Wednesday, December 30, 2009


We never expected to see this scene, but this is exactly what we woke up to a week ago in Lordsburg, New Mexico, on our way to Phoenix for Christmas. Continuing on I 10 it was a desert winter wonderland with snow on the yuccas soon to be replaced by sunny skies when we arrived in Ahwatukee.

It was all fun and games on Christmas morning with little ones tearing open the gifts and two dogs running around.

On Boxing Day we all went to Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden.

Unfortunately I found myself not very skilled at taking night time shots so it was difficult to capture the gardens illuminated with hundreds of candles.

Since we arrived there has been a ground frost every night and at the garden they were taking precautions to protect some of the more frost-sensitive cacti.

Our grand daughter skated for the first time on the artificial rink. It was amazingly realistic with a snow maker which thrilled the little ones as it puffed little clouds of snow every five minutes. A little different from when our boys were growing up in Montreal where a white Christmas was a sure thing.

Music was everywhere with carolers, mariachis, jazz and our favorite, the bell ringers.

The last time we were there Chihuly glass mingled with the plants. This time the art work was more in keeping with the history of the area.
We sipped hot chocolate by the fire pit and listened to music as the magic of the garden unfolded around us. It was a wonderful evening for young and old alike.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


It is easy to forget that we really do have a winter here in Texas. Some winters may be milder than others as have been the last couple of years. Then there will be flowers hanging in there for a few extra months. This year there are no flowers left in my garden but the leaves are still on the red oaks and it is the first time I have seen such vibrant color. The hillsides are peppered with bronzes, reds and golds. The cold weather came early with a deep freeze which zapped every bloom. I want to get out there and cut back but it would be unwise to do so until late winter. The plants don't need to be stimulated to make new growth. The fallen leaves protect the root ball.
Photography takes a down turn. Planning begins. New projects are in the works; improving the drip system, building a bat house, more bird houses, bee houses, a new pathway, changes in the planting.

I can see already it is going to be an incredible wildflower spring this next year. The bluebonnets are growing in incredible numbers everywhere.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


May Dreams invites us to share what is blooming in our garden on this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. The wintry weather may have arrived in Austin but there is still plenty to enjoy.

The last month of the year is the time for celebrating the blooms of the year or what remains of those blooms. When freezing temperatures have taken their toll this arrangement of dried seed heads reminds me of those blooms which were enjoyed earlier in the year. Poppy, garlic chives, amaranth, inland sea oats, miscanthus and little blue stem grasses all dry well and with a few berries from the pyracantha make a pleasing Christmas decoration.

Alyssum is the only flower blooming in the garden after the area was hit by a deep freeze a week ago.

Last year the Philippine violet remained green all winter. This year the leaves have turned dark brown and the spiky sepals a golden brown.

Just a faint tinge of pink remains on the drooping heads of the amaranthus seed heads.

A pyracantha seed, dropped by a bird, grows up the bathroom wall.

The berries on the Yaupon holly fully ripe.

Graptopetalum and Sedum potosinum have both shrugged off the cold which I always find surprising since its leaves are thick and juicy. They are hardy to about 12 degrees.

In the spring this sedum will be covered with long lasting star shaped flowers.

The flower buds on the viburnum are beginning to form in readiness for the spring bloom. Winter has not even begun and already there are signs of the spring to come.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


One of the reasons we returned by sea from our recent trip to England, was the fact that there is really no luggage limit on a cruise ship. You just have to fit it all into the cabin and we did. All 12 suitcases. We saw it as a perfect opportunity to bring back some family memorabilia. We had recently made the decision to rent my mother's flat and needed to remove family items of importance. You would probably laugh at some of the things we brought back. Of course there were the usual tea bags, tins of Marmade, the boomerang my great uncle brought from Australia. Photographs, books, teapots, dinner sets and this glass ball.
The glass ball was one of several I had found, as a little girl, washed up on our beach at Cleveleys, in the north west of England. My gran-dad and I would go down to the beach, he looking for driftwood and me for any treasure the sea had washed up. It was a special day when I found a glass ball. Our garden had quite a row of glass balls but this was the only one that came with us when we moved house.
These balls were sewn into the fishing nets, acting as floats, until they were replaced by plastic and polystyrene. All the balls we found were green and I have no idea from where they came. There is no mark on the bottom. I read that most of the balls, made by the Japanese, were green because they made them from old saki bottles. I have no idea if mine came from a Japanese boat fishing out in the Atlantic and carried to our beach on the Gulf Stream. Maybe it just came from one of the trawlers which came into the busy fishing town of Fleetwood close by.
So the glass ball came back with us across the Atlantic and is now nestled in its new home, among the thyme, in my herb garden.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Each year my garden is plagued by snails and pill bugs. For their size, the snails are barely 1/4" in diameter, they certainly can do a lot of destruction. They can home in on the seedlings as they break the surface of the ground and chew away at the lower parts of the stem until the plant just withers away and dies. It isn't true that they only eat decaying material although I'm sure they do their fair share of that too.

So when I spotted one of these while removing some frost damaged vegetation it got a quick crushing. For some reason I knew this was a decollate snail. It is the only snail name I know and I really know nothing about it. All I was thinking was BIG SNAIL. Moving around I came across a small pile of about 8 oak leaves. Since there is no oak tree around I found the pile rather puzzling. Ye gads, underneath were 5 of these snails! Crushed. Now I started to poke around in earnest and found several more. I'm being taken over, I thought. I picked up one to photograph and then went inside and put in 'decollate snail' on google. I was right, Rumina decollata.
What have I done! This is a good snail. He goes around eating all the other snails and slugs. He's a gardener's friend. You can buy him on the internet. Does he eat seedlings too, I wonder?When I find more shall I let them be?
I put back the one I had photographed right next to a big fat slug hiding under the edge of a stone. I hope Rumina had him for supper.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


.......LEMON CURD. I have 5 improved Meyer lemon trees (Citrus X meyeri Improved Meyer,) all in pots. This is simply the best lemon; thin skinned and sweeter than the more common Eureka. The thin skin means that it does not travel well and for this reason it is rarely seen at the grocery store far away from where it is grown. The trees are usually quite easy to find in the spring and the dwarf plant grows well in a pot. If you get one next spring I can guarantee a great harvest next winter. An added bonus will be the deliciously fragrant blossoms which fill the night air with their perfume.
My garden is too cold to leave the plants outside when frost threatens so they are usually brought into the house or the potting shed for the winter. Alas, they were not so protected during last weekends freeze and have suffered as a result. Today I picked 25 lemons from 2 of the trees and set about making lemon curd and lemon sorbet.
My grandmother used to make lemon curd to sell in her shop. She had a big brass pan and I would watch her stirring the contents slowly on top of her Aga cooker. Here is the recipe in case you would like to try.
3 large eggs
80z sugar
juice and grated rind of 2 large juicy lemons
3oz butter cut into several pieces.

Beat the eggs with the sugar. Add lemon juice. Add to a double boiler along with the butter. Cook stirring constantly until the curd thickens. Pot up in clean sterilized jars. Refrigerate or freeze. Delicious in cakes, over ice cream or on bread.

I also picked the limes from my Persian lime tree. They did not fare quite so well in the freeze. The juice must have frozen and was leaking out of the fruit. I plan to juice and freeze them for later use.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


While the icy tentacles of winter were spreading over Central Texas last week, I was on a ship in the Sargasso Sea. Almost home after a Transatlantic cruise. I happened to catch the news on TV and it was all about the cold blast of Arctic air that had dipped down as far as Houston. I could only imagine what the temperatures were like in Austin and particularly in my garden, which seems to be the coldest spot in Austin. Arriving home on Monday evening it was too late to see anything out in the garden. This is the kind of scene that greeted me the next morning. All my A. desmettiana, in the ground and in pots, were hanging limply in the morning light.

Even those in the Spanish Oak garden, where high walls offer good protection, had succumbed to the same fate.

Just the week before, my neighbor had picked zucchini from this plant. Beans, peppers and tomatoes had met a similar fate.

The Mexican lime tree was not safely tucked away in the greenhouse as in previous years. Will it ever bear again I wonder?

Surely I could find something to cheer me up among all the destruction. This tiny native cosmos, just a couple of inches above the gravel, survived because it was so tiny. Just like alpine flowers.

The leaves of the heartleaf skullcap had no problem with shaking off the cold. They will surely give a great display in the spring.

The alyssum is not about to wait for spring. What a tough little trooper.
Among all the frozen wilted plants there are signs of the year to come. Bluebonnets, poppies, coreopsis, nigella have germinated in the fall rains.

But winter is all about berries and we certainly have plenty of those.