Monday, June 6, 2016


I'm sure that my garden is host to many plans that others would say no to. But it works the other way too. Here are two plants I absolutely say no to.
The first is the Green milkweed vine, Matelea reticulata. "Oh, what a little beauty." I hear many say.

How could you not fall in love with such a sweet little flower with those attractive net-like veined petals and that single perfect pearl at its center. So adorable. And how often do you come across a green flower?

This plant showed up in my English garden a few years ago. Before I knew it it had taken a stranglehold on my Philippine Violet. My efforts to remove it have proved worthless and it appears every year. And yet I never hear anyone say anything bad about it. Just watch where you let it grow.
The plant appears in my Texas Wildflower book where it is described as having a hardy and robust nature and with the suggestion to place it where the leaves will not be disturbed because they have an obnoxious odor. I photographed this one on my neighbors wrought-iron fence, behind our septic field, where I can admire its beauty.
Being a member of the milkweed family it is generally thought that it is host to the Monarch butterfly caterpillar, but they are still waiting for evidence to support this theory.

As to my second 'no' say hello to the Asiatic dayflower, Commelina communis. There are probably a few heads nodding in agreement but even some who like this plant. It is actually a deeper blue than this photo shows. The flowers appear in the morning and close up by lunch time-and that's enough for it to make hundreds of seeds.

When it appeared in my garden a few years ago I was, at first, delighted. Then, when I noted its aggressive behavior I changed my mind. It's a devil to get rid of. Rather like nut sedge it has a rather bulbous root which is untouched by weedkillers.

If you don't get the whole root out it will be back again tomorrow. Furthermore if you leave a nodule behind a new plant will spring up. It is an annual but produces thousands of seeds and like most 'weeds' many will lie dormant in the soil.
So this years war is on the dayflower. Last year it was with the nut sedge. That one is not over yet although I have it kerbed(curbed) its growth for now. It will be back I am sure.


The greatest garden show of the year, The Chelsea Flower Show, is over for another year. During the week we had the chance to see top garden designers as well as plant growers vie for medals that will likely secure their future in the garden world. For those of us who couldn't be there BBC did a wonderful job covering the whole show daily, inviting us into every one of those show gardens as well as the grand pavilion. We could never get that close if we were among the crowds. It was even  better than being there, although lacking the atmosphere. 
So what of those show gardens? Do they really set the trends for the upcoming year or is it rather like the fashion runway-who actually wears those creations, anyway?
You can see the winning garden here. The Telegraph Garden, by Andy Sturgeon and all the winners here. The Winners.

It wasn't hard to spot a theme running through many of the gardens. There were plenty of rocks, no less than 85 large boulders transported into the showgrounds, and plenty of gravel with naturalistic plantings of grasses and native plants.There were dry stone walls, bubbling brooks, huge limestone boulders, a monster cube of granite with peepholes through which to view woodland gardens as well as walkways of honed limestone. Those gardens certainly appealed to me. Why wouldn't they? You know how much I love rock and naturalistic planting.

large ledgestones in my front garden
Of course it is also easy for me to like rocks because we have plenty of them and it was a given that we would use what we had. I have lived places where there were no rocks but you never miss what you have never had. I certainly would if I had to make a garden again and I didn't have those rocks on my doorstep. But we did bring in the Arizona sandstone slabs we added to the sunken garden. The area was originally decomposed granite but was quickly over run with plants and lost its character. Yes, we could have used some native limestone but our thinking was we needed something to offset the limestone boulders that surround the area. Plus they tie in to the pathways around the sunken garden. And they are so much lighter to work with than limestone. Not that weeding isn't still a chore.

May in the sunken garden
We saved our own native flat rocks for walls and and patios floors.

Dry stone wall English garden
There are places where the native rocks look good used as stepping stones.

And there are places where man-made look better.

Round concrete stepping stones in English garden.

Flat native stones surrounded by brick, English garden.

Here we used a large native stone to tie the patio to the threshold.

There are plenty of dry creeks although of late they have been very wet.

It's fun to think that my garden is in the fashion. But for how long, I wonder?

Friday, June 3, 2016


After the seemingly endless days of rain we were greeted by the sun this morning. We had breakfast outside in the English Garden. It was one of the reasons we decided to make a patio in this garden. Having watched the sun over our first year in the house we noticed that in the summer this area was shielded from the morning sun by the high wall. Perfect for breakfast on summer days.

We both commented on the coolness of the air in the shade but knowing full well that it wouldn't last. It was going to be another hot and steamy one. The birds kept us longer at the breakfast table as we watched them enjoying the recent added bird feeders. And several hummingbirds were tolerating each other at the red salvia, cone flowers and verbena. They must be from the same family because they are normally very territorial. It would have been nice to linger but as always there was work to be done; so cutting back after all the rain and preparation for those days when there will be no rain. Irrigation is not my favorite chore but I have delayed too long this year.

I picked another few pounds of green beans. They have been prolific this year and I found myself actually getting round to pickling some the other day.

 I used to do a lot of preserving when we lived outside Toronto 35 years ago. It is hard to believe that the preserving pan is one of the things that never got thrown away. So I put it to good use this week.

I am sure there are lots of recipes for pickling beans but this was a recipe from the beans we had when we visited friends in Boise some years ago. I have never had enough beans to do it before. They make a great snack with a glass of wine.
To each jar I added 1/2tsp of mustard seed, dill seed, salt and a garlic clove. The recipe calls for a hot red pepper but instead I added 1/4 tsp of dried chile flakes. Then topped each with equal parts of heated apple cider vinegar and water. Processed for 15 minutes.
We had the trimmings for dinner.
But returning to this morning's garden chores I weeded and pulled out errant plants, trimmed back the mint, picked the tomatoes, put all the pots on irrigation, fertilized the citrus with epsom salts, removed dead leaves from the stock tank water lilies and fertilized, filled the bird feeders. Then I collected seeds from the rose campion, Lychnis, bluebonnets and love-in-a-mist to share. I'm done for the day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


With June fast approaching I realize I have not given my day lilies their moment of glory. Between the rain drops, and there have been many, there have been abundant blooms. This is partly due to the fact that last year I did some moving around, ridding the area of nut grass and transplanting some shorter varieties from the back garden to the front.
 The roadside lily, Hemerocallis fulva, was the first to bloom. A pass-along from a garden friend, this lily was introduced into the USA from China in the 1800s. Little did they know how they would eventually run amok in the ditches along US roads. They are quite tall and will need to be moved further back in the fall and I will keep my eye on them knowing my proclivity for plants that take over.

My other daylilies came from a colleague of David. We went down to Gonzales in 2000 to visit his ranch where he was breeding daylilies. I came home with a bag containing 5 different varieties and, as we were only just starting the garden, I put them in the only two places where we had soil in raised beds. One in the front and one the back, and there they stayed for all these years.

They had kindly written out the names and descriptions of the different ones. Where is that paper now I wonder? It was in the potting shed for a long time but must have been thrown out at some point (not I) so the only one I remember is Hemerocallis "Tiny Pumpkin" This was long before I started to write about my garden and even before digital cameras so I wasn't really into the naming game.

Arising from strappy, evergreen leaves the flowers are a pumpkin/apricot color. It is considered one of the shorter varieties with a maximum height of 18" so works well in the front of the bed.

But there the naming ends.

I don't really have a favorite, but I do like this wine colored one, not only because of its color  but because it is short and can be placed at the front of the bed. I divided and moved it from the back garden to the second tier of the front courtyard bed in the fall.

Behind is a peachy lily with a green throat, which is slightly taller.

It's easy to see why gardeners fall in love with the day lily family. I once went on the Austin Daylily tour. One garden had nothing but daylilies. Too many varieties to count. The couple who had collected them were moving away as it was becoming just too hot in Austin. I wonder what happened to their collection? I'm betting they took some with them.
And finally a daylily to brighten any corner of the garden with its canary yellow bloom.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


You know that old saying. It's not always quite true, because although I kept shutting an area of my garden out of my mind it kept coming back to niggle me. Then when I saw some garden visitors walk around the pool to look at the area I was cringing. I wonder what they were thinking?
The area is located on the short side of the pool and hidden from general view by the massive stand of  Monarda, Peter's purple, cone flowers, Echinacea purpurea, mullein and a plethora of annual bloomers.

That's a tall stand of frost weed, Verbesina virginica, at the very back; a gorgeous flower in the fall attracting masses of bees and putting on another show after a frost when the stems split exuding layers of frozen white material. But this year, with all the rain, it is a monster.
There is an area of crazy paving directly behind the pool; a supposed pathway leading to a gate. We haven't used that gate in years as a Rosa, Zephirine drouhin decided to grow there. And this year the pathway became infested with weeds and flowering plants including, Echinacea, Nigella, Mealy blue sage, some nut grass and that invasive false dayflower. Oh! and a nest of fire ants. The plants in the bed behind completely crowded out so that the Philippine violet could hardly breathe.

This week I spent 2 whole days in the area removing every scrap of visible plant in the paving and removing the sand to a depth of two inches. I'm not finished yet but it certainly is looking presentable.
It took one day to do the paving and the best tool for the job was an old, wide-bladed knife.

 Some of the joints were very tight and the knife worked a treat. Rudyard Kipling in his poem, The Glory of the Garden, talked about the gardeners 'digging weeds from gravel paths with broken dinner knives.' Things haven't changed much.
Then the fun bit. Adding the gravel to the joints. I won't say the easy bits because I had to barrow the gravel all the way to the back gate and then carry it up in buckets. That stuff is heavy.

Meanwhile, I had removed weeds and cone flowers and some S. leucantha from the bed behind and mulched with a thick layer.
I still have to do another section of the paving as far as the rose which I have already started to prune. There was much dead wood caused by last years hail. Plus there are several lantana still to be removed. By the weekend I will be happy for anyone to walk back there. I don't imagine for one moment I have said goodbye to the weeds but I will be jumping on them as soon as they appear.

Monday, May 23, 2016


It was a cold December day when I met Daphne Richards, our Travis County Extension Agent for Horticulture, in the parking lot of a local store. We transferred a couple of chunks of a dormant plant into the trunk of my car. Monarda, Peter's Purple, was the new sensation and Daphne had plenty to share among the Austin gardeners. Monarda, more commonly known as bee balm, suffers greatly from our hot, humid summers but this one, a cross between two southern varieties, was supposed to stand up to such conditions without developing mildew. It is much showier than our native bee balms Monarda punctata and Monarda citriodora, whose blooms vary from white to pale purple and bloom about the same time.

I and my fellow gardeners began sharing until we could share no more. I even sent some up to a gardener in Dallas. Then I took a clump and put it above the sunken garden between the sunken garden and the pool. Because this plant spreads by underground runners the second year it grew into the yellow iris. What I great idea, I thought, the two can bloom together or if the iris is slightly ahead the monarda will take over. Indeed. The monarda has taken over to the point where this year I will be pulling it all out and finding a new home for it. My yellow iris didn't care for its companion.

It is such a pity because a photograph of the plant in my garden, very similar to the one above, was chosen by Nancy Ondra to be featured in her recent book, The Perennial Matchmaker.  Monarda, Peter's Purple, purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, and Rudbeckia hirta do make for a very pleasing combination.
And there is no surprise as to how the bee balm acquired its name because all manner of bees are attracted to the flowers.

And what great long lasting cut flowers they make. So when I began pulling some of the clump out last week I brought a huge bunch of flowers into the house. They are still going strong.

Never fear. I have this plant growing in two other places in the garden and I will likely find a new home for some of the one I take out. But if you live in Austin and would like to meet me in a parking lot this winter. Let me know and I will put you on the list.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


This year we have really enjoyed the bird life in our garden. With multiple bird houses both inside and outside the walls as well a preferred spots for the wrens and cardinals, we have had several successful nests this year. The first nest was the cardinal building in the little espalier alongside the greenhouse. It was the second year for a bird to nest in this spot and this year it was successful. That nest has now been removed and has joined last year's nest on the outside fireplace. I placed 3 little painted eggs in the nest.

This year's cardinal nest with painted eggs

Last years cardinal nest
The nests are identical in construction. A fine mesh work of thin twigs, followed by woven cedar bark with a few leaves and a softer lining of dry grass.
I'm wondering if the same pair is now building a nest in the umbrella in the old Spanish Oak garden.

It's a messy looking affair but then these birds seem to know what they are doing. I never even noticed the work going on until the nest was complete...but as yet there are no eggs.
We have another messy nest on the front gate. This time it is a wren. Thank goodness that plant doesn't need any water. Both these birds have chosen a nice dry place to be during this very wet weather.

We have three owl boxes but no owls. However, we did have birds in one of the boxes, although they were in and out too quickly for us to identify. Also wrens in 3 boxes and doves in an oak tree.
We also have a new bird house in the English garden. It replaces the dovecote which started its life in Pam Penick's old garden. When she moved house she passed it along to me where it spent several years. But the weather had taken its toll and we had to remove it. I looked for a new dovecote but the cost was prohibitive.

The idea for the replacement was taken from a bird house we saw in Canada a couple of years ago. It seemed a perfect fit for the original 4x4  post. David worked out the plans and put them into action. The little metal wren which I bought 4 years ago and couldn't find a home for finally found the perfect spot.

In the past we have always relied on the garden to provide for the birds but several chance finds at garage sales have me actually adding bird food to my weekly grocery shop. I found this hanger for a bird feeder last year at a garage sale and the feeder I had picked up years ago on a trip to England and never used. It is great for the peanut/mealworm bark butter bits. The tufted titmouse are always at the feeder and the cardinals sometimes manage to cling onto the sides, although they are rather clumsy.

More lucky finds last weekend and at the same sale found these long metal poles. They are perfect for hanging the new feeders which are really old but still serviceable and after a good clean up they look almost as good as new. At 75c each how could I go wrong?

Next stop will be the store to find bird seed. Maybe we attract a greater variety of birds to the garden. I wonder what the painted buntings like to eat?