Spring into summer with gusto

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

I can’t have too many native winecups.

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Spencer and Jeff Yarbrough Emerald Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

bird bath with old plates and vases Robin Howard Moore

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

garden art bowling ball with marbles

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

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

Rangoon Creeper flower

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

soil compost mulch

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

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

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

Banish Bermuda grass for gardens

Over the years, I’ve whittled away grass, because there are so many fun plants out there! I’m keen on bulbs, especially for endearing combinations, like my long-term Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ and 3-year-old Yucca pallida.

Narcissus Erlicheer with Yucca pallida

This leucojum (Leucojum aestivum) surprised me by popping up in my Texas sedge (Carex texensis). How cute!

Leucojum with Texas sedge
Overhead in back, the Mexican plum carries on the white theme.

Mexican plum flowers Austin
Little spring starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum) touch it up with lavender in a spot that was once plain old grass.

Ipheon uniflorum

Last spring, we tackled one area where grass never had a chance as our path to the front door from the driveway.

Remove grass for path

pathway instead of grass

Recently, we completed the next step of the picture. Last year, I simply layered newspaper, compost, and mulch around the tree and thought about things. Thanks to very talented help, my little vision became real last week. In January, I’d already moved some Salvia greggiis that needed a sunnier position and added some asters to match the window bed (currently cut back, so not visible). In the next few weeks, I’ll do some “shopping” in my garden to fill it out, along with a few new nursery plants to widen the botanical adventure.

new flower bed instead of grass
The bottom slope: still thinking about that one. Already, Mexican feather grasses have seeded themselves. It may be a combo of them and more sedges.

Many times, I’ve banished St. Augustine with the newspaper (or cardboard) technique. In evil spots where Bermuda grass showed up, that’s been a task, though I will say that my newspaper technique worked well for me in a few places. An old-fashioned dandelion puller assists when a stray shows back up.

But I’m sure you all have seen something like this! Not in my garden, thank heavens; I’m very cautious about planting spiky ones if there’s even a sniff of Bermuda around.

Agave smothered in Bermuda grass
This week, Design My Yard garden designer Liz Klein joins Tom to explain how to avoid disaster when replacing Bermuda lawns with gardens.

Tom Spencer and Liz Klein
Find out how she did it in this garden makeover!

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

Liz Klein Design My Yard ridding Bermuda grass

Liz Klein Design My Yard makeover

On tour, Dani & Gary Moss turned an oak wilt disaster into total enchantment with wildlife gardens, a Chicksville chicken coop, and English style conservatory. When they want to add a touch of art, they make it themselves. Gary welds to suit the purpose and Dani catches the light with her stained glass. Here’s a sneak peek, but I know you’ll want to meet them in person on this year’s Austin Funky Chicken Coop tour on March 30!

Now, with this crazy warm weather, it’s tempting to add some things that really need to wait a bit. This is an excellent time to plant almost  everything–except warm soil lovers. Daphne explains why soil temperature makes a difference.

soil temperature for planting
Firespike (Odontonema strictum) is one perennial that we want to plant after the last freeze date. But it’s Daphne’s pick of the week, since gardeners like to plan ahead!

firespike Odontonema strictum
Like the ones at Dani and Gary’s, and the one I have, firespike is a dramatic addition for shade gardens. Mine didn’t even freeze back this year. In harsh winters, I thought I’d lost it. I kept my patience, and as soon as the soil warmed again, back it came!

On comebacks, Trisha shows how to extend your broccoli and fennel past the first big harvest. Plus, she explains how to deal with the pesky insects that arrived early this year to eat our food.

how to cut broccoli plants Trisha Shirey
Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Drought disasters to avoid

Drought doesn’t scare me to pieces. My plants have been through it all and always come back for more. Yes, I do water some, but not outrageously. I avoid thirsty ones and go for those that can take our brutal swings.
Rock rose and turk's cap wildlife plants

What scares the living daylights out of me is overreaction to drought. I keep seeing people make a clean sweep of it all and dumping yards of rocks over former living ground. Aside from being hot, hot, hot, and a mess when “weeds” inevitably find a niche, what about the wildlife we banish?

Bordered Patch butterfly on zexmenia

New Mexico landscape architect David Cristiani is very familiar with this frightening response. He made the trip to Austin to join Tom for his insightful perspective to steer us away from ecological disaster. Follow his insightful blog, The Desert Edge, for more of his perceptions.

Tom Spencer and David Cristiani Central Texas Gardener

Some plants thrive in rock, for sure. But a lot do not, like many of our trees and native plants! If we force them into unnatural habitat, what happens? Okay, bet you got that one: death.

Dead tree rockscape photo by David Cristiani

Hot, ugly, and not much life in sight, other than the person who comes to blow debris off the rocks: is that how we want to deal with drought?

Hot rockscape photo by David Cristiani

Nope, says landscape architect Christy Ten Eyck, who lived in Phoenix for many years. Now, she’s in Austin, keeping busy designing across state lines around the country with her important message to keep our wildlife intact. On tour in her Austin garden, see how she connects the drought dots without sacrificing essential content, like our lives!

Christy’s garden includes many clumping grasses. These drought tough plants, like Lindheimer muhly, are superb standouts for texture, structure, and striking seed heads.

Lindheimer muhly and agave

Most of them go dormant in winter. So, when should we prune them and how far down do we cut? Daphne gives us the cutting edge scoop. We want to keep them up as long as possible, since their seed heads, like those of Gulf muhly, are still gorgeous in this mild winter.

Gulf muhly seed heads

I think they look great in their winter rendition! Butterflies agree, since overwintering ones hide in the leaves to stay warm. Some birds go for the seed heads, too.

Silver bluestem

Daphne explains that we do want to cut them back by the end of February to clean up before new growth emerges. With inland sea oats, cut all the way to the ground. I cut some of mine already to show you how their new leaves are already popping up.

inland sea oats new growth

Strappy ones, like Mexican feather grass, get a straight haircut to about 6” above ground.

mexican feather grass seed heads

Mexican feather grass cut back

Get Daphne’s techniques to make the job easier on large plants like Lindheimer muhly. Cut this neighboring Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) down to the rosette.

Lindheimer muhly and salvia leucantha

A chore we can’t delay is wrangling those weeds! With the low rainfall, they’re not as crazy as in wet winters, but even a few mean a lifetime supply if we let them go to seed. See how Merrideth Jiles from The Great Outdoors snags them.

Merrideth Jiles The Great Outdoors

Now is also an excellent time to plant trees before it gets hot in earnest. Take a look at Daphne’s Pick of the Week, Mexican orchid tree, (Bauhinia mexicana), if you’re looking for a small shrub-like tree in dappled light.

Mexican orchid tree Bauhinia mexicana
Like Christy, plant it where you can see the butterflies and hummingbirds that flock to its flowers from summer to early fall. And you’re good to go in deer country, since (usually) they won’t bother it.

Mexican orchid tree flower hummingbird plant

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda

Mushrooms: Your Garden's Best Friend

Remember last spring and fall when mushrooms appeared like magic? I always get a few, but last year, many mornings were absolute wonderland!
cute garden mushrooms
Some gardeners fear that mushrooms mean something really evil.

Cute spring garden mushrooms
Actually, it’s just the opposite! Tom meets with Ashley McKenzie from the Texas Wild Mushrooming Group to explain what mushrooms are doing and how lucky you are to have them.

Ashley McKenzie and Tom Spencer

What is a mushroom? Ashley tells us that it’s the fruiting body of an underground network called a mycelial mat. This mat is interspersed among all habitats. If you see a cobweb sort of structure under the soil, that is the mat.

Mushrooms in plant container
The mycorrhizal relationship between plants and fungi, like mushrooms, is very beneficial for plant health, soil fertility and drought tolerance, to name just a few. You can buy mycorrhizae, but if you’ve got mushrooms, it’s free!

Wild brown mushrooms
Ashley describes the habitats where they’ll pop up in our gardens, why they emerge after rain when soil temperatures are cool, and how to collect their spores and encourage more.

Mushroom in salvia greggii
Check out the Texas Wild Mushrooming Meetup group to join them for their educational and fun “flash forays” after a rain to learn what is edible.

Chicken of the Woods Texas Wild Mushrooming Group

Until then, certainly don’t eat anything from your garden—just let them feed your plants!

Orange mushroom Central Texas Gardener

Find out more about mycorrhizae benefits from Texas A&M.

In Austin, South Austin Mushrooms is supplying Oyster and soon, Shitake mushrooms, if you want to grow your own edible ones! For now, they’re only on Facebook, but will have their website up soon.

Pruning’s on our minds, so let’s not forget those trees on our to-do list!

winter tree pruning
Daphne explains why to prune in winter while they’re dormant. “Their plant sap, which contains water, nutrients and hormones, isn’t actively flowing at this time of year. This means that the cut surface won’t have lots of sap rushing to it, as it would in the spring, which would attract insects and disease spores—which are also more active in warmer weather—to the source of a direct route into their body.”

Still, we want some sap flow to naturally heal the cuts. SO, you don’t need to paint cuts on most trees, since that will impede natural healing. But, you MUST paint cuts on red oaks and live oaks immediately to protect them from the beetles that vector oak wilt. You’ll want to get those trees pruned in the next few weeks.

Oak tree prune branch collar
Ah, now about pruning everything else! Relax: there’s no reason to scurry around to tidy up. Top growth can protect roots, grasses hide overwintering butterflies, and seeds feed hungry animals and birds.

Instead, take a winter walk in your garden to simply revel in its beauty.

Evergreen sumac berries

Turn off your editing mode and absorb its graceful shapes and textures and how the light plays upon them.

Agave celsii
Instead of clamping those pruners, ponder the mystery locked into each seed head.

Gulf muhly seed heads
Then, just gush over the intense colors that only come with frost.

Plumbago scandens winter leaf color
We’ll get into pruning next week! For now, take a winter wander through Lynne and Jim Weber’s garden, where wonder never takes a break.

Follow the seasons (including mushrooms and slime mold!) in their very hands-on guide to natural life in Austin.

Nature Watch Austin

We can plant many things, like Daphne’s Pick of the Week, Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.).

Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.)

If you want the perfectly behaved plant for sun or even shady spots (like under your oak trees), this one is for you! As a 2’ tall “groundcover,” its tidy leaves and rounded form make a great foil against other textures. In fall, tiny flowers are simply a bonus against its evergreen simplicity.

Mountain pea flower
I first met it years ago when Pat McNeal introduced it on CTG as a lawn replacement. Then, it was harder to find, but thanks to growers who recognize a good thing, look for it at your local nursery. I nabbed one (and more to come) from Michelle Pfluger at Green ‘n Growing. Here’s her CTG list for other great groundcovers.

Plus, while it’s still cool, we can get after those projects on our lists—like structures to wrangle vining plants and upcoming tomatoes. Trisha shows you how.

Thanks for stopping in! See you next week, Linda

Groundcovers made for the shade; spiritual healing garden

Is it true? Is fall here at last? In any case, ‘Butterpat’ chrysanthemum is ready!

Butterpat chrysanthemum
Since we’re finally around the heat bend, it’s time to plant. This week Daphne explains why we should firm the soil around our plants. Why is that, when we’re cautioned not to trample beds? Plus, get her answer on what happens when we till.

Daphne Richards, Augie, Grandma's Yellow rose
I did firm the soil around my new snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis), one that accepts my east Austin soil, but is adaptable to many sites.

Snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis)

Find out about this drought-tough groundcover and many more when Tom meets with Michelle Pfluger from Green ‘n Growing in Pflugerville.

Tom Spencer Michelle Pfluger Central Texas Gardener

Yep, she descends from the Pfluger founders. Her parents started this great nursery in 1975, one of the first to carry organic products. I cut some of my early teeth on it. Now she’s at the helm, and carrying on the tradition of propagating some of their diverse, Texas-proven selections.

Green 'n Growing Garden Center Pflugerville Texas
She responds to one of CTG’s top questions:  How can we dress up dry shade to part sun?  One of her drought-tough picks is cobweb plant (Tradescantia sillamontana).

Cobweb spiderwort Tradescantia sillamontana

Now, this one’s really supposed to get some shade, but I planted my passalong from gardener Paul Lofton last spring in a psycho hot area: shade morning and blasted heat in the afternoon. It blooms most in fall, but its creeping texture is what I treasure.

Cobweb spiderwort flower
It goes dormant in winter when tall spring spiderworts (Tradescantia gigantea) will take over.

This picture shows it in perspective. It’s the one cozying up between the two pots.

frogfruit path with cobweb spiderwort

Another dry shade/part sun lover is Mexican spiderwort (Tinantia pringlei), blooming through hot months. This perennial will go dormant in winter but return in spring, maybe even with a new family!

Mexican spiderwort  (Tinantia pringlei)
Here’s mine with Yucca rupicola x pallida and fall-blooming bulb Sternbergia lutea.

Mexican spiderwort with Sternbergia lutea
A compatible companion for its spotted leaves is African hosta (Drimiopsis maculata). In gardens, it goes dormant in winter to return in spring. In protected containers, it is evergreen.

African hosta Drimiopsis maculata
Recently, I found a spot for another spotted one on Michelle’s list: Silver leopard manfreda (Manfreda x ‘Silver Leopard’). You’ll also see it as Manfreda maculosa ‘Silver Leopard.’

Silver leopard manfreda (Manfreda x 'Silver Leopard').

Nearby are two ‘Helen von Stein’ lamb’s ears. Behind are the ‘Butterpat’ mums. Yellow, silver, and burgundy; lovely! One of the new snake herbs is just down the line from them. Pictures later! I plan to take a cue from Amanda and create a “spotted garden” in this area, too.

An evergreen I’ve wanted for years is Mountain pea (Orbexilum sp.) Recently, this drought-hardy plant for sun to part shade has become more available. It’s showing up in gardens all over, including mine. It’s the perfect, no-care addition under big trees, though I’ve also seen it as a lush companion plant in sun. Gets about a foot high. Here’s one with its sweet little pea-flower in the Travis County AgriLife Extension demo garden.

Mountain pea

Get Michelle’s complete CTG list to spark up your shade.

Since drought and hard freezes will always be on our radar, we repeat Merredith Jiles’ Backyard Basics tips on what takes the trauma in his garden.

Merrideth Jiles The Great Outdoors

On tour, find soulful inspiration as we head into the season of thanks through Elayne Lansford’s healing garden.

Healing garden Elayne Lansford Central Texas Gardener
Her Bottle World is a tribute to triumph over life-threatening illness and the power of healing through gardening and hands-on creativity. Here’s a shot where director Ed Fuentes documents her journey.

Healing garden bottle world

Re-framing her reality by giving new life to old objects helped her when husband John Villanacci faced a random disease and double lung transplant, soon after she recovered from breast cancer. One soothing technique is a waterfall from a recycled table top.

Waterfall with old table top

Healing garden outdoor bath

She even learned how to weld to create her own Bottle World creations from foundlings.

Healing garden bottle tree
Every roadside discard captures her imagination, like this comfy hideaway under a satellite dish.

Satellite dish shade cover
Her story of struggle and yes, celebration, is CTG’s tribute to every gardener who seeks consolation, strength, and joy when life throws us a curve.

Thank you for checking in! See you next week, Linda

Structure + Soft = Powerful Designs

Although I’m fond of tidy, highly structural gardens, mine doesn’t make that list. I do have many non-fussy anchors, but I wouldn’t be content with an essentially static garden. I’m a drama queen and I like surprises! This sure was a surprise:  my Iceberg rose blooming its head off with thryallis and cenizo.

Cenizo, Iceberg rose, thryallis
That group only gets water once a week in summer if rain veered past us (yet again!). A few years ago, I replaced the red tip photinias in this AC side yard with these and other sun lovers that I relocated from too much shade.

My altheas/Rose of Sharon that came with our 1950s house have hung around through many a dry year. This new beauty is a passalong from Bob Beyer.  In a few years, this large shrub will be big enough to complete the “living wall” that I’m creating for our patio cove “enclosure.”

Pink althea, Rose of Sharon
This part of the back “prairie” is in riot-mode with milkweeds, Turk’s caps, pavonia, lantana and passionvine. It’s a wildlife riot, too!

Milkweed, Turk's cap, rock rose, lantana
Old-fashioned fragrant petunias in patio containers are heading into summer break, though not quite ready to give up their perfumed performance. I’ve been cutting them back a little and feeding with a seaweed/fish emulsion/molasses drink which they appreciate.

Old-fashioned pink petunias
In a fence bed, this spring I added some red billbergias. They get shade mixed with blasts of sunlight. I just love this color and their tidy form that so beautifully complements the spilling plants beyond them.

Red billbergia
On CTG this week, that’s just one of many plants that Tillery Street Plant Company’s Jon Hutson highlights in his talk with Tom.

Jon Hutson Tillery Street Plant Company
I’ve known Jon since he ran innovative Floribunda in south Austin. We were thrilled when he opened equally innovative Tillery Street in east Austin! It’s just across the street from Boggy Creek Farm and down the street from Springdale Farm. Since many talented artisans have located nearby, this is the latest go-to place for food, plants, and art!

On CTG, responding to viewer requests, Jon combines structural and softer forms for sun and shade. He explains how to diversify our gardens with drought-tough companions that strengthen our designs with contrasting forms.

Tom Spencer and Jon Hutson at Central Texas Gardener
One he brought along is native candellia (Euphorbia antisyphilitica). Isn’t this nicho at the Wildflower Center just so appropriate? A plant “candle.”

Candellia at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Cent
Get Jon’s list for outstanding additions from upright yuccas to floppy yellow firecracker fern and silvery native groundcover woolley stemodia. I grabbed this shot at Mueller on a cloudy morning. In sunlight, its silver absolutely shimmers!

Woolly stemodia
Another on his plant list is foxtail fern. Mine (this one in a pot) are soft-structure perfect in psycho lighting: dry shade peppered with a brutal spear of afternoon sun. Beyond are inland sea oats and potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) on an obelisk.

Foxtail fern and inland sea oats

Jon brings along a Mangave ‘Bloodspot’, a cross between Manfreda and agave. Since these are great non-fussy structures, Daphne makes Manfreda our Pick of the Week with her insight and planting tips. Gardener Brent Henry has clay soil, so he mixes in decomposed granite to improve drainage.  His Manfredas get partial sun with most of the sun in the afternoon, but shaded by a bur oak.

Manfreda bloom stalk
Gardener Matt Jackson snapped these pictures of native Manfreda virginica for CTG.

Manfreda virginica

Manfreda virginica flower buds

When I first heard about ‘Macho Mocha’ years ago, it was considered a Manfreda. By the time Pam Penick divided some of hers for me, it was categorized as a Mangave.
Manfreda (Mangave) 'Macho Mocha'

Whatever. You’ll see them as both names. As Daphne tells us, the native Manfreda maculosa is considered the Texas tuberose. That’s on my list!

So, once you have your structural succulents, how do you divide these vigorous plants? Eric Pedley from East Austin Succulents shows us how.

Eric Pedley East Austin Succulents Central Texas Gardener
In 2011, Eric met with CTG for astounding design ideas with succulents. Now, he’s joined spaces with Jon’s Tillery Street Plant Company. In one visit, you can fulfill your garden dreams, encouraged by two hard-working home-grown owners who are passionate about plants and ready to share their knowledge with you.

To complete our east Austin tour of innovative ideas that combine structure with softness, take a tour of Lee Clippard and John Stott’s garden.


Many gardeners, like Russell Bauer, have asked us about blossom end rot! Daphne explains why this happens and what you can do.

Tomato blossom end rot Galveston Texas AgriLife
Thank you to Dr. William Johnson, Texas Agrilife Extension/Galveston for sharing his picture! Usually, the second crop comes out clean, as Russell shows us with his second harvest.

homegrown tomatoes
Certified Backyard Habitat gardener Susan Brock shares this picture from her organic garden: another reason to diversify your garden. Cardinals selected her Knock Out to raise a new family!

cardinal nest in Knock Out rose
Stay cool until our visit next week, Linda

Blooming for Wildlife!

My namesake bloomed this week!

Linda lily
In 2008, I couldn’t resist a try at the Asiatic lily ‘Linda’.  Her visit is brief, but worth it for that vibrant golden orange, just lovely against the last of the larkspurs.

This daylily in the den bed companions the orange theme.

Tawny daylily

When I got it years ago, it was simply called ‘Tawny.’ This could be the “ditch lily” (Hemerocallis fulva) but mine isn’t invasive.

The white mistflowers, also called boneset (Ageratina havanensis) are growing like crazy and flowering way ahead of their fall schedule. I’m adding more!

white mistflower Ageratina havanensis
They’re perfect for those part shade spots to entice butterflies and other pollinators.

hite mistflower (Ageratina havanensis or Eupatorium havanense)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), one of the first natives I planted, is another pollinator love. It runs like crazy, but the delicate ferny foliage is quite a distinctive counterpoint to brisker leaves.  And you can’t beat its tenacity in drought, freeze, flood!

White yarrow (Achillea millfolium)
In front, feverfew towers above the Yucca rupicola x pallida.

Feverfew with Yucca rupicola x pallida
Apparently bees don’t like its flowers but it hasn’t scared them off from other flowering plants nearby.

Feverfew flowers

Here’s another orange for you, Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), a true draw for hummingbirds. On Daphne’s Pick of the Week, she explains how to grow it in your shady spots.  Viewer Nancy Yerks sent in this from her garden, photographed by friend Bob Phillips.

Mexican honeysuckle Justicia spicigera Georgetown Texas
She moved them from a former garden and last year they were a little slow to establish.  They’re now quite at home in the southwest corner of her garden where they get shade from a cedar elm.  Mine are still young and will take another season to fill my partly shady areas and look like these in Paul Lofton’s garden!

Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) in Pfugerville Texas
Daphne notes: It’s not a vining plant at all; it’s actually related to shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), another great part shade to sun lover that attracts hummingbirds.

On Backyard Basics, Lyda Guz from The Natural Gardener steps in front of the CTG cameras for the first time to share her passion about plants for butterflies!

Butterfly plants Lyda Guz The Natural Gardener
Many of her selections attract other pollinators, too. Plus, she reminds us to plant larval food hosts to invite your “happy hour nectaring” adults to lay some eggs for a return audience in a few months.

Lyda explains how to make a simple puddling spot, which butterflies love to nab some water and salt. Ripe fruit is a bonus. Another shot from Paul Lofton’s garden.

Butterfly puddling bowl

Gourds are another way to attract pollinators with their summer flowers that turn into cool things we can use! This week, Tom joins Suzanne Haffey from the Capital of Texas Gourd Patch/Texas Gourd Society and Charlotte Yeisley from Diamond Y Farm in Smithville to explain how to grow and craft with these historic plants.

Tom Spencer, Suzanne Haffey, Charlotte Yeisley
At the Texas Gourd Society’s show and sale every fall, get the most beautiful bowls, lamps, baskets and artwork. I’ve got several, but here are a couple that Suzanne made. Gorgeous!

gourd basket Texas Gourd Society Suzanne Haffey

Gourd artwork Suzanne Haffey Texas Gourd Society

Meet Charlotte and her husband Ed at the River Valley Farmers’ Market in Smithville for their organic produce. Or head to Smithville and ask for the Diamond Y Ranch for a personal tour, where they’re growing lots of gourds and vegetables.

Find out more about how to grow gourds and prep them for crafts with Trisha Shirey.

On tour, we head to Hutto for a healing garden that celebrates family, community, and wildlife after a scrape with cancer.

In my garden, I’m doing lots of touch-up pruning right now. What do you need to do? Get  Daphne’s answer on how/why/when to prune and how to fertilize as we head into the heat.

See ya next week! Linda

Drought didn't make it to my spring party

Ready or not, here I come with the pruners!  It’s safe now to prune evergreens, Texas sage (cenizo), thryallis, and shrimp plants like these.

Shrimp plant winter (c) Linda LehmusvirtaShrimp plant winter (c)Linda Lehmusvirta
I’ll cut them down to a foot or so to encourage fluffy growth.  Since the thryallis didn’t freeze completely, I’ll chop it back a few feet, and simply tip my cenizo.

Eventually, I’ll prune these Gomphrena ‘Grapes’ against the Swiss chard. I’ll wait a bit, since it’s quite unusual to see them blooming this time of year.

Swiss chard and Gomphrena grapes (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

It’s hard to focus, though, since I flit from one little (or big) discovery to the next. The first Freesia laxa showed up against soft leaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia).

Freesia laxa with soft leaf yucca (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

First poppies!

Red poppy (c)Linda Lehmusvirta

They are HUGE. I’ve actually been pulling some out before they strangled everyone underneath.

Poppy with spiderworts (c)Linda Lehmusvirta

I’ve always wanted native perennial Widow’s tears (Commelina erecta). Not sure how I came by these, but now I’ve got their charm.

Widow's tears Commelina erecta (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

They do spread like nuts, so things are getting a tad covered there, too. It’s hard to pull things up, though, since it’s such a luxury to see such abundance.

Native spiderworts (Tradescantia gigantea) are in gear, too, here with candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), a non-native, but very drought tough in the right spot.

Spiderwort with candytuft (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Spiraea may be an old-fashioned shrub, but despite the drought, I think this is the best performance yet.

Spiraea (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Spiraea flowers (c) Linda Lehmusvirta

Climbing Cecile Brunner defied drought, too.

Cecile Brunner rose (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
The ultimate drought winner is Lady Banks rose, out of range for me to drag the hose, since I’m so lazy.

Lady Banks rose (c) Linda Lehmusvirta
Viewer picture of the week: Jeff Goodwin’s young redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis ‘Oklahoma’) that defied the drought, too! Of course, we all know that young trees need to be watered, and Jeff did a good job.

Oklahoma redbud (c) Jeff Goodwin
I sure hope that 2012 isn’t a repeat of the past two years, but if so, my garden is tougher than my spirit when the hot, dry days drag on and on. I tip my garden hat to them with respect, admiration, and fondness for new and old friends.

Until next week, Linda

Screening plants + what's in a name + when to plant bulbs

The other day, I sorted through plant tags stuffed into a pot on the patio. (I don’t save every tag, or I’d need a pot the size of my house).

plant tags in pot
I keep a running list of “dream plants.” Since this can mean something I scribbled on my hand, or a gazillion scraps of paper (some retrieved from the dryer), I’ve begun to type every brainstorm into a folder “Garden tasks,” easy to supplement on a whim from my computer’s taskbar.  I was feeling so proud, until I found another LONG list stuffed into my garden diary. Type, type, type. And I added five more today. Yowsers!

These days, I record acquisitions in Excel, noting date, nursery, and where I put it. If it’s a passalong, I note its sweet heritage. If a plant goes belly up, I note that, too. I used to do this with a pen, scrawling into my garden diary, and I still do some of that. But it’s much easier to find everything on my laptop.

Sorting through the tags reminded me of failed experiments, annual delights (including ones I’d totally forgotten), and those I want to try again. Spreading their brittle testimony in my hands was a powerful connection to my garden journey, far more powerful than any computer document.

plant tags
Yet, I can thank my spreadsheet to remind me that it was 2009 that my neighbor seeded a butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera) for me. I planted it on my fence where he can see it from two yards away.

butterfly vine flower
Although I haven’t kept it watered as well as I should, it made it through these past hard years. It does attract butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. But it’s nicknamed for the dried seed pods that resemble butterflies.

butterfly vine seed pods spraypainted for Christmas decorations
A few years ago, CTG’s director Ed Fuentes and KLRU colleague Mary Alice gave me some from their vigorous vines.  I spray painted them in Christmas colors as gifts to a few friends. They’ve held up beautifully!

Butterfly vine is one of the many drought-tough screening plants that Tom and Christine and Bill Reid from Reid’s Nursery explore this week on CTG.

Tom Spencer with Christine and Bill Reid, Reid's Nursery in Maxwell

Christine & Bill know just what to do about every situation, since they are hands-on gardeners who guide their customers with personalized advice. For CTG, they brought a selection of vines and shrubs.  Our eyes popped out with this cenizo!

Cenizo 'Convent'  (Leucophyllum frutescens) 'Convent'
Cenizo ‘Convent’  (Leucophyllum frutescens) ‘Convent’

Another they brought along is Xylosma (Xylosma congestum).

Xylosma (Xylosma congestum)

We ran out of time to talk about it, but this is a great screen for sun to part shade, growing about 15’ high x 10’ wide. Berries attract birds. It may be cold tender for some, but the Reids had no problems these past two chillers.  (This week, I saw some planted at a butterfly library garden in Bulverde. They’re acting as wind breaks on the open hilltop site to slow down the wind whoosh for nectaring insects, and a place for them to seek shelter).

Get Christine’s complete list and details for all the plants she and Bill brought to CTG. Reid’s Nursery is just 10 minutes east of I-35 between Kyle and San Marcos. Check them out for personal garden attention and their free workshops!

Since varieties and cultivars can make a difference on a plant’s performance in tough times, this week Daphne explains the difference between the two. Essentially, a variety occurs naturally when a plant hybridizes with another in its genus and species. You’ll see the word “var” on a tag, like this one.

Plant tag variety

Genus: Aquilegia Species: chrysantha Variety: hinckleyana.

But these days, you can also see plant tags with the initials “c.v.”  That indicates that the plant is a cultivar, which means that humans were involved in its creation. Per Daphne, “And just like other man-made items, companies want to protect their investment, so cultivars are patented, meaning that no other company can reproduce or sell that plant until the patent has expired.” You may see “Plant Propagation Prohibited” on some tags. Gardeners and insects may propagate the plants, but growers cannot!

Very often, you’ll see cultivars with single quotation marks like Cenizo ‘Convent Sage’ (Leucophyllum frutescens) ‘Convent’.

Genus: Leucophyllum Species: frutescens Cultivar: ‘Convent’

Daphne’s plant of the week, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, is an example of a trademarked cultivar, introduced by Proven Winners.

Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' Daphne Richards
Usually deer resistant, ‘Diamond Frost’ is an excellent low-growing, drought-tough plant for part shade. It blooms from the minute you plant it until first freeze. Some gardeners can overwinter it in protected microclimates, but outside of Zone 10 or 11, it is considered an annual.  Mine does die in winter, but I’ve planted naturalizing bulbs around them. Since I’ve left the space, it’s easy to plop some more back in April, where they can flower with winecups to set off their foreground.

Winecup with Diamond Frost euphorbia

But, as Daphne notes, this is where we must adapt the plant tag to grueling Central Texas sun. Although the tag says “Full sun to part shade, for us ‘Diamond Frost’ should be planted in bright, filtered light, or light shade.  Morning sun is fine.  Until this summer from you-know-where, mine were actually fine with late afternoon low shafts deflected by a mountain laurel.

You’ll also see varieties and cultivars with naturalizing bulbs like Narcissus ‘Ziva’. This week, Trisha explains how and when to plant your naturalizing bulbs.

Trisha Shirey plants bulbs

She’s also got tips for chilling the specialty bulbs and ones we want to force for the holidays.

Augie doggie’s Pet of the Week is Pierre, a Mini Pinscher, Chihuahua  and Daschund mix.

Pierre Augie doggie pet of the week

As a puppy, he keeps his dad Michael Clayton busy, but there’s nothing he likes better then to go out and smell the flowers and chase some squirrels in the morning!  Now, that’s a cute “cultivar!”

On tour, meet one of my new spiritual mentors, Claire Golden!  Long before she restored her 1920s bungalow in Alamo Heights, she was dirt-deep in plants. When she fell in love with this old house, she replaced grass in the old Spanish courtyard with stones and an acequia that unites its diverse levels. In front, she turned a drainage nightmare into a reflective (and party time) destination.

Whoop on events!

Lone Star Gourd
Until next week, Linda

Drought tips for planting wildflowers, native plants, and seeds

Drought can be tough on Lycoris radiata. Obviously, these refused to miss their chance to radiate joy!

lycoris radiata in Texas drought
I thank the raccoons for this. These Lycoris are blooming next to the kiddie pool. The raccoons have been getting drinks from it (along with the bowl of water we give them). They press on the sides for a slurp. In the process, they watered the bulbs.

I know that others are healthy and will radiate in future years when water Prohibition has been revoked. I know this because last Saturday some of their fat little roots on sturdy bulbs, too tired to bloom, got unearthed. I made their acquaintance when we finally dealt with the homeowner’s nightmare: a broken sewage pipe. It had sunk several inches in our shifting clay soil and then disconnected. I entered the magic bubble of denial and refused to come out. But out I had to come.

plumbing nightmare
I’m ashamed of my procrastination, because moving plants in this heat isn’t a brilliant idea. Between me and my new heroes, though, we got them out fast and I raced them to potted, watered safety on the shaded patio. I wrapped the Lycoris bulbs in damp paper towels and planted them Sunday morning. The other plants get a  daily misted vacation on the patio for now.

I’d hoped to spare my Yucca rupicola x pallida from the shovel. Gently, my heroes pulled it out of the way with duct tape.

Yucca ruppicola x pallida spared in plumbing dig

I’d use clothesline or strips of sheeting instead if this happens again, but it didn’t mind a bit. It was only in bondage for a very short time.  (No plants were harmed in the making of this pipe.)

Yucca restrained for plumbing dig

SO, the big question I keep getting: Should we plant this fall or not? Well, I certainly am.  You’ll find me at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center plant sale on Oct. 15-16. Members get in early on Oct. 14, a great reason to join now (or you can do at the door).

I’ve already printed out this year’s plant list. Fall is still the best time to plant!

This week on CTG, Tom meets with Sean Watson, nursery manager at the Wildflower Center, for special tips on how to plant wildflowers this fall, like bluebonnets, Drummond phlox, and this one, Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella).

Indian blanket Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Sean includes a few drought-tough trees to establish now, like Retama (Parkinsonia aculeata).

Retama (Parkinsonia aculeata) Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
And Lace cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii).

Lace cactus Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Check out the Wildflower Center’s Drought Resource Center for tips on dealing with drought, replacing your lawn, and plant lists.

One plant I’ve gotten at Wildflower Center sales is golden groundsel (Packera obovata). This week, Daphne explains how to grow this native groundcover for shade to part sun.

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata)
Mine starts blooming by February, a great nectar source for insects when many plants are dormant. Combine it with annual natives, like Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii) to fill in shady spots while warm-weather annuals and perennials are on break.

Baby blue eyes with golden groundsel
And since fall is the time to plant spring wildflower seeds and cool-weather vegetables, Daphne answers: How does a seed work? She explains, “Seeds are tiny packets of carbohydrates, plus a tiny future plant.  The first thing that all seeds need in order to germinate is water.  When water and oxygen are taken up, the plant embryo can begin respiration and can digest the carbohydrate food source packaged with it and then can begin to grow.” Then, there are big seeds and small seeds. Get Daphne’s complete answer.

On tour, visit this low-water native plant design where Bobbie Tsukahara and Gil Starkey wanted to attract the three B’s: butterflies, birds, and bees.

native plant garden central texas gardener

Working with Judy Walther and Troy Nixon from Environmental Survey Consulting, their organic, low-maintenance garden contributes to nature’s gifts, rather than depleting them.

Mockinbird Central Texas Gardener native plant design

I thank Pam Penick for recommending this one that belongs to her in-laws! Early on, she guided Bobbie & Gilbert to native plants. Two years ago, their garden was featured on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center garden tour.

native plant garden design Central Texas Gardener

Another dear friend, Sandy Youman, recommends this tough native, Fall obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana).

Fall obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)

Deer resist it, but butterflies and hummingbirds can’t get enough of its nectar. This member of the mint family is vigorous and will quickly cover its appointed ground to visit its neighbors. You can’t beat it if you want a low-maintenance plant in shady, sunny or part sun spots where you can let it run. It’s easily dug up to move to other spots or share with a wildlife-loving buddy.

Regardless of drought, we’ve all got work to do out there. John Dromgoole demonstrates some tools that make back-breaking work in dry soil a lot easier!

John Dromgoole ergonomic tools

For more drought-tough garden design inspiration, join Stephen Orr, author of Tomorrow’s Garden: Design & Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening, on October 11 at 6 p.m. for wine, book-signing, and a most timely presentation!  He features several Austin gardens, too! This Garden Conservancy event will be held at the Arthouse at the Jones Center. General admission is $35;  and $30 for members of the Garden Conservancy and the Arthouse. Order tickets online from The Garden Conservancy and find out more.

Augie Doggie’s pet of the week is a young Tennessee fainting goat, Taffeta!

Tennessee fainting goat Central Texas Gardener

In Eve William’s garden, Taffeta and her sisters contribute nanny berries to the organic garden.  The manure is a natural slow-release source of nutrients for the soil.  Eve writes, “I get love and affection from my goats as well as good food from my garden.  Who could ask for more?”

SO, why are they called fainting goats? When startled, their legs freeze for ten seconds.  Young goats fall over and look dead.  Mature goats figure it out by spreading their legs or leaning against something when they feel faint.  Taffeta’s so cute that I think I would faint just to see her!

Until next week, Linda