Friday, December 22, 2017


                                                      MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL

                                                      AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT

                                                             See you in the New Year

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


It has not been my best Meyer lemon crop this year, but it has certainly been my earliest. The mild fall with warm temperatures has meant the lemons have ripened at least 2 months ahead of normal. Many years I am still picking them in March. I like to leave them on the tree until I need them but as we moved the trees into the potting shed for the winter several lemons fell off.

 I had to quickly think of what I was going to do with them. Lemonade? I made a big jug of that at Thanksgiving when the grandchildren were over. I could certainly freeze the juice and rind for later use. Lemon curd? that's a favorite. Preserved lemons? I have several recipes that call for that ingredient. What about lemon marmalade? I quickly sought out a recipe from one of my English cookbooks.

It called for 3 lb of lemons which required me to pick just one more to make up the weight. One of the great things about the Meyers is their thin skin with very little pith. The recipe called for juicing the lemons and removing all the flesh and pips and tying in a muslin bag. I decided just to follow the same procedure as when I make Calamondin marmalade. I halved and juiced the lemons into a bowl saving the pips and tying in a muslin bag.

Then I sliced the remaining peel and flesh.

I measured the mixture into a large pan adding 1 cup of water for every cup of mixture. I tied a string around the bag of pips and lowered into the pan, then boiled down until the peel was soft- about 30 minutes. When cool the pan went into the fridge overnight to develop the pectin.

Next day I remeasured and added 1 cup of sugar for every cup of mixture and boiled until the temperature reached 220.

I sterilized the jars in the oven and then allowed them to cool slightly before adding the hot mixture, capping immediately.

Breakfast wouldn't be breakfast without marmalade on our toast. Now to look for a recipe for preserved lemons.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


With news of the California wildfires on everyone's minds I am reminded that a serious wildfire passed through our lot in the 1950s. It was long before there was any development here, when only rough tracks ran through the acres of ranch land. It burnt cedar and oak to the ground leaving only their burnt-out stumps. In the past we have often re-burnt the stumps that were left in our fireplace. They burn really well and are long lasting.
This one was completely destroyed.

And yet only one side of this tree was burnt.

While rooting around on the lot a couple of weeks ago I picked up several smaller stumps, now bleached white by the sun, but still bearing the charred marks of that fire.  Rather like old pieces of driftwood they had character. I had already used one as a perch for a ceramic anole in one of my hypertufa troughs.

Maybe I could do something more useful with them. Maybe drill out a place to plant a small succulent. I was thinking of using the succulent that Matt Shreve gave me when we visited his gorgeous cactus and succulent garden.
Drilling out that hole was easier said than done. My first attempt resulted in the wood slamming against my ankle and tearing off some flesh. I called on David for assistance. I don't know if our drill bits are just dull or this wood is fearfully hard. The wood was smoking! In the end we managed a big enough hole to plant the succulent. I hope it likes tight spaces.

Now more more drilling and more succulent planting.

I am also gathering up a pile of larger stumps and thinking of making a small stumpery in the woods.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


I'll bet the little mouse was warm as he snuggled down for the winter in my car. He probably enjoyed the odd ride out and about as I drove him here there and everywhere, in style, maybe even as far as Dallas on occasion.

David found the two nests purely accident. I was complaining about a strange sound coming from the steering; a sort of whining sound. After I did a little research on possible causes I decided it was either transmission or steering related. David checked the steering fluid. It was low. He then went to check the transmission fluid and came across this mass of finely shredded material. Among it a few acorns, a paper napkin, some finely shredded pieces of one of my frost cloths. But the bulk seemed to be a pale colored insulation. I recalled how some years ago I had had to replace the insulation on the hood of the car. Is that were it went? Or had he removed it from the walls.
We decided that the nests were old ones. No scurrying sounds or the hasty retreat of a mouse. Maybe made some years ago so I am not packing him off into the cold. If he is still around he has probably found another cozy corner in some other part of the garage. Once time, it was in the back of a refrigerator-long gone. Then there was the mouse that shredded all the top fuzzy material from a self watering tray. He then made a nest in a plant pot on the shelf. Industrious little devils but I have to say I don't like them doing their business in the corners of the wall and they are also carriers of the Hanta virus, so we don't encourage them to come inside the garage.
If anyone has not seen the movie Mousehunt I thought it was good for a laugh, although it didn't get the best ratings.

Friday, December 8, 2017


What do I, as a gardener, dread most of all? When the weather forecaster says that the temperatures will drop below freezing. Living as I do in zone 8b it is just too tempting to grow plants that do well in Zone 9 and 10. Further more we live just west of the city, where temperatures are frequently about 5 º colder due to fewer roads and buildings. And we live on the slope of a hill where frost rolls down into a frost pocket. It doesn't deter!

I think we all knew we were in for a cold blast last night but the precipitation was a surprise. The chatter of my gardening friends on Facebook was as though no-one had ever seen snow before. It's pretty, yes, but listening to our pool pump at 4 pm really did have me worried and rightly so. This morning there was solid ice on the birdbath. Or at least one of the 4 that are positioned in different spots around the garden.

A weather event like this is a good time to take a walk around the garden and make a note of different microclimates. All the other birdbaths had ice on them but just a thin layer, easily broken with the tap of my finger. Those areas of the garden don't get quite as cold. One is closer to the house and another, even in a place that gets no sun, is sheltered by a high wall. These are places to plant marginal plants for your zone. I risk some marginal plants in these areas-the rest have to be protected in some way.
Most of the snow had melted by the time I got out there this morning.

The greenhouse, potting shed and garage are packed to to the gills. I added a shelf this year when I came across the 4 supports for the spare window box. They were easy to attach to the wall and a piece of wood, painted makes for a sturdy shelf-and more room for plants. In the greenhouse the sides are ringed with gallon jugs of water. A small heater keeps the temperatures above freezing.

More tender plants go in the potting shed. All the citrus are in there.

Brugmansias, plumerias and various cactus and agaves are in the garage.

And something is out in the cold. It's been a long time since we had to run a car to get the ice off the windscreen. The snow, falling on warm surfaces and then freezing made for an icy sheet.

And a few came into the house. They were the ones that were on the patio near to the doors.

Lots of blankets and blankets covering outdoor plants. Last year I purchased these from Gardeners' Supply using them in the early spring.  I am really happy with them. They fold flat for storage and seem to be quite sturdy. An early planing of peas were covered with one last night. They come on packs of three and you can browse their season extenders here.

The top on this model unzip for flat folding.

I have a multitude of covers, all picked up at garage sales, from packing blankets to the real thing. Most of them were out last night.

One of the things I didn't think about was the two small fish and water lily ponds. Both were iced this morning. I am concerned about the fish in there. I boiled up some water and added hoping the fish would come to life so zi can see if they survived. Later this afternoon I will empty the containers and transfer the fish to the large tank which has a fountain. I hope I won't be starting a war.

Another 2 nights until we are in the clear but at least the sun is shining today. Some damage takes a few days to show up so I will be out checking over the next couple of days and recovering again tonight.

But what are a few frozen plants when so many have last everything they own. I am thinking of all those folks in the fire-stricken areas of California. So sad for the residents, birds, animals and plants. Hopefully the winds will die down and the firefighters will manage to control a further spread.

Monday, December 4, 2017


There was a welcome change in the weather today. After weeks of rainless, sunny skies we woke up to a foggy morning. Water, from our metal roof, is dripping into my empty stock tanks. Maybe we will get some rain this week. The garden loves this moisture laden air and I love it too because I have things to do in the house in preparation for Christmas.

I had some friends over the other evening and served these little cookies.

They were quite a hit, with requests for the recipe. So I decided to share the recipe and method on my blog. The original recipe is from an English cookbook called Cooking for Company, hence the weight measurements, and is for brandy snaps, those delicious, crispy gingery rolls.

But the recipe is very versatile; leave out the ginger and make the little wafers trimmed with chocolate and chopped almonds, or make a lacy basket which can be filled with fruit. Serve them with ice-cream or as a tea-time treat. You are sure to have all the ingredients in your pantry.

2oz butter (half stick)
3oz castor sugar(our US sugar is just fine)
2oz Lyles Golden Syrup ( substitute 2T of light corn syrup)
2oz plain flour ( heaping 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp ground ginger ( leave out if you prefer when making the wafers)

Preheat oven to 350º
Spray cookie sheets

In a small saucepan heat butter, sugar and syrup on a low heat until melted. Remove from the heat and add sifted flour and mix well until combined. Take half teaspoons of the mixture and drop onto the cookie sheet, spacing well apart. Pat down with fingers to spread. No need to make them too exact. The larger you make them the more room you must leave to spread.

Place in oven. They will start to spread hence the reason for giving them plenty of room.

Keep a watchful eye on them and remove as soon as they turn a golden color.

Don't worry if they run into each other. Just take a knife and separate them while they are still soft.

In order to remove them from the sheet have a palette knife handy. You have to wait a little until they cool. Test by sliding the knife underneath one corner. I like to release all the cookies as soon as possible and then wait a little before transferring them to a wire rack. You can always put the rack back in the oven to soften again if you have trouble. Someone asked me if you could use a silpat sheet. I would give it a test try to see how easily they come off before doing a whole batch. Let me know if you try using the silpat- I might treat myself.

Once cooled, decorate them with melted chocolate and chopped nuts. Pop into the fridge to harden the chocolate before storing in a tin.

I made a double batch this time and boxed them to take to our little neighborhood gathering tomorrow evening.

To make the brandy snaps, just add ginger with the flour, bake the same way and with the cookies still pliable, wrap carefully around a wooden spoon or dowel. You will probably need to pop back in the oven several times to keep the cookies pliable. To make the fruit baskets make a larger cookie and while soft place over a glass and bend into shape. Your guests are sure love these dessert treats and they make a great hostess gift.