Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I watched a program on you tube today. Carol Klein talking about rock gardens in England. More than anything I found their history interesting because the town where I grew up, in England, had these fabulous rock gardens along the promenade. They were built inside the naturally occurring sand hills that ran along the shoreline.

Not only rock gardens but ponds, waterfalls and stepping stones to climb over.

And in the park there were some fabulous rock structures with bridges and places to climb. Such a fabulous place for children to play. The original bridge was not made to last and was replaced with something more suitable by the time I came along. Our family made frequent visits to both these places and I got to run around, climb and explore.

And my grandparents, who built their house and garden in the 1930s, also had a beautiful rockery. But all that stone for these structures had to be transported to our sandy coast from other parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, where there were abundant areas of limestone and limestone pavements. Fortunately the time came when someone put a stop to the pillaging of these natural areas and rock gardens went out of fashion.

Fast forward to 1994, Austin, Texas.

This is the first place I have lived where I had a rock quarry in my garden. Our garden is situated on the Edward's plateau, created millions of years ago, from an area once covered by shallow seas. A vast bedrock of limestone sits beneath us. Much of the rock has been fractured by earth movements and water creating some beautiful if not heavy chunks of rock. At our first house, built in 1994, and barely a stone's throw from where we live now, I was excited to be able to to recreate some of those memories from my childhood. The land behind the house rose steadily and to help with run off from Texas deluges we cleared an area behind the house and then hit rock.  It was hard graft taking out tree stumps( David borrowed a come along from someone at work! only in Texas) and when we couldn't remove some of the large rocks we just incorporated them into a rockery.

At one end we hit ledge stone so we decided to make wide steps to access the upper level where we planted buffalo grass. We also created a little patio. I'm glad I took these photos because I had completely forgotten how it looked. When we sold the house the new people put in a pool at the top. I wonder if they kept our rock work?

And so to this house, which we built in 2000, because it was going to be my last chance to have a flat lot with gardens protected from deer. I had some idea about courtyards and herbaceous borders. Clearly I had forgotten about what was beneath my feet, which would make it impossible without raised beds.
 With our garden being one of the gardens on the Garden Bloggers' Fling next May I thought to give our future visitors a little background to my garden style, aided and abetted by my dear husband, David, without whom much of this would never have happened.

Garden no1, The English Garden
Clearly spurred on by the success at our previous house I collected every flat rock that ever appeared when we were building this house. I was down here every day making a monumental pile at the back of the lot. I know the builder thought I was crazy. (Little did I know what was yet to come.) It was a  project dear to my heart. To create a dry stone wall, so prevalent in northern England, which would follow the curve of the existing garden wall.

The builder leaves the scene
It was an easy decision to make because what else could you do to make a raised bed but to follow the wall. With the name Wallwork in my family history surely it came easy. It did, however, come with a trapped finger and hours of pain after bleeding under the nail. And if you have ever had that happen you know what has to be done! I really loved building that wall and was inspired by those Lancashire dry stone walls to call this garden the English Garden.
My one regret is that I have never managed to get those beautiful crevice flowers that you see cascading from English garden walls. I refer to the campanulas.

But one thing led to another. More circles; circles of brick infilled with stone to make a patio, and circles of stone to enclose a bird bath and roses, and half circles on brick and inlaid stone to form landing areas from the house and archway. We were lucky to find a pallet of bricks in the perfect color at the Habitat for Humanity re-store. David built the brick surrounds, and together we cemented and mortared the stones. Not a job I will forget. I then suggested some circular stepping stones would break up the expanses of gravel. David used various molds to make the stones filling them to within 2" of the top with sand and pouring concrete on the top. To make the stones look more natural I would imprint them using various rough rocks. Sometimes I was out there in the dark.

This patio is a favorite place to have breakfast in the summer, sheltered, as it is, from the rising sun.

And in keeping with all those circles a few homemade hypertufa balls and glass balls from defunct outdoor lighting break up the expanse of gravel.

Lots of plants self sow in the gravel. Bluebonnets, larkspur, nigella in the spring and narrow leaf zinnias and gomphrenas in the fall.

All this rock clearly went to our heads because next David decided turn his hand to building a retaining wall where there had once been an ugly slope. You can just see the wall through the gate below.

No rock was too big for him to haul uphill from our "quarry" He estimates he moved several tons of rock. This area, outside our garden walls links the small Secret Garden with the English Garden. It is open to deer with no irrigation so a restricted planting.

And on garden does lead to another. Through the archway the sunken garden awaits our visitors.

I hope you will come back to read all about the rocks in there.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Someone asked me the other day if my gardening had slowed down now that winter was approaching. In fact, I would say it has ramped up considerably. There are hundreds of things to do. A delivery of trees from Tree Folks last week gave me an extra job in which I enlisted David's help. Tree Folks took a virtual look at my lot last year and decided I should plant these trees, part of the over 4500 trees they give out every year to Austin residents. Among them two oak trees a native persimmon and two flame leaf sumac.

There are few places on our lot where you don't hit ledge stone so we were pleasantly surprised to find a couple of spots where it was just small, easily removable rocks. These trees have to learn to live in what is here so no amendment, just a layer of compost over the top, a good soaking and some cedar mulch around the tree.
We have done very little work on the trees on most of our lot. There are so many horrible cedars and I have just been content to let them stay. But now we are starting to trim some of them up and remove the ugly ones and we are finding a number of persimmons growing in among the cedars.

Several weeks ago I bought several six packs of hardy annuals and potted them on into 4" pots awaiting the cooler weather. I do this every year.

It gives them a head start when planted in the ground or in pots. These hardy annuals add color to the winter garden and the bonus of the delightful fragrance of stocks, alyssum and petunias just outside the door.

I was also fortunate to be the recipient of some of the staging plants, left by Gardeners' Supply, when they were here filming their new pots for next year's catalogue.

I used some of these plants to change out the window box on the potting shed. I left the Mexican feather grass from the summer planting removing all the soil around them replenishing with fresh compost. I have had good success with ornamental cabbage in past years so I purchased 3, 4" pots and potted on into quart containers before they finally took their place in the window box.

Alyssum self sows in the garden and on winter days they are a magnet for the bees.

As often as not it will seed in the pathways and vegetable beds and there it stays.

I really wish summer would be over. It tries to leave for a day and then we are back in summer again. My problem is the need to get summer vegetables out of the ground so I can tidy up the beds for winter, whether or not they are planted with winter legs.
Despite the fact that many were still going strong I picked all the remaining peppers and butternut squash.

It's hard to believe that the butternut squash grew to this size in less than 2 months. When I added compost to the flower bed in the sunken garden a seed sprouted and produced these. It was trying to takeover the garden.

The peppers were sautéed and frozen in batches. The butternut squash still ripening in the kitchen.
It's good to see the beds empty again although I planted garlic in one of them and peas in another. For now I am spending the days trying to tidy up before we get the next frost.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Let us not forget on this day those who fought and those who lost their lives for our freedom.

Saturday, November 4, 2017


Gunpowder treason and plot,
Remember, remember the 5th of November,
Shall never be forgot.

So goes the rhyme that every schoolchild growing up in England learnt. It wasn't a pubic holiday, as it had once been, but it was a day with bonfires, fireworks, baked potatoes and treacle toffee. There will be no fireworks at this house but I shall enjoy my Gomphrena 'fireworks' in their place.

Despite having been in North America for 50 years we still remember that night in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his followers rolled tens of barrels of gunpowder into a rented cellar beneath the House of Lords, with a plan to blow up the King and all the Parliamentarians. It was another case of religious intolerance. Following the death of Elizabeth 1 it had been hoped that the new King, James 1, would have a more kindly attitude to the Catholic recusants. It was not to be and his soldiers combed the land searching for Catholic priests who might be hiding out in the large country houses of Catholic families. (We have seen many priest holes in these houses on our visits back to England). The plot was foiled when the cellars were searched after what seems to have been a tip off. Guy Fawkes was arrested, tortured until he gave up the names of all who had been involved in the plot, after which he was hanged, drawn and quartered.
As a child there would be a bonfire in every neighborhood any spare plot of land. We would go around gathering wood to build a big bonfire and then make an effigy of Guy Fawkes( it used to be one of the Pope) to place on the top. Some children would take the effigy in an old pram collecting money for fireworks. "Penny for the Guy" was the oft' heard cry.
Last night we watched a new production by BBC recounting the events prior to and after November 5th. Nothing was spared in their portrayal of the agonies the Catholics endured. There were a number of complaints to the BBC about the ghastly scenes. I don't think we understood as children what it was all about. We just knew he was a bad guy who tried to kill the king. We had no idea of the suffering and treatment the Catholics endured in order to practice their religion. I am now asking myself. Did Catholic children stay home on bonfire night?
But more importantly has anything changed in the world?

Saturday, October 21, 2017


My garden is beginning to signal that winter is on the way. Sometimes it seems as though it is never going to arrive  and when it does happen is is usually overnight with our first good frost. But there are subtle changes in the garden. The plants look more colorful because of cooler days and nights.

Among the whites and oranges of the narrow leaf daisies a new flower begins to bloom.

It is the Mexican mint marigold, Tagetes lucida.  The leaves make a good substitute for French tarragon, which cannot withstand our hot summers, and is therefore often called Spanish tarragon. This herbaceous perennial dies back during the winter but and spring and summer the plant is green, before bursting into flower in October. It flowers only where winter comes late to the garden.

Another late bloomer is the Philippine violet, Barleria sp. Pest free and seemingly no diseases it also dies back during winter but has been a reliable returner even giving me a few new plants from seed.

The orange cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus, has been in non-stop bloom throughout the summer. It is both heat, drought and pest resistant. I threw a few seeds into this bed less that a month ago and they are now flowering.

The citrus fruit are starting to ripen. The bitter Calamondin, which I make into marmalade. No other marmalade comes close to the tangy orange flavor of this fruit. Not even the Seville marmalade.

The Meyer lemon. The fruits aren't quite so big this year. Maybe because of our dry summer.

Rusty seedheads appearing on the dwarf papyrus, Cyperus papyrus.

Plants spill over the low wall completely covering the pathways. The last to flower will be the Copper Canyon daisy, Tagetes lemmonii.

There are changes among the succulents too.

Echeveria Devotion, Hana Bay flowerswith its velvety leaves takes on more color with the cooler nights. When I bought it it was like this and then lost most of its color during the summer. I am so happy to see it back again. It should enjoy being in the potting shed for the winter.

Kalanchoe thrysifola, the flapjack or paddle plant is also coloring up with the cooler nights. I am on the lookout for its cousin K. luciae, which gives more brilliant color during winter.

It is also the bloom season and several are starting to send up a boom stalk. The plant is monocarpic so these plants will die after flowering but leave plenty of pups behind.

Euphorbia lactea cristata form. Possibly Grey( white) ghost with cresting.

Today the heat and humidity are back again.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


My first thought when I scanned down the list of secret gardeners portrayed in Victoria Summerley's latest book, The Secret Gardeners, was, how many of these people do I know? It was only half. Then my second thought was. I am gardener and I visit the gardens of strangers all the time so what does it matter if I know them or not.

The book arrived on a rainy day, deposited outside my front gate, where it spent the night. Thank goodness the postal service had seen fit to put the box inside a plastic bag. It was well protected. I opened the box and could not resist a quick flick through. Wow! Gorgeous color photographs  and awe-inspiring gardens. I read the introduction in which Victoria tells how the book came to be and in her usual relaxed style answers some of the questions we might all be asking about the rich and famous and their gardens. Do they really garden, did they really have input in the design, do they have an army of gardeners doing all the work? I was soon to find that it was all of the above.
All of the gardens visited are in England and are the gardens of actors, writers, musicians and artists. Familiar names like Jeremy Irons, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Branson family and Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne. Every garden tells the story of the owners garden styles and hobbies, be it the miniature donkeys and Kunekune pigs kept by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and his wife Annette or the sculpture in the garden of Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Make no bones about the fact, these properties are often what I like to refer to as 'the country pile' large properties or estates, hidden from the outside world, which offer their owners an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It wouldn't matter what kind of gardener you were you would definitely need a gardener to take care of such a place. But it quickly becomes apparent that the owners were going to have plenty of input and many do spend a considerable time working in their gardens.

The photography by Hugo Rittson Thomas is plentiful and stunning and and Victoria's accounts of her visits are a pleasure to read. Alfred Austin once said, 'Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are' and I think that both writer and photographer have given us a little more insight into the lives of these well known people.

I was sent this book to review by the publishers, Frances Lincoln, and it has been a pleasure.

Victoria Summerley is and award winning journalist and garden blogger and the author of two other gardening books, Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds and Great Gardens of London.

Hugo Rittson Thomas is a leading portrait photographer and collaborated with Victoria on her previous books.

Monday, October 9, 2017


There are parts of my garden that are high on the list of neglect. This little corner of the front courtyard is one. You wouldn't think I would let it get that way because I glance at it every time I walk towards the bedroom, always muttering to myself something about having a good go out there. There are two trees that are either self or bird sown; a flowering senna and a yaupon holly. Both had become horribly overgrown and were in need of a really good prune. This past weekend I dealt with them.

I really hated to do too much pruning of the yaupon because it was loaded with berries, but have to admit to feeling much happier now I can, once again, see the birdbath.

The next job was to clean out all the dead leaves from the dry creek..

For years I balked at using one of those power blowers, but I now have to admit that using one makes reasonably quick work of cleaning the creek. I use either my foot or a piece of rebar to move the rocks around as I blow everything towards the house. Then I pick it up and deposit on the compost pile. All that noise of a few minutes certainly beats the laborious job of removing all the rocks in order to clean out the bed.

The next job involved removal of all the violets and seedling inland sea oats. What was I thinking when I bought a violet many years ago? I was thinking the England of my childhood with roadside banks filled with primroses and violets. They certainly weren't this kind. Pretty enough as a green clumping plant but rarely a true flower.

Instead hundreds of these cleistogamous flowers. That's a flower with no petals, self pollinating within the capsule and producing hundreds of seeds which go on to produce hundreds of plants. Enough! What would the world be like if all plants did this? It doesn't bear thinking about.

I have another plant that does the same thing. It is a native mallow with sweet little orange flowers when it chooses to flower and not produce those cleistogamous seed pods.

Mallow flower

Mallow, cleistogamous seed pods
A little pile of gravel which has been sitting on the driveway for nearly a year was used to refresh the area. I have treated this gravel like gold because it is brown pea gravel and not available in Austin. I wouldn't have used it only we are planning to go and get another load this coming weekend.

Strike one job of the list of hundreds.