Friday, March 27, 2020


You walk around the garden and spot the first bloom on the ....... I'm sure you could easily fill in the blank. Surely every gardener shares this experience. And spring is the time when every day seems to bring that 'first flower' experience.
Here are some of my first flower experiences this week and most of them natives.

First I saw the bud then overnight a flower on the Ladyfinger cactus, Echinocereus pentalophus. These flowers last for at least 3 days and usually arrive in succession.

The blue gilia,  Giliastrum rigidulum. More commonly found in west Texas but I found one small patch growing on my lot and was successful in moving it to a place where I can see it and enjoy its beauty. It is almost at eye level so cannot be missed. It usually opens in the afternoon. Do you see the weevil? Not the dreaded agave weevil though.

Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium, seeds among the gravel and between the pavers. As does the Engelmanns daisy which has seeded alongside.

the pink evening primrose, Oenothera speciosa. Oh! Yes, it will run wild but that' fine. A quick pull here and there will keep it under control.

Bad blue-eyes, Nemophila phacelioides. I only have a little patch of shade and that's where they grow.

Everyone else may be able to grow the spiderwort, Tradescantia sp with ease. For me it is a rare event.

What's that I see through the shower window? It's the first blooms of the Anacacho orchid tree, Bauhinea lunarioides.

And the cross vine, Bignonia capreolata. has found tis way 20' from the mother plant.

And I have a mental block on what this plant is called. Help me out will you, please? Update. Thanks to Lyn for the id of Pavonia lasiopetala if I remember the species name correctly.

And wood sorrel, Oxalis.sp. For some it is a weed, for me I am happy to have just a few flowers in this shady corner.

Oh! How I love that morning, spring-time stroll around the garden. There will be more tomorrow, I'm sure.

Friday, March 20, 2020


While trying to maintain an air of cheerfulness during these difficult time I want to show you some photos of my absolute favorite flower. The foxglove. Mine are incredibly early this year blooming a full month to a month and a half ahead of their normal schedule. I give you Digitalis purpurea 'Foxy'

I have learnt that they do better in pots, as our soil is very alkaline. I buy them in 4" pots very early in the season and pot them on first, into gallon pots and then into their final pot. They much prefer some nice quality soil like Fox Farm, so there is some expense involved in getting them to look good.

They say you can tell their color by looking at the underside of the leaf but I didn't notice any difference in them and it is rather like it used to be when you were having a baby. You needed to wait a while to find out what color. As you can see below when the blooms first appear they are not giving away any secrets.

Then suddenly a little color starts to show up in the flower bud and then all is revealed.

So this year they are all the same color which is a little disappointing as last year I had darker pink and white ones. At the same time their early arrival has been difficult for them because of swinging temperatures. They would really prefer a cool spring rather than the swings we have been having. First heat, then cold then stiff winds and now lots of heavy rain.
The older flowers are dropping much faster than usual.

My love of foxgloves goes back to my childhood and reading lots of stories about fairies. The markings on the inside of the bell were once thought to be the handprints of fairies.

There foxgloves in our garden
How careless they must be
To leave their gloves out hanging
For everyone to see.
Taken from, One Thousand Poems for Children.

Although wild foxgloves seed freely under the right conditions I don't believe there is viable seed in these. Therefore, as soon as the main flower spike has finished I will cut it off to give the side flowers chance to grow. Not so showy but still give a few more weeks of bloom.

Sunday, March 15, 2020


There are lots of plants whose flowers are ephemeral. I'm thinking of the flowers on my cactus which bloom for just one day. I wouldn't give up that moment for anything. And then there are flowers that give us a few more days to enjoy their beauty. Among these are the Spring flowering daffodils, grape hyacinths and tulips. Even those few days of flowering are worth the year-long wait.
Living in the south we enjoy a good selection of spring bulbs that come back year after year but when it comes to longevity only the species tulips do well in the southern garden.

Tulipa clusiana Lady Jane, returns year after year if given the right conditions. Fast draining, poor soil. If it finds a happy place it will spread over the years producing nice clump of flowers to brighten the early spring garden. When the flowers close at night they show off their pink underbelly.

One of the reasons I like the clusiana tulips is because they have elegant seed heads which I look attractive even after they have dried. I scatter the seeds in different places. The leaves die back at about the same time as the seed heads.

Another member of the clusiana family is Tulipa clusiana 'Tinka" Lemony yellow when fully opened with pink underbelly when closed.

Planted in 2016 the package was labeled  Tulips humilis 'Persian Pearl' but I learn that one has a yellow center. It is more likely to be Tulipa humilis 'Little beauty' which has a bluish center. Either way the plant is a beauty and perfect for rock gardens as the flowers only stand about 4" tall.

On this rainy the petals are closed up. I am thrilled to see more blooms this year. One year there were no blooms, the plants lying dormant under the gravel until they got just the right conditions.

Originating in the hills of Turkey, these tulips were brought to Europe in the mid 1500s. There they were bred to be the tulips we find today. For us in the south those tulips must be planted every year. These tulips can be left in the ground. They love the baking heat because that is the conditions under which they grew in the wild. So much easy to care for, forget and then enjoy every spring.
Look for these bulbs in the fall when they arrive at the nurseries or order them on line. And remember to plant in fast draining soils to prevent rot.

Monday, March 9, 2020


I ventured into the greenhouse yesterday. I just haven't had the energy or the inclination to go out there. Naturally, I was wondering what kind of horror story I would find. It is mostly overwintering cactus and succulents but a few plants which require watering, including the flat of narrow leaf zinnias I started from seed. There was a sweet fragrance on the air and I looked up to see a cactus I had planted in the spring had a tiny flower. It's a flower that needs to be at nose level to appreciate. The flowers are less fragile than the night blooming cereus.

I remember last year when the mother cactus flowered I was so disappointed in the color and size of the flowers expecting a bloom like the night blooming cereus. It does make up for that in fragrance though. The original plant was a small piece I found lying on the ground near my son's house in Arizona. I still haven't managed to identify it although I think it does belong to the cereus family. There were tiny ants on the flower feeding on the pollen or nectar.

UPDATE;Thanks to c kind reader the cactus has been identified as Myrtillocactus geometrizans.

This morning I spotted flowers on the pink jasmine, Jasminum polyanthum. 

It doesn't always have a good year because of late freezes. Located in a sheltered corner of the garden and protected on both sides by walls the plant can make it through light frosts of which we have had four this year but flowering so early really took me by surprise.
It's a large vine that really needs strict control. It will run along the ground sending down roots at every node. Periodic cutting down to the ground will keep it in check.
It was raining but I did just step out to get  photograph and drink in the fragrance. At least I a not missing the gene for smelling the fragrance of these two plants.
Maybe I'll get my gardening mojo back soon.

Monday, February 24, 2020


I heard on the radio the other day James Wong, an ethnobotanist from the UK, talking about the fact that 10% of the population lack the ability to smell freesias. Anosmia, or the inability to smell freesias is genetically determined. The chemical substance which gives the flower its fragrance is  ß-ionone.

It seems I am one of the 10% and I will have content myself with the visual beauty of the freesias that are growing in my garden. I think this one is my favorite color.
I feel almost sure that I used to be able to smell freesias so the question in my mind is whether they are now breeding fragrance-free freesias, has my gene for this fragrance undergone a mutation or is it simply ageing sense of smell although that does not seem to have changed in any other respect.  I shall be on the hunt for freesias to see if I can find one whose fragrance I can detect.

I had bought the bag of freesias two years ago, at Costco. I planted them up in pots which I kept in the greenhouse over winter. They bloomed successfully and after the foliage died down I planted the corms in the ground in the front courtyard garden. There was an empty spot in front of the Zephirine drouhin rose. Last year I had a good flowering but admit that I did protect them during a particularly cold night when temperatures dipped to 18°

I went back to look at last years photos and the earliest one to bloom was the lavender one on February 23rd. The other followed in quick succession and were all blooming in early March. But what really amazed me were the other flowers that were blooming on this date last year. The species tulips, California poppies, Lady Banks Rose and the early iris. All of those are way behind this year even though we have had a relatively mild winter... several freezes but nothing below 28° and no protection this year. It can only be the lack of rain until the last two weeks, which is holding the rest of the garden back. I think spring will come on in a big rush over the next few weeks.

Can you smell freesias? Please let me know,

Saturday, February 22, 2020


One of my favorite native plants is the daisy fleabane, Erigeron modestus. I first saw it growing on our septic field when we moved in the house and transplanted one into my rock garden. It survived.

It is a short lived perennial and during the winter months will form a rosette of leaves before starting to flower all the way through the summer. I think that is what I particularly love about it. That, and the memories of field daisies from my childhood.
It is a well behaved little plant and does not make too much of a nuisance of itself, which is an added bonus.

When I first started visiting gardens in England I would see a similar plant growing through cracks in walls and festooning down steps. I didn't know what it was at the time but now the name Erigeron karvinskianus seems to be on the lips of many garden designers in England and it is everywhere...between pavers, cascading over walls and down steps as well as in pots. It's common name over there is Mexican fleabane so why, I wonder have I not seen it at our nurseries. 

At Great Dixter this summer it was softening, as I am sure it has been for years, the Edwin Lutyens

And from a slightly different angle.

Compare this with the photograph, taken slightly to the left, of the Lloyd family taken before any planting was done. Was it Gertrude Jekyll who suggested planting it between the steps to soften their appearance?

 I saw it growing out of ruined castle walls in the Shetland Isles.

And in planters. This one in Victoria Summerley's garden at Awkward Hill, in Bibury.

One of the things I began to wonder was, is this more invasive than our daisy fleabane? Maybe putting it in planters is the best way to contain it.

I am about to find out because I was at my local nursery the other day and what did I see but 4" pots of Erigeron karvinskianus. Of course I bought some and I dare say I will be sorry. Maybe in pots for the time being or maybe tucked between the dry stack wall that leads from the Hidden garden to the English garden. Or maybe I can see it spilling over the wall in the vegetable garden. I really should have bought more! Or will I be sorry. And the other question I have was this labeled correctly or did I just buy our regular common Texas daisy fleabane. Only time will tell.

Saturday, February 15, 2020


I have met people who never look back. Maybe it is a function of age but I think mine was triggered by a box of photographs I inherited and by a sudden interest in genealogy. And, as a life-long gardener, I began to realize my younger self might have influenced my style of gardening.

From a very young age I loved wildflowers. You see me here with a bunch of straw at hay making time. At a similar age, on holiday in Devon, I wanted to pick the big white bindweed flowers growing along hedgerow. My father chastised me telling me I must leave them for others to enjoy! Bindweed? I ask you !! And there was the time my parents thought of taking over the lease on a pub in the countryside and I was thrilled to bits because the bank alongside the pub was full of primroses. It never happened... but I know I would have been thoroughly happy living where I could walk the country lanes. Making daisy chains, searching for four leaf clovers, marveling at the tiny flowers of scarlet pimpernel, the cowslips, buttercups, sucking the honey from the purple clover flowers, celandines and marsh marigolds growing in the brook and the seed heads of shepherd's purse. I have plenty of that on my septic field right now.  It was always about the native flowers growing around me.

Fast forward to arriving in Texas in early February1968, just in time for the wildflower season. This time no one telling me not to pick the flowers!

And I am still that lover of wild flowers today and it is reflected in my gardening style. It is a free-for-all cottage garden style.

The sunken garden May 2019
It's why I love the little puffball flowers of Barbara's buttons, Marshallia caespitosa.

April 2019
 The common corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas,  flowering in profusion.

Sunken graden 2019
 And weedy Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella sp.
And a summer flower of the English hedge row. Foxglove Digitalis purpurea,. I have tried growing them from seed with only modest success so I now buy them in 4" pots,early in the year, potting up as they grow larger until I can finally move them into their larger pots. I think they are going to bloom earlier this year as I see a flower spike starting. What color will they be? I have no idea although they say you can tell by looking at the underside of the leaf. If that is the case they will be all white.

February 2020
Front courtyard April 2019

And the delicate blooms of Blue Gilia Gilia rigidula

March 2019

And of course our state flower the Texas bluebonnet.

And it can all become a little unruly after a while and that is why this year some changes are in order.

Herb garden May 2019
 I must endeavor to keep the pathways clear of all but the smallest and tidiest of plants. And that means alyssum, narrow leaf zinnias and possibly the daisy fleabane. Possibly the odd tidy grass and if there is space enough to walk by, the Verbena bonariensis. And I might just allow a few coreopsis and blanket flowers. This is not going to be easy.
For the moment I am excited to look at photographs from last year's spring and to know what is soon to come.

Saturday, February 8, 2020


Maybe my father was the one who started my love of having natural things in the house. And if this was so, it was this simple dried pod he brought back from Rhodesia during WW11. It fascinated me to think that it was the source of that confection I loved so much-chocolate. I remember proudly taking it in to school to show everyone.

That was back in the early 50s and I am positive that at that time no-one in my school had any idea where chocolate came from or that it grew on trees.
We saw cocoa trees growing when we visited Grenada. The pods were in various stages of ripening.

Strangely it was one of the things my parents kept when they moved from a house into a small apartment in the late 60s so clearly it held a special memory for my father. After my parents passed away I brought the cocoa pod back to Texas with me. I think it is the end of the road for his pod because it has no memories for anyone other than myself. For now it rests alongside gourds and seed pods in the dining room.

When traveling to foreign countries my eye is immediately drawn to items that have been handcrafted from natural products. Maybe this is a child's toy or used in music making. It has dried seeds inside and makes a great rattle.

And another fun rattle I imagine might be used in a ceremonial ritual. I picked this up in the San Pedro market in Cusco, Peru. A fabulous market where everything is a feast for the eyes. This particular stall sold all kinds of weird medicines made from roots and other unlikely sources which I won't mention.

But my favorite items from travel are these beautiful carved items. The look like ivory but are actually carved from the nut of a palm tree called the Tagua which grows in South America. Also known as vegetable ivory it is very hard and before the advent of plastic was used in the manufacture of  buttons, knife handles and chess pieces. Now it is used mainly for carving decorative items like my little turtle.

The other items are small pipes for smoking whatever, although I bought them for purely decorative purposes.

For years I have had a dried arrangement of grasses and seed heads, from my garden, in a vase. This year I decided it really had seen its best years. But I could not throw away the few pieces of honesty I had grown years ago. I must try again. This is a plant my grandmother always had in her garden and the dried seed heads in the house. And in another arrangement I have a few stems of dried pussy willow from my garden in St Louis. They are now 30 years old. Nostalgia strikes again!

And my vases of faded statice may also be discarded soon as I have new statice plants that have just germinated.