photo: Texas bluebonnets
2010-04-01. What a difference rain makes. Or the lack of it. Left to shift for themselves the bluebonnets are few and small. A few small pups are sprouting from the frozen Agave americana.

April 1st, 2011
Week 13: 3/26-4/1

Dateline: 2011

Austin hit its first 90 degree day last week (3/23) and by Saturday night (3/26) it was so hot and muggy we turned on the AC for a few hours. Sunday (3/27) the high dropped 13 degrees to a seasonable 73 and by Monday (3/28) another 9 degrees to a high of 64. Lovely. All the trees except the pecans have their brilliant spring green leaves and these dry days provide an equally brilliant desert blue sky. Dry. Dry. Dry. The larkspur are sending flower stalks which droop before opening in the afternoon sun.

The wild garden blooms despite my neglect. It’s overwhelms the paths. I don’t think I’ll ever manage the strength to get it sorted out again. The pink evening primrose is one of the few flowers that really prefers this drier spring. As does the Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’. The Engelmann daisy and cilantro make a fair showing, too. The Jerusalem sage is in full bloom but the leaves droop when the temperatures reach the 80s. The weeping yaupon which isn’t weeping is covered in tiny flowers and bees. The larkspur and poppies are just beginning to flower. The pathetic bluebonnets are going to seed. The baby blue eyes are also tiny and wizened. I don’t doubt they’ll be back when the weather is more favorable.

Now that the trees have leafed out, the green worms have begun to descend their silken threads. I’ve killed a few but the infestation is mild compared with earlier years. I’m hoping it’s because I’m kind to wasps.

First flower: Ungnadia speciosa, Mexican buckeye (3/26); Hyancinthoides hispanica (3/26); Aristolochia fimbriata dutchman’s pipevine (3/30); Echinacea purpurea (3/30); Papaver ‘Dorothy Cavanaugh’ (4/1), honeysuckle (4/1).

Dateline: 2010

photo: Texas bluebonnets
2010-03-30. Ubiquitous photo of Texas bluebonnets three years later at the same spot. With all the rain this year they are three times as big as in 2007 and the nasty yucca is gone.

A perfect spring week here in central Texas. A big storm front blew through last Wednesday night (3/24) dropping half an inch of rain in an hour. So the plants were well watered going into a week of sunny deep blue skies brilliant behind the bright green of all the freshly leafed trees. Yes. It’s suddenly shady. Austin’s starting to hit temperatures in the 80s consistently: 82 (3/26), 83 (3/27), 81, (3/30), 85 (3/31), 82 (4/1). I’d be just as happy if the 80s held off for another month so that all the flowers now in full bloom could look fresh for more than a few days.

My dependable spring favorites, Tulipa clusiana and the rose ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ are in full bloom. So are the bluebonnets. (Two whites and two pinks appeared this year.) The rose ‘Ducher’ grew so fast and tall that it fell over on itself in a high wind and is now commandeering the path. The cilantro forms a misty white cloud over the meadow where it completely dominates. (All the larkspur are in the front yard this year and they haven’t started the big show yet.) The baby blue eyes, tradescantia and its cousin, the false dayflower, are hip high and taken over most of the yard. I must remember to keep the false dayflowers out of the bluebell bed as the bluebells have been completely smothered this year.

All the flowers on everything are huge. I can’t remember ever seeing flowers so big here. So all they needed was twice the water they normally get. Hmmm

The list of things blooming is too long to keep track of: white, blue, and yellow irises; ‘Hawera’ daffodils and the single ‘Grand Monarque; white sweet alyssum and yellow snapdragons, the last of the summer snowflakes and the beginning of the Spanish bluebells; Mexican buckeye, cherry laurel, Indian hawthorn, and bridal wreath. But no wisteria in my yard. Elsewhere, yes. But not mine.

Speaking of elsewhere…the Lady Banks roses are as beautiful as I’ve ever seen them all over Austin. I’m sorry that mine died several years ago as did my neighbor’s that used to droop over my back fence.

We’ve eaten salads every night but these 80° days are starting to turn the arugula and lettuce bitter. Our English peas are full of pods. We harvested 5 oz (shelled) tonight and each had a big bowlful for supper. I can tell we’ve had an 80° day by the drooping of the peas. The artichoke, now in its second year, has a flower bud. I just planted potatoes. This time in 2000 we were already eating potatoes.

First flower: Hyacinthoides hispanica (3/26); Nierembergia gracilis ‘Starry Eyes’ (3/26); Engelmann daisy (3/31); yellow heirloom iris (3/31).

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photo: Centaurea cyanus Black Magic
2007-03-24. Bachelor Button/Cornflower. Austin, TX

March 29th, 2011
Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Magic’

This post was published originally on 2007-03-24 and updated with data for 2008 and 2011.
The seed packet from Botanical Interests gives the common name for Centaurea cyanus as bachelor button. For us southerners, bachelor buttons are Gomphrena globosa. Julie at the Human Flower Project recognized it immediately as a cornflower, even though it was not the blue once so commonly identifiable that it is found in a box of Crayola crayons. I was going to go into a rant wondering whether children today connected their crayon colors with real flowers. The truth is, I’ve never seen a living cornflower before I grew this one. And then I chose a selection which is not cornflower blue.

Why don’t I like more cheerful flowers? This cornflower is a deep, plummy purple, a funereal maroon that, in flower marketing, is referred to as black. Morticia Addams would like it–she wouldn’t even have to snip off the flower before creating her bouquet. The plant itself is about two feet high with silvery gray foliage. From a distance, the dark flowers look like furry black caterpillars attacking the plant.

The seed packet said that cornflowers were drought tolerant. However, I’m not sure that translates into heat-tolerant. As soon as the mercury touched 80 today, they drooped. Instructions say to plant them in early spring before the last frost…unless you live in the south, of course! We’re suppose to plant them in late summer or early fall.

I planted these on September 11, 2006 and they just bloomed this week (late March 2007), more than six months later. They sprouted quickly and I transplanted them into the meadow close to the yellow irises thinking that the purple and yellow would make a nice combination. The irises aren’t blooming yet. None of Austin’s mild winter freezes bothered them, not even the ice storm or the night we got down to 25 degrees. They sent up flower spikes about the same time the cilantro did but took a long time to form buds and even a longer time for the buds to open. Every day I looked, expecting to see them open, and every day the flowers remained a tight closed ball. Then I went to New York and when I came back they were blooming. Maybe a watched cornflower never opens.

Dateline: 2007-2008

2007-11-05.
Discovered some seeds left over from last year and planted them in the west border where I’m clearing out the bearded irises that rotted in this summer’s rains.

2007-12-04.
The cornflowers (I still want to call them bachelor buttons) are about three inches tall and have two sets of true leaves. They are being smothered by competing baby blue eyes, so I dig up the whole bed and replant only the bachelor buttons spacing them about 5 inches apart.

2007-12-20.
In the mid-70s today and tomorrow. Transplant more bachelor button seedlings. From one group by the agave, three groups: 10 in place, 10 by butterfly bush, and 8 behind maiden grass.

2008-03-21.
First flower. Even though I planted the bachelor buttons two months later than last year it seemed to make no difference. They bloomed in exactly the same week. I prefer to plant them later if I can because then I don’t have to water as much and besides, I’m always running behind.

I think I will always grow bachelor buttons now because they are so easy and economical, although they did not self-sow. Two years of flowers from a $1.79 packet of seeds is satisfying. The effect is less somber than last year mostly because I have allowed the cilantro to overrun the meadow like a wave of white foam.

Dateline: 2010-2011

2010-11-24.
Sow half a packet of new seeds. Botanical Interests. 1 gram @ $1.79. Unseasonably warm ahead of a predicted hard freeze. Today’s high: 82°F; low, 70°F.

2011-03-25.
First flower. I never managed to thin these bachelor buttons so the plants are crowded and short. This dry spring has encouraged an abundance of pink evening primroses behind them. This is one of those unplanned combinations that bring delight.

photo: Centaurea cyanus Black Magic
2011-03-29. Bachelor Button/Cornflower. Austin, TX

Zanthan Gardens
2011-03-24. Pink evening primroses insist it’s spring despite a poor showing of bluebonnets.

March 25th, 2011
Week 12: 3/19 – 3/25

Suddenly, the yard is plunged into shade. The morning sun stops shining through my bedroom window and plants that have grown all winter in the full sun, plants about to flower, are now in the shade. The cedar elms have leafed out and transformed the landscape. I’m not as fond as cedar elms as I once was, as they are the trees that tend to fall in high winds. But this week, they are gorgeous. They leaf out a chartreuse green that deepens to a bright green. The red oaks and live oaks are leafing out too. Only the pecans are still bare.

Dateline: 2011
Spring will not be ignored. It rushes into the garden whether or not I’m there, just not in the way I would have planned it. The pink evening primroses smother the path while the areas I consider my meadow are bare. I’m not blind to the lesson.

This is the week that something new opens every day. All of spring’s bounty comes just as the yard is plunged into shade. The weather continues dry and hot. The toads and mosquitoes have returned. Temperatures rise into the 80s and the larkspur, just sending up its flower stalks, droop. The Tulipa clusiana and the Muscari racemosum have also faded quickly in the heat. A whole year of anticipation…and then they whither as they open.

If you don’t look too closely the garden is filled with swathes of Easter basket colors: yellows (Engelmann daisy and Jerusalem sage and some snapdragons that have finally recovered from the freezes); pinks (pink evening primroses, pink bluebonnets, Indian hawthorn, ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, ‘New Dawn’, ‘Blush Noisette’); white (bridal wreath spirea, cilantro); blues (bluebonnets, baby blue eyes, starch hyacinths) and purples (false dayflowers, Nierembergia gracilis, tradescantia, prairie verbena). There is also one jarring red, the St. Joseph’s lily.

So much needs to be done which will be left undone. Right now the garden is blooming on the strength of previous years. It really is a garden wild.

Dateline: 2008
This is the week I both look forward to and dread. On the one hand the garden finally looks like a garden. I take pleasure just walking around in it and frequently forget to do anything but just stare. On the other hand, the shade has descended which means the sun-loving flowers will soon turn sulky and I’ll soon be counting the days until fall.
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pink bluebonnet
2011-03-16. Second generation pink bluebonnets. Austin, TX

March 16th, 2011
GBBD 201103: Mar 2011

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites us to tell her what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month.

March 2011

The paperwhites and kin got frozen out in February but the other classes of narcissus have had a great year. I planted 100 new ‘Ice Follies’ bulbs and they did not disappoint. Even some old clumps of ‘Ice Follies’ that haven’t bloomed in the last few years threw out a few flowers.

This week the daffodils turned center stage over to the irises. Unfortunately I wasn’t home during daylight hours so I missed getting a photo when they were at their best. The grape hyacinths hit their stride and the cherry laurel is loaded with flowers. The Texas mountain laurel is a making a good show, especially on the east side of tree where visitors can be surprised by the scent of grape soda as they walk down to Auditorium Shores for SXSW concerts.

Because of the drought, this has not been a good year for bluebonnets (especially when one contrasts it to 2010, the best year ever). My experimental stand of pink bluebonnets is very healthy only because planted them early and kept them watered. Self-sown bluebonnets are small and few in my meadow this year. The cilantro and arugula were both barely up before they bolted. The roses haven’t started yet. I think ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ will open her first buds tomorrow.

All the trees decided to leaf out today: cedar elm, oak, and Texas persimmon. I’ll be thankful for the shade in July but as long as the temperatures remain in the 70s, I wish the yard was sunny and the flowers had a chance to show their stuff.

bridal wreath spiraea
2011-03-16. Bridal wreath spiraea. Austin, TX

Complete List for March 15, 2011

  • Bridal Wreath spirea
  • Commelinantia anomala
  • Coriandrum sativum
  • Dianthus chinensis (a single flower)
  • henbit
  • Eruca sativa (arugula already bolted but the flowers are yellow not white)
  • Iris (unnamed blue)
  • Iris albicans
  • Leucojum aestivum (fading)
  • Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’
  • Lupinus texensis (both pink and blue)
  • Muscari neglectum/racemosum (full bloom)
  • Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ (one late flower)
  • Narcissus jonquilla ‘Trevithian’ (fading)
  • Narcissus triandrus ‘Hawera’ (one flower)
  • Nemophila insignis
  • Oxalis crassipes
  • Oxalis triangularis (purple)
  • Prunus caroliniana (Full Bloom)
  • Prunus mexicana (a handful of flowers on smallest tree)
  • rosemary
  • Solanum jasminoides (potato vine)
  • Sophora secundiflora (full bloom)
  • Tradescantia

photo: Narcissus jonquilla Trevithian
2011-03-07. Narcissus jonquilla ‘Trevithian’.

March 8th, 2011
Week 10: 3/5 – 3/11

Dateline: 2011
Cool nights but pleasant days in the 70s. Occasional showers. Windy every day except Sunday (3/6), the day of the Zilker Kite Festival. The cedar elms are threatening to leaf out.

The bluebonnets are opening. This is a poor year for bluebonnets and only the ones I hand sowed (pink and white) and the two giant oversummering ones are doing well. The Mexican plums faded almost as they opened. However, the breadseed poppies are sprouting strongly. I thin and transplant some ‘Lauren’s Grape’.

The ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils are fading but the ‘Trevithians’ are flowering well this year. They have the most lovely scent, although I have to put my nose right in them to smell it. No sign of the ‘Hawera’ which used to open so consistently this week.

About a dozen tomatoes sprouted but have yet to get their first leaves. I’m behind on tomatoes this year!

First Flower: Commelinantia anomala (3/5); Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ (3/6); Engelmann daisy (3/6); Nemophila insignis (3/9); Oxalis crassipes (3/9); Oxalis triangularis (3/9).
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When Gary Ibsen at TomatoFest tweeted a sale last fall, I thought I’d get a jump on my spring tomatoes by having the seeds in hand when they were ready to sow. I received them in November but still didn’t manage to start planting them until February 20, 2011. My fall 2010 tomato crop was […]

February 20th, 2011
Tomato Review: 2011 Spring

When Gary Ibsen at TomatoFest tweeted a sale last fall, I thought I’d get a jump on my spring tomatoes by having the seeds in hand when they were ready to sow. I received them in November but still didn’t manage to start planting them until February 20, 2011.

My fall 2010 tomato crop was almost a total bust as we got a freeze the week before they ripened. We made green tomato chutney for the first time using Jenny’s recipe. It was great!

Tomato Season

2011-02-20. I started planting seeds after we had a week of humid weather with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. In the two weeks preceding, we had some of the coldest nights and longest-lasting cold for the winter. Night after night with the temperatures in the low 20s.

Tomato Varieties

Blondkopfchen

TomatoFest Description: An heirloom tomato from eastern Germany. Big, leafy, indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants yield a phenomenal amount of 1/2″, grape-sized, brilliant yellow/gold, cherry tomatoes in clusters of 20-30. The vines are large and sprawling, so give them plenty of space.The name of this adorable heirloom cherry tomato means “little blonde girl”. Deliciously sweet with a slight citrusy tart finish.

I seem to remember that the number of tomatoes on Blondkopfchen was fantastic when I grew them in Fall 2010. Beautiful trusses of tomatoes. Do I have photos?

Gold Rush Currant

TomatoFest Description: This strain was a selection by a Dutch seedsman. Our TomatoFest organic tomato seeds produce large, indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants with wispy foliage that yield excellent, heavy sets of ¼-inch tomatoes borne in trusses of 10-12. Excellent sweet tomato flavor. A perfect snacking tomato or to adorn salads and culinary creations.

Fall 2010. Teeny tiny tomatoes but lots of them. These plants could not be stopped. I pinched them back and pinched them back and they survived the first light freezes and kept producing flowers.

Mandarin Cross, OP

TomatoFest Description: Wonderful plant from Japan producing 6-10 oz., orange, round fruit with sweet (low-acid) flavors. I de-hybridized this variety over 7 years of my growing it out. A winner!!

Texas Wild

TomatoFest Description: All I really know is that the original seed of this tomato was collected from a patch of apparently “wild” tomatoes in southern Our Tomatofest organic tomato seeds produce huge, sprawling, indeterminate, regular-leaf tomato plants that copiously yield hundreds of 1/2 to 3/4-inch, red, cherry tomatoes with a delicious, sweet-tartness to them. A really decent snacking tomato for all you Texans and wanna be Texans.

Wapsipinicon Peach

TomatoFest Description: From Dennis Schlicht. Named after the Wapsipinicon River in Northeast Iowa. Similar to Peche Jaune. Our TomatoFest organic tomato seeds produce indeterminate, regular-leaf wispy, tomato plants that yield a tremendous amount (thousands) of 1 1/2 to 2-inch, delicate, fuzzy-like-a-peach, pale-yellow (with a tinges of pink), juicy, tomatoes with wonderful, slightly-spicy, very fruity-sweet flavors. Harvest is good all the way to frost. A novelty tomato that is sooo sweet, it begs for eating right off the vine. A Gary Ibsen ‘personal favorite.’ They won’t be able to keep from smiling after tasting this!

Ice Follies daffodils
2011-02-15. Ice Follies daffodils.

February 15th, 2011
GBBD 201102: Feb 2011

Carol at May Dreams Gardens invites us to tell her what’s blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month.

Feb 15, 2011

Valentine’s Day always marks the beginning of spring in Austin for me. The shocking pink of the redbuds seems appropriate to the holiday. Although it is in the 70s today, the previous two weeks Austin has experienced what is shockingly cold weather for us; two separate fronts brought night after night of temperatures in the low 20s. Very little has survived in my garden and cold damage reveals itself daily. So there are no redbuds for Valentine’s Day, no Mexican plums, no roses, or irises. Some early greens (henbit and chickweed) have survived as always but even they seem subdued.

Practically the only flowers in my garden are three ‘Ice Follies” daffodils. They started to shoot up before the freezes, froze solid in the bud, and opened on dwarfed stems.

The only other new flower in my garden this month is the winter honeysuckle. I didn’t notice when it started to flower in the rush of activity that accompanied my having the house painted. Then the first big freeze was upon us and as I was running around with a flashlight covering plants, I saw that it had burst into bloom. I was disappointed that it was going to freeze before I even got a chance to sniff at it. The freezes didn’t seem to bother it much.

winter honeysuckle2011-02-15. Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle).

Between GBBDs

An early oversummering bluebonnet was flowering before the freeze. It’s not the earliest I’ve ever had bluebonnets flower but it was out of season. The flower froze but the plant is fine, as are all the bluebonnet plants whether large or just sprouting. Some false dayflowers had also opened in response to much needed rainfall in January before the freezes.

Feb 15, 2011

Complete List for February

The list of all plants flowering today, February 15th 2011, at Zanthan Gardens. The most meager February list ever! Compare February 2009 or February 2008.

  • henbit
  • Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’
  • Lonicera fragrantissima
  • rosemary

 

January 1st, 2011
Fallow

fallow 1 |ˈfalō|
adjective
(of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production; incentives for farmers to let the land lie fallow in order to reduce grain surpluses.
• figurative inactive : long fallow periods when nothing seems to happen.
• (of a sow) not pregnant.

I’m delighted with the definition of fallow. I’ve intended to let my garden and garden writing go fallow for some time. I have not abandoned them, nor are they left entirely untended. During this period of resting, I’m also making preparations for renewal. I’m emotionally plowing and harrowing.

My taking a year off from gardening did not begin today with the chronological year but last fall, with the beginning of Austin’s gardening year. For many reasons, I feel the need to let go of the garden and stand back and observe it. When I first began this garden in 1995, I had already spent 1994 observing it through all its seasons. Over the years I’ve spent so much time with my nose in the dirt, focusing on this task or the other, that I have let lapse my old habits of careful observation. For me, observation precedes inspiration.

Ivington Diaries book cover

December 7th, 2010
The Ivington Diaries

A reader left a comment on my review of another Monty Don book, The Sensuous Garden that the two of us obviously have personality differences and that I should just leave it at that. What? Not me! I really don’t see any point in reading only people I agree with because I learn so much more from people I don’t agree with. If someone shows me a demonstrably better approach, I’m always open to changing my mind. Besides, I don’t think our differences are irreconcilable. Monty Don and I just are reacting to different environments. I live in a land where expertise is a dirty word. He lives in one where pedantry drains the passion from the art of gardening. See how alike we are.

“My second [New Year’s] resolution is to make a point of learning something new…if you have been gardening for awhile it is easy to become fixed in your likes and dislikes and to dismiss things of which you are ignorant. I want to challenge my own ignorance…”

I’m glad I didn’t give up so easily because the third time’s a charm. The Ivington Diaries is just the kind of gardening book I find to be the most readable: a personal adventure in creating a garden. Monty Don moved to a new house in 1991 and the book draws on journal entries written over the subsequent 18 years. There is one entry per day, beginning with January 1st, for almost the entire year. The interesting twist is that the years are not in chronological order. The first entry is January 1, 1998, then January 4, 2004, followed by January 5, 2002.

I really like this layout because it focuses on the gardener’s year rather than on the chronology of building the garden. I received this book as a Christmas present last year and I have read it bit by bit as the seasons changed in my own garden, comparing observations and differences in climate with Monty Don’s. The book has color photos of the garden every few pages which help the reader to visualize the layout and special features of the garden. The photos aren’t glossy printed so they never distract from the text. This is a very readable book, not just a flipping-through-the-pictures book. (That is, it’s meaty not just eye-candy.)

Like a garden blog, the journal entry for each day has a theme and a title. The themes are quite varied. Sometimes Monty Don details some project, problem, or success in the garden. Sometimes, he muses on his observations of the nature and the garden. Often he describes people who have influenced him over the years as he became a gardener. He describes in detail his experiences with many plants, his desires, his trials, his successes and his failures.

I marked scores of passages in this book and will go back and dip into it again and again. Because the entries for each day are fairly short and because chronology is not important, The Ivington Diaries is an ideal book for delving into at odd moments when one wants to be entertained and informed by someone who really thinks about and is passionate about gardening.

 

December 6th, 2010
Five Books: Essential Reads for Gardeners

Genevieve at North Coast Gardening wants to know what five books do we think are a must for every gardener. Creating a book list was one of the first things I did when began this blog almost a decade ago. I’ve read hundreds of gardening books since then and yet these few are always at the top of my list.

Karel Capek: The Gardener’s Year

Find out if your favorite gardener has this book, and if not, make a present of it. This has to be the funniest book ever written on gardening, more so because it is all true. To give examples, I’d have to quote long passages. Don’t give this book to a beginning gardener, though. The reader should have gardened through at least one year to really appreciate Karel Capek’s observations.
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The Elements of Organic Gardening

What can you learn from a prince about growing veggies? Quite a lot, actually, even if your suburban lot is nothing like his castles. This looks like it might be just another gorgeous coffee table book (and it is beautiful) but it is also full of information, written intelligently, clearly and compellingly. This is my favorite gardening book of the last couple of years.

Down to Earth: Practical Thoughts for Passionate Gardeners

People have told me that I should write a book. After reading Margot Rochester’s Down to Earth, I don’t feel the need to. I turned page after page and thought, “Hey, that’s exactly what I’m always saying.” I knew I’d found a true kindred spirit. And she’s written my book for me. Of course, the title clued me in. I’m both passionate and practical, a combination which confuses those who think every choice is an either/or choice.
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Passalong Plants

Offbeat, wacky, outrageous…words not normally associated with gardening books. I love these guys! I’m also pretty sure that my Bouldin Creek neighbors take landscape design advice from these two southern plantsmen. An antidote to English gardening books from a couple of good ole boys who garden in the south and understand our weather and our ways. Descriptions of each plant run about a page, accompanied with a memory, and a color photo.
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Tottering in My Garden

If Midge Ellis Keeble lived now, she would have been a garden blogger. She writes delightfully the various gardens she had over her life and the lessons she learned from each. The focus is foremost on the stories: the thrill and the trials that face all gardeners. But like talking with any experienced gardener, there is so much to learn. When I reread it years later, I was amazed to discover that many things I’d done and learned in my own garden were from seeds planted in my mind from this lovely little book.