Sunday, October 26, 2014


I have been working hard, all week, in the sunken garden. It gets very overgrown during the summer during which time it loses its identity as a sunken garden as plantings become too bountiful. Some editing is necessary.

I am removing tired skullcaps which become woody with age. When I open up the space I find all kinds of seedlings vying for a spot in the garden. There are lots of bluebonnets and it is unlikely I will let them remain because their spread can reach over 3'. The ones I want to nurture are the blackfoot daisies, skullcaps and dahlberg daisies.

So many plants in such a small place. A fireworks gomphrena, columbine, asparagus fern, euphorbia, blackfoot daisies, all hoping that I will let them be.

Ghost plant, Graptopetalum, as managed to peak out from underneath the lavender cotton, Santolina chamaecyparissus. In front a coreopsis is hoping to escape the dreaded cobra head.

I like to have evergreen anchors at each corner of the upper level of the sunken garden. This spot has seen rosemary, A. desmettiana and recently the soft leaf yucca, Y. recurvifolia. Last year I removed the tall soft leaf yucca from this area. It left behind lots of offspring which I just left. They have now grown into a large cluster. OK for now. We'll see how they develop. It certainly looks healthy and as yet is untouched by those sap-sucking bugs.

I had no idea when I planted this Yucca rostrata, several years ago, that it was going to grow into such a magnificent specimen. It anchors this corner of the garden closest to the patio. See the Philippine violet to the right. It seeded here right on the very edge. I thought it died in last years cold winter but it it surprised me with its return. I doubt it is removable without destroying it so it will have to stay until such time as it becomes to large.

I first planted a crape myrtle in this spot. It grew too big. Then a dwarf Greek myrtle. It grew too big. Two years ago I replaced the myrtle with the spineless prickly pear and the squid agave, Agave bracteosa. This week I removed 15 baby squids and one teenager. The teenager was forcing the mother plant over so is much relieved by the loss of offspring. The teenager is planted in the fourth corner. I'm hoping it will survive the move. I also cleared out all the ruellia and heart leaf skullcap although I doubt they are gone forever.

Time to think about some companion plantings.

Friday, October 24, 2014


A week ago when day-time highs were back in the 90s it was no time to be outside in the afternoon hours. In fact it was a perfect day to spend with a new book I had received to review, The Writer's Garden, by Jackie Bennett with photographs by Richard Hanson.

With great excitement I opened the book to see which of my favorite writers might be featured. I was not to be disappointed. Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling are just a sample of the literary names whose gardens brought inspiration to their writing. There are 20 authors, playwrights, poets and historians featured each influenced by the gardens of the places they lived or visited. Many of these gardens, where they still exist, are open to the public.

Each writer receives a dedicated chapter except for Henry James and E F Benson who both spent time living at Lamb House. The book is generously illustrated with photographs of the authors and the places which inspired them in their writings.

The subjects of each chapter do not seem to be organized in any particular way and appear to be random. Jane Austen is featured in the first chapter and I found I knew little about her real life, thinking, as many, she was like many of the young ladies in her books, who lived a somewhat charmed social life. In fact her father was a vicar and supplemented his income by taking in pupils. They grew their own food and kept animals. So Jane would have spent much time with nature and was her happiest in the countryside.

Would Virginia Woolf have been able to write "It was the moment between six and seven when every flower glows." if she had not been a keen observer in her own garden. Haven't we gardeners experienced that same moment in gardens, although we may never have put it into those words.

Or would Rudyard Kipling have been able to write his famous The Glory of the Garden, if he had not watched the day to day work in his own garden.. This poem has remained with me from the age of 8, although my thinking was that it was just a beautiful poem with lyrical rhyme about a place I loved dearly. In fact it had much deeper meaning.

With some nostalgia I read about Rupert Brooke and his love for Granchester. On one of my early dates with David we took a punt to Granchester to the idyllic Orchard tea room, about which Brooke writes. Another time, the morning after the May Ball, we drove to Granchester for breakfast. I know why Brooke wrote and loved the place so much.

The Author, Jackie Bennet, began her career in broadcasting, producing first gardening and then natural history programs. As a writer she became editor of several gardening magazines and has written about her own Norfolk garden.

Richard Hanson's photographs have appeared in many garden magazines and books and he has photographed the gardens of many famous writers.

The book is published by Frances Lincoln and would be a welcome addition to any gardener's library. It isn't just a book to place on the coffee table.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I left a note on my computer when I left the house this morning. It was to remind me of something I needed to do immediately on my return.

Monday, I was more than relieved when I came home from a weekend away to find the flower bud still closed on my Stapelia. Sometimes called Carrion flower, this is a spineless succulent, requiring very little in the way of water but protection from cold winters. I had already missed one bloom this summer. These plants would normally sprawl across the ground with the heavy flower supported by the ground so here it is supported by the table.

This morning one of the petals had freed itself. It wouldn't be long before the whole flower opened.

That was why I left the note. When I checked this afternoon it was completely open, with flies buzzing around, attracted by the rotting flesh smell. Despite its revolting smell I think it is a wonderful flower and I have Annie at Transplantable Rose to thank for giving me a couple of stems to root. I have to protect this plant in the winter but it is worth the short show.
This morning I checked the flower to find the flies had laid eggs and they had already hatched. No way.

 I clipped off the flower and put it in a bag for the trash. I thought the flies pollinated. I didn't know they laid their eggs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Finally the gorgeous fall days have arrived. Sunny skies, dry air and a flurry of fall flowers. I'm joining our host Carol at Maydreams and the rest of the gardening world who share their October garden flowers.

Salvia Leucantha, in two shades. The purple and white and the all purple. Although I like the all purple one the best, the hummingbirds have a clear preference for the original purple and white variety.

This is a large plant which spreads rapidly and when I need to divide I plant outside the walls. Here you can see them coupled with another fall bloomer Mexican mint marigold, Tagetes lucida. Sometimes called false tarragon, mint marigold can be used in place of French tarragon.

Out in the front the golden eye, Viguera dentata,  and native lantana, Texana urticoides, are in full bloom.

Native Texas skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii, 

And blackfoot daisies, Melampodium leucanthum, among the green leaves of ruby crystal grass.

Alyssum seeded along the edges of the potager beds and Gregg's blue mist flower, Conoclinium greggii, below

The show in the sunken garden goes to the seed heads of the Ruby crystal grass, Melinus nerviglumis, caught in the morning sunlight.

A cluster of native cosmos offset by the grey-green of sage.

I love gayfeather, Liatris spicata mucronata, but wish it would't flop so.

Our fall in central Texas is about the purples and yellows.

Monday, October 13, 2014


When a cold front arrives it changes everything. It turned a drizzly morning into a clear, much cooler windy day. But oh that wind. It knocked over chairs, blew over plants and bowed my Felicia rose down to the ground. There was nothing for it but to bring the flowers into the house. Ah! the sweet smell of Felicia.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


I know, you have heard it all before, but this past week I came to grips with how I must keep my pathways clear. Once again it was becoming ridiculous, having to walk on the vegetable beds to get anywhere. And it was time to think about the fall/winter garden.

I will say that the cedar mulch I put down in the early summer did the trick. Very few weeds to contend with. I have already planted snow peas, kale, chard, broccoli and Napa cabbage. I tried a new idea for seeding this year. I heard on Gardeners' Question Time the idea of laying pieces of 2x4 on the bare ground and mulching over the top. That way when you are ready to plant seeds you just lift the 2x4 and bare earth awaits. I didn't have a 2x4 so I used a length of drain pipe.

I had to remove the mulch first, amend the soil and then lay the mulch back down. It seems to work and arugula seeds planted 3 days ago are already germinating.
Napa cabbage is really coming along.

I am pleased to say I have limes this year. After my concern about the distorted flowers on the tree we have a nice crop.

Mexican limes

There are plenty of Meyer lemons but they are the smallest fruit I have ever seen. I shall have to blame that on the lack of summer rain although it may be they need root pruning. Either way the soil needs replenishing in the pots as in some cases it is 6" below the pot rim. No other lemon compares with a Meyer lemon.

I am feeling rather pleased with my new-found tidy look and moving next to the long vegetable beds. More of a challenge.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Today I am highlighting a lesser know Texas native snapdragon vine, Maurandya antirrhiniflora. It belongs to the Scrophulariaceae family, like the common garden snapdragon. You might have guessed that from the species name being similar to antirrhinum, commonly used for snapdragons.  Last year I tried to grow snapdragon vine on the trellis outside my kitchen patio. After a great start it failed miserably, but it did leave behind seeds which have germinated in several places in the garden.

It seems the vine would like to grow the way it wants to, which is by sprawling across the ground and entwining its petioles around anything in its path. Here it is prettying up the oregano. It is a delicate vine and once it has coiled its petioles around a stem there is no letting go.

A second plant I am now training onto an arched bamboo trellis, although it doesn't help to twist its stem around because that is not its method of climbing.

As I mentioned earlier it is the petiole stem that does the twisting and support as opposed to the stem itself. As a temporary hold I taped the stem to the bamboo using velcro garden tape. In the wild the flowers can be found in all shades of purple to an infrequent white.
The first time I saw this plant growing was in the garden of Pam Penick. It was twining its way up some fine wire twisted around the pole of her dovecote. This dovecote now resides in my garden but I have not been successful in getting the vine to twine up the existing wire. Maybe next year I will have success.
I shall be saving seeds this year in an attempt to ensure it grows in a more suitable place next year but undoubtedly it will show up in lots of other places too.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Advertise that you have bird houses and garden things at your garage and I'll be there. I was a little late in checking and discovered that the sale had started on Friday. So by the time I got there on Saturday I wasn't really expecting to find those bird houses. But, for some reason I am the only one looking for such items. They were all still there and they all came home with me.

I doubt this one would last too long in the open as it is more decorative but I can find a nice sheltered spot. The others are more utilitarian. The wrens will have quite a choice next year.

Among the other things I brought home was a nice glass hummingbird feeder. I have never put out food for the birds. The hummingbirds seem to find plenty of nectar from the Salvias and the goldfinches seem happy with the seeds on the coneflowers but next year they will have some easier-to-get food.
There was a roll of greenhouse shade cloth, two tomato cages, bags of vermiculite, potting soil, peat moss, cactus soil and worm castings, a box containing 2 portable sprinklers, trowels, forks and various garden necessities. I was a happy gardener. Then later in the day I went over to my friend's house to pick up some bamboo that they had been cutting down.

These are for my new bee houses. All mine are filled up and every hole in my four patio umbrellas is filled too. Clearly there is a shortage of rental accommodation. I think it will make a good winter project.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Early morning in the garden is the time to capture the garden at its best. I have been cleaning out a lot of the extra plants growing in the herb garden.

 It's a favorite place for plants to seed in the cracks between the pavers. But eventually the time comes to make way for next years little hopefuls. Gomphrena has spilled over to make it impossible to walk down the pathway.

Several times this week I have breakfasted alone, sitting in a spot under the covered patio.

From a distance the impression is that there is not much to do. The plumbago has taken the place of the heart-leaf skullcaps. Of course the skullcaps will be back again during the cooler weather.

A couple of years ago I finally had success with a summertime wall planter. This is the second generation planting with a new Agave desmettiana, 'variegata' with the narrow-leaf Mexican portulaca. I used felt to line the basket.

Around the corner in the English garden the Felicia rose is about to bloom again.

There is no more faithful re-bloomer than Felicia. This is her third blooming of the year and the fragrance from a single rose this week stopped me in my tracks.

Hope you are enjoying your fall garden. I am.