Orange you glad it’s spring?


The weather’s not yet hot, but the flowers are. I’m embracing orange and reveling in the saturation. Thanks to an unusual, freeze-free winter, the garden has a jump-start on lush growth. Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is smothered in pumpkin-colored blossoms, framed by Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata aztecorum), which arches gracefully from the side.


Just waiting for the hummingbirds to arrive


I like to make color echoes with garden art and containers. Just in front of the saffron dragon pot, another color echo is provided by ‘Bartley Schwarz’ abutilon. I recently staked its spindly stems to lift its bell-shaped flowers out of the mulch.


But you still need a bug’s-eye perspective to really enjoy those pendant blossoms. An elevated pot would do the trick — imagine those peachy orange flowers cascading over a pot’s rim — but I don’t believe it would be as dry tolerant as I require my container plants to be. Sorry, Bartley, you’ll have to stay where you are.


Standing at the bottom of the garden and looking up the path, a blue nolina (Nolina nelsonii) comes into view. I love the powder-blue, strappy leaves against all that hot orange. Self-sown spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) pokes up at the nolina’s feet.


In this longer view, you see the blue nolina at the path’s turn, along with the Mexican honeysuckle. In the foreground, Texas sedge (Carex texensis) and purple heart (Tradescantia pallida) make a shade-loving, ground-covering combo.


The fallen live oak leaves suggest autumn, but they’re a sign of spring in Texas. On the pool patio, ‘Blue Elf’ aloe hoists pennants of tubular, coral blossoms.


Nearby, soap aloe (Aloe maculata) sends up its own candelabra-shaped bloom spikes.


Native Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa) is not to be outdone. Its bloom spike is a good 6 feet tall and still growing. Speaking of verticality, notice the ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine climbing the cedar tree in the background. It’s only noticeable in spring, when it’s flowering.


I have another crossvine growing — and under control — on my side fence. I love those big, trumpet-shaped blossoms.


Another view


On the cooler side of the color wheel, and the other side of the garden, I’m enjoying native spiderwort mixed with white-striped Aztec grass (Liriope muscari ‘Aztec’) and variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’). A pot-bellied disappearing fountain provides a color echo, and its form is echoed in turn by the clipped ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood and spherical Yucca rostrata in the distance.


A closeup of the spiderwort


One more look. And now I’m ready for the rain that’s forecast this week. It’s been very dry. Fingers crossed!

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.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Garden Design has published on its website an excerpt from my new book, The Water-Saving Garden. It’s titled “Create the Illusion of Water with Plants: How to use grasses, trees, groundcovers and other plants to evoke water in a dry garden.” Check it out, and let me know if you try any of these creative design ideas.

Do you review? Have you read The Water-Saving Garden? If you liked it or 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!

Come meet me at Zilker Garden Festival, Austin, TX, April 2 & 3
Come see me at Zilker Fest between 10 am and 2 pm, on both Saturday and Sunday, at the Author Booth (near the main building entrance), where I’ll be signing and selling my books ($20 each). Zilker Fest offers all-day entertainment, vendor shopping, plant sales, demonstrations, live music, a beer garden and food vendors, children’s activities, a garden train, a flower show, and a docent-led tour of lovely Zilker Botanical Garden. Click here for full details.

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

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

Dining on Vinaigrette’s garden patio in South Austin


I’m not a foodie, and I don’t get too excited about new restaurants opening on a daily basis here in Austin. And yet something about salad bistro Vinaigrette caught my attention when author Amy Stewart shared (from Eureka, CA!) an Austin Eater article about its recent opening.


Could it have been the gardening books — including Piet Oudolf’s recent Hummelo and Amy’s own The Drunken Botanist — displayed on a table near the bar? Yes, indeed. That did it. I had to know what this garden-loving restaurant was all about.


So it was that two days after Vinaigrette opened its doors on College Avenue, in Tree House Italian Grill’s former location, I arrived for an early dinner with Chicago blogger, author, and motivational speaker Shawna Coronado, who was passing through on her way to a conference. Shawna’s long devoted her own front yard to growing vegetables, but with a recent diagnosis of spinal osteoarthritis, she’s now transforming her garden into a low-maintenance space and focusing in her writing and speaking on wellness and healthy living. (Check out her site for lots of garden eye candy, DIY projects, and wellness inspiration.)


Before I arrived, Shawna (pictured at right) had already met owner Erin Wade (on the left) and was photographing the restaurant and its wares with a foodie’s attention to detail. And no wonder. The place is irresistible.


And so is Erin. A self-taught farmer from Santa Fe who opened a salad restaurant in order to offer healthy, delicious food like she’d enjoyed during a year in Italy, Erin now operates three locations of Vinaigrette in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and, most recently, Austin. She also owns the farms that supply her chefs with fresh, organic ingredients. Food waste from the restaurants goes back to the farms to feed her pigs or be used for compost.


I raved about the beautiful patio garden, which is swathed in native groundcovers like Texas bluegrass (Poa arachnifera) and accented with drought-tolerant architectural plants like spineless prickly pear and agave. (There are no expanses of brown mulch in this brand-new garden. Thomas Rainer would be proud.)


A curving, stone-edged gravel path leads through the grasses and skirts the biggest live oak I’ve ever seen, which, Erin explained, was surrounded by a concrete patio when she bought the place.


She immediately ripped out the concrete and laid permeable decomposed granite instead, kept in place with substantial steel edging.


A rammed-earth wall and steel-and-wood-slat fence surrounds the garden, shielding views of the parking lot and street. “Who helped you with the landscape design?” I asked Erin, expecting to hear designer Mark Word’s name. “I read a lot of books and did the design myself,” Erin replied. Is there nothing this enterprising woman can’t do?


Shawna and I chose a table under the magnificent oak, and it was a joyful experience to sit under its spreading canopy.


I kept popping up to take more garden pictures. It was a balmy, golden afternoon, and the place was not yet crowded with other diners.


Red accents appear throughout the garden and inside the restaurant as well.


Even in the potted cacti that adorn each table and a deck rail.


Am I the only one interested in the decor of restaurant bathrooms? I think not. In keeping with the restaurant’s clean-lined, modern-farmhouse interior (oddly, I took no photos of the indoor seating), the lavatory design is spa-like — with the surprise of charcoal-colored river rocks in the stainless-steel sink basins…


…and a Michael Pollan quote on the bathroom wall.


Shawna’s friend Austin (whose garden I’ve had the pleasure of touring) and his partner, Jorge (on the left), joined us for dinner, and we enjoyed a fine meal together. My thanks to Shawna for inviting me, and to Erin for sharing her beautiful restaurant with us. Vinaigrette’s patio garden is currently my favorite outdoor dining space in Austin.

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Upcoming Events and News

My new book, The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water, comes out next Tuesday! Click the link for more info and, if you like, to order online from the retailer of your choice. Check back soon for my book-release blog party with lots of giveaways of water-saving gardening items!

Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

Look for me on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

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

Winter pizzazz of flowering maple and ornamental grasses


A mild winter makes flowering maple (Abutilon) happy, and that makes me happy. I adore its pink-veined, balloon-skirted flowers.


Here you see it in the foreground, part of the stock-tank pond garden. Let’s walk up the hillside path, shall we? But first, check out how big the ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress has gotten!


For comparison, here’s how big it was in 2009. A wee tyke.


The butterfly-shaped seedpods of the gallinita vine (Mascagnia macroptera) are still a mixture of chartreuse and winter-tan. This well-behaved vine clusters densely atop the Heart Gate, putting rich greenery up against the gray-greens of the live oaks.


A closer view of the lepidopterous (did I use that right?) seedpods


Beyond the gate, it’s all grasses, baby — inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) on the left, bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) on the right, and a variegated miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis) about halfway up the path. These grasses require little maintenance — just an annual cut-back and seedling removal in spring for the sea oats and periodic quick trims to keep the bamboo muhly tidy — and the deer shun them.


Here’s how this space looked when we moved in. Nice lawn but lots of mowing, edging, and watering. I much prefer ornamental grass to lawn grass. How about you?

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Upcoming Events and News

Hold the Hose! Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

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

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