On tour with the Travis County Master Gardeners

How can you reduce lawn, combine edibles, flowers for wildlife, living spaces, and art?

no lawn edible ornamental front yard
The best ideas come from fellow gardeners! That’s why you won’t want to miss the Travis County Master Gardeners’ “Inside Austin Gardens” tour on October 20. This year highlights hands-on gardeners who tuck in food with their salvias and succulents, like Ann & Robin Matthews, who even take it all out front.

no lawn edible ornamental front garden
They unite their garden with neighbor Donnis Doyle, also on tour.

hot curb strip garden
In back, find out how they got rid of grass in favor of paths, coves, and a labyrinth-style vegetable garden.

labyrinth vegetable garden
See how they screen a view with Hardiboard imprinted with ancient Native American rock art they’ve seen on excursions throughout Texas.

Hardiboard garden screen

On tour, you can also see how Donnis screened her view of a daycare center for a soothing spot to hang out with her neighbors.

galvanized steel patio screen

Here’s a sneak preview with CTG’s video visit.

I love the natural screen the Matthews chose on one side: bay laurel!

bay laurel hedge

Daphne makes bay laurel her Pick of the Week to explain how to grow this Central Texas evergreen as a screen or accent. Why buy expensive bay leaves when you can pluck some of your own?

bay laurel leaf

When I got my bay laurel in a 4” pot, I potted it up as a patio container.  It barely grew (though it’s fine in a pot if you have just a small space). Then, I ran into large bay hedges in long-term gardens. I saw Trisha’s huge one at her Lake Austin Spa garden. So, I stuck mine in the ground to shield a so-so shed. It shot up like a fiend in blasts of hot sunlight (not all day) and very little water.  In 14°, it suffered a little leaf damage, but spring pruning flushed it right back out. The Barbados cherry in front died to the ground, but returned, too.

Barbados cherry bay laurel screen

I just pluck a leaf when I need it for the pot. When I prune to tidy and shape, I bring in some to dry. If you missed Trisha’s segment on how to dry and anchor herbs, and the ones to choose, watch it now!

To preview the other gardens on tour, Tom meets with Travis County Master Gardeners Carolyn Williams and Holly Plotner.

Tom Spencer, Carolyn Williams, Holly Plotner Master Gardeners

Here’s just a tease of the diversity on tour this year!

Stock tank vegetable beds Travis County Master Gardeners

No lawn backyard habitat
Cute garden shed Travis County Master Gardeners
Garden fountains Travis County Master Gardeners

Renee Studebaker isn’t officially a Master Gardener (though she’s a master at it!). If you’ve ever wanted a closer look at her garden, here’s the chance! She’s even going to be serving homemade treats from her harvests.

Renee Studebaker's front yard garden

And find out where Daphne hangs out with a visit to the Texas AgriLife Extension Office demo gardens! She and Augie will be on hand (paw) all day to answer your questions!

Not only will you have a chance to talk with the gardeners to see how they did it and where they got it, each site includes educational talks and plant and book sales.  All this for just $20 or $5 per garden, to support their many free workshops throughout the year. Find out more about upcoming workshops and details of the tour.

Since we all like to recycle, a viewer asks: “Can I spread used kitty litter on the grass or non-edible gardens?” Get Daphne’s answer about why this isn’t a good idea—it’s not what you might think. Telo and Camille Farber already watched this on their iCatfonz to pass along to their moms, sisters Galia (KLRU’s production coordinator) and Naomi.

Galia's cats in sink
In the next few weeks, it’s time to plant wildflower seeds like Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella).

Indian blanket Gaillardia pulchella
Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center shows how to sow for the best success. Since bluebonnets are tops on the list, she explains how to improve germination the first year.

plant bluebonnet seeds
Note: the inoculant she mentions has become very hard to find, so go with one of her other techniques to start your bluebonnet patch. Trisha sometimes moves bluebonnet plants to a new area (or you can buy transplants) to inoculate the soil, too. I’ve always had great luck without the inoculant.

Happy planting until next week! Linda

Fall in love with autumn bulbs and grasses

Big day in my garden! The autumn daffodils (Sternbergia lutea) popped up reliably a year after planting.

Sternbergia lutea autumn daffodil
These small crocus-like plants, native to the Mediterranean, are cute companions for red oxblood lilies and spider lilies (Lycoris radiata).

Lycoris radiata spider lily and Sternberia lutea autumn daffodil
Last fall on CTG, Chris Wiesinger, author of Heirloom Bulbs for Today, introduced me to these beauties that will naturalize in my Blackland soil, even in part shade! I wasted no time ordering these hard-to-find bulbs online.

Mostly though, I get plants from local nurseries supplied by local/regional growers (or grown themselves), along with passalongs from friends.  My native Plumbago scandens has been in non-stop mode for months against evergreen Texas sedge (Carex texensis). The plumbago will die to the ground this winter but return even stronger next spring.

Plumbago scandens with Texas sedge
Mine came from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center sales—coming up again Oct. 13 & 14 (member’s preview Oct. 12). You can even join that day to beat the rush for superb natives, including ones that don’t often show up in nurseries.

These days, many nurseries do have native grasses like Lindheimer muhly (on the left) and deer muhly (on the right):  this spectacular duo in Anne Bellomy’s garden.

Lindheimer and deer muhly seed heads

Native grasses, in the fields and in our gardens, are both lovely and beneficial. Many send down deep roots, benefiting aeration, stabilizing the soil, and improving fertility—along with providing shelter and food for wildlife. And in fall, they are the ultimate drama queens! My Lindheimer was our favorite autumn standout until it got too much shade and withered away. Until I find a sunny spot, I’ll just enjoy Anne’s.

Lindheimer and deer muhly
This week, Tom meets with Shirley and Brian Loflin, who note that grasses once predominated the Hill Country and the Blackland prairie.

Tom Spencer Shirley Loflin Brian Loflin
Their book, Grasses of the Texas Hill Country, is a friendly hands-on guide to identify and learn about both cool and warm weather grasses in our fields and for our gardens. This popular book is currently in reprint, available for pre-order from Texas A&M University Press.

Grasses of the Texas Hill Country Brian and Shirley Loflin

Currently, it is available as a Google ebook, too.

Brian’s photography helps make it easier to identify the grasses that soon will be in show-off mode, like curly mesquite. This one’s part of  the Habiturf mix that includes buffalo grass and blue grama for a native lawn in sun.  By the way, the Habiturf trio is available at the Wildflower Center and online.

Common curly mesquite Brian and Shirley Loflin

Little bluestem is another native beauty that you’ll be seeing soon.

Little Bluestem Brian and Shirley Loflin

Artist Shirley also creates beautiful framed botanicals with grasses, perfect for that wall you’ve wanted to adorn!

Grasses framed botanical Loflin

You can order online from their site, The Nature Connection, and also find out about their workshops, field trips, and see Brian’s extensive photography of insects, animals, plants, and wonders of the natural world.

Want to know more about cactus, too?!

Texas Cacti Brian and Shirley Loflin

Since we’re heading into prime time planting season for grasses, shrubs, perennials and wildflowers, get inspired with a visit to Betty & Gerald Ronga’s garden where food, wildflowers and wildlife unite on this rocky hilltop in Leander.

Betty and Gerald Ronga garden Central Texas Gardener

Many of us face watering restrictions, like Sheila C., who asks if fungal disease is a problem if we must water at night.

fungal disease watering at night
Daphne explains how it depends on the season and the situation.

It’s hard to imagine that we’re just weeks away from losing our summer annual herbs. Get ready now with Trisha’s tips and tricks for freezing herbs in oil and butter, along with recipes and making herbal vinegars.

Freezing herbs Trisha Shirey
Note: to watch an individual segment online, click on the vertical chapter marks above the play bar!

Happy planting and see you next week, Linda

Keyhole gardens, Oak leaf galls, Gabriel Valley Farms, Drying herbs

First, I have to admit: I’m a bulb freak. I’d buy a thousand more if I could. Instead, I divide my naturalizing wealth and then forget where I planted them. That’s okay, because garden surprises like these oxblood lilies are treasures every year, especially abundant this September, thanks to the rain.

Oxblood lilies and plumbago Austin Texas
I walked out last weekend to find this red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) peeking out in the turk’s caps.

red spider lily (lycoris) and turk's cap
Red is a color that many gardeners are seeing this year from oak leaf galls.

Oak leaf galls (c) Danielle Deuillet
This week, Daphne explains what’s going on: “The small, reddish galls on the undersides of our oak leaves right now are caused by tiny wasps.  They lay their eggs on the leaves and the tree responds by forming a protective structure, the gall, to contain the wasp eggs while the insect larvae grow into adults.”

Oak leaf galls (c) MaryAnn A
You’ll probably never see these non-stinging little wasps. As Daphne tells us, there’s no reason to treat. We have them every year and they don’t harm the trees.  This year was just insect-crazy, so they’ve become especially noticeable.  Thank you, Danielle & MaryAnn, for sending us your pictures!

Soon, I expect to see some yellow in my garden. I have high hopes that my young Skeleton-leaf goldeneye will look like this!

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye austin texas
This native, evergreen drought-tough perennial is Daphne’s pick of the week. Its flowers from late spring to frost attract many beneficial pollinators, like this tiny wasp.

Skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy with tiny wasp
It requires sun and good drainage, so in my clay soil garden, I amended with compost and decomposed granite.

Our first gentle cold front reminds us that soon we’ll need to snag some of our cold-tender herbs to dry or freeze. So, this week, Trisha shows how to dry herbs in any season (including our evergreens) for homegrown flavor and tastefully beautiful gifts. Get her tips for your files.

Dried herbs cute
Next week, get her tips for freezing herbs, like basil, that don’t stand up well to drying.

Now that I’ve tidied up and revised my plant list, I’ll be hitting the nurseries soon. I respect a tag with Gabriel Valley Farms’ name on it.

Gabriel Valley Farms
On tour, we visit this innovative wholesale grower near Georgetown to see how Cathy and Sam Slaughter grow tried and true Texas plants organically, starting from seed.

The KLRU crew with Ed Carter and Chris Kim had a blast! Here’s director Ed Fuentes documenting the babies that will head to nurseries and your gardens when they’re grown up! If you grow seeds in a few pots or flats, imagine planting thousands!

Gabriel Valley Farms Ed Fuentes camera operator

Cathy and Sam also share their tricks to fool seedlings to germinate when it’s too hot or too cold to plant, and why it’s important to get organically grown plants when possible.

Keyhole gardens are the hot topic this year! Tom meets with Deb Tolman to explain why these sustainable vessels are perfect to grow vegetables, fruit trees or ornamentals.

Tom Spencer and Deb Tolman Central Texas Gardener
Deb explains how to do it for abundant crops, even in small spaces and in thin or dense soils where it’s difficult to grow food. Along with saving water, keyhole gardens are the ultimate design to recycle/reuse cardboard, phone books, newspapers and kitchen vegetable scraps.

Keyhole garden plan (c) Ted Miears

Keyhole garden design (c) Deb Tolman

Keyhole garden cardboard (c) Deb Tolman

Keyhole garden design (c) Ted Miears

Find out more on Deb’s website and get her DVD, shot by videographer Ted Miear, which documents the entire process that you can do in one afternoon!  I thank Ted for his support on this segment. Long ago, he was a KLRU freelancer, who went on to launch his own video production company.

Finally, the garden events are gearing up, but here’s one for the whole family! From Sept. 22 – Nov. 18, head out to Barton Hills Farm in Bastrop for a corn maze, live music and more. Family fall fun, for sure!

Happy planning and planting until I see you next week!  Linda

Cultivating ideas, fall vegetables, first Garden Pet of Week!

Congratulations to Mojito, our first Maude & Augie Doggie’s Garden Pet of the Week! This Maine Coon is the proud owner of Tina & David Poe.

Mojito CTG Pet of the Week Tina and David Poe

While supervising them in the garden, he chews on lemongrass (which has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties). For dessert, he favors catnip. Thanks, Tina, David & Mojito!

Garden Pet of the Week can be any beloved creature in your garden, so send on your high-resolution pictures and a brief description of your little friend to llehmusvirta@klru.org.

Even though most of my plants will make it through the drought, I’ve got a lot of planning and updating to do. Translation: WORK!  One thing is to create larger areas of hardscape, especially pathways. I’ve been analyzing every option “under the sun,” dare I say?  On the Windsor Park Garden Tour in May, I took a few pictures of some ideas.

Leuters stone pathway

Front yard fountain Central Texas Gardener

Patio arbor and path design

And even though it’s sweaty, it’s really time to plan the fall vegetable garden, so when cool weather comes, we’re ready to go for it! Bruce Leander’s picture on the cover of the July/August Texas Gardener magazine to illustrate Patty Leander’s story is enough to jumpstart even the weariest summer warrior.

Texas Gardener magazine

This week on CTG, Master Gardener Patty Leander joins Tom for tips to transition from summer crops to winter’s harvests.

Travis County Master Gardener Patty Leander

Fall is really our easiest time to grow all kinds of goodies without SWEARING a lot!

Peas Patty and Bruce Leander

Swiss chard  Patty and Bruce Leander

You never need to eat grocery store lettuce in cool months, since it’s so easy to grow your own artistic and yummy presentation.

Since it will still be hot when we get started, check out Patty’s creative ways to shade young plants and seedlings.  These are great ideas for young ornamentals, too.

Shading new plants with umbrellas

You can also use a 30% shading cloth.

Shade cloth for vegetables Patty and Bruce Leander

Patty also has tips to start cooling down the soil now with thick layers of mulch (preferably shredded leaves, dried grass, partially decomposed compost, not bark chips). As we get closer, cool down with burlap or other material, and/or water really well  for several days in advance to wet the soil down deep and cool it.

Tom Spencer and Patty Leander on Central Texas Gardener

Get her monthly tips and those of other Master Gardeners in their incredible monthly newsletter, Compost Bin!

Meet Patty in person and find out even more at the Travis County Master Gardeners Fall Vegetable workshop on August 6 from 10 a.m. – noon. This free class will be held at Zilker Botanical Garden.

Get planting guides, month-by-month lists, and lots more in the Travis County Master Gardener’s Garden Guide for Austin and Vicinity, just $14.95, available at these locations.

Travis County Master Gardeners Garden Guide

Online, check out Central Texas Horticulture, the Travis County site of Texas AgriLife Extension, for vegetable planting guides and varieties, plus a wheelbarrow-full of other great information!    At Aggie Horticulture, connect to the Extension site in your county, along with other resources.

And, if you’ve been looking for the perfect organic water sprayer to fend off spider mites, aphids, and the succulent pests that Entomologist Wizzie Brown features next week, check out the MiteYFine sprayer!

MiteYFine garden water sprayer

For years, Patty’s been asking her engineer brother to come up with just the right device for a high-power, focused blast of water to quickly drown those pests and get them off her plants. Her brother’s wife  jumped in with product development. Wizzie attests to its great success!

MiteYFine garden water sprayer

Now that’s a mighty fine thing! I think I’m sending Patty’s brother a list of tools I’d like to see but am certainly not creative enough to build!

Daphne and Augie Doggie answer: What is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?

Daphne Richards and Augie doggie Central Texas Gardener

As she notes, “It depends on who you ask.  A cook’s definition will differ from a botanist’s.  In cooking terms, generally, a fruit is sweet and a vegetable is not.  So to a chef, a tomato’s a vegetable.” (Thanks to Sara Robertson for all these yummy homegrown fruits!)

Tomatoes Central Texas Gardener from Sara Robertson

“But, to a botanist, a fruit is a ripened ovary and any accessory tissue surrounding it. So a tomato is a fruit, like an orange or a pepper. Then, when you talk to a horticulturist, a vegetable is an herbaceous plant cultivated for an edible purpose, so in that case tomato goes back to being a vegetable!”

To a botanist, a vegetable is a plant that is edible for its leaves, stems or roots, including beets, carrots, lettuce, asparagus, leeks, and potatoes.  Whatever they are, they’re good for you!

On tour, we repeat our segment with Dorsey Barger, co-owner of Eastside Cafe with Elaine Martin, for super ideas with containers and how she rotates crops in limited space.  With cinder blocks, stock tanks, and salvaged materials, she creates many garden options without a bunch of tools or a bunch of cash.

John Dromgoole demonstrates how to get your seeds off to a good start. Some benefit from overnight soaking for easiest germination.

John Dromgoole plants vegetable seeds

Soaking vegetable seeds before planting

Another event to check out! Head to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on July 24 to honor Lady Bird Johnson. This is a free-admission day filled with family activities, including the children’s play, “Wildflowers,” songs by singing zoologist Lucas Miller, artist Catherine Flowers, and a book signing byJeannette Larson, author of “Hummingbirds: Fact and Folklore from the Americas.” And lots more, to honor the woman who did so much to change our perspective.

PLUS! If you’ve wanted to meet Sharon Lovejoy, author of many books and magazine articles, here is your chance! She’ll be in Austin next week for presentations and book signings for Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars: Grandma’s Bag of Tricks. But this isn’t  just for grandmas; it’s for new families and for every gardener who needs a little boost to just go out there and have fun! On July 25, she’ll be at Book People from 4-6 p.m. On July 26, she’s giving a lecture sponsored by The Natural Gardener. The lecture will be held off-site (with reception and book signing at NG later). The lecture is an RSVP, so click here for details.

Until next week, Linda

Fragrance, flavor + fun with gourds

Since my roses are trouble-free, I’m on aromatic overload without worrying that soon I’ll be under work overload.

Marie Pavie rose

If I dally about dead heading my Marie Pavie rose framing the patio, doesn’t matter much. Blackspot never blackens my on-going view, either.

On the cat cove arbor, equally self-reliant New Dawn and Buff Beauty are taking up where Lady Banks left off. Here’s fragrant BB.

Buff Beauty rose
Beyond, blackfoot daisy joins purple winecups, rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) and oregano that creeps between the flagstones.  The oregano loves when I nip it and strip its leaves for the kitchen, since that keeps it lush.

Blackfoot daisy, winecup, rock rose and oregano
In my early garden days, I dedicated one spot for herbs. But that’s like putting all your favorite plants in the same spot. Each herb has its specifics to be happy. Now, I include them sited to their preference, (sun or shade, moist or dry), and mingle their diverse forms and textures among the perennials. There’s feathery southernwood in part sun and fuzzy lemon balm in shade.  Silver-leafed society garlic wants sun and good drainage, so I paired my new ones against cat cove winecups. In any garden spot, when other fragrant plants are out of bloom, you can grab an herbal handful to whiff or plop into drinks or dinner.

Since herbs are so easy to grow, even for the first-time gardener, this week on CTG, Tom meets with Amanda Moon from It’s About Thyme.  Wow, she has such great new insight and ideas!  I’d never even considered pairing Swiss chard with red-veined sorrel, but now I must try it! 

Also, check out It’s About Thyme for all their fabulous free workshops.

* April 17: Success with olive trees
* May 1:  Ponds and water features: a beginner’s guide
* May 15: Incorporating edibles in the garden (even blueberries!)

Then, go out of your gourd with Trisha’s tips on growing gourds.

Gourds with Trisha Shirey

This is the ultimate DIY fun: flowers, shading vines and cool stuff you can make.  Trisha brought along some of the gourds she’s painted and decorated, but I added my beloved apple gourd and little pears I got at the Texas Gourd Society show a few years ago. Here’s good news: this fall, their show is in Fredericksburg Oct. 14-16. I’ve already marked my calendar because I want one of the gorgeous lamps!  And I sure hope they have the popcorn bowls this year–too beautiful!

You’ll also go crazy on this week’s garden tour to Elm Mott! Against acres of wide open fields, energetic Cathy Hejl created a series of cozy family destinations, one weekend and evening at a time. Behind every artistic project, she had a good reason, too.

Cathy Hejl garden

She has it all: flowers, chickens, ducks, vegetables, a pond and water fountains, wonderful walkways and entryways: all done with her own two hands. When I met her, she said “No more projects.”  Then, recently, she told me about three more that have my head spinning! I dearly thank Waco Master Gardener Judy Tye for connecting us to such inspiration.

Cathy goes for tough plants that don’t need a lot of babying. I know she’d approve my gold bearded iris blooming near a Salvia lyrata in the crape bed. As long as you don’t drown them and divide them every few years, they top the list as no-care plants.

Yellow-gold bearded iris
Here’s Salvia lyrata, a native perennial groundcover that flowers in spring, just as tough and enduring.

Salvia lyrata
And to keep the gold and lavender theme in the crape bed:

Lavender bearded iris

Gold columbine

Daphne answers Liz Clark’s question, one I often get: Why didn’t my possumhaw holly produce berries? Does it need a pollinator?  Unless Liz got a male plant at the nursery, her female will be pollinated by other hollies in the neighborhood. It may just be too young to produce “offspring.” Let’s hope she gets flowers soon!

Don’t forget: send us your question or a plant picture from your garden to feature on Central Texas Gardener!  What is your favorite plant and why would you recommend it to fellow gardeners as Plant of the Week?  Send ‘em on to llehmusvirta@klru.org.
Until next week, Linda