Spring into summer with gusto

Can you believe this? We’ve had spring (and winter!) longer than 15 minutes. Poppies keep popping up with spuria iris.
corn poppy, seedhead, spuria iris

I can’t have too many native winecups.

winecup central texas gardener
In the cat cove, they team up with Gulf penstemon and Calylophus berlandieri ssp. Pinifolius.

Gulf penstemon, winecup, calylophus
And this time of year is just about my favorite on the patio, when Marie Pavie and star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) double up on perfume whammy.

rose marie pavie and star jasimine flower fragrance
In a Temple garden we taped recently, I love this combination of Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Yellow’, bluebonnets and sotol.

yellow hesperaloe, bluebonnets, sotol in Temple Texas
But it’s about time to shed spring and get those hot weather beauties in the ground.


Jeff Yarbrough from Emerald Garden Nursery and Watergardens joins Tom this week to dazzle us with annuals, perennials and shrubs that put the love back into summer!

Tom Spencer and Jeff Yarbrough Emerald Garden

Get his list for hot weather sizzle, including an intriguing dwarf pomegranate ‘Purple Sunset’ and a new esperanza on the scene.

Oh yes, don’t forget that Jeff’s an expert, locally-oriented plantsman who can help you with anything, including ponds. Emerald Garden also hosts free workshops on every topic under the sun!

Now, about local nurseries: Howard Nursery populated many gardens from 1912 until 2006.

Howard Nursery austin texas
Perhaps you met granddaughter Robin Howard Moore behind the counter where she and brothers Hank and Jim gave hands-on advice. I’ll never forget them as some of my first garden mentors. In fact, Robin always knew when we’d wrapped up another Pledge drive, Auction, or other intense production. I’d drag in on Sunday as my reviving treat. She would say, “So, Linda, guess you just finished a big project. What are you looking for today?”

So, it’s a special honor to present her as our featured gardener on tour. At home with Robin, now working as a landscape designer, she gives us her essential starting points with plants and design. I love our conversation about the changing trends that we’ve witnessed together.

Something I never knew about Robin is her artistic whimsy, like these bird baths she crafted from plates and vases.

bird bath with old plates and vases Robin Howard Moore

This one inspires a trip to the thrift store: a marble-embedded bowling ball, a gift from Anne of the Shady Hollow Garden Club, to brighten up a shady spot.

garden art bowling ball with marbles

Robin’s growing Rangoon Creeper in semi-shade, but in San Antonio, Ragna Hersey has this adaptable plant in a few hours of sun. Others have it in full sun.

Daphne gives us the scoop on this drought and freeze-tough tropical that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

Rangoon Creeper flower

Our viewer question comes from Pete Vera: how to mulch with our scatter spots of rain?

soil compost mulch

Wow, is this a great question or what? You know what happens: we get that 1/10” that just sloughs right off. As always, Daphne has the answer.

And, Trisha’s got the perfect answer for all those weeds that love that little bit of rain: put them to work as natural teas to fertilize your plants!

Until next week, visit your local nursery and thank these hard-working folks for helping us grow locally and beautifully. Linda

Native companions

Things are buzzing around here!

Bee on gulf penstemon flower

Native Gulf penstemons absolutely suck in the bees. I have them everywhere, including the cat cove; not by my design, but by theirs. Like all parents, plants point their progeny in the right direction.

Cat cove spring beauty
I don’t mind if they crowd the path for now. I’ll cut them back after the parents launch their seeds to the big wide world. It does take a while for the seeds to brown up, so hang on to your patience.

Sometimes I lose my beloved ground-hugging native Calylophus berlandieri that so well favors the hues of penstemons and winecups in spring, and rock roses (Pavonia lasiopetala) through summer. Recently, I added these: Calylophus drummondii var. berlandieri.

Calylophus drummondii var. berlandieri.

On a fence bed, winecups soothe Macho Mocha mangave in its recent snail attack.

winecup with macho mocha mangave

Pink evening primrose is an opportunist who moved right into the path we laid last year. They’re overwhelming the frogfruit underneath, but it’s holding its own.

pink evening primrose on path

To the right in the bed, Texas blue grass (Poa arachnifera) leans over from its shady spot underneath the mountain laurel to chat with hotspot edge plant blackfoot daisy.

Poa arachnifera Texas blue grass and blackfoot daisy
Hunkering in the shadier spots on the other side, columbine and widow’s tears (Commelina erecta) unite.

Columbine with widow's tears Commelina erecta
Another tough native to add to your list is Engelmann’s daisy, Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

engelmann's daisy

Engelmann's daisy
Although it wants sun, it can handle a shade break. Its spring-to-frost flowers feed many beneficial insects. Cutting it back now and then encourages more blooms, but do allow some flowers to go to seed for small birds that will swoop in.

Natives join the not-so-native for me. Jenny Stocker’s garden is my dream of the compatible blend. Oh, recently we taped it again, this time in HD, coming your way in early 2014.

Jenny Stocker Rock Rose blogger garden

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s annual Gardens on Tour is the super duper way to pick up design and native plant combinations to try at home. This week, Tom joins Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Wildflower Center for a sneak preview.

Tom Spencer and Andrea DeLong-Amaya

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Gardens on Tour

From gardens big and small and plants for sun, shade, rocks or clay, you’ll get lots of ideas on May 11. Find out how to go on tour.

Here’s a closer look at one of the gardens on tour, where Laura and Andrew Stewart restored native plants and wildlife within biking distance of downtown.  Native plant designer David Mahler united with Miró Rivera Architects to tie together house and land.

Although native plants are very tough, this week Daphne answers, “Why are highway wildflowers sparse in some areas this spring?” Drought. At home, we can water the seeds that germinate in fall and winter.

bluebonnets central texas front yard

Earlier this year, we answered Jean Warner’s question about caring for her bluebonnet rosettes. She took our advice to give them a little water now and then. Look what happened!

jean warner's bluebonnets front yard Central Texas

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Px3: Perennial, Pollinators, Powerful

I absolutely fall for fall, when everything explodes at once! A few white-blooming ‘Silverado’ cenizo (Texas sage) flowers hooked up with re-blooming Iceberg roses and hot weather thryallis.

White blooming cenizo, Iceberg rose, thryallis

White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis) will pop us a few flowers in spring, but it goes for the gusto as the days get shorter and cooler, attracting migrating and residential butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

White mistflower Ageratina havanensis
Daphne makes this native perennial her pick of the week. This wildlife favorite can grow as tall as 6’ but usually I’ve seen it in the 2-3’ foot range. Late winter shearing will encourage shrubbier growth and more flowers, since it blooms on new wood. The ones I planted last fall are now among my favorites! This one’s in the front bed with Yucca ‘Margaritaville,’ pink skullcap, purple heart, daylilies, bamboo muhly and soon to bloom Copper Canyon daisy.

white mistflower yucca 'Margaritaville' pink skullcap, dayliles
I include plants for pollinators in every season, since one of the top secrets to a healthy garden is abundant wildlife. Plus, you’ll be “on tour” every day to a thankful crowd!

To show off a few, Crystal Murray from Far South Nursery joins Tom this week.

Crystal Murray Far South Nursery Central Texas Gardener
Far South is a wholesale nursery, so don’t show up at their doorstep! Instead, ask for these plants at your nursery, since they supply many in Texas. But, do check out their great plant list for details about some of the tried and true plants they grow.

A new one to me is Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri), with silvery velvety leaves on a plant that can get 5’ tall. It wants full sun and good drainage. Since it’s only hardy to 25°, it may be a re-seeding annual in cold winters.

Indian Mallow Abutilon palmeri Central Texas Gardener
Another for sunny dry spots is native Gray golden-aster (Heterotheca canescens) that gets about 1’ tall to attract small butterflies from July to September.

Gray golden-aster (Heterotheca canescens)

Whoa, check this out: a pink-blooming Anisacanthus (Anisacanthus puberulus).

Anisacanthus puberulus Central Texas Gardener

Unlike the orange flame acanthus beloved by hummingbirds in late summer/fall, this one blooms in spring, with a more arching habit, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and moths.

A little one I relish in spring is native blue-eyed grass (many species). This member of the iris family actually showed up in my desert-like yard long ago. As soon as I amended the soil, off if went. Now, I’ve got a return every year with transplants in the sunny cat cove, where I’ve dug in a few bags of decomposed granite, assuring good drainage.

Blue-eyed grass flowers Central Texas
A perennial evergreen groundcover that doesn’t like much water and well-drained soil is groundcover creeping germander (Teucrium cossonii). I planted my first ones this year to cover the ground under The Fairy roses (set back by drought, but quickly returning).

Creeping germander with The Fairy rose
This well-drained curbside bed gets the west afternoon sun, reflected street heat, and minimal water.

Creeping germander Teucrium cossonii

Someday, mine are going to look like these at Shoal Creek Nursery.

Creeping germander Teucrium cossonii Shoal Creek Nursery
When I stopped by Shoal Creek last week, they were starting to bloom. I bet the bees are all over them by now!

Creeping germander Teucrium cossonii flower
Crystal also promotes Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra). Blooming and fruiting from spring to frost, these drought-tough shrubs/small trees are evergreen except in extremely cold winters.

Barbados cherry Malpighia glabra flowers and green fruit
That’s just the quick version! Watch online for all of Crystal’s plants and explanations and get her list.

On tour in Kyle, see how Ida Bujan reduced her lawn thumbprint and turned her small garden into a native habitat.

Native plant garden Kyle Texas

She’s got the most glorious Barbados cherry ever!

Barbados cherry Malpighia glabra ripe fruits
Crystal recommends native frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). I love how Ida replaced lawn with this white-flowering, evergreen groundcover on this side slope.

Frogfruit lawn replacement Kyle Texas
See how Ida did it!

Herbs also attract many beneficial insects. Right now is prime time to plant cool weather yummies for us, like cilantro, parsley, dill and fennel. This week, Trisha shows what she’s planting and how to divide crowded nursery transplants for even more to flavor your recipes.

Winter herbs Trisha Shirey

Certainly, you’ll want extras of parsley, fennel, and dill to attract swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs. A few caterpillars eating your plants late next spring mean lots of butterflies all over the place!

It’s also the best time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. But what’s the best way to water them? Daphne answers Mary Riley’s great question: Do I water my shrubs to the drip line, like for trees? Find out how.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Obsessed With Fascinating Plants

Plants fascinate me! With no internet connection whatsoever, they know exactly what to do when the time is right. My Byzantine gladiolus corms  always greet winter with tidy upright leaves.  They time their vivid flowers for April to make sure we notice them in spring madness.

Byzantine gladiolus (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Usually the larkspurs hang around to join them.

Byzantine gladious with larkspur (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
The cat cove rose arbor is a little out of control. I’ll tame it after I get my quota of homegrown perfume.

Rose arbor Buff Beauty and New Dawn roses
When I planted my Christmas present arbor a few years ago, I couldn’t decide which roses I wanted most.  So on one side, I planted Buff Beauty.

Buff Beauty rose
On the other, New Dawn.

Rose New Dawn
They’re good friends that astound me with their self-sufficiency and tenacity through flood, freeze, and drought, with fragrance so rich you can almost see it.

Equally self-motivated: Marie Pavie rose and Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) in the patio cove. If I could bottle their fragrances (with a cute label, of course) I’d be rich, rich, rich!

Star jasmine and Marie Pavie rose near patio fountain

I’ve trained my Star (Confederate) jasmine into a shrub form. You can also use it as a groundcover or as a vine to hide a chain link fence. Or on a trellis to hide the neighbor’s boat!

Star jasmine trained in shrub form

The white theme continues on the garden side of the patio with blackfoot daisy, winecup, and my new native frogfruit, already blooming tiny white flowers. They are too small to see in this view; will post pictures when they go into full gear.

Winecup, blackfoot daisy, frogfruit
This front bed got out its post-Easter whites, too. The stem of my Yucca pallida fell over in excitement to hunker down with purple heart.

Yucca pallida flower with purple heart

Yucca pallida flowers

One of the most fascinating plants in the world is the orchid. This week on Central Texas Gardener, I’m thrilled to meet with Susan Orlean, staff writer for The New Yorker, and author of The Orchid Thief.

Susan Orlean on Central Texas Gardener

If you’ve always wanted to meet her, now you can connect to this passionate writer who chronicles for us her journalistic exploration into the botanical intricacy of orchids. Susan also explains what started her obsession that drove her to swamps, abandon normal life, and ultimately inspire the movie Adaptation! Personally, I like the book much better!

The Orchid Thief

On tour, meet orchid grower Monica Gaylord, who just steps outside her bedroom doors to an orchid greenhouse that soothes her soul and intrigues her mind.

Meet Monica in person and soothe your own soul at the Heart O’ Texas Orchid Society’s show and sale on April 28 and 29 at Zilker Botanical Garden.  Like Susan Orlean, I bet the rest of the world will vanish as you gaze into flowers so intricate that they could inspire a book!

And what about this fascinating growth that’s showing up in gardens all over?

Slime mold (c) David Mcniel
It’s slime mold, Daphne’s question of the week. Thanks to David McNiel for sending this in!  Is it harmful?  What should we do about it? Daphne reports that bacteria are their preferred food source.

Slime mold occurs when there is high relative humidity and warm temperatures—exactly our conditions lately.  And no, they are not harmful. Enjoy them for their oddity or throw them in the compost pile.

Before you throw all your (non-seeding) weeds into the compost pile, turn them into nutritious fertilizer!  Trisha Shirey explains how to make weed teas for your garden and container plants.

Trisha Shirey makes weed teas
Get Trisha’s instructions and extensive list, which includes the nutrients and trace minerals from various weeds, old Swiss chard, comfrey, eggshells, coffee grounds and more.

Lots of events this weekend but here’s another: It’s About Thyme invites you to their free workshop on Sunday, April 22 at 20 p.m. George Altgelt from Geo Growers presents this Earth Day Special: “Realizing the Principles of Food Safety and Self-Reliance
within the Texas Home Gardening Tradition.”

See you next week! Linda

Plants that survived the Texas Two-Step: Freeze and Drought

Spuria iris (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Although my spuria iris flowers astound me just once a year, they do it every year—drought, flood, or freeze—since Scott Ogden shared a few divisions with me years ago.

My garden is resilient, too, thanks to the words he’s shared with me through all his books. Lauren Springer Ogden is another mentor, through her The Undaunted Garden (recently revised with Fulcrum Publishing) for garden design, plant resumes, and the poetry of words that express our love of the garden.

The Undaunted Garden Lauren Springer Ogden

Lauren and Scott collaborated on Plant-Driven Design, which ought be be in your grubby hands, if not already. Their latest (and very timely) partnership is Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens, a quick-read, hands-on guide to peruse as you head to the nursery.

Ogdens' Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens
Icons quickly indicate each plant’s favored conditions (including deer resistance and wildlife attraction). With each featured plant, the Ogdens include other options and companions.

Wow on CTG this week when they join Tom in a passionate conversation about the plants that took the “double spanking,”—Lauren’s on-target description about last year’s extreme freeze and drought.

Tom Spencer, Lauren Ogden, Scott Ogden
One they mention as a durable replacement for sago palms (cycads) is Dioon angustifolium (formerly Dioon edule var. angustifolium). That’s one on my list for this year. In the meantime, I nabbed a Dioon edule.

Dioon edule (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Another is Lady Banks rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’).  Here’s mine in full bloom in the cat cove. I don’t think I’ve watered it since it was a youngster.

Lady Banks rose (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
The Ogdens love seasonal bulbs and rhizomes as much as I do. I’ve divided the original spurias again and again to include their strappy foliage in several sections of my garden.

Lady Banks rose, spuria irises

Spuria iris

When they brown up in a few months, I’ll cut them back. In some areas, neighboring perennials fill out to cover the spot or I’ll seed annuals.

Here’s a great example to illustrate the tenacity of Lady Banks. Years ago, I planted the fragrant white one ‘Alba Plena’ (included in Waterwise) at the back fence. Primrose jasmine grew up to smother it. No irrigation, fertilizer, or even attention until it sent its light-deprived stems into the trees to bloom.

In our recent project, when I dug out the primrose jasmines, I discovered that she was still there and had even rooted a second one.

Lady Banks rose under renovation

A few weeks after I began its renovation, it had already filled out and bloomed.  White Lady Banks is sweetly fragrant.

White Lady Banks flower
I’ll keep working to promote her renewed form, but I suspect she’ll cover that fence by summer’s end! I’m training some long stems to cover that back fence, too.

White Lady Banks growing in during renovation
In Waterwise, the Ogdens include various Jerusalem sages (Phlomis). This P. fruticosa is blooming like crazy in a hot median strip at Mueller.

Jerusalem sage, Phlomis fruticosa
I spotted this lush display, accompanied by pink skullcap, in an east Austin garden.

Jerusalem sage Phlomis fruticosa with pink skullcap
I’m treasuring my P. lanata, a dwarf form, that fits so well into one of my front beds.

Jerusalem sage Phlomis lanata
That bed includes another Ogden inspiration, a Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’. I saw it in one of their books and nabbed one for myself.

Yucca 'Margaritaville' with Phlomis lanata

Although some things in this bed are new from last fall, many others have made it through the Texas Two-Step for several years.

Jerusalem sage is one that Merrideth Jiles includes in his Backyard Basics list of “double spanking” plants that made it in his east Austin garden. Get his list here.

Merrideth Jiles, The Great Outdoors

Among his success stories: Olive tree (Olea europea). Since 2006, this one’s been growing in the garden of my friends, Molly and David.

Olive tree in Austin Texas
They also have a fine-looking sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), another that Merrideth and the Ogdens include on their lists.

Sotol Dasylirion wheeleri
Certain species of sedges (Carex) make the list for Merrideth, the Ogdens, and me. I’ve bought it as Texas sedge (Carex texensis)/Carex retroflexa var. texensis/Scott’s Turf.

Sedge, Carex texensis
Merrideth explains how to add Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), another double trouble star.  A few months ago, I finally got one when I dug out dead grass and had a good sunny spot for it. Obviously, I got this picture on one of our luscious cloudy days!

Salmon pink globe mallon
Texas mountain laurel, Daphne’s Pick of the Week, favored us this year with outstanding performance, a keeper for double troubled Texas gardens.
But every year, viewers ask us why theirs didn’t bloom. There are many factors, but one is by pruning off the flower buds that form almost immediately after bloom.

Mountain Laurel flower young flower bud
You also need to watch out for the Genista caterpillar, which can defoliate a tree while you’re at the grocery store. Hand-pick or spray Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to spare the ravage.

Genista caterpillar (c) Wizzie Brown Texas AgriLife Extension

On tour, see how Anne Bellomy replaced lawn and invasive plants with waterwise specimens that have turned her formerly wildlife-bereft lot into a garden for resident and migratory wildlife.

Now, what about those exposed oak tree roots?

exposed oak tree roots

A viewer asked if she can plant groundcover (like sedges!) in between, and how much soil can she add. Get Daphne’s answer.

See you next week! Linda

Fragrance, flavor + fun with gourds

Since my roses are trouble-free, I’m on aromatic overload without worrying that soon I’ll be under work overload.

Marie Pavie rose

If I dally about dead heading my Marie Pavie rose framing the patio, doesn’t matter much. Blackspot never blackens my on-going view, either.

On the cat cove arbor, equally self-reliant New Dawn and Buff Beauty are taking up where Lady Banks left off. Here’s fragrant BB.

Buff Beauty rose
Beyond, blackfoot daisy joins purple winecups, rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) and oregano that creeps between the flagstones.  The oregano loves when I nip it and strip its leaves for the kitchen, since that keeps it lush.

Blackfoot daisy, winecup, rock rose and oregano
In my early garden days, I dedicated one spot for herbs. But that’s like putting all your favorite plants in the same spot. Each herb has its specifics to be happy. Now, I include them sited to their preference, (sun or shade, moist or dry), and mingle their diverse forms and textures among the perennials. There’s feathery southernwood in part sun and fuzzy lemon balm in shade.  Silver-leafed society garlic wants sun and good drainage, so I paired my new ones against cat cove winecups. In any garden spot, when other fragrant plants are out of bloom, you can grab an herbal handful to whiff or plop into drinks or dinner.

Since herbs are so easy to grow, even for the first-time gardener, this week on CTG, Tom meets with Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme.  Wow, she has such great new insight and ideas!  I’d never even considered pairing Swiss chard with red-veined sorrel, but now I must try it! 

Also, check out It’s About Thyme for all their fabulous free workshops.

* April 17: Success with olive trees
* May 1:  Ponds and water features: a beginner’s guide
* May 15: Incorporating edibles in the garden (even blueberries!)

Then, go out of your gourd with Trisha’s tips on growing gourds.

Gourds with Trisha Shirey

This is the ultimate DIY fun: flowers, shading vines and cool stuff you can make.  Trisha brought along some of the gourds she’s painted and decorated, but I added my beloved apple gourd and little pears I got at the Texas Gourd Society show a few years ago. Here’s good news: this fall, their show is in Fredericksburg Oct. 14-16. I’ve already marked my calendar because I want one of the gorgeous lamps!  And I sure hope they have the popcorn bowls this year–too beautiful!

You’ll also go crazy on this week’s garden tour to Elm Mott! Against acres of wide open fields, energetic Cathy Hejl created a series of cozy family destinations, one weekend and evening at a time. Behind every artistic project, she had a good reason, too.

Cathy Hejl garden

She has it all: flowers, chickens, ducks, vegetables, a pond and water fountains, wonderful walkways and entryways: all done with her own two hands. When I met her, she said “No more projects.”  Then, recently, she told me about three more that have my head spinning! I dearly thank Waco Master Gardener Judy Tye for connecting us to such inspiration.

Cathy goes for tough plants that don’t need a lot of babying. I know she’d approve my gold bearded iris blooming near a Salvia lyrata in the crape bed. As long as you don’t drown them and divide them every few years, they top the list as no-care plants.

Yellow-gold bearded iris
Here’s Salvia lyrata, a native perennial groundcover that flowers in spring, just as tough and enduring.

Salvia lyrata
And to keep the gold and lavender theme in the crape bed:

Lavender bearded iris

Gold columbine

Daphne answers Liz Clark’s question, one I often get: Why didn’t my possumhaw holly produce berries? Does it need a pollinator?  Unless Liz got a male plant at the nursery, her female will be pollinated by other hollies in the neighborhood. It may just be too young to produce “offspring.” Let’s hope she gets flowers soon!

Don’t forget: send us your question or a plant picture from your garden to feature on Central Texas Gardener!  What is your favorite plant and why would you recommend it to fellow gardeners as Plant of the Week?  Send ‘em on to llehmusvirta@klru.org.
Until next week, Linda