Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The two day drive home from Phoenix, this week, gave me ample time to reflect on garden happenings in 2008.

In January we added what was to be the last hard scape feature in the English garden. David used some of our left over bricks ( purchased for a deal at the Habitat for Humanity store) to create a semicircular edging for a new bed, which echoes the other features of the garden; patio, bird bath and the curved dry stone wall. Circular patio stones replaced the original field stones to complete the theme of circles. A Philippine violet was planted in the center and in no time at all plants were filling in the empty spaces.

My absence from the garden for two months in the summer was noted by all those opportunistic seeds. The violet was soon completely crowded out by blanket flowers, cone flowers, cosmos and all manner of salvia.

Nevertheless, the plant managed to put on quite a display in the fall.

Spring is always a riotous mix of California poppies, larkspur and blanket flowers but this year the pink poppies were outstanding.

In the spring I made my debut in the world of garden blogging. Introduced by Pam, of Digging, I became well and truly hooked when I gave the Spring Flingers a tour of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The day before, several bloggers had an impromptu tour of my garden. I have to credit blogging with an introduction to many new plants and techniques and a greater acceptance of mishaps in the garden as well as new gardening friends.

In April we opened our garden for the tremendously successful Master Gardener's Tour. Over 650 visitors strolled through the grounds in the space of eight hours. The only photograph I took was one of Skip Richter, the director of the Extension Service, who gave a talk on sustainable gardening practices. I enjoyed the photographs and comments posted by garden bloggers who visited the garden.
I have been away from my garden more this year than any other year. A total of four months. Plants became overgrown and, during a two month absence in the summer, the garden became a nature preserve!

We enjoyed the foxes for a week before they found our comings and goings too much and moved on.
In the fall D tackled the job of removing a Vitex, 3 Texas sage and a large Southern wax myrtle from in front of the garage. Pulling out can sometimes take a lot longer than planting!

The wax myrtle had been damaged in a wind storm in the spring and the vitex was interfering with the driveway. One of the first jobs in the New Year will be to replant the area with zeriscape plants. Now if I could just find a Whale's tongue agave!! I can't wait to get started.

                                     I hope you all had a memorable year in the garden


Tuesday, December 23, 2008


When Christmas cards arrive from England I am always struck by how many of them have a robin. The English robin (Erithacus rubecula melophilus) is quite different from his American namesake. He is about the size of our wren and behaves in a similar manner, flitting from branch to branch in a friendly manner. He is a year round visitor to the garden but his red breast stands out in the snowy garden. This November a robin followed us as we hiked along a trail in the Lake District. He just stayed still long enough to for me to snap a photograph of him. 

When I was a child we always cut holly to bring into the house but mistletoe was something we had to buy. A bunch of mistletoe would dangle from the light in the hallway. The usually reserved British were apparently open to kisses as this time of the year! Now, we have mistletoe growing in huge bunches from our live oak trees. They tend to favor apple and oak trees. I have even read in English garden magazines how to take the berries and push them into a crack in the tree bark in order to grow your own little parasite! 
It is easy to see how these plants were looked upon as special in the winter garden. The evergreen holly and mistletoe with their red and white berries and the robin with his red breast. They brought a little brightness into the winter home.
I hope your garden has something to offer the Christmas home- be it pine cones, seed heads, ivy or berries. Greetings of the Season to gardener's everywhere.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


On Sunday we returned to Austin after spending a month away. You can bet that the first thing I did on Monday morning was to get out into the garden. Long johns, ski vest and every other bit of warm clothing in my possession were not enough to keep out the frigid cold that had settled over Austin during the night. The big problem was my hands. Gardening gloves, which I rarely wear, were just not enough. Anyway, I managed to put in about 3 hours. This is the first year for a good crop of berries on the Burford holly. I will actually be able to pick some to bring into the house.
I began by pulling out all the plants that had succumbed to the two frosts that had hit our garden during our absence; tomatoes, beans, basil, all the lingering summer annuals. It was at this point I decided to pull out some large clumps of the alyssum and what did I find underneath but various stages of over wintering harlequin bugs. 

So that's why the problem continues to plague my garden from year to year. I started pulling out the plants and checking under every plant I was going to keep. Hopefully my problem will not be so bad next year. 

One more job to do before I could retreat to the warm house. The Agave desmettiana, located down the side of the house, needed some winter protection before the promised frost. A good covering of dry leaves and a blanket should keep it safe. This agave is only hardy to about 28 degrees and every one in my garden has succumbed to winter if left unprotected. We seem to be the cold spot of Austin.

This is my Christmas cactus, which lives in England. It loves neglect. It had not had any attention since I was there in May. It is the one plant that remains in my mother's flat. She passed away over 2 years ago. How it loves those long fall and winter nights with no light!
When I travel anywhere I am always thinking gardens so my next post will be about plants and gardens we saw during our time away.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Copper Canyon daisy, Tagetes lemmonii, is the hands down November favorite in my central Texas garden. The plant is daylight sensitive so it blooms during the fall. It is deer resistant and can withstand the fierce summer heat of Texas. For this reason it will do well on the west side of the house. I photographed this plant this morning before the 9/10" rainfall. It has spent the summer in the vegetable garden. Not the place where I really want it, but this is where I planted the young plant just before we went away in April so that it would not be stressed from lack of  watering during the heat of summer ( the vegetable beds are on a drip system).  A month later it was too big to move. As it grew larger I would brush past it as I walked down the path and the air would fill with its distinctive fragrance. I suspect this is what keeps the deer away.
I frequently put young plants next to a drip when I have to leave the garden for any length of time so I always have flowers in the vegetable beds.

My garden relies heavily on serendipity. This blanket flower and the alyssum have seeded here in the sunken garden. Both are prolific re-seeders. The air is filled with the sweet fragrance of alyssum and the bees are having a ball.

How could I evict these flowers, narrow leaf zinnias and alyssum from this bed. This summer it held peppers so there was plenty of room for these guys to grow; now they  bed alongside Nappa hakusia, tenderheart, a small chinese cabbage from Kitazawa Seed Co. I wonder if they will form a head like the picture on the seed package?

This is not grass growing here but larkspur seedlings which have just germinated. I'm going to have quite a job thinning them out. I turned over this area this summer and maybe exposed seeds from previous years. Much as I love larkspur even I find this over the top.

In front of this is a planting of Osteospermum. The seeds came from a friends garden in California. Spring is their prime flowering time but the recent cool evenings have prompted them to put out a few flowers.

The same is true of Delospermia cooperii along the edge of the pool and enjoying the cooler temperatures of fall.

This succulent has similar foliage but has red flowers.

This succulent is also in flower at the moment. It is rather annoying to purchase  a plant with a tag that says "succulent" with no further identification. Maybe someone can identify it. It is a delightful succulent to grow in a hanging pot as the fleshy leaves are long and pencil like and then it makes these interesting flowers. When enlarged the detail on the petal is interesting.

Butterfly pea, Clitoria ternatea. might have found a better place to grow than at the bottom of the steps where it is often crushed as we walk by.

Even the cross vine is enjoying the cooler evenings. 

After the rain today I have no doubt that seedlings will be popping up all over the garden, and weeds too. Work doesn't stop during the winter in Texas.
And just to show that fall is on the way in Central Texas----

Monday, November 10, 2008


This is a great recipe for using all the green tomatoes left at the end of the season. As frost is in the forecast for this weekend Austin gardeners might like to try this chutney which is great with curry, cheeses, ham etc. Every bit as good as Branston pickle!
I went ahead and picked green tomatoes this weekend. I don't think they will ripen this late in the season although I have left some of the larger ones on the south side of the plants in the hope that they will.

After all the chopping was done the pot went on the stove.

And it wasn't long before the chutney was in the pot.

As I am a great saver of all things that might have a second life, I pot the chutney up in old jam jars. Here's the recipe.

Green Tomato Chutney
3 lbs green tomatoes
2 lbs tart apples (I use granny Smiths)
2 c raisins
1 1/2 c diced onions
2 tsp garlic minced
2 c packed light brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
2 tsp nn- iodized salt
1 1/2 c apple cider vinegar
3-4 T minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 T mustard seed
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp finely minced fresh red pepper or 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes

1. Cut up tomatoes into 1/2" chunks, removing stems and blemishes. About 8 cups. Place in large deep saucepan.

2. Peel, core and cut apples into 1/2" chunks and add to toms with raisins, onions, garlic, sugars, salt and vinegar. Bring to boil and when boiling reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring frequently.

3. Add ginger, mustard, coriander, cinnamon and hot pepper and continue to boil slowly until the chutney holds its shape.

4. Ladle into sterilized hot jars and add lids. Process 10 mins in water bath.

I usually omit this last step. I find that packing into hot jars and capping is sufficient as long as the lids pop. If the lid fails to pop I put in the fridge.
Keeps for months.


Austin garden bloggers had a busy weekend. A group visited Peckerwood gardens on Friday and on Sunday several members of the group met at Mayfield Gardens to learn a little more about garden photography. Rachel of In Bloom shared some of the knowledge she had acquired from her photography classes. Thanks Rachel for sharing your Sunday afternoon with us. Being somewhat new to photography I already know that I have a good deal to learn; not just about the how to compose the photograph but also about the camera itself. I think I came away from the afternoon having learnt some good tips and I hope to be a little more thoughtful in composition in the future. Here are a few of the photographs I took today.

A few paperwhites were already in bloom. 

This statue of a little boy reading will soon be surrounded by paperwhite blooms

Most of the leaves have fallen from the beautyberry but small clusters of the brightly colored berries still remain.

 The property sits on a steep limestone cliff so there is no shortage of rubble limestone with which to build. Judging by the shelves inside this was used as a storage shed in the past. 

Limestone rubble was also used for this wall.

A solitary water lily on the pond is reflected in the water.

After today's class I am trying to be more thoughtful about composition. One of the next steps is to invest in a tripod. Im hoping this will improve close up photography of flowers.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Last Saturday was a simply gorgeous fall day. A perfect day to visit the Dallas Arboretum. The entrance was filled with pumpkins and gourds. What I wouldn't give to grow a few of these although they may have to be of the miniature variety. The theme in the gardens was definitely fall with oranges and yellows everywhere.

I think I might just grow some of this variety of Gaillardia ( Gaillardia commotion "frenzy") next year.The petal form is like Cosmos "sea shells". I particularly like the yellow and this plant seems to flower throughout the year in central Texas.

Anyone know what this plant is?

I loved this water feature.

The armadillo on the edge of the pond was eyeing the koi intently.

Even they were dressed for fall.

I know I have seen these lily pads ( Victoria amazonica) before. Kew Gardens? Do I remember seeing a photograph of a Victorian lady standing on one?

This pot maybe left over from the summer but what a wonderful combination.

The Dallas Arboretum has a reciprocal arrangement with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center so there is no entry fee. What a great deal! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


If you haven't already certified your garden as a wildlife habitat let me tell you that it is very easy. All you have to do is to provide food water and shelter for the various animals that live in your neighborhood.
Two evenings ago we were having dinner outside at dusk and a large owl came swooping down and landed in a tree. We both looked at each other and said "wow" and then talked about how we enjoy so much wildlife in our garden. We hear owls calling every night. Judging by the number of mice and cotton rats this is pretty good hunting territory. I caught this little guy in the potting shed. He had been shredding gomphrena flowers and making a big mess. I'm not sure what he is but when I let him go he hopped away just like a kangaroo. He probably came back the next evening unless he became dinner for the owl.

Or maybe this snake. Our rocky terrain and dry stone walls are just the kind of habitat the snakes prefer.

For a couple of weeks the wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) have been visiting the open area around the house. The other day there were turkeys and deer feeding together. It was quite a sight to see 20 or more turkeys moving around pecking at the ground and mingling with the deer. I might like to invite them into the garden to eat my snails but I'm afraid they might make quite a mess.

Last June they certainly had a good look around.

They are looking remarkably healthy with their iridescent bronze feathers. Thanksgiving dinner for someone I suspect, unless they stay pretty close to this house.

While deer and turkeys are not welcome to come in through the garden gate the anoles and lizards are welcome. These fence lizards don't usually pose for the camera unless you sneak up on them.

Not so the anoles, who are more than happy to have their photographs taken.

I wish I could capture all the butterflies, monarchs, sulphurs, fritillaries but they just don't sit still for me.
Our bird visitors are numerous. Wrens, mockingbirds, scrub jays, doves, hawks, chickadees and various seasonal birds, humming birds and cedar waxwings. The wrens are very busy at the moment and are always in the potting shed. I think they are looking at the old bird house which is on the shelf after being replaced by a fine English bird house. They turned their noses up at it last spring!

We'll never forget the foxes who moved into our garden whilst we were away this summer. They returned every morning for about a week and then our comings and goings obviously were disturbing their daytime sleep so they moved on. I hope they found another safe haven away from the coyotes.

Of course there are some who are not welcome. I just can't find anything good to say about the harlequin bug. I don't think anything eats these stink bugs and they can devastate crops overnight. They are particularly fond of the brassicas but don't stop there. I would probably reduce the numbers if I removed all the alyssum, which I was surprised to find is a brassica, but I do so love this sweet smelling and low growing plant. There is nothing for it but to keep a vigilant eye and try to hold down the population by removing any I see. The adult can over winter and I have removed a few this past week.

A few aphids are OK but a recent hatching on the new growth of pyracantha caught me by surprise. Not a ladybug in sight! Another reason not to prune too late in the year.

The garden is as much for these visitors as it is for us. It is important that we keep everything in the garden in balance.