Native companions

Things are buzzing around here!

Bee on gulf penstemon flower

Native Gulf penstemons absolutely suck in the bees. I have them everywhere, including the cat cove; not by my design, but by theirs. Like all parents, plants point their progeny in the right direction.

Cat cove spring beauty
I don’t mind if they crowd the path for now. I’ll cut them back after the parents launch their seeds to the big wide world. It does take a while for the seeds to brown up, so hang on to your patience.

Sometimes I lose my beloved ground-hugging native Calylophus berlandieri that so well favors the hues of penstemons and winecups in spring, and rock roses (Pavonia lasiopetala) through summer. Recently, I added these: Calylophus drummondii var. berlandieri.

Calylophus drummondii var. berlandieri.

On a fence bed, winecups soothe Macho Mocha mangave in its recent snail attack.

winecup with macho mocha mangave

Pink evening primrose is an opportunist who moved right into the path we laid last year. They’re overwhelming the frogfruit underneath, but it’s holding its own.

pink evening primrose on path

To the right in the bed, Texas blue grass (Poa arachnifera) leans over from its shady spot underneath the mountain laurel to chat with hotspot edge plant blackfoot daisy.

Poa arachnifera Texas blue grass and blackfoot daisy
Hunkering in the shadier spots on the other side, columbine and widow’s tears (Commelina erecta) unite.

Columbine with widow's tears Commelina erecta
Another tough native to add to your list is Engelmann’s daisy, Daphne’s Pick of the Week.

engelmann's daisy

Engelmann's daisy
Although it wants sun, it can handle a shade break. Its spring-to-frost flowers feed many beneficial insects. Cutting it back now and then encourages more blooms, but do allow some flowers to go to seed for small birds that will swoop in.

Natives join the not-so-native for me. Jenny Stocker’s garden is my dream of the compatible blend. Oh, recently we taped it again, this time in HD, coming your way in early 2014.

Jenny Stocker Rock Rose blogger garden

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s annual Gardens on Tour is the super duper way to pick up design and native plant combinations to try at home. This week, Tom joins Andrea DeLong-Amaya from the Wildflower Center for a sneak preview.

Tom Spencer and Andrea DeLong-Amaya

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Gardens on Tour

From gardens big and small and plants for sun, shade, rocks or clay, you’ll get lots of ideas on May 11. Find out how to go on tour.

Here’s a closer look at one of the gardens on tour, where Laura and Andrew Stewart restored native plants and wildlife within biking distance of downtown.  Native plant designer David Mahler united with Miró Rivera Architects to tie together house and land.

Although native plants are very tough, this week Daphne answers, “Why are highway wildflowers sparse in some areas this spring?” Drought. At home, we can water the seeds that germinate in fall and winter.

bluebonnets central texas front yard

Earlier this year, we answered Jean Warner’s question about caring for her bluebonnet rosettes. She took our advice to give them a little water now and then. Look what happened!

jean warner's bluebonnets front yard Central Texas

Thanks for stopping by! See you 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

Drought tips for planting wildflowers, native plants, and seeds

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

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

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

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

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

Yucca ruppicola x pallida spared in plumbing dig

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

Yucca restrained for plumbing dig

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

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

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

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

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

Lace cactus Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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

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

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

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

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

native plant garden central texas gardener

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

Mockinbird Central Texas Gardener native plant design

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

native plant garden design Central Texas Gardener

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

Fall obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)

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

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

John Dromgoole ergonomic tools

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

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

Tennessee fainting goat Central Texas Gardener

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

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

Until next week, Linda

Wildflowers|Seeds of History

Wildflowers|Seeds of History KLRU

Last spring, I bet more cameras focused on wildflowers than ever before.

field of phlox and other wildflowers

KLRU was there too, thanks to Director of Photography Ed Fuentes and additional camera by Derek Joyoprayitno, for a project inspired by Betsy Gerdeman, KLRU’s Senior Vice President, and supported every step of the way by General Manager Bill Stotesbery and Production Manager JJ Weber.

Wildflowers|Seeds of History

But with this assignment, my first one in HD video, I wanted to do more than just another travelogue or collage of “pretty faces.” I wanted to tell the significant story behind the wildflowers that impact our ecology and thus our lives. So, Wildflowers|Seeds of History travels the back roads of history that forecast the seeds of the future.

bluebonnets back roads
How did Native Americans and pioneers historically (and us, today) use wildflowers and other native plants for medicine, food, teas, and art?

thelesperma, greenthread wildflower
What are the legends inspired by spring’s majestic transformation?

gaillardia field

Did you know that the prickly pear cactus almost won out over the bluebonnet as the State flower (though prickly pear is the State plant)?

Prickly pear cactus with bluebonnets

And, if you happened to nab a picture of grazing cows in a field of bluebonnets, get the story behind that picturesque scene.

cows in bluebonnets
Find out how prickly poppy, prickly pear cactus, and wild garlic shaped our history.

prickly poppy with tree
And how native phlox got a new rendition when Europeans fell in love with it.

Phlox in Texas wildflower meadow
For gardeners, what’s the deal that these flowers show up in bizarre spots but crater in our gardens?

4-nerve daisy seeded in rock
What are the wildflowers really doing out there? Why is their diversity and self-sown companion planting so crucial to our destiny?

Indian paintbrush Wildflowers|Seeds of History

How does this all impact our food chain and a symbiosis to a healthy economy, wildlife, and ecological security?

Texas wildflowers

Go behind the wildflower scenery with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Executive Director, Susan Rieff, Senior Director Damon Waitt, Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya, and Invasive Plant Specialist Travis Gallo; Matt Turner, author of Remarkable Plants of Texas; Luci Baines Johnson; Jennifer Robb, Lady Bird Johnson’s granddaughter, Dennis Markwardt from TxDOT, and Carrie & Dean Wolf, young gardeners who are passing along Lady Bird’s mission with native plants for wildlife in all seasons.


Ray Benson from Asleep at the Wheel narrates; musician John Mills composed the powerful score with acclaimed musicians.

Indian paintbrush Texas wildflower field

This couldn’t have happened without the support and project direction from Saralee Tiede, Director of Communications at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

largeflower evening primrose with Texas bluebonnets and phlox
Also, thanks to Kathleen Scott from Hill Country Mysteries for assisting us on locations.  I found her super blog one night, sent her a message, and bang, she was on it!

Texas wildflowers
I extend a heartfelt thanks to the The LBJ Family Foundation for providing funding.

Texas wildflowers

And to Sarah Cunningham, archivist at the LBJ Library, who helped me locate Lady Bird footage and sound bites.

Yellow flax

And I must thank my husband, Greg, who traveled this road with me, along with lots of late dinners!

4-nerve daisy with bluebonnets in Texas field

Finally, I send a big emotional hug to all the incredible, fabulous people at KLRU who jumped into this one, on top of everything else they do, with total creative energy and enthusiasm, including solving technical frazzles, tossing ideas, and just simply being there when I needed them most.

Thank Sara Robertson, graphics designer Mark Pedini, and effects editor Eve Tarlo for incredible graphics and all the “extras.”

turks and spiderwort Wildflowers|Seeds of History

It takes a village to make Wildflowers, like Maury Sullivan, April Burcham, Libby Peterek (web genius), Paul Sweeney (final editor and technical guru), Sharon Cullen (audio mixer supreme), Gene Harris, Maria Rodriguez, David Lauderman, Shane Guiter, Lauren Burton, Rebecca Adams and everyone at KLRU.

Texas bluebonnets
Wildflowers|Seeds of History, a one-hour documentary, premieres on KLRU March 10 at 7 p.m. Other PBS stations will air later. Until you can see it on your PBS station, we launch the web site on March 10, to watch online, get resources, and wildflower identification.

Until next week, Linda