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

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

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

copper canyon daisy austin

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

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

New Dawn and Buff Beauty roses arbor

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

Iceberg rose Austin

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

Peggy Martin rose Austin

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

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

Saliva Henry Duelberg and Texas betony

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

Tom Spencer and Amanda Moon, It's About Thyme

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

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

Allspice in Lucinda Hutson's garden

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

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

Mexican tithonia

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

mulch over oak leaves

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

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

mulch options Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to have some risky fun until next week! Linda

Going a little wild

Here’s a good reason to plant native plants! This Monarch showed up for dinner on the coneflower. If it finds a date, maybe we’ll get eggs on our new milkweeds.

Monarch butterfly on coneflower
In the back “prairie” of my garden, I’m so thrilled that my Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) seeds made it.  I think I’ve finally found the sunny, well-drained spot to sow more next fall to up the ante from what they sow themselves.

Indian blanket Gaillardia pulchella

In the “prairie,” butterflies are all over Gregg’s mist flower (Conoclinium greggii)–formerly Eupatorium–though eluding me at the moment.

Gregg's mist flower Conoclinium greggii

When I dug up a long stretch of grass along the back fence years ago, my plant budget was smaller than my dreams. I planted just a few blue mist flowers to fill in fast.

Gregg's mist flower Conoclinium greggii

Since then, I’ve been diversifying that space a few plants at a time. I’ve had to wrangle the exuberant mist flowers, since they do take over! But they’re easily divided to move around or share. I let them run a bit, though, since the butterflies love them so much.

In front, the butterflies thank my friend Holly for sharing a division of her Coreopsis lanceolata. In my mulched soil, it’s only seeded a bit, but I welcome each one.

Coreopsis lanceolata

In our latest lawn reduction project, I planted a few (on a budget) Texas frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). They’re already going mad. Winecups are heading for the granite, too!

Frogfruit Phyla nodiflora with winecup

By fall, they’ll cover our granite with flowers to attract butterflies and other nectaring insects. Their leaves are larval food for the Phaon Crescentspot, Buckeye, and White Peacock butterflies.

frogfruit flowers
Here’s a shot from Austin City Hall’s raised beds on the plaza; a testament to their endurance in hot spots. At my neighborhood’s former swimming pool, they covered the “grassy” spots, oblivious to full sun, heat, no water, and people camped out on their sun-bathing towels.

frogfruit at Austin City Hall gardens
I love this Star thistle/American basket-flower (Centaurea Americana) from an Austin garden.

Star thistle/American basket-flower (Centaurea Americana)
Not so long ago, the idea of actually using native plants in our gardens was sadly rare. For one thing, it was hard to find them in nurseries. Thanks to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we started asking for native plants and the growers responded. These days you can find groundcovers like Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) and Texas betony (Stachys coccinea), one that’s on hummingbird radars.

Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) with Texas betony

The Wildflower Center’s annual Gardens on Tour puts us one-on-one with native plants in garden settings. To spark your own designs, this week on CTG, Tom meets with Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Director of Horticulture at the Wildflower Center to preview this year’s May 12 tour.

Tom Spencer and Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Here’s just a sampling of what you’ll see.

Ridgecrest Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Gardens on Tour 2012

Zadook Woods Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Gardens on Tour

Zadook Woods Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Gardens on Tour

Tour admission includes The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, too, for fabulous new designs like this.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

The Wildflower Center is also hosting book signings and great activities for the kids! So, mark your calendars for May 12. Admission is $25 for all or $6 per garden. Find out more.

On CTG’s tour this week, here’s a sneak preview of one you can visit in person. We taped in December to illustrate the beauty of a native garden even in winter. On May 12, see it in spring glory and meet the gardeners, Lynne and Jim Weber, authors of Nature Watch Austin.

Although native plants don’t suffer from many ailments, now and then something gets them. This week, Daphne explains what happened to Joy Vera’s native winecups (and later, at the Austin TexasAgriLife office!) and what to do about it.

Winecup with rust disease (c) Joy Vera

We thank Joy for sharing this with us, and we thank Dr. Ong, Extension Plant Pathologist from the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab for his analysis that confirms it is rust.

Shredded wood mulch isn’t the best thing for some plants, like winecups. So, this week, John Dromgoole compares a few mulch options for you.

This summer, go a little wild with whopper stopper Celosia! Thanks to Philip Leveridge from East Side Patch for Daphne’s Pick of the Week with his pictures and tips on his magic patch of Celosia spictata ‘Flamingo Feather’ .

Celosia spictata 'Flamingo Feather' (c) eastsidepatch.com

Here’s another show stopper event! The Austin Area Garden Railroaders are hosting “Spring Bloom 2012 Garden Railroads Tour” on Saturday, May 5th, from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. This free event features five railroad gardens. This is a total kick!  Find out more.

See you next week! Linda

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl Hazletine's Central Texas Gardener 2010 edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zexmenia with asters and oxalis

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

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

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

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

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

McNichol tire rim Central Texas Gardener

McNichol garden recycled garden design Central Texas Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

Serena Angelonia Texas Superstar plant

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

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

Steve Kainer algaecides Hill County Water Gardens & Nursery

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

Until next week, Linda

Not taking natives for granted

How soon we take things for granted!

Columbine chrysantha
These days, it’s easy to find spring-blooming native columbines and their spin-offs. I have so many intermingled, but this is an Aquiliegia chrysantha of some sort.

Columbine chrysantha Columbine chrysantha with oxalis

Not so long ago, the only columbines we could buy were foreigners that croaked in 12 seconds. My first ones that worked were simply called  “Hinckley columbine” in the days that these native Texans were first coming into the nursery trade. Here’s Aquilegia canadensis.

Columbine candadensis
I remember when I bought one of the few rock roses (Pavonia lasiopetala) available at Barton Springs Nursery. I was so proud: I felt like a true plant adventurer. Now you can find them just about anywhere.

Pavonia, Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)
Winecups in a nursery? A few years ago, not a chance.

Purple winecup
One blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium) came with my yard, but disappeared when the dusty fire ant mounds gave way to grass for the dog. Thanks to its sort-of availability, I’ve restored it in my decomposed granite in the cat cove, since it’s not spring for us without it.

Blue-eyed grass
These days, some gardeners almost get snobbish about “ubiquitous” native plants. That’s never going to happen to me with my Gulf coast penstemons, this one paired with pink evening primrose.

Gulf Coast penstemon with pink evening primrose
Since we’re all looking for new ideas with native plants, this week on CTG, Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, selects great native options for screens, vines, a sun-loving fern, and nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi), a grass for moist shade to part shade. Here, it’s in one of Andrea’s new stock plant designs-the feathery one on the far left.

Nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi)
But what about vines for a narrow space? How about this Purple clematis/Purple leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri)?

Purple clematis, Purple leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri)
Find these plants and about a billion more at the Wildflower Center’s Spring Plant Sale on April 9 & 10 (members preview sale April 8; a good incentive to join, or you can do it that day). Closer to the date, check online to see all the plants that will be for sale. And, if you’ve got piles of plastic pots behind your shed, drop them off at the convenient recycling bin for future new plants!

On tour, you’ll love meeting Christine and Pete Hausmann! When they bought their house above Long Hog Hollow canyon, they took a new route with their garden: one that respects the land and its wildlife. Their garden, Lazy Acres, is built on creative adventures to celebrate family history, past and present. And check out their darling shed! Inspired by Debra Prinzing and William Wright on CTG’s interview about their book, Stylish Sheds & Elegant Hideaways, Christine & Pete built their own hideaway that 110° August.

Daphne answers Jean Wucher’s question: Can she mulch the leaves that have fallen from her native Carolina jessamine?  By the way, this is also Daphne’s featured plant: another great native vine for sun to part shade.

Carolina jessamine
And YES, you can use your fallen plant leaves as mulch without composting them first.  The leaves are already decayed, so there’s not so much a concern about tying up microbial nitrogen activity. Hey, that’s what nature does to feed the soil and improve it!

Want to kill off grass/weeds/unwanted plants? Get Trisha’s technique with compost, newspaper, and cardboard. She cautions: do not use slick newspaper advertisements or bleached (white) cardboard. Then, add 1/2″ of soil sulfur to kill the weeds. In normal amounts, soil sulfur acidifies the soil. With 1/2″, it creates a toxic situation for plants, but one that is not long lasting to harm your soil. PLUS: it repels or kills insects. Apply a 3-4″ band at the foundation of your house to deter insects from getting in.

Get more insight from Andrea on my documentary, Wildflowers|Seeds of History, which premieres on KLRU March 10 at 7 p.m. (other PBS stations later).


Want to know why you often see picturesque bluebonnets in a field of cattle? Andrea explains that and more!  This is not a garden show, though there’s certainly fabulous info for gardeners. Mainly, it’s a story of heritage, ecology, folklore, and the significance of wildflowers, through the words of Wildflower Center director Susan Rieff; Damon Waitt, Andrea, and Travis Gallo from the Wildflower Center; Matt Turner, author of Remarkable Plants of Texas; and Dennis Markwardt of TXDOT. And breath-taking high definition video shot by Ed Fuentes!

Until next week, Linda