Sneaking into summer

Now here’s a plant for your list. My native snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis) sneaks in to attract butterflies in its carefree perennial spread in part-time sun.

Snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis)

When Michelle Pfluger from Green ‘n Growing introduced it to us last year, I raced to get a few. They’ve done so well that I got more, and still want more! Graceful foliage all the time with “come find me” flowers in spring through fall.

snake herb flower

Despite “snake” in its name, sadly, it’s not deer resistant.

An old-time summer favorite is Althea (Rose of Sharon), a shrub/small tree. This new color for me is a passalong from friend Bob Beyer.

pink althea flower

From Central Texas Gardener’s Facebook page, some of our friends fondly refer to Althea as the “granny plant.” We all agree that we need a good granny now and then!  I still have some of the lavender ones that came with my 1950s house. It’s a great adaptable accent or deciduous companion in an evergreen natural screen.

Another passalong is from Daphne herself, when she was trialing Peter’s Purple monarda. Hummingbirds and butterflies, here they come! Find out more about this great beebalm.

peter's purple monarda

Daphne’s pick this week is Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’.

orange jubilee tecoma

It’s a cultivar, like the ‘Gold Star’ you may know, derived from our native Tecoma stans, also called yellow bells or esperanza.

orange jubilee tecoma

Here’s a “new” idea that actually is historic: grafted vegetables. John Dromgoole explains why grafted tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers are making a sensation, thanks to insect resistance and faster and bigger production.  Actually, by mail, I received three ‘Mighty Matos’ to test.

Mighty Mato in Central Texas

Like the ones that John, Trisha and Travis Extension are growing, mine took off like gangbusters, even though I got a late start. Certainly, I’m going to be looking more into them, and CTG plans a follow-up this summer.

Weeds are always sneaking in—you know how that is! Daphne answers: can they be put in the compost pile? She explains cold and hot composting. Since mine is a cold one, I’ll put in weeds before seeds are mature, since they add nitrogen. Once they look like this, I send them to the city’s hot piles in my leaf bags.

ripe weed seeds not for cold compost piles

Now that the heat is on, let’s all dive into some water—like ponds, streams and fountains! Not only do they cool us off visually and relax us spiritually, the thirsty wildlife will thank you.

This week, Tom meets with Kathy Ragan and Karl Tinsley from the Austin Pond Society to show off a few of the designs on this year’s tour, June 8 & June 9.

Austin Pond Society tour

Featuring 21 ponds in all styles and sizes, you can meet the ponders in person to learn anything you want to know, from technical details to tips on fish and plants.

Austin Pond Society tour

Austin Pond Society tour

Austin Pond Society tour

The evening of June 8, experience some night-time pond magic, too! Get the details and buy tickets in advance.

In Georgetown, Claudia and Ronnie Hubenthal’s ponds and streams started with a serendipitous find.  Here’s a sneak preview.

This Saturday, June 1, check out the fabulous gardens on the NXNA tour: the North Austin Coalition of Neighborhoods. 13 private gardens will be on tour, along with 5 school gardens and a community garden.  On June 2, check out their garden talks and photography exhibit. All proceeds benefit AustinVoices to beautify north Austin. Find out more.

And here’s a huge shout-out to our friends, Rick and Kelle Stults, at Wild Birds Unlimited in the Westwoods Shopping Center, who’ve signed on as local underwriters for CTG. Please tell them thanks the next time you’re in!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, 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

Words That Make a Gardener

What makes up a gardener’s vocabulary?  We’ll just skip over the ones unfit for a family blog! I’ll start with Endurance, since that defines most of us after a Texas summer.

Knock Out rose
Change. If that one’s missing, I suspect it’s a painting, not a garden! Here’s our latest project.

Vegetable bed with 6x6 dry stack
Oops. Its subcategory may include words that, again, aren’t fit for sensitive bud ears. I’ll just say: If you haven’t made a mistake, then you’re doing something wrong.

garden mistake

Discovery.  Whether you discovered WHAT you did wrong, or you met a new plant, concept or friend (human or wildlife), discovery is what keeps us coming back for more, even when our endurance flags.

Pink fairy duster and bee
Beauty.  And, truly, it’s in the eye of the beholder—yours.

Phlox paniculata 'John Fanick'
To wrap up CTG 2012, join the whole team for our annual roundtable conversation and personal perspectives.

Central Texas Gardener team
Tom, Daphne, Trisha and John swap stories about their mistakes, advice, and how change and balance frame our mutual vocabulary as we head into a new year.

One final word from us all: Thank You for being our true roundtable all year long!

Iceberg rose Central Texa

Okay, that was two words.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Linda

How does a garden grow?

Often I’m asked, “How do people have such great gardens? I can NEVER do that.” Well, yes you can!

Silke's Dream salvia, purple lantana, skeleton-leaf goldeneye

All it takes is patience, a plan, personality, and passion. Oh, and lots of blisters. Now, this is not to say that I had a plan! When I started, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted a crape myrtle that we could see from the den window.

Linda's first garden

I’m kneeling here, since I set my camera on a tripod for a self-picture, and I’m much taller than the little tree. I snagged some free rocks to encircle my first little garden. Clueless about plants, I bought a bag of dahlia corms. I was mighty proud of this, let me tell you!

This was before nurseries promoted native and hardy adapteds. Quickly I figured out that dahlias are not Texas plants. And believe me, I’m still learning what actually works for me. But with more patience then pennies, my den view is a lot more dramatic these days.

Linda's new garden no lawn

But I’m not finished!  As I’ve mentioned before, last spring we decided to put in a path to replace dead grass.

Linda's path project

Over the summer, I thought about what I wanted to do about the section near the island bed.  Eventually, I ordered more stones and roughly painted in the plan to complete the lawn-free picture.

outlining new path area

den path with new stones

In our original work, I planted a few frogfruit plants (Phyla nodiflora) in one section to soften and cool the stones. Butterflies, bees and other beneficials flock to them constantly.

frogfruit groundcover between path stones

They’ve done so well that I’ve added some to the new stones (and more, as soon as I can lay my hands on this tough native groundcover). The first ones have been so prolific that I’m also dividing some to fill in the gaps. Their long stems root easily, so I just cut a section from the mother plant and dig up the rooted plant.

frogfruit in stone pathway

By next spring, this picture will have changed again when it fills in! During Christmas, I’ll work on the edging.  I haven’t decided whether to build up the original edging with roadbase or to use leftovers of the 6′ x 6′ dry stack stones for the vegetable bed (more on that in a few weeks). Sometimes, patience pays off to give you the answer!

stone path in progress

To spare you my early mistakes, this week on CTG, designer and garden coach, Diana Kirby, presents Design 101.

Diana Kirby Central Texas Gardener

Tom was booked as director of iACT (Interfaith Action of Central Texas), so I stepped in. Yowsers!

Linda Lehmusvirta Diana Kirby Central Texas Gardener

Diana points out the essentials for planting: size, sun, soil, and compatible conditions. Then she recommends looking at the long-term picture: how do you want to use the space? What’s your style?

Diana Kirby drought tough no lawn design

Diana Kirby pathway design

She explains how to use color and texture.

Purple fountain grass and prickly pear

Lindheimer muhly and Salvia leucantha

Diana stresses the importance of including destinations for your eye and to reinforce your own sense of style.
Diana Kirby design focal point

purple bench duranta Lucinda Hutson design

Ragna shells focal point

Find out more about Diana’s designs, her garden coaching and to follow her beautiful, instructive blog!

Another question CTG often gets: what is the difference between soil, compost, and mulch? I remember when I was confused about mulch and compost, too (and thought I could just stick a plant into my heavy clay soil and be done with it. Oh brother!). So, this week, Daphne explains the difference and how they work together for a healthy garden.

soil compost mulch

Now, to show you that I wasn’t totally clueless in my first garden: I gathered what few leaves I had and scavenged more to scrunch into my beds, back in the days when buying even a bag of mulch at the grocery store was a financial luxury. Eventually, I made my own compost in a bin from wooden pallets left over from KLRU deliveries.  These days, I just have piles behind the shed, but I also buy bags and sometimes yards. And I often add decomposed granite or expanded shale to up the drainage even more.

Cover crops for vegetable beds fascinated me from the first. This week, John Dromgoole explains how Austrian winter peas, hairy vetch, crimson clover and elbon rye return nitrogen and compost to fallow winter beds destined for summer crops. While they’re growing, they’re a  natural “mulch” too!

John Dromgoole cover crops

On tour, visit Molly O’Halloran and David Brearley’s first garden, where they renovated their 1915 house and garden on Austin’s east side from devastation to drought-tough style, vegetables, and safe harbor for chickens that supply organic eggs for Molly’s yummy recipes!

I’m still figuring out gardening, but CTG is here to help us!

Until next week, Linda

Catching the rain, tree problems, organic fertilizers

In the wilt of weeks past, our desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) keeps pumping out a few flowers to please the hummingbirds that have finally shown up!

Desert willow Austin Texas
Even though this native tree requires very little water and isn’t keen on soggy soils, this week’s rain may encourage extended flowering.

Desert willow flower Austin Texas
My sedges (Carex texensis) are pretty drought tough, but the ones tucked near the AC condensation pipe are especially robust, whereas their thirstier neighbors look a tad annoyed.

sedge, carex texensis at AC condensation pipe
Keeping our container plants going in heat is a question I often get.

Old-fashioned pink petunias
This week, Trisha Shirey explains how to fortify them with organic fertilizers and which nutrients they provide. Her arsenal includes seaweed, apple cider vinegar, molasses, coffee grounds, earthworm castings (great for indoor plants)  and more!

Trisha Shirey organic fertilizers for container plants
She also recommends topping your containers with compost to gently feed them with each watering. Then, add mulch on top to conserve moisture. Here’s her list for details. I’m definitely getting blackstrap molasses and apple cider vinegar this weekend!

Another top question: Why don’t my new trees grow, even though I’m watering them deeply? This week, Daphne explains that if the tree looks healthy, water may not be the issue at all.

Daphne Richards why trees don't grow

If your tree won’t budge after a few seasons, and you’ve provided the right conditions, your problem may be underground with girdled roots (very common) or stone basins in rockier sites that are actually drowning your tree. Find out more.

A perennial that will grow just about anywhere is Pam’s Pink turk’s cap (Malvaviscus x ‘Pam Puryear’), Daphne’s Pick this week.

Pam's Pink turk's cap (c) Daphne Richards
Horticulturist Greg Grant at Stephen F. Austin University’s gardens hybridized this plant, named for friend and veteran gardener, Pam Puryear.

Its claim to fame, along with our native turk’s cap (one of its parents) is that it can withstand drought or too much water at one time.  In fact, it’s perfect for rain gardens.  Wherever you put it, beneficial insects and hummingbirds will thank you! My returned hummingbirds are all over my natives!

Since catching the rain is on our minds, this week Tom joins Environmental Consultant Dick Peterson for tips on barrels, cisterns, and simple berms to catch runoff.

Tom Spencer and environmental consultant Dick Peterson
There are many options, including smaller barrels to get you started.

RainXchange rain barrel (c) Dick Peterson
Move up to something larger to cover more ground, like this 350-gallon tank.

350 gallon rain barrel from Great Outdoors (c) Dick Peterson
This 350-gallon fiberglass tank is even in the front yard, pretty much invisible from the street with its color and foreground trellis of evergreen star jasmine.


Plastic, metal, fiberglass, and ferrocement are all options these days. Cisterns complete with pumps are showing up in more gardens these days.

Texas Metal Cisterns (c) Dick Peterson

Ferrocement rain barrel (c) Dick Peterson

Spec-All Products rain barrel (c) Dick Peterson
If you’re into making your own with recycled products, some gardeners are adapting IBC totes.

IBC Tote adapted for rain collection (c) Dick Peterson
These gardeners (to be on the Master Gardener tour this fall) adapted 50-gallon Hatch chile pepper barrels!

Hatch chile pepper barrel adapted as rain barrel

Hatch chile pepper barrel adapted as rain barrel

Dick’s site includes more resources, including a supplier’s list. There are many others, including Austin Green Water. LCRA has resources for you, too!

And here’s how to get a Austin Water Utility rebate.

On tour, cool off your spirit and feed your soul at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. We taped this in high definition a few years ago, but until CTG went HD, that copy stayed safely in my office. Now you can experience Ed Fuentes’ beautiful videography in HD!

Thanks for stopping in!  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