Commander Ben, Teenaged Invasive Plant Warrior + Benini

September 12th, 2013 Posted in Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, compost, destinations, garden art, house plants, invasive plants, perennials, trees, wildlife

When I started gardening, ligustrums, nandinas, and Japanese honeysuckle were common garden fare. No question that they thrive under tough conditions, but they also swallow up diverse native plants that support our wildlife. Even before destructive exotic invasives hit the radar of public perception, I ventured into natives that are equally durable. Two of my first were rock rose (Pavonia) from Barton Springs Nursery in its baby days, and Turk’s cap, a passalong from KLRU engineer and ACL editor Dan Martaus. It’s quite astounding how fast butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds showed up!

Rock rose Pavonia and Turk's cap native plant garden

Daphne makes rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) her Pick of the Week, since this tough-as-nails perennial fuels butterflies, bees and other beneficial flying insects.

Rock rose Pavonia stamens native plant garden

Here’s another of mine with native Calylophus berlandieri that also serves wildlife.

Pavonia and calylophus berlandieri native plant garden

Now, it’s prone to powdery mildew in warm humid days and cool nights, especially in spring.  Daphne says to just ignore it, which is what I always do!

powdery mildew on rock rose Pavonia

Our house came with a hedge of ligustums along the back chain link fence. We seeded mountain laurels after we chopped the ligustrums to the ground.  At the time, we didn’t have a ton of money, and new-to-nurseries mountain laurels were pricey.  Indeed, this was not instant gratification, but well worth the wait. And fun, actually. A big part of gardening for us is the adventure and watching it enfold.

mountain laurel hedge instead of invasive ligustrums

The front bed also had a ligustrum too large for me to unearth. I chopped it, too, and planted my first native Salvia greggii and asters.

Salvia greggii and asters native wildlife habitat

This week, we’re delighted that a new voice has tackled the mission to banish exotic invasives. Joining Tom is high school student Benjamin Shrader, known as Commander Ben the Invasive Hunter, who wields his mighty sword of knowledge.

Tom Spencer and Benjamin Shrader, Commander Ben

Find out what inspired him (at age 12) to pursue this mission and speak to kids and adults, support the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and have fun with his dad, Ted, producing fun and fabulous videos!  On his site, watch them, learn more about Commander Ben’s projects, his Invasive Hunter Academy, and his adventures with dyslexia.

I’ll admit, this was the first time a CTG guest was driven to KLRU by his charming mom, Mary, who home schooled Benjamin until this year, his first in high school.

Tom Spencer, Commander Ben and Ben's mom Mary

Find out more about invasive plants.

Of course, native plants can be aggressive, like rock rose, ruellia, passion vine, inland sea oats, and others. But they are plants geared to serve our native wildlife.

inland sea oats central texas gardener

Inland sea oats

Get your wheelbarrow ready to fill up with native plants at The Lady Bird Johnson’s Fall Plant Sale and Gardening Festival on October 5 & 6 (members day is Oct. 4 and you can join at the door).

We all know that natives can stand up to drought, but they’re not exempt from recent years of above average temps and below average rainfall. We’ve lost many established native trees. This week, Daphne analyzes what happened to this cedar elm.

cedar elm dying by Daphne Richards Travis County Extension

Cedar elm damage and borers by Daphne Richards

It’s not what you think, even though drought contributed.  Get her answer.

Indoors, we cultivate gardens too, and many viewers ask: how can I fertilize naturally? John Dromgoole shows how to make a mini compost tea in a recycled water bottle (3 tablespoons or so of compost to a bottle).  Plus, he has a dandy idea to water your plants when you’re on vacation, like during holiday season.

compost tea house plants John Dromgoole

On tour, we head to The Benini Galleries & Sculpture Ranch in Johnson City, where native plants mingle with Benini’s sculptures and those from international artists.

Benini Galleries and Sculpture Ranch

Inside, step into Benini’s gallery that depicts his artistic journey in vibrant acrylics and assemblages.

Benini Galleries and Sculpture Ranch

Watch the whole magnificent experience!

Viewer picture of the week comes from Hella Wagner. When her Agave americana bloomed and died, she replaced the gap with soft leaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia). Even though it bloomed this spring, it’ll be around for years to come.

Soft leaf yucca bloom by Hella Wagner Central Texas Gardener

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

  1. 7 Responses to “Commander Ben, Teenaged Invasive Plant Warrior + Benini”

  2. By ally on Sep 12, 2013

    The availability of native plants has certainly improved for the better over the years. My mountain laurels started out as 1 gallon specimens many moons go. It is very rewarding to watch a plant reach it’s potential after years of care.


    Linda reply on September 13th, 2013 3:40 pm:

    I know! It’s amazing how quickly things have changed here for us, and for the better. And we’re like parents, Ally, watching our babies grow!


  3. By David C. / Desert Dweller on Sep 13, 2013

    Looks like a great show to watch w/ a friend or two…my magical afternoon at Benini over a year ago will surely come back into my hazy memory. But Commander Ben…sounds like my kind of guy, and a killer name right there with David Bowie’s “Major Tom”!


    Linda reply on September 13th, 2013 3:39 pm:

    Yes, hope I captured Benini as well as you did! You & Commander Ben: two of an innovative kind!


  4. By Pam/Digging on Sep 15, 2013

    I love seeing young people enthused about gardening, so I look forward to watching this episode with Benjamin. It looks like he has a big personality!


    Linda reply on September 16th, 2013 11:28 am:

    He’s absolutely wonderful!


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