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

My big reduce lawn renovation: before and after!

For years, we’ve planned to install large stone paths where our feet pound the soil every day. Intent turns into action when grass-killing drought prods inertia. Although I’ve hauled a ton of stones in my car, this time I turned to designer Mark Biechler and his team from Pearson Landscape Design to take stone work to a level beyond my expertise, my car, and my back!

digging out grass with Pearson Landscape Design

In January, here’s the spot that bugged us every time we headed to the driveway. Really bugged us when the grass was dead.


What a transformation! The established plants transformed themselves from project day Feb. 12 to a few weeks later.


From the other side:

On the next free weekend, I’ll dig up more weeds around the tree and simply mulch it. Eventually, I’ll divide plants from the bed to unify the path. Oh: the blank spot in the left bed has a healthy stand of asters coming back from their pruning when I took this picture.

Moving around back, here’s another well-traveled path (rowcover at half-mast at that time to protect cilantro in case of crazy freeze).

lawn replace

Here’s the view from the garden side.

stone path (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

So, okay, I did pick up a few billbergias from Tillery Street Plant Company to try them out. For now, I’ve mainly pulled out the rock edging and either dug weeds or covered them with newspaper and mulch until I divide plants or add new ones. The resident winecups will cover a lot of ground pretty fast.

Rounding the corner, I quickly divided some of the no-mow monkey grass that thrives next to the garbage cans, and pulled some Bouncing Bets (Saponaira officinalis) from the crape bed. I dug into the newspaper weed barrier, and set them in. In one week, the Bets were bouncing!

garden renovation with divided plants (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Really, it all didn’t look so awful before. And the stretch alongside the den window wasn’t always so miserable. But drought, ball throw with dog, and our feet took their toll.

lawn replace (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

For two years, we’ve talked about what we’d do. Mark helped us decide!

lawn replace with stone pathway (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Once the stones were in, I widened the beds and did the newspaper/mulch routine. When I pulled out the edging stones, I put a layer of decomposed granite underneath so maybe they won’t sink so much. I’ll be dividing crowded plants to fill in the new spaces, though I think some (like the lamb’s ears and skullcaps) will take care of it themselves. Obviously, a lot of plants are out of control, but I’ve been dealing with that!

den path after stonework (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

About the dead grass strip: we’re exploring options. For me, it’s easier to visualize once I’ve cleared the space.


The view from the other side shows off Greg’s oyster shell sculpture, moved out from its former residence closer in. Greg gave it a new look with a “river” of Mexican black river rocks.  They’re a luxury, but his idea was priceless.

stone path with oyster shell sculpture (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
So, then, I suggested we continue the “river” theme on the other side. For this, he scavenged some of my holey rocks that were hidden in the garden. We really did this for the cats, don’t you know. Oops, our newspaper is showing!

Sam on holey rock sculpture (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Mark’s stones really make the central bed stand out. At their edges, I dug out weeds and spread more decomposed granite.  In the front, I planted native frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) to soften the stones and attract butterflies and bees with its eventual flowers.

stone path with crape and mountain laurel bed (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Since this picture, I dug out that weedy patch on the right and went shopping again in my garden. I took cuttings of Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ and stuck them in. I figure that silver will show up at night from every path.

Here’s the strip to the back, always an awkward place to mow and trim since the summer kiddie pool lives within the rock border on the right.

path to patio before (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

new stone path to patio (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

At the back, for years I’ve wanted to do a patio (or something) for the grass that gave up in the shade.

lawn replace (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Mark came up with the “something.”

new back patio (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

On the left, I’ve planned (for years) raised vegetable beds. That’s the next project.

At the back corner that overlooks the creek, I’d let primrose jasmine take over. In an energetic fit the day after Christmas, I cleared as much as I could.

clearing primrose jasmine for new patio (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Mark’s team cleared the rest and fulfilled a long-term dream.

New back patio over creek (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

What’s totally amazing is that the white Lady Banks rose I’d planted years ago was still alive. No water from me, no fertilizer, shaded. It’s rebounding so fast from my renovation that in one year (and possibly sooner) it will hide the chain link fence and return our privacy. More about this fragrant champ later.

No question, there’s lots more to do, one Sunday at a time!  That’s the value of a garden: it’s an endless open door to dreams and imagination. And yes, back-breaking work.  The aches heal quickly.  The rewards last forever. Until you change them!

Next week, CTG is back in high definition (so cool!) with a fabulous lineup to fuel your dreams, too!

See you then, Linda

When to prune|No lawn designs|oak wilt

We’re all just itching to prune!

Thryallis winter color
I love the winter cleanup to start the slate clean, but I won’t be pruning that thryallis just yet. Others, like Salvia greggii, should be pruned now. Whatever I prune, as I work around each plant, I scrabble up the old mulch to “de-clunk” it a bit. I snag weeds and tree seedlings in hiding. Take along some pliers to pull out stubborn (small) tree seedlings!  It’s also the perfect time to add compost and fresh mulch while things are cut back.

Salvia greggii cut back

But what can we prune and when?  This winter’s warmth makes it especially hard. When bees and butterflies are going for flowers on our Salvia greggiis, what to do?

Salvia greggi flower with silver germander
My technique is to whack low to the ground the ones that aren’t flowering. For others, I work my way around them. It looks odd for a few weeks, but we’ll get a winter nip and then I cut them all back. If you’re too kind and don’t do it, the plants will look straggly and won’t produce as many flowers later, since they bloom on new growth.

Even though now is the perfect time to shape your rosemary plants, it’s hard to do it when bees are going for the flowers.  So again, I do selective shaping.

Rosemary flowers with bee
I’ve left some of the asters in case little birds want their seeds. Others I’ve snipped to their rosettes to show off the bee-loving bulbs coming up underneath.

Aster seed heads with 'Powis Castle' artemisia
This one’s against Artemisia ‘Powis Castle.’ I couldn’t stand the artemisia’s legginess, and snipped it good.  Normally I’d wait until mid-February or later (depending on weather) but I went for it since it was sending out new leaf buds.  If we hit 17 degrees in a few weeks, I’ll be clipping again.

This week, Daphne answers a few questions about pruning. Here’s one reason to hold off on a few things: “Those above-ground plant parts, which may look completely lifeless, have sugars and other plant nutrients in them that may take a while to make their way down into the roots.  They also serve as a small amount of protection to the soil around the roots of the plant, and those are two reasons why it’s really best to leave those unsightly “sticks” alone until we are into late winter.  Another reason is that pruning stimulates growth.  And when a plant is trying to “go to sleep” for the winter, you need to go ahead and let it do that.”

So, I’m leaving that thryallis alone for now.  Also, I’m not touching the shrimp plants.

Shrimp plant bract in Central Texas winter
And, I’m following Daphne’s advice: don’t prune evergreens until we’re closer to the last frost date. I’ll wait until at least March 1 for them and later for the shrimp and thryallis, again depending on the forecast. More on pruning next week!

It IS  time to prune red oaks and live oaks that are susceptible to oak wilt.

Oak wilt leaves

This week, Certified Arborist Guy LeBlanc has tips on how to prevent oak wilt, and what we can prune after the February cut-off date. Get his latest guidelines on oak wilt pruning.

Since nature “pruned” our lawns for us, this week Tom meets with David Meeker from Porthole Design for design ideas to dump the grass.

Tom Spencer and David Meeker, Porthole Design
Here’s one of his front yard designs. I’m in love.

David Meeker Porthole Design no lawn design
See how he turned the routine into captivation for the family and wildlife.

David Meeker Porthole Design lawn replace

David Meeker Porthole Design

David Meeker Porthole Design

Here’s a spot under consideration.

David Meeker Porthole Design

David’s designed two renditions (that include the backyard). It allows for edibles and ornamentals. Once you have a design, you can fill with your choice of plants. Here’s the circular concept.

David Meeker Porthole Design circular bed design

This one is more straight on.

David Meeker Porthole Design

Which would you do?  That’s part of the fun! Are you a circular person or a straight on person? Or do you want a little of each? It’s your garden, so get some marking paint and just imagine!

On tour, visit Helen Roberts, who enriches her life with art from every viewpoint. Her garden, named The Muses, is a perpetual gallery that mounts a new exhibit every season. With designer Bridget Lane, Helen chose a no-lawn garden that respects her land and encourages the wildlife that performs every day.

See you next week! Linda

Drought and freeze survivors|Big Red Sun|No-kill trees

By golly, I have more plants in the ground than in the compost pile. Some look a little winded after this hard run, but if they made it through 2011, they can handle anything. One is my Salvia microphylla ‘La Trinidad Pink’.

Salvia microphylla 'La Trinidad Pink'
It’s only been here since after last Thanksgiving, but with a hard freeze and drought in its first young year, it plans to to stick around for more!

I’ll share other survivors in the next few weeks. For now, my Hymenocallis ‘Sulphur Queen’ spider lilies and bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) wear a weather badge of merit. SQ didn’t bloom this summer as always, but her strappy leaves indicate she’s banking on the future with work underground.

Hymenocallis 'Sulphur Queen' with bamboo muhly

My Chrysanthemum pacificum started as a tiny passalong division. I really feared for its fate, but it sure didn’t. Since I’m always on the lookout for silver, its edges won me over!

Chrysanthemum pacificum
For many years, I hesitated about yuccas since I’m on clay soil. But since I’ve amended it over the years with leaves, compost, and mulch, I took a chance. Plus, I just had to have some more silver!  Yucca pallida and this one, Yucca rupicola x pallida, bounce off whatever freeze or drought comes their way.

Yucca rupicola x pallida Central Texas Gardener
This week on CTG, they’re two of the plants that Tom and Justin Kasulka from Big Red Sun include in their conversation focused on some stalwarts that won’t let you down in trying times.

Justin Kasulka Big Red Sun on Central Texas Gardener
Yes, Big Red Sun is back!  They’ve just moved down the street, ready to share their great ideas with you!

Big Red Sun Austin Texas Central Texas Gardener
Justin shows off some designs and plants that make it through drought AND freeze.

I love this image of one of Justin’s designs: Agave parryi with Knock Out roses and dwarf yaupon.

Agave parryi with Knock Out roses Big Red Sun

Justin has lots of tips for you!  I was thankful to find out that yuccas aren’t thrilled about being moved, so I was really glad that the guys who fixed my sewer pipe carefully worked around it.

Daphne’s pick of the week is Gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), a drought tolerant succulent that sniffs at cold, too. It does require perfect drainage, so for me, I would put it in a pot where it can cascade its silver. For you folks on well-drained spots, its form, texture and silver are delicious complements to Justin’s design above or softer upright grasses and flowering perennials.

Gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) Daphne Richards

On tour, we head to Mueller to visit Betsy Hilton and Joe Denton, who didn’t give up much when they traded a large rental garden for a National Wildlife Backyard habitat in their new (smaller) digs.  I love Joe’s creativity for a birdbath stand!

bird bath on limb stand Joe Denton
You’ll also appreciate how he and his son took out the backyard grass, dealt with drainage issues and created a multi-tiered garden and convivial space for this neighborhood of true community gardener neighbors.

Joe Denton garden Central Texas Gardener

Joe Denton garden design Central Texas Gardener

Joe Denton garden design Central Texas Gardener

Joe Denton garden design Central Texas Gardener

Update: here’s an October  vase of their waterwise roses Joe brought from their former house:  Maggie, Perle de Jardin, Excellenz von Schubert, Dome deCouer, and The Fairy.

Heirloom roses, Joe Denton
Drought or no, it’s time to plant trees. With hand-watering, it’s much better to establish them in cool weather. But, so many people kill their trees the first day they bring them home. For sure, it can take a couple of years, but it’s easy to avoid future grief with Trisha Shirey’s tips this week, part 1 of how not kill your trees!

Two things I’ll mention from Trisha: Remove burlap and wires from balled and burlap trees. The roots will just wind around and around and eventually suffocate the tree.

Girdled tree roots Guy LeBlanc
The same applies to container plants with girdled roots. Ideally, leave them at the nursery. Since many do have winding roots, be sure to cut them off and spread them out.

Cutting girdled tree roots Guy LeBlanc

Years ago, I let someone else plant a tree for me (I usually do it myself). It took 7 years for me to learn that the roots were girdled. To make it even worse, it had been planted too deeply—the root flare below ground. It languished for two years before its demise. Figuring it needed more water, I provided it. Finally, I brought in an arborist to analyze it and he gave me the sad truth. So, that’s a painful lesson we want to spare you!

Next, check to see how big the tree will grow to avoid a future collision with power lines. As we all know, the consequences can be disruptive if not downright disastrous.

Trees growing into power line Guy LeBlanc

So, what about those lawns?

Live and dead grass drought Central Texas Gardener
Indeed, this is a hot topic, but well-managed lawns are not off the chart as soothing spaces and play areas for children and pets.  Every fall, we get questions about “winterizer” fertilizer. This week, Daphne answers Mark Banigan’s great question about what that means, when should we apply fertilizer, and should we do it this year?

Until next week, Linda

New look at lawns, watering tips, plant performance flamboozle

Last week, we taped a lawn-free garden that will air in 2012.

Native garden design Austin Texas Central Texas Gardener
I love the way that Anne uses grasses, yuccas, and agaves for vertical distinction against free-flow natives that nectar hosts of winged visitors. Here’s a nice duo: Lindheimer muhly and and Deer muhly.

Lindheimer muhly and deer muhly Central Texas Gardener

Lindheimer seed heads.

Lindheimer muhly seed heads Central Texas Gardener

For years, I had a Lindheimer in the front garden:  a homecoming beacon every fall from far down the street.

Lindheimer muhly Central Texas Gardener

Then it got too shady, and it whimpered away. Last year, with some tree pruning, I had sun again. I was about to get another Lindheimer, when Patrick Kirwin gave me another idea, Pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia), a smaller choice for that space. I planted one in front and three more in the back bed, where despite their youth, already they do a great job against the turk’s cap.

Pine muhly with turk's cap Central Texas Gardener
Pine muhly’s just one of the plants on Patrick’s list this week when he and Tom take a new look at lawns.

Tom Spencer and Patrick Kirwin Central Texas Gardener

Garden designer Patrick of Kirwin Horticulture Services has been working on a design that includes buffalo grass, Indian bunch grass, switch grass, bearded iris, rain lilies and more.

Patrick Kirwin garden design

Patrick also shows off  the sedge Carex retroflexa. I have a few here and there, but intend to replace some of my dead lawn with them this year. I’m totally in love with this sedge!

Sedge, Carex retroflexa Central Texas Gardener
On tour, check out East Side Patch, where discovery replaced lawn. Leah and Philip Leveridge have made some changes since our taping (of course!), but their helpful hobbits and the Botox lady approve their proactive and on-going DD (drought design).

At ESP and in every garden, sometimes we’re flamboozled when one plant craters and its mates are healthy, just a few feet apart. What’s up with that?  This week, Daphne explains what can happen. In her case, she planted four Southern wax myrtles (Morella cerifera) along her fence last February. She watered them just the same. Two are fine.

Southern wax myrtle Daphne Richards Central Texas Gardener

Two are compost.

dead wax myrtle too much sun Central Texas Gardener

What happened? Here’s her analysis: “In this situation, the angle of the sun is the issue.  By about 5 p.m. in mid-summer, the first plant in the row was out of direct sunlight.  But the last one in the row was in a direct hit of the full late afternoon and evening sun until almost 9 p.m.  These newly planted, small shrubs just couldn’t take all that intense sun and simply burned to a crisp, almost in front of my eyes.”  Get her complete answer about what can produce different results in the same garden.

Daphne’s pick of the week is native fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), a reliable perennial in psycho light, drought, freeze, and floods.  I planted my first ones years ago and divide some every winter to spread around. Regardless of weather events, they’ve never missed an October date with bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Native aster with bee
Their tops will freeze back in winter, but their rosettes quickly cover the ground. Simply cut back those dead stems to the rosette for a pretty groundcover all winter. I fill the blank spaces with naturalizing bulbs.

Aster winter rosette

Watering is certainly on our minds! Merrideth Jiles from The Great Outdoors compares options and how much to water.

Merrideth Jiles The Great Outdoors

Even though the ground is dry, fall IS STILL the best time to plant. Check out Daphne’s fabulous article in the Austin American-Statesman to prep sunbaked soil as we dig in this fall.

And here’s a wonderful video from the Texas Forest Service about how to water your trees and check soil moisture underground.

Until next week, Linda

Drought & deer, oh my!

This fall, I doubt my asters will perform like this after months of cruelty.

Purple aster with bee
Still, they’re resilient to punishment. As the days get shorter, they’ll do what asters do: bloom. Already, this wild aster is up and at ‘em.  It’s more diminutive than usual, but not about to miss out on its mission. And somebody is very thankful.

Wild aster Central Texas

Around town, Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is up to summer snuff to fuel whatever insects are still alive out there.

pride of barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) in drought
Until very recently, these zinnias stuck it out as delightful traffic calmers on a busy Hyde Park street. Usually, my zinnias wither from fungus by mid-summer. Next year, I’m trying this tough, obviously well-drained hot spot! Heat from the asphalt seems to work.

Zinnias is drought against busy street Austin Texas

Zinnia against asphault

Back at the home front, my African hostas (Drimiopsis maculata) carried on their job to fill the shady/part sun spot under the island bed mountain laurel.

African hosta, Drimiopsis maculata

They’ll go underground this winter, but weren’t fazed by last year’s extreme cold. Last year was my first to try them in the ground, rather than a protected pot. They popped back up once weather got warm. I’ll be dividing them next spring for more of these shady areas!  They get some water, but obviously don’t need much.

Recently a designer told me, “People want drought-tough, deer resistant gardens that don’t require any work.” Well, if you find a plant that never ever requires any work, I’d check it to see if it’s plastic!

But this week on CTG, Tom meets with Tricia Martin from Forever Gardens in Georgetown for some plants that come close!

Tom Spencer and Tricia Martin, Forever Gardens on Central Texas Gardener
One is native groundcover pigeonberry (Rivina humilis) that fulfills those shady spots. Mine rebounds from hard freeze just fine, to return in spring with summer flowers and fall berries for wildlife.

pigeonberry (Rivina humilis)
I don’t have Rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius) yet, but I’m planning to get some of these later blooming evergreen penstemons  for sun!

rock penstemon
Thryallis (Galphimia gracilis) is one of Tricia’s drought and deer-resistant plants. I’ve loved mine to handle that hot afternoon blast and to hide/shade the air conditioner.

Thryallis (Galphimia gracilis) hiding air con

Thryallis (Galphimia gracilis) flower in drough

Of course, my cenizo  or Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ) loves drought and scalding sun much more than monsoons or shade.  I finally found the perfect spot for it in my hide-away side yard air conditioner spot against the thryallis and Iceberg rose.

Cenizo, Texas sage against thryallis
Recently, on CTG’s Facebook page, a viewer posted her picture of a deer nibbling at Texas sage. Well, we know how that goes. In tough times, they’ll eat anything. But add Tricia’s list to yours, or visit her in Georgetown for drought tough options, deer or not!

Since new plants and vegetable seedlings benefit from some shading, Daphne explains why this technique helps, not just in these tough times, but whenever you’re establishing newbies when it’s too danged hot.

sun scald on plants Central Texas Gardener

We thank Angela Plunkett for her great tip on how she’s shielded both new and established plants when they were getting sunburned.

weed barrier fabric to shade plants Central Texas Gardener
Being resourceful, she used some weed barrier fabric, installed on metal T posts from her neighbor.  Shade fabric would do the trick too, but weed barrier’s what she had. I love innovative shed-scavenging!

Shading plants with weed cloth barrier and T posts Central Texas Gar

Very quickly, her sunburned plants recovered.

saving sun scalded plants with weed barrier cloth

Daphne’s plant of the week is another drought-tough, deer resistant native, flame acanthus (Anisicanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii ). Believe me, it’s kept my hummingbirds fed this summer!

Flame acanthus drought plant Central Texas Gardener

Viewer Robert Breeze planted one this spring. Despite drought, it took off with nary a whimper.

Flame acanthus Robert Breeze Central Texas Gardener
His young hummingbirds love it, but they also collect at his “water cooler.” All you need is one part sugar to 4 parts water to help keep them alive when many of their plant food sources are on vacation.

Hummingbird bird, photo by Robert Breeze
On tour, see how Sharing Nature’s Garden blogger and Master Gardener Diana Kirby fends off deer in her front yard design. In back, she grows vegetables, more plants for wildlife, and ever-changing seasonal color to frame the family’s outdoor kitchen and patios. And, she does take care of the deer, too, since they are certainly part of her ecology. If you’ve got drainage problems, get Diana’s beautiful treatment for a dry stream bed.  Yes, she’s suffered from drought like us all since we taped this, but mostly, her plants will make it through. Her concepts, philosophy, and design are for the long-term picture, which is what matters most.

Speaking of the Travis County Master Gardeners, here’s a book that you need to nab this very minute:  Creating a Drought-Resistant Garden in Central Texas.

Creating a Drought-Resistant Garden in Central Texas
Really, this has everything you want: design tips, soil insight, plant lists, disease identification, nutrient deficiency, to-do lists, resources, deer resistant plants, and only a ton more. This is an essential reference for new and veteran gardeners. It’s compiled by gardeners from RIGHT HERE. If you already thought you knew everything, get ready for new insight. Find out more and  nab it at these nurseries.

One topic they address is lawns. Certainly, dead lawns top my email questions these days.

Dead grass
Yes, for a lot of us, it means coming up with something else. In some cases, though, you may be able to salvage your lawn if that’s what you need to do for now.

So, this week, John Dromgoole explains the difference between take-all patch, brown patch, and chinch bug damage, and how to resolve those issues.

John Dromgoole lawn problems Central Texas Gardener
Augie doggie’s Pet of the Week is Mr. Leo Lionni, who loves to eat any kind of grass!

Leo the cat, Central Texas Gardener pet of the week
Since Louise Suhey and her husband rescued this abandoned, very sickly cat from the golf course behind their home, he helps her in the garden. Even though Leo is no longer a bag of bones, he’s got feline AIDS. Louise writes, “No matter how much time we have left with him, we will always adore him, and he has enriched our lives immensely.”

Until next week, Linda

Tough plants for tough times|William Welch Heirloom Gardening in the South

The garden’s under serious sag alert. Not many of my plants are whiners, but right now I need ear plugs. Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ didn’t join the chorus, though she delayed her yearly performance by about 10 days until she got a dose of rain.

Crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet'
She is a tad grouchy, but has seen worse since Louis Percival Bosanquet hybridized her around 1930 in honor of his wife.

Crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet'
Like us, she sags within minutes when her flowers open in early morning.  By early afternoon, when shade gives her a break, she’s done for the day. But she’s a tough old broad who rebounds the next morning.

Crinum lily 'Ellen Bosanquet'
Then, in the scalding afternoon sun on July 4, the mystery pink crinum in the cat cove decided to put on some fireworks.  This one gets full sun almost all day.  To each her own.

Pink crinum lily with flame acanthus
Both of these were passalongs, and their recent history is glued to mine. But as we ponder when rain will come our way again, let’s get the backstory behind some of our toughest plants.

In Heirloom Gardening in the South: Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens, recently released by Texas A&M University Press, William C. Welch and Greg Grant captivate us with the cross-cultural melting pot of garden design that influences us today.

Heirloom Gardening in the South: Yesterday's Plants for Today's Gardens
To tell you a few of the stories, this week on CTG, Tom meets with William Welch, Texas A&M Extension Landscape Horticulturist.

Tom Spencer and William C. Welch on Central Texas Gardener
Today’s designs found their roots in the settlers who brought along their seeds, divisions, and visions, eventually revised and integrated as the melting pot converged.

Bottle tree Heirloom Gardening in the South

Heirloom Gardening in the South William C. Welch

In Heirloom Gardening in the South, discover which native plants were respected for survival, those that made their way to our shores, and the ones that have stuck it out through thick and thin. Discover the reason behind “swept gardens” and how plants like crinums and Phlox paniculata ‘John Fanick’ found their way into our backyards.

Phlox paniculata ‘John Fanick’
In this beautifully written and illustrated book, Bill and Greg remind me of the origin of my reliable oxblood lilies. Some Septembers, drought deters them a bit, but I never lose them.

Oxblood lily
For years, Bill and Greg have been my vicarious garden mentors. As a new gardener, I devoured their book, The Southern Heirloom Garden (their new book is an expanded and revised version).  Other books by William C. Welch to add to your library:

* Perennial Garden Color
* The Bountiful Flower Garden: Growing and Sharing Cut Flowers (with Neil Odenwald)

And be sure to check out Greg Grant’s heirloom plant stories and cultivation tips at Arcadia Archives. Also, every month in Texas Gardener magazine, travel with him along the back roads of plant history and restoration.

Onto my Christmas Kindle, I even got his Kindle book: In Greg’s Garden: A Pineywoods Perspective on Gardening, Nature & Family.

On tour, the past meets present in garden designer Mitzi VanSant’s positively adorable 1929 Arts and Crafts bungalow and formal garden in Smithville.

Mitzi VanSant The Fragrant Garden

Mitzi VanSant, The Fragrant Garden

She was but a name to me when years ago, she joined the Texas Rose Rustlers–along with William Welch, Michael Shoup, Pam Puryear, and many others–to rescue old, hardy roses and bring them into cultivation

In her new garden, 2011 meets 1929 with hardy roses and other fragrant plants, along with vegetable gardens lined with pass-along irises. See how she designed a children’s garden to pass along to her grandchildren the sensory memories from her grandparents. On Mitzi’s website, The Fragrant Garden, get her diverse plant list to  include in your waterwise garden.

Daphne’s plant of the week, Lamb’s ears (Stachys Byzantina), found its way to Central Texas from its origins in Turkey, Armenia, and Iran.

Lamb's ears 'Helen von Stein'
Its low fuzzy silvery-gray foliage is a delicious prompt against flowering plants or taller evergreens.  As Daphne tells us, its enemies are poor drainage and too much water, which leads to rot. And even though it likes sun, Daphne reminds us that it wants some protection from hot afternoon sun. I can attest to that! I’ll spare you the picture: it’s gruesome.

Plus, get her summer survival tips. For sure, take a break and let your plants have one too. Avoid fertilizing and pruning (light deadheading is okay). Raise that mower up and never mow more than 1/3 off the top. I watched someone scalp my neighbor’s yard last weekend. What little grass was left will be dead by this weekend.

But you can fertilize and prune your pond plants! Steve Kainer from Hill County Water Gardens & Nursery demonstrates how to tidy up your pond plants.

Steve Kainer, Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery, Central Texas Gardener

And, get his technique to fertilize your pond containers with ONE 10-26-10 tablet per gallon of pot.

Until next week, hang in there! Linda

Luck, loss, plus lawns

For years, I struggled to get poppies to come up. Don’t know the magic formula, but now I have them, even in the grass. In the beds, some returned from last year, but I scratched in a few safety seeds last fall.

Poppy bud
Maybe it’s because now I don’t dig them in. I scratch the soil, throw them out, lightly scrape a little soil back on top, and gently water. Plus, turn around three times, tap garden shoes, squeeze eyes shut and think Judy Garland. Hey, you never know!

Red poppy Austin Texas
I didn’t get around to collecting seeds of Baby Blue Eyes last spring, but some of my passalongs from Zanthan Gardens returned on their own. This one is with Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex Morrowii ‘Aurea-variegata’), which, by the way, didn’t suffer from freeze at all.

Baby Blue Eyes with variegated Japanese sedge
Native BBB makes a wonderful combination with yellow columbine, mine just starting to bloom. There are many species, and I just bet you can pick up seeds at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Spring Sale April 9 – 10.

Native pink and lavender spiderworts join this bed, along with the first passalong lavender iris.

Lavender iris
One big question the past few weeks: are my plants dead? Some may be, indeed, but every day, I see a sprout on one that I thought was a goner. So hang in there a little longer!

We thank Kathleen Lorsbach for asking about frozen cactus plants and others. This week on CTG, Daphne explains that if your Opuntia cacti have healthy pads, gently cut them off, let them dry for a few days, and replant in gritty soil. That’s what I’ll do with my Santa Rita prickly pear.

Freeze damaged Santa Rita opuntia cactus
Agaves may be dead or just have mushy leaves. Cut off the bad leaves. If the center is still firm, they’ll be okay. In the case of Daphne’s artichoke agave, it’s still alive.

freeze damaged artichoke agave daphne richards photo
But my Echinopsis didn’t make it. After a few weeks, it simply collapsed.

Echinopsis freeze damaged austin texas
I asked Richard Blocker from the San Antonio Cactus and Xerophyte Society about these plants.  “People can cut frozen parts of cacti down to the level of good flesh if there’s any left.  If these plants are outside I cut them at an angle, then put rooting powder or sulfur on the angled cut, so that if water gets on the cut it doesn’t sit on it.  I’ve had yuccas rot to the ground and cut them off and have then regrow from ground level!

Not sure what I’ll do about my misshapen Agave celsii. It still has leaves, and now it looks like it’s going to flower!

Agave celsii about to flower
The other top question is about lawns. So, this week on CTG, Tom meets with Mike Piwonka from The Grass Outlet, a family business over a few generations. He has fabulous ideas for you if you need to renovate or start over!

One is with drought-tough zoysia. I took this picture of Palisades zoysia last fall. It’s a lovely choice for sun and partial shade.

Palisades zoysia in strips
Here it is with the St. Augustine it’s replacing.

Palisades zoysia compared to St. Augustine
Mike compares fabulous zoysias to select, and also a good St. Augustine for you, Palmetto—more cold and drought hardy than the one we most know.  For hot sun and lots of traffic (kids, dogs, gardeners) check out 419 Tifway Bermuda (if it can work at Zilker, it can work in your garden) and Celebration. Mike says that these are not as invasive to garden beds as the standard Bermuda.

And, when well-managed and with the right selection, grass doesn’t need to be a hassle or water hog. Often, it’s simply the best option. The trick is to treat it right.

So, here’s my CHANCE AT LAST to vent on mowing practices! It just kills me that in spring, people let weeds go to seed and don’t mow. Then, in summer, they are determined to mow the life out of their grass, cutting so short that the roots get stressed. That just opens things up for the weeds to germinate with the first cool, fall rains. Mow weeds in spring; take a break in summer! Or at least, set that mower really high by June 1.

On tour, we re-visit a garden: Kenneth Paynter in San Antonio and his brother, Michael Paynter, in San Marcos. They’ve chosen two different garden styles but what unites them is their dad’s legacy of lawn and the happy kids who played on it.

John Dromgoole does Part One of making a nifty propagation box. This is so cool! Certainly, you can do it in a dish pan or other plastic container, but a pretty box nabs every gardener with scrap lumber!  This technique makes it super easy to root many plants, including tomato cuttings later. Even when you’re going to be out of town.

John Dromgoole propagation box
Until next week, Linda