Sunday, February 18, 2018


I have been side-lined for the last couple of weeks by recovery from surgery. Something that was probably caused by all the time I have spent outdoors in the sun either gardening or hiking. I will be more cautious in future but let this be a warning. WEAR SUNSCREEN.
Even though it is February there is much to do cutting back and removing plants that didn't make it through several unexpected deep freezes.  Here is one plant that has been a star through all kinds of weather.

The large rosemary is planted out front by the side of the driveway. It has never been watered and has withstood drought, summer heat, hail and freezing temperatures. Yesterday it was blooming as it has never bloomed before and I even spotted a bee visiting one of the flowers.
On one of my non-gardening days I did the rounds of the nurseries. For a moment I thought that I might have missed spring as all were overflowing with spring bedding plants, grasses and vines. Of course I was tempted just as I was last year. Five pots of grape hyacinths at $1 a pot was easy. The patio table needs a little brightening. I still have the ones I saved from last year but they are making a slow start. Once in a while it is worth having someone else do the planting for you.

One plant I wasn't tempted to buy was a large pot of climbing jasmine, Jasminum polyanthum.

And this is why. I have had maybe 3 or 4 good years when the plant made a worthy bloom. Yes, the scent was heavenly but this is a vigorous vine forming a big tangle of finely cut leaves. This was cut to the ground last year! It roots easily and I don't doubt there will be a stray shoot somewhere that will try to make a comeback.

After cutting it back to the ground I used the pick axe to remove the root.

The question now is its replacement. Something which takes less work. I don't mind dieback in the winter if the plant performs well in the summer. Nor do I mind a bare trellis in the winter. I'm pondering on remaking the trellis so that it reaches to just above the weep screen. That way it is easier to get smaller vines started. This is a south facing exposure but sheltered from early morning and late evening sun by the wall of the house. Maybe I'll try a Mexican flame vine or even a clematis. I wish our nurseries carried better selections of clematis but I will be out looking for a summer bloomer this time.
The roses in the English garden are all pruned. It doesn't seem to make a difference how early we prune because they were already leafing out. I see a lot of weeding to be done. Last year I planted iris  around the bird bath. They seem a little slow to take.

The citrus are out of the potting shed. The Mexican lime still has fruit as do the lemons.

Some seedlings are outside to harden off. Some destined for the window box and planters others for the ground.

Brachyscome, Swan River daisy

10 week stocks
The grasses are all cut back and it will be a a waiting game to see if the ruby crystal grasses will return. If not there are plenty of Mexican feather grasses to take their place.
A cloudy, cool day is my favorite day for gardening so that is where I am heading right now. It's good to be out there again.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Dessert tonight will be pancakes because it is Shrove Tuesday. I just went outside to pick a few lemons from my Meyer lemon tree.

But what do pancakes and lemons have to do with Shrove Tuesday? Here is my post from 3 years ago which tells the story of the pancake and why it is eaten on this day.

At our house we could never let Shrove Tuesday go by without having our favorite dessert. Forget the trifle, sticky toffee pudding and Christmas pudding. Our favorite is pancakes. No, not American breakfast pancakes smothered in all kinds of gooey, strawberry, whipped cream concoctions or with a dose of pancake syrup. But those deliciously thin, rolled crêpes sprinkled with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. We have been eating them on this day since childhood.

Shrove Tuesday is the last day before the beginning of Lent and pancakes were a way to use up those forbidden foods such as eggs and butter. Pancake races take place all over England, the most famous of all being in the town of Olney in Buckinghamshire. The race has been run there since 1445. Shrove Tuesday was a half day holiday and the 'Shriving Bell' would ring out from the church to call people to the service. Legend has it that a lady was in the middle of making her pancakes when the bell rang and she ran to the church pan in hand. Today the ladies of the town wearing apron and scarf start the race by tossing their pancake, run the 380 meters from the market square to the church, then toss the pancake again. The winner gets a kiss from the verger. Men can participate too but they must wear the apron and scarf.

I'm pleased to say that we have passed on pancake making through two generations. It wasn't Shrove Tuesday but while we were in Taipei at Christmas in 2013 our 9 year old granddaughter made pancakes for us one night. We were busy discussing what we should have for dessert when the subject of pancakes came up. Vivian went into the kitchen, got out her recipe book, and measured out the ingredients.

She didn't toss the pancakes but used chopsticks to turn them.

Then made this lovely presentation. We ate them the same way we always do with sugar and lemon and they were delicious.
And we will be doing exactly that tonight.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


I have to confess that for a number of years we have been away during the month of January. One of the perks of retirement is being able to go away whenever you like and January was always a good time because David suffers badly from cedar fever, caused by the pollinating cedar trees ( Ashe junipers).  But this year we are home. Being away over Christmas we decided to tough it out. I honestly feel that is what I have been doing. First sickness but then fluctuating weather patterns with some very cold nights and days. One day would be spring-like and I would be out there gung ho about the upcoming season and the next the temperatures would drop with a cold wind signaling another cold front. And of course, one again, no rain. That I would be happy to see.
A few things have saved my sanity. One section of my herb garden has fared really well this winter and I have given some thought to why this is. I think the reasons are many.

Bronze fennel and tall dianthus

Calendula with self seeded alyssum Ca poppy and larkspur 
One side of the herb garden is sheltered from the north wind by the wall of the study would be one good reason. In the fall I gave these plants a mulch of vegan compost! Maybe you are as surprised as I was to find there was such a thing but it was a leftover from our visit from Gardeners' Supply. They had been using it to pot up some of their containers. I think my plants liked it. But I also had left one of these over the calendulas and alyssum when we left town before Christmas, just in case.

And it was needed as the temperatures plummeted to 18º and never rose above freezing for 3 days. I am so glad I did because it has lifted my spirits to see something blooming in January.

I'm cheering on my little calamondin tree which is just beginning to flower ensuring a good supply of fruit for marmalade next fall.

The pantry shelf is stocked with jars made from the current crop of oranges and my new trial of lemon marmalade.

Another cheery sight was in the potting shed. Having pulled out a couple of orange tree there was now room for me to get inside. Among the small cactus and succulents on the bench a blooming mammillaria. This one seems to bloom year round.

And that delightful Echeveria 'devotion' I picked up at the grocery store last summer is keeping its color during this cool winter.

Do you have plants which lift your spirits during the winter?

Sunday, January 21, 2018


Like many gardeners in the south I am tempted to grow plants just outside my range. Cold snaps cause me to run for the blankets but there was no way I could have protected against the cold temperatures we had last week. We had already suffered a significant freeze event while I was away after Christmas but that was was not near as bad as the last few nights. We are typically much colder than Austin, from anywhere between 5-10º. partly because of the lack of housing and roads but in my garden there are no trees to moderate the temperature. I am fearful of the losses which may take a few weeks to really show.
I went out with my camera this morning. Typically a gardener likes to show the best of his/her garden but this morning that was impossible to find.
Our native mullein is a pretty tough plant, right? It made it through the first cold snap.

But not the second. It's hard to imagine that cold could bring it down. I shall miss the those soft velvety leaves and the beautiful flower stalk with yellow flowers.

But the plants I worry about most of all are my gorgeous structural agaves, Agave weberii.

They are already beginning to collapse. And I don't like what I see here.

Will the Philippine violet, that show stopper of the fall garden, survive? Only time will tell.

This week brings a thaw and should reveal what will live and what will die.
And I don't like this. Of course I know full well that spalling takes place when pots are full of wet soil and it freezes and thaws. There wasn't even anything growing in this pot but it was full of soil. It was very careless of me to leave out outside.

This was one of last year's garden purchases and I must say they were worth every penny.

They come in a set of 3 and I put them to good use this year. Despite the fact that calendula and alyssum are usually winter hardy I experimented by covering one grouping one. The plants came through with flying colors, whereas an uncovered grouping suffered horribly.

On a cold morning when there was no hope of getting outside I turned my attention to new life; seed cleaning and sowing. These are the dried seed heads of the American basket flower, Centaurea americana, given to me by a gardening friend last summer. This native annual has large thistle-like seed heads, but without the prickles. On the left what remains after seed removal.

The seeds are difficult to clean so some will be planted with a little extra. I use coir fibre to plant and they are on a heated seed mat. They should really have been planted in the fall so fingers crossed they will germinate quickly and soon catch up. If not I will remember to plant earlier next year.

Under the new grow light system I have arugula, chard, kale, pak choi, cilantro, tomato, brachyscome, and stocks. There is nothing more cheering on cold winter days than seed germination.

Swann River daisy, Brachyscome

10 week stocks
Pak choi
At least it makes me feel as though spring is on the way.

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Of course we are. It doesn't matter where you live I guarantee that every gardener among us is busy making plans for the new gardening year. I'm expecting to see a few of these popping up in the next week or so. Wild anemones, Anemone caroliniana,  are usually the first of our native flowers in the spring.

In northern climes first blooms may be a few months away but the ordering of seeds and plants will be well under way. I am recalling my own time spent in Eastern Canada where an old door would be erected on boxes in the sunniest spot in the house ready for seed sowing.
Things haven't changed much today. Yes, I have a greenhouse but it is full to bursting with overwintering plants. No room for seed starting in there. That has moved to my laundry room which has been a seed collection room for the last year or two. Now, with the arrival yesterday of a grow light system it is also the seed starting area.

Stay-n-grow system seen in the GS catalogue
I am wondering to myself why I never invested in grow lights before. Maybe it had to do with the cost as these systems are not cheap. But this year was made easier by using a gift card from Gardeners' Supply. I purchased a starter kit which is the lower part of the system with a plan to add on to it if I find it works well. Grow Light System.

Yesterday morning I opened the box and carefully began the construction on the living room floor. I read a lot of the comments on the website before I made the purchase and almost all of them were positive. I think there was only one negative comment and it had to do with the flimsy nature of construction. Not true at all. The product is well made and instructions are very clear on how to build.  Directions are written in good English because the product comes from England. That was a surprise. But I was not so careful taking it into the laundry room and one of the bulbs fell out and smashed!!!! Oh! careless me. Not an easy bulb to find in Austin so I am ordering on line and fingers crossed it is the right one.

My only complaint is that there is some additional expense required to add trays (shown above) on which to put your seeds starting trays, because the tray beds are perforated. GS does sell products that would work here or you can source on your own. Being a collector of anything useful that comes into the house I will reuse polystyrene meat trays to prevent water spills.

I am thrilled with the product and already well ahead on starting seeds. I also have heat mats on which to put the trays until the seeds germinate. And I plan to add the next level to the system.

When it goes dark the bulb puts out a tremendous amount of light so much so that it lights up the garden through the window. I have decided to turn it off when I go to bed.

The start of the New Year adds another year onto my age and with the realization that I cannot do quite as much in the garden as I used to do I added a piece of power equipment to make a few of my jobs a little easier. A hedge trimmer. I am not a lover of power gardening tools but this one is small, quiet and easy for me to handle.

It's main purpose will be to trim the fig ivy walls, a job that takes hours of my time. I haven't tried it yet because it is too early to be trimming off the winter kill but I did take it out for a trial run yesterday. The object was the Salvia leucantha outside the walls. I trimmed the large stems by hand and then finished off with the hedge trimmer. I was thrilled with its performance.

Who would think that this pile of sticks would look like this within a few months?
Salvia leucantha May1 2017
At the same time I cut back the miscanthus grass growing alongside the greenhouse. I wouldn't normally cut back this grass so early but it is ready to be moved to another location. I am waiting on the lemon grass growing in the corner. It survived out here last winter and I am hoping for a repeat performance. It was never watered at all last year and still grew well in the decomposed granite. If it doesn't survive I have several shoots potted up in the greenhouse and will replace in this spot. This is a big grass and needs lots of room.There is no flower but it produces masses of fresh shoots for my Thai recipes.

Lemon grass

The area outside the walls is a transition area between wall and septic field. It is planted with waif and strays from the garden, lantana, salvias, prickly pear, Mexican mint marigold, blue mist flower a crape myrtle and pomegranate ; all deer proof plants. It is now tidied up and mulched waiting for spring to arrive. 

It feels good to have made a start on winter clean up.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


My camera was strangely silent on our recent Caribbean travels. For a few days I carried it around and never took pictures so in the end I gave up. Of course the day we visited Hunte's gardens was the wrong day to have left it in the room. I would have to make do with my phone.

A previous visit to Barbados saw us taking a local bus high into the hills and down towards the coastal village of Bathsheba, to visit Andromeda Gardens; a six acre garden, now cared for by the Barbados National Trust, but once the private home and grounds of Iris Bannochie. She had gathered tropical plants from around the Caribbean to plant in her rocky, coral garden. On that day we had no pressure on time so when the local bus overheated part way there, finally chugged up the hill and dropped us off in this seemingly remote part of the island, we had no concerns about our return. We did indeed wait a long time for a return bus but eventually made it back to our hotel.

Hunte's Gardens didn't look too far from Bathsheba so our plan was to take the bus again. After a half hour walk from the ship we arrived at the bus station to find we had just missed the Number 5, 10am bus. The next one would not come until 11am-if then! Being the worry wart that I am I was already worrying about getting back to our ship by 4:30pm. not to mention the possibility of a bus breaking down. We decided to see if we could find a taxi to take us there-$60 was what they wanted because they would have to wait there for 2 hours for the return journey. We walked back to the bus station and I fretted some more as we waited for the bus. Then a couple arrived(tourists) asking if we spoke English! They wanted to go to Andromeda Gardens. When we told them we wanted to go to Hunte's Gardens and suggested we join up and take a taxi together we all went back outside found a taxi who would take all four of us for $50. Split between us this was more manageable.

As soon as we walked through the gates we knew we had arrived somewhere special on this tropical  island. Boasting a higher rainfall from any other part of the island that, and underground steams ensure the luxuriant growth of all the plants.

I inquired of a lady sitting by the gate of the naval officer was standing in the corner-Lord Nelson, Of course. I didn't think much about him at the time but this morning found myself going down the rabbit hole of opinion, on Lord Nelson, in Barbados. Clearly, as at the Battle of Copenhagen, he is turning "a blind eye" to all that controversy.

Anthony Hunte, who created the current gardens, had always been a plantsman, and within two years of  purchasing a 10 acre parcel of what had been the Castle Grant sugar plantation in 1990, he had created this tropical paradise, rising from the bottom of a sink hole 150' deep and 500'wide. I was reminded instantly of Butchart Gardens, which was created in a old quarry.
Mr Hunte's family came to the island from Britain as indentured servants in the 1600s so he is through and through Bajan. I wonder if he was educated in England. I listed to an interview and caught a slight Irish lilt to his accent.
What made it truly magical was the strains of classical music wafting up through the palm trees. I don't think I have ever heard that before.

We paid our $15 entrance fee and were given some modest direction to follow the steps down to the bottom and to return up to the house where we might meet the owner himself.
I completely failed to capture the steep winding steps, down into the bowl of the sink hole, which Anthony Hunte described the making of as being a learning experience. He originally started to create the steps from the top going down before realizing that you must start at the bottom and work up.

Along the way he had created lot of side pathways leading to small intimate seating areas.

And an eclectic mix of statuary tucked into corners among the plants.

I thought his staggered bowls a wonderful idea.

There were beautiful flowers and orchids at every turn.

We made our way back up to the house, created from what had once been the stables. I'm not sure if he actually uses these rooms or that they are just decorated for the public. Either way in such a humid climate the walls were covered with black mold. It reminded me of life in Hong Kong where it is impossible to keep the mold at bay.

We pretended we were taking tea in one of the rooms.

And then we entered a large covered verandah where there was a small gift shop and where people were sitting having a drink.
Mt Hunte was busy trying to do rather too many things. I told him how wonderful his gardens were and he told me to come on in and sit down and 'let's talk' I really would have liked to have heard more about his endeavors in the making of the gardens.

As we left a young man was just entering with a group of visitors and carrying some coolers. Maybe they were going to have picnic in the grounds. Sometimes the garden is used for weddings with the seating area probably at the bottom and the bride descending into the gully down those steep steps. How magical that must be.
If we ever find ourselves back on the island again I will be sure to catch the early bus and stay a while longer on the terrace-maybe sipping a rum punch with Mr Hunte, and I will take my camera.