Monday, August 31, 2015


There is no better sign that cooler days are on the way than the flowering of the senna that grow in my garden. The first is the Lindheimer senna, Senna Lindheimeriana, also known as known as velvet leaf senna. This Texas native is named after the man sometimes called the father of Texas botany, Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer (1801-1879).

A perennial, growing mainly on the Edwards plateau it requires no additional water or fertilizer other than which nature provides. That is a bonus this year because after 2 months with no rain the first of the senna started to bloom this week. Other Texas natives are withering and turning brown but the senna will bloom.

The second member of the senna family is Cassia corymbosa, sometimes called flowery senna.

Both these sennas freely seed themselves but this one chose the perfect place seeding itself in a difficult corner of the garden where there is no sun most of the year. I am delighted that it has chosen to flower this year.

Although this tree is not long-lived it produces replacements plants aplenty.

Monday, August 24, 2015


Imagine my dismay when I saw this. Maybe dismay is not a strong enough adjective. Horror would be more like it.
What have I done? I covered the plant with shade cloth as soon as I got home from a month-long absence. It had been without water for 5 weeks. When I took off the cloth a week later this is what I saw. Confederate rose agave may be touted for its drought tolerance but coupled with 100° temperatures day after day it shows its displeasure. This on top of the hail that dinged it in the spring.

My immediate thoughts were that it was a total loss. After all those years of patiently waiting for it to reach such a beautiful cluster. ( This agave is well known for producing offsets which cluster beautifully around the mother plant)
But wait. A good watering and one week later things are looking better. The plant has a reprieve.

It will never lose the scars along the edges where it was burnt to a crisp but I believe it will make a good recovery and will live to spend another year on the pedestal.
Interestingly, this week there was an article in Gardening Gone Wild, by Debra Lee Baldwin, about stress and succulents. She highlighted several succulents which take on a rosy color when stressed. Euphorbia tirucalli, Sticks of Fire, is one of those, although the one I have has never graced me with such color. She does go on to say that this coloration does not happen among agaves so I think water saved this plant in the nick of time.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Our first morning in Zurich found us asking directions, of the hotel concierge, to the Zurich Botanical Garden. He had no idea, professing that no one staying at the hotel had ever requested to go there. Maybe instead we would like to visit the Sukkulenten-Sammlung where they had a very nice succulent display. My interest peaked. A succulent garden? right up my alley! Either the 161 or 165 bus would take us to the garden, which was only a few stops away.

We alighted the bus and walked towards Lake Zurich. I wonder if the garden benefits from being close to the lake in winter? With Swiss winters they are sure to have their collection mostly indoors.

There is no entry fee into the garden and we began our tour by walking around the outside rock gardens. I believe they are new this year because I picked up their spring magazine and saw photographs of the team planting the garden. Of course it was all in Swiss-German although it was not hard to translate the words 'frostharten sukkulenten im Nordamerika-Bereich'

I saw plenty of familiar lace cactus, prickly-pear and agaves.

Then we moved into the greenhouse foyer with rest rooms, lockers, chairs to linger over their literature and a coffee machine. There are six different greenhouses, three on each side of the foyer. On the left are the collections of plants from South America, North America and the Giant Plants and on the right Africa, Madagascar and the Epiphyte room. The greenhouses and coldframes house more than 6,500 species from 80 plant families. But the gardens are not just about display, they are dedicated to research, education and leisure.
Let's me take you on a tour through the greenhouses.

This otherworldly display was my favorite.

We then went outside to see the cold frames which house those plants which need higher light levels and fresh air but protection from rain. Among these are the globose cactus and ice plants. The tops are raised during summer, with shade cloth on the hottest days and closed in winter.

These displays remind me a little of East Austin Succulent greenhouses.

And if you want to start your own collection you can purchase the plants and soil. Wish I could have!

I can well believe the garden's claim to be the world's most important and unique succulent plant center.  This living museum certainly impressed me. And it is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


What's a vacation if you don't bring back a little treat for the garden. This time I was fortunate to find some suns and moons. Perfect for my sun and moon archway.

I already have a small collection mounted on the archway between the English garden and the sunken garden. Now I have three more for the other side.

 The new ones all came from different places.
The crescent moon, scalloped sun and the lady with flowers in her hair came from the town of Monterosso, Italy. We had to go there to buy the tickets for our train ride to Rome. Happy day!
The small sun came from the Greek Island of Cephalonia. When our ship docked there we rented a car for the day and drove around the island. When we passed this pot shop we stopped the car and went in to look what they had. Mindful of how the luggage would only take little things I picked the little sun..

There were all kinds of nautical and island reminders but I am now wondering why I didn't buy the moon?

But then I found this delightful bird's nest with house martin in Split.

They had an artisan fair and much as I was taken with all the lovely fish and crabs when I saw the nest I knew that was the one I wanted.

"How are you going to get it home?" David asked. "They will never allow it on the plane" I carefully wrapped avery piece of metal and buried it in my suitcase. It made it home in one piece.
The suns and moon are now mounted on the wall .

and the nest under the patio. I wonder what the odds are on that nest being filled in the spring. A wren is surely to take a fancy to it.

Monday, August 17, 2015


One of our trips this summer was a day trip from Milan to Lake Maggiore. The location of our hotel (Hilton) was just a five minute walk to the station. What a grand station that was.

Although the train went on to Stresa we only took the train as far as Arona and then boarded one of the many lake ferries which would take us to Stresa. It was a great day for being out on the water.
We were able to sit up top and enjoy the sights of many towns and villas as we sailed by.

It had been in our plans to take another ferry to the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso. Unfortunately, when we got to Stresa we discovered it closed from 12pm-2pm which meant that the next ferry would arrive just as it was closing. Instead, we decided to take the ferry to Isola Bella.

I didn't know this was going to be a garden tour!

We made our way from the very busy village towards the palace. Construction on the barren rocky island began in 1630 by Carlo III Borromeo. The plan was a palace and a casino ( building for pleasure, music and dancing) on the higher part of the island. The island would resemble a ship although to me it looked like a wedding cake. At various times construction was halted and was taken up by Carlo's sons. Changes to the original plans included the creation of the gardens. Entry included a tour of the palace and there was no way to do the garden alone. We paid our entry fee and I bought a garden guide.

For me the tour of the house was going to be a means to an end! I do have to admit that I am glad I saw the palace if only for its sheer display of opulence. Photos were prohibited but I did manage to sneak one or two.

Plans for the great Borromeo Palace
Rooms filled with paintings with not an inch of wall space are not really my cup of tea. I was more interested in the views from the window, some of which looked down over the gardens. The doors were wide open on one of the coolest days we had experienced in the whole 3 weeks we had been away.

View of lake Maggiore 

I puzzled for some time as to what was written in this floral display on the lawn until I realized it was the Borromeo motto, 'Humility'

 I could barely wait to get outside. I knew we were getting closer when we entered into the grottoes which connect the house to the garden. The rooms, of which there are six, took 100 years to complete starting in 1685. The walls and floors are covered with small pebbles and pieces of limestone creating intricate patterns of a nautical nature. It was a cool place for the family to spend time in the summer.

When the English did their grand tours of Europe they brought many ideas home including the idea of having a grotto in their garden plans. The word has a rather interesting origin being derived from the word Grottesche or grotesque. When Nero's Domus Aurea was discovered in 15C. having been buried for hundreds of years, they found decorations, which consisted of intricate arches of carved stone to resemble leaves, garlands and animals. In this underworld setting everything seemed otherworldly and was given the name Grottesche. At Isola Bella these were no grotty grottoes!

The entrance from the grottoes to the garden was barred forcing us to climb back up a stone circular staircase to make a grand entrance from the house into Diana's atrium.

Diana's Atrium
 From this polygonal courtyard two flights of stairs branched from either side, leading up to a further set of steps and a large iron gate. Fig ivy covered the walls. I have decided that Europe is determined to keep everyone fit by having them walk hundreds of steps everyday.

I had no idea what to expect at the top of the steps. It was not this.

Baroque at its best, this Teatro is ornamented with statues sculpted by Carlo Simonetta. On the very top is a statue of a unicorn, the coat of arms of the Borromeo family, and ridden by an amorino representing "honour" Steps on either side of the teatro lead up to a large rectangular terrace with views overlooking the 9 tiered terraces leading down to the lake.

Ornamentation with pebbles and shell carvings.

Views of the lake from all directions.

This tower, which now serves as a cafe once held a hydraulic pump to feed fountains and gardens with water from the lake.

Terraced gardens which once held citrus are filled with roses and azaleas.

Ah! The greenhouses. I knew we would find them somewhere.

Once again the interior decorated with pebbles and limestone and now holding collections of bromeliads, orchids and other tropical plants.

There are plenty of plants to be seen in the garden and sometimes they manage to distract you from the view, although in the higher sections of the garden it is hard not to look towards the lake.

 Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of William, who visited here sometime in the early 1800s, called the garden "The peak of absurdity, a garden not of flowers but of stone." 200 years ago it may have been just that. Today there may have been enough plants to satisfy her. It makes me wonder what she would have thought of my garden!
This is my first visit to an Italian Garden. I hope it won't be the last.