Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Several years ago, in the spring, a friend gave me a cutting of the plant Orthosiphon aristatus, more commonly called Cat's Whiskers or Java tea. I planted it in the garden and forgot about it until one late summer day I saw this beautiful white bloom. It was an easy id because the flowers are very much a reminder of cat's whiskers.

Every year I have asked our local nurseries if they had the plant. Every year the answer was no-until this year. We had gone to visit a friend's garden in Georgetown and learned of a nursery nearby where they had the plant. It was the end of May and a little late for planting, especially as I was going to be gone for 5 weeks in June. Still, worth a try. How glad I am that I did and how happy was the hummingbird who visited this morning.
I'm going to try to take cuttings in the fall because unless I mulch really well the plant is not likely to survive a central Texas winter. I also will ask my local nursery to locate some of this plant next year.

Friday, August 26, 2016


I must have drunk thousands of cups of tea in my life so it was no surprise that on Monday, when a group of volunteers met in the volunteer room at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, to experiment with native plants used for tea, I was the designated tea-making lady. With some rather primitive tea making equipment I began brewing teas.

It is all part of The Wildflower Center's Taste of Place Project which focuses on the harvesting and preparation of edible native plants. Under the watchful eye of Intern Rosalie Kelley, volunteers are seen here sorting the leaves of yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria, prairie tea, Croton monanthogynus, and the flowers of horsemint, Monardo citriodora.

Sorting and cleaning leaves for tea making.
I began with yaupon tea. Surely with a Latin name Ilex vomitoria, this tea would have a rather disturbing effect on the digestive system. But it is really a misnomer. It seems that the story of this plant having purgative effects stems from its use by native Americans who drank gallons of the brew after fasting for several days. No wonder they gave our native holly such a bad name.

Dried and lightly roasted yaupon leaves
The interesting thing is that yaupon leaves are the only native plant that contains caffeine. So this is essentially a tea that will give you that early morning or late afternoon boost. There are several ways to prepare the leaves; they can be air dried, dried in the oven at 200º or quick roasted making sure they don't brown. Heat tends to open the pores so that the caffeine is released.
Yaupon trees are either male or female. It is a little easier to cut a branch and allow it to dry before removing the leaves. One thing is for sure, you won't have to go far to find a plentiful supply of leaves. The birds are very good at planting a yaupon or two in your garden.
In order to brew the tea I decommissioned a fabric tea bag, adding one tablespoon of the dried leaves and steeping in freshly boiling water for 3 minutes. Then each volunteer had the chance to taste the tea.

Tea tasting at the Wildflower Center
Everyone liked the tea and of the three teas we brewed this was the favorite. There were differing opinions on the other teas!
We then headed out onto the trails to do a little foraging.

We were looking for our native persimmons, Diospyros texana, which ripen in August. There was plenty of evidence that raccoons and foxes had been out foraging. The fruits appear on the female trees and are ripe when back, both resembling and tasting like prunes. They can be eaten straight from the tree by squeezing out the pulp and removing the seeds or used to make jams and jellies.

Ripe persimmons

Walking the trails with Andrea De Long-Amaya, our Director of Horticulture you are sure to learn something new. On this particular occasion I learnt about the toothache tree, Zanthoxylum hirsute. Easy to identify, with its glossy prickly-looking leaves, this bush or small tree has an odor of citrus when the leaves are crushed. The thorns or leaves produce a fairly strong anesthetic which was used to numb the gum before tooth extraction. The Native Americans would stick the thorn into the gum until the area was anesthetized. Chewing the leaf will have a similar effect on the tongue or can be pressed onto the gum.

Toothache tree

Do you have greenbriar, Smilax sp. in your garden? Yes, that annoying prickly briar that you can never get rid of. You may think of it more kindly when you learn the tender leaves and shoots are edible, as well as the tuberous root. As are the fleshy underground storage root of the Texas wine cup, Callirhoe involucrata. Then the native mustang grape, Vitis mustangenis, along with prickly pear fruits and the agarita berry make wonderful jellies.

This is just a sample of the many native plants that can be foraged for use in the kitchen and the Taste of Place initiative aims to introduce the public to the uses for these plants by creating a 3000 square foot demonstration kitchen garden at the Wildflower center. You may even find some of this produce being used in the cafe.

If you like to experiment, try the yaupon tea. If you are a green tea drinker or even take your tea black the taste of this tea is very much like that of the Camelia sinensis. And there is a plentiful supply out there just waiting to be picked.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Three weeks ago, when I returned from vacation, I moved all my cactus and succulents under cover. Temperatures were at 100º or close to every day. Even cactus don't like our afternoon Texas heat.

A little morning sun suits them just fine and that place happens to be on the patio. Some of the other plants in the front, where there is no shade, I covered with shade cloth.

At this time of year I certainly envy those who have filtered sun through their live oak trees. There is little of that here. Of course we expect such heat in August. What we don't expect is for it to be followed by a week of endless rain amounting to over 12" in some places. Over a 4 day period my garden had nearly 11" Now we are drowning. Rainy day visitors are showing up. Some of them are welcome others are not.

Of course we all expect rain lilies after a rain event and sure enough they arrived within days. I have lots of the white ones, and the pink ones, Zephyranthes labufarosa series, looking a little bedraggled after this last rain. This is a hybrid of Z. grandiflora and does not produce seeds.

 Today a new one appeared in the garden. This yellow rain lily with a burnt orange center is Texas copper lily, Habranthus tubispathus var. texensis. Where did it come from, I wonder?

I think it is so much more striking than the pale yellow Zephyranthes

I only have one clump of pink rain lilies but they have been outstanding this year, blooming 4 times over the last few weeks.
But an even bigger surprise today as I found a another of my daylilies blooming. This one behind the pool hiding among the bent stems of cone flowers.

There are other day lilies blooming too.

But by far the biggest surprise this year is the arrival of a Mexican red bird of paradise, Caesalpinia pulcherrima. The seedling appeared last year and I was not sure of its identity so left it. It disappeared over the winter but began to grow again. When a flower bud began to develop I felt pretty sure that it was a bird of paradise. Today it opened its first flower. The sad thing is that it is growing in a narrow strip alongside the pool. I can't afford for it to get much bigger.

It is in good company with the gomphrenas growing alongside. They too have grown enormously with all the rain.

All the blooms are making for a very colorful August garden.

Monday, August 15, 2016


We made a return visit to Holehird Gardens this summer. We were staying at a B&B in Troutbeck village, Cumbria, and were delighted to find that the gardens were only a 3 mile walk.

Holehird Gardens is the home of the Lakeland Horticultural Society.  The 10 acre site is leased from the Holehird Trust and managed by a group of volunteers who do all the planning and development of the garden, each member having their own area to garden. As well as opening the garden to visitors, for a suggested donation of £4, they run education classes. They also hold the National Plant Collection of Astilbe, ( meadowsweet) Meconopsis, (Himalayan poppy), Daboecia, (heather) and Polystichum( sword fern). None of these are plants that I could ever grow in my garden but I do share a love of rock gardens and trough gardens.

Entry through the original walled garden

The original gardens were built in the late 19C but were derelict by 1945. In 1969 he LHS was formed to restore the gardens. Situated about 500' above sea level on a sloping site above Lake Windermere, the area receives around 70' rain a year.
The first part of the garden is contained within the original walled garden. We entered the garden through the gate revealing a low dry stone wall, planted with alpines.

Plants are well labelled although for me it is of little help because these plants would not enjoy our hot humid summers. Still, for those who live in the milder English climate it is a good education tool. Troughs look very good in a separate display area and raised above the ground not only for drainage but so that the plants can be more easily enjoyed. The backdrop of the low drystone wall above which is a grassy area with dispay beds is perfect.

Further along the wall, steps lead up to a grassy area with island beds.

At the end of the gravel walkway is a patio with seating area under a large prunus.

A collection of miniature hostas in a 'theatre'

Along the far wall is a wide herbaceous border.

I really would like to go through that door. But it says LHS MEMBERS ONLY. But I think I might be disappointed to find that it was the inside of a building built on the back side of the wall. I imagine they store their equipment in there.

At eh ed f this border we went out through a gate and turned left to visit the first of the greenhouses.

The tufa greenhouse is built into the hillside for protection from cold. It is the only one I have ever come across during many garden visits. The tufa is mounded up high so that it creates a bank of stonework bring the plants to eye level. At the far end is a water feature and pool.

A planter hewn from solid rock.

The rock garden with a backdrop of ornamental shrubs, including acers and conifers for winter interest. A bench, with thoughtful placement, to enable the visitor to enjoy the plantings and views.

Hi David! I am so lucky that he enjoys garden visits as much as I do. Well, almost!

We left the garden by the fell gate, walking across the field until we reached the road. Crossing the road we picked up the path back to Troutbeck village. My head was full of wonderful ideas for new garden troughs and rock garden planting.

Friday, August 12, 2016

P IS FOR...............

The native Texas persimmon, Diospyros texana, grows wild in my garden. A small tree with exfoliating bark which exposes a pink white and grey patterned trunk, it grows to about 10' It is a favorite source of fruit for wildlife producing small green fruits which ripen to black in the month of August.

The tree is dioecious, meaning that male and female are separate individuals. So this is a female tree. I have another female tree behind the potting shed. It seeded there a few years ago.

Exposed bark
Imagine my surprise when, walking out through the gate, I saw a fox up in the tree. I backed off, and watched him for 10 minutes as he pawed at the branches to reach the fruit. The branches may be strong but they are not very wide. Foxes are clearly very nimble.

Last fall I was surprised to find three papaya plants growing in the compost bins. I shouldn't have been, because I must have put thousands of seeds in there and as my compost never gets really hot it is inevitable that seeds will survive.  Being the gardener that I am, unfortunately, I had to save them, potting them up and keeping them in the greenhouse over the winter.

They have done amazingly well this summer growing to about 5' and now sporting flowers. I now needed to do some research. Not that I was hoping to actually grow some fruit but purely for my own education.
Native to South America but now grown in many tropical areas, the plant resembles a small palm tree in growth, losing the lower leaves and leaving a bare trunk. Trees are either male, female or bisexual. I think the first one I have is a female so unless it has both male and female flowers there will be no chance of fertilization. I am not sure about the other tree or the 5 that have popped up in the ground. They only germinated this spring so have some catching up to do. They love the heat and they are certainly getting that this summer. They are in full sun against a very hot south facing wall.

Given the right conditions they will fruit successfully in a pot. I photographed this one below earlier this year in Bagan, Mayanmar. Judging by the multitude of flowers I think this particular one must be bisexual. But Bagan is in the desert so not quite the Central Texas climate.

Potted papaya, Bagan, Myanmar

Same plant with fruit
Even if the plant fails to fruit I will try to winter it over in the house as a nice house plant. As to those 5 other ones in the ground......you know how hard it is going to be for me to just pull them out, unless they are all males.

A  gift of 3 bare stems 2 years ago, from garden blogger Austin Agrodolce,  who wrote about her own plumeria here in 2012. They, too, were passalongs and I passed along one of my plants to someone else. All are white and quite divine.

The rootless stem began to send out leaves when it was sitting in my laundry room. I potted it up but the first year it failed to bloom. This year it has bloomed non-stop for several months with new leaves and fruit buds forming all the time. It has a delightful fragrance. I feel like I am in tropical heaven.


Plumbago auriculata

Plumbago auriculata, may be native to South Africa but it certainly loves Texas. A deciduous shrub, which usually dies back to the ground every winter, did not do so this year. I did cut it back a little but it really has become rampant this year. It is heat tolerant but prefers some afternoon shade.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides is a creeping form of the plant with a darker blue flower and hugging the ground. I am glad that it has now taken over from the blue mistflower which was very untidy. This may, however, be a bad sign if it spreads unwanted into other plants. It has been slow to spread for me and is deciduous in winter, but makes up for that at the hottest time of the year when it greets every day with fresh self-cleaning flowers.

Ceratostigma plumbagoides
I used to have the most prolific pomegranate tree. In 2009 there were more than 150 fruits. It had been a mild winter followed by a rainy summer. It was a bountiful harvest but also that wet summer spelled doom for the tree as a fungus developed in the main trunk. We eventually pulled it out.
With no other place to plant another tree we eventually planted one outside the walls. Deer browse and there is no water. This year there are 5 pomegranates. They look rather small but I'm hoping they will provide us with a few arils for our breakfast cereal and salad. Pomegranates are always expensive so every one will be worth its weight in gold!