Wednesday, January 7, 2015


I read today two articles on Garden Rant about winter gardens, Forcing Winter Interest,  and The Myth of Winter Interest 

They made me think about the photo I took last week of my winter front courtyard garden. A garden which rarely sees snow but which does suffer from freezing temperatures which bow many plants into submission. If we did have snow I like to think it would add even more interest. I am happy with my winter courtyard garden.

My front garden doesn't seem to change much from summer to winter. I think that is because it relies mainly on hardscape and structural plants. It's my easy going garden, depending largely upon the seeding of grasses, skullcaps and blackfoot daisies to tone down the gravel and rocks.

That's not to say that it is completely devoid of color as in spring there will be a bounty of bluebonnets which are already settling in for possibly one of the coldest nights of the year tonight. There will be coneflowers and native clematis and in April the wonderful Lady banks rose. I wonder how long I will be able to keep that big beauty?
There are other parts of my garden which disappoint me in the winter. One of these is my sunken garden. There should be lots of interest with level changes and there are the structural plants but maybe not as many as there should be to keep me happy.

This garden shines in the spring and fall with masses of color but winter it loses some zip. It has been brought to my attention and I will think more about the winter garden next spring.

Are you happy with your winter garden?

Sunday, December 28, 2014


On a rather cold and dreary day I am looking back to sunnier times and a visit to England this past May.

We couldn't have been luckier as we arrived in Marazion, Cornwall, at 1:30pm. The sign in the car park said low tide 2:30pm. That is when the causeway to St Michael's Mount would be revealed. When I told the attendant we would come back after lunch he told us we could park free on the left side if we had lunch at the Godolphin Arms. There has been a pub on this spot for over 200 years but a recent renovations revealed wall to wall glass windows in their upper dining room with a perfect view of the Mount. We could watch as we ate our lunch and as the tide receded.

Some hardy souls couldn't wait to cross. We just bided our time until the water had fully receded.

You might have thought you were in France from the large groups of French speaking children just returning across the causeway from their visit.( They must have gone over earlier by boat) St Michael's Mount has strong associations with Mont Saint Michel in France. The church on the mount was built after the Norman invasion and was the site of a Benedictine Monastery. Owned by the St Aubyn family thirty people make the mount their home.
This grouping of sub tropical plants was just a taste of what was to come. We decided to make the most of the warm, early afternoon sun and visit the gardens before going into the castle.

The area benefits by being on the Eastern edge of the Gulf Stream. Winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing and are more like those of the coastal Mediterranean towns of Benidorm and Nice. In summer, however the waters keep the island cooler. We began the climb towards the rock terraces which face the ocean.

Ragged robin was everywhere. A flower I remember as a child.

Banks of Delospermia. I think this is the one with the tiny flowers which I have great difficulty growing.

The castle is built into the granite cliff and the rock gardens, created by the St Aubyon family, switchback across the lower reaches of the cliffs.

A stunning combination of grasses and aeoniums.

May and June are the best times to view the flowers and here we were in mid May. We were surprised by how few people joined us on the sometimes steep and narrow climb.

We made our way back and up the well worn steps towards the castle entrance.

Looking back towards the causeway and village of Marazion.

In what was once the refectory is a plaster frieze of hunting scenes depicting the Ballad Of Chevy Chase.

The 15C Lantern Cross, the four sides depicting, the cruxifiction, the Virgin child, a king, possibly Edward the confessor, and a priest of monk. The pinnacles were added at a later date (1827)

Splendid views from the battlements and tiny windows. That was quite a climb.

St Michaels' Mount is cared for by the National Trust and visiting times can be seen on their website.
Our Royal Oak Foundation membership allowed us to visit free of charge.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


My dear husband made a new owl house this week. The squirrels and ants can have the old one! That one was set deep in the trees and although we did have an owl roost in there one time we have never had a successful nesting. It was also difficult to watch over.

Here is the new box in a much more open situation. The bonus is I can keep my eye on it from our shower. The new box has a hinged door on the front which will make it much easier to clean. Any signs of squirrels setting up house will be quickly interrupted.

Originally there was a regular bird house in this spot, which David removed yesterday. He only put it up last spring and to our surprise there was a beautiful nest inside. Should I have been surprised? Not really, because the wrens make nests all over our garden. I have no idea if they used this one but it is beautifully made with a deep cup lined with soft materials like wool, insulation and feathers.
One of the nice things about this bird house is that it has a sliding panel across the back which makes it easy to clean out. We plan to put this up again in the front garden.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for an owl family this spring.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


You may be dreaming of a white Christmas or there may be visions of sugar plums dancing through your head. Over here we are thinking of lots of greens. I am having a really super winter vegetable crop year. With only 2 frosty nights and lots of warm sunny days and a sprinkling of rain it must be perfect conditions. I even have peas! The first successful fall planting.

There's lots of this. Napa cabbage.

Although the the first pick doesn't have a very tight head I'm not complaining. You can see what dish I made at the end.

Homegrown broccoli is so tender there is no need to peel the stalks.

And lots more peas in the making.

This particular snap pea is called Cascadia. It is tender at all stages even when the peas have fattened up in the pod. You'll find it at Botanical Interests.

Delicious peppery arugula. Cut and grow back again.

Dinosaur kale, delicious stir-fried in olive oil with garlic.

More peppery mustard greens.

Beds of chard and broccoli.

Multiplying onions, from Bob and Renee. The lemon tree came out of the potting shed today and received a root pruning. We lifted it out of the pot, amended the soil bringing it up to the right level and pruned some of the long straggly roots.

I finally got around to thinning a row of the beets the other day, putting the trimming in a green smoothie.

So this is the salad we had the other night  using the Napa cabbage. It is Asian style with a peanut sauce. You can add whatever you have on hand. I used cauliflower, carrots, radish and bean sprouts. Topped with scallops and shrimp it makes a delicious meal. I have  Renee Studebaker to thank for the recipe, which she shared in the Austin American Statesman years ago. It's one of the reasons I grow Napa Cabbage.

Now to go outside and pick dinner.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Yesterday was a perfect day for the 72 mile Hill Country drive to Fredericksburg and Johnson City, to see the lights. Temperatures in the low 70s meant shorts and short sleeves for some but I opted for long pants because I knew when that sun went down, with such a clear sky, it would be mighty chilly.
On the way we stopped in at a couple of shops in Johnson City before continuing on to Fredericksburg to walk main street.

We'll be back later to see the lights on the Marktplatz and the traditional German pyramid, thought to be the inspiration for the Christmas tree.
Our favorite place to eat is the Navaho Grill and last night's meal did not disappoint. Cuisine of the south is an apt description. David started with a posole soup and I chose the corn and shrimp chowder which had plenty of southern heat. We followed this with main courses of Texas quail and braised short ribs( the Texas Wagyu organic beef raised like kobe beef) Both meals were wonderful but left us no room for dessert. The chef was even kind enough to come and and tell me something about the recipe for quail I had two years ago. I had been trying to replicate it, to no avail. We now returned to see the lights in the marktplatz.

Then it was on to Johnson City to the Pedernales Electric company and the fairyland of lights.

The dazzling display never ceases to fill me with a sense of wonderment. Our live oak trees sure dress up pretty.

We  encircled the courthouse, which always reminds me of a wedding cake, and then headed for home.