Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I watched a program on you tube today. Carol Klein talking about rock gardens in England. More than anything I found their history interesting because the town where I grew up, in England, had these fabulous rock gardens along the promenade. They were built inside the naturally occurring sand hills that ran along the shoreline.

Not only rock gardens but ponds, waterfalls and stepping stones to climb over.

And in the park there were some fabulous rock structures with bridges and places to climb. Such a fabulous place for children to play. The original bridge was not made to last and was replaced with something more suitable by the time I came along. Our family made frequent visits to both these places and I got to run around, climb and explore.

And my grandparents, who built their house and garden in the 1930s, also had a beautiful rockery. But all that stone for these structures had to be transported to our sandy coast from other parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, where there were abundant areas of limestone and limestone pavements. Fortunately the time came when someone put a stop to the pillaging of these natural areas and rock gardens went out of fashion.

Fast forward to 1994, Austin, Texas.

This is the first place I have lived where I had a rock quarry in my garden. Our garden is situated on the Edward's plateau, created millions of years ago, from an area once covered by shallow seas. A vast bedrock of limestone sits beneath us. Much of the rock has been fractured by earth movements and water creating some beautiful if not heavy chunks of rock. At our first house, built in 1994, and barely a stone's throw from where we live now, I was excited to be able to to recreate some of those memories from my childhood. The land behind the house rose steadily and to help with run off from Texas deluges we cleared an area behind the house and then hit rock.  It was hard graft taking out tree stumps( David borrowed a come along from someone at work! only in Texas) and when we couldn't remove some of the large rocks we just incorporated them into a rockery.

At one end we hit ledge stone so we decided to make wide steps to access the upper level where we planted buffalo grass. We also created a little patio. I'm glad I took these photos because I had completely forgotten how it looked. When we sold the house the new people put in a pool at the top. I wonder if they kept our rock work?

And so to this house, which we built in 2000, because it was going to be my last chance to have a flat lot with gardens protected from deer. I had some idea about courtyards and herbaceous borders. Clearly I had forgotten about what was beneath my feet, which would make it impossible without raised beds.
 With our garden being one of the gardens on the Garden Bloggers' Fling next May I thought to give our future visitors a little background to my garden style, aided and abetted by my dear husband, David, without whom much of this would never have happened.

Garden no1, The English Garden
Clearly spurred on by the success at our previous house I collected every flat rock that ever appeared when we were building this house. I was down here every day making a monumental pile at the back of the lot. I know the builder thought I was crazy. (Little did I know what was yet to come.) It was a  project dear to my heart. To create a dry stone wall, so prevalent in northern England, which would follow the curve of the existing garden wall.

The builder leaves the scene
It was an easy decision to make because what else could you do to make a raised bed but to follow the wall. With the name Wallwork in my family history surely it came easy. It did, however, come with a trapped finger and hours of pain after bleeding under the nail. And if you have ever had that happen you know what has to be done! I really loved building that wall and was inspired by those Lancashire dry stone walls to call this garden the English Garden.
My one regret is that I have never managed to get those beautiful crevice flowers that you see cascading from English garden walls. I refer to the campanulas.

But one thing led to another. More circles; circles of brick infilled with stone to make a patio, and circles of stone to enclose a bird bath and roses, and half circles on brick and inlaid stone to form landing areas from the house and archway. We were lucky to find a pallet of bricks in the perfect color at the Habitat for Humanity re-store. David built the brick surrounds, and together we cemented and mortared the stones. Not a job I will forget. I then suggested some circular stepping stones would break up the expanses of gravel. David used various molds to make the stones filling them to within 2" of the top with sand and pouring concrete on the top. To make the stones look more natural I would imprint them using various rough rocks. Sometimes I was out there in the dark.

This patio is a favorite place to have breakfast in the summer, sheltered, as it is, from the rising sun.

And in keeping with all those circles a few homemade hypertufa balls and glass balls from defunct outdoor lighting break up the expanse of gravel.

Lots of plants self sow in the gravel. Bluebonnets, larkspur, nigella in the spring and narrow leaf zinnias and gomphrenas in the fall.

All this rock clearly went to our heads because next David decided turn his hand to building a retaining wall where there had once been an ugly slope. You can just see the wall through the gate below.

No rock was too big for him to haul uphill from our "quarry" He estimates he moved several tons of rock. This area, outside our garden walls links the small Secret Garden with the English Garden. It is open to deer with no irrigation so a restricted planting.

And on garden does lead to another. Through the archway the sunken garden awaits our visitors.

I hope you will come back to read all about the rocks in there.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Someone asked me the other day if my gardening had slowed down now that winter was approaching. In fact, I would say it has ramped up considerably. There are hundreds of things to do. A delivery of trees from Tree Folks last week gave me an extra job in which I enlisted David's help. Tree Folks took a virtual look at my lot last year and decided I should plant these trees, part of the over 4500 trees they give out every year to Austin residents. Among them two oak trees a native persimmon and two flame leaf sumac.

There are few places on our lot where you don't hit ledge stone so we were pleasantly surprised to find a couple of spots where it was just small, easily removable rocks. These trees have to learn to live in what is here so no amendment, just a layer of compost over the top, a good soaking and some cedar mulch around the tree.
We have done very little work on the trees on most of our lot. There are so many horrible cedars and I have just been content to let them stay. But now we are starting to trim some of them up and remove the ugly ones and we are finding a number of persimmons growing in among the cedars.

Several weeks ago I bought several six packs of hardy annuals and potted them on into 4" pots awaiting the cooler weather. I do this every year.

It gives them a head start when planted in the ground or in pots. These hardy annuals add color to the winter garden and the bonus of the delightful fragrance of stocks, alyssum and petunias just outside the door.

I was also fortunate to be the recipient of some of the staging plants, left by Gardeners' Supply, when they were here filming their new pots for next year's catalogue.

I used some of these plants to change out the window box on the potting shed. I left the Mexican feather grass from the summer planting removing all the soil around them replenishing with fresh compost. I have had good success with ornamental cabbage in past years so I purchased 3, 4" pots and potted on into quart containers before they finally took their place in the window box.

Alyssum self sows in the garden and on winter days they are a magnet for the bees.

As often as not it will seed in the pathways and vegetable beds and there it stays.

I really wish summer would be over. It tries to leave for a day and then we are back in summer again. My problem is the need to get summer vegetables out of the ground so I can tidy up the beds for winter, whether or not they are planted with winter legs.
Despite the fact that many were still going strong I picked all the remaining peppers and butternut squash.

It's hard to believe that the butternut squash grew to this size in less than 2 months. When I added compost to the flower bed in the sunken garden a seed sprouted and produced these. It was trying to takeover the garden.

The peppers were sautéed and frozen in batches. The butternut squash still ripening in the kitchen.
It's good to see the beds empty again although I planted garlic in one of them and peas in another. For now I am spending the days trying to tidy up before we get the next frost.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Let us not forget on this day those who fought and those who lost their lives for our freedom.

Saturday, November 4, 2017


Gunpowder treason and plot,
Remember, remember the 5th of November,
Shall never be forgot.

So goes the rhyme that every schoolchild growing up in England learnt. It wasn't a pubic holiday, as it had once been, but it was a day with bonfires, fireworks, baked potatoes and treacle toffee. There will be no fireworks at this house but I shall enjoy my Gomphrena 'fireworks' in their place.

Despite having been in North America for 50 years we still remember that night in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his followers rolled tens of barrels of gunpowder into a rented cellar beneath the House of Lords, with a plan to blow up the King and all the Parliamentarians. It was another case of religious intolerance. Following the death of Elizabeth 1 it had been hoped that the new King, James 1, would have a more kindly attitude to the Catholic recusants. It was not to be and his soldiers combed the land searching for Catholic priests who might be hiding out in the large country houses of Catholic families. (We have seen many priest holes in these houses on our visits back to England). The plot was foiled when the cellars were searched after what seems to have been a tip off. Guy Fawkes was arrested, tortured until he gave up the names of all who had been involved in the plot, after which he was hanged, drawn and quartered.
As a child there would be a bonfire in every neighborhood any spare plot of land. We would go around gathering wood to build a big bonfire and then make an effigy of Guy Fawkes( it used to be one of the Pope) to place on the top. Some children would take the effigy in an old pram collecting money for fireworks. "Penny for the Guy" was the oft' heard cry.
Last night we watched a new production by BBC recounting the events prior to and after November 5th. Nothing was spared in their portrayal of the agonies the Catholics endured. There were a number of complaints to the BBC about the ghastly scenes. I don't think we understood as children what it was all about. We just knew he was a bad guy who tried to kill the king. We had no idea of the suffering and treatment the Catholics endured in order to practice their religion. I am now asking myself. Did Catholic children stay home on bonfire night?
But more importantly has anything changed in the world?