Wednesday, November 26, 2014


If you went to the stores at the moment you might be forgiven for not knowing whether we were about to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. After all we have been seeing Christmas trees and hearing carols for some time now. But it seems the nurseries might have it wrong too.

I picked up this plant the other day at my local nursery and it was labeled Christmas cactus. Didn't I remember reading somewhere recently that there were two species of this plant, the Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus?  So I did a little research and came up with this enlightening information.

There are two kinds of this cactus; the Christmas cactus,  Schlumbergera bridgessi, and the Thanksgiving cactus, Schlumbergera truncata. They come in a variety of colors such as red, peach, white and the pink seen here. But it is the Thanksgiving cactus which we normally see for sale around this time of the year as it comes into flower about a month before Christmas. There are two ways to tell the Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus apart. The first is by looking at the flattened stems, the phyllocades, which have 2-4 pointed projections on the Thanksgiving cactus, as opposed to more rounded projections on the Christmas cactus. But an easier way is to look at the anthers on the stamens which are yellow on the Thanksgiving cactus, seen above, and purplish on the Christmas cactus.

But there is yet another holiday cactus called the Easter cactus,  Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri, which is named so because it blooms later in the year. It has the same flattened phyllocades but they are even more rounded. I have this one, seen above, picked up at a moving sale. Last year I noticed it start to bloom in June. I now know why.
The secret to good blooming around the holiday season is to give the plants increasing darkness from September on, and to keep the temperature as close to 68° as possible, with no more than 8-10 daylight hours. Only water when the well draining soil is dry.
So check out your cactus and see which one you have. I can almost guarantee that if you bought it at this time of the year it will be the Thanksgiving cactus. Mine is.

                                                      HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Saturday, November 22, 2014


In April 2012, I was driving to Dallas and took my usual short cut at Elm Mott. The two lane road winds through countryside and farm fields. Driving at 50 mph my attention was drawn to a flash of pale pink and blue on the side of the road. I couldn't stop then but marked the spot and determined to stop on the way back home. And so I did.

April 2012
I wonder how many years it took for this patch to form?

April 2014
As foxgloves are one of my favorite flowers in was not hard to see why this plant, Penstemon cobaea, found a place in my garden the next year. But not an easy plant to find. I left the seed heads to dry on the plant and collected them yesterday. The seed capsule was hard and tough on the fingers. In the end I got the rolling pin to do the job, crushing the seed head until it released the seed.

It seems ease of germination is related to whether the plants grow in the east or the west. As we are slap bang in the middle it's hard to know where we fall. I already know from watching my own garden that annual conditions can be responsible for whether a plant performs or not. Conditions in central Texas are often unpredictable. A wet winter; a dry winter; a cool spring; a warm spring; a dry summer a wet summer etc. We have it all and undoubtedly germination is affected by these conditions.

My Texas Wildflower book says they germinate easily but at least two sources say that the seeds need several weeks of 40° temperatures to initiate germination. Some winters may provide those kinds of temperatures but I decided to take half of the seeds and give them a few weeks in the refrigerator. On advice I wet some paper towel, sprinkled on the seeds and enclosed in a plastic bag. The rest will be sown in the ground with the hope of perfect conditions this year for their germination. Meanwhile I shall be checking the nurseries for 4" pots of this plant. I would like a few more of these beauties in my garden.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


I was delighted to host the crew from Gardeners' Supply last week. They were in Austin filming their new products, in local gardens, for the whole week. And what a week it was weatherwise. It started out quite nicely but then by Wednesday it turned really cold and that was the first day they were filming in my garden. At least the sun was shining.

Glass balls are now a part of my garden decor
The one bonus for them was the fact that we had removed all pots from the garden in readiness for freezing temperatures. The garden was empty save for the plants growing in the ground and that's just how they like it. They don't want any of my decorative garden art in the pictures when filming their decorative garden art. It is quite an experience to watch them at work and they certainly filmed in some most unexpected places.

I'm glad they brought their Vermont clothes with them because despite the sun on Wednesday morning it was cooooold out there. They brought their equipment in two vans and started to set up on the driveway.

The best spot for filming on the Wednesday was in the sunken garden where there was still quite a bit of color. Plus it was the warmest spot in the garden.  A mealy blue sage, Salvia farinacea, acts as a backdrop for this metal birdbath.

I didn't actually see them filming most of their items as I was gone quite a bit but you would be surprised how long it takes them to get the perfect shot. I remember seeing a little fox with a butterfly on its nose in among the flowers in the potager. It was really a sweet little garden ornament and perfect in among the narrow leaf zinnias. Look out for him in the catalogue.

On the Friday they filmed outside the walls using the trailing rosemary as a backdrop to film a row of Easter bunnies. Who would have thought they would use a spot like this. You can see they are using some potted asparagus fern in front to hide the edge of the path.

Then it was back into the sunken garden to film pots on the steps. I wonder if I dare use that brightly colored pot in my garden? It was another one of the things they left for me including the trellis.

Despite the miserable cold I often heard laughter coming from the garden, a clear sign that they all enjoy their jobs. Stephanie, Jada, Lenny, Alex and Geoff, the photographer, posed for me in the front garden before they left.

Thanks for the gift items and the plants you left behind. I hope y'all will come back again next year--when the weather is better.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


That's what my father called it when my mother got busy baking and making jam. It was usually one of those cold English days when everyone turns to the kitchen for cheer. This morning was just like one of those days from my childhood. I call it dank, damp and dreary. I ventured outside but not for long. Bone chilling. I had a job to do in the kitchen.

Yesterday morning I uncovered the lone cherry tomato plant. It had not fared well in the frost. There was nothing to do but pick all the tomatoes and find something to do with them. I could make more green tomato chutney but I fancied a change. A little research came up with a recipe for pickling the tomatoes. I had all the equipment but needed to get a few fresh spices which I picked up at our local Central Market. What a wonderful idea just to be able to buy the small amount you need instead of a whole jar. Spices don't last for ever.

I found the recipe at Garden Betty, Four ways for pickled green tomatoes. I chose two of the suggestions. The basic pickling spices and the curry with ginger.

Here are the jars ready to go in the canner; the canner that I bought back in 1972 and have carried from house to house since then. In fact, when David got it down from the high shelf in the garage he was surprised to find two cycling helmets in there!

The canning process took 20 minutes and now I have my jars of pickled tomatoes. Can't wait to taste them. Thanks Garden Betty for the recipe.
The rest of the tomatoes I am going to make curried tomatoes as a side dish, suggested by one of my garden blogging friends. I think it might make a nice accompaniment to some Texas redfish caught by David.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


As much of the nation shivers under frigid temperatures and in some places a blanket of snow, we in Texas also find ourselves in the path of the polar vortex. Two nights below freezing has ended our long spell of garden color. Yes, I could show you the hardy flowers like alyssum, dianthus, Copper Canyon daisy, blackfoot daisy, and chocolate daisy and even a sheltered place where the Philippine violet is still blooming but you have seen all those before. They are still brightening the garden but I thought I would take this opportunity to feature a little plant whose fragrant blooms even gardeners in northern climates could enjoy over the winter. The Calamondin, Citrus mitis.

This beautiful little citrus is about to burst into full bloom but at the same time has tiny oranges in all stages of ripeness.

It is a joy to have its sweetly perfumed flowers in the house in the winter. One of the hardiest citrus and will tolerate temperatures as low as 20° but I brought it inside so that we could enjoy the blooms during this cold week.

A native of China this plant is well suited to container culture and there are no problems with pollination as the flowers are self-fertile. As long as it spends the summers outside it will perform admirably indoors in winter. A dry period followed by watering will stimulate flower production within 2 months.
This little tree is important in the celebration of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, when the streets and flower markets are filled with the tiny orange trees.
Thanks Carol at May Dreams for hosting another Garden Bloggers' Bloom day. Stay warm.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


We sat out in the front garden for lunch today. The temperature was only in the 40s but the front garden has a little more shelter from the cold north wind, even though it was gusty from time to time. We were both wearing jackets and needed the sun to keep us comfortable.

There are a few remaining seed heads on the Ruby Crystal grass, Melinus nerviglumis. This grass enjoys even more success than Mexican feather grass, Nasella tenuissima. In fact there is only one remaining in this garden, the crystal grass having taken over.

I like sitting outside because it gives me the chance to enjoy the garden as well as to decide on changes. As I was looking across at the bamboo in the pot I decided it needed to be refreshed with some paint and it was easy to decide what color to use. You can probably guess too.

At one point a drowsy bee appeared on the one remaining white cone flower. Echinacea purpurea 'white swan'

We dodged a freeze last night but it isn't looking good for the next two nights. I think it will be the end of many of the flowers tonight including the gomphrena grapes' Such a pity because they have really only just come into their glory having been nothing but foliage all summer long.

I picked some the other day for our dinner table. Friends commented on what a pretty centerpiece they made. As difficult to photograph on the table as they are in the garden.

Copper Canon daisy, Tagetes lemmonii,  has only just come into flower. I can't remember how this one fares in a frost as this one is weeks too early, but I suspect they will be gone by tomorrow.

and the Flame acanthus, Anisacanthus quadrifidus. No hummingbirds around anymore.

Two days ago the winter veggies were basking in the warm sun. A lone mullein just couldn't wait until next year having put on a spurt of growth and flowered within 2 weeks.

Now the beds are shrouded with blankets.

I think it may be the time for this gardener to have a break.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


We are all too young to remember the First World War, which began 100 years ago in August  1914. An estimated 10 million lives were lost on those battlefields. Every year we mark their sacrifice on November 11, or Armistice day as it was first known, that day on November 11th. 1918 when the cease fire was announced. 10,000 men died or were wounded on that last day of the war.

The red poppy has long been associated with this day. It came as a surprise to me that an American lady was responsible for the idea of the poppy being the symbol of remembrance, which many wear on this day, because I never see I never see poppies being sold here or people wearing them.

Poppies grow all too easily in my garden as they do in the fields of Flanders, long immortalized in the poem, by Canadian physician John McCrae, In Flander's Fields. They can lie dormant in the soil for years and germinate when the soil is disturbed. McCrae wrote his poem after burying his friend, who died at the second battle of Ypres, and where the poppies that grew around the grave made a deep impression on him.

In 1918 an American school teacher, Miss Moina Michael, was a volunteer in the YMCA in New York, when she read McCrae's poem in the Ladies' Home Journal. Inspired by these final words of the poem

'To you from failing hands we throw the torch;
be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die, 
we shall not sleep,
though poppies grow in Flander's fields'

and the photograph of ghostly soldiers and poppies, she responded by writing her own poem which included the following lines.

We cherish too the poppy red,
That grows on fields where valour led
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

When other volunteers read her poem, they collected $10, and Moina went out and bought 25 red silk poppies which she pinned on the office staff. When the war ended she campaigned the American Legion for the poppy to be the memorial emblem for American fallen soldiers. A French visitor to the convention determined that the commemorative poppy should not be confined to America. She went home to France and arranged for the making of the poppies by French war widows. 9 million poppies were ordered for the first Poppy Day to be held on November 11 1919. The tradition continues to this day.

 I remember well the selling of the poppies, by service veterans, every year. They were sold by modest donation. Today's poppies are simpler and made of paper.

There have been special observances this year to mark the Centenary year and they will continue until November 2018, the day the war ended.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. Outside the Tower of London, 888,246 ceramic poppies, representing the number of British who died in WW1, have been planted in ground.

The three photographs, shown here, were taken by Canadian friends who visited London in September. At that time not all the poppies had been added.

Photographs of the completed display can be seen  here Unfortunately copyright prevents me from adding these images to my blog.
I hope as the clock strikes 11 on this day you with think of those who lost their lives in wars everywhere.

Monday, November 3, 2014


If you don't care for rocks then you may not want to read on because this week I added more rocks to the garden. Working with rocks is one of my favorite thing to do.
One area of the front courtyard garden had been sadly neglected. A couple of years ago we worked on the right side of this area extending the dry creek up into the corner of the wall. This past week I made a tributary dry creek on the other side. Looking at the French doors, on the left were two yaupon hollies planted by the mockingbird, lots of inland sea oats and ruellia. An untidy mess.

 One of the yaupons has now been removed along with all the sea oats. An extension of the original dry creek terminates in the left corner.

This summer I found myself casting frequent glances through the door at the large Whale's tongue agave, in the rock garden beyond, which was slowly dying (now removed). But at the same time I realized that it was imperative to make some improvements in this area. So, after cleaning out the plantings I created the creek. This time it involved a trip to the stone yard for $25 worth of New Mexico river rock.

Its a difficult area to plant. It faces north. One corner gets absolutely no sun and the other gets only sun later in the afternoon. That is why I decided to leave the yaupon on the corner so that the tree would temper the summer sun. For now I dug up some seedling Gulf coast penstemon and lyre leaf sage and planted them along the wall. I have a couple of hardy agaves that might look good in this area too. The soil is poor and I have no plans to amend.

Nature has planted a flowering senna tree in this corner. It doesn't get any sun so is not likely to bloom but the birds seem happy to perch there before and after visiting the bird bath. Ruellia, columbine and sea oats do well even in the poor soil but I shall be looking for some similarly undemanding plants to add to the area.