Evergreen combos (mostly) for Austin


A local reader asked me about evergreen plants that grow well here in central Texas, and as I was putting together today’s Foliage Follow-Up post, I realized it’s a good opportunity to share some of my faves. I use a lot of evergreen plants — though not necessarily shrubs — because 1) they tend to require less maintenance than plants grown for flowers, 2) they look great year-round, 3) they provide wonderful structure, and 4) I have lots of shade, and flowers generally need more sun.

In the photo at top you see a chartreuse scrim of bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), an ornamental clumping grass that stays evergreen in most winters. Last winter’s two Arctic blasts did bleach out the foliage, and it takes its time in greening up again. But for a light-catching green cloud, drought tolerance, and deer resistance, this grass can’t be beat.

In the steel planter, ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia offers a dark-leaved evergreen option for Austin gardens. Again, it can be damaged in extreme cold, but most winters it does fine. As a low-growing, front-of-border plant, white skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens ‘White’) is a semi-evergreen sub-shrub that tolerates dappled shade. It looks best with a light shearing in late February and maybe again in mid-August. The white-flowering skullcap can be hard to find, but pink is readily available. Save the purple skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) for full sun and gravelly conditions.


Here’s a long view of this same bed, from a little further along the driveway. Strappy Texas sotol (Dasylirion texana) is the star here, backed by bamboo muhly. In front, I just took out all my iris, which wasn’t blooming in the dappled shade, and replaced it with evergreens ‘Micron’ dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Micron’), foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), and variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’). ‘Micron’ holly is a new one for me and is said to get only about 1-1/2 ft. tall by 2-1/2 ft. wide. (I bought all of Barton Springs Nursery’s supply, but I spotted it at The Natural Gardener last weekend.) Foxtail fern and flax lily both can be hurt by deep freezes, but generally they do fine in Austin’s winters, and they are workhorses that require very little care or maintenance.


‘Green Goblet’ agave (Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Green Goblet’) is a winter-hardy agave with a beautiful olive-green leaf with a tinge of blue. It produces pups on underground runners, but not too many, so they’re manageable. I just tug it loose whenever one pops up — usually several feet away from the mother plant. The silver groundcover woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) is not evergreen, but it’s a good choice for part or full sun and gravelly conditions. Fuzzy-leaved mullein (Verbascum spp.), which is generally evergreen for two years until it blooms and then dies, grows amid the stemodia.

In the background, I’m growing a lawnette of evergreen Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa). I now recommend ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge (Carex retroflexa ‘Scott’s Turf’) instead of Berkeley (Scott’s is less fussy), but both are good lawn substitutes for part shade or dappled shade and green all year.


Purple-leaved ‘Vertigo’ grass (Pennisetum purpureum ‘Vertigo’) goes brown and dormant after a freeze, but it does return each year, unlike traditional purple fountain grass. Next to it, lavender-flowering Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) has fragrant, edible, evergreen leaves. You can see the evergreen sedge lawnette in the background.


My favorite agave has to be whale’s tongue (Agave ovatifolia), a powder-blue agave that doesn’t pup but grows in an open, rose-like form. I also like evergreen softleaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia), growing at left of the agave — and too close, unfortunately. In the foreground, blooming hot pink and attracting hummingbirds, is autumn sage (Salvia greggii). Its tiny, semi-evergreen leaves release a minty fragrance when you crush them or brush against them.


I also love wide-leaf giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera ssp. chiangii), a stately, more open and vase-like relative of the common red yucca. Its evergreen leaves are long and sword-like, although not particularly spiny, and white thread-like fibers dangle from their edges. A white-flowering Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii ‘Alba’) grows in front — not evergreen, but a nice companion in dappled shade. The white Turk’s cap is harder to find than the common red, but last week I saw some 1-gallons for sale at Barton Springs Nursery.

The only downside of using giant hesperaloe is that bucks love to rub their antlers on it in the fall and winter, smashing its beautiful form. So now I put rolled wire fencing around it from early fall through spring. And I do the same with my ‘Green Goblet’ agave, which the bucks will also antler-damage.


The side-yard path into the back garden is mostly evergreen with bamboo muhly, ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice’), ‘Sapphire Skies’ Yucca rostrata, ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’), ‘Bright Edge’ yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’), and prickly pear (Opuntia).


I’m loving the totem-pole shape of my one surviving Indian fig opuntia (Opuntia ficus-indica). The others succumbed to a deep freeze one year. Indian fig is less cold tolerant than many prickly pears.


Peeking around the Yucca rostrata, you see a couple more hardworking evergreens, ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood and the ubiquitous live oak (Quercus fusiformis), which shades most of my garden and indeed most of my neighborhood, none of which were planted by human hands and grow as Mother Nature planted them in loose clusters.

This is my September 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! 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

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

A narrow side yard lives large in the garden of Rebecca Sams and Buell Steelman


I don’t think I planned a family road trip from San Francisco to Portland just to have an opportunity to swing through Eugene, Oregon, to visit the garden of Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams, the husband-and-wife design-and-build team at Mosaic Gardens, whose work I greatly admire and recently wrote about for Garden Design. But then again, it’s possible.

Rebecca and Buell graciously invited us to stop by and see their garden last month, even though 1) they weren’t even going to be there, 2) their garden was newly exposed due to the cut-back of a neighbor’s tree, and 3) their poor plants had just endured an unusually long heat wave with little watering. Knowing that their garden is beautiful because of its compelling structure, not just the plants, I wasn’t worried.


And I wasn’t disappointed. Rebecca and Buell’s garden is essentially a long, skinny side yard that slopes sharply downhill from their house. They tackled this difficult space by creating a series of rooms linked by axis views to focal points. Like running your fingers along a string of beads, you enter their garden via a garden room — a gravel foyer — at the top of the slope, pause, look ahead to a focal point, advance toward it, pause in the next garden room, look ahead to the next focal point, and so on.


Each focal point, like this stock-tank pond (yes, one of the inspirations for my own), draws you forward but also gives you a reason to stop and look around, enjoying the mosaic of beautiful plants that Rebecca and Buell have created.


Stone stairs lead you down into the garden. Cascading sempervivum grows in the crevices of the stone retaining wall. Above, a frosty blue conifer cascades on a larger scale.


A wider view, with Japanese forest grass flowing like water alongside the steps.


Now we’re in the pond garden, a sunken space not visible from the street. The stairs where we entered are visible behind the pond. Atop the slope, strategically placed trees screen neighboring houses from view.


Stepping back a few paces, down a short flight of steps, here’s an even wider view. The gravel path flows around the pond so you can view all sides. The narrow spaces around the pond are densely planted with columnar trees, shrubs, and perennials to create layering that makes those beds feel deeper.


And look at the gorgeous plants! I asked Rebecca to ID this combo for me. From left to right: Cotinus ‘Grace’, a sport of ‘Conica’ Picea glauca, a mystery fern (“This thing is a wonder. Gorgeous, even in drought with a blast of midday sun. We don’t recall where we got it, but we’d love to find more. If someone knows this one, please tell me!”), Rhododendron ‘Yak x pak’, Corydalis lutea, and Galtonia candicans, aka summer hyacinth (“the best plant that no one grows — we love it, and so do the hummers”).


Looking across the pond, your eye travels along a path, past a brick BBQ and the stairs to their back deck, to a chocolate-colored pot framed by a living arbor. The pot stands out against a corrugated, galvanized-steel fence.


A closer look. A horizontal bamboo fence adds an Asian flavor to this area, and white hydrangea glows alongside the path. Espaliered trees arch over the path to create a living arbor.


Past the arbor you enter an edible garden, which jogs left into a small back yard. Asparagus was blooming here…


…and grapes dangled from a wire trellis fence.


A gateway in the trellis fence allows access to another garden room — an orchard of fruit trees, anchored by an approximately 4-foot-diameter stacked-stone sphere that Buell made.


I love this.


Apples were ripening in the orchard.


Returning through the garden, here’s another look at the espaliered arbor…


…and artichoke.


Back at house level, a long, narrow porch leading from the driveway to the front door is adorned with a collection of potted succulents massed for impact.


Other potted plants add interest to the edge of the gravel “foyer” garden, with fabulous skinny conifers visible in the background, growing along the property line and creating the illusion of greater depth.


River stone as art object in the garden


Another look from the top of the garden into the sunken side yard.


Eucomis flowers


Rattlesnake master (I think) and red dahlia


How do you approach the garden from the street? Via this almost secret-garden stone stair, through touchable grasses, conifers, and perennials. How could anyone resist taking a peek?


A gravel driveway leads to a garage, but knowing they wouldn’t be parking in it, and wanting to create more of an entrance and drop the cars slightly out of view, Buell and Rebecca dug out the driveway, put in a low retaining wall, and repaved the drive with gravel so that it sits about a foot lower than the entry garden. Isn’t this a nicer spot to come home to than entering through a dark, cramped garage?

My thanks to Rebecca and Buell for sharing their beautiful garden with me! I do hope to meet them one day, too.

Up next: Our day trip along the Columbia River Gorge to see waterfalls and mountain views — a tribute to an incredibly scenic area that is now tragically on fire. For a look back at our visit to the dormant volcano and sapphire lake of Crater Lake National Park, click here.

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

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

After the volcano blows: Crater Lake National Park


Mt. Mazama spilled its guts in a massive volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, emptying itself out to such an extent that the mountain collapsed in on itself, creating a 3,900-foot-deep caldera. As the centuries ticked by, the caldera partially filled with snowmelt and rainfall, transforming into a sapphire-blue lake — the deepest lake in the U.S., with a depth of 1,943 feet — ringed by a partially forested mountain ridge at an elevation of 7,000 feet. Meanwhile the volcano kept belching up lava, creating cinder cones on the lakebed. One, dubbed Wizard Island, rises like a conical wizard’s hat above the lake’s surface, making a mini-mountain island to one side of the 6-mile-diameter lake.

Such is the dramatic history of Crater Lake, a national park in south-central Oregon that I’ve long wanted to visit and saw during a family road trip last month.


Ombre shades of blue

Crater Lake is famous for its sapphire hue. It’s so blue, we learned, because the water is very deep and nearly pure. No streams or rivers flow into or out of the lake, and so it doesn’t contain river silt or mud. The park receives a tremendous amount of snowfall every year — 43 feet on average — which helps keep the lake at a constant level, compensating for evaporation.


The rim views are stunning, but it’s even more amazing when you think about the fact that you’re standing atop the rim of a volcano, looking into the cone. True, it’s dormant, but no one’s ruling out the possibility of a future eruption.


Wildfires were raging in the area when we visited and the park’s West Rim Drive was closed, so we weren’t able to drive the entire rim. I worried that smoke would haze the view of the lake, and it did get hazier throughout the day. But when we arrived that morning the skies were clear and the lake clearly visible.


The caldera’s steep, crumbly sides make it impossible to reach the lake except along a single trail, the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which usually opens in mid-to-late June. My husband and daughter were keen to hike it. Following tradition, they both plunged into the icy lake — surface temps are around 50° or 60° in summer — just to say they did.


Crater Lake is a snowy place for much of the year, and we saw for ourselves that snow can remain on the ground even into August.


Off East Rim Drive, we saw the Pinnacles: fossil fumaroles — aka ancient volcanic vents — that cemented through intense heat the ash they spewed. Surrounding material eroded over the centuries, exposing the fossilized vents as fantastical spires.


Of course, pun lovers that we are, we immediately dubbed this photo Penickles at the Pinnacles.

Up next: The inspiring, jewel-box garden of Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams, owners of Mosaic Gardens in Eugene, Oregon. For a look back at our visit to Redwood National Park and Fern Canyon, click here.

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

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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