Thursday, February 28, 2013


I can hardly believe it is still February when I look outside. While much of the country, and even the panhandle of Texas, is buried in snow, we are rushing headlong into spring.

Iris and snapdragons are blooming.

The Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens,  is in full flower and beneath it the gopher plant, Euphorbia rigida.

Even the chocolate daisy, Berlandiera lyrata,  is blooming. This one, growing in between pavers in the sunken garden clearly likes the spot. It has been there for more than 6 years.

When we took down a cedar tree outside the walls of the English garden, to bring in more sun, I suggested to D that we might cut off the trunk and put the English bird house on the top. This week the wrens were busy making a nest in there. One of many I am sure.

But the nights are still cool with a threat of frost so I still worry about all the trees and plants that are leafing out. Blankets are at the ready for the most tender of my plants.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


It is an annual occurrence for us. The anniversary and the anniversary visit to the place we visited on our honeymoon.

It is easy to do because it is only a 25 mile drive to Hamilton Pool, the sunken river bed and grotto. The day today was just as beautiful as it was 45 years ago, when a friend lent us his red triumph Spitfire for the day and we took our first drive into the Texas Hill country.

Did I notice the Agarita, Mahonia trifoliata,  in bloom?

Or the Mexican buckeye, Ungnania speciosa, about to burst into flower.

Surely I saw the the windflower, always the first bloom of the season.

Or was it that I only had eyes for one.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Yesterday we had our first rain in over 6 weeks. We knew it was coming but it was a real disappointment. Just a drizzle and not enough to even register in the rain gauge. However.....

Isn't it amazing what you can collect off the roof? Admittedly we have some large roofs and this pipe feeds down out of our enclosed gardens. Imagine if we had put in a collection system 12 years ago but the cost at the time was prohibitive.
This is my uninstalled tank from the potager being repurposed as a collection system. D worked on it 2 days ago after buying a couple of lengths of pipe to tack onto the outfall pipe.
So at breakfast this morning we discussed how to get the water up and over the wall to the gardens.  Hand carrying buckets? A yoke with 2 buckets like the milk-maids used to carry? A pump? I think it has to be a pump, don't you?
So today we are off to Callahans to get another tank to replace this one. But for now we are really happy to have 200 gallons of water.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Lady Banks' rose, Rosa banksiae 'lutea'

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Old book stores are always on the must list of shops to visit when we are traveling. Look what I came across in the old book and print store, when recently on a visit to Florida.

It is a page from Elizabeth Gordon's, Flower Children, which I plan to frame and put on the kitchen wall. Now I don't approve of books being taken apart to sell the individual pages but the price tells me this is not from a first edition. I would have loved to have had this book when I was a child. In fact I would be happy to have it now. Do you have this book?
I'll bet there are a few granddads out their nodding their heads in agreement!
But what of my sages, and there are many. I have four different kinds planted in my herb potager.

Here is the culinary sage, Salvia officinalis, with the narrow leaves. This is the one I use most often in cooking. Next to it is the Salvia officinalis 'Berggarten'. I like this sage more for its ornamental features. The leaves are more rounded and it tends to for a nice low clump.

This sage has a similar flavor and can also be used for cooking.

This sage might look similar to the Salvia officinalis but its aromatics are quite different. It is Salvia clevelandii. I adore the smell of this sage and cannot resist brushing the foliage as I pass by. It isn't easy to grow here as it prefers the dry chaparral areas of Southern California and the Baja. I grow it in the well drained soil of the herb garden where it receives afternoon shade.

In the same location is the Salvia officinalis 'triclor'. I have seen beautiful full mounding plants in other gardens but seem to struggle to keep this one alive through the summer. Still it is worth trying to achieve such a look. Maybe this year.

The sages are subject to damage from spider mites so if you are going to grow them keep a sharp lookout for those leaves turning a dusty color. With the dry conditions we have been experiencing this winter it won't be long before the spider mites arrive.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day already! If I hadn't spotted someone else posting about their bloom day I would likely have missed it. So in haste....

The iris are still blooming and every time I walk by the peach iI smell her subtle fragrance.

There is a wonderful fragrance from the Meyer lemon blossoms as they begin their first bloom cycle.

Look how many there are to come.

The longest lasting flowers I know are on the Mother of Thousands. I had some cut flowers in the house and they lasted over 3 weeks. These are in the greenhouse.

A few blooms on the drought stricken Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens.


Summer snowflakes, Leucojum

Viburnum 'spring bouquet'

And daisy fleabane.
There are lots of violas and stocks but these were fairly recent purchases so not included here.
Hope you are having a great bloom day. Hop on over to our hostess Carol at May Dreams  to see what is blooming in other gardens around the world.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I think I read somewhere that gardening is the most difficult of the arts. Maybe for some it comes easy but not for this gardener. It is a constant battle with the elements and bugs.

I have been admiring my beautiful Mangave, macho mocha, from a distance, for some time. Yesterday I decided to take a closer view to see if there were offsets waiting to be removed. This is when I spotted that all was not well.

The lower leaves had been stripped of their upper layers; one of those decollate snails was sitting right on top of the leaf. Now the hunt began.

I collected all these snails camping out underneath the plant. All the lower leaves were shredded. I'm now realizing that I have a snail problem in my gravel/rock front garden. Who would have thought.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


The tradition of using up fat and eggs before the start of Lent is timed perfectly with my crop of Meyer lemons. It means pancakes for dessert tonight. A once a year treat! Out comes the special pan: my cast iron frying pan which is used for nothing else but making these delicious little rolls of sugary lemon delight.

When I lived with my parents we always had pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I don't think my mother ever ran down the street tossing pancakes but that didn't stop her from making the best pancakes. A sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice and there you have it, perfection.
The recipe is simple:
4oz flour
pinch of salt
10oz milk
Mix sieved flour with egg and a little milk until combined then gradually add the rest of the milk. Whisk well. Heat pan until very hot, grease and wipe (I now use Pam)  then pour in scant ¼c  of batter, twirling the pan until the bottom is covered. Turn when the first side is browned. Toss if you dare!

Sprinkle with sugar, a few squeezes of lemon juice, roll and sprinkle with more sugar and lemon.

In the village of Olney Bucks. England, they take Pancake day more seriously. The race has been run there since 1445. To enter the race you must wear an apron and a scarf and toss your pancake once at the beginning and once at the end of the 415yd race. The race ends at the church with contestants attending the service. Why aren't we doing this in Austin as part of our Keep Austin Weird program!

Monday, February 11, 2013


Congratulations, Judith is the winner of the drawing for the book, The Speedy Vegetable Garden. Please send your name and address so that I can arrange for Timberpress to send you the book.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


After such a ridiculously warm spell, for nearly three weeks, it was inevitable that things in the garden would be not what they should be. First it was the iris.....

This unknown, fragrant peach, bearded iris has just been stunning this year. I had picked three open flowers due to the threat of frost, but the unopened buds surprised me by surviving the brief, cold night and went on to put on a stunning show. Then the purple iris started. The first ones were on very short bloom stalks, possibly due to the dry winter.

I gave the garden a good watering a week ago and now the plants are sending up the odd longer bloom stalk. Their color is deeper than last year.

It has always been a mystery to me why these are called summer snowflakes, Leucojum aestivum. In Texas their bloom is over long before summer begins and this year even before spring. I began to wonder if mine were not the Leucojum vernum, which are also known as Spring snowflakes. However, I discarded that idea when I realized that a characteristic of L. aestivum, is an umbel of 3-7 flowers on one stalk. Mine certainly have that. These flowers bloom in the very poor and much neglected soil of my English garden. I'm wondering why I haven't added more of these beauties. Next year they must be top of my list.

And here comes the first larkspur of the season. Once again a miniature of its usual self at only one foot. I am sure this is again attributable to dry conditions. As I write a fine drizzle is bringing relief to the parched landscape. I hope the plants are drinking up every drop-it may be all they get.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


When I was at the market this week I asked where the bean and alfalfa sprouts were. They told me they no longer carry them because they don't have a reliable source. This jogged my memory about having read something about contamination in sprouts. What does this have to do with the new book The Speedy Vegetable Gardener, by Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz, you may ask.

The first section of their book entitled, Sprouts and Soaks, introduces the reader to the technique of sprouting their own seeds. The author goes on to explain that when the seed begins to sprout their proteins and vitamins become more digestible and therefore have greater nutritional value. No fancy equipment is needed to start the process but there are examples of products which would help. A selection of recipes for using the sprouts is provided. I covered a handful of almonds with water, soaked for 12 hours and drained. They truly were delicious even without the yoghurt and honey!
If you are missing those mung beans and sprouts in the supermarket maybe you would like to try your hand. Please make sure you buy from a reputable seed dealer. Several suppliers are listed at the back of the book.

Anyone who does vegetable gardening will be familiar with the next speedy vegetables: the micro greens. Here's a great idea. Because the seedling grow and are harvested in a short space of time the authors suggest growing them in guttering! In less than 10 days you will have nutritious micro greens with which to garnish that special dinner.

Nasturtium flowers
Years ago, on a garden visit,  I was offered a nasturtium flower to eat. It had a delicious peppery taste. This is one, but not the only flower suggestion for your salad bowl. Violas, chive, borage, pot marigold  and lavender are also flowers that will add flavor and pizazz to your salads. Just make sure that no chemicals have been used on the flowers. My favorite flower of all is the squash blossom. No need to wait for the squash themselves. Pick the flowers, add a savory filling, tempura batter and fry for a delicious snack.

Long before those zucchini are ready for the table you can enjoy the flowers. The authors offer their recipe for this favorite Italian dish.

Stuffed tempura courgette flowers

Stuffed and deep-fried in batter, courgette flowers are delicious. You can use cream cheese mixed with herbs for the stuffing, or, as here, cold risotto.

Serves 4
12 courgette flowers
2 cups cold risotto
sunflower oil for deep-frying
85g (⅔ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
. teaspoon salt
200ml (⅞ cup) ice-cold water
Coarse sea salt, to serve

1 Remove the centres from the flowers and use a teaspoon to stuff each about two-thirds full with risotto.

2 When they are all prepared, start warming the oil in a deep-sided pan.

3 Meanwhile, make the batter, which should never be left to stand. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and briefly whisk in the ice-cold water. Drop in a few ice cubes to keep it cool. Don’t worry if there are lumps of flour left in the mix as this adds to the crispiness.

4 Once the oil is hot (a piece of potato dropped in during heating will rise to the top when the temperature is right for frying), twist the tips of the flowers together and dip into the batter before lowering carefully into the oil. Fry for a few minutes, turning the flowers so that they are evenly brown on all sides. Lift out, drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately, sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

If you have a little more space then you can venture into growing some of the vegetables that require a little longer to harvest but still fit the bill of a quick crop. These include beets, carrots, cherry tomatoes and early potatoes. All can be grown in pots or in the ground.
The book is packed with ideas for plants can be grown in small spaces which gives the opportunity to the balcony or patio gardener to grow his own fresh produce. Then, more than 20 recipes to use your produce.

If you would like the opportunity to own this book I shall be giving a copy away to the lucky winner of my drawing which will take place on February 11. Just leave me a comment then check back on the 11th to see if you have won.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


It is one of the pleasures of gardening: sitting down for an alfresco lunch with no feeling of guilt about the calories. After all, we have really been burning off those calories during the morning. On the menu lentil soup followed by potato/corn cakes with avocado and tomato salsa. A glass of wine would be nice but we have more work to do. V8 it is.

Such a beautiful day. D continues his project down the side of the house. He is putting in a pathway to the back of the house. Phase 1 takes the path to the end of the fence and around the corner.

After much discussion we decided to edge in wood to conform with the fence.

We haven't quite decided whether to fill the path with decomposed granite or gravel. Either way I have had to make a promise not to let anything grow in the path!

Meanwhile I was working in the back garden, cutting back the 7 roses, the Philippine violet  and cleaning and refilling the bird bath. After I had tidied up I gave everything a good watering. There has been no rain for over a month.

Then I moved into the potager, cleaning out and re-composting two of the veggy. beds, cutting back the winter weary peas and putting shingles on the roof of the bee house. We have full occupancy. Goodness knows how the tenants are going to get out of the lower apartments. They seem to have been plastered with some kind of resin. But I do know I will soon be redoing the apartments for new tenants.