Hello, winter — you’ve zapped my garden


Hello, winter! We’re not used to seeing you here in Central Texas. Despite predictions of a mild winter, with the warming influence of a La Niña, we’ve already had two multi-day stretches of hard freezes, with a couple of nights dropping into the upper teens.


The result? Brown, brown, brown plants. Semi-melted agaves and aloes. Tender succulents reduced to mush. (Notice the potted ‘Monterrey Frost’ squid agave looks great though!)


Considering that my garden didn’t have a single hard freeze last winter, this has come as a shock, not only to my marginally hardy plants but to my eyes. I’m not used to seeing so much brown. And I have to admit that I don’t like it.


Oh, the natives are fine, of course. They can take temperature extremes in stride. The Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) on the left still looks green and happy. So do certain exotics, like pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata) and ‘Sparkler’ sedge. But bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) and foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), both of which I rely on heavily because they thrive in dry, dappled shade and deer don’t touch them, have become as dry and bleached as straw. I can only hope they’ll come back from the roots.


It’s the same story with Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’). Mushy and brown.

If you’re wondering, yes, I cut back the dianella in the front garden because I couldn’t stand its straw-like ugliness near the front door. But generally I recommend waiting on cutting back until mid-February to give roots a little protection, to avoid stimulating early growth that could get zapped by another freeze, and to give shelter to wildlife.


In the back garden, the stand of Mexican honeysuckle, usually green all winter, is blackened and sad.


Even my normally winter-hardy ‘Jaws’ agave shows some bleached-out freeze damage.


This is when yuccas really shine, like these ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. Winter weather doesn’t faze them. Let’s sing the praises of ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood too, impervious to polar vortexes. Gah, the poor bamboo muhly behind the yuccas, though.

I’m sure those of you in colder climates are finding it hard to sympathize. What can I say? Mild winters are surely our reward, here in Texas, for putting up with blistering summers, right? RIGHT??


Ah well. Spring is already stirring here in Austin, as the Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) shows. By mid-February new growth will be glowing green throughout the garden, and winter clean-up will begin in earnest.

This is my January post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness — or ugliness — is happening in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Autumn stroll around Lady Bird Lake


Autumn rarely sets our trees aflame here in central Texas, and this year’s fall color looks to be more of a dud than usual. But still, you can find a few russet tinges if you squint, especially in the coppery needles of bald cypresses around Lady Bird Lake.


My family and I walked the 3-mile loop between MoPac and the Pfluger Bridge over the Thanksgiving holiday.


Well, they ran and I meandered with Cosmo, taking lots of photos along the way. I love walking here when the weather cools off.


On this gray day, it wasn’t very crowded, which was nice.


Virginia creeper climbing a bald cypress is putting on a mini fall show of its own.


Bald cypress roots, drinking deeply


The cypresses line the hike-and-bike trail like a giant’s hallway.


Yes, I will apparently even take photos of a public restroom if the design is interesting.


The Trail Foundation has really upped its game in the design of public toilets along the trail.


The Heron Creek restrooms, designed by Mell Lawrence Architects, look like monk cowls made of raw steel and board-formed concrete.


Moving on


Turtles! I’m familiar with the red-eared slider, perching below the other two. But what kind of turtle is at the top of the branch? A soft-shell?


Almost at the turning point: the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge


A spiral ramp leads up to the bridge on the north side of the lake, but let’s pause in the Pfluger Circle, designed by Austin’s own Christy Ten Eyck, before we go up. With limestone-block benches around the circle, surrounded by Anacacho orchid trees, palmettos, and other native plants, it functions like a large council ring, one of my favorite design motifs.

Here’s a nice article about council rings, although — surprise! — the author used one of my photos without asking or even linking back to my site, which I wish people wouldn’t do. Respecting copyright (is it yours? If not, ask before using) is easy to do — and the right thing to do.


My rant over, let’s go up the ramp cloaked in fig ivy. Yes, it does seem as if we’re walking backwards, doesn’t it?


Looking down on the circle from the top of the ramp


My daughter is checking her phone down there.


A wider view captures a glimpse of the state capitol in the distance.


Beachy, curvy, wooden side-walls line a portion of the bridge.


Along the main part of the bridge, steel rails allow for views of the water.


Graffiti on the train bridge: Ninja Style Kung Fu Grip, reads one, which I’m sure the guy needed as he hung from the bridge to spray-paint. Never Give Up, reads another with Pac-Man outrunning killer ghosts.


Greening up the bridge are several raised garden beds maintained by volunteers. A couple were a bit anemic, but this one totally rocked.


Well done, Joan McGaffigan!


Back on the trail on the south side of the lake, this bench offers a nice overlook of the historic Lamar Boulevard Bridge — and an Austin-style re-creation of the bridge scene from Manhattan.


Where the trail diverts along Barton Creek for half a mile or so, I stopped on the wooden pedestrian bridge to watch kayakers…


…and paddleboarders.


Looks like fun


A little more fall color


And more orangey bald cypress


I sat in this spot for a little while, admiring the turquoise water of spring-fed Barton Creek and the orange needles and knobby “knees” of a solitary bald cypress.


Kayakers paddled up the creek…


…and, after a bit, paddled back toward the lake.


So peaceful


Nearby, the steel gazebo at Lou Neff Point offers a nice vista of downtown…


…between the trees.


Firecracker fern was still in full bloom, with a sulphur butterfly nectaring there.


Check out those yellow eyes!


Yuccas, agaves, and native flowering perennials and trees grow in terraced beds on the hillside here.


Beautiful yuccas, like exploding fireworks


Regular trail denizen Woode Wood was serenading passers-by.


A little gold adds to the subtle fall color along the trail.


Near the end of my loop, as I crossed the MoPac Pedestrian Bridge, I noticed that an old Live a Great Story sticker continues to hang on. I took a similar picture of this sticker, with a paddleboarder below, a couple of years ago, when we were having a much more colorful autumn (click for the fall glory).


Downtown beyond the trees


Yes, Austin is pretty wonderful!

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Want to know how I got started as a garden writer? Read page 16 of On the QT, the newsletter for GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. I’m honored to be featured in an article by Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

What’s hot in garden design — or about to be? I interviewed designers and retailers across the U.S. to find out! Natural dye gardens, hyperlocalism, dwarf shrubs, haute houseplants, sustainability tech, color blocking, and more — check out my 2017 Trends article for Garden Design and see if anything surprises you.

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Mellow fall garden for November Foliage Follow-Up


Today is Foliage Follow-Up, a day to celebrate great foliage after the flower celebration of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Let’s take a spin around the back garden for my foliage faves this month, starting with the stock-tank pond garden. No flowers here since the water lilies slowed down. You’re looking good, ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood underplanted with Texas sedge (Carex texensis), squid agaves (A. bracteosa) in culvert-pipe planters, and pond crinum (Crinum procerum ‘Splendens’)!


On the deck, potted prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra) is taking on a purple edge thanks to cooler temps. Sewing needle-like spines are a bonus!


One of my favorite little agaves is ‘Cream Spike’, a passalong from Bob Beyer of Central Texas Gardening. I adore those red teeth.


Agave x leopoldii, with cool curly white filaments. Both agaves pictured here must be brought inside during freezing weather.


My Austin sign faded this year, but I like its new placement against the blue stucco wall. A prickly pear passalong from Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer, ‘Santa Rita’ (Opuntia santa-rita ‘Tubac’), is getting established in the blue pot, with balancing help from a few bamboo stakes. Yucca rostrata peeks over the wall.


In a galvanized tub on the upper patio, I’m growing native Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa), artichoke agave (A. parryi var. truncata), and a new trial plant from Proven Winners: ‘Quicksilver’ artemisia (Artemisia stelleriana ‘Quicksilver’).*


It’s growing well in bright shade and needed very little water throughout the summer months, even with a late spring planting. It’s described as “vigorous” on Proven Winners’ website, and I’d treat it as such — i.e., I’d be very careful about setting it loose in the garden. Certain creeping artemisias, like ‘Oriental Limelight’, can be very aggressive, and ‘Quicksilver’ may prove the same.


But for a container you don’t want to water every day in the summer, it’s a great choice as a spiller under a xeric “thriller” like an agave or manfreda.


I’ll close my foliage-focused post with a last look at the pond garden with ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood balls, my favorite sitting area, and plenty of still-green foliage.

This is my November post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is happening in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

*Proven Winners sent me this plant to trial in my garden. I’m writing about it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

What’s hot in garden design — or about to be? I interviewed designers and retailers across the U.S. to find out! Natural dye gardens, hyperlocalism, dwarf shrubs, haute houseplants, sustainability tech, color blocking, and more — check out my 2017 Trends article for Garden Design and see if anything surprises you.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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