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

Cool plants for heat/pond tour to cool off your garden

Did you know that we have another native Texas hibiscus?

Hibiscus martianus (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
I sure didn’t until I was at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s sale last fall and nabbed this Hibiscus martianus. It was tiny and possibly not cold-hardy, so I protected it over winter under our patio “greenhouse.”  I potted it up in April and it’s been blooming ever since. It may be hardy to the high 20s, but I’m keeping it in a pot.

Native Turk’s caps robustly frame Sam Jr.’s late afternoon perch. Butterflies are all over them, and hummingbirds will be, too, when they show up! Usually they’re here by now, but guess they’re hanging out in your gardens!

Turk's cap near Sam's cat perch
In our little back “prairie” which replaced grass long ago, it’s always a wildlife field day with lantana, Rock rose, Turk’s cap, butterfly weed (Asclepias), goldenrod, passion vine and more.

Linda's home prairie
I’ve added some taller shrubs and clumping grasses to give the madness a little structure. They’re still getting their roots in, but I see a beautiful future ahead!  That’s part of gardening: looking ahead. This week we taped a garden where the woman has been planning her native understory trees while her shade trees grew up. Now, the seedlings she started are ready to take their understory place.

In some spots, oxalis is still hanging on, attracting bees.  Alongside, native Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is beloved by butterflies and hummingbirds.

Rock rose and oxalis
In the den bed, it’s all about orange right now with ‘Patrick’ abutilon and ‘Tawny’ daylilies.

'Patrick' abutilon and 'Tawny daylily'
‘Patrick’ is just gearing up, but the daylilies are about out of steam.

'Tawny' daylily
Cedric and Sam Jr. complete the orange theme on a steamy morning that fogged up the lens.

Orange cats with orange flowers
Back to the prairie: One anchor is our bird bath with solar fountain. After the wildlife dines, they stop in for a drink and a bath.

Variance Vessel bird bath with solar fountain

Since the sound or scent of water heads wildlife straight to your garden, this week Tom meets with Bj Jenkins and Karl Tinsley from the Austin Pond Society to preview this year’s remarkable tour.

Tom Spencer, Bj Jenkins, Karl Tinsley Austin Pond Society
On June 9 & 10, they’ve got something for every budget, space, and design philosophy. CTG’s tour heads to one of them in Cedar Park where Lynne and Gary Wernli got their feet wet with pint-sized ponds and fountains in their gorgeous garden. Now, they have a full-sized pond where Lynne takes fabulous pictures of their diverse wildlife.

Lynne and Gary Wernli pond (c) Lynne Wernli

And you simply must meet their darling pygmy goats and check out their rain chain pond!

Many of us planted Afghan pines a few years ago. And many of us have lost them; two years ago I had to cut down one that we’d raised from a seedling. Daphne explains what happened to them, including Frank Simon’s tree that he and his family planted in 1996 as a living Christmas tree.

Afghan pine dying

Daphne’s pick of the week is Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). It’s actually not a yucca, but in the lily family. Whatever, it’s a great structural addition to the drought-tough garden. Hummingbirds adore the flowers.  And you’ve got to respect a plant that can survive in a parking lot island!

Red yucca in parking lot island

These days, you can get Hesperaloes in other colors, too. I love Bob Beyer’s picture of his three that include ‘Yellow’ and the latest Brakelights® Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Perpa’ ).

Red yucca colors by Bob Beyer
But watch out where/how you plant them!  If Bermuda grass is in your zip code, do serious prep and stick with it when stragglers show up.

Red yucca competing with bermuda gras
Otherwise, you’ll end up with a horrifying picture like this, where Bermuda is strangling an innocent agave.

Agave smothered by bermuda grass
In the vegetable garden, we head to Lake Austin Spa Resort, where Trisha shows how she stakes tomatoes and climbing plants.  Climbers on her cattle panels also help shade some plants that need a little sunscreen!

vegetable supports at Lake Austin Spa
Until next week, Linda

Anticipation|Peach trees|Italian design|Insect control|Ponds

Somebody thinks it’s spring!

Old fashioned petunia

I treasure fragrant old-fashioned petunias for cascading perfume in my spring and summer patio containers. Warm winter days prompted an energetic splurge at the base of a potted sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans). Since they’re hard to find, I cover them when temps dip below freezing, though an old tablecloth was fine when we briefly hit 27°.

In January, it’s more usual to see violas. I go back and forth on winter annuals, but can’t resist a few of these edible beauties.


Just a few weeks into winter, already spring’s given us a heads up. When ‘Country Girl’ mums wear out and I snip them to tidy rosettes, naturalizing bulbs will flower power hungry insects.

'Country Girl' chrysantheum country with naturalizing bulb foliage

I don’t mind the wait for poppies and spuria irises, too, since I’m keen on winter foliage that anchors our attention until explosion day.

Poppy seedlings with emerging spuria iris

Thanks to rain, last year’s poppy and larkspur seeds returned from self-appointed spots among bearded iris and winecups.  For me, anticipation is half the fun!

Poppy and larkspur seedlings, winecup, bearded iris

Many gardeners can’t wait to pick their own organic fruit this summer!  To fill your buckets with peaches, this week Tom meets with Jim Kamas, Texas Agrilife Extension Horticulturist from Fredericksburg.

Tom Spencer and Jim Kamas

Get a few of Jim’s techniques from the brand new Texas Peach Handbook, co-authored with Larry Stein, Texas AgriLife Extension Horticulturist, published by Texas A&M Press.

Texas Peach Tree Handbook

In our brief primer, Tom and Jim note variety selection per required chilling hours and pruning tips. Here’s a before pruning picture.

peach tree pruning Texas Peach Handbook

And after.

peach tree pruning Texas Peach Handbook

Jim notes what to do now about plum curculio (the book includes very thorough identification and control of disease and pests).

Plum curculio Texas Peach Handbook

Every paragraph is packed with spot-on information, including horticultural insight in general! You can also meet Jim in person for his free workshop on fruits, nuts, and berries at 10 a.m. January 14 at The Natural Gardener.

Find out more: For tips on growing fruits, nuts and berries, check out Aggie Horticulture’s Home Fruit & Nut Gardening guide.

Daphne explains how to grow cut-and-come again lettuce, like Travis County Master Gardener Sheryl Williams’ late fall harvest from her ever abundant garden.

Yard Fanatic's lettuce and tomatoes

Follow Sheryl’s vegetable gardens, projects, and lawn reduction on Yard Fanatic!

Depending on weather (always), we can keep on seeding through early March. I planted more two weeks ago and they’re coming up like mad. Lettuce is pretty cold hardy, but for safety, cover if we drop below 40°, especially if you have little ones coming up. Like every plant, variety and microclimates make a difference.

My friend Mary Wachsmann, who writes at Food Joy, and documents her nummy recipes with her camera, is loving heirloom butterhead ‘Speckles’ in balcony pots.  Lettuce is perfect for small spaces and containers!

Speckles lettuce from Food Joy garden

Find out more. Check out the free  Travis County Master Gardener workshops on planting vegetables and rose care. “Planting Spring Vegetables” is Jan. 14 from 10 a.m. – noon.

Insects, like our dormant perennials, are timing their emergence to chomp on our fruit and shade trees. Daphne explains how to fend them off with horticultural (dormant) oil.

Daphne notes: “This is the time of year that we can spray horticultural oil on fruit trees, as a necessary preventative, or other trees that have had problems, to naturally control overwintering insects, especially in their egg, larvae and nymph stages. . . They can also control many fungal pathogens by blocking their access to tender plant tissues, where they can easily invade.”

But if you don’t get around to it, here’s this week’s success story! In fall 2010, friend Bob Harper sent us his red oak leaves that had been skeletonized by earlier insects.

skeletonized red oak leaf

Daphne noted that the pests were long gone, so the best thing to do was to keep the tree healthy. Recently, Bob’s neighbor Richard Alwine nabbed this shot of a pest-free, happy tree!

healthy red oak leaf

On tour, visit avid gardener Cecilia Neuhaus, who was ready to cut back on maintenance and water. In her new garden, she worked with Landscape Architect Tait Moring to capture the essence of Italy with low-maintenance patios and formal walkways that blend flowers and food, wildlife and soothing introspection, on her Lake Austin miniature “Grand Canal.”

To winterize your ponds, fountains and fish, get tips from Steve Kainer at Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery.

Winterize fish and ponds, Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

Until next week, Linda

How far we've come in garden philosophy|Cheryl Hazeltine insight

We take a lot of things for granted. Uh, like rain. Long ago, I learned that just because my cenizo blooms, it doesn’t mean rain: it’s just humid.  This time, it wasn’t even that humid. It was just time to show off, especially after that one precious rain we got.

White cenizo
But when I started gardening, it would have been as rare as rain to find a cenizo in a nursery.  Commonly called Texas sage, originally we knew it for its lavender flowers. Now, you can find many bloom colors on cultivars that promote very silvery leaves or a smaller growth habit.

Along with native plants and their spin-offs, there have been lots of significant changes in garden philosophy since 1980 when Cheryl Hazeltine and Joan Filvaroff first published The Central Texas Gardener.

Cheryl Hazeltine Central Texas Gardener first edition
In 1999, Cheryl and Barry Lovelace updated it as The New Central Texas Gardener. In fall 2010, Texas A&M University Press released this expanded and updated resource, filled with color pictures taken by Cheryl’s husband, Richard, along with bullet points and highlighted tips.  It’s classy!

Cheryl Hazletine's Central Texas Gardener 2010 edition

In this fabulous resource, written from a “done this” perspective, Cheryl guides us with on-target information about soil, insects, design, vegetables, xeric ornamental plants and trees. And her book isn’t just new: so is her information about techniques, from lawn aeration to soil preservation. She notes the “tried and true” practices that no longer have credence– and the ones that do.

This week on CTG, Tom meets with Cheryl to pinpoint how far we’ve come since VHS meant “video on demand.”

Tom Spencer and Cheryl Hazeltine
I really love the URLS that Cheryl includes in each chapter to spare you some search time.  Online search is a great resource, as long as you end up at a trusted site! Otherwise, it’s just like 1980 and you wind up with info best applied in Virginia.

Even in 1980, we relied on our Extension Service for information. Now, it’s even easier online. You can also link to your county Texas AgriLife Extension site for specific guides for your area.

Cheryl illustrates how gardeners are getting braver to express their personalities with curb beds, hardscape, and other designs, rather than plopping everything up against the house and calling it a day.

Cheryl Hazeltine's Central Texas Gardener
She explains how far we’ve come in sensitivity to our soil, our true “foundation planting.”  And instead of “one size fits all,” we’ve come to understand the essential connection between soil, site, and plant.

Cheryl Hazeltine's Central Texas Gardener
As a new gardener, I headed for the plants that reminded me of childhood. We all do. And often, it’s hard to face the facts. But instead of gardenias, now I bliss in the spring fragrance of star jasmine.

Star jasmine flower
I never knew turks cap as a child, but I relish its flowers that attract hummingbirds that I never met personally until they came to my patio. Now, every child can have this experience, since you can buy turks caps at every nursery, thanks to many sources  who  brought native plants into mainstream nursery growing.

Hummingbird on turks cap photo by Greg Klinginsmith
These days, we plant for year-round diversity to attract our birds and beneficial insects that we’ve come to know by name (or at least we look them up!).  We understand the integral connection between our gardens and the environment. We don’t (I hope) kill off every bug, since most of them are beneficial. Pesticides destroy the creatures that we love and welcome as our best pest control (plus, they’re cute!)

Argiope Cheryl Hazeltine's Central Texas Gardener
We’ve learned that a good squish is more satisfactory than something that upsets the natural garden balance and our safety.  Why would anyone use a product that says, “Keep children and pets away for 24 hours?!” And that includes organic products, like pyrethrum.

With Tom, Cheryl says it best : “In fact, you go out and say, what’s wrong with my button bush?  Nobody is eating it! And once you get to that point you’re thinking entirely differently about the appearance of the landscape.” Indeed.

Instead of static gardens in a perpetual state of tidiness, we relish plant diversity and its kaleidoscope, sometimes messy.

Zexmenia with asters and oxalis

Instead of  thinking “mess” when plants go to seed, like my rain lilies, we patiently await the day that seeds ripen to increase our collection. Or we’re joyous that birds nab them for dinner and do the spreading for us.

rain lily seeds
Water is a huge issue (and don’t we know it!). But in 1980, gardeners grumbled about drought years and then plied an extravagant hose. Not only has the cost, along with community restrictions, pushed us to waterwise plants, we’ve also become sensitive about a limited resource.

On tour, meet Michael McNichol, who embraced the philosophy of sustainability and respect for resources when he built his house and garden for wife Stacy and their young child. And when I say built, I mean it: he did most of it himself!

Michael McNichol house design Central Texas Gardener
During construction of their energy efficient home (before the birth of their son), he and Stacy lived in their Airstream.

Michael McNichol Airstream Central Texas Gardener
For house and garden, Michael pulled from his bank account of innovation, hard work, and sensitivity to resources rather than a ton of money.  A lot of the materials are recycled finds, and most of the plants are passalongs from sharing gardeners.  Michael’s philosophy and creative ideas will launch us out our summer doldrums, for sure!

McNichol tire rim Central Texas Gardener

McNichol garden recycled garden design Central Texas Gardener

Many thanks to Sherry Cordry who “passed along” this garden discovery!

Another change since 1980: gardeners pile on the mulch.  Sure, it’s not a new concept, but somewhere along the way, gardeners decided everything had to be “tidy,” quickly scraping off fallen leaves from any bed.  It’s nature’s way to renew the soil, so why not go for this free, positively sustainable technique? But if we want to buy mulch for a tidy look, what is the best one? And how do we do it correctly?

Best mulch to use
This week, Daphne has the answers. When buying mulch, it doesn’t matter if it’s cedar or hardwood. But, it’s best to select one that’s shredded or a small aggregate. Avoid those large bark chips, except for walkways.  I’ve always heard that they were “roach motels.”  Absolutely avoid cocoa mulch, which is fatal to dogs, and totally not a sustainable product for Central Texas.

And one thing we’ve learned: don’t cram it up against your plants and especially your trees. Leave some breathing room at the stems and trunks. This is especially important around trees. This fall, Trisha’s going to give us “5 Tips to Kill Your Trees.” So, that’s a sneak preview.

Daphne’s Plant of the Week is an A&M Texas Superstar, angelonia.

Serena Angelonia Texas Superstar plant

I tried one this year and it is great! I’ve heard from other gardeners who testify to its long performance in long heat.  So, I plan to add a bundle of them next late spring.

Certainly, ponds, birdbaths, and fountains have been around for a long time. But over the years, they’ve become more mainstream as we acknowledge their holistic role in our garden habitats. Since algae has been around a long time, too, Steve Kainer from Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery illustrates how to control and prevent it.

Steve Kainer algaecides Hill County Water Gardens & Nursery

And not since 1980, but since last weekend, CTG has a Facebook page!  Come on over & check it out!

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