Sunday, March 1, 2015


With miserably cold weather blanketing the country I wonder how many are enjoying the sweet smell of citrus, as I am. With the temperatures hovering around freezing all day that sweet citrus smell lifts my spirits as it permeates the house. The thornless Mexican lime, Citrus aurantifolia, is ideally suited to pot culture. Only suitable for in ground cultivation in hardiness zones 10, 11, my zone 8b garden is well out of range. However, the pot is small and manageable enough to be brought inside during times when the temperature will drop below 40°

One of the nice things about this lime tree, sometimes called bartender's lime or key lime, is that it flowers on and off throughout the year so it is easy to keep fruit in production. The main crop though will ripen during the early months of the year. The small green to yellow fruits can be left on the tree until they fall. Their rind is perfumed and can be used in small quantities in smoothies for a delicious flavor. And, of course, for Key Lime pie or margaritas. Extra juice can be frozen along with the grated rind for use later in the year.

Last year I had concern over the improperly formed buds on the flowers. The petals never seemed to open and remained in an almost fused condition. Enquiries did not bring any explanation for this. You can see on this one cluster of flowers a similar appearance this year although the superior ovary is popping out above the petals and should fertilize without problem. There are enough normally developed flowers to take care of pollination. To be sure I did a little hand pollinating the other day.

When I was examining the flowers the other day I spotted a tiny yellow inchworm, creeping along the edge of the petal. But for the movement he might have been mistaken for a stamen. I wonder if he is doing the rounds of pollinating.

At the same time I noticed a couple of spots of scale on a nearby leaf. Easily scraped off with a finger nail at this point in time but I must keep a close lookout for citrus scale.

Here are a few more anomalies. These floral clusters are unlikely to develop into true flowers.

I think I may look out for another Mexican lime tree this spring. You can't have too many limes in the fruit bowl.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


You have a new recipe to try. It calls for several herbs; basil, chives and oregano. You go to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for the recipe and when you look at the price of the herbs you have second thoughts. Do you really want to pay $2.99 for each bunch of herbs. You will only use a few sprigs of one of them. Plus those chives look a little wilted.
Maybe it is time to think about growing your own herbs. With herbs just a snip away from your kitchen you can enliven all your recipes with the fresh taste of the garden.
But where and how are you going to grow them? Which ones should you grow? From seed or from transplants? How much sun, water? So many questions. You need to find a book to help you get started. Here is a book that will certainly help you select the easiest and most commonly used herbs

Homegrown Herb Garden, is a collaboration of gardener Ann McCormick and cook Lisa Baker Morgan. Step with Ann into the garden and learn how to grow your favorite herbs then take them into the kitchen where Lisa will teach you how to use those herbs to enhance the flavor of meats, seafoods and desserts.
For the first section of the book, Into the Garden, Ann has chosen 15 of the more commonly used herbs and with each one she covers planting, caring for and harvesting. Most of these herbs can be grown in the ground or in pots. Some, like rosemary and mint might have to be pruned more frequently to restrict their growth. Ann accounts for the differences in climate which are to be found in the USA and how this affects their growing conditions. Some herbs which grow in the winter months in the south would be summer producers in the north. Where herbs are not cold hardy they can be potted up and overwintered in the house. There is an interesting Did you know? section with each herb. Here is one I really like. 'Tradition says that parsley grows best in a garden where the woman of the house is the boss'. Harvesting and preparing your herbs for use is covered at the end of the individual herb chapters.

The larger part of the book is given to the preparation and use of herbs, to bring out the fulness of those essential oils which infuse your cooking with their amazing flavor. This section, Into the Kitchen, has 15 original recipes using 15 of the named herbs. Lisa was trained at the Cordon Bleu Institute of America  in Los Angeles and her recipes are original. Some are everyday recipes and some, which use lobster, duck and smoked salmon, might be used for that special occasion meal. Either way the photography couldn't be more enticing and the recipes more mouth watering; Venetian seafood en papilotte, Lamb chops roasted on thyme or Roasted pork tenderloin with rosemary and fruit-sage stuffing. My mouth is watering!

And you may have to go no further than the grocery store to find your herbs. Basil, rosemary and thyme are often sold in small containers. What do you have to lose in taking a pot home, snipping a few herbs for tonight's recipe and then plant out in the garden for continued enjoyment.

I am a herb gardener myself and cannot imagine not being able to go out into the garden to snip a few for dinner. Its an almost daily occurrence. I would like to encourage others to start their own herb garden.

About the authors.
Ann McCormick has spent her life gardening. She writes for a variety of gardening magazines, is a frequent speaker and media guest. She shares her love of herbs on her blog

Lis Baker Morgan is new to the field of cooking having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles. She is a former Civil trial attorney who now shares her passion for cooking as a private chef, cooking classes and her blog " a table"

The book is published by Quarry Books who sent me a copy of the book to review.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


No, I did not go outside into the garden. For one thing yesterday was frigid out there and for two I am forbidden. There is not much I can do at home to get back in the garden except do the required physical therapy. As getting up on my feet and walking around is one of the most important things, I took myself for an inside walk around the house, camera in hand.
Here's the view from the living room with a glimpse of the sunken garden. I managed to trim almost everything back before surgery so there is reasonable neatness there. There is one corner at the back where the Salvia leucantha needs to be trimmed and I think we will need to replace the flowering senna, Senna corymbosa, this year. A late frost last year caused die back of several branches and it is looking far from its best. I never expected the tree to last for ever because it is a fast grower and that usually means weak wood. Even this one was a seedling that grew here after an old one died. I plan to replace it with either a small native tree or bush. The problem will always be finding a suitably sized small native tree.

My succulents, which normally reside on the fireplace, are tucked away in various places including the house.

From the kitchen I can see the vegetable garden where the only thing covered is the bed of peas. David picked at least a pound for dinner last night. Cascadia is my favorite pea and can be eaten in all stages of plumpness. I can also look the other way into the sunken garden. Still quite a bit of trimming to be done behind the pool.

From the hallway I can look towards the potting shed with the bare pedestal on which my hypertufa pot, with tender agaves, normally sits. It is safe inside the potting shed for the winter.

I have lots of herbs growing here. Sage, rosemary, garlic chives and oregano. I couldn't cook without my herbs. If you don't have herbs and would like to start a herb garden you might be interested in the book I will be reviewing later this week, The Herb Garden, A guide to herb growing and culinary uses.

Through the front windows the Lady Banks rose will need a good pruning after her April flowering. The bench which normally sits against the wall is doing winter duty in the garage holding the wall baskets and their draping plants. Still some ruby crystal grasses, Melinis nerviglumis, to be cut back.

 From the link doors I recognize the viburnum 'spring bouquet' will probably have to be removed and replaced with a smaller variety. If you remember we recently replaced the planting in this part of the English garden but I held off on the viburnum until it had flowered. I need to research the possibility of a serious cut back of viburnums. Failing that I will look for a smaller variety to plant at this corner.

From the link doors on the other side the view is into the front garden. I am gradually converting this into a cactus and agave garden with additional low-water use plants. This is the spot where I lost the Whale's tongue agave, A. ovatifolia, last year.

Through the bedroom door the view is into the once named Spanish oak garden. The Ficus repens wall has received its annual clipping. It only remains to deal with the bluebonnets which have seeded themselves between the pavers.

The other view is outside the walls to cedars and little else . We planted 3 Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica, var. Carolina sapphire, in this area this fall and will take some of the cedars down to give them more light. This has only become necessary due to the building of a house on the lot next door. I think in the end it will be a good thing as it will allow bluebonnets and other wild flowers to grow here.

Another outside view on the front with the usual mass planting of bluebonnets in the pathway.

Finally I walk into the laundry room. It's hard to evert my eyes from the packets of seeds, cuttings of plumeria, (thank you Texas Deb) new bird house and garage sale finds that are awaiting my attention.

I could certainly get busy sealing the wooden fish so I can find a home for him on one of the rocks in stock tank pond.
The best kind of physical therapy a girl could get.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


I was looking for a word to describe how I have been feeling about gardening, for at least 6 months. The word doldrums sprang to mind. Like those sailors in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner I was stuck waiting for a breath of wind to push my becalmed ship out to a place where I could catch the trade winds and send me on my way.

My lack of enthusiasm for the garden had slow beginnings, long before our 7,500 mile summer road trip to the Maritimes of Canada. I normally take gardening books and magazines to keep me busy during those days on the road, snipping out ideas from the magazines and dreaming about the garden back home. But strangely, I found myself barely thinking about the garden and I hadn't even packed the usual years gardening magazines.
 On our return I got busy cutting back the overgrowth of 6 weeks away. But as the weeks went by I found myself having increasing difficulty bending, lifting and carrying. All those things that I had done so easily for all my gardening years. Physical problems had been bugging me for nearly 2 years. I'd had physical therapy, thinking the problem was muscular, I'd researched, added all kinds of exercises thinking that this time I had the answer. I saw an orthopedic specialist who told be "hip surgery" I didn't want to believe him. So much so that we continued with our planned trip to Galapagos and Machu Picchu in January. This is probably one of the most physically exacting trips we have ever taken and made me realize the time had come. Luckily I had made an appointment for a second opinion with an orthopedic surgeon for shortly after our return. X rays showed worn hip joints and huge bone spurs. Only one thing was going to put things to right and that was a total hip replacement. There and then I decided, and asked  'How quickly can you do this. I have two garden tours this April?' and so less than two weeks later he fitted me into his schedule and Friday I walked out of the hospital with a new right hip. And I really mean walked out.  I don't need a wheelchair.

On the return from the hospital, pulling into the driveway I was greeted by the rosemary bushes in full flower. I don't think we have had a year when they looked so magnificent. I sent David out with camera to take a photo and also one of the clump of narcissi blooming in the English garden. I can glimpse through the windows that spring is on the way.

Things will be running a little late this year as I have been told to stay away from all those nasty garden spores until my wounds have healed. I will have to send David out to buy tomato plants and he will have to pot them up into larger containers. Then there are the old broccoli plants to pull out before the harlequin bugs go to town, and check the alyssum for harlequins ( they love the brassicas and alyssum is one) There are the seedlings of brachyscome I started and now require potting up. Pretty soon I will be able to do all the things I always did out there, bending, lifting, raking. I feel a breath of wind blowing in my sails. I am starting to think about all the things I want to do out there.

When I think I could have had this surgery done over a year ago and saved myself a lot of pain. I am now like all the other people who say, "I wish I had done it sooner"

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Whether it is poor choice of plants, lack of pruning or general decline, there comes a time when a gardener might have to admit the time has come for a big garden makeover. How can this be? The garden is a mere 12 years old. And yet I have been feeling this coming on for a few years now and have been getting a few digs from David. So this week I finally made the decision. It all has to go.

Out will come the not so dwarf Burford hollies, the Indian hawthorn that are about to flower ( I shall miss their pretty pink blooms) and the not so dwarf yaupon hollies, struggling to keep their shape beneath the holly. And so at the weekend I gave David permission to do the deed. It has taken him 3 afternoons of hard work to get everything out.

The first to go was these Indian Hawthorne. For some reason they have never done well on this side when compared with the ones on the other side.

The Viburnum, Spring bouquet has problems too. When we came home from our trip last summer we found serious decline on the south side. I think it will be impossible to prune out these dead areas and have the plant recover. All these years with never any pet or disease, always green and glossy leaves even during drought. Now this decline.

I have to admit I am going to miss the green look but I think it will be for the best in the long run.

This time I am going to try to keep the planting off the patio so we can enjoy the patio we worked so hard to create.

The plants I have chosen are;

Leatherleaf acacia, Acacia craspedocarpa. This Australian native which grows into a shrubby bush has grey green foliage and bears yellow flowers in the spring. It is supposed to be hardy into the teens.

Loropetalum chinense, 'Purple Pixie' which grows to no more than 2' in height but spreads to 4' It has intensely purple foliage and pink blooms.

Ilex vomitoria 'Gremicr' or 'Micron'  holly which grows to 30" and spreads to 36" This holly with its diminutive leaves grows slowly to its ultimate size and should never need pruning.

I have to admit I love seeing our patio again but things do look a little bare. The bonus is a simpler watering system with just a drip to each plant and less pruning. I may be tempted to allow the odd bluebonnet to brighten up the spring garden.

Now it is time for the gardener to have her makeover. On Wednesday I shall be going into hospital for a hip replacement. Battling a problem for a couple of years and thinking all along that it was simply muscular it came as a huge shock to find my hip was the problem with bone on bone and huge bone spurs. It's a terrible time to have surgery but I am hoping I will be back to the garden in no time.

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.