apple tree and sheep at Hidcote Manor Garden
I don’t remember ever seeing an apple tree in bloom; I’ve never lived anywhere cold enough for apple trees.

May 29th, 2006
Alien Landscape

I’ve always thought that one weakness of a lot of science fiction is that the imagination of writers and movie makers just can’t compete with the variety of plants and landscapes we encounter right here on planet Earth.

A May day in England left me literally speechless; I didn’t have the words to describe what I saw all around me. I pressed the natives to translate.

“What’s that bush we saw on the way in from the airport–covered with golden yellow flowers?”
“What? The gorse bush?” (Update: considered an invasive weed in North America, gorse is dangerously inflammable. Planting gorse in drought-stricken Texas would be a bad idea.)

“Wow! Those azaleas look like they’re on steroids.”
“Oh. You mean the rhododendron?”

Even my transplanted husband, who swears he can’t remember the crape myrtle in our own backyard, seemed to be an expert on his native flora. As we drove from Cheshire to Gloucestershire the untrimmed hedgerows were covered in white flowers, looking like monster sprays of spiraea. Remembering my own sad spiraea, I was impressed. “No.” AJM corrected. “That’s hawthorn.” (Update: Both are members of the rose family, so perhaps my confusion isn’t completely laughable.) He also knew cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) which looks like a giant cousin of our hedge parsley (Torilis arvensis) I wondered if it shares the same nasty seeds that stick to your socks when you walk through it. Although we Texans consider hedge parsley to be a rank week, in the UK it has its own Biodiversity Action Plan. Take mine! Please.

I was amazed by the huge broad-leafed trees we saw in flower everywhere–panicles of white flowers with red spots. “Horse chestnuts.” Then I remembered that I had seen the tree before in New York, after the chestnuts had fallen and AJM and SAM gathered them to make conkers.

Wardens Way
A horse chestnut tree on Wardens Way between Upper and Lower Slaughter. Watch out for the nettles!

At Hidcote Manor Garden, I suddenly caught a whiff of Texas. I stood still a moment, sniffing. Skunk? We looked around. I brushed against some large leafed plants growing in water. So this is skunk cabbage.

I recognized some things from books and movies: lilacs (Nancy Drew: The Mystery at Lilac Inn), English bluebells (Howards End), and laburnum (any book on Rosemary Verey’s garden at Barnsley House in the Cotswolds). And now I know the shade of blue named for forget-me-nots.

I fell in love with the laburnum which, to my mind, look like yellow wisteria trees. I succumbed to the temptation that every garden explorer feels; I wanted to bring it home with me. No matter how sensible we know it is to plant native plants in our gardens, who can resist the lure of all these unusual beauties? I rationalize: the laburnum is growing in the same gardens as wisteria; I grow wisteria; shouldn’t I be able to grow laburnum?

English bluebells
English bluebells in a field of bracken.

I was inspired by the specimens of old wisteria, carefully trained to frame the front doors of many a Cotswold cottage. Many of these houses have tiny front gardens, yet the owners managed stunning abundance of flowers by thinking vertically. My own house is sheathed in limestone which is very close in color to the creamy oolitic limestone characteristic of the Cotwolds. Now that we’ve trimmed back the cedar elms in the front, the area by the door gets full sun most of the year. Hmmm. A perfect spot for another wisteria.

Inspiring wisteria growing in Broadway.

I was thrilled to see some old friends. I don’t think there’s a tree I love more than copper beech. I might try planting some purple-leafed ornamental plum trees just to remind me of my true love.

I’m always delighted by the chrome yellow fields of rape blossom.

rape blossom
Stunning fields of rape blossom on the rode from Moreton-in-Marsh to Oxford.

And I remembered the nettles from our previous visit. You have to meet a nettle only once and it will sear itself into memory.

Hidcote Manor Garden
2006-05-21. The rain meant we had the garden almost to ourselves but we weren’t able to linger as we might if the weather had been sunnier.

May 21st, 2006
Hidcote Manor Garden

Rain was falling on and off as we snaked along winding back roads through picturesque Cotswolds villages on our way to Hidcote Manor Garden. A covey of Japanese tourists flitting across the street in Chipping Campden was the first hint of the international popularity of Hidcote, which has been called one of the most influential gardens of the 20th century. Why? Despite its 10 acres, Hidcote is an extremely intimate garden. Lawrence Johnston created a series of small garden rooms, each with a unique character which comes into full bloom at varying times of the season. This garden room approach to design was adopted by Sissinghurst and Tintinhull.

As you step into the garden, the view of the whole is cut off by tall hedges. The first room we entered was the White Garden. The layout is small enough to fit in my back yard. Of course, I could never grow hedges like these in Texas and, if I could, I’d need an army of garden helpers with clippers to keep them looking this neat. I’ve seen many photographs of the White Garden and have to say that during our visit the flowers looked sadly beaten down by the rain. Even the best gardens have less than perfect days. The tulips and daffodils were mostly finished, anyway, and the roses (“Gruss an Aachen” which I had before the drought killed it) hadn’t begun blooming yet.

Hidcote Manor Garden
In the White Garden AJM examines the map of the garden and is surprised to discover that it just “goes on and on”.

The White Garden has an exit through the hedges on each side of the square which gave me the feeling of playing a video game as we tried to decide which way to go. We circled around several times trying to take it all in before heading through the Old Garden (which had an exuberant cottage garden feel), through the Circle (a restful circle of perfect lawn), and then down through the Fuchsia Garden (formal maze).

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Fuchsia Garden manages to look nice even when the Spanish bluebell (?) bulbs have died down. Knot gardens (aka parterres) became fashionable when people realized that the hedges used to line their borders could be just as interesting as flowers and a more reliable element in the design.

From the Fuchsia Garden, topiary birds guard the entrance to the Bathing Pool Garden (classically formal and elegant) which in turn leads to the Upper Stream Garden (semi-wild). What a place to play hide-and-seek!

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Upper Stream Garden.

We walked up to one of my favorite views, the Winter Garden. I think I liked it because it felt so open after the smaller garden rooms. This contrast between open and intimate, formal and informal, and of colors and textures is the genius of Hidcote.

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Winter Garden.

Running parallel to the Winter Garden is the Red Border. I really liked the color choices in this garden…all the maroon-toned leaves were a relief after the intense English greens.

Hidcote Manor Garden
In the Red Border clumps of red-toned trees and shrubbery contrast against the angular green lawn and hedges.

Just as Hidcote’s maze of garden rooms starts to become a little claustrophobic, the Long Walk suddenly provides a vista.

Hidcote Manor Garden
The Long Walk and its hornbeam hedges.

And still the garden goes on. We cross over to the famous Theatre Lawn, which is supposed to highlight a single beech on its stage. We didn’t see it though. Has the beech died? Then we went on through the Pine Garden and Lily Pool, took shelter in the Plant House, and continued down the Rose Walk which didn’t have any roses. Instead large purple alliums were in bloom, and so many other purple flowers that I would have called it the Purple Border.

I’m sorry to say that our interest flagged in the rain. There is simply too much to absorb in one visit–29 different gardens. I think we focused mostly on the layout of each garden and how they were interconnected rather than the individual plants. This is a shame because Lawrence Johnston is remembered mostly as an avid plant collector. Apparently he did not have a master design for the whole, but created different spaces, such as the Maple Garden, to highlight different collections.

We did see the odd handkerchief tree (Davidia involocrata) in the courtyard whose white bracts make it look as if someone has tied a thousand large white handkerchiefs to its branches. I also saw a Mahonia, which grows in Texas, and a magnolia where the white flowers drooped down rather than up. Some of the collection is labeled, but many plants that I wanted to know more about weren’t.

By the end we were all flowered out. As we drove away, feeling tired but satisfied, the sun came out.

“Projections from computer simulations indicate that 100 million mature trees in United States cities (three trees for every two homes) could reduce annual energy use by 30000 million kWh (25800 million kcal), saving about US$2000 million in energy costs (Huang et al., 1987). Avoided investment in new power supplies and an estimated 9 million tonnes (8165 million kg) annual reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants could augment these savings considerably. Even when the costs of planting, watering and maintaining trees are considered, tree-planting is a more cost-effective energy and carbon dioxide conservation strategy than many other fuel-saving measures.. — D.J. Nowak and E.G. McPherson Quantifying the impact of trees: The Chicago Urban Forest Climate Project

May 10th, 2006
Trees vs Electric Consumers

This morning’s Austin-American Statesman incites us with the headline Can trees and power lines be saved?, goading Austinites into another lose-lose either/or debate. The article (which I won’t bother to link to since the Statesman’s site is readable “by registration only”) outlines the recommendation from a City Council task force sent to review Austin Energy’s tree-trimming policy after public outcry at the complete removal of some lovely old trees in Hyde Park and other older Austin neighborhoods. The task force says quite plainly, “We need both.” The solution to saving the power lines is not to get rid of the trees.

After about 52,000 utility customers lost power during last Thursday’s storm, Austin Utility cited that the number one cause of downed power lines was trees. Some people were out of power for four days because of the difficulty in moving all the trees of the power lines.

Austin Energy goes on to pat themselves on the back. “Only the utility’s ambitious $10 million-a-year tree-trimming policy saved the city far worse outages–to as many as 150,000 homes.” said their spokesman, Ed Clark.

The task force report does a good job at exploring all the costs involved in keeping and removing trees. The current tree-trimming program costs Austinites $10 million a year. But both the number of times power is lost and the duration of that loss has decreased since 2000.

However the report also recognizes that without trees, temperatures in the city would be about 6 degrees warmer. That translates into expenses for both the customer and the utility which would have to up their ability to provide more energy just to maintain current levels of comfort.

While I agree that tree-trimming is sometimes necessary, I don’t think the people hired by Austin Energy know what they’re doing…at least not the ones that butchered the troublesome pecan tree in my front yard. They sheared off one branch at the top that arched toward the lines. Not only did this leave the tree unbalanced and much more likely to be uprooted in high winds after heavy rains, but it created a worse problem. The limb below the lines, now exposed to full sun, sprouted scores of thin branches which have begun growing straight up through the lines. This weak new growth has created a far more dangerous and difficult to deal with situation than existed before Austin Energy arrived with chainsaws. I’m now faced with the possibility of removing this tree completely.

After our neighborhood lost many trees in a bad storm of September 1996, I noticed that subsequent storms brought more limbs down than normal. My arborist said that when established trees lose major limbs from trimming or storms, the nearby trees and limbs become more exposed. Trees limbs grow in tandem with each other, building a support structure. Even dead branches help buffer the wind and keep branches from whipping around.

Too many trees in Austin, especially cedar elms, are trimmed leaving long bare limbs with heavy growth just at the end of the branches. Imagine tying a rock to the end of a rope and swinging it around. It’s that kind of force that enables a strong wind to snap huge limbs off these trees.

We need to make sure that trees are trimmed effectively and not in a way that causes bigger problems down the road. And, yes, we need more trees in the city. Whether you think of it as your patriotic duty as a citizen to reduce the nation’s energy consumption, a necessary action as a consumer to reduce your own energy bills, or just as a plain dirt gardener who loves trees…we need to grow trees.

“A study of urban forests in Modesto, CA shows that for each $1 invested in urban forest management, $1.89 in benefits is returned to residents. City trees actually remove 154 tons of air pollutants, increase property values by over $1.5 million, and provide shade that saves over $1 million. This information convinced city officials to increase the tree budget and an electric utility company to invest $20,000 in developing the Modesto Tree Foundation.” — USDA Forest Service

If you were trying to access this site Thursday night or Friday morning, you discovered our server was down. Violent storms ripped through central Texas late Thursday night, knocking out power

May 6th, 2006
When it Rains it Pours

This year it looks like May is vying to take back its title of one of Austin’s rainiest months. After a disappointing showing in 2005, May 2006 has started out with a bang–the bang of thunder, the boom of transformers blowing out during a power surge, and the crash of trees felling power lines.

Tuesday (5/2) afternoon, I got caught in thunderstorm as I headed home from the gym in rush hour traffic. That was a comparitively pleasant prelude to Thursday (5/4) night. Around 10PM, 70mph winds begin whipping through the trees and almost immediately our power surge protectors squealed and we lost power. According to Austin Energy, Thursday’s storm resulted in the biggest power outage in Austin since 2000.

And then it poured–not just for 10 minutes or so as it often does, but for what seemed like more than an hour. I was glad to see my terraces keeping the water from running off into the street. My drainage area held four inches of standing water at one point. And for once the garage didn’t flood.

We were luckier than many. Our yard was littered in ball moss and dead branches, but only a few smaller, live limbs were torn off trees by the high winds. Just around the corner a live oak tree had split in half and fallen across power lines. Neighborly residents hung socks along the downed lines to alert motorists.

Friday night was a repeat performance, though less windy and with less rain over a longer time. Thursday night we got over three inches of rain; Friday, maybe 2 inches.

Does this mean that Austin’s drought is broken? Or is this the last rain we’ll see until September. Stay tuned.

Save The Internet
If you read blogs or write your own, buy from or the iTunes store, or use Google to surf the internet, preserving network neutrality affects you.

May 2nd, 2006
Preserving Network Neutrality

This post focuses on the writing component o. “garden writing”. Many of you arrived at Zanthan Gardens because your search for information about gardening in Texas, native plants, or xeriscape led you here. Maybe you wanted to know more about Indian hawthorn, heirloom roses, bluebonnets, or oxblood lilies. Maybe you were curious about when specific plants bloom in central Texas or if 40 days of 100 degree heat was what we should expect in Austin every summer.

You could have checked out a book from the library or read the garden column in your local newspaper, but the internet makes possible for you to gather a lot of information quickly and compare facts easily, so that you can form your own opinions. And it’s easy to correspond with the author with followup questions or comments. On blogs, like Zanthan Gardens, you can participate in the discussion with other garden lovers.

The beauty of the internet model is that it provides access to unfiltered information. It is also a way for the smallest voice to participate in the global conversation. I have been a writer all my life, yet I doubt that people in New York, Rhode Island, Indiana, New Zealand, Japan and England would be reading my writing on a regular basis were it not for internet publishing. Even if I had become a traditionally published author, I would not have the sense of community I share now by receiving your comments and reading your blogs in turn.

If you live in the USA, your ability to access information freely, network neutrality is being threatened in Congress. Unlike China, it is not the government that wants to filter our access, but the telecom companies, such as AT&T and Verizon. They are lobbying Congress to pass legislation to make it possible for them to direct our searches to “preferred” sites…people who pay the telecoms a premium or their own commercial ventures.

Imagine doing a search on Google and only seeing the results under “Sponsored Links”. The reason I use Google (and the reason Google is fighting the telecoms on this) is because I want access to all the information that is available. I want to decide for myself what to read.

I buy books at, songs from the iTunes store, and plane tickets from Travelocity. I don’t want my internet provider to direct me to its “preferred” sites. I want to remain a loyal customer to those businesses who provide what I’m looking for. Companies that have well-designed, useful websites should not be crippled by my internet provider.

I spend more time on the internet than watching TV precisely because the internet enables me to choose my own content. The commercial nature of TV is self-filtering; only what is popular is aired because advertisers want to reach the largest audience possible. Independent, minority, out-of-the-mainstream, non-corporate content is filtered by its nature. If it doesn’t appeal to a large audience, then advertisers won’t pay to have it aired. I don’t want to be subject to the tyranny other people’s tastes and interests. I prefer to cultivate my own. Many of you are great reads, even if you aren’t on the bestseller’s list.

What Can You Do?
Read the rest of this entry »