Plant This: Candy lily blooms are a sweet surprise

Visiting the garden of my friend Cat/The Whimsical Gardener earlier this summer, I exclaimed over a dainty, freckled flower on a long stem, with the sword-like leaves of an iris. Candy lily, she said, adding that she took no particular care and it thrived in morning to mid-afternoon sun. I was smitten.

By happy coincidence, a week later Katina of Gardening in Austin mentioned on Facebook that she’d seen 4-inch pots of candy lily (× Pardancanda norrisii) on sale for $.99 at Barton Springs Nursery. Despite the fact that late June is way past my stop date for planting anything except cactus or succulents, I drove straight there to buy a dozen, not knowing or caring what color their blooms would be. I planted some in my front garden (risking deer foraging), some in the back (risking too much shade), and gave the rest to my mother to try in her garden. I watered them in well and then left them alone except for our allotted once-a-week irrigation.

Last week I was surprised and delighted to see a bloom stalk forming on one of the candy lilies in the front garden, and two days ago it bloomed! I didn’t expect it to flower in late summer, nor so soon after I planted such a small plant. Now another one is putting up a flower stalk.

Each bloom lasts just one day, but online sources say candy lily has a long bloom period. I don’t know whether late-summer blooming in my hot climate is typical or unusual, so if you have experience with this plant in central Texas, please comment; I’d love to know more. What I do know is that candy lily is a man-made hybrid of blackberry lily (Iris domestica, syn. Belamcanda chinensis) and vesper iris (Iris dichotoma, syn. Pardanthopsis dichotoma). Despite its name, it’s not a lily but rather in the iris family. It’s said to be short-lived but may seed out. I hope so. I’d love to have more, especially if it turns out to be as deer resistant as iris.

While I was out front admiring the candy lily, I noticed an old favorite also going strong in the driveway-island bed.

Pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata), the Brazilian cousin of our native rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala), has tissuey, pale-pink flowers with a wine-colored eye and veins. In favorable conditions it seeds out prolifically, but in my fairly dry garden it doesn’t overseed its welcome.

Deer leave established plants alone (in my garden at least), but they occasionally sample young seedlings I’ve planted. Hard winters sometimes kill off pale pavonia. Luckily a few seedlings always seem to pop up in spring to keep these lovely, hibiscus-like flowers coming.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Inspiration for my new bottle tree comes from the desert

When it’s too hot to plant, consider planting a bottle tree. It’ll never need watering, and the more the Death Star shines on it, the better it looks.

I made a simple, post-style bottle tree 5 years ago. But the cedar post was rotting, and it was beginning to list. I decided to replace it, and as I pondered my options I remembered a plant I admired at Big Bend National Park and in Phoenix last spring. Suddenly I knew what I wanted.

An ocotillo bottle tree! Poetic license means its blooms are blue instead of red, but I like the organic, vase-like structure — a nice change from my former stylized tree.

Bob Pool of Draco Metal Works (and a blogger at Gardening at Draco) constructed it to my specifications: upright rebar “branches” welded to a metal base, about 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide, with a base that can be anchored to the ground with rebar stakes. He did a great job bending the rebar to give it an ocotillo’s form.

After setting it up yesterday afternoon in 100-degree heat, I jumped into the pool to cool off and admire it. As often happens while studying the garden while neck-deep in cool water, I decided to rearrange a few things, starting with the yellow motel chairs that used to sit off to the side in the shade. I moved them front and center to create even more of a long-view focal point with the bottle tree.

And I moved my red-orange Circle Pot over by the orange-blooming Mexican honeysuckle for a hot color echo. Hmm, what other art or seating redos can I come up with until it’s cool enough to plant?

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Garlic chive time!

Like Captain von Trapp’s edelweiss, the clean and bright flowers of garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) cheer me up when I’m feeling down in the August dumps. “Won’t be long now,” they whisper. “This is summer’s last gasp.”

With puffballs of white flowers held aloft on slender stems over liriope-like leaves, garlic chives refresh everything nearby — in this case, Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum).

These blossoms of snow in the August garden don’t actually help me feel any cooler. But they make me believe that soon, at least, we’ll be out of triple-digit heat.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.