Garden fiesta and Viva Tequila!

What’s your favorite garden color or combination? Mine change with the season, week, and even the hour.

rock rose (pavonia) and Calylophus berlandieri

Right now, it’s hard to resist that current cat cove combo—how’s that for alliteration—pink rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetela) and Calylophus berlandieri, where sun beats down on them many hours.

I’m just as joyful about this little group in the new front bed.

cosmos with artemisia and black pearl pepper

I seeded annual pink Cosmos to fill in while the perennials grow up. Already, I’m a fan of it with perennial artemisia and annual ‘Black Pearl’ pepper (though it returns in mild winters).

The den bed goes for a yellow/orange ensemble in daylily season, while ‘Patrick’ abutilon carries my orange torch almost all year. Okay, I admit, I love orange and its various hues.

yellow daylily and 'Patrick' orange abutilon

I’m a real fan of ‘David Verity’ cuphea, too, though I don’t have any, until I can snag the sun and good drainage that cupheas like.

David Verity cuphea

Daphne makes Cuphea her pick of the week, since they feed butterflies, bees and hummingbirds in summer. Bat-faced (bat face) cuphea (Cuphea llavea) is a darling combo of red and purple that hovers at this garden’s border.

batface cuphea, bamboo muhly, cotoneaster

It was in Lucinda Hutson’s garden long ago that I fell for abutilons. I also fell for her Herb Garden Cookbook, my go-to book for plant info, recipes, and Lucinda’s vivacious stories. Every page encourages my culinary and plant creativity. Tom reports that her Mustard and Mexican mint marigold chicken is one of his “book mark” faves.

THE HERB GARDEN COOK BOOK Lucinda Hutson

Her latest adventure takes us on a spirited tour of Mexico’s agaves, their history, and very tasteful recipes from cantina to cocina.

Viva Tequila Lucinda Hutson

Lucinda joins Tom this week for a fiesta of folklore, the inside story of how agaves turn into tasty drinks, and which one is tequila’s exclusive.

Tom Spencer and Lucinda Hutson

On her Life is a Fiesta site, check out her upcoming events, recipes, and links to articles, including her monthly feature in Edible Austin.

We’ve taped Lucinda’s garden a couple of times, including her poignant Day of the Dead celebration. In 2014, we’ll take you on a current tour, since our first was pre-YouTube! For now, here’s a cute succulent presentation from an upcycled toy bed frame she found on a curb.

Succulents in cute miniature bed frame

Since succulents tend to fiesta a lot, Eric Pedley from East Austin Succulents demonstrates how to control the party and pass it along to friends before the wayward plant police step in.

Eric Pedley East Austin Succulents on Central Texas Gardener

Critters can party down on your succulents, too, like on my Macho Mocha mangave.

yucca bug and snail damage on Macho mocha mangave

But who is the real culprit behind this damage? Daphne has the answer, joined by detective (aka Extension entomologist) Wizzie Brown. The little yucca bugs created small spots with their piercing and sucking.

yucca bug damage on mangave

The party hounds that trashed the place?

Snail on mangave

Daphne explains when to find these secretive warriors and why not to use snail baits.

On tour, let’s head to a romantic garden where web designer Bob Atchison and “The Wine Guy” Rob Moshein host the neighborhood every day and night.

Every week, Central Texas Gardener passes along knowledge, inspiration, wonder and friendships. So now, the CTG team asks for your support to keep this garden growing!

You can pledge online ANYTIME for fabulous gifts, including Lucinda’s The Herb Garden Cookbook, Viva Tequila, a Go Local card, and a Roku to watch your favorite PBS and KLRU programs anytime you want!

On Saturday, we continue the inspiration after our usual broadcast with two recent favorite gardens: Meredith Thomas and Robin Howard Moore. Join me, Tom, and Daphne from 12:30 to 1 p.m. and 4:30 – 5, to support your CTG team!

MANY THANKS from me, Tom, John, Trisha, Daphne and ALL the gardeners who have been able to share their stories and inspiration thanks to KLRU.

See you next week, Linda

Superstars, outside and for your Indoor Plant Decor

There’s a lot to be said for summer annuals.

'Fireworks' globe amaranth
I’ve always adored globe amaranths, but this ‘Fireworks’ in Lucinda Hutson’s garden sparked a new love affair. Beyond, Duranta pops in some wowza color, too.

'Fireworks' globe amaranth and Duranta

Here’s why Daphne makes globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) her Pick of the Week: It’s a Texas Superstar, which means it’s been tested around the state for worthiness in our gardens. You can find them in many colors and sizes, even for containers.

Orange globe amaranth
They bloom all summer, standing up to searing heat and drought, as in Daphne’s own trials with new varieties in the infamous 2011 torture. But did you know they attract butterflies, too?  They’re so prolific that you can spare a few as long-lasting cut flowers that dry like a dream. Wonderful in a wreath!

Recently, on a mini vacation, I fulfilled a dream to visit Texas Superstar’s Brent Pemberton at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton.

Brent Pemberton Texas Superstar plants A&M

I’ll have more about Superstar in a later post. For now, it was a thrill to stroll the greenhouses where trial seeds and plugs start out.

Texas Superstar plants greenhouse Texas A&M Extension
Isn’t this Calliope geranium a gem? I can’t wait to see if it makes Superstar status!

geranium calliope red

Once they’re ready, they head to the fields for the ultimate test of endurance and performance.

Texas Superstar plant test field Texas A&M Extension, Overton

My garden is a perpetual test ground. One superstar for me is bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), a grass that surprised me this spring with its first delicate seed heads.

bamboo muhly Muhlenbergia dumosa seed heads

Gulf penstemon found its own test grounds in a bed of Texas sedge (Carex texensis). Both rate **** for me.

Texas sedge seed heads with Gulf penstemon

Salvia microphylla ‘La Trinidad Pink’ survives the test of just not quite enough sun. A little floppy sometimes, it’s doing fine in morning sun.  It could stand to have a gardener that prunes it more often, you know?

salvia microphylla 'La Trinidad Pink'

But, I’ll admit: I’m so not adventurous indoors. That’s about to change, thanks to Indoor Plant Décor, authored by friends Jenny Peterson and Kylee Baumle.

Indoor Plant Decor Jenny Peterson and Kylee Baumlee St. Lynn's Press

Kylee was holding down Ohio, so Jenny joins Tom to pep up your house and office to take the humdrum out of houseplants with THE design style book that connects to your muse, budget and imagination.

Tom Spencer & Jenny Peterson, Indoor Plant Decor

In their book, Kylee and Jenny include plant lists and DIY tips in friendly style that prompts “oh, I didn’t know this/I’ve got to try THAT” on every page. Every stunning chapter plugs a new spin into your imagination and creativity, inside.

succuelent chair Indoor Plant Decor photo by Laura Eubanks Design for Serenity

Indoor Plant Decor photo by Articulture Designs

Back outside, are you seeing this on your trees or other plants?

frost damage oak tree photo by Daphne Richar

Before you freak out about horrendous disease or insects, Daphne has the answer: our bizarre late frost. In full disclosure, Daphne puts herself on the line. To pump up her young Monterrey oak, she admits that she fertilized a little too early.  Hey, raise your hands if you’ve done that too!

Normally, it would have been okay that her tree responded by putting out new leaves. EXCEPT. In her microclimate, it got cold enough to damage the new growth. Get her complete answer on how to tell the difference in temporary freeze damage or something evil. By the way, her tree recovered just fine, and so will yours.

So, have you just about had it with flies, fleas, fire ants, and plum curculios? John Dromgoole explains how to tackle them naturally underground with beneficial nematodes.

beneficial nematodes

On tour, visit the diverse gardens at Mueller, the ultimate “testing ground” in its restoration of wildlife habitat over former runways and parking lots.

Thanks for stopping by! Until next week, reach for the stars, indoors and out. Linda

Minus Lawn Equals Plus

My knee can tell you how much grass I’ve dug up over time! My shovel moans, too, if we count the holes we’ve dug to fill the blanks. Actually, one shovel committed suicide. The pain is worth the gain, like when The Fairy rose—instead of fried grass– romances our hot front curb.

The Fairy rose lawn alternative

Past or current grass gets only the minimal water I give everybody else. Fertilizer? Not for me. Mainly, I’ve diversified because I want this:

golden groundsel packera obovata bee

At some point, I decided if I was going to turn on the spigot, it had to be for plants that re-populate wildlife as their food sources diminish. That golden groundsel (Packera obovata) does a fine job in early spring. Texas betony extends the buffet for months to entice hummingbirds that will stick around for Turk’s cap on the horizon.

texas betony and packera obovata wildlife plants

Gulf penstemon and poppies are booked up with springtime diners.

gulf penstemon with poppies wildlife plants

Even bulbs, like my Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanicus), attract the paparazzi.

spanish bluebells central texas gardener

In the new vegetable bed, native Baby blue eyes came along in my home-made compost. They’re not all about looks: the bees will hang around to pollinate my new tomatoes and squash.

baby blue eyes native annual with bee

Designer Pam Penick shows you how to capture your own version of reduced or no-lawn magic in her book Lawn Gone!

lawn gone pam penick central texas gardener

This week, she joins host Tom Spencer to share a few of her DIY tips, techniques, and lovely alternatives for outdoor living minus grass.

Tom Spencer and Pam Penick, Central Texas Gardener

With plant options, practical design ideas, ponds, and HOA wrangles, she makes it easy to go Lawn Gone!

Lawn Gone

This week’s viewer question comes from Diane Salazar: how to get rid of weeds and make gardens in her new house left vacant for months.

Getting rid of lawn weeds

Get Daphne’s answer on first steps for Diane’s soil restoration and the best way to smother weeds with newspaper.

Since food is replacing lawn for many gardeners, Daphne’s Pick of the Week is deliciously productive tatume squash, an heirloom variety less troubled by the evil squash vine borer. CTG thanks Master Gardener and blogger Caroline Homer for her hands-on tips and a picture from her crazy abundant harvest last summer.

Tatume squash The Shovel-Ready Garden

On tour, see how Meredith Thomas banished lawn for family food by recycling “pre-owned” materials to build beds, including a hugelkulter/keyhole concept, and artwork. She doesn’t buy fertilizer—you just have to see what she does in her own fabulous words. Dear thanks to composer Freejay MacLoud who shared his music that just so perfectly matches Meredith’s truly organic philosophy.

I’ve got the best arugula ever, thanks to Meredith’s passalong seeds of Rocket (also called Rocquette).

Flea beetles on Rocket arugula flowers

Those little insects on it are flea beetles. That’s fine by me because eventually “someone” ate them. You’ll only get long-term predators if you have seasonal prey. Leafy holes didn’t matter a bit in our salads and bunny dinner treats. I’ll be collecting seeds:  to paraphrase Meredith, nature provides our own little seed packets!

And what about those wildflower seed packets?  The party doesn’t end in spring, especially for wildlife that relies on us all year long. So, Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center shows off a few seeds to scatter now, like native partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata).

Partridge pea

Heads up: Get native seeds, perennials (like hard-to-find golden groundsel), shrubs, trees and a lot more at the Wildflower Center’s spring plant sale April 13-14. Member’s day on April 12, but you can join that day to get the first picks! They also have a list online for available plants, so gear up that little red wagon.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Excuse me, what season is this?

Okay, we’ve seen crazy winters before, but this really takes the cake: on the way to work, I spotted this Mexican tithonia blooming against stems blackened by freeze.
mexican tithonia flower with frozen stems

This annual is usually toast long before now. But thanks to this weirdo weather, it’s fueling overwintering butterflies who probably wonder, as we are, “What season is this?”

It’s typical to spy the first heirloom “Grandma’s flag” iris about now, also flowering in that drive-by garden that never takes a break.

White Grandma's flag iris

Nearby is the lavender version. Which is your favorite?

Lavender Grandma's flag iris

Some of my bulbs are still pushing themselves out of bed, but this narcissus ‘Gigantic Star’ was ready to get up!

Narcisuss Gigantic Star

My friend Holly’s Paperwhite pass-alongs spiral into an upcoming bouquet.

Paperwhite narcissus spiral

This is not the first time that my eager beaver Mutabilis arrives in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s painful to cut back roses when they’re blooming, but she’s overdue for a spa day this weekend.

Mutabilis rose Valentine's bud

So, what about those pruners, hmm? Really, we don’t want to “carve” our plants with dull pruners. A sharp, clean tool makes the job so much easier. Guess what? Trisha shows us how to do it without getting a degree in tool sharpening! Spoiler: you can even use your kitchen oil spray and a toothbrush to clean off last year’s grunge.

Trisha Shirey sharpens garden tools

As I venture lightly into spring cleaning, the creative plant spin is upon me. I’ve earmarked a perfect spot to add lots of Black Pearl peppers (Capsicum annuum ‘Black Pearl’) against silvery yuccas. My solitary experiment last year was successful, but UT’s hardy-all-summer group put these annuals on my list for sure.

 Black pearl pepper

Daphne makes ‘Black Pearl’ her Pick of the Week for its gorgeous purple leaves that look great with any ensemble! On-going flowers and fruit are a bonus all summer.

Black Pearl pepper flowers and fruit

As Daphne tells us, the fruit is edible, but watch out: as they ripen to red, they rate over 30,000 Scoville units!

Black Pearl pepper red fruit

Bookmark this one for later planting, since Daphne notes that they can’t go in until night-time temperatures are reliably in the 60s.

Judy Barrett, publisher of Homegrown magazine, gardener, former nursery owner, and book author, can tell you how weather, gardening philosophy, and plants have changed in the past few years. To tell some of her eye-opening stories from organic gardening to herbs, she joins Tom this week. Get ready to learn and to laugh with Judy’s true homegrown wisdom!

Tom Spencer and Judy Barrett Central Texas Gardener

Not only has she been a game changer in the garden, she’s taken it online with Homegrown, my salvation in its print days and now in its new rendition.

Judy Barrett's Homegrown magazine

In her conversation with Tom, she culls a few secrets from her many books that have also marked my garden path of knowledge. Good grief, Judy’s got it tapped for gardening right here, right now!

Heirloom Plants Judy Barrett

Obviously, I love Judy and her husband Bob! They represent all things good as they’ve forged a path of wisdom and wit to guide our footsteps.

Herb book Judy Barrett

You also don’t want to miss Judy’s recipe book and her very first, wonderful book on tomatillos that got me growing them. Find out more!

A HUGE change since Judy first started Homegrown is our sensitivity to the watershed, thanks to her help in changing our garden practices.  If you think you know it all, these Earth Camp fifth-graders at the Becker Elementary Green Classroom have a few lessons to teach us! With kids like these, our future is in safe hands.

Thank you to Mundi for providing the music, “Clippers,” from their wonderful DVD Apple Howling!

I know that many of you already capture shower water while waiting for it to heat up. Daphne’s got a super duper tip on how to collect water WHILE you shower!

Shower water catchment Daphne Richards

Get her explanation and whether we can use gray water from the kitchen sink.

Here’s a big SHOUT OUT and THANK YOU to Barton Springs Nursery, who’s signed on as a local underwriter!

Another ORGANIC SHOVELFUL OF THANKS to Geo Growers, our continuing production underwiter!

Thanks to them, we can grow a few more CTG blooms. Please be sure to thank them too!

And thank you for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

What's your plant personality? How does it heal you?

Quick, tell me, pick a word to describe the personality of a plant in your garden. My word for newly opened Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’: “Dreamy.”

Narcissus Erlicheer

My silver germander? Hmm. . . “Convivial.”

Silver germander

I bring up this word game thanks to Antique Rose Emporium founder, Michael Shoup, who matches rose personalities with our gardens in his ground-breaking new book.

Empress of the Garden

He and Tom have a blast comparing notes on drought-tough roses with monikers like “Whimsical,” “Greedy” and “Romantic.”

Tom Spencer and Michael Shoup Antique Rose Emporium

Can’t you just imagine Michael’s fun with categories like “Reliable Showgirls,” “Tenacious Tomboys,” or “Big-Hearted Homebodies?”

Mutabilis rose Antique Rose Emporium
In Empress of the Garden, Michael makes it easy to select the right rose for you, how to grow it, and how to do it organically. I see that my tough-as-nails fragrant Buff Beauty falls into “Balloon-Skirted Ladies.”  I agree with Michael’s tag words for her: “Versatile, languid, warm-hearted.”

Buff Beauty rose Central Texas Gardener

So, let’s see: how would we describe Daphne’s pick of the week, Grandma’s Yellow rose, a Texas Superstar plant brought into cultivation thanks to Greg Grant?

Grandma's Yellow rose

This shrub rose is fragrant, blooms without missing a beat in Texas heat, and isn’t easily troubled, as it certainly isn’t at the Travis Extension office.

Grandma's Yellow rose, Daphne Richards and Augie
It does have thorns. Essentially, it’s like a grandma who showers the love and pinpoints all your troubles with gentle advice or a well-timed verbal swat ala Downton’s Dowager Duchess. What word would YOU pick?

‘Grandma’, like our other “Tenacious” shrub roses, doesn’t need fancy pruning. But since all roses gain a lot more personality with a yearly haircut, Daphne explains why we prune them in February.

spring buds on The Fairy rose

Since roses and many of our plants want good drainage, especially in heavy soils, Merredith Jiles from The Great Outdoors shows what to do. If starting from scratch, definitely check out his explanation of expanded shale, something I rely on now for new succulents and any new plant in my clay.

Improve soil drainage The Great Outdoors

All our plants, whatever we select, are “Healing.” On tour, get ideas to inspire your healing design from the Tranquility Garden at University Medical Center Brackenridge, where TBG landscape architects turned asphalt into gardens of recovery.


Thanks for checking in! See you next week, Linda

Why plants freeze|Greg Grant vegetables

My crinums don’t look so hot right now.

Frozen crinum leaves
No problem: I simply cut off their mushy leaves and they’ll rebound pronto. Although things have been rather tame this winter, we’ve had our little cold spells. The top question goes to Daphne this week: Why do plants freeze and what will return?

This annual Salvia coccinea is gone for good, unless it re-seeds in self-appointed locations!

frozen salvia coccinea

Microclimates, plant DNA, maturity, and temperature all make a difference. As we approach the last freeze date, I’ll cut back my Pride of Barbados in readiness for new growth.

Freeze damage Pride of Barbados

Here’s how Daphne explains what happens, per Dr. Jerry Parsons, retired Extension agent: “Fill a glass half-full with water and put it in your freezer. Take it out the next day, once it’s thoroughly frozen, and immediately place it under a warm stream of tap water and watch what happens.”

As Daphne says, I bet you’ve already got it: the glass will shatter. That’s what happens to plant cells as they thaw out when temperatures warm up. Some plants just lose their leaves, like this lantana.

Lantana freeze damage purple leaf

Others lose their lives, like this perennial salvia ‘Anthony Parker’.

Salvia 'Anthony Parker' freeze

But get this: just 8’ away in the same bed, this one was fine!

Salvia 'Anthony Parker'

Since vegetables contain lots of water, a simple cover on freezing nights usually does the trick. Check out my neighbor’s hoops to elevate her row cover. They’re just plain old PVC pipes, easy to bend, but she doctored them up with a bit of spray paint!

cute PVC hoops vegetable row cover

If you’re growing ‘Gold Star’ esperanza—a root-hardy perennial —you can thank horticulturist Greg Grant. His many contributions to our gardens and our libraries, like Heirloom Gardening in the South (with Dr. William C. Welch), have yet another.

Texas Fruit & Vegetable Gardening Greg Grant

This go-to guide, written in Greg’s “here ya go” style, deciphers essentials from soil to planting times, cultivation, and starting and saving seeds. Arugula to winter squash, nuts, berries, and fruit trees: it’s all here, including mouth-watering Grant family recipes.

Greg joins Tom this week for some tried and true tips to get you growing.

Tom Spencer and Greg Grant

He made the trip from Nacogdoches, where he’s a horticulturist at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center at Stephen F. Austin University. Stephen F. Austin University garden greenhouse

And mark your calendars right now for April 20, to nab exclusive SFA and Greg Grant introductions, Texas natives, perennials and more at the renowned SFA Gardens annual Garden Gala at Stephen F. Austin. It’s only from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m, so grab your wagons and get there early! It’s also a wonderful time to see the beautiful gardens.

Weeping cypress Greg Grant Stephen F. Austin University

Visit www.sfagardens.sfasu.edu and click on “garden events” for a list of available plants!

Another new Grant release from Texas Gardener magazine pulls together 10 years of his philosophical, humorous, and botanical insights from the magazine. Now in hardcover, it’s also available as an e-book.

In Greg's Garden

On tour, first-time gardener Ellie Hanlon teaches us a few things, too!

On her blog, Mostly Weeds, follow her step-by-step process from Day 1 to irrigation how-to, including her dual valve system and fertilizer. When she first set up her garden, Austin’s water restrictions required a variance (that she posted on her fence) for vegetables. With a flick of a valve, she could turn off the drip system to her flowers.

irrigation valves fertilizer central texas gardener

To fertilize both vegetables and ornamentals, Trisha demonstrates how to make compost tea, along with a trick using recycled nursery containers to slowly distribute it and organic granulars.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Mushrooms: Your Garden's Best Friend

Remember last spring and fall when mushrooms appeared like magic? I always get a few, but last year, many mornings were absolute wonderland!
cute garden mushrooms
Some gardeners fear that mushrooms mean something really evil.

Cute spring garden mushrooms
Actually, it’s just the opposite! Tom meets with Ashley McKenzie from the Texas Wild Mushrooming Group to explain what mushrooms are doing and how lucky you are to have them.

Ashley McKenzie and Tom Spencer

What is a mushroom? Ashley tells us that it’s the fruiting body of an underground network called a mycelial mat. This mat is interspersed among all habitats. If you see a cobweb sort of structure under the soil, that is the mat.

Mushrooms in plant container
The mycorrhizal relationship between plants and fungi, like mushrooms, is very beneficial for plant health, soil fertility and drought tolerance, to name just a few. You can buy mycorrhizae, but if you’ve got mushrooms, it’s free!

Wild brown mushrooms
Ashley describes the habitats where they’ll pop up in our gardens, why they emerge after rain when soil temperatures are cool, and how to collect their spores and encourage more.

Mushroom in salvia greggii
Check out the Texas Wild Mushrooming Meetup group to join them for their educational and fun “flash forays” after a rain to learn what is edible.

Chicken of the Woods Texas Wild Mushrooming Group

Until then, certainly don’t eat anything from your garden—just let them feed your plants!

Orange mushroom Central Texas Gardener

Find out more about mycorrhizae benefits from Texas A&M.

In Austin, South Austin Mushrooms is supplying Oyster and soon, Shitake mushrooms, if you want to grow your own edible ones! For now, they’re only on Facebook, but will have their website up soon.

Pruning’s on our minds, so let’s not forget those trees on our to-do list!

winter tree pruning
Daphne explains why to prune in winter while they’re dormant. “Their plant sap, which contains water, nutrients and hormones, isn’t actively flowing at this time of year. This means that the cut surface won’t have lots of sap rushing to it, as it would in the spring, which would attract insects and disease spores—which are also more active in warmer weather—to the source of a direct route into their body.”

Still, we want some sap flow to naturally heal the cuts. SO, you don’t need to paint cuts on most trees, since that will impede natural healing. But, you MUST paint cuts on red oaks and live oaks immediately to protect them from the beetles that vector oak wilt. You’ll want to get those trees pruned in the next few weeks.

Oak tree prune branch collar
Ah, now about pruning everything else! Relax: there’s no reason to scurry around to tidy up. Top growth can protect roots, grasses hide overwintering butterflies, and seeds feed hungry animals and birds.

Instead, take a winter walk in your garden to simply revel in its beauty.

Evergreen sumac berries

Turn off your editing mode and absorb its graceful shapes and textures and how the light plays upon them.

Agave celsii
Instead of clamping those pruners, ponder the mystery locked into each seed head.

Gulf muhly seed heads
Then, just gush over the intense colors that only come with frost.

Plumbago scandens winter leaf color
We’ll get into pruning next week! For now, take a winter wander through Lynne and Jim Weber’s garden, where wonder never takes a break.

Follow the seasons (including mushrooms and slime mold!) in their very hands-on guide to natural life in Austin.

Nature Watch Austin

We can plant many things, like Daphne’s Pick of the Week, Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.).

Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.)

If you want the perfectly behaved plant for sun or even shady spots (like under your oak trees), this one is for you! As a 2’ tall “groundcover,” its tidy leaves and rounded form make a great foil against other textures. In fall, tiny flowers are simply a bonus against its evergreen simplicity.

Mountain pea flower
I first met it years ago when Pat McNeal introduced it on CTG as a lawn replacement. Then, it was harder to find, but thanks to growers who recognize a good thing, look for it at your local nursery. I nabbed one (and more to come) from Michelle Pfluger at Green ‘n Growing. Here’s her CTG list for other great groundcovers.

Plus, while it’s still cool, we can get after those projects on our lists—like structures to wrangle vining plants and upcoming tomatoes. Trisha shows you how.


Thanks for stopping in! See you next week, Linda

Fall in love with autumn bulbs and grasses

Big day in my garden! The autumn daffodils (Sternbergia lutea) popped up reliably a year after planting.

Sternbergia lutea autumn daffodil
These small crocus-like plants, native to the Mediterranean, are cute companions for red oxblood lilies and spider lilies (Lycoris radiata).

Lycoris radiata spider lily and Sternberia lutea autumn daffodil
Last fall on CTG, Chris Wiesinger, author of Heirloom Bulbs for Today, introduced me to these beauties that will naturalize in my Blackland soil, even in part shade! I wasted no time ordering these hard-to-find bulbs online.

Mostly though, I get plants from local nurseries supplied by local/regional growers (or grown themselves), along with passalongs from friends.  My native Plumbago scandens has been in non-stop mode for months against evergreen Texas sedge (Carex texensis). The plumbago will die to the ground this winter but return even stronger next spring.

Plumbago scandens with Texas sedge
Mine came from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sales—coming up again Oct. 13 & 14 (member’s preview Oct. 12). You can even join that day to beat the rush for superb natives, including ones that don’t often show up in nurseries.

These days, many nurseries do have native grasses like Lindheimer muhly (on the left) and deer muhly (on the right):  this spectacular duo in Anne Bellomy’s garden.

Lindheimer and deer muhly seed heads

Native grasses, in the fields and in our gardens, are both lovely and beneficial. Many send down deep roots, benefiting aeration, stabilizing the soil, and improving fertility—along with providing shelter and food for wildlife. And in fall, they are the ultimate drama queens! My Lindheimer was our favorite autumn standout until it got too much shade and withered away. Until I find a sunny spot, I’ll just enjoy Anne’s.

Lindheimer and deer muhly
This week, Tom meets with Shirley and Brian Loflin, who note that grasses once predominated the Hill Country and the Blackland prairie.

Tom Spencer Shirley Loflin Brian Loflin
Their book, Grasses of the Texas Hill Country, is a friendly hands-on guide to identify and learn about both cool and warm weather grasses in our fields and for our gardens. This popular book is currently in reprint, available for pre-order from Texas A&M University Press.

Grasses of the Texas Hill Country Brian and Shirley Loflin

Currently, it is available as a Google ebook, too.

Brian’s photography helps make it easier to identify the grasses that soon will be in show-off mode, like curly mesquite. This one’s part of  the Habiturf mix that includes buffalo grass and blue grama for a native lawn in sun.  By the way, the Habiturf trio is available at the Wildflower Center and online.

Common curly mesquite Brian and Shirley Loflin

Little bluestem is another native beauty that you’ll be seeing soon.

Little Bluestem Brian and Shirley Loflin

Artist Shirley also creates beautiful framed botanicals with grasses, perfect for that wall you’ve wanted to adorn!

Grasses framed botanical Loflin

You can order online from their site, The Nature Connection, and also find out about their workshops, field trips, and see Brian’s extensive photography of insects, animals, plants, and wonders of the natural world.

Want to know more about cactus, too?!

Texas Cacti Brian and Shirley Loflin

Since we’re heading into prime time planting season for grasses, shrubs, perennials and wildflowers, get inspired with a visit to Betty & Gerald Ronga’s garden where food, wildflowers and wildlife unite on this rocky hilltop in Leander.

Betty and Gerald Ronga garden Central Texas Gardener

Many of us face watering restrictions, like Sheila C., who asks if fungal disease is a problem if we must water at night.

fungal disease watering at night
Daphne explains how it depends on the season and the situation.

It’s hard to imagine that we’re just weeks away from losing our summer annual herbs. Get ready now with Trisha’s tips and tricks for freezing herbs in oil and butter, along with recipes and making herbal vinegars.

Freezing herbs Trisha Shirey
Note: to watch an individual segment online, click on the vertical chapter marks above the play bar!

Happy planting and see you next week, Linda

Texas Tall Tales: insects, design, and a story for the whole family!

Texas doesn’t wimp around. We’re in a state of perpetual extremes: weather, flowering cycles, and insects. One giant you’re lucky to find in your compost pile are these guys, like in Daphne’s healthy compost bin.

ox or elephant grubs in compost pile
This week, Daphne introduces us to her friends. They are the larvae of ox or elephant beetles, sometimes called rhinoceros beetles (though that’s a different species). But they are all BIG!

Here’s an adult we spotted on a shoot recently. They don’t move around much so she didn’t mind when I moved her into a good camera position. I should have put my hand there for comparison, but she was almost 2″ long!

ox or elephant beetle adult

Daphne explains that these are not the dreaded June beetle grubworms. These are beneficial larvae to help break down your compost pile! Here’s even more about this beneficial.

Fire ants love compost piles as much as we do. Daphne explains why, and how to chase them out.

Flies in the compost pile: that’s another pesky situation. John Dromgoole demonstrates how to fend them off with layering techniques. Not only does the layering deter flies, it helps speed up decomposition.

John Dromgoole flies in compost pile
You can even tear up cardboard egg cartons, shred your non-glossy newspapers, and empty your vacuum cleaner or pet hair groomings over fresh kitchen waste.  And to speed things up even more, John shows how to quickly add a little water every time you rinse out a jar or can for recycling.

Children may not be tall, but they can tell us the tallest tales of imagination, especially when calling us on a banana!

Child's banana phone (c) Marc Opperman

I absolutely love the story this picture tells, the son of gardener and blogger Marc Opperman. And I bet that banana gets great reception, too!

On stories that incite imagination, this week Tom meets with author Cherie Colburn to spin a few tales from her children’s book, Bloomin’ Tales: Legends of Seven Favorite Texas Wildflowers.  For readers outside of Texas, get Bloomin’ Tales: Seven Favorite Wildflower Legends, essentially the same but with a map for North America.

Bloomin' Tales of Texas Wildflowers
In fact, it was hard to edit because I wanted to curl up with my blankie to hear Cherie tell a few more stories.

Tom Spencer and Cherie Colburn

Gorgeously illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein, these tales from many ethnic perspectives powerfully connect children (and adults) to plants through stories that spark our imaginations.

Bloomin' Tales of Texas

And check out the Fun Facts!

Bloomin' Tales of Texas
Cherie is also a garden designer and speaker (grab her for your group!). On her blog, GardenDishes, she dishes up great garden information and answers your question.

Young parents and grandparents will also love Cherie’s poignant children’s book, Our Shadow Garden, illustrated by children at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson Cancer Center. All royalties benefit that program, too!

On tall tales, have you ever heard the one about the gardener who moved from Minnesota to Texas? Here’s Kathleen Lorsbach’s true story of her transition and how she learned a new plant vocabulary when she fell in love with Texas plants.

Daphne’s Pick is another plant that doesn’t wimp around! They’re stopping traffic all over town: Pride of Barbardos|Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima).

Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima)
You’ll also see the Yellow Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii) like this one in Connie Lawson’s garden.

Yellow bird of paradise Caesalpinia gilliesii

For her and Kathleen Lorsbach, they don’t freeze back in winter. The pulcherrima usually will: just cut it back and it will leaf out again in spring.

Stay cool until next week!  Linda

Creating Tomorrow's Garden Today!

Things have changed a lot since I was a kid and had the job to rake leaves from under shrubs to tidy up. As an adult, I’ve watched gardening philosophy among the backyard populace—mine included—gradually head back to the sustainable practices followed by our forebears.

Since I planted my first tree, a crape myrtle barely bigger than a twig, its ever-increasing island bed and girth reflects my own growth: to native plants, habitat invitations, and lawn reduction (still in progress!). And yes, I leave my leaves that helped turn clay dirt clods into productive soil.

Crape in bloom in island bed

Many of us no longer chase away insects with pesticides. Instead, we encourage them with food in all forms, reveling in discoveries that eluded us in homogenous landscapes reeking of chemicals.

Gulf Fritillary chrysalis on manfreda
In fact, these days, we plant milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) just to get eaten by caterpillars! Their flowers attract many butterflies to nectar, but their most significant role is in the leaves.  Migratory Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on Asclepias leaves. Hatching caterpillars chomp away. The plants will recover to contribute to a new generation of butterflies!

Asclepias curassavica
And yes indeed, milkweeds attract Oleander aphids. But these yellow guys are just as selective, and won’t bother your other plants (other than oleanders).  They are important, too. For one thing, they attract parasitic wasps that use them as a nursery to lay their eggs. For another: the ladybug cleaning crew will come right over and stick around to make sure every plant is thoroughly vacuumed.

My native pigeonberry (Rivina humilis), a drought-tough low grower for dry shade, supports all kinds of wildlife with flowers and fruit.

Pigeonberry berries
Butterflies, moths, various insects and hummingbirds love my Turk’s caps (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) flowers. Birds and nocturnal mammals snag the fruits.

Turk's cap Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii
Robin Howard Moore, co-owner of Howard’s Nursery until it closed a few years ago, really saw the swing from annual bedding plants to perennials, especially natives. In her home garden, she liberally plants coneflowers in sunny spots to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

Gorgeous coneflowers
Instead of planting bulbs for just one spring season, we go for naturalizing ones, including bulbs for fall and summer, too. I have lots of rain lilies, including Habranthus robustus, beloved by bees. Its neighbor, young Agastache ‘Tutti-Frutti’, will attract hummingbirds to frame our den window.

Rain lily Habranthus robustus with Agastache 'Tutti-Frutti'

Stephen Orr chronicles this change of philosophy throughout the country in his powerful narrative and photographs in Tomorrow’s Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening.

Stephen Orr's Tomorrow's Garden
This week on CTG, we are thrilled to see him in person for his very insightful stories and perceptions!

Tom Spencer and Stephen Orr

Stephen features several Austin gardens in Tomorrow’s Garden.  But his book journeys far beyond creative designs from around the country. Through thoughtful narrative and photography, he illustrates how America is gardening today: on rooftops, along curbsides in troubled neighborhoods, in vegetable gardens, and with chickens! He includes helpful plant lists, how-to instructions, and eye-opening facts on sustainable materials.

Here’s a front yard garden I drive by every morning. I just had to stop when the artichokes starting blooming.

artichoke flower
Recently, CTG visited Ellie Hanlon’s young garden, where she frames edibles with ornamentals to attract pollinators, and water to attract everybody!

stock pond in vegetable and ornamental garden

These days, she doesn’t interplant edibles and ornamentals. With Austin’s water restrictions, she got an official variance for her vegetable garden (though she’s very thrifty, and waters from her rain barrels when there’s rain!). She set up separate valves on her drip system to accommodate everyone once a week and a just-edibles mid-week dose when irrigation is needed.

In Tomorrow’s Garden, Stephen includes many beautiful examples of front yard gardens that replaced grass. Here’s my visit to Master Gardeners Robin & Ann Matthews’ recent makeover to lose the  lawn.

front yard no lawn design austin

And in Kyle, Ida Bujan replaced grass on an awkward front yard slope with butterfly nectar and larval plants: groundcover frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) and upright Zexmenia (Wedelia texana).

frogfruit and zexmenia replacing lawn
On tour, CTG heads to San Antonio’s historic King William district.  When Gary Woods planned his green-built home around courtyards, landscape designer Elizabeth McGreevy united indoor and outdoor spaces with an equally sustainable garden. Except for brand new plants, Gary didn’t use one drop of water in horrendous 2011!

One of their selections is Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra), Daphne’s Pick of the Week. This native shrub/small tree belongs in every waterwise garden today! Here’s one of mine against a bay laurel.

Barbados cherry with bay laurel

Barbados cherry flowers
The little fruits (edible for us) greatly assist hungry birds and mammals in summer and fall. This incredible specimen belongs to Ida Bujan.

Barbardos cherries galore
Another thing that’s changed is how we fertilize. This week at Lake Austin Spa Resort, Trisha demonstrates how to make compost tea. And check out her great trick to disperse it or organic granular fertilizers with sunken nursery pots between plants.

compost tea how-to
Last, but certainly not least, is awareness of our soil. Daphne explains how to get the dirt on your soil with the USDA’s web soil survey.

Have fun in your garden today until I see you next week! Linda