Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I would have to say that I spend more time out in the sunken garden and vegetable/herb garden than anywhere else. Maybe because in the early morning this is the sunny garden.

Yesterday morning I was out there, before the sun rose, with my camera. This is the time when I decide where I will work and form my 'to do' list. This invariably changes throughout the day as I spot new places that need my attention.

I am delighted to see some blackfoot daisies popping up between the stone but there are also one heck of a lot of weeds. A little kitchen knife is the tool of choice here.

Most of the plants in here have self sown and I just have to act as the controller- something at which I am not very good.

Yesterday's main job was to do something about the Texas sunflowers in the back of the vegetable garden. I had to take a saw to one which had a 3" diameter stalk. It was a good fight getting it out and I know I wasn't very popular with the goldfinches. I was encroaching on their feeding time.

I only removed one so there are still plenty more seeds for them. In the meantime there is a lot of weeding to do underneath in the gravel. I did some more boiling water treatment between the pavers in the herb garden where thousands of coreopsis seedlings had germinated. If only I could get them to grow on the septic field.

I collected all the seeds from the white rain lilies which are growing in the center of creeping oregano. I found a new home for them out in the front. The deer should appreciate that.

The squash has responded to the rain. Hope I get some fruit from them before winter comes.

Two rows of beans were planted 3 weeks ago and they are just starting to flower.

Along the walkway and under the window of the potting shed is a window box. The only plants that I have had any success with in this westerly facing direction are the Mexican feather grass.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


On Thursday morning, when I saw this sunrise, I was shouting for joy. Several days without seeing the sun had left me feeling a little SAD. Of course I was truly glad for the rain but enough was enough, at least for one week. We moved into fall with almost unheard of low temperatures. It was short lived. Today we will hit 90 again and the humidity will just about match.

When temperatures moderate color comes back into the garden. It is particularly true of the yellow knockout rose 'sunny'. However, with the return of summer like temperatures all the color is drained from the flower my mid afternoon.

The first blooms of the Japanese anemone are opening. They are in a somewhat shady location in the English garden. Such a pretty fall bloomer.

Greg's mist flower is also in bloom.

In the spring I purchased several 4" pots of Manfreda sileri, from the Wildflower Center plant sale. They have an interesting leaf with purple spots. They are rather delicate in that it is easy to break the leaf when gardening around them so I am wondering how I am going to be able to separate the pups that are appearing at the sides. I look forward to seeing the bloom which reaches about 5 ' and which is highly attractive to hummingbirds and moths.

The white mandevilla vine is finally greening up. All sumer it has sulked in a corner of the garden. It was just too hot.

This summer we saw many examples of the English way of training vines up into trees. Admittedly they don't have to contend with some of the vines we have here which would suffocate a tree or bush, but I think allowing this vine to climb into the pyracantha will be ok.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


This afternoon Austin garden bloggers got together to meet our new Travis County Extension Service agent, Daphne Richards. The event was organized by Diana of Sharing Nature's Garden and Robin of Get Grounded.

Diana gave us a tour of her garden, first introducing us to her critters. We hear the dogs are partial to giving this guy a few doggy kisses from time to time!

Summer has returned to Austin and he was keeping cool half hidden under the mulch.

I planned to do back and take photographs of the garden which has a tropical air with tall palm trees, the bright leaves of the variegated ginger and many flowering plants. Her vegetable garden had a huge crop of yellow squash and tomatoes which will surely ripen before winter arrives. I was remembering that it was just a few weeks ago she was blogging about ripping out the tomatoes and replanting.

Diana and Robin prepared a lovely spread and we moved to the patio where we all introduced ourselves to Daphne.

Daphne, moved here from El Paso, but she is no stranger to Austin having attended undergraduate school at UT. It won't be long before Daphne is blogging about her own new garden in South Austin. She has a clean slate to work with. I think many of us can relate to that.

Welcome to Austin Daphne.

Before leaving we had our usual plant and seed swap, sending Daphne off with a few plants for her new garden.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Between raindrops yesterday I took the opportunity to sow some bluebonnet seeds that I had collected in the spring. I really have to control re seeding inside my gardens so I pull many of the bluebonnets out before they throw their seeds and keep them in a brown bag until they are dry. This bag has been in the house all summer( last year I left a bag of seeds in the potting shed and critters came and removed every seed. I know it was the hispid cotton rats).

Before we bought the lot on which we built this house I used to walk over here and admire the bluebonnets which grew on the upper part of the lot in the spring. I sometimes think we bought the lot because I wanted that field of bluebonnets. Since then I have collected seeds to extend the range of these spring bloomers. Sometimes they have overrun my inside gardens. So yesterday I was out there scratching the ground here and on my neighbors lot across the road. Already, after the rains this week, bluebonnet are sprouting up all over the place.

These ones get to stay because they are in the decomposed granite near the driveway. As I walked around scratching I noticed a few other seedlings. Good ones.

This Texas sage, Leucophyllum frutescens, will have to be moved because the space in the spot it has seeded is restricted.

Anyone need any retama seedlings, Parkinsonia aculeata? They are popping up all over the place.

Several milkweed plants, this one Asclepias oenotheroides, were covered with milkweed aphids.
And guess who was feeding on them? The milkweed assassin bug, Zelus longipes, was having a feast. This beneficial insect will also eat stink bugs which is an added bonus. I'm glad they are showing up in the garden because I notice aphids on lots of the tender green growth brought on by the rains.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


This years magnificent pomegranate crop deserves a post of its own.

This regal fruit even comes with its own crown.

This fascinating fruit has a long and interesting history. Native to Persia, the fruit was taken to China in 100BC and from there to Italy via Carthage. The latin name, Punicum malum, acknowledges Carthage (Punic) as a major center of cultivation and the granatum to the many seeds or grains in the fruit. Renaissance fabrics frequently used the appearance of the cut seeds in their design. Apart from eating the succulent fruit the Italians tanned and dried the skins to use as a type of leather.

About 800AD the Moors took the pomegranate to Spain, naming the city of Granada for the fruit.
Henry VIII was responsible for planting the first pomegranate tree in England. They must have been planted in the walled gardens or conservatories to protect them from frost.
The French named the grenade, for the many seeds and the way the explosive scatters. In 1791, the soldiers who threw these explosives were called grenadiers.
The Spanish Conquistadors brought the fruit to America but it has not gained the popularity here that is found in Mediterranean countries, Mid and Far East. An increase in demand in recent times has been due to the anti oxidant properties of the juice but the fruit continues to remain expensive in the stores.

There is no easy way to separate the seeds from the pith and rind, which is high in tannins and which would impart a bitter flavor to the juice. I have tried all the suggested methods.When we visited Turkey one Christmas, pomegranate juice was being sold by vendors everywhere. They used a sturdy juicer with a powerful ratchet mechanism. We have searched everywhere for one of these but have yet to find one we thought would stand up to this difficult fruit. In the end I cut open the fruit squeeze over a bowl and then remove the seeds with my fingers. I have done it in water but some of the juice is lost in this method. Then comes the job of getting the juice from the seeds. I have tried all methods I could think of except stomping with my feet and have finally settled on a hand held citrus squeezer I purchased in Mexico. The seeds can be eaten whole, in salads or as a garnish. They provide good roughage! After collecting the juice I let it sit for sometime to allow the clear juice to separate from the cloudy residue then drink or freeze.

A lot of work but worth every second for a glass of this delicious nectar.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I had different plans for yesterday. I was going to spend the day in the garden catching up on some weeding and fall planting. The heavy rains, which continued through much of the day, made that impossible. It looks as though this may be the same story today. My thoughts have turned to our final English garden visit of the summer, Hidcote Manor. Several years ago we were disappointed to find the garden closed on the day we hoped to visit. This year we made sure they were open.

I think many people would be surprised to learn that this garden was the work of an American, Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958). He was born in France, of American parents, spending only his early years in America before attending Cambridge University. He became a naturalized British citizen sometime before 1900, fighting in the Boer war and WW I, for which he was highly decorated.

The house and 300 acre estate was purchased in 1907 by Johnston's widowed and very wealthy mother, Gertrude Winthrop. She lived there along with Lawrence until her death in 1927. It appears that she was upset with her son for becoming a gardener instead of a farmer and left her fortune to more distant relatives, leaving only the house and an allowance to Lawrence. During her 20 years at Hidcote she had complete control over the purse strings and her son. In fact Lawrence was aptly described as "mother ridden"

Nevertheless she must have paid for much of the early work at Hidcote because the only planting they inherited was a large Cedar of Lebanon and a beech grove. Johnston set about dividing 10 acres of the property into rooms along a central axis. He sought planting advice from his great friend and artist-gardener, Norah Lindsay. Norah was said to be able to 'trace out a whole garden with the tip of her umbrella'.

There is always something exciting about walking through the gate into a well planned garden. Johnston divided his gardens from each other with hedges and topiary. He must have had great vision, as many garden designers had, because it is only today that the gardens have reached their full potential.

It was a little early to see the Red Walk in all its splendor. Just a sprinkling of red among the green. The eye is drawn up the steps and past the two Dutch style pavilions to the vista beyond.

Beyond the pavilions is the Stilt garden. A massive allee of pleached hornbeams.

The pool house.

The large flowers of the tree peony.

The white garden enclosed by massive yew hedges.

How I love those foxgloves.

The familiar Agave americana in the waterlily garden.

Lawrence was a knowledgeable plantsman and breeder and later in his life he traveled to distant lands to collect plants. He suffered health problems having lost one lung and suffering from Malaria but still managed to travel to China. Unfortunately he was a poor traveling companion and was described as a 'right good old Spinster spoilt by being born male'
He planned to leave the property to his friend Norah but she preceded him in death. When Lawrence decided to leave the property to the National Trust, Norah's daughter, Nancy, was displeased, insisting that Lawrence had deputized her to take care of the gardens in his absences abroad. She did oversee the care of the gardens in the early years but in a fit of fury she burnt all the Johnston's gardening papers. Nevertheless, the garden itself remains as evidence of Johnston's skills as a garden designer and in leaving the property to the National Trust we all get to enjoy this wonderful garden.