Sunday, July 24, 2016


Let's face it, it is too hot to be out in the garden, in Texas, any time after noon. Sometimes even before that. But, there are plenty of garden projects to be getting on with. Some time ago I learned about making a garden trough out of a polystyrene box from the Hypertufa Gardener. I made one-a large one- which was a great success over the winter. It held petunias and then in late winter, potatoes. It now lies empty awaiting a fall planting, but it fared well through the winter outdoors and even in our 100º temperatures is holding up well. Time for another one. This time a much smaller box, seen below.

I'll spare you the details of how to do this project other than to say I found myself a shady spot outdoors for the roughing up of the surface and sealing with the barbecue lighter but then ventured inside for the painting.

For the complete method visit the Hypertufa Gardener link above or view my prior project here.  

This time I used only two craft paint colors, Dark Grey (Craftsmart) and Raw Umber (Americana). I think I prefer the darker color. I painted the whole box with the dark grey and then went back over using a stippling technique and blending the colors, sometimes completely and sometimes roughly. I am pleased with the effect it gives.

The whole project took only 2hrs from start to finish. The most difficult part is getting the color right followed by deciding what to plant. I wish I could plant alpines but that isn't going to work in Texas. Plus, in mid July I wasn't willing to risk buying any new plants so I had to go shopping in my own garden.

Echeveria, topsy turvy, Kalanchoe, flapjack plant, Aloe variegata, partridge breast.
 Even this needs to be kept in a place where it receives afternoon shade, so cannot be on display where I would like it to be. All my cactus and succulents in pots are on their summer holiday under the shade of the patio. No sun after 12 noon. Unlike the troughs we saw at Holehird Gardens, in England. Hewn from solid rock by patient hands and weathered by time the mild climate allows them to be placed in exposed places.

Troughs at Holehird garden, Lake District, England
Maybe when this infernal heat moderates I will be able to put my troughs in my English Garden.

Friday, July 22, 2016


I didn't think I was being particularly creative when I came up with the name Rock Rose for my blog. Now suddenly I am finding the name popping up all over the place. But to find it in far north of Scotland was really quite a surprise. We were spending the night in John O' Groats, at the northern tip of Scotland, and leaving our dinner venue I spotted this sign on the door.

We didn't go to Scotland to buy whiskey......

 and we didn't go to drink whiskey...

 but we were certainly going to the Rock Rose distillery. And so the next day we pulled into the parking lot at the Dunnet Bay Distillery.

 My eyes turned immediately to the rock garden. When you have angular rocks like this it isn't the easiest thing to create a natural looking rock garden but the plants can make up for the difference. Eventually they will fill in and hide the sharp contours.

 Then we headed for the building, my eyes catching sight of the bottle of Rock Rose gin in the window.

 Stepping inside we met Martin who calls himself 'The Brains' of the business. Martin is a trained chemical engineer who gave up his position in the oil and gas industry to live in this faraway corner of Caithness and start a new career in distilling.
He has working alongside him several family members; Claire, his wife, his father and Claire's mother along with several others including Dr Hanna, the gardener. A real family affair.

We weren't able to take a full tour of the distillery because they were operating but I could stand to one side and get a good look at Elizabeth, the copper still.

And a few of the ingredients that are infused into the gin to make it Rock Rose. Among them, Rose Root, Rhodiola rosea, Juniper berry, sea buckthorn, rowan berries, blaeberries, cardamon, coriander and verbena. It took 18 months and 55 experiments to come up with the right combination of herbs.

Of course I wasn't going to leave here without a bottle of gin,

 a packet of the gin shortbread biscuits

 and David insisted on getting this. It is made from an old whiskey barrel stave.

Yesterday I hung it on the beam above the patio. The perfect spot protected from the elements.

We certainly enjoyed our visit to this distillery; the shortbread was delicious, the gin is yet to be tasted and I love my Rock Rose whiskey stave.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


This year, in planning our visit back home, I made sure The Beth Chatto Gardens were on our itinerary. Our first 4 nights we would be in Cambridge for the Bumps rowing races which take place every evening. The days were free for me to plan some garden visits. Day number one was a 64 mile drive to The Beth Chatto Garden near Colchester, Essex. There are five gardens, the Gravel Garden, the Scree Garden, the Reservoir Garden, the Woodland Garden and the Water Gardens. I think most people associate Beht Chatto's garden with her gravel garden but you can see on the plan that it covers only a small part of the total garden.

When Beth Chatto and her husband built their house in 1960 much of the surrounding area was  overgrown with poor gravelly soil, along with some boggy areas in the lower levels of the land. The two gardens which support dry plants are the Gravel Garden and the Scree garden which were more recent additions beginning in 1991. As this part of the country has one of the lowest levels of rainfall, with an average of 20" a year,  it made sense to use plants adapted to such drier conditions.

The Gravel Garden

Just inside the entrance and through a gap in a high hedge is the former parking lot. It had been grass -covered but the grass burnt to brown every summer and the underlying soil compacted by cars. Surely something better could be done with the land? It was ripe for a horticultural experiment in the form of a gravel garden.  But it is not to say that they didn't amend the existing soil. Home-made compost, mushroom compost  and bonfire waste were added and tilled in to a depth of 4' to help establish the plants. Which plants would survive without addition irrigation and with the soil conditions of the area? There were failures but judging by what we saw, over time the plants grown are happy with both climate and soil conditions. Plants in generous beds spill over onto the wide gravel walkways which snake through the area. All the plants here demand really good drainage which they get from the naturally occurring 15' of gravel and sand which lie beneath the surface.

The house sits high in the garden and we were sure we caught a glimpse of Beth Chatto, who is now 94,  in the window. I am sure she was enjoying the visitors as they made their way through the lower gardens as much as we were enjoying the garden. Although the main steps up to the house were barred to visitors there were other steps which led up to the side of the house to the Scree Garden.

The Scree Garden 

Side pathway up to the Scree Garden

The scree beds are surrounded by low stone walls. The plantings are the smaller succulents and alpine plants which would quickly become overshadowed in the lower Gravel Garden.

You can see David walking away from the garden. David has always preferred the woodland gardens and he was heading to the more lush areas like the Water Garden and The Long Shady Walk. But these dry gardens are my favorite.

The greenhouses separate the gardens from the nursery.

Beth Chatto's private collection of succulents.

What a wonderful view she has from the windows of her house looking down into the Water Garden.

Even with such low rainfall plants stay lush and green. As this place clearly catches any rainfall the ground is naturally more moist.

The Long Shady Walk
But even in a garden that looks complete work has started on the remaking of the Reservoir Garden. The three original beds are being merged into one. It will have meandering pathways and will be planted with mainly herbaceous perennials and grasses set among selected trees and evergreen shrubs for winter interest. In Beth Chatto's words 'A garden is not like a picture hanging on the wall; it is never static and will constantly change over time'

Soil amendment in the Reservoir Garden
 No visit to a garden is ever complete without a visit to the nursery and the Chatto gardens have one of the best I have ever visited. Their organization of plants is without fault making it very easy to find not only plants suitable for your growing conditions but the actual plants.

Plants organized according to soil and sun/shade and in alphabetical order.

It would have been nice to visit the cafe but it was time to move on. We still had to visit Flatford and Sutton Hoo before returning to Cambridge.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Why is it that I can spend 5 weeks in Great Britain visiting gardens and countryside and think that I will be returning to something remotely similar at home? It is a fantasy world I get caught up in and despite having been into fantasy land many times before the reality of this doesn't dawn until we open the gate and I take a look at what is waiting for me.
It has been a wonderful trip and I wouldn't give up one moment of it but now I must face the inevitable. 5 weeks with no rain, temperatures ranging between 90-100º and a drip irrigation system that is worse than useless.

Many plants are dried to a crisp and much is overgrown. We arrived home at 5:30pm so there was time to walk around and take it all in. The pathways are in their usual state....a machete would be a good tool. Everything is crying out 'Water me, water me' In the moment I don't have words so I just go inside and put the kettle on. The British answer to every crisis. I don't even want to look at the two lovely garden magazines I brought home and there is the Hampton Court Flower Show to catch up on................but not for a while.

By morning I am in my 'get out there and get it sorted out mode'. There is work to be done and surely there will be a few nice surprises. The plumeria is blooming. A cutting given to me by Austin Agrodolce. My spirits are already lifting.

And, among the crispy dried leaves, there are butternut squash. So it really worked to cover the plants with those net onion bags. And tomatoes-that is really a surprise. I shall call this my Texas trug.

I begin watering and pulling out. Three big bins in one morning....but morning is the only time I can work outside as the temperatures soar by noon. Then it is time to go inside and download the photos and maybe do a little more dreaming. These are the places we visited this year as we covered 3000 miles around England and Scotland. I'm sure I will be sharing some of these wonderful places over the coming months.
For now I am am back to dreaming a little.

Paycockes- A 16thC house and garden of a wealthy cloth merchant. NT
Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden
Sutton Hoo- Viking burial site and treasure hoard. NT
Flatford Village-Constable country where he painted Flatford Mill NT
East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens. Gardens created by Alan Gray and Graham Robeson
Felbrigg Hall Walled Garden. NT
Cambridge University-Pembroke and Kings College
Grandchester -The church and Orchard Tea Rooms
Peckover House-Quaker home and gardens NT
Scampston Walled Garden-Piet Oudolf
Wallington House and Gardens NT
Cragside House NT
Alnwick Gardens
Dunstanburgh Castle NT
Bamburgh Castle
Lindisfarne Island and Gertrude Jekyll garden NT
Spey River(fishing) Craigellachie Iron Bridge(Thomas Telford) and Glenfiddich distillery.
John O' Groats. Duncansby Stacks and Sclaites Geo.
Isle of Skye-Quiraing
Isle of Mull
Inverewe Garden NTS
Treshnish Isles(puffins) and Fingall's Cave
Acorn Bank and Garden NT
Wordsworth's House NT
Hill Top Farm-Beatrix Potter's House NT
Beatrix Potter Gallery  Hawkeshead NT
Sizerg Castle NT
Holehird Gardens- Lakeland Horticultural Society
Rufford Old Hall NT
Tatton Park NT
Hidcote NT
Snowshill NT
Suddeley Castle,
Awkward Hill- Victoria Summerley
Barnsley House Garden-Rosemary Verey. Thanks to Victoria Summerley
Greys Court NT