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

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

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

Abutilons, tomato problems, chitalpa trunk split

Aside from the heat, you know it’s June when Ellen blooms!  My crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ is another survivor of droughts and extreme freezes.

Crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet'

Another tough plant through drought and last winter’s kabosh is my 2-year-old ‘Patrick’s’ abutilon (Abutilon pictum ‘Patrick’s'), named for designer Patrick Kirwin, who took a cutting to Conrad Bering at Barton Springs Nursery.

Patrick's abutilon (Abutilon pictum 'Patrick's')

Not so long ago, abutilons were a garden novelty, since we questioned their survival status in winter. For sure, some of us lost them when it plummeted to 10°. But most of them were fine, including Pam Penick’s ‘Marilyn’s Choice’ at Digging.

Marilyn's Choice abutilon, Pam Penick

Since a lot of us are new to abutilons, this week on CTG, Tom meets with Mae Sanchez from Barton Springs Nursery to give us some tips on their care. I didn’t realize that they come in many sizes, like the Bella Red she features: a smaller, more compact variety.

Abutilon 'Bella Red'

Mae  shows off taller specimens, too, like this luscious pink that’s a recent addition to Robin Mayfield’s garden at Getting Grounded.

Pink abutilon

Get Mae’s plant list and details for these enchanting additions to your garden, even in part shade.

This week, Daphne answers Heath Weber’s question on his chitalpa trunk splitting.

Chitalpa trunk split

Chiltalpa is a cross between Catalpa bignonioides and Chilopsis linearis (desert willow). Get Daphne’s answer about this situation and all her tips. And thanks, Heath!

On the hit list of top questions: tomato problems. This week, Trisha tackles the insects that are pestering you, including leaf miners and problems like blossom end rot and early blight.  Get her detailed list to help you navigate tomato torments!

Even though the tomato hornworm is especially destructive, you really have to admire this one from Lee Clippard, who blogs at The Grackle.

tomato hornworm

If you can re-locate some to a honeysuckle, including the native coral honeysuckle, you’ll end up with pollinating sphinx moths, often called “hummingbird” moths due to their size.

I’m sure that the leaffooted bug MUST have a beneficial purpose in this world, but tomato growers know it as a major headache. They mottle the fruit by sucking it, making it inedible. Garden blogger Mostly Weeds has an attractive specimen that had a moment of fame before he met her  “Bucket of Death”.

Leaffooted bug on tomato

Spider mites, a type of arachnid, are bad news on tomatoes and other plants as we head into hot, dusty weather. You may not see them right away. Most likely, you’ll see spotted leaves, like this advanced stage from Wizzie Brown, Texas AgriLife Extension entomologist. Check out her blog for what else is bugging you.

Spider mite damage advanced stage

On tour, take a ride through the 1920s Hill Country on Steve Blackson’s garden railroad.

And yea, you can watch online, too!

Until next week, Linda