Snake lounging and whale flowering in the garden


The biggest snake I’d ever seen in my garden was lounging in a bamboo hammock this morning.


Earlier, while looking out my office window, I’d noticed a bamboo cane leaning horizontally and thought, “Hmm, did it rain again?” But no, everything looked dry, so I eventually moseyed out to take a look.


Hello! A 5-foot long rat snake was coiled way out on a culm of the ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) behind the house.


It’s kind of pretty, don’t you think? I’m not scared of snakes in the garden, although I’m sure I’d feel differently about a venomous one. I’ve never seen a rattlesnake or coral snake in my garden, but I do keep an eye out since we back up to a greenbelt, and this is Texas.


But rat snakes are not venomous, and they eat rats, which means it’s a welcome predator in Austin. They unfortunately also eat birds and bird eggs (they’re good climbers), but that’s all part of the circle of life.


Eventually it coiled its way down the bamboo, and David and I watched it slither through the garden bed, down a wall, along the pool deck, and into the Mexican honeysuckle, where it disappeared. Go eat rats, rat snake!


Moby, my whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), has been growing a magnificent bloom stalk for a month and a half. Today, the first flowers on the lower branches opened.


Will they attract bats? I hope to find out.

All in all, it’s been an exciting day in the garden. And a shout-out to Peter Schaar, who visited from Dallas and brought me an Agave salmiana pup from his garden. Thanks, Peter!

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

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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.

Foliage in full spring swing: May Foliage Follow-Up


The day after Bloom Day is Foliage Follow-Up, a day to give foliage plants their due. This month I’m leading with the fresh spring greens of ornamental grasses, like shade-loving inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).


Their “oats” are just forming, and by mid-summer will turn from apple green to tan.


Along the fence (and in many other places in my garden), bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) makes soft mounds of chartreuse foliage.


Peek through the peek-a-boo gate and you see more bamboo muhly behind the live oak, incandescing celery green in the afternoon light.


Here’s the view from the other side of the gate, with variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), native river fern (Thelypteris kunthii), and Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) along the neighbors’ new fence.


A wider view shows the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) that anchors this shady northeast corner of the garden. The gate leads to the side yard where we store our trash bins. Our new neighbors recently moved their fence forward to enclose more of their side yard, and so now we have this nice-looking fence along part of the property line, providing a comfortable sense of enclosure.


Here’s how this space looked in 2008, when we moved in. The Japanese maple, planted by previous owners, has grown a lot! I underplanted it with the river fern, pulled the gate/fence forward to enclose the trash-can storage, added a stepping-stone path, and planted a hedge of Chinese mahonia along the property line (see above).


A side view shows the Japanese maple glowing in afternoon light. The dry stream carries water from the driveway around to the back garden.


Leaving the shade garden behind, let’s move to the sunny gravel garden on the other side of the front door, and a slew of foliage plants: ‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia, ‘Color Guard’ yucca, ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum), and ‘Jaws’ agave.


Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) spreads its fan-like leaves in the island bed. The blue-green foliage of heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) fills in underneath.


Along the driveway, ‘Color Guard’ yucca and purple sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’) make a showy combo in a sun-baked spot.


I’m trying a new shrub on the other side of the driveway: spreading Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’). I planted 5 of these last winter, replacing several autumn sage ‘Teresa’ that were not getting enough sun to thrive. The plum yew may really prefer more shade (in our hot climate) than this part-shade location provides, but we’ll see. So far the deer have left it completely alone. Gray-leaved, creeping woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) fills in around it.


A few fuzzy mulleins (Verbascum) are studded in along the front of this raised planting bed.


That bed segues into the alt-lawn of Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa), accented with a couple of ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas and a tuteur from TerraTrellis.


Spring is the showy season for Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), its blond tresses blowing in the breeze. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) adds fuzzy, silver-green texture beneath.


Moving into the back garden, silver-blue foliage leads the eye back and forth along the path: Arizona cypress ‘Blue Ice’ (Cupressus arizonica), gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), and Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’. A blue gazing ball and turquoise shed door reinforce the blue hues.


Of course there’s plenty of green foliage too, including ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), ‘Bright Edge’ yucca (in bloom), Agave lophantha, spineless prickly pear, Mexican feathergrass, and a few other odds and ends.


Face-to-face with Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ — shazam!


Variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica) is one of my favorite foliage plants for shade/part shade. Its white-striped, strappy leaves light up a dark spot, and it’s surprisingly drought tolerant. In our zone 8b, there’s a risk of winter die-back or even outright death during a hard cold snap, but I’ve decided it’s a risk worth taking. They’re blooming right now, and while the airy flowers are not particularly showy, they look nice mixed with other cut flowers in bouquets, as I learned at Linda’s house in San Antonio.


It would be a rare Foliage Follow-Up without a few succulents, like winter-hardy ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) in an Esther pot. A orange-spined cactus pops in a blue, skeleton-impressed Rick Van Dyke pot. Moby, my whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), looms in the background.


This striking ‘Painted Fingernail’ bromeliad (Neoregelia spectabilis) was a gift from talented Houston design team and bloggers Laurin Lindsey and Shawn Michael of Ravenscourt Gardens. A pot of purple oxalis (Oxalis triangularis) enhances the bromeliad’s magenta “fingertips.”

I admit I would never have thought to try a bromeliad, had it not been a gift. I always assumed they were thirsty, needy plants. But this potted specimen has done really well for me with only a once-a-week drench in the summer. Notice the tiny, purple flowers emerging in the center cup?


To close, here’s one more little succulent-and-cactus planter, this one adorning the garage wall.

This is my May post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is going on 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.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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.

Dry-garden lushness: Linda Peterson’s San Antonio garden


Rooftop view of the walled courtyard and front garden. Not a blade of lawn grass anywhere, nor is it missed.

Seeing one of my new favorite gardens requires an hour-and-a-half road trip to San Antonio, but it’s worth every trafficky mile. Linda Peterson, whose dreamy garden I visited last September, invited a few friends over for tea after the San Antonio Watersaver Tour, and I was delighted to be included. Seeing Linda and her beautiful garden again in a different season, plus sitting down to a delicious high tea served by her charming daughters? Yes, please!

Courtyard Garden


Linda’s gray-green stucco home wraps around a large courtyard garden thanks to walls painted the same color. Linda and her husband built their home toward the rear of the property in order to preserve several sprawling, magnificent live oaks. The walls provide back-yard-style enclosure and privacy, and a generous stone patio and curving paths create seating areas and lead you through the space.


Linda led us up to her home’s flat roof via a spiral staircase so we could take in a bird’s-eye view. The perspective allows full appreciation of Linda’s planting style: massed groundcovers and shrubs, carefully pruned to show off their architectural forms. For example, the soap aloes (Aloe maculata) blooming at lower left are kept tidy by pulling out pups (baby aloes) from around their spiny leaves, leaving star-shaped solitary plants massed in a winding “aloe river.”


Panning right, you see a table and chairs in front of a focal-point fireplace, with wood stacked in niches on each side.


Back at ground level by the front door, a pair of metal rhinos greets visitors. Against the green walls of the house, the coral flowers of the soap aloes stand out nicely. The chartreuse groundcover in front may be Mexican sedum.


Agave weberi and prickly pear add year-round structure around a pot-style fountain.


Turning around, here’s what you see as you enter the courtyard.


Real and faux cacti mingle in a bed along the wall.


Succulent wreath on the fireplace


The long view from the fireplace seating. Don’t you just want to lie in that hammock all day?


And now we’ve circled back around to the rhinos. The swoosh of gray river stones is a nice touch, don’t you think? It looks like a stream the animals are about to cross.


Another view of the soap aloes, plus a wavy-armed variegated American agave


Linda collects metal and stone animals to adorn her home and garden. I don’t remember seeing this little armadillo last time I visited.


Linda is disciplined with her color choices, sticking with soft gray-green, ivory, and lavender with occasional pops of yellow. This purplish pink bougainvillea was, perhaps, the brightest hue in her garden.


It grows atop the arbor, offering cheery welcome to visitors.

Front Garden, Right of Front Walk


Winding paths lead both left and right into the front garden from the main walk. Turning to the right, a flagstone path widens into a small patio with a simple wooden bench, perfect for stopping to take in the view. Feathery bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) hides the next-door driveway, and a low cluster of lantana blooms frothily.


Most lantanas have hot-colored flowers: orange, red, gold. These have white-and-pale-yellow flowers that fit nicely into Linda’s restrained color scheme.


Another view. Notice how the gray-green flagstone harmonizes with the house/wall color and the cool colors overall. Details like these give Linda’s garden cohesiveness.


A wider view from the end of the path reveals a mass planting of foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), whose foliage echoes the form of a nearby agave.


Three culvert-pipe planters along the foundation of the house elevate a collection of palms.

Front Garden, Left of Front Walk


Heading left from the front walk takes you past a large agave, flowering society garlic, and more foxtail fern.


Where the undulating arms of a live oak have been preserved via cut-outs in the stucco wall, a rustic picnic table provides a spot to pause and enjoy the scene.


Looking back toward the front walk and arbor, you see more soap aloes blooming. Linda has a lot of different plants, but she also repeats clusters of plants to great effect.


Continuing along the path, a silvery cassia (Senna phyllodinea) blooms in perhaps the sunniest part of Linda’s garden.


A closeup of the cassia flowers and flat, curled seedpods


And one more view of the silvery cassia, balanced with a large, architectural agave


Tucked among the plants, a stone crocodile planter filled with succulents grins like the cat who ate the canary.


A mystery plant with rich purple flowers. Anyone able to ID it? It’s cupflower, or Nierembergia scoparia ‘Purple Robe’. (Thanks, Gretchen, and Linda for confirming.)


One advantage of a gravel garden — Linda’s entire garden is mulched with tan pea gravel — is that it allows you to have open spaces, like the desert. Agaves and other dry-loving plants look very natural in a garden mulched with rock, and open space does too, allowing you to use fewer plants, if you wish. (In contrast, open spaces in a wood-mulched garden never look quite natural.)


Our native golden leadball (Leucaena retusa) displays its yellow pom-pom flowers alongside the driveway.


The flowers are eye-catching.


Another cluster of soap aloes, along with a nicely pruned prickly pear


Variegated American agaves catch shafts of light and seem to glow.

Rear & Side Garden


Alongside the driveway, a potted Arabian lilac (Vitex trifolia ‘Purpurea’) flashes leaves that are gray-green on top and lavender underneath. Potted drought-tolerant plants are a smart choice for a difficult spot with rocky or tree-rooty soil.


A back deck transitions between the house and the rear garden. I love Linda’s treatment of the deck skirting: sturdy wire (the same as on the trellis above) cloaked with fig ivy, which closely follows the wire’s grid pattern. At ground level, a swath of variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’) makes an easy-care groundcover that lights up the shade.


Here’s the view from the deck: a perforated metal lantern hanging from a tree, and a triangular faux-bois birdbath below. A Texas redbud effectively screens neighboring houses from view. Linda also strategically hangs pots of asparagus fern from the wire trellis to block undesirable views.


Back at ground level, a pruned-up hedge of variegated pittosporum turns these sometimes unwieldy shrubs into graceful small trees. Linda treats a number of her shrubs and woody perennials this way, including Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) and rosemary, to great effect. It allows for air movement and visual openness, she explains. Foxtail fern adds feathery texture below.


An umbrella-shaded pair of rockers offers a pleasant spot to sit. Clumping bamboo softens the wooden privacy fence and provides extra privacy from neighboring houses.


The screen of bamboo continues, planted atop a curving berm that softens the back corner. More foxtail fern adds evergreen, fringey texture.


Even a work area at the back of the house is brightened with special touches, like green bottles upended on bamboo poles stuck in pots of ferns and (I think) agapanthus Neomarica caerulea ‘Regina’ (see lcp’s comment below).


On a back terrace, succulents are displayed in pots glazed blue and brown.

Thank you, Linda — and daughters Demi and Sam — for a very special afternoon! Click here to read about my visit to Linda’s garden last September, and here for Rock Rose’s post about the garden and tea party.

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, time TBA. Learn more about water-saving gardening during my talk at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. Get a signed copy of my book after the talk. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

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

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