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

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

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

Transition time for flowers and food

Valentine’s Day started early with my potted carnation!

'Silver Pink' carnation

I love everything about it: color, fragrance, blue-green foliage, long-lasting cut flowers. Drought tough. If anything, they hate too much water, and demand perfect drainage.  Two years ago when I got this ‘Silver Pink’, I added decomposed granite to loose potting soil and “mulched” it with a  light layer of the granite.  This would be lovely in a large container with agaves. Hmm, may have to try that!

Purple oxalis sent valentines, too!
purple oxalis flowers

I love purple, but especially I love plants that don’t need much of my time. Between Sunday’s sleet flurries, I got a shot of this trouble-free team, which includes splotchy Arum italicum, columbine and a few Gomphrena ‘Grapes’ to the left.

purple oxalis, Arum italicum,  columbine
The oxalis and arum quietly retreat underground in summer, returning in late fall. ‘Grapes’ usually goes dormant in winter. I’ll cut it back in a few weeks to encourage its lush little leaves until it pops its “grapes” next fall.

Thanks to rain and cooler weather, the lettuces I seeded a few weeks ago are coming in just fine. Upfront is heirloom ‘Speckles’, one of my favorites, not just because of its coloring!

Speckles lettuce Central Texas Gardener
Some cilantro and parsley thought about bolting, but I’ve headed them off for now.

Flat-leaf Italian parsley
After I took this picture, I cut that parsley at the base to bring in for dinner, and to encourage new stems before it bolts for good. Once upon a time,  I could keep this biennial around for two years, but recently, early hot weather does them in the first year for me, though a few did show back up this winter.

Snapdragons are finally in strut-mode. Leafy Swiss chard makes a nice backdrop, when it’s not coming in to dine, like in our Valentine’s night vegetarian stir fry.

Snapdragons with Swiss chard

In this transitional garden time, how do vegetable growers extend their cool weather crops and make way for summer’s plants?  This week, Tom meets with Paula and Glenn Foore from Springdale Farm for some insider tips, including their favorite tomatoes.

Tom Spencer with Paula and Glenn Foore, Springdale Farm
For years, the Foores have been in the landscaping business as Texas Trees & Landscaping (and still are!).  Eventually, Glenn decided to fulfill a dream for a small urban farm on their land in east Austin.

Springdale Farm Austin Texas

Just down the street from Boggy Creek Farm (Carole Ann and Larry as mentors), Springdale opens its farm stand on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. and for many community events.

Springdale Farm Austin Texas

On CTG, get some of their “high tech” techniques to keep seedling tomatoes warm.

Springdale Farm vanity lights to warm seedlings

In their greenhouse, they also use buckets of water to warm the plants, a trick for early ground planting (along with rowcover).

Water buckets to warm seedlings Springdale Farm
Once again, they’ll be on the East Austin Urban Farm Tour April 15 from 1-5.  Meet your local growers, along with chefs and local drink artisans who will also flavor your day to benefit small farmers and local ranchers who support the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.

Some of our fruit trees are still showing signs of damage from last year’s freeze. Daphne answers Rachel Jackson’s question about her troubled loquats.

Loquat freeze damage Rachel Jackson
We consulted Texas AgriLife Extension fruit specialist Jim Kamas. Here’s what he says:

It’s almost undoubtedly cold injury.  Loquat is a relatively cold hardy sub-tropical, but last year the warm temperatures during the end of January caused a loss of hardiness in all plants.  The cold front that came through on the first of February caused a sudden drop in temperatures.  We went from 74° to 11° in about 22 hours.

Loquat damaged by freeze Rachel Jackson

Since this could certainly happen again this year, here’s Jim’s advice for our fruit trees:

Keep the plants well watered, but not saturated, over the winter.  The drought last winter greatly exacerbated the problem with cold injury.  Trees can indeed repair themselves, but don’t be surprised if limbs continue to collapse and bark sloughs off of the trunk.  Just keep the plants in as good of health as possible, remove dead wood, and hope for the best.

Kale is a super healthy, easy-to-grow winter green. Trisha shows off her favorite varieties, including Redbor, to put on your list for seeding next fall.

Redbor kale, Trisha Shirey Lake Austin Spa Resort
In the meantime, if you have kale to harvest or buy at a farmers’ market, get her delicious recipes for kale salad with Caesar salad dressing, kale chips and more!

On tour, get hands-on tips from some of the year-round gardeners at Sunshine Community Gardens. From its inception in the 1970s, Sunshine has put food on many a table while connecting urban folk to the root of its origins.  Its mission is more important now than ever:  a public space where people can come together to grow organic food in a wildlife haven framed by asphalt.

At their annual plant sale on March 3 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., pick up their tried and true vegetable and flower transplants.

You also don’t want to miss the Austin Organic Gardeners’ plant sale March 3 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Zilker Botanical Garden!  There’s plenty of time to hit both to get the best varieties for your summer garden, plus meet up with local expert gardeners!

See you next week, Linda

Wildlife Winter Wonderland

Okay, have you ever seen this before? A tomato sprouting from inside!

Tomato sprouting from inside (vivipary)

JoAnn Nash from from the Round Rock ISD Opportunity Center sent us this picture of colleague Cindy Taylor’s odd tomato. Here’s what happened. Last summer, Cindy’s air conditioner went out and this tomato got a bit warm. This week, Daphne explains, “This situation is called vivipary, Latin for “live birth,” when seeds germinate inside the parent plant.  If things are just right, the internal seeds sprout and grow out through the skin.”

JoAnn’s students potted up the “Taylor Mater”, and as it grew into a new plant, fertilized it with fish tank water.  They’re keeping it warm over winter, so we’ll keep you posted on their first tomatoes!

Boy, what a difference a few feet can make!  This Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’ froze its head off a few weeks ago.

Salvia 'Anthony Parker' winter dormant
10 feet away, his buddy is still blooming. He can’t be too smug, since winter just began, but these perennials will return from the roots in spring.

Salvia 'Anthony Parker'
Not so the Salvia coccineas. These annuals bid us farewell, unless they left a few seeds behind. But this one hunkered down between some towering woody perennials.

Salvia coccinea blooming in winter
Even one Salvia regla is still flowering.  And as predicted earlier, on Christmas day, hoverflies (syrphid flies) feasted on ‘Butterpat’ and ‘Country Girl’ mums. Oxalis, dandelions, Salvia greggiis, and even the snapdragons were targets for bees and butterflies checking out who was serving on New Year’s Day.

Wild asters turned on their “Open” sign.

Wild white asters
To celebrate its first birthday, White potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) opened anniversary flowers, with more to come all winter for hungry insects.

Potato vine Solanum jasminoides
The young Copper Canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii) keeps on serving, too, framed by an equally new bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa). This isn’t typical, but what is in Texas?!

Bamboo muhly with Copper Canyon daisy
The best thing about my garden is that I’ve planted to feed the wildlife all year round. Garden food is the best, but to supplement the birds, especially over winter, our Christmas gift to them was a platform feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Platform bird feeder from Wild Birds Unlimited

For years, we had a home-brewed version.  But we had to replace its bottom window screen a few times a year.  It worked great and was inexpensive to make, but when it finally rotted, I decided to glam things up.  Actually, any “gift event” is always our excuse to get a new gift for the wildlife!

This time, instead of digging deep to install our pipe stand, we got a $5 pointy metal stake at Home Depot (next to the rebar). I’d used one to hold our bird bath solar panel and really like this thing.

stake for bird feeder stand
In the moist soil, it took Greg one minute to pound it in. Then we slipped over a piece of conduit that cost less than $4. Since Home Depot even cut it for us, we have more than half for yet another project!  I nourished my spray paint fetish and two hours later, we were open for business to a sell-out crowd.

 Platform bird feeder Central Texas Gardener

To launch CTG 2012, we start the new year with a resolution to be more mindful of our wildlife. Tom meets with Texas Master Naturalists Lynne and Jim Weber to find out what’s going on with winter wildlife, from migrants to native residents. The Webers also highlight some of the plants to love this winter, including native evergreen ferns.

Tom Spencer with Lynne and Jim Weber, Nature Watch Austin

If there’s one new book you get this year, it simply must be their recently published Nature Watch Austin from Texas A&M Press.

Nature Watch Austin Webers web
This very hands-on guide takes us month by month about who’s here and what they’re doing, from flora to fauna.

American Wigeon Nature Watch Austin
Intelligent and insightful, every chapter reads like an exciting book, rather than a field guide, with “I didn’t know that” at every page turn.

Eastern Screech Owl Nature Watch Austin

This monthly plant diary includes outstanding photographs of native and adapted plants, peppered with lists to take along to the nursery.

Seed heads,Nature Watch Austin

You can also learn more about birds on Travis Audubon’s field trips!

Possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) is one plant on the Webers’ list for winter berries that sustain residents and migratory birds like Cedar Waxwings. Find out how to grow it as Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

Cedar Waxwing on possumhaw holly, Georgean Kyle

Add water, too, since even a few bowls will give you a 4-star rating! To formalize your outdoor restaurant, Steve Kainer from Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery demonstrates how easy it is to install a disappearing fountain in one afternoon.

Disappearing fountains with Steve Kainer, Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

On tour, take a walk with Georgean and Paul Kyle at Chaetura Canyon, the diverse wildlife sanctuary they rescued from invasive, homogeneous roots.

Until next week!  Linda

Summer romance, sizzling color, The Grackle on tour

I’m in love with my first little potatoes. I always get some from the compost pile, but these were “sort of” planned planting.

homegrown potatoes

I didn’t do this the right way at all. In late January, I had grocery store taters sprouting. So, I cut them up, let them dry a few days, and stuck them in the lettuce bed.  Within seconds (well, seemed like it), up popped the leaves.

potato leaves
I planted way too early, and most of them froze, even though under lettuce row cover.  The leaves returned, but no go at harvest. In February, I stuck in more. This was so easy that I’m planning a spot to do this right next winter!  Here’s Trisha to show you how if you like to plan ahead, like me.

Right now, I have a crush on my kiddie pool. Plumbago and ‘New Gold’ lantana will cover that side eventually.  Like when we get some rain.

Plumbago and lantana around kiddie pool
I planted that lantana about 100 years ago when that area was sunny and ‘New Gold’ was the hottest thing as a Texas Superstar plant. When that spot got shady, it disappeared. Last year, it showed up again.  Sort of like the sock you thought was gone for good.

There are two things you can say about this kind of heat. One: it’s bound to cool off eventually. Two: summer’s drama queens take over.  Well, there’s a third, but not appropriate on a blog.

Let’s go positive with drama! Tom meets with Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme for sizzling summer romance and how to keep the passion alive.  She’s got tips to keep that bougainvillea boogie.


For a hanging basket under a tree or on a patio, what about soothing Angel Wing begonia?

Angel Wing Begonia

Go for fragrance with plumeria. With its tidy habit, it’s perfect for a large container on your sunny patio or poolside. Ahh, whiff!

Pink plumeria
I kept mine in the plastic-covered patio this winter. In early March, I cut it in half to have potted ones on each side of the cat cove and for lower branching.  In early April, I planted the new one.  Following It’s About Thyme’s instructions, I didn’t water for three weeks.  Leaves are slowly emerging on the new one.

new plumeria leaves

Amanda reminds us of the lovely shrub duranta, hardy to Zone 9 and usually for us. Depends on its location and what winter brings our way.


I think I’m going to add it to the shed wall that frames one side of the cat cove. I imagine its graceful shape as a background to my entrance  plumerias.

Imagine mandevilla for a knockout annual vine, suitable even for a medium pot with a mini-trellis or cute support you craft. Or winding up a patio post. I’m most familiar with the pink, but this white would show up so nicely on patio nights.

To fend off summer lethargy, you can’t beat Pride of Barbados, a favorite with beneficial insects too.

Pride of Barbados
Amanda also shows off native Tecoma stans. Note the different leaves from the hybrids we usually find in nurseries. This one gets more MPG in winter, too.

native tecoma stans
Every year, CTG gets questions about how to get them to bloom. Full sun! Brutal sun! Here’s a duo I love in my neighborhood every summer.

Tecoma stans on street
Get Amanda’s plant list for your own summer fling.

On tour, we’ve got a COOL garden! Meet Lee Clippard and John Stott of The Grackle fame, where they chronicle their hands-on work and revelations since they made east Austin home in 2006.

Lee and John
Inspired by Japanese design, native plants, and significant milestones in their lives, see how Lee and John changed their viewpoint.

The Grackle garden design

The Grackle garden

The Grackle garden

We dearly thank Austin musicians, Balmorhea, for the music that Lee and John love.  I think you’ll agree that “We Will Rebuild with Smooth Stones” was the perfect choice for this garden composition.

There’s one good thing to say about the lack of rain: fewer stinkbugs on our tomato plants.  That’s not really such a great thing, since the drought affects all our wildlife. But we thank Mark and Janna Wilkerson for Daphne’s Question of the Week about their tomatoes: is there a problem?

Heat-stressed tomato leaf
Relief here: their plants are okay. There may be some insect damage, but mainly, it’s simply heat and drought stress. To help our tomatoes get through all this, foliar feed with liquid seaweed. Spray underneath the leaves, too, to fend off spider mites, which is what can get ‘em in such dusty, dry times.

Daphne’s Plant of the Week is heat-loving beebalm, Monarda fistulosa x bartlettii ‘Peter’s Purple’.

Beebalm Monarda 'Peter's Purple'
Commonly known as beebalm, there are many native monardas, like Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot), which are great naturalizing perennials for your drought-tough garden. As its name implies, its flowers attract bees, but also hummingbirds and butterflies.

Beebalm Monarda 'Peter's Purple'
‘Peter’s Purple’ is a new hybrid, so you may only find it online. But with its long flowering success without powdery mildew, I bet we’ll find it on nursery shelves in the near future.

Since hanging baskets and containers need lightweight soil with perfect drainage, John Dromgoole shows how to mix up your own. Even if you don’t want to start from scratch, you can lighten up the load with perlite, coir fiber, and compost.

Until next week, Linda

Joys and Perils of Zone-Pushing

As gardeners, we tend to do a little zone-pushing, from ornamentals to vegetables (like playing weather Russian Roulette with early tomato planting). But no matter what comes our way, my evergreen, no-name daylilies from a little nursery years ago don’t get scared off.

yellow daylily central texas

On daylilies, go ahead and make a note right now for the Austin Daylily Society show & sale on May 21 from 1 to 5 p.m. at Zilker Botanical Garden.

Here are some of their beauties! This luscious one is “Scarlet Pansy.”

Scarlet Pansy daylily, Austin Daylily Society

Daylily border, Austin Daylily Society

Freeze, drought, flood: my gold Spuria irises always flower in April after diligently pushing up foliage all winter.

Gold spuria iris central texas
My Peggy Martin climber is a true survivor, not just in my garden, but as one of two plants still alive in Mrs. Martin’s Louisiana garden after Hurricane Katrina.

Peggy Martin rose

Dr. William Welch took cuttings from his own roses to bring into propagation, and with each sale, to help restore destroyed Gulf Coast gardens and bring Peggy Martin to gardens like mine.

Next door to her resides my diligent Maggie, another Bill Welch Louisiana discovery.

Maggie rose
By the way, with the hot-off-the-press new edition of his Heirloom Gardening in the South (A&M Press), Dr. Welch joins us on CTG this summer with some of his top survivors.

Heirloom Gardening in the South
Since zone-pushing is especially on our minds these days, this week on CTG, Tom meets with Bill Scheick who came up with this week’s theme: The Joys and Perils of Zone-Pushing.  Perhaps you’ve run into his passionate and informative garden articles as contributing editor of Texas Gardener magazine, his online book reviews for TG, and stories he’s shared with the Austin-American Statesman and others. Now, you can meet his wit and hands-on knowledge “in person!”

He explains how our zones are changing numbers per the Arbor Day Foundation’s latest map.  Bill also explains how he pushes zones in his garden and how to do it. Get his list of zone-pushers and tips for plants like Golden thryallis (Galphemia gracilis).

Golden thryallis Galphimia gracilis
Another Bill mentions is Pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum), a new Zone 9 favorite. Some people lost those this year in our unusual cold, but others carry on.

Pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)
As he tells us, even a minor microclimate can make a difference. Zone-pushing includes location, established roots, and mulch.

My Star or Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is not a true jasmine, but scents the patio for months every spring. It got burned for the first time last winter and again this year, but after clipping its casualties, it barely delayed its dependable flowers.  By happenstance, mine is trained like a shrub, but it’s known as an excellent evergreen screening vine, even in part sun.

Star jasmine trained as shrub
Here it is with fragrant Marie Pavie rose in the background.

Star, Confederate jasmine with Marie Pavie rose
My ‘Mr. Mac’ Satsuma won’t be feeding me this year, thanks to the cold,  but it fed a baby bird whose parent nabbed this swallowtail larva, despite its camouflage. Fortunately, another baby caterpillar or two is “on the way.”  Swallowtails were all over the larkspur last night so let’s hope that after dinner they laid a few more eggs.

Swallowtail butterfly larva on Satsuma mandarin
Since insects are on the breeding rampage right now, Trisha cautions us to recognize beneficial ones before we go on orange oil alert. Our featured guest on this segment is a ladybug larva scarfing up aphids. Trisha’s got tips for moving caterpillars around, trap crops for stink bugs, and simple organic tricks to spare valuable crops.

I think viewer Philip for his photographs to help us identify the nymph and adult stages of the very beneficial assassin bug. With all those red nymphs running around right now, take a second look to recognize this free “pesticide” in your garden, and make them welcome. Here’s Philip’s nymph assassin bug.

Here’s the adult.

Thanks  to Wizzie Brown, entomologist for Texas AgriLife Extensionfor more information about this beneficial insect.

Whew!  This isn’t the hottest April I’ve ever known, but it’s pretty miserable. This week, Daphne answers Nancy Garrett’s great question on how to take care of our young tomato transplants with such onslaught. Get Daphne’s tips to avoid blossom-end rot, too, a common situation this time of year.

Her featured plant is one that you might still be seeing along the roadsides and fields, despite the lack of rain for wildflowers: Prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida).

Prairie verbena (Glandularia binnatifida)

When I was growing up, this was considered a detested weed in lawns. Lots more than weather changes have happened since then! Respect and encourage this tough survivor that feeds beneficial pollinators.

On tour, we repeat Master Gardener Randy Case’s garden. Even if zone-pushing changed his plant palette a bit, his essential design is what’s significant.  Once we have our enduring  patterns in place, we can adjust the plants as nature or our whimsy takes us.

Until next week, Linda

Moving Day + Tomatoes with Renee Studebaker

Last Sunday’s misty day had me moving. I ran around like crazy, since now’s the perfect time to move trees, shrubs, hardy perennials, and roses that need a new spot. My garden diary reminds me that it was two years ago in January that I renovated my Iceberg and Mrs. Oakley Fisher roses by hauling them to the sunlight they want.  It’s the side of the house by the air conditioner, where we rarely travel, but it’s the late blasting sun spot that they like. That’s also where I planted the thryallis and the silvery cenizo I  really wanted,  and my Satsuma orange. It’s not a “focal point” destination, but now it does get us out there to take a look.

Iceberg and Mrs. Oakley Fisher roses with thryallis

Right away, they went from straggly wimps to exuberant performers.  Here’s Iceberg cooling down last summer’s heat.

Iceberg rose closeup

Here’s Mrs. Oakley Fisher, who I’d thought was a goner. She’s so tall right now that pruners are all she needs.

Mrs. Oakley Fisher rose

This time, I had my eye on a Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) and a passalong cassia (Senna) that needed more light. I’m pleased about their new location in the back bed that pumps it up. Sometimes a move is good: not just for the plant, but to stretch our ideas! I’m renovating their former spot, and will send pictures once I figure out what in the heck I’m going to do.

Next, I’m moving plants from what’s left of the grass, like this Gulf Coast penstemon.

Gulf Coast penstemon rosette

In my documentary, Wildflowers|Seeds of History, that’s ALMOST finished, Damon Waitt from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes Mrs. Johnson’s observation that “Every seed needs to find its home.”

That is so true. Have you ever noticed how seeds that defy your attendance show up where they want? Usually, they have a better handle on design than I do.

That’s my case with some surprises that aren’t native, but dear to me. No telling what this poppy is, but it preferred to plant itself  in the lawn rather than deal with me.

poppy rosette seeded in grass

I don’t always have great luck germinating seeds of my beloved perfumed old-fashioned petunias that I grow in patio pots. Anxious to escape my hovering, they leaped several feet away to the granite mulch of my potted  squid agave (Agave bracteosa). By the time I took this picture, I’d already lifted some to patio pots; they aren’t yelling at me yet.

Petunia seeded in squid agave pot

Onto tasty subjects: It’s time to plan those luscious summer tomatoes.  Since Renee Studebaker of Renee’s Roots is the ultimate homegrown tomato expert (who even sun dries Juliet’s in her truck!) she joins Tom this week on CTG to get you in on harvests like this.

Renee Studebaker tomatoes

Renee notes some of her reliable favorites, how to collect seeds from rare, beloved heirlooms, and how to start early when weather can still be frosty. Get lots more of Renee’s tips on growing tomatoes on Renee’s Roots.

Renee’s nemesis, shared by all tomato growers: the dreaded leaf footed bug. Viewer Patricia Finch asked CTG if we had any new insight. Unless you want to nuke yourself and all your beneficials, you’ve just gotta do what Renee & Patricia do: go out early in the morning while they’re sleepy and dump them into soapy water. Also, be sure to keep an eye on the clusters of red nymphs that show up early. Bag ‘em before they grow up!

Still, Patricia got 1600 tomatoes from her 25 Celebrity tomato plants last summer, and made 15 gallons of spaghetti sauce that made her “favorite neighbor of the year!”

Celebrity tomatoes

Her secret is Garden-Ville’s rose soil and Rocket Fuel fertilizer. She also adds diatomaceous earth around each plant.

Daphne answers Joan Wade’s question about her roses that weren’t performing well.

rose with slight iron chlorosis

She also only has a narrow space to grow them.

trellised roses in narrow space

Joan’s  selections are good ones, like David Austin Graham Thomas and Leander, plus Monsieur Tillier, an Antique Rose Emporium favorite.  One problem is an oak tree that shaded them (obviously, I’ve had the same problem!). Joan had it trimmed back, and now they’re getting lots more sun. Her roses (like mine) can also use some iron, organic fertilizer in a few weeks, and amended soil with compost or rose soil right now.

Late-breaking report from Joan: sun, soil amendment, and liquid seaweed with iron have already worked. Her roses are leafing out like champs with healthy growth!

Daphne’s caveat for gardeners starting from scratch: Joan’s design is beautiful, and she’s selected good varieties, but they are large shrub roses. For new rose growers in a narrow space like this, look for tame climbers or miniature climbers that won’t outgrow the space too fast!

What else drives gardeners crazy? Pill bugs! They’re mainly a problem around seedlings. Get Trisha Shirey’s insight and how to make peace with them.

On tour, we revisit the teenaged farm interns at Urban Roots, who are growing lots more than organic tomatoes.

Help here! Can you identify this plant for a viewer who spotted it at an office building?

mystery plant

Until next week, Linda