‘Lilac Wonder’ Tulips

We can’t grow lilacs in these parts, and tulips are often iffy. But these little ‘Lilac Wonder’ tulips (Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’) look promising in their first season.


I planted the bulbs last fall, and was thrilled when the first blossoms peeked above the ground a few weeks ago.


I was surprised to see the blossoms hugging the ground when they opened. They’re demure –  nothing like a big Holland tulip – but they’re cheerful and they are hopefully not one-shot wonders. Becky at the Arbor Gate says hers naturalized.


This week, they grew legs.


A first-year garden is kind of a pitiful thing, all that mulch still visible; but this is a good start.


Leafing out


Everywhere we look, spring is springing.  From the first leaves of the newly-planted fig tree, discovered first by a small spider who’s already using it for a web, to the buds on “Lady Banks,” an old rose treasure that came with the property. (She will be moved slightly closer to the Parthadon after she blooms so that she can be properly wrapped around the porch post and scramble up to the roof.)

The trees are looking especially glorious in the glow of early morning and late evening, their barely-there new leaves aglow amid the sculptural outlines of twigs and branches that will soon be obscured. It’s their lacy moment.


“Lady Banks” rose is named for Dorothea Huggesen Banks (1758-1828), the wife of Sir Joseph Banks. They were patrons of plant hunter Robert Brown, who brought them the rose from China.buddingThe Texas persimmon coming on.SycamoreSunsetA neighbor’s sycamore, viewed from our back yard, lights up just before sunset.

Orange blossom special


It was a perfect evening for dinner on the deck. Birds chirping, more types than we could count. Divine early spring temperature with no breeze, yet the scent of something sweet wafted towards us.


OMG, it was the Seville orange! Buds! Flowers! And the top half of this year’s bumper crop still on the tree. It looks like I will have to go into the marmalade business next winter.

Pint-size spring

'Grand Primo' Narcissus

‘Grand Primo’ Narcissus

First out of the ground this spring, from the variety of bulbs I planted in the fall in the new beds out front: the heirloom ‘Grand Primo’ narcissus from Southern Bulb Company. What they lack in flower size they more than compensate for in personality – absolutely luscious little cups erect above the creamy white petals. Each one reminds me of a tiny bird with its mouth gaping open, waiting to be fed – except in this case they’re just drinking in the pleasures of the season.


Mrs. Schillers Dwarf Viburnum obovatum

In the back, we’re getting a start on the white garden with Mrs. Schillers Dwarf Viburnum obovatum, a small shrub – still only about two feet tall – I happened upon last fall at the Arbor Gate. It has exploded in the last week with small white flowers. Note to self: Buy more!

Cedar waxwings


A flock of cedar waxwings visited last week.

The winds are blowing from the south one day, the north the next, a phenomenon of late winter-early spring that seems to mirror my city girl vs. country girl identity crisis.

It’s also bringing birds.

One of the things I loved most about our house in the city was the way in late winter, just for a day or two, a flock of cedar waxwings visited. They’re like a party of masqueraders with that band of black across their eyes and those tufts on their heads that make them seem like they’re always racing forward, head into the wind.

The first time they came, I heard them before I saw them: a quiet but insistent chorus of little chirps. It was a clear morning but it also sounded like rain. I looked up into the big water oak in our backyard, saw a sea of buttery-yellow bird bellies and realized they were raining blue-black berry poop all over the patio. A very small price to pay for the sight. (The Mr., of course, has hated them ever since.)

They loved the cherry laurel near that spot, technically a neighbor’s tree. The neighbors built some kind of pavilion thing back there and the tree died, but the birds came looking for berries anyway for a couple of years. Once, a baby flew into the large windows of my studio and landed in a potted ‘Cecile Brunner’ rose, where it was speared by a small thorny twig.

Horrifying. And yet, how else are you going to get so close?

It wasn’t dead, but it was stunned, and I picked it up. Birds weigh NOTHING. I pulled the twig out, set it on the ground and left it alone. When I went back to check on it later, it was gone, hopefully recovered and not devoured by something.

So imagine my surprise last week, on a cold, clear morning, to hear a familiar peeping as I bundled up on the deck with a cup of tea. Of course it made perfect sense! We have three cherry laurels, two of which tower above the house.

The flock swooped back and forth between the cherry laurels and a fine vantage point from the top of our big, bare pecan.

Okay, winds of change; life in the country is good.

Adios, Garden Design

On a rare day off when I should be outside pulling weeds, I am doing some long overdue catching up with the online gardening community. One of the first stops on that itinerary is always Garden Rant, where Elizabeth Licata reports that Garden Design magazine’s April issue will be its last.

I used to devour that magazine every month – stop everything and head to the couch when it arrived, and read it cover-to-cover. I say used to, as in the 1990s, when every issue was a surprise of gorgeous design and plant porn. Rarely usable in my own little garden, which was only half the size of the one I’m starting now, but inspiring nonetheless.

Even though I stopped reading it some time ago, I’d saved years’ worth of back issues in those silly plastic holders you buy at Office Depot. They were organized for quick reference. I don’t recall ever actually using them until right after we sold the Houston house, when I had to make some serious decisions about what to keep and what could go.

I couldn’t part with the back pages that offered excerpts of classic gardening books, so I tore a bunch of those out and put them in a folder. Who knows where that folder is now – somewhere between here and a box in The Abominable Storage Unit.

The young couple that bought our Houston house wanted it partly for the garden, so I left them a few of the best, most appropriate issues. The rest went, finally, to recycling.


But I didn’t let go of the many books those pages led me to – including Eleanor Perenyi’s Green Thoughts – A Writer in the Garden (an all-time favorite, always on my nightstand), Russell Page’s The Education of a Gardener, Elizabeth Lawrence’s The Little Bulbs – A Tale of Two Gardens and William Bartram’s Travels.

Separation anxiety


Here’s the thing about poppy seeds, or any other tiny seeds for that matter, if you are lazyish like me and sprinkle them into the soil to fend for themselves: They grow. And then, like a roomful of bickering children, they must be separated.

I have trouble throwing out bubble wrap and used tissue paper. You think I can toss dozens – hundreds – of living, green things with healthy roots?


You must, my neighbor Judy said, watching me today as I tried to perform surgery on the poppies that have sprouted in the ‘Martha Gonzales’ beds out front. I’m blaming my other neighbor, Betty, who presented me last fall with a harmless-looking little vial of seeds from Wildseed Farms out near Fredricksburg.

A week or two ago I painstakingly separated two flats’ worth for my friend Suzanne. But it looks like I have enough to cover a small field. I know, I know – keep the strong ones, toss the rest. I went on the attack again today and spread out several dozen in front of the roses.

This was probably not a good idea. I just hope they’re the orange ones.

Goodbye, little seedlings.

Goodbye, little seedlings.

Branching Out


There’ve been times in the past seven months I’ve wondered about my sanity. It’s not the reduction in square footage but this whole notion of figuring out where, exactly, we belong. It usually hits when I have to get in the car to drive to work in Houston, which is about an hour and 15 minutes door-to-door. I have never lived more than 15 minutes away from work before, and I abhor freeways.

But on mild winter evenings like this, eating dinner on the deck out here in Blue Bell Country, it all seems worth it. Our old pecan tree isn’t all that beautifully shaped, really; it leans to the north almost precariously, while behind it in a neighbor’s yard grows a perfectly symmetrical big live oak. But both are at their deciduous, ferny-looking best just before sunset this time of year, every branch silhouetted black like the fans of delicate corals in a sea of cornflower blue sky.

Squirrels are still scurrying across their branches, and the mockingbirds are chirping their last calls before morning.

An Orange New Year

The Batch 2 labels.

Weeks have passed. The holidays are long gone. But the cheer of oranges dangling from the trees continues, and yet another large bag of plucked beauties awaits processing.

Oranges on tree

One of the first lessons learned from the Great Marmalade Experiment of 2012, which has segued into the Continuing Marmalade Experiment of 2013, is that you only need 5-8 oranges to brew up a dozen small jars. I haven’t counted the fruit on our two trees, but it looks like enough to start a business. Even after my friend Jean came and took some.

OnLadderAfter a very cold week to start the year, the weather has been warmish most of this month. Ripe oranges are beginning to fall from the tree and roll across the driveway or into garden beds. I could just harvest them, chop them up and call it compost, now that we’ve installed an Envirocycle bin out by the back fence, and it’s hungry. But then I wouldn’t have all this good raised-Catholic guilt hanging over me.

My friend Suzanne brought another friend over to help  me scrape and julienne the first batch using a recipe I found online.  Work intervened before the job was finished, so I hauled pots, jars and liquidy stuff to the Houston apartment — even smaller than this one! – to finish.

A zen personality helps when it comes to the julienning.

I cut up a tin foil tray to make a “rack” so the jars wouldn’t burst. I sterilized the jars in the dishwasher. I used a soup ladle to transfer the soupy liquid to the jars and wasn’t very exacting about filling to 1/4 inch of the rims. I was sure, when that stage finally arrived, that I had produced not marmalade, but some very pretty orange syrup.

But miracle of miracles, those gratifying little “pops” followed, a sign the lids had sealed. And the next morning the liquid had set beautifully into a clear marmalade.

My first batch. No one has died.

My first batch.

I took a jar to work with warm scones, and my friend Greg, the food editor, rewarded me with Elizabeth Field’s pretty book. It has, among many other types of marmalades, at least four recipes for using Seville oranges. Eye-opening. Mouth watering.

Elizabeth Field's new book is full of inspiration.

Elizabeth Field’s new book is full of inspiration.

Given our small kitchen, I am supposed to be on gadget lockdown. But the full trees outside (or did someone say “fool” trees?) justified the purchase of some marmalade-making tools. Into the already-full cabinets came Oxo’s Good Grips 5-lb. digital scale (partly because it’s flat and easy to store), a Progressive “essentials” set including a one-handed jar lifter (who knew there was such a thing?), a canning funnel (designed to fit over jar lids, with measurement lines) and a lid lifter (a plastic stick with a magnet on the end). I stopped short of buying a rack – the cut-up tinfoil worked just fine.

The newest book from the Baker Creek Seed Company folks has a great primer on canning.

The newest book from the Baker Creek Seed Company folks has a great primer on canning.

Jere and Emilee Gettle’s new The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook also arrived serendipitously. No marmalade recipes but an excellent primer on canning. It made me manic about checking to make sure jars aren’t chipped.

Batch 2, Field’s Whole-Fruit Seville Orange Marmalade, was easier to make – it eliminates the peel scraping – but resulted in a cloudier marmalade.

Oranges, a lemon and a ton of sugar are all you need to make an excellent marmalade, but I couldn’t resist getting a little fancier with Batch 3, Field’s Aromatic Orange-Apple-Ginger Marmalade. The most labor-intensive of all but Mr. Glentzer’s favorite to date.

Banner Day 12.27.12

Noticed today in the Brenham Banner-Press:

“Today’s Verse,” from Ecclesiastes 5:19, moved to the bottom of Page 1, where it appeared underneath “Today’s Thought,” a quote from Sir James Matthew Barrie, the Scottish dramatist actor who wrote “Peter Pan”: “I’m not young enough to know everything.”

From the lead story on the fifth annual ‘Koledy Polskie,” a Polish caroling celebration that dates to the 14th century, coming Saturday in Chappell Hill: “Participants are also encouraged to dress in nativity costumes. ‘However, you do not have to have anything elaborate or fancy,’ said Mazurkiewicz. ‘You may dress as a beggar, an angel, a shepherd, a devil, St. Nickolas, a wise man and/or make a homemade costume.'”