Evergreens, color, and hardscape carry garden through winter into spring


A recent conversation on Linda Lehmusvirta‘s Facebook page got a few Austin gardeners talking about winter interest. Tracie, a local gardener, wrote that her mostly native garden looks great spring through fall but is “asleep” in winter, and she wanted ideas. Lori at The Gardener of Good and Evil responded by posting year-round views of her Blue Border, showing how evergreens sustain her garden.

I’m joining in by sharing current pictures of my garden, in all its patchy, cut-back, late-winter-on-the-cusp-of-spring glory. While winter is not high season in mine or any garden, I find that three elements keep a garden interesting post-freeze: evergreen plants; color on pots, furnishings, and structures; and defined hardscaping like paths, patios, and walls.

All three are put to use in the pond garden pictured above. ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods, ‘Color Guard’ yuccas, squid agaves (A. bracteosa), evergreen sumac (Rhus virens), and Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) keep the garden in green (and gold) all winter. Blue paint on the shed door, a blue pot fountain, and strongly defined hardscaping continue to attract and lead the eye when flowers have faded away.


At the other end of the garden, which slopes dramatically, retaining walls give structure and line, and a cold-hardy agave and yucca collection is evergreen (and gold and blue-gray) all year. ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) anchors the grouping. A bottle tree and blue pots add more color to brighten dreary days.


‘Blue Elf’ aloe is not only evergreen but blooms in late winter/early spring.


In the narrow raised bed behind the house, which I’ve begun to think of as my golden garden, several variegated evergreens keep it “awake” in winter: ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, ‘Bright Edge’ yucca, and ‘Color Guard’ yucca (in the blue pot). In the stock tank, Artemisia ‘Oriental Limelight’ adds to the show in winter and spring, before dying back in our hot, humid summer. In summer, Duranta ‘Sapphire Showers’ will return.


More evergreens hold the winter garden together in the east side path from the front garden to the back: Arizona cypress ‘Blue Ice’ (blue-green tree at left), bamboo muhly grass (at left), gopher plant (in bloom on both sides of the path), ‘Bright Edge’ yucca, ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly (columnar tree at right), ‘Green Goblet’ agave, Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’, and ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood.


Moving into the front garden, Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) offers lush winter greenery. The Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn behind it gets a little yellow but mostly remains green. Low retaining walls add a strong line of hardscape.


Wide-leaf giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera ssp. chiangii), evergreen with interesting white filaments along the leaf margins, tolerates part shade with ease. I need more groundcovers here though. I tried Jewels of Opar one spring, but the deer ate it. The dormant (maybe dead) plant at right is ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia, which I’ll replant if it doesn’t come back. It’s only borderline hardy here but blooms beautifully spring through fall in dappled shade, and deer ignore it.


Another shot of the Berkeley sedge lawn, which is studded with evergreen ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas. A broad decomposed-granite path through the front garden leads to the back gate. Its curving line directs the eye and defines the surrounding beds. I’ve decided to stain the lattice fence a dark gray-green, which will, I hope, make the plants in front of it pop a little more.


Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) and paleleaf yucca (Y. pallida), both evergreen, take over on the sunnier side of the garden.


‘Green Goblet’ agave, a curved line of ‘Teresa’ autumn sage (Salvia greggii), and groundcovering wooly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) keep things green all winter in the raised bed near the driveway. The stemodia can get a little ratty by winter’s end, but it greens up quickly in spring.


How about the streetside view? This is actually my neighbor’s garden, which I planted for her. A ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave will be the centerpiece of this bed as it grows. Cut-back autumn sage is still green, though not showy yet, and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa), red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), and Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) offer year-round color and texture.


Panning right, my own streetside garden is at its quietest, recently shorn of last season’s growth and awaiting spring. Possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) — caged against deer — is our native deciduous holly. It makes up for losing its leaves with brilliant red berries, which the birds have mostly devoured. In front are autumn sage, catmint, Mexican feathergrass, ‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly grass, and softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) — a mix of evergreens, flowering perennials and sub-shrubs, and grasses selected for deer resistance.


Panning right some more, softleaf yucca, ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas, sedge lawn, and foxtail ferns (Asparagus meyeri) in pots add plenty of winter greenery. The dead grass in the foreground is purple fountain grass, which I replace every spring for its rich, purple foliage.


On the west side of the circular driveway is a more colorful scene thanks to a sprinkling of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. Gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), currently in full bloom, echoes their golden stripes. Other evergreens like rosemary, spineless prickly pear (Opuntia), and softleaf yucca keep things green until flowering vitex, copper canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii), and majestic sage (Salvia guaranitica) return in spring.

So how do you achieve winter interest in your garden? Or is that something you are working toward?

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All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

New year in green and gold: January Foliage Follow-Up


It’s a new year in the garden, and I haven’t really been out in it for a while. An unusually long stretch of cold, gray days had me feeling like I was in Seattle, and let me tell you, it made me feel pretty gray myself. But yesterday the sun came out, the skies turned blue, and with a pleasant chill in the air it was the stuff of winter-in-Texas dreams. So let’s kick off Foliage Follow-Up for 2015! I’ll start with my ever-so-slow-growing Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn, studded with a few lemon-lime ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas. I love this little sedge lawn so much more than when it was St. Augustine grass, and I only have to mow twice a year (with a quiet, battery-operated mower). Yippee! If you’re curious about the palm in the middle-back, it’s a Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), which will eventually fill that spot with tropical-looking foliage.


My pipe-planted toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) is an FFU favorite of mine, but I have to show it off again but it looks so freaking fantastic, like a giant’s fiber-optic mood lamp shimmering by the front door. I felt like I was taking a chance on this plant when I bought it at Big Red Sun exactly 3 years ago, but boy has it paid off.


At the time (and even today) I rarely saw toothless sotol planted around town, and I wasn’t sure how it would hold up, especially in such an elevated, tight spot. However, it sails through winter freezes and blistering hot summers and only requires watering maybe once every two weeks in summer. I do think that sharp, sharp drainage and lots of sun is key to making it happy. For a laugh, here’s my post about my pipe-planting goof, but you can also see how much it’s grown since I planted it.


In the same space, softening a corner and screening the laundry room window from the western sun, is ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, which I’m enjoying much more since I took the time to prune it up and show off its golden “legs” last fall. I need to stay on top of the pruning. Bamboo gets waaaay out of hand if you don’t, even clumping bamboo like this.


Foxtail ferns (Asparagus meyeri) in white pots sit atop short cantera stone columns gifted to me by my gardening friend Randy. (Thanks again, Randy!)


More golden foliage is glowing in the newish front-side garden, courtesy of two variegated maiden grasses (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’). Particularly observant readers may notice a lot more sunshine in this area now. Yes, indeed! While having my oaks trimmed last fall, I convinced my neighbor to have the arborist remove a half-dead, truly pitiful, tree-sized red-tip photinia from her side yard. Its trunk was at least a foot in diameter, and coppery, dead leaves clung to it all year, plus it was leaning over my new fence. Once it came down, the whole space was opened up, and now this part of the garden gets a good dose of morning sun, which should make everything quite happy.


What kind of foliage is making you happy in your January garden? Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage plants their due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I really 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!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Trying Duranta ‘Sapphire Showers’ for end-of-summer color


My late-summer garden was feeling kind of puny to me last week — before we got the November-worthy cold front yesterday that dropped Austin’s high temperature to 65 incredible-freaking degrees and brought 1-1/4 inches of rain to my garden!!

Sorry, I digress.

Before that blessed weather event happened I was feeling the late-summer doldrums, as I always do before our weather breaks in October, and so I was easily snared by this beautiful, tropical-style perennial that was waving at me at The Natural Gardener and promising to deliver flowery beauty to my summer-weary garden.


It’s Duranta ‘Sapphire Showers’, and I have to admit it’s really not my usual style of plant. It’s thirstier than I would normally buy, probably requiring twice-weekly watering to keep it going in summer. It can be cold-tender in pots. I figure I’ll enjoy it through the rest of the summer and fall and, assuming it returns in spring, however long it lasts next summer, when I tend to travel a bit and expect my plants to get by on once-a-week watering, or less if necessary.

Despite all those caveats, I’m enjoying the grape-like clusters of violet flowers on arching stems. I need to plant a groundcover underneath it though — maybe ‘Silver Falls’ ponyfoot? Then I could enjoy Sapphire Showers and Silver Falls, which has a certain ring to it.

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