Saturday, November 28, 2015


I once read that London is the "Garden Capital of the World." So it came as no surprise to read in Victoria Summerley's introduction to her book, Great Gardens of London, that 45% of greater London is green space.

With text by Victoria Summerley and photographs by Marianne Majerus and Hugo Rittson Thomas this may be your only chance to step through the door of No 10 Downing Street and into the Prime Minister of England's back garden. According to Summerley this garden would not win prizes for design but is more of a family garden with several distinct areas including rose and woodland. Some years ago they took advantage of a crater left by a IRA bomb crater to make a pond. Most are unlikely to visit the residence of the US ambassador in Regent's Park, seen on the front cover of the book above. It is good to know that they take sustainability seriously because after all the American public fund its upkeep. These two gardens along with several palaces and homes of one-time Prime Ministers are included in the first section of the book titled Pomp and Circumstance. Among them Prince Charles' London home Clarence House. You can imagine that being a keen gardener himself the Prince has had quite an input into the planting. It is hard to imagine when looking at the photographs that this in only 1/2 acre.
Each of the four other chapters in the book cover a particular garden style- among them wild, woodland, rooftop and gardens for the gardener. Many have a long history whereas some are recently made like the Olympic park which uses the popular concept of wildflower meadow gardening. Some have been created to take advantage of a modernizing world. The Downings Roads Floating gardens are built on barges which once plied the waters of the Thames, moving cargo from the larger ships up the river.  The book is amply illustrated with beautiful color photography but make no mistake this is not a coffee-table book but one to really delve into the history and diversity of London gardens as well as learn about current owners and the gardeners who care for them.
A map is followed by visiting information. Many of the gardens are open to the public although some only open for a few days every year on the National Garden Scheme, others are open by appointment only.
 Victoria Summerley lived and worked in publishing in London for many years. A gardener and blogger who opened her own garden in London for charity under the National garden Scheme she now lives in the Cotswolds where she is creating a new garden and which she writes about at Tales from Awkward Hill.  This is her second book with Frances Lincoln, the first being Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds.

Photography is by Hugo Rittson Thomas, leading portrait photographer, who also photographed Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds and Marianne Majerus renowned for her atmospheric images of gardens.

Whether or not you plan to visit London in the near future this book will entertain both the avid gardener and garden lover alike.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


The mention of a freeze tonight sent this household into plant protection overdrive. Was it yesterday that it was 75°? Not so today. A bright sunny day but with a howling wind which precedes the cold front expected tonight. In the hill country they are predicting it will drop into the 20s and we are sited right on the very edge. I expect the temperature to drop below 32°
Some plants merit special treatment. The calamondin orange, loaded with ripening fruit. The only one of my citrus to produce fruit this year because of you know what.

The sticks of fire Euphorbia was already showing signs of the temperature change. All the new growth that has not had time to make chlorophyll is bright yellow and beginning to turn red. It can come in the house for the winter.

The greenhouse is the winter resting place for all kinds of cactus and succulents. Those that can withstand colder temperatures go in there.

The roof is partially covered by the cross vine which offers some protection and then the edges of the benches are lined with milk, wine and water bottles filled with water. You'd be surprised how much that water heats up on a sunny day. The thermal mass help to keep things above freezing. There is a small back-up heater which will come on if it gets too cold.

More tender plants go in the potting shed which is insulated. The huernias all hang on the wall and those that like a little more sun go on the bench in the west-facing window.

The citrus are on the floor. Then there is the garage. The truck will spend the winter outside.

And a few cactus in the house.

Alas, the Agave desmettiana chose the wrong time to send up a flower. I have never seen a successful flowering yet and the only other one that tried to flower did so at the same time of year and the frost got before the flowers opened. This plant was so severely damaged in the spring hail but I just hadn't dealt with it. It was not going to go out quietly. Fingers crossed that it will survive the night.

Hang in there peas, broccoli, pak choi, arugula, radish, onions, carrots, and all other plants spending this cold night outside.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Some much needed rain has brought many flowers out of hibernation in time for May Dreams November Bloom Day.

Rosa Felicia

Roses a re booming again and a cluster of blooms on the musk rose Felicia has me stopping to inhale her wonderful fragrance.

Not nearly so fragrant is Molineux, but with more of a tea rose fragrance, a new addition this fall.

Rosa Monineux

Called pink crystal by some and ruby crystal by others I am beginning to understand why. Pink seed heads in the spring and with the cooler weather a much deeper ruby-colored seed heads.

Melinus nerviglumis
Other flowers have a greater depth of color with the cooler nights. Mealy blue sage, Salvia farinaceae.

Salvia leucantha blooms were quick to fade during the long warm dry days of October, but the rain bought a flush of new flowers.

The first flowers on the rosemary.

Still plenty of color from the narrow leaf zinnias, Zinnia linearis. Soo I will be collecting their sees for next year.

Society garlic, Tulbaghia violacea

And the generous seeding common orange cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus.

Clouds of pink and white gaura, Gaura lindheimeri

A cluster of blooms, with Dicliptera the main player.

We are winding down for the winter but signs of spring are already popping up all over the garden.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Pruning has always been my nemesis, particularly the pruning of roses. I have always envied those who can grow roses flat against the wall and have them blossom profusely along all the canes. I have books on pruning but somehow have never mastered the technique. I have never understood exactly what to prune and when. Until recently.

Mottisfont England
It is my plans to do a couple of rose pillars in the English garden so I needed to look for some ideas on what kind of pillar as well as variety of rose. Here's one I saw at Mottisfont garden in England a few years ago. I know they probably have one of the best rosarians in the country to train their roses but I am determined to have a go. I hope I am not being too ambitious.
Pillar rose, Mottisfont, England
Should the post be wood, stone or metal? In my search I came across 3 short tutorials on how to 1. pillar a rose, 2. layer a rose and 3. train a rose on a trellis. In less than 45minutes I understood it all. If you have any interest in learning how to pillar or prune a rambler or climber then listen to this video by Paul Zimmerman of Ashdown roses. How to pillar a rose. He goes through the process quickly and clearly. I guarantee that if you are having a rose pruning problem it will be gone after you watch these short videos.
I couldn't wait to get outside the next morning and start pruning my Zephirine drouhin rose. It has been sadly neglected from the moment I put it in the ground and the years have not been kind to it, neither providing it with sufficient food nor water. Maybe I can revive it with some careful pruning and some TLC. I probably need to do a little more pruning but I'm going to see how this first round goes. I haven't remove any of the old canes but have had to turn some laterals into main branches. That was one of the things I learnt. The laterals are those annoying branches off the main cane that seem to grow like weeds. With our table and chairs right in front of the wall they were always poking us in the face but only ever produced a single rose blooming on the end.

Next comes the plan for the pillar roses on either side of the English garden Sun and Moon Archway. I have managed to track down the kind of post I am looking for. Something like the one you can see in the picture I took of a pillar rose above. It is a 4-6" diameter cedar post. The alternative would be to use a 4x4 post and chamfer the edges before sinking into the ground in concrete. I have ordered a new Rosa Felicia, which I believe will have supple enough canes to train around the post. Knowing how quickly this rose grows I hope it will not be too long before I have a pillar of roses.

Update- In the end I chose a 4"x4" treated post which David set in concrete.

My Felica rose arrived, with a flower or two and some nice canes. All I have to do now is dig and amend the hole and settle Felica in for the winter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE. November 11th 2015

The common poppy Papaver rhoeas, lay dormant in the soil of the Flanders corn fields until the heavy shelling of WW1 disturbed the ground. It became the symbol of remembrance for those whose lives were lost, including my grandfather's cousin, Benjamin Richard Knowles, aged 24years, killed on May 16th 1915 at Flanders. Remembered at Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

Take up your quarrel with the foe;
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 Flanders fields

John McCrae

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Finally we are through all that summer heat madness and can look forward to cooler days ahead. It is beginning to feel like fall but, alas, fall in my garden doesn't bear much resemblance to the falls I remember growing up in England or when we lived in Canada. With mainly live oaks and junipers and few deciduous trees there is little in the way of those vibrant oranges and reds.
My fall color comes from the berries on the pyracantha which have turned color almost overnight. Paired here with the mock orange, Philadelphus 'Natchez' The mock orange has become a reliable re-bloomer in recent years.

More red berries on the ornamental pepper, Capsicum annuum 'black pearl' which, with its deep burgundy leaves pairs well with the lighter leaves of sage and columbine.

The fruit is beginning to ripen on the calamondin orange. It will be perfect to bring into the house for the holiday season.

And there are certain flowers which wait until the fall to bloom. Mexican mint marigold, Tagetes lucida.

Gomphrena decumbens 'grapes' This is a perennial variety of gomphrena which dies back during the winter but has returned for 3 years. It is a large, airy sprawling plant which, even though planted in full sun, requires the whole growing season before it flowers.  I grew it from seed gathered from a friend's garden.

Copper Canyon daisy, Tagetes lemmonii

And of course the lovely Philippine violet, Barleria cristata.

All week Keats poem has been going through my head. Just the first passage takes me back to my homeland and those fall days I remember. I love my Texas garden but the atmosphere is quite a different one from that generated by this poem.

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and pump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel;to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er brimm'd their clammy cells.

John Keats

Sunday, November 1, 2015


You could call me that. I am the ultimate saver of all things that might have a future use as well as thinking up ideas on how to re-purpose. This morning I met another recycler. It was the new-to-my garden dung beetle. I have seen them on nature programs but never realized that they also lived in Texas. It was an easy identification although this may have been the giveaway.

Is it really true that dung beetles bury 80% of all the cattle dung in Texas? They are certainly having a really good go at this pile of deer poop. Maybe it is just the perfect consistency following the rain. Maybe by tomorrow they will have buried all of it.

There are two beetles working at this pile, one male and one female. This is the only species in the insect kingdom where the male helps with the young. But there was no rolling going on much to my disappointment.  Just dragging a poop back to the hole they had made and disappearing below ground.

They have removed all this soft, wet soil to create a burrow. The egg will be laid in the poop which acts as an incubator. When it hatches it will eat the poop ball and eventually emerge from the ground as an adult to fly away searching for a fresh pile of poop.
The benefits of their work are outstanding and they deserve more respect for the work they perform. They aerate the soil, adding notrogen and water and remove waste on which flies would breed,

The ultimate recycler. By the end of the day all the deer poop had disappeared. Thanks for cleaning up.