Thursday, May 31, 2012


Small plants that have a mounding neat form are few and far between. I am constantly on the hunt for such plants to put in the sunken garden.

The chocolate daisy, Berlandiera lyrata, has been blooming for months. I have seen this plant at the WFC growing to a height of 4' whereas this one tends to stay low, although it does sprawl a little. Cut back it will regrow and bloom again.

But my absolute favorites are the skullcaps; the common pink form seen here and the purple, Scutellaria wrightii. Both seed themselves in the cracks with regularity. The purple ones tend to vary quite a bit in their color from deep purple to ones with white throats.

Lantana is not exactly a small plant any more than the wine cup. Both have been cut back hard after they became unruly. Neither seem to mind this brutal treatment and always recover to put on another great display.

The little Dahlberg daisy is another well mannered plant. It has airy foliage above which bloom tiny yellow flowers.

The native Blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum,  is sharing a spot with several newly growing blue-eyed grass and a Zexmenia.

Damianita has a place here too and is blooming for the second time this year.

Here's the Zexmenia, cut back down to the ground 2 weeks ago and coming back to delight with those tiny yellow flowers. The A. desmettiana is spending the summer in the ground.

Narrow leaf zinnias, Zinnia linearis, is an absolute must to have. It will bloom on through the fall and seeds saved for next year are the bonus.

TheThere is always room for a grass or two and ruby crystal grass, Melinus nerviglumis. It will bloom again later in the year.
If you have any ideas for plants that would do well living between the pavers I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


We have been eating tomatoes at every meal. The crop this year has been early, undamaged by either hornworms or leaf footed bugs. That's a first.

Among the seed packets that we received last year at the Seattle Fling was a packet of Principe Borghese tomatoes. I usually grow some kind of Italian tomato for roasting and freezing and this seemed like a good substitute to try. The plants have done well and make large trusses of small fruits.

I made the first batch today for use in pastas during the winter. What is not to love about a roasted tomato; deliciously rich in flavor and these do not disappoint in the flavor department. I will say the skins are tougher than I would like but that maybe the result of the continuously hot weather we have had since they were put in the ground.

It suggests on the packet that these tomatoes are good for drying on the vine. I have my doubts that our climate is dry enough for such a treatment. For now I will roast and freeze.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


For several weeks D has been working on topping the 5 Spanish Oaks which were lost in last year's drought. Today was the big day to take the trunks down. Despite my protestations that we should get someone in to do the job D was determined to do the job himself. He headed to HD to rent a big chainsaw.

By a process of tying the trunks he was able to bring them down with minimal damage to the surrounding plants.

I stood by with water, camera and phone in hand (in case of an accident).

So sad to lose such big trees and the wonderful shade in the Spanish Oak garden. I heard another chainsaw being used in one of the houses behind us. So many trees lost to last year's brutal summer.
I'm glad that HD provided such great safety gear as well as requiring insurance.
It was a tough mornings work in wicked heat. Well done D.


For many years I thought that I had Dittany of Crete, Oreganum dictamnus,  growing in my garden. I have given away many cuttings with the wrong name.

What I have here is Oreganum pulchellum. The same showy clusters of pink flowers but a different species of dittany.

 I only came to realize this when I was at the nursery one day and saw a 4" pot labeled Dittany of Crete, Oreganum dictamnus. The leaf was clearly different. This is O. pulchellum leaf.

This much fuzzier one O.dictamnus.

Flowering is about to begin on both plants and for both it will be long panicles of hop-like blooms. The plant makes a spectacular showing which is perfect for hanging over a wall. Although the two large plants of O.pulchella  are in the herb garden I took cuttings this year and planted them to hang over the low wall behind the vegetable garden.

The real Dittany of Crete is the front courtyard where, once established, it will require little in the way of water.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


No time for early morning gardening today. I skipped out of the house early on the way to our monthly garden bloggers' meeting in order to swing by a couple of garage sales. I'm forever on the lookout for garden related 'stuff.' Not much doing save a couple of books. The first a Field Guide to Texas Mushrooms. The second V. Sackville-West The Illustrated Garden Book.

 I was happy. But I was going to get a whole lot happier later on in the morning. We met at the lovely garden of one of our group, Suzie, who blogs at Vivaverde. I don't think any of us had any idea of what a treat this garden was going to be. You will have to let Suzie show you her garden as our custom is not to go with camera in hand on these visits.
On the way home I detoured to a garage sale which had advertised itself as having garden related items. By this time it was gone 12:30pm so I wasn't expecting to find very much of anything. Am I the only one interested in this kind of stuff? Well there was another lady there and she was hauling out a pile of bricks and pavers and I would have been doing the same thing if I had arrived before her! As it was there was plenty to satisfy me. I'm starting to get a bit nervous about how much whimsy I have in the garden but the tin bird house, in perfect condition, for 50c and those clay two balls for $1. I ask you, who could resist.
As to Texas Mushrooms. They do show up once in a while when we get rain and now I may even be able to identify them. A book on Sissinghurst? What's not to adore about this most visited garden in England. Vita's writing in the Guardian newspaper did more to transform the face of English gardening than anything. Here is an anthology of Vita's writings about her own garden.
Yes, it's been a heaven-sent day for a gardener. Now back to work.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Show me a gardener that hasn't had an accident in the garden. Danger abounds for every one of us and that includes the critters that live in our gardens.

Do you think this anole was stalking? Or was he just sunbathing on the roof of the bee house. See the solitary bee hovering in front of the wood. He was busy building his nest in one of these holes and was clearly bothered by the anole. He did eventually move inside.
There we two lizard rescues in the garden this week. The first came from a lizard caught up n the netting I was using to train the snapdragon vine. I just happened to be cleaning up there when I saw him. It took me 5 minutes of cutting to unentangle him. The netting was so tightened around his neck it took some careful work to extricate him. Then I removed the netting which just about destroyed the plant. It was looking less than healthy so it was no great loss. Later I went back to check on the spot where I had left the lizard; he was gone.

The second rescue was a near drowning of this blue tailed skink. I scooped him out of the air conditioning drain bucket into which he had mysteriously fallen. He was stunned enough that I could rush into the house to get the camera. A few minute later he scurried away under the AC. I see many skinks but never a blue one. He has the lines on his head only so possibly he is a juvenile.
Then it was my turn. Working under the Spanish bayonet yucca I felt a stab and then a trickle down my face. Scalps do bleed!
Two vultures were circling overhead and when one landed on the parapet wall above me I decided it was time to go inside and mop up.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Much as I would love to have some of those gorgeous window boxes I see in magazines, this is Texas. Wall planters and hanging baskets can dry up in seconds.

Last year I found the answer to what to plant here on this east facing wall. A. desmettiana 'variegata' and a trailing Mexican portulaca. It is the perfect spot for the agave which prefers some shade during the afternoon. Still the planter dries out very quickly and still requires some vigilance about watering.

I still would love to have an id on this plant. I have had it for several years, wintering over in the greenhouse. It has a very narrow leaf much smaller than any other portulaca. I only recall that when I bought it at BSN the word 'Mexican' was in the name. It is not like the ones sold at the nurseries by virtue of the leaf structure. Must be some kind of sport. It is so easy to root from cuttings just placed in the soil and very undemanding.

My second success is at the front gate. The cone shaped planter is planted with Huernia schneideriana.
No sun reaches the gate and that is just how the plant likes it.

The stems bear small purple burgundy flowers, usually in clusters. Another easily rooted plant. I have mentioned more than once that I am searching for a reasonably priced head pot. This plant would make a perfect medusa.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Remember yesterday, when I made the decision that we should move our breakfast venue to the front courtyard? Well, in the heat of the day yesterday I went out looking for ideas.

I really had in mind to do this on a budget and I think I achieved my goal. The little table, just large enough for two, came from World Market. It was the last one on the floor so they gave me a 20% discount. I just managed to squeeze it into my car.

 I had bought the cushions at the end of last year in an attempt to prolong the life of the chairs. So, I didn't feel the great necessity to buy new chairs. I just removed the other two, one of which is really not useable any more.

It was breakfast for one this morning in the absence of the hunter gatherer. With me were my new little orange marmalade pot ( 99c at Goodwill). It is missing the little handle on the top but I am sure I can come up with something for that. With it my grandma's silver jam spoon. The hand-spun, hand-dyed, hand-knitted tea cozy I bought in England last year. One of my favorite English porcelain mugs. I even dug out the toast rack! And, because one or the other of us needs another garden project, Handmade Garden Projects.

What could be more perfect. The trickle of water, the cool of the morning. Ah! I think I'll stay here a little longer.

But then again I'd better get out there and do some gardening.


The front courtyard garden is shaded in the early morning and today I decided this is where we should be eating our breakfast.

The sun soon reaches the dining patio in the back and although we have always had breakfast in the English garden in the summer because of this, for some reason this year we have not breakfasted in there one time. We thought of it the other morning but our neighbor is digging a well and the noise of the drill was bouncing off our high walls.

The coolness of the morning air and the trickle of the little water feature, hidden behind the Whale's tongue agave, A. ovatifolia,  are a perfect accompaniment to breakfast.

The problem is the seating. We have been nursing these chairs along for several years. Out in the elements for 10 years they are starting to break up. One leg has already rusted through and has a splint made from re-bar. The table, made form a flue pipe and piece of sandstone, is too low.

So, I'm on the look out for something to replace. Here's hoping I find something before summer is over.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Yesterday David and I joined family, friends, master gardeners, garden bloggers and volunteers from the Austin Sustainable Food Center to bid farewell to Eleanor in her own beloved garden.

Under the shade of tall trees and with the sound of cooing doves we heard stories of a life well lived. When we left we each took with us a small plant from her garden and a packet of seeds. Eleanor blogged at the Garden of E.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Around this time of the year there are always billowing clouds of tickseed, Coreopsis tinctoria, in my garden. Their pretty little yellow and rusty red seed heads float on tall wiry stems. Once in a while a sport appears. This year it is this little beauty. It almost looks as though someone has taken a paintbrush and dusted the flower with gold dust.

There is an even darker one here.

Another one has a more prominent inner circle of rusty red.

Here one with a narrow circle of rusty red. You just never know what will show up.

And a lemon yellow one with a peppered center.

Or where they will show up. This one in a planter on the wall. I have allowed it to stay because it acts as my watering indicator. When it droops I know it is time to water.

 But mostly they are just show up in the garden as showy clusters like this.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Lorene Edwards Forkner. It was on the occasion of the Seattle Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling and we were to visit Lorene's own garden. We were going to get to see first hand many of the garden projects that were to appear in her soon to be published book Handmade Garden Projects. Published by Timberpress.

I love to visit gardens but most of all beyond the plantings my eyes are always drawn to the structure and other garden ornamentation. All gardens need a little personal embellishment; something that stamps the garden with the owners personality.
If your garden is missing a little bit of pizzaz then here is a book packed with ideas to add that special something to your garden. As Lorene shows us, you may have to look no further than your garage, the local hardware store or flea market.

Photo  by Allan Mandell, Handmade Garden Projects
Do you recognize those inserts in the paving? The horseshoe of course but the circles are cast iron stove grates. Any small cast iron objects could be used to add interest to the paving.

Photo by Allan Mandell, Handmade Garden Projects

There are ideas for seating like this semi-circle of stone filled gabion benches.

Photo by Allan Mandell, Handmade Garden Projects
This is one of my favorite projects. A grouping of hypertufa troughs. These ones are planted with succulents but look equally at home with alpine plantings or bonsai. I know this is a worthwhile project because I have done this one myself. I adore these rectangular troughs but for now I happened to have an old plastic planter. I first oiled the inside with motor oil to make for easy removal. The rest was easy. Make up the mix, plaster it around the inside pushing two corks into the bottom for drainage. Leave for a few days to set, unmold and brush with a wire brush to roughen up the surface. Imagine how proud you would be to show visitors your hand made planters. Small or large this is one project we can all do.

The book is packed with ideas for paving, garden edging, water features, planters lighting and more. Many using found or inexpensive materials. 
Here, in Lorene's own words are the answers to a few questions I asked her about the process of Handmade Garden Projects.

What do you consider was the first step that set you on the road to creating
garden art?

 I'm not sure I set out to create "art".  My background is in fine art, and I'm afraid I used to approach Art from a traditional studio-based viewpoint. I simply loved to garden and poured my heart and soul into the practice. Very quickly I started making gardening decisions with the same eye I used to use in my studio work: color, form, texture, dividing up
space.  I was fascinated by the garden's introduction of time and space into my tidy "art" mindset; gardening became more art-like although closer to dance than painting.  Like choreography with bugs!  All this to say I think about the various "projects" in my garden in terms of how they relate to the entire space rather than as a decorative layer added on top of the plants.

Do you have a favorite project? If so what is it and from where did the
inspiration come?

 I am especially fond of the galvanized wire plant supports. Ironically, that was a tough project to describe and photograph... but there's something so magical how a few simply twists with a pair of pliers can turn a humble roll of wire fencing into a beautiful focal point in the garden. My friends Kathy Fries and Alejandro Gamundi generously taught me the simple steps and soon I was spinning all sorts of wire structures just for the pleasure of watching the wire grid twist and turn into a delicate and seemingly complicated pattern.  This project has garnered the most attention from readers as well and I've done several workshops and demos; it's WAY easier to show the process than to write out the steps!

Can a garden have too many handmade projects? Do you think it is necessary
to keep a balance between plants and art?

 AB.SO.LUTELY!!!!  My poor garden - or as I came to call it "Project Land"~  Too many projects, however wonderful and creative, generate a frenetic energy that turns the garden restless.  Writing and shooting a book about Handmade Garden Projects is in fact very hard on your real garden:-) This summer's project is a backyard do-over in an attempt to simplify and "quiet" the space back to its usual dull roar.  A massive building project next door is "providing" the motivation and opportunity to rethink the tiny landscape.  I'm thinking a combination gabion fence and living hedge, a huge galvanized sliding barn door style gate and a couple of sculptural earth mounds planted in ornamental grasses to capture the wind. It's a process and a journey and one I love to explore.

Read what other gardeners have to say about this book( in green) and the  chance to win your own copy.