Tuesday, August 15, 2017


I am joining Carol at May Dreams Gardens to celebrate August Bloom Day. Won't you visit her garden and see who is joining her from around the world to celebrate Bloom Day.

The rain has brought new life to my parched garden. Leucophyllum frutescens, commonly called Texas sage, but more aptly the barometer bush, responded after about 10 days with a flush of flowers.

Roadside are blooming with the more commonly seen purple sage. In our neighborhood irrigation never results in a bloom so I feel sure that a change in pressure and a cold front with rain is the trigger.

This little native shrugs off the 100º days.

As does the chocolate daisy, Berlandiera lyrata, although the early morning blooms will be closed by noon.

The Japanese lantern flower, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis var. schizopetalus.

My clematis just don't like Texas summers but has struggled to produce two blooms for bloom day.

It's been a week for blooms on the Echinopis. First a white and then a pink one.

It is always the same little bees who come to visit these flowers but never any seeds.

I hope everyone is enjoying their garden on this August bloom day. It's 100º here in Austin. That's number 35 for the year!

Sunday, August 13, 2017


I had a plan. I was going to give up my Saturday morning in the garden and go to the a class on plastering at Tree House. David thought I was crazy but I told him I would like to learn a little more about technique of plastering so I could do some repair work on our plastered walls.

There were only 4 people there when I arrived and while I was helping myself to a cup of coffee someone came over to check me in! She didn't see my name on the list and had I signed up. "Oh!" I said with surprise, " I didn't know I needed to sign up." It turned out this was a fee class and the class was full. How come I hadn't seen that on the notice I got from them on Facebook? I drank my coffee and went to have a wander around the store.
We are so lucky to have a store like this in Austin. I just wish I was about 50 years younger. How many times have I said that? You can read all about the the Tree House story here.

I doubt there is not a single thing in the store that you wouldn't wish you had in your home. From the solar panels, on demand water heaters, insulation, VOC free paints, gorgeous wool carpets, stone flooring, tiles, kitchen cabinets, lighting, water purification systems, composting systems, plus all kinds of items to make living more healthy. And of course the plastered walls.
In the garden section they have a huge display of water collection systems.

As well as organic seeds, soils, pots and plants.

Bird, butterfly and bat houses of all kinds.

Kits for starting you own bee hives,

I must have spent over an hour there just walking around looking at everything they had. The morning was not lost after all. I left with grand ideas about replacing our current water collection tanks for one of those real ones. New carpet? It is about time. Bees? How I would love to have my own honey. And solar power? Like I said I wish I was 50 years younger.

Tree House is Located at 4477 South Lamar Blvd #600, close to Central Market. If you have never been they would love to have you visit.

Friday, August 11, 2017


I have worked all this past week on the sunken garden. Unfortunately the heat and humidity mean only a 3 hour slot in the early morning and two of those hours in the full sun. There is still much more to be done.

I'm afraid I am one of those gardeners who has great difficulty removing plants. It is even difficult for me to remove a plant that is not performing well as I will always give it one last chance. I pulled most of the blanket flowers just leaving one or two that look as though they will make it to fall. I hate to pull them all because the American goldfinches love their seeds.

With some semblance of order on the lower level, I turned to the surrounds. A few years ago a Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, seeded in front of the pool. It dies back to the ground in winter, and is slow to return,  so it never becomes hugely overgrown. It is a good companion for the iris. I don't think there are many plants that shout 'Summer' quite as loudly as this.

Last year I saved some seeds and finding them among my seed store just 10 days ago, I soaked them in water and those that swelled I planted in seed compost. They are now an inch tall. I will hold them over the winter and plant in the from next year.

Along the low wall there was a tangle of Russian sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia, mixed in with Ruellia and errant strands of fig ivy, Ficus repens It feels liberating to have removed the lot. All that remain is the gopher plant with some underlying pink skullcap. In the fall I plan to add some santolina to be backed by columbines.

Working further along I reached the squid agave, Agave bracteosa. Judging by the fact that I removed over 50 pups it has been quite a long time since I did a clean out.

I saved the best. What on earth am I going to do with them all? I potted up a few and planted about 6 outside in the areas where we cleared yaupons this year.

And as I promised myself this past spring I removed all the muscari bulbs growing along the edge. I was tired of their scrappy foliage and few blooms. After pulling out the bulbs I begin to see why they didn't perform. They were all too small to be a success. Probably due to poor dry soil which I plan to amend. Many of my bulbs we3re blind this year and this points to poor care on my part.
I'm taking back my rocks. No more ruellia, mealyblue sage, pink crystal grasses growing in the holes.      And I really mean to keep to this.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


There is not a plant in my garden that didn't respond to the wonderful rain we had this past week. So long overdue. One day I was looking at plants that were withered and dying and a day later it was as though someone had waved a magic wand and breathed new life into them. But of all the plants in the garden there are no plants that respond so dramatically as the rain lilies.
It may be time to divide this large clump of pink rain lilies.

Our native rain blooms a couple of days after rain. Unfortunately if a deer walks by he likes to nibble off the flower.
Cooper pedunculate
Just a couple of yellow zephyranthes.
And this stunning flower on the Trichocereus cactus greeted me this morning.

Friday, August 4, 2017


It's always exciting to find a new native plant which does well in a garden setting. Last fall Julie Marcus, Senior Horticulturalist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center gave me a little cutting of a pyramid bush, Melochia tomentosa. It was a spindly little plant bearing only 3 leaves. I was naturally concerned about putting such a small plant in the ground so I kept it in the greenhouse over the winter planting it in the upper level of the sunken garden this spring. As is often the case I promptly forgot about it. The echinacea and mealy blue sage grew up around it and it was only as I cut back the overgrown plants that I saw the little pyramid bush had survived my neglect. I was thrilled.

Since releasing it from bondage it has grown in leaps and bounds, and will soon reach its final size of 2'x2' It is perfect for the upper level of the sunken garden. It is covered with pretty little pink flowers which, by all accounts, will bloom all summer until the first frost. A perennial member of the chocolate family it will die to the ground in the winter but will quickly return once temperatures warm. Just the kind of plant you need to take over when spring blooms fade.

By all accounts it roots easily from semi-hardwood cuttings and seeds quite readily. I look forward to having more of this delightful little plant in the garden.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Blue plumbago, Plumbago auriculata,  is one of my favorite summer plants. This tender perennial is native to South Africa dying back to the ground every winter. In fact I want it to die back so that it has to start from scratch every year.  That way it stays manageable until the end of the year. It waits for all those spring bloomers to leave the garden before it begins growing back and flowers constantly throughout the summer and fall.
It is a happy companion for this Yucca rostrata. For those of you wondering why I haven't trimmed up the grass skirt.... probably not going to happen.

Bearing a similar name, Leadwort plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, also has blue flowers but its growing habit is quite different. It makes a great ground cover blooming from May to October and disappearing over the winter. Never fear its roots with be spreading underground during the winter and it is necessary to keep it in check.

I am only just becoming to appreciate how well scabiosa does during our hot summers. It has been flowering non-stop since spring and shows no signs of letting up. I have one plant that is 4 years old and ready to be divided in the spring. I picked up another 3 plants this spring and all are doing well despite the heat and humidity.

Ruellia! Don't let its self seeding nature prevent you from having this plant in your garden. When little else blooming ruellia will, pumping out new flowers every day. Just make sure you cut off the seed heads as soon as the flowers finish blooming. I have two kinds, both the dwarf and taller variety. They both require a little work to keep them under control but their bloom more than make up for that.

Yes, I have the summer blues and they are good ones.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


I wonder what other people bring back from their vacations? I wonder if, like me, they bring back salt? This is the third time I have brought back salt in the last few years.

This summer we found ourselves on the Maltese island of Gozo. I would never have heard of this island save for the fact that the Best in Show garden at The Chelsea Flower Show this year was a garden modeled after a quarry in Gozo. We never did come across the quarry on our visit but we did spend a wonderful day on Gozo.
Mgarr was one of the ports of call on our Adriatic cruise and we had a memorable day exploring this tranquil island.

For such a small island there is plenty to see, so we had to pick out a few things in the time we had. The rental car office was close to the dock and we were soon on our way to the Unesco World Heritage, megalithic temple complex, the Ggantija Temples(3600-3000BC).

To be honest if you have seen the pyramids then these ancient structures might disappoint, but they have a nice museum and do a good job of explaining who built them and why.

The landscape is dry, seemingly desolate and blindingly white, so as we were leaving we were surprised to come across a man selling some of his home grown produce; pickled capers, honey, pomegranate jam, olive oil and Gozo salt. I'm not sure what the prickly pear pad was doing there but he may have had prickly pear fruit jam as well.

We made a few purchases including a tub of salt. Incidentally you may not be familiar with the flower of the caper bush, Capparis spinosa, which you see growing wild all over the Mediterranean. It is a real beauty. I would love to grow this for the flowers alone.

Caper flower
A short distance from the temple complex was the Ta' Kola windmill, converted into a museum, and included in our Temple visit. This gorgeous bouganvillea just beckoned us to take a photo and the tour of the windmill was interesting.

The guys were determined to find a beach but the one we did find was not up to expectations. With no shade it was just too hot for us to eat our picnic lunch.

We pressed on the the north side of the island to find the area where they harvested the salt. The rock-cut salt pans date back to Roman times and the salt which forms in the pans is still harvested by a few families today.

Across the road a cave had been carved into the hillside and a very elderly gentleman was sleeping inside in the heat of the afternoon. It turned out it was his wife down below selling the packages of salt that he had harvested. In halting English she shared with us how 5 generations of her family had worked the salt pans. Now her children had left to live in Malta and had no interest in continuing the family tradition.

After leaving the road and continuing down a dirt track we finally found that perfect swimming place. A cleft in the rocks with a small pebbly beach below the steep pathway. There were only a few people there and Mark swam all the way out to the open sea.

It was then time to make our way back to Mgarr and the tender that would take us back to the ship. It had been a great day and I was taking home salt as well as more suns and moons.....but that's another story.

Friday, July 28, 2017


This is never more true than when it comes to gardening. I have lived and gardened in many places around this great country and gardening here is a whole other country, and it's not England!

For one thing, we can garden year round, our best seasons being spring and fall. It's that period from June to October when the heat of summer takes its toll on all our plants that makes us wonder, "Is it worth it?"  How are you are feeling about your garden right now, after these endless 100+° days with a lot more to come? Did someone say 107° tomorrow? And, no rain.

My return from a 4 week vacation was just in time. I have spent the last week both with hose and pruners in hand giving the ground some much needed water and cutting back lots of dead vegetation. Strange how when you leave for 4 weeks there is more than 4 weeks of work to catch up on. That 'Month of Sundays' that my mother used to go on about will not be enough.

The areas above are my sunken garden and vegetable garden. All the plants you see are self sown. This is a particularly good year for the narrow leaf zinnias-I'll never know why because we had several very cold nights this winter. But one of the reasons the plants in these areas do so well in the summer heat is the cool root run they enjoy under thick paving stones. They survived a whole month without water. Mulch is one thing but solid stone is quite another.

Gomphrena 'Fireworks' can also take the cold and heat. It seems to be one of the hardiest of the gomphrenas with the plants surviving winter cold to burst with their 4th of July display just in time for the celebrations. They can be a bit weedy but I'm not going to complain about that. I just cut them back and back they come. They may benefit from some water from the vegetable beds but other than that they get no additional water.

There's not much going on in the vegetable beds right now so I am leaving the Lindheimer senna, Senna lindheimeriana and orange cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus, which seeded there, until fall vegetable planting time.
The blanket flowers just keep on flowering and that is just fine with me and the goldfinches. I particularly like the darker colored ones that appear.

And this surprise yellow one.

But that aside one thing you have to know about summer in Texas is that it is more than worthwhile helping your plants get through the heat because they are sure to give you a fine display during our much anticipated fall. And if you don't want to spend too much on water then collect every drop you can. A bucket in the shower, a bucket under the AC fall out, wash your vegetables into a bowl and water your plants with it. There are lots of times we just let water run down the drain when it could be collected for the garden.