Sunday, October 13, 2019


This week we had our first cold front of the season which blew in overnight dropping our morning temperature into the 50s. Unfortunately for gardens further north it meant a frost and for the Dakotas a lot of snow, but so far I am not ready to move tender plants into a safe place for the winter.  Plants had already started to respond to the shortening days even when it was in the 90s. This clump of Fall aster, Symphyotruchum oblongifolium, was a discard/plant rescue from our entry neighborhood landscaping.

This cooler weather should really get fall plants moving and I will try to add more of this plant by taking some cuttings.The disappointment was that the promised rain did not materialize. We only got 2/10"
The cobweb tradescantia, Tradescantia sillamontana, lives in a sheltered corner of the herb garden. It makes a low growing ground cover blooming in the fall.

It begins to look as though I will be removing the Zephirine drouihin rose this winter and replacing it with another rose. This summer has killed much of the growth. Such a pity as for the first time I decided to intertwine a clematis though the rose. The clematis, Brother Stephan bloomed in the spring with a blue flower. Now it is blooming again with a much darker flower. Plants that bloom in the spring and fall are always an added bonus.

 Will it be blue again next Spring?

The good news is that I have been able to get out in the garden a little more this past week. The week before chemo I can eat more, many side effects have worn off and I generally have more energy. Almost all the work outside involves taking things out and cutting things back. I am trying to clear all the plants out of the pathways in the vegetable garden. Why is it that so many plants like the gravel pathways. All the gomphrenas, be the globular pink, purple, strawberry flowered as well as  Gomphrena globosa 'Fireworks' are the main summer/fall flowering plants which seed among my vegetable beds. Fireworks has a large tap root which is very difficult to remove and even overwinters in many places.

The flowers on the candlestick plant, Cassia alata, or Senna alata, are finally opening. Only 8 weeks since the seedling poked its head through the ground. I shall have to find a place to grow this in the garden next year but not in the vegetable bed. I wonder if it is deer-proof? Its absence from neighborhood gardens may answer to that question.

There is plenty of Gregg's Blue mist flower, Conoclinium greggi, but there is an absence of Queen butterflies or for any other butterflies this year. The garden is usually filled with butterflies in the fall.

Both the perennial shrimp plant, Justica brandegeeana and blue plumbago, Plumbago auriculate, are  rather rambling plants but they arrive late in the season and die back during the winter.

The surface of the stock tank garden had become overcrowded with parrots feather, Myriophyllum aquatic.

I cut back many of the water lily leaves covering the surface of the water and pulled out parrots feather, with its enormous long dangling roots.  I feared for the little fish and how dark and tanged their summer must have been. But they were soon swimming about on the surface and I gave them some fish food. All the water iris need repotting as they are bursting out of their containers and the sedge has taken a beating this summer. New growth around the edges needs to be removed and repotted. As soon as we get freezing temperatures I will move a couple of the plants into plastic buckets in the greenhouse so they survive the winter.
There's plenty of work to do out in the fall garden before I can begin to plant the starts of broccoli, kale, chard and pakchoi seedlings waiting under grow lights in the house. Maybe later this week. And the iris need dividing and their leaves cut back the thyme bed needs renewing. One job at a time.

Thursday, October 3, 2019


With only a modest sign of an end to our long, hot, dry summer, it is a surprise to find some of our fall bloomers still blooming more or less on time. The biggest surprise of all is the first-time blooming of my Lycoris aurea, the golden spider lily.

Five years ago I purchased 3 bulbs at an end of season sale.This is the first year that they have bloomed. The Lycoris family seem to be incredibly fickle when it comes to their willingness to bloom. I did a little research and it appears that a period of dry heat encourages blooms. We have had on 1/2" rain in three months and above normal temperatures through September.  It will be interesting to see if other gardeners share this same success this year.
The Lycoris radiata, red spider lily, while more of a consistent bloomer, had seven blooms this year. I think that is a record.

Of course the Oxblood lilies were not going to be left behind. In fact they were the first to bloom after a scant 1/2" rain. There must some other trigger too because they have had some water from irrigation this summer but there was no sign of life until a few days after the rain. Day length and possibly barometric pressure is my guess. g.
Unfortunately daytime highs were still in the triple digits so the blooms didn't last very long.

The Philippine violet is one plant that every southern garden should have. After winter dormancy, in which it dies back to the ground, it spends the whole summer putting on several feet of beautiful green growth, and begins flowering in October. The original plant has seeded in several places including at the foot of the dry-stone wall in the English garden. I know it is pointless trying to remove it so I will just let it stay. Flowering on this one is a little ahead of the other ones.

I have two that seeded along the edges of the patio in the sunken garden. They have been growing there for many years, disappearing over winter and returning to bloom in the fall.

I have had little success trying to move other seedlings although I have one more new seedling which I will try to move over winter.
This morning I watched an anole on the plant licking something from the leaves. I wonder if it was a small amount of water or even some substance exuded from the leaves.

Talking of which...  the amazingly fast growing candlestick plant, Senna alata, began growing in one of my vegetable beds at the beginning of August. It is about to bloom and the ants are busy helping it along. Ants always mean sweet stuff and the nectary glands on the edges of the petals exude sugar which the ants are busy farming. They do the same thing on peony flowers. No harm done in this case except for the fact that the ants are in this bed.

It's time for the Japanese anemones to bloom with their never-quite-perfect flowers.

Large arching branches of the bush clover, Lespediza will soon be covered with pretty pea blooms.

So the fall season is not all lost just as long as we don't go straight into winter. I know some gardeners in the North did so this week.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


I am a part of my garden. When I am not there my garden suffers and when I am not out in the garden I suffer. This is how it has been for the last 3 months.

I left the garden for the longest I have ever left it this summer. Two whole months. Early August I came home to a mass of overgrown plants, dead plants and weeds.

Retirement came shortly after we started the gardens in 2001, and we began to travel, so I was used to leaving it for 6 week intervals and the work involved in getting it back in shape again. But I was not prepared for what came next.

Within 3 days of our return I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then 3 days later crossing the corner of the pool I miss-stepped right into the pool resulting in some significant injuries to both my legs and an ambulance trip to the ER. Now I couldn't go out into the garden at all.

Oxblood lilies begin to bloom

My life had changed for ever. It has now been more than 7 weeks since this all began and much has happened. I have a team of people working on saving my life so I can garden again. Two surgeons, oncologist,  incredibly dedicated nurses and staff at Texas Oncology and St David's hospital, radiologists, geneticists, pharmacists. I have already had two 'chair days' as a young friend calls them, which is usually my best day as it is the end of a 3 weekly chemo cycle when some of the side effects have started to subside. I will have 6 in all followed by a further 6 less toxic infusions with some kind of surgery in the mix. It will take a year. As the doctor said, "We have our work cut out for us" but the prognosis is excellent. Last week I lost my hair. It wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. In fact it was a relief. I found a lovely wig which is so easy to take care of and I am now more comfortable walking around the house with my shaved head. Rather like old Scrooge I wear a night cap.

The Mandevilla vine is starting to bloom too
The good news is that the garden, garden videos, garden podcasts, garden magazines have been my lifeline to the future. Countless hours of sitting on the settee, for someone as active as I am, first with my legs and then with exhaustion, do not come easy. Our bright and sunny house with large windows affords me views of butterflies and hummingbirds on the liatris and birds at the feeder in the back garden. And for short periods in the early morning I am able to get outside and do a little here and there. I have started some chard and kale seeds indoors and they have already germinated and are now under grow lights. And with fall on the way I see the garden begin to take on new life just as I am doing. I am delighted by going outside to see a new clematis bloom, rain lilies, oxblood lilies, the first flowers on the Philippine violet.

Clematis climbing the lime tree
No one could have a more dedicated husband than I have. He has chauffeured me countless times, made breakfast and lunch, cleaned the kitchen shopped and taken on gardening duties as well. And my neighbors, gardening and bridge friends have brought hugs, flowers, and delicious meals. We have regular FaceTime visits with our far away families. All this will make this journey easier.

Texas Oncology even took care of my footwear needs when I forgot my socks last week. A little note inside said " You are toe-tally strong! The stars at night in Texas are big and bright and so are you!"

 cancer patients keep their feet warm with socks donated by Triumph Warrior
I wanted to share this because many have already learnt how both the garden and the soil itself has healing properties not just for the body but the mind too.
And for those with no garden or housebound a simple plant to care for inside the house is a good substitute.  A friend of mine, who is not a gardener and is currently in hospital, was looking at photographs on Instagram this morning and saw my photo of the oxblood lilies. She emailed me about how uplifting it was to look at photos of flowers rather than hospital walls.
I hope to spend more time in the garden as the weather cools. I am not going to miss one of the best gardening opportunities of the Texas year.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Texas is about to tuck another horrible summer under its belt. Undoubtedly the number will climb but as of yesterday we have had 51 triple digit days. I wish someone had kept a total of the 99s as well, because I am sure we have had plenty of those. But it is the lack of rainfall that has compounded its detrimental effect on many of our plants. But not the agaves.

It is the first time in a month that I walked out to look at how the front of the house had fared during the summer. This area is without irrigation so I was really pleased to see it looking so good. Those Agave weberi are truly the mainstay of my garden. I love the way they just push up under the rocks. I could never place them so well.
This is the very spot where David took down the dead live oak this year and I find I don't miss it at all. I will admit that David did work on removing the oaks sprouts that had come up over the summer. Probably a life long task.

I transplanted a few liatris corms out there last fall and there is a rather spindly Pride of Barbados which might now benefit from having a little more sun.

And plenty of Lindheimer senna has seeded in the dry creek. The larger area of decomposed granite is dotted with native lantana, a couple of Texas sage, some gopher plants, and once again this year two plains zinnias, Zinnia grandiflora.

There is also a small clump of Agave lophantha. 

Spring will bring bluebonnets to this area, as well as Mexican hats and a sprinkling of blanket flowers. But for now the Agaves hold the fort.

Saturday, August 31, 2019


Yes, I am still laid up. How long this is going on for is becoming somewhat irritating. On the other hand it is too hot to spend more that an hour out there, which I did early this morning.
I felt a desperate need to run the hose over the sunken garden which has no irrigation. It is looking quite good considering our long spell of triple digit days and no rain. Even the most drought tolerant of plants can struggle under such conditions.  But the tough flowering native cosmos, Gomphrena 'Fireworks' and 'Strawberry fields' Pride of Barbadosn and the green of the Euphorbia are the best for this season.

When we had the late frost this spring and the nurseries were caught out and I was lucky enough to be at Lowes when they were having a "frost sale" Honestly, they were giving plants away for 50c and I couldn't resist buying some plants I would never normally buy-the pelargonium for instance. But it has fared well even in the south-facing garden although a mullein has seeded there and is trying to take over. What to do!

In the herb garden it is the grasses that speak the loudest.

I have moved some of my poly, roughed- up and painted boxes (think of a new word for them) so they get some afternoon shade.

I did the same with the hose in the front garden especially around the grasses which will green up almost instantly when they get water, and was thrilled to find the native poinsettia, Euphorbia cyanthophora,sometimes known as Fire on the Mountain. It would be fun to have both this one and Snow on the Mountain,  Euphorbia marginata,  growing next to each other. Both share the same season of flowering. How easy it is to love some of the Euphorbias and not others.

 These plants were given to me by my friend, Shirley Fox, who gardens south of here in San Antonio, Rock-oak-deer They were pass-a-longs last year when we had the Fling in Austin. Did they survive or seed here? I am not sure. But, I noticed the other day that she had posted something about hers blooming which made me wander over to the spot where I had planted them. What a lovely surprise.

Always a faithful, fall-is-coming, plant, and right on cue for September, October bloom, is the Velvet leaf senna, Senna lindheimeriana. It is a particularly good plant for the front courtyard as it just pops up in the gravel and always looks good. I probably give it just a little too much freedom but with all that August heat and lack of rain I welcome it.

While I was taking the photograph a bee was busy collecting pollen. I'm not positive of his identity so would welcome knowing if he is a wood bee or bumble bee.

Just look at those pollen sacs.

It shows how important it is to have plants flowering even during this heat. These bees need to collect pollen if they and their larvae are to make it through the winter. Ah! Yes. winter.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


I couldn't help myself this morning. Although I am not allowed out into the garden, I happened to catch a glimpse, though the window, of the first plumeria bloom. I had anticipated coming home to the plant being full of flowers and there was not one. Maybe not enough water or maybe it was just taking longer to bloom after the long rootless winter. I stepped out of the door and took a quick photo.

When I enlarged the photo I noticed the little crab spider and a moth dangling down below the flower. I touched the moth but it was firmly attached by a thread. It was then I realized that this was the spider's larder. I have never thought much before about these crab spiders. I see them frequently on the rose flowers when I bend down to smell them, and it never entered my head what they were doing. It seems a little unfair to hang around waiting in ambush for a pollinator to come by but then survival of the fittest long ago determined a continuation of this species of spider. Not being a web spinner it had to find another way of trapping its prey and here was the perfect niche. These spiders are pretty good at camouflaging themselves. As soon as a pollinator comes by they strike with a sting whose venom quickly paralyzes the insect. In this case a night-flying moth was attracted to the plumeria flower, as moonlight lit up those white blooms last night, zap!

Monday, August 12, 2019


After visiting a wealth of gardens in temperate zones it was time to come back down to earth 10 days ago, when we returned from our nine-week trip. Once again I had to get on, what I call, my Texas Eyes. I wonder what others think when they come from those lush, green gardens of England to the burnt up landscape of Central Texas in August. Does it take their eyes time to adjust?

Much had died in my absence so that was the first job. I am still not finished with removing weeds, and spent annuals. 12 bins so far. And there is much cutting back to do...the lantanas, salvias and roses. We still have a long season ahead of us and I must prepare for the cooler times in October.
The front garden is not under irrigation so I spent some time with hose in hand. The sennas are just starting to grow. One of the toughest plants I grow.

I ahd to remove almost all the blanket flowers. They had been attacked by some sap-sucking bug. But  ave no doubt that as the weather cools I will begin to see seedlings develop.

This is a garden with little shade. But the sentinel Yucca rostrata does offer a little respite for some plants from the mid-day sun.

Even so the plumbago is bleached out. I am grateful for that little patch of color.

The only other color in the garden is from the Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherimma.

There is only a short window in the morning when I can work outside comfortably. Daytime temperatures are starting off at 80° and soon climb above 90° We are in for a full week of temperatures in the triple digits. I set myself a couple of jobs every day but much is left undone. It has taken me a week to getting round to fill up the bird bath. Tomorrow I plan to cut back the roses so that they will bloom again in October.

I have moved many of my cactus and succulents into the shade of the patio, and away from the brutal afternoon sun.

Thursday, August 8, 2019


Nine weeks away from home can have a pretty detrimental effect on a garden-especially in the summer heat of Texas. I am still wading my way through rampant growth of the weedy kind. So far 12 bins of waste and still more to come. When I retreat to the house I like to relive some of the gardens I visited on my travels, while in England this summer. These two are private gardens which I visited in June. Many of you will be quite familiar with the first.

The first is the garden of fellow English blogger and garden book author Victoria Summerley, in her garden at Awkward Hill, Bibury. This was our second visit to Victoria's garden, the first being a few years ago when on one of those perfect English, summer mornings we strolled around her garden. But, as is often the case I can be easily distracted by the moment and failed to take any photographs. I wanted to put that to rights.

I had bought tickets to Highgrove, the private gardens of HRH The Prince of Wales, at Highbury. We needed to spend the night nearby and remembering there was an inn in Bibury David booked us into The Swan for one night.
Well, we couldn't go to Bibury and not go to see Victoria, so it was decided we would visit her the evening before our Royal tour. Another chance to get out the camera...or rather the phone.
We were on a rather tight schedule flying in to Southampton from Guernsey, where we had spent a week, hiking. By the time we got to Bibury it was close to 7pm, our prearranged visit time. On our prior visit we had driven up to the house but this time we walked taking a completely different route, crossing the bridge over the River Coln, which flows through the center of the village.

The path leads to Arlington Row, a row of cottages dating to the 17C,  and on up to Awkward Hill at the top.

It was a gorgeous evening. Victoria greeted us and with glass in hand we headed out into the garden. There are certain touches that just make a garden welcoming. A beautiful bouquet of garden flowers on the table and a chinz pillow on the chair beckoning to sit down. But this time I was determined to get those photos.

The cottage is built of honey-colored Cotswold stone which has softened over time. We saw some new houses being built and were surprised how bright and out of place the new stone looked when compared with the age-weathered stones of the older village cottages.
A lovely wide terrace runs across the back of the house and between patio and house roses clamber up the wall.

After a few moments of chat Victoria's dog, Rufus, enticed David into joining him for a little ball play, in his part of the garden-the lawn.

Isn't he a handsome chap?

Whereas the majority of English gardens are narrow and long, Victoria's garden not only has good depth but width. It also borrows from the surrounding landscape and but for the low wall you might think it went on and on for acres.
At some time the land had sloped away from right to left and in order to create level areas of grass the gardens were stepped down, dividing into 3 main areas. On the high side it is bordered by a low wall with a narrow strip of planting, except where steps take you up to the higher level. The wall of next door's house forms the boundary.
I love the way Victoria has broken up the greenery with a large pot. It gives a place to rest the eye before moving on the look at the tree with hanging bird cage.

As does a large circular plaque with encircling birds on the wall and the peak of a Tuscan-style pot among the greenery.

A strongly defined planting along the lower side of the central lawn area is bounded by a flagstone pathway. A large New Zealand flax and artemisia and fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, soften the edge of the path.

You can just see the edge of the stone steps which lead down to the next garden.

It is always good to turn and look back to see where you came from or you might easily miss the stacked-stone steps and artfully placed pots.

There is just something very English about positioning a bird path in the center of a lawn and reminds me of our garden at home where my father had made the bird bath out of stone. Not quite as handsome as this one, I might add. This one certainly looks as though it has some antiquity.  I love the way the generous stone-edged area around the bath adds more weight to the scene.

An intimate seating area sheltered by the stacked stone wall shows the grade level from the house. The ever present Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus. 

Moving down and around the side of the house there is a lovely water feature.

And I noticed Victoria had been busy clearing large areas below and to the side, where she is now tending her bee hives.

I don't suppose a staddle stone would look right in a Texas garden but in the Cotswold it is a must.

I have a keen interest in hyperfufa pots. Here is one made from an old sink.

This one might be authentic.

Thanks Victoria for welcoming us to your garden again and goodbye Rufus.

The following morning we drove to the village of Tetbury to visit Highgrove. It has taken me years to get tickets to visit so you can imagine the excitement. Alas, no photos were allowed except in the waiting area where are hung many of the watercolors painted by Prince Charles, along with a few family photographs displayed on a table.

The tour, and guide were fantastic and maybe it was better to not have the distraction of a camera.
We had lunch in their dining room before heading to Worcester to stay with a college friend of David and our second garden.
It is always a pleasure to visit with Neil and Lesley and their lovely garden and we were blessed with the same beautiful evening as the previous day. While Lesley tended to dinner in the kitchen I  strolled down the garden path. That topiary has grown another level since we were last there. I can't remember now if it was an entirely different plant from the hedging or some other species that sprouted up through the middle and Neil took advantage of. Either way it breaks the line of the hedge. Eyes are drawn straight to it.

Unlike Victoria's garden this one is long but cleverly broken into separate areas. Beyond the garage to the right a pergola.

And opposite a stone table and benches with this gorgeous pot planted with hens and chicks.

A fine stand of orange kniphofia and a tall grass almost hides the lawn from view..

You might be excused from continuing down the garden path once you catch sight of the greenhouse.

 I went inside to see Neil's collection of cactus and other assorted plants. It seems he can grow cactus much better than I can.

Oh! What's this? Graptopetalum tacitus? I need to be on the lookout.

And at the far end there is a grape vine. It's going to be good harvest!

I spotted a new shale-mulched bed at the end of the greenhouse.

Across the lawn A rose catenary stretching down the garden, breaks for a few feet and then continues. Do I remember from previous visits that this was the Monocot bed?

And on the opposite side a fool your eye Gothic mirror.

Then it was time to crack open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the birthday boy.

Thanks Neil and Lesley for a wonderful visit.

"Now it is back to the weeding"