Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A NEW APPRECIATION OF OLD TREE STUMPS

With news of the California wildfires on everyone's minds I am reminded that a serious wildfire passed through our lot in the 1950s. It was long before there was any development here, when only rough tracks ran through the acres of ranch land. It burnt cedar and oak to the ground leaving only their burnt-out stumps. In the past we have often re-burnt the stumps that were left in our fireplace. They burn really well and are long lasting.
This one was completely destroyed.


And yet only one side of this tree was burnt.


While rooting around on the lot a couple of weeks ago I picked up several smaller stumps, now bleached white by the sun, but still bearing the charred marks of that fire.  Rather like old pieces of driftwood they had character. I had already used one as a perch for a ceramic anole in one of my hypertufa troughs.



Maybe I could do something more useful with them. Maybe drill out a place to plant a small succulent. I was thinking of using the succulent that Matt Shreve gave me when we visited his gorgeous cactus and succulent garden.
Drilling out that hole was easier said than done. My first attempt resulted in the wood slamming against my ankle and tearing off some flesh. I called on David for assistance. I don't know if our drill bits are just dull or this wood is fearfully hard. The wood was smoking! In the end we managed a big enough hole to plant the succulent. I hope it likes tight spaces.



Now more more drilling and more succulent planting.


I am also gathering up a pile of larger stumps and thinking of making a small stumpery in the woods.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

FEELING WARM AND COZY?

I'll bet the little mouse was warm as he snuggled down for the winter in my car. He probably enjoyed the odd ride out and about as I drove him here there and everywhere, in style, maybe even as far as Dallas on occasion.


David found it purely two nests purely accident. I was complaining about a strange sound coming from the steering; a sort of whining sound. After I did a little research on possible causes I decided it was either transmission or steering related. David checked the steering fluid. It was low. He then went to check the transmission fluid and came across this mass of finely shredded material. Among it a few acorns, a paper napkin, some finely shredded pieces of one of my frost cloths. But the bulk seemed to be a pale colored insulation. I recalled how some years ago I had had to replace the insulation on the hood of the car. Is that were it went? Or had he removed it from the walls.
We decided that the nests were old ones. No scurrying sounds or the hasty retreat of a mouse. Maybe made some years ago so I am not packing him off into the cold. If he is still around he has probably found another cozy corner in some other part of the garage. Once time, it was in the back of a refrigerator-long gone. Then there was the mouse that shredded all the top fuzzy material from a self watering tray. He then made a nest in a plant pot on the shelf. Industrious little devils but I have to say I don't like them doing their business in the corners of the wall and they are also carriers of the Hanta virus, so we don't encourage them to come inside the garage.
If anyone has not seen the movie Mousehunt I thought it was good for a laugh, although it didn't get the best ratings.

Friday, December 8, 2017

BRRR!

What do I, as a gardener, dread most of all? When the weather forecaster says that the temperatures will drop below freezing. Living as I do in zone 8b it is just too tempting to grow plants that do well in Zone 9 and 10. Further more we live just west of the city, where temperatures are frequently about 5 º colder due to fewer roads and buildings. And we live on the slope of a hill where frost rolls down into a frost pocket. It doesn't deter!


I think we all knew we were in for a cold blast last night but the precipitation was a surprise. The chatter of my gardening friends on Facebook was as though no-one had ever seen snow before. It's pretty, yes, but listening to our pool pump at 4 pm really did have me worried and rightly so. This morning there was solid ice on the birdbath. Or at least one of the 4 that are positioned in different spots around the garden.


A weather event like this is a good time to take a walk around the garden and make a note of different microclimates. All the other birdbaths had ice on them but just a thin layer, easily broken with the tap of my finger. Those areas of the garden don't get quite as cold. One is closer to the house and another, even in a place that gets no sun, is sheltered by a high wall. These are places to plant marginal plants for your zone. I risk some marginal plants in these areas-the rest have to be protected in some way.
Most of the snow had melted by the time I got out there this morning.



The greenhouse, potting shed and garage are packed to to the gills. I added a shelf this year when I came across the 4 supports for the spare window box. They were easy to attach to the wall and a piece of wood, painted makes for a sturdy shelf-and more room for plants. In the greenhouse the sides are ringed with gallon jugs of water. A small heater keeps the temperatures above freezing.


More tender plants go in the potting shed. All the citrus are in there.


Brugmansias, plumerias and various cactus and agaves are in the garage.


And something is out in the cold. It's been a long time since we had to run a car to get the ice off the windscreen. The snow, falling on warm surfaces and then freezing made for an icy sheet.


And a few came into the house. They were the ones that were on the patio near to the doors.



Lots of blankets and blankets covering outdoor plants. Last year I purchased these from Gardeners' Supply using them in the early spring.  I am really happy with them. They fold flat for storage and seem to be quite sturdy. An early planing of peas were covered with one last night. They come on packs of three and you can browse their season extenders here.


The top on this model unzip for flat folding.



I have a multitude of covers, all picked up at garage sales, from packing blankets to the real thing. Most of them were out last night.

One of the things I didn't think about was the two small fish and water lily ponds. Both were iced this morning. I am concerned about the fish in there. I boiled up some water and added hoping the fish would come to life so zi can see if they survived. Later this afternoon I will empty the containers and transfer the fish to the large tank which has a fountain. I hope I won't be starting a war.

Another 2 nights until we are in the clear but at least the sun is shining today. Some damage takes a few days to show up so I will be out checking over the next couple of days and recovering again tonight.

But what are a few frozen plants when so many have last everything they own. I am thinking of all those folks in the fire-stricken areas of California. So sad for the residents, birds, animals and plants. Hopefully the winds will die down and the firefighters will manage to control a further spread.

Monday, December 4, 2017

AT LAST A FOGGY DAY

There was a welcome change in the weather today. After weeks of rainless, sunny skies we woke up to a foggy morning. Water, from our metal roof, is dripping into my empty stock tanks. Maybe we will get some rain this week. The garden loves this moisture laden air and I love it too because I have things to do in the house in preparation for Christmas.


I had some friends over the other evening and served these little cookies.


They were quite a hit, with requests for the recipe. So I decided to share the recipe and method on my blog. The original recipe is from an English cookbook called Cooking for Company, hence the weight measurements, and is for brandy snaps, those delicious, crispy gingery rolls.


But the recipe is very versatile; leave out the ginger and make the little wafers trimmed with chocolate and chopped almonds, or make a lacy basket which can be filled with fruit. Serve them with ice-cream or as a tea-time treat. You are sure to have all the ingredients in your pantry.

2oz butter (half stick)
3oz castor sugar(our US sugar is just fine)
2oz Lyles Golden Syrup ( substitute 2T of light corn syrup)
2oz plain flour ( heaping 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp ground ginger ( leave out if you prefer when making the wafers)

Preheat oven to 350º
Spray cookie sheets

In a small saucepan heat butter, sugar and syrup on a low heat until melted. Remove from the heat and add sifted flour and mix well until combined. Take half teaspoons of the mixture and drop onto the cookie sheet, spacing well apart. Pat down with fingers to spread. No need to make them too exact. The larger you make them the more room you must leave to spread.


Place in oven. They will start to spread hence the reason for giving them plenty of room.


Keep a watchful eye on them and remove as soon as they turn a golden color.


Don't worry if they run into each other. Just take a knife and separate them while they are still soft.


In order to remove them from the sheet have a palette knife handy. You have to wait a little until they cool. Test by sliding the knife underneath one corner. I like to release all the cookies as soon as possible and then wait a little before transferring them to a wire rack. You can always put the rack back in the oven to soften again if you have trouble. Someone asked me if you could use a silpat sheet. I would give it a test try to see how easily they come off before doing a whole batch. Let me know if you try using the silpat- I might treat myself.

Once cooled, decorate them with melted chocolate and chopped nuts. Pop into the fridge to harden the chocolate before storing in a tin.



I made a double batch this time and boxed them to take to our little neighborhood gathering tomorrow evening.


To make the brandy snaps, just add ginger with the flour, bake the same way and with the cookies still pliable, wrap carefully around a wooden spoon or dowel. You will probably need to pop back in the oven several times to keep the cookies pliable. To make the fruit baskets make a larger cookie and while soft place over a glass and bend into shape. Your guests are sure love these dessert treats and they make a great hostess gift.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

HOW PAST AND PRESENT INFLUENCE YOUR GARDEN STYLE

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

A ZILLION JOBS TO DO

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.