Like taking risks? Hey, you’re a gardener!

It’s natural to be a little wary when treading on new ground, especially when it means keeping something alive. My young Copper Canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii) gave me a scare last summer. Oh yes, we ARE taking risks if we don’t water even drought-tough plants their first year. This one forgave my negligence by blooming this spring. I was lucky.

copper canyon daisy austin

I finally cut it back several inches, since I want it to lush back out: not just for my visual preference, but to cover itself in flowers for migrating and resident butterflies this summer and fall.

Weird years (and that’s most of them), keep us coming back for more. Many weird years ago, I took a risk when I dug up a huge stretch of lawn. At one end, I decided to have a rose arbor. I couldn’t decide between New Dawn or Buff Beauty, so I took a design risk and put one on each side. Well.

New Dawn and Buff Beauty roses arbor

I wasn’t so lucky when I planted an Iceberg rose in the den bed, where I figured it would get “just about enough” sun. Nope. I moved it to a really hot spot that I rarely water and never fertilize. Now, it’s almost always in bloom. It reminds me: the odds are better by following SOME of the rules.

Iceberg rose Austin

Peggy Martin loves her hot spot trellised on my chain link fence as a little privacy and to share with our beloved neighbor.

Peggy Martin rose Austin

Known as the “Katrina rose,” here’s the story of how Dr. William C. Welch brought us this intrepid rose, since he’s a man who thrives on a good plant risk.

Recently, Saliva farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ joined Texas betony in the island bed. I found it in a nursery, thanks to horticulturist Greg Grant, who collected seeds in a La Grange cemetery and named it for the headstone nearby. I also thank the Texas growers who took a risk to take it public.

Saliva Henry Duelberg and Texas betony

And what about avocados, allspice, cinnamon, hibiscus for tea, and other tropical edibles? Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme joins Tom this week to entice us to follow this delicious trek.

Tom Spencer and Amanda Moon, It's About Thyme

Amanda gives us the few simple rules to take this risk for yummy rewards. Here’s her list for your future adventures.

I snagged this picture of allspice in Lucinda Hutson’s garden last fall. She does overwinter its container in a garage with a Grow Light when she remembers to turn it on! Like all plants protected in a garage, gradually bring them back out into the light to avoid sunburn.

Allspice in Lucinda Hutson's garden

On tour in San Antonio, Ragna and Bob Hersey are all about risks in a glorious garden that Ragna rescued from total boredom with scavenges,  invention, and many passalong plants. Thanks to Shirley Fox, gardener and blogger at Rock-Oak-Deer, for this connection! Take a look to be dancing all day.

Ragna went totally organic since butterflies and other beneficial wildlife matter more than a few pests. Oh, and since then, she doesn’t have many pests! One way to attract butterflies is with summertime annual, Mexican tithonia, Daphne’s pick of the week.

Mexican tithonia

Our viewer question this week comes from garden blogger Robin Mayfield who wants to know if she can mulch over live oak leaves.

mulch over oak leaves

Yes, says Daphne, unless there’s been a past problem with oak leaf rollers. She also explains why oak leaf drop happened earlier this year for some of us. Have we mentioned watering trees in drought?! Don’t risk your trees: do water.

Not every plant wants the same kind of mulch. Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center explores the pros and cons of several options to keep everybody happy.

mulch options Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

From Central Texas Gardener’s Face Book page, heads up to Tamara Dextre on the best advice ever: “I am getting fearless…after all, it is about gaining experience and having fun.” Well said!

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to have some risky fun until 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

Excuse me, what season is this?

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

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

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

White Grandma's flag iris

Nearby is the lavender version. Which is your favorite?

Lavender Grandma's flag iris

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

Narcisuss Gigantic Star

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

Paperwhite narcissus spiral

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

Mutabilis rose Valentine's bud

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

Trisha Shirey sharpens garden tools

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

 Black pearl pepper

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

Black Pearl pepper flowers and fruit

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

Black Pearl pepper red fruit

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

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

Tom Spencer and Judy Barrett Central Texas Gardener

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

Judy Barrett's Homegrown magazine

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

Heirloom Plants Judy Barrett

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

Herb book Judy Barrett

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

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

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

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

Shower water catchment Daphne Richards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narcissus Erlicheer

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

Silver germander

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

Empress of the Garden

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

Tom Spencer and Michael Shoup Antique Rose Emporium

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

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

Buff Beauty rose Central Texas Gardener

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

Grandma's Yellow rose

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

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

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

spring buds on The Fairy rose

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

Improve soil drainage The Great Outdoors

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


Thanks for checking in! See you next week, Linda

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

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

Bee happy|Succulent strategies|Natural Bridge Caverns

One thing I love about wildlife is that they don’t mind if my garden gets a tad messy. As long as the place is clean (no pesticides), they’re going for the atmosphere—free food in a diner that’s open all year. This combo platter of shrimp plant and oxalis attracts a wide selection of customers, including hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

Shrimp plant and oxalis
Thanks to the rain, the sunflowers tower over us!  Perhaps they’ll entice some Bordered Patch or Painted Lady butterflies to lay their eggs. Certainly, they’ll be attracting birds, who planted these in the first place. These natural designers picked an inspiring spot!

really tall sunflower
In the front bed, there’s something for everybody, too: pink skullcap, shrimp plant, heartleaf skullcap, white mistflower, zexmenia, copper canyon daisy, eupatorium, pine muhly, setcresea (Purple Heart), Mexican bush sage and evergreen sumac. With Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’.

Linda's front garden bed for wildlife
Greg nabbed a picture of Coreopsis tinctoria on the creek bank behind our fence. I hope some of the seeds end up in our back “prairie!”

Coreopsis tinctoria east Austin
My baby skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy appears to be MIA, but I’m getting more! In the meantime, here’s a beneficial wasp (I think) on one at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy with beneficial wasp
Another I’d like to have again is ‘David Verity’ Cuphea, beneficial to insects and hummingbirds.  My former one froze in the “big chill” two years ago. I didn’t replace it since it wasn’t getting enough sun, but I’ll find a spot to have one like this!

David Verity cuphea
Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) is another that I didn’t give enough sun. So, I’m glad a neighbor is growing it in a new hot strip curb bed, converted from lawn.

Gaura lindheimeri

It really does take a village to feed the wildlife. If everyone in the neighborhood plants even a few plants, the “strip mall” cluster attracts a bigger crowd.

Gaura lindheimeri
Along with masses to attract the masses, the secret to diversified wildlife is diversified food, even in winter. While we’re sipping hot chocolate, honeybees head for narcissus.

Narcissus with bee
In early spring, they make a beeline to Mexican plum, viburnums, and roses like this Mutabilis.

Rose mutabilis with bee

And native annual baby blue-eyes.

Baby blue-eyes with bee
I laughed like crazy to see this bee gleefully rolling around in the Pink evening primrose.

Pink Evening primrose with bee
More ecstasy in poppies. Sights like this are my favorite part of gardening.

Bee in poppy

This mild winter, everyone headed for a Salvia coccinea that didn’t freeze. It was protected by other plants in a warm niche, where spuria irises served dessert on April flowers.

Salvia coccinea with spuria iris
In summer, when this heat-loving annual salvia usually performs, it attracts bees and butterflies.

Salvia coccinea with bee

My “patrons” all rave about my fall goldenrods, though it wasn’t my recipe. These perennial natives just wandered in on their own.

Goldenrod with bee
Since bees are so important for pollination, this week Tom meets with Kellan Vincent, landscape architect, and Beekeeper and Pollination Strategist.
Tom Spencer and Kellan Vincent

What a fascinating quick primer on the lifestyles of honeybees, bumble bees and solitary bees, like Mason bees!  Here’s a native honeybee on my rosemary in January.

Rosemary flowers with bees

Mason bees quickly found my house, a gift from Travis Audubon stewards Georgean and Paul Kyle, who handcrafted this. You may know them best for their delightful handmade toys at Rootin’ Ridge Toymakers, but they also make the bee houses, bird nesting boxes and food perches.

Mason bee house from Rootin' Ridge

For more about bees, check in with The San Marcos Area Bee Wranglers, where you can meet Kellan in person! Follow him on Twitter at @BeeKellan.

This week, Daphne answers: why did our fall-blooming plants show up this spring?

Fall aster with bee
Daphne’s Pick of the Week is Texas Star Hibiscus, a native hibiscus that feeds wildlife all summer.

Texas Star hibiscus at Natural Bridge Caverns

That’s a screen grab from our tour this week to Natural Bridge Caverns (hence why it looks a little odd!). We didn’t go on the cavern tour, though you should! Our focus is what’s on top: design concepts for home gardens, plants for wildlife (no pesticides!), and mainly, a vivid illustration to remind us that what we pour on top of our gardens or to kill insects ends up in our water.

Jeff Pavlat from the Austin Cactus & Succulent Society premieres his first Backyard Basics with something we’ve wanted to do for years: show off Jeff’s toolkit for working with spiky plants!

Jeff Pavlat Central Texas Gardener
Sources: Jeff gets his knives and covers, ice scoops, brushes and gravel bins cheap at a restaurant supply store. On Amazon, I found several sources for these tools. But Jeff gets the big tweezers (forceps), hemostats and the sharp pointed tweezers at Miles’  To Go cacti and succulent nursery.
And also from Rainbow Gardens Bookshop that specializes in cacti and succulent plant books. The toolkit is a fishing tackle box from Academy.

Until next week, garden safe! Linda

Superstar plants

Fall aster and larkspur in spring Austin garden
I love it when cloudy days in spring fool the fall asters (and many autumn perennials) to bloom along with the larkspurs.

Even though we got a break this winter with rain and mild temperatures, the insects got a break too.  They’re just as thrilled as we are!  Really, every year in Texas is tough. If drought doesn’t get us, it’s too much rain, too much cold, or too many pests. That’s why I rely on my personal superstars to hang with me no matter what.

In the cat cove: Winecups on rainwater steroids climbed up to join the native Pavonia/rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) and larkspur.

Winecups, pavonia rock rose and larkspur
Coneflowers in the crape bed stretched up to snuggle against tough-as-nails Knock Out rose.

Coneflower and Knock Out rose
Red Admiral butterflies fuel up for another busy day.

Red Admiral butterfly on coneflower
I think they wear out going between the coneflowers and the Rusty blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum rufidulum).

Rusty blackhaw viburnum flowers
Note: this native shrub thickets like nuts!

Rusty blackhaw viburnum in bloom
My Angelica pachycarpa hangs out with me every winter until June or so. Now it’s sending up flowers before it crashes in a few weeks.

Angelica flower buds
Underneath, I’ve planted White veined Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata) to cover the space when it goes dormant. Since pipevine swallowtail butterflies are nectaring all over the garden, I suspect they’ll be laying eggs soon.

Angelica pachycarpa
But did you know that there are official Texas Superstar plants, thanks to research at Texas A&M University? This week on CTG, Tom meets with A&M professor H. Brent Pemberton, Texas AgriLife Research, to commend a few that you can find in nurseries right now.

Tom Spencer and Brent Pemberton

One is the Cora and Nirvana Vinca (periwinkle) series. These summer annuals are resistant to the aerial Phytophthora fungus that devastated our periwinkle chances in the past. They are tolerant of heat and humidity and DEER! In this picture, they’re in the foreground of other Superstar plants, like Esperanza.

Nora and Cora Vinca Texas Superstar plants
Brent explains how Texas AgriLife Research trials plants under grueling Texas conditions to make sure they’re tough enough for your garden! Watch for this Grandma’s Yellow Rose rose, here with Burgundy Sun SuperSun Coleus and Tidal Wave™ petunias.

Grandma's Yellow Rose Texas Superstar plants
One I discovered last year in a garden is Angelonia angustifolia Serena ™series.

Angelonia Serena series Texas Superstar plants

It’s a summer annual, but if you like that snapdragon/larkspur look in summer, it takes the heat, sun and drought! Just nabbed a few myself!

Here’s Brent’s CTG list. Plus, check out all the Texas Superstars. One to watch for is cenizo (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lyaa’s Legacy’) that can bloom more often in summer than other selections.  But since all varieties of cenizo/Texas sage are superstars, it’s Daphne’s Pick of the Week!

Cenizo, Texas sage

But why do they fail for some of us? Daphne explains why. One is poor drainage, too much water, and not enough sun. Even a gutter that gushes into the area can be fatal.  The picture above represents a fatality in my garden when trees grew up and it didn’t get the hot blast of sun it really wanted.

The second reason is pruning it too much. Cenizo really doesn’t want to be hedged to perfection. Just lightly shape it to encourage more growth.

On tour, meet some superstar butterflies and birds at the Bulverde/Spring Branch Library. Thanks to the Comal County Master Gardeners and Friends of the Library, a rocky slope at the end of the parking lot is now an instructional guide to gardening and wildlife, plus an outdoor haven to read a book!

Daphne’s question of the week comes from Nettie Birnbaum: “Do we need to clean or sterilize our pots or black plastic 6-packs before replanting or seeding?”

Pots to be cleaned and sterilized before planting again

Yes! Daphne recommends cleaning with soap and water and then a 10% bleach solution. Rinse well and dry.

Since many of our container plants need to be divided this time of year, Trisha explains how to do that. She also shows how to separate new nursery plants, like basils that are overcrowded.  Get her tips on amending/sterilizing old potting soil, how to keep ants out of your pots, and how she starts summer crops in containers until winter plants finish for the year.

This Sunday, join the CTG team and the Travis Master Gardeners at KLRU’s 50th anniversary birthday party!  We’ll be making “eat a rainbow” bracelets for kids (vegetables!).  Plus there are tons of activities, PBS characters, and the Biscuit Brothers for this family fun day! It’s noon – 4 p.m. on 2nd street in Austin. See you there!

Thank you for your support of CTG as we head into KLRU’s 51st year! 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