Friday, April 27, 2018


Being a lover of everything gardening and having dabbled in many things garden related it seems quite natural that I would eventually have a go at making my own pots. My first attempts involved using the material hypertufa which being a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and cement makes for much lighter weight of container.
This was one of the first ones I made using the inside of an old plastic planter. It has weathered the years well.

Then I tried my hand at making something that would mimic the English garden troughs that were common in farmyards. They fetch a hefty price in antique and garden shops.

In a fairly shady area of the garden it has weathered to a nice patina with mosses now growing on one side. I think I could pass this off as the real thing.

Next came a larger one. I underestimated the mix so was not able to make it quite as deep as I had hoped.

The texture really looks like stone, but no mosses on this one as it is in full sun.

One of my favorites is the agave bowl on the pedestal in the herb garden. Made using the inside of a well protected copper bowl I have in the house. This photo was from last year.  The mother Confederate rose agave in this planter has decided to flower this year so I couldn't get a good shot of the whole stem. It will be all change in this pot next year.

Lightweight as these pots are they are still pretty heavy when planted up with gravely soil. An even more light weight planter is one made from polystyrene boxes; and a lot easier to make at little cost. A small one  can be made in less than an hour!

A similar texture can be achieved using a wire brush, sealing the surface and craft paint.

And the bigger boxes make great vegetable containers.

One of the boxes I just finished had been waiting in the garage for me to find the time to work on it. No sooner had I finished it than another one appeared-picked up at a garage sale for $1! When will I have time to get that one done. Not this week for sure.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


Cactus and succulents have enjoyed a recent popularity among both outdoor gardeners and indoor gardeners alike.
Anyone can grow these plants, right? Well, yes, but a little knowledge on how to grow them is a must and this book will ensure a successful life for your cactus and succulent purchase.

I was interested to read that although most cactus and succulents hail from frost-free areas of the world the majority of cactus collectors and home enthusiasts live in the Northern hemisphere. Their popularity is partly founded on their ease of growth indoors and recent availability. They ask for little in the way of maintenance and many will reward with gorgeous flowers.

This book covers not only those frost-sensitive cactus and succulents but those species which can be grown successfully outdoors even in colder climates. A comprehensive guide to cultivating cacti and succulents is followed by a section which includes 60 common species of cacti some of which can be grown outside. Gideon provides an easy key to identify growing conditions. There is a big difference between frost free and a minimum of 50ºF. I made that mistake this winter when the temperature dropped down to 18ºF one night. My greenhouse heater could not keep pace and subsequently I lost several of the more sensitive plants I had.

Outside, frost free greenhouse, cold greenhouse, outdoors in summer, indoors in winter. It is important to know exactly what you buy and what conditions will ensure the survival of your purchase.

A short section then covers some of the worlds best collections including 3 in North America, two in South Africa, one in Monaco and surprisingly one in Switzerland. I have actually visited the one in Zurich and was truly amazed at what they were growing there both inside and out.

The rest of the book covers selected examples of plants from 12 different succulents families such as the agaves, yuccas, sedums, sansevierias and euphorbias, many of which are grown as house plants.
As with all plants there are pests and diseases and these are covered in a rather short section.  I think he might have expanded a little to include some of the other really common bugs like the annoying yucca plant bugs. Also maybe a chapter on home made soils as I find a lack of good cactus good growing soils in the marketplace and frequently make attempts to mix my own with varying degrees of success.

Other than that it is a great little book, amply illustrated with lots of good information. This is a great book for Texas gardeners as we are able to grow so many cactus and succulents outdoors. Even then they must be given the right conditions to protect against wet rather than frost.

Gideon Smith is a renowned South African author on succulent plants and has held multiple positions  both in research and  environmental research. He is the author of more than 900 scientific papers  as well as over 50 books.

Published by Fox Chapel Publishing

I was delighted to receive Cacti and Succulents Handbook by Gideon F Smith, as a review copy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


David mentioned how much he enjoyed the view, through the shower window, of the little white flowers on that spindly tree. That spindly tree is the Anacacho Orchid tree, Bauhinia congesta.

There are a few reasons why it is so spindly. One is the terrible soil in which it grows. Although amended somewhat there is a depth of road base underneath it. This area was where they removed all the huge ledge stones you see around the garden, in order to get the house level right. Then they filled in with this road base. It is also a very dry spot sheltered from our recent rains by the house wall. But more significantly it bore the brunt of the 2015 hail storm which caused excessive damage to much of the bark. Still it soldiers on producing a nice bloom every spring. Its two lobed leaves are sometimes described as butterfly or clove-like and are characteristic of this genus.

Being a member of the pea family the blooms are replaced by wiry seed pots which are not very attractive. I usually snip them off but occasionally there is one that escapes me and germinates in the soil below. Sad to say I have had poor success in trying to transplant them. 
In this same garden are two variegated pittosporum, Pittosporum tobira 'variegate' Their flowers are sweetly fragrant which gives it the name Japanese mock orange. This afternoon my son visited the garden and he remarked he didn't like the way the plant was growing with such low branches. I have always liked that aspect of its growth but maybe I need to take a second look as to whether it would look better pruned up. I'm always open to suggestions.

You have to look closely to admire the blooms of the chain plant, Callisia fragrans.

The plant was given to me as a grandfather's pipe but I have never found any reference to this plant being named so. More often it is called the basket plant or chain plant. The latter because the plant produces a long shoot which forms a new plant on the end. If grown along the ground it will root at this point. This one is growing in a hanging basket where it has grown out of the side. More commonly I have it growing in the ground in a shady location. It is not truly winter hardy but does survive in a very sheltered location with overhanging branches.

But just wait until the flowers open fully. They are like delicate bouquets of bridal flowers and they have the sweetest fragrance which explains their species name 'fragrans'

The garden is full of sweet fragrances at the moment but this is one demands you get a little closer to appreciate.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


I love growing things from seeds. There is nothing quite so uplifting as seeing those first seed leaves poking through the ground. It has always been a favorite winter pastime, first looking thought seed catalogues and then setting up seed growing areas-usually in the house. I treated myself to some grow light stations this year which found a home in the laundry room. Both greenhouse and potting shed were full to bursting with overwintering plants so my gardening has moved into the house.

In the past trying to seed cosmos directly in the ground has met with failure. They just never appear or maybe they appear overnight and are munched by snails and pill bugs. So this year wooed by the pretty photos on the seed packet I decided to try them inside. And I am thrilled with my success, not just the fact that they are flowering but that the illustration on the seed packet was fulfilled. Take look.

It's only spring right now so we'll if they bloom summer to fall.