Sunday, July 31, 2016


Have you ever had this happen to you? I might have but a stop to it if I hadn't been away for several weeks. When I came home from vacation one year I found something had been having a fine old feast on my butternut squash. Just look at those teeth marks.

This year I decided to make their job a little more difficult and it paid off. I have quite a nice crop.

Early on in the season, just as the fruit were starting to develop, I covered them with the mesh bags I have been saving all year. They came from onions, grapefruit and even the green expandable bags with which they protect wine bottles. I left on vacation feeling comfortable that they were safe. I just wish we had had a little rain in our 5 week absence. However, most of them are just perfect for 2 people. Butternut squash risotto is the favorite but roasted is also a favorite. Halved, drizzled with  olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and dried oregano and roasted in the oven until tender. Then, as a main course, topped with sautéed red onion, yellow bell pepper, left over barbecued corn and topped with parmesan cheese.

You can eat every scrap-even the skin. With a side salad it makes a great vegetarian meal.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Let's face it, it is too hot to be out in the garden, in Texas, any time after noon. Sometimes even before that. But, there are plenty of garden projects to be getting on with. Some time ago I learned about making a garden trough out of a polystyrene box from the Hypertufa Gardener. I made one-a large one- which was a great success over the winter. It held petunias and then in late winter, potatoes. It now lies empty awaiting a fall planting, but it fared well through the winter outdoors and even in our 100º temperatures is holding up well. Time for another one. This time a much smaller box, seen below.

I'll spare you the details of how to do this project other than to say I found myself a shady spot outdoors for the roughing up of the surface and sealing with the barbecue lighter but then ventured inside for the painting.

For the complete method visit the Hypertufa Gardener link above or view my prior project here.  

This time I used only two craft paint colors, Dark Grey (Craftsmart) and Raw Umber (Americana). I think I prefer the darker color. I painted the whole box with the dark grey and then went back over using a stippling technique and blending the colors, sometimes completely and sometimes roughly. I am pleased with the effect it gives.

The whole project took only 2hrs from start to finish. The most difficult part is getting the color right followed by deciding what to plant. I wish I could plant alpines but that isn't going to work in Texas. Plus, in mid July I wasn't willing to risk buying any new plants so I had to go shopping in my own garden.

Echeveria, topsy turvy, Kalanchoe, flapjack plant, Aloe variegata, partridge breast.
 Even this needs to be kept in a place where it receives afternoon shade, so cannot be on display where I would like it to be. All my cactus and succulents in pots are on their summer holiday under the shade of the patio. No sun after 12 noon. Unlike the troughs we saw at Holehird Gardens, in England. Hewn from solid rock by patient hands and weathered by time the mild climate allows them to be placed in exposed places.

Troughs at Holehird garden, Lake District, England
Maybe when this infernal heat moderates I will be able to put my troughs in my English Garden.

Friday, July 22, 2016


I didn't think I was being particularly creative when I came up with the name Rock Rose for my blog. Now suddenly I am finding the name popping up all over the place. But to find it in far north of Scotland was really quite a surprise. We were spending the night in John O' Groats, at the northern tip of Scotland, and leaving our dinner venue I spotted this sign on the door.

We didn't go to Scotland to buy whiskey......

 and we didn't go to drink whiskey...

 but we were certainly going to the Rock Rose distillery. And so the next day we pulled into the parking lot at the Dunnet Bay Distillery.

 My eyes turned immediately to the rock garden. When you have angular rocks like this it isn't the easiest thing to create a natural looking rock garden but the plants can make up for the difference. Eventually they will fill in and hide the sharp contours.

 Then we headed for the building, my eyes catching sight of the bottle of Rock Rose gin in the window.

 Stepping inside we met Martin who calls himself 'The Brains' of the business. Martin is a trained chemical engineer who gave up his position in the oil and gas industry to live in this faraway corner of Caithness and start a new career in distilling.
He has working alongside him several family members; Claire, his wife, his father and Claire's mother along with several others including Dr Hanna, the gardener. A real family affair.

We weren't able to take a full tour of the distillery because they were operating but I could stand to one side and get a good look at Elizabeth, the copper still.

And a few of the ingredients that are infused into the gin to make it Rock Rose. Among them, Rose Root, Rhodiola rosea, Juniper berry, sea buckthorn, rowan berries, blaeberries, cardamon, coriander and verbena. It took 18 months and 55 experiments to come up with the right combination of herbs.

Of course I wasn't going to leave here without a bottle of gin,

 a packet of the gin shortbread biscuits

 and David insisted on getting this. It is made from an old whiskey barrel stave.

Yesterday I hung it on the beam above the patio. The perfect spot protected from the elements.

We certainly enjoyed our visit to this distillery; the shortbread was delicious, the gin is yet to be tasted and I love my Rock Rose whiskey stave.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


This year, in planning our visit back home, I made sure The Beth Chatto Gardens were on our itinerary. Our first 4 nights we would be in Cambridge for the Bumps rowing races which take place every evening. The days were free for me to plan some garden visits. Day number one was a 64 mile drive to The Beth Chatto Garden near Colchester, Essex. There are five gardens, the Gravel Garden, the Scree Garden, the Reservoir Garden, the Woodland Garden and the Water Gardens. I think most people associate Beht Chatto's garden with her gravel garden but you can see on the plan that it covers only a small part of the total garden.

When Beth Chatto and her husband built their house in 1960 much of the surrounding area was  overgrown with poor gravelly soil, along with some boggy areas in the lower levels of the land. The two gardens which support dry plants are the Gravel Garden and the Scree garden which were more recent additions beginning in 1991. As this part of the country has one of the lowest levels of rainfall, with an average of 20" a year,  it made sense to use plants adapted to such drier conditions.

The Gravel Garden

Just inside the entrance and through a gap in a high hedge is the former parking lot. It had been grass -covered but the grass burnt to brown every summer and the underlying soil compacted by cars. Surely something better could be done with the land? It was ripe for a horticultural experiment in the form of a gravel garden.  But it is not to say that they didn't amend the existing soil. Home-made compost, mushroom compost  and bonfire waste were added and tilled in to a depth of 4' to help establish the plants. Which plants would survive without addition irrigation and with the soil conditions of the area? There were failures but judging by what we saw, over time the plants grown are happy with both climate and soil conditions. Plants in generous beds spill over onto the wide gravel walkways which snake through the area. All the plants here demand really good drainage which they get from the naturally occurring 15' of gravel and sand which lie beneath the surface.

The house sits high in the garden and we were sure we caught a glimpse of Beth Chatto, who is now 94,  in the window. I am sure she was enjoying the visitors as they made their way through the lower gardens as much as we were enjoying the garden. Although the main steps up to the house were barred to visitors there were other steps which led up to the side of the house to the Scree Garden.

The Scree Garden 

Side pathway up to the Scree Garden

The scree beds are surrounded by low stone walls. The plantings are the smaller succulents and alpine plants which would quickly become overshadowed in the lower Gravel Garden.

You can see David walking away from the garden. David has always preferred the woodland gardens and he was heading to the more lush areas like the Water Garden and The Long Shady Walk. But these dry gardens are my favorite.

The greenhouses separate the gardens from the nursery.

Beth Chatto's private collection of succulents.

What a wonderful view she has from the windows of her house looking down into the Water Garden.

Even with such low rainfall plants stay lush and green. As this place clearly catches any rainfall the ground is naturally more moist.

The Long Shady Walk
But even in a garden that looks complete work has started on the remaking of the Reservoir Garden. The three original beds are being merged into one. It will have meandering pathways and will be planted with mainly herbaceous perennials and grasses set among selected trees and evergreen shrubs for winter interest. In Beth Chatto's words 'A garden is not like a picture hanging on the wall; it is never static and will constantly change over time'

Soil amendment in the Reservoir Garden
 No visit to a garden is ever complete without a visit to the nursery and the Chatto gardens have one of the best I have ever visited. Their organization of plants is without fault making it very easy to find not only plants suitable for your growing conditions but the actual plants.

Plants organized according to soil and sun/shade and in alphabetical order.

It would have been nice to visit the cafe but it was time to move on. We still had to visit Flatford and Sutton Hoo before returning to Cambridge.