaculately kept cemetery. A lady watering the flowers was the only sign of life.

We quickly found the grave of Marc Chagall, his second wife and brother-in-law, decorated with stones and money as is the Jewish tradition. He lived in Vence and wished to be buried there instead of the Jewish cemetery in Nice. The mayor gave him part of his family plot.

What a beautifully peaceful spot for a final resting place.

We returned to the hotel for a delightful breakfast on the patio and the chance to take a few photographs of this delightful hotel.

Le Hameau breakfast area

Le Hameau rooms

Bouganvillea archway

Le Hameau pool

Ceramic tableau
I wish we could have spent a little more time there but we had a date with a bus. It was time to leave, drop the car off at the airport and pick up the bus leaving for Genoa. We were on our way to Italy. Things couldn't have been easier. David dropped me off at the airport while he returned the car. There would have been a $1000 charge to drop off the car in Italy so we had to look for alternative ways to get there. We picked up some lunch at a French cafe in the airport and walked outside to the bus area. On time our bus arrived, we handed in the pre booked tickets and found our seat for the journey to Genoa. There was Wifi on the bus so I was able to follow on Iphone maps the journey along the inland coast road, pointing out all the names of the hill-top villages. We made one stop, picking up coffee and were on our way, crossing the border into Italy and arriving at the Genoa bus station 3 hours later.

In Genoa we walked across the road to the train station where someone helped us to buy the tickets at the automatic machine. Next minute we found ourselves running to get the train to the Sestri Levante which was due to arrive any minute.  With one train change in Sestri Levante we were on the way to the town of Vernazza where we would stay for 3 nights. Using our pay-as-you-go Tesco phone, I called the owner of the B&B who said he would meet us at the station. I was relieved when John, he preferred to be called John rather than Giovanni, took my luggage. Not too difficult to wheel down the main street of Vernazza but then the 84 winding steps up through the village to the little pension would have been a different matter. The steps were worth it though because our room at La Mala overlooked the water with views of the castle to one side.
The room was furnished in a simple modern style with adjoining bathroom. There was a table with two chairs and kettle, mugs and plates along with wine glasses, small fridge and safe. Thank goodness for air conditioning. After showering we went down to the village and were lucky to be seated in one of the main restaurants in the main square. A modest fish meal.
Later that evening I discovered that I was missing my battery charger for the camera and also the wall plug to charge the phone. Fortunately I still had the cord. We could only assume that the bag with those items had slipped under the seat of the rental car.

Wednesday July 8th 2015
Breakfasts were to be taken in the village at one of two restaurants, the first being down by the harbor and the second up the main street towards the station. Being early risers there were few people around in the square, daily visitors by train and boat not yet having arrived. We found the restaurant and ordered the 'coupon' breakfast which consisted of fresh juice, coffee, panini and croissant. Today we would take the boat tour along the coast to visit the other villages. The boat stopped at 2 of the villages to the east and then returned back to Vernazza and then went on to Monterosso which is a more crowded tourist area.


We had been to the Cinque Terre some 15 years ago and had hiked part of the trails that link the villages. Today it is necessary to purchase a pass in order to hike the trail.
That evening we took a different way down to the village from our room and passing by a small bistro with outside eating we decided to try it out. Then we strolled around the village and managed to find a wall jack with a European plug. At least I would be able to use the camera phone. So all the photos from now on were taken with my iPhone.

Thursday July 9th 2015
This morning we had to take our breakfast at the other cafe on the main street because the first place was closed for the day. When we arrived we were disappointed to be told that they couldn't serve us because they were all going to a funeral and were closing. After I showed them our coupons they agreed. They served us a more modest breakfast of juice, coffee and apple cake. After which we visited the church where preparations were underway for the funeral.

We spent a little time in the square just sitting and watching the locals go about their business and then the funeral procession came out of the church and walked up the main street.

Later we saw this sign pasted on a tree and our host John told us that Luigi was a very well respected man in the community and many had attended his funeral.

We climbed part of the way to Monterosso, as far as the gate booth was, in order to capture the magnificent view looking down on the harbor of Vernazza.

Then we climbed up to the castle on the other side and picked out the place where we would have our last dinner in Vernazza.

We had been tempted earlier by the bakeries in the main village and stopped in to buy some lunch and a beer which we ate by the open window in our room.

Later in the afternoon we took the train into Monterosso in order to buy our train tickets for next day's journey to Civitavecchia. We were at the other end of the town from where we had been dropped off by the day cruise boat. The town has more of a resort feel to it with a long beach filled with chaises and umbrellas. A more popular holiday spot for beach days compared with the smaller villages along the coast.

Tickets in hand we went back for our last night in Vernazza and dinner with an amazing view of the town below. A little taste of everything that comes out of the ocean.

Friday July 10th 2015
John helped us with our luggage back up to the train station and we were on our way to Civitavecchia for the second leg of our journey. A cruise from Rome to Venice on Holland America.