Tuesday, June 30, 2015


You know how much the English love their tea. Apart from our morning cuppa I usually put the kettle on around 4pm which is official 'tea time'. On Sunday I pulled out all the stops and served a special tea to celebrate a friend's birthday.

There are many different kinds of teas served in England. You may have been introduced to afternoon tea when watching Downton Abbey. The Dowager countess liked to invite a lady friend over to tea when she wanted to discuss something or maybe do a little prying. That was a fairly simple affair with maybe a small sandwich and cake and cups of tea and taken sitting on a chair with plates on knees or on a small side table. That is called low tea.

For this occasion my tea was mixture of Low tea, Royal tea and Devon cream tea! Royal tea named, not because the queen was in attendance, and she was, but because I served a little bubbly to start with.

We have Anne, Duchesse of Bedford, lady in waiting to Queen Victoria, to thank for this little ritual. With the ever lengthening time between luncheon and dinner she felt the need for a little snack and ordered a few sandwiches and cakes to be delivered to her room. She then suggested the idea of tea time to Queen Victoria who would invite ladies over to take tea with her.

But this wasn't an all ladies event at our house. We had gentlemen too, although it was the ladies who got together for a photograph while the men did the gossiping!

They may not have served all the things on my tea-time table but you would have been sure to see a selection of sandwiches and small cakes.

And maybe some meringues.

Undoubtedly there would be scones too. At one time the famous Devon tea consisted of scones with jam and clotted cream and was only served in the West Country. But such a delicious tea was sure to be adopted by other counties and now you can find a cream tea in many other counties and naming it after their own county.
I have to thank my friend the internet for many of these recipes. Want to know what was on the table.

Roasted red pepper and goat cheese sandwiches
Egg mayonnaise and chive sandwiches
Smoked salmon and cream cheese cucumber bites
Mushroom vol au vents
Curried chicken mayonnaise with grapes, dried cranberries, pecans and green onions on rounds of Granny Smith apples.
Watermelon cubes with pomegranate balsamic vinegar

Currant scones with strawberry jam and Devon cream
Shortbread fingers,
Meringues with cream and strawberries
Strawberries stuffed with sweetened cream cheese.

Earl Grey and English breakfast tea.

Next time you are thinking of celebrating a friend's birthday why not throw here a Royal tea.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


No one likes to write about the bad things that go on in their garden. They really like to share the pretty photos of their garden design and flowers. No one has a perfect garden and no one is exempt from things that go wrong.
Not everything is rosy in my garden. It has been more than 2 months since the horrendous hail storm that battered our garden for more than ten minutes. The garden has made a good recovery and the plentiful rain has helped enormously. We were lucky it was in May because many plants were only just starting to grow. The worst hit of all were the cactus and succulents. This damage will never go away.

But it isn't just a matter of the unsightly. Many of the severely damaged plants are starting to fail. It's as though they have post traumatic stress. This plant bravely put out two new pads which are now hanging loosely. It was such a beauty too.

I have already discarded many agaves and pruned off tens of lower leaves on the large agaves at the front. Most of those are A. weberi, with sturdier leaves, and have taken the pruning well, their leaves spreading down to cover the cuts.  Not so the A. desmettiana. I waited before pruning the two in pots at the front gate. But in the end I had to do it. I knew it would create the pineapple effect and it just doesn't look right.

I think they will have to go. One of the reasons I decided to cut back was pups growing underneath. I want to give them a chance to grow in a more upright fashion. The mother plant will remain until the fall. At least I won't have to worry about the pots over the winter.

There are split stems on all the trees and bushes. Some will not recover. This is my beautiful Felicia. She put on a brave show producing new leaves only to find she couldn't support their growth. Then she bloomed again but the flowers were puny and pale. Now she is just bare twigs. I'm not sure whether to cut her back now or wait until the late winter. Either way it will be to the ground as all the stems are in this state.

A similar fate beset my once fabulous sage. I have waited hoping that it would recover but apart from a few new leaves most of the plant is dead.

Just before the storm it looked like this.

The vegetable garden faired pretty badly too. This is the first year that I have had to buy tomatoes. Beaten to the ground I hoped for their recovery but it was too late in the season to set fruit for this year. There will only be two lemons this year as all the flowers were knocked off the trees. Only the little calamondin is making new flowers.

But in all this I have my wonderful gardening friends to thank for some garden gifts. From Cindy at My Corner of Katy came a big box of bluebonnet seeds along with frilled poppy seeds. None of my bluebonnets managed to mature seed because their leaves were pounded to death. It was a huge blooming year too which made me concerned that they were putting their everything into the bloom after the great fall and winter rains. But surely mother nature is smarter than that and doesn't put all her eggs in one basket. Without these seeds from Cindy there may have been a poor bloom next year.

From Rock'N Oaks Garden Club in San Antonio, who had just visited my garden the week before, a generous gift to replace some of my lost plants. I know the new Felicia rose I buy in the fall will have their name on it. As will the replacement of my Princess Diana Texas clematis.

And my Austin garden friends have brought me agave pups, an Eve's Necklace tree and perennials to take the place of bare spots in the garden.
Thank you all. What a wonderful community of gardeners I belong to.
And on a much brighter note the Easter lily cactus bloomed two days after the white ones. Such a pretty color.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Unknowingly I put out the welcome mat for rabbits to come into my garden. Silly me!

These are all residents of the sunken garden and so is the real thing. I spotted him yesterday and he was there again today. I think he has moved in for good because he happened on an all day buffet.  He's quite amenable to having his photograph taken in exchange for having done quite a bit of nibbling among the gomphrena. If I thought the flowers were high enough to be out of his way I had to think again. He managed to cut through the stem to topple the flowers and he's very untidy leaving the evidence all over the place. He is rather cute in his baby phase.

When he moved over towards the pool giving it quite an intense stare I have to admit I was egging him on to go for a swim. No such luck. He scurried deeper into the jungle at the back of the garden. There is no hope unless the snake takes a fancy to a rabbit dinner.

Suddenly wildlife surrounds the garden. This week we have had, all at the same time, a turkey, a rabbit 3 bucks and a doe on the septic field. Today a doe with two fawns.

Getting up close to these guys without spooking them is much more difficult. I took this over the wall. See the rabbit near to the turkey. I think this is a bigger one than the one in the garden. Or is there more than one?

There is plenty for them to eat this year so the deer are busy grazing the septic field. The mother with one fawn. The other was spooked and went charging off into the trees.

But there was another invader in the garden this week. I saw him crawling up the wall and knew immediately what he was. The first time I learnt about him was in Zoology class in High School and the last time I saw one of these was when we lived in Hong Kong. That's exactly where he belongs; Asia. He likes to eat earthworms and is not welcome around here. Let me introduce you to this land planarian with an arrow-shaped head,  Bipalium kewense.

If you find one in your garden and decide to dispose of him let me warn you of this one thing. He reproduces by fragmentation. Yes, leave a little part of him behind and you will immediately have another. He's a little bit like a tapeworm, another nasty parasitic flatworm.
And I have more nasties to talk about but that's for another day.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


For one brief moment the sun came out this morning. It was long enough for me to wander onto the patio to put a few cactus out in the sun. You would have heard me exclaim out loud as I turned to the Echinopsis on the table. I bent down to smell the flowers' sweet fragrance. Wonderful!

I missed the first blooming of 3 flowers a couple of weeks ago, but the great thing about this plant is that flowers come in flushes. But how they sneak up on you. When I last looked I thought it at least a couple of days from flowering. How wrong I was. The first sign that the plant is about to flower is the appearance of a fuzzy nubble. Each one of those spots you see on the plant could potentially produce a flower but I have no idea what triggers a bloom. The fuzz begins to swell, a stalk starts to grow, a small bud forms on the end and then seemingly overnight the stalk lengthens and it flowers.

The flowers on this plant opened during the night and may have had nocturnal visitors. None of the previous flowers have ever produced seed pods.
This plant was a chance find at Lowe's one Mother's Day weekend a few years ago. It has bloomed every year since.

The name echinopsis stems from two Latin words, ekhinos meaning sea urchin or hedgehog and opsis meaning resembling. Because there are more than 100 species and hundreds of hybrids it is sometimes hard to identify and plants are often sold a Easter lily cactus. Mine have never bloomed at Easter and I believe this one to be Echinopsis subdenudata.
I have a second but different one which is about to bloom. Tomorrow morning will I wake up to a red flower? I see a little pink on the petals. This plant has a different history. Garage sale! It was a mother plants with babies all around but as I drove home the pot tipped over in the back of the truck and everything came out including the mother and all the ants that had decided to move into her rotted, hollow interior. I separated everything in the pot, dried everything out and for a few days and then replanted in pumice. This is the mother and this is the first year she has sent up a bloom. First she got busy making new babies.

I am awaiting the ripening of seeds on this little cactus, Gymnocalcyium baldianum. The seed pod is almost bigger than the cactus and baldianum sounds like a good specific name for this little cactus.

If my other echinopsis blooms tomorrow I will add it to this post.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


If you have read my previous posts then you know one of the things I like to do is seek out garden pots and decoration at garage sales. I have a preference for clay pots and almost all the pots in my garden have been procured this way. Saturday was a dream come true. We chanced upon someone with a similar liking for clay pots and with a move in their future they were out to find a new home for theirs. I was their girl.

The long rectangular pot was the one I spied first and with a dollar price tag I knew it was going home with me.  Then I picked out a couple of the larger clay pots. It was only when I got in conversation with the homeowner that I learnt there were more pots around the back. All these rectangular pots and the tall glazed pot.

The deal was done. We were taking them all home. My cactus and succulents are going to be thrilled to have new homes. I always remember James David's collection of rectangular pots on his porch. That is my plan. Garden Bloggers may remember visiting his house and garden at the first Spring Fling held here in Austin in 2007.

This pot 'thing' has been coming on for quite a while. If I don't see pots I always ask if they have any and it is amazing how many have these empty pots around the back that they seem to think no one wants. So maybe I am the only potaholic in Austin.
The tall glazed pot is at the front door where it awaits a cactus, possibly one of my barrel cactus or something tall like a sansevieria. I will be happy to have this pot in the house during the winter.
My other little dollar find was this glazed frog. I knew he would just be perfect on my water feature in the front garden.

Heavens! Is in nearly Saturday again!

Monday, June 15, 2015


Rainy skies are once again hanging over central Texas on this bloom day. Our recent strange weather pattern is making for some anomalies in the garden. Flowers that would normally bloom in the fall are blooming now and some that finish their bloom cycle in the spring are booming again. These are the flowers blooming in my Central Texas garden at the moment but photographed before the rain started.

Standing cypress, Ipomopsis rubra, is a biennial and reseeded in my garden this year. Although they grow in dry sandy soil it would seem that the unusual amounts of rain we had in May are responsible. The hummingbirds love this plant which is usually around in the fall when the hummingbird migration begins. A June appearance is very early for my garden.

And how unusual to see another crop of California poppies. I am thinking that many were beaten to the ground by the hail we had in April and were determined to bloom.

This is the first blooming of these rescue, nameless day lilies I bought several years ago. This year I moved them into a better spot and they like it there. I am thrilled with their rich, deep color.

They are growing in front of a spineless prickly pear cactus. Is that scale I see on some of the pads. This is a common problem with prickly pear and easy to miss.
Another hummingbird favorite is the Dicliptera suberecta, sometimes called the hummingbird plant. But be careful about using a name like that because there are quite a few plants with this common name.

Another late bloomer is the columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha.

Scabiosa was another rescue plant that has continued to perform for several months. Battered by hail it has come back again.

An Agapanthas  I nursed back to flowering this year, along with the foxgloves.

Small flowers often go unnoticed but how could you miss these. The plant on our outside table sends out these long shoots which stretch right across the table in all directions. Then produces  the tiniest of flowers.

 Many thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for bringing you here. I hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful bloom day in their garden.

Monday, June 8, 2015


I'd seen a cardinal flying through the narrow space between the potting shed and greenhouse but just thought she was passing through. Then one day I was working in the potting shed with the doors open and I kept hearing this one note call. As I peered through the door I saw a female cardinal was busy building a nest on the little espaliered yaupon holly growing up the side of the greenhouse. A chance seedling which I was trying to train up the side wall. Who would have thought that a bird would choose to build its nest here. I felt quite pleased with myself. In time 3 brown speckled eggs were laid and the female began to sit. With all the comings and goings, near this area, over the next two weeks she must have been regretting her choice. She never flew off when I passed by but we saw her leave so many times in a day that I began to wonder if she wasn't shirking her duty or maybe she was sitting on two nests! Today, when she was not on the nest I took a look. The eggs have hatched.

This is exciting news for us because we have had poor success with cardinals in the past. One time they built the nest under the umbrella which did a Mary Poppins one night then one time I watched as a jay stole the chicks from the nest. We are keeping out fingers crossed this time for a safe fledging. Maybe the tight spot will offer some protection from predators although it would be very easy for a snake to slither up the tree....and believe me we have snakes.
There was another hatching a week ago. This time from the mud adobe on the wall by the kitchen door.

I had watched the wasp build this house last year, finally laying her egg, stuffing in a few insects and sealing the door. When I saw the hole drilled in the wall I knew the larva had hatched eaten and flown away. Time to take the house off the wall. I should have done the job right away because before I got round to it the hole was sealed over again. You can see the smooth spot in the center where the hole was closed.
This wasp deserves the OBE. You may know of this award as being called the Order of the British Empire and awarded every year by the queen. A rather irreverent uncle of mine said the letters stood for Other Bugg..s efforts. I just call it Other Bugs Efforts.

This caterpillar didn't fool my eye. Can you see him?

He has positioned himself along the stem of this blackfoot daisy. You can see his feet clinging wrapped around the stem.

Maybe the cardinal with its keen eye will find this one for her chicks.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

GOOD GARDEN BUGS. A book review

Our gardens are alive with all manner of creatures and we must learn to live with them. We may not enjoy the visits to the vegetable patch of raccoons, rabbits and possums and we may try to prevent them feasting on the fruits of our labor, very often without success.  But when it comes to bugs in the garden it pays to know who are your friends and who are your enemies. Keeping a balance in the garden is all important, not just to control populations but to provide food for nesting birds. I watched a cardinal removing a tomato horn worm from my tomatoes the other day. That was an eye-opener. Had no idea that there was a predator for those caterpillars.

Dr Margaret Gardiner, the author of this book Good Garden Bugs,  assistant professor of entomology at Ohio State University is a gardener herself and knows all about beneficial insects. The main purpose of the book is to show the gardener how, by creating a balance of pest and beneficial insect, there will be less need for the use of pesticides. Most of us will be familiar with the more common beneficial insects, the lacewings, mantids and lady beetles, but it was quite an eye-opener to me to find out just how many lady beetles there are, and it was only last year that I discovered the larva of of the Scymus who cover themselves with wax spines. I thought they were mealy bugs.

And there is important information on why we should never buy the Convergent lady bugs sold at Home Improvement Stores and garden centers.

To welcome beneficials into the garden you must create the right kind of habitat for them. The book first introduces the kinds of native plants and conditions that will attract beneficial insects and then goes on to cover each of the eight families. Each section covers the habits and predatory nature of the family and is richly illustrated with close-up photography which will aid the gardener in identification. Did you know there were predatory stink bugs? Have I mistakenly killed one of the good guys? I shall be looking more closely next time.

I don't think everyone will look kindly on some of the beneficials described in the book. I, for one, am not too happy to have those paper wasps nesting in my umbrella and mud daubers building their condos on my walls but surely their presence means I have a good balance in the garden. These bugs are doing their job and most times I let them get on with it.

I was sent this book to review by Quarry Books. I chose to review the book because as a vegetable, herb and flower gardener I prefer not to use any chemicals in the garden and am always looking for alternative sources of bug control. I think most of us are now acutely aware of the harm  pesticides can do to our wildlife and would chose to create a garden in balance. The book is a great reference for both new gardeners and seasoned gardener and would make a great gift for those new to gardening.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Monday morning we woke to a clear blue sky. The sun had returned after nearly a month of rain and cloudy skies, and it was wonderful. It was a morning to walk around the garden with camera in hand. I love the outside areas because on a sunny morning there is a wonderful play of light and shadow which is not to be found in the inside gardens.

But there is work to be done, plants to be planted. These are the plants from our swap at the Saturday GoGo. There is always a home for spiky plants in this garden and plenty of places around the outside to put them. Among my planting work for the day are A. lopthantha, which is not a favorite of many because of its treacherous spines, A lopthantha, quadricolor, an Eve's necklace tree, Scutellaria wrightii, a phlox, Mexican bird of paradise seedling, and a Manfreda undulata var. 'chocolate chip'

One or two of these will stay in pots but most will be planted outside in the granite gravel. Thank you gardening friends for helping my garden grow.