Fall in the air has oxblood lilies popping up


Finally! An honest-to-goodness cool front has pushed the awful heat out, and we’re enjoying some rain and 70-something temperatures here in Austin. In response, the oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida), which were tentatively pushing up last week, have burst joyously into bloom. I like their rich red trumpets with golden stamens against yellow-striped ‘Bright Edge’ yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’).


I’ve moved my Austin sign several times over the years, most recently in front of the blue stucco wall by the pool, where it’s a perfect fit. My metalworking friend Bob Pool at Gardening at Draco made a stand for it, with legs that press into the ground, so I didn’t have to put holes in the stucco to hang it.


Other changes include the sad decline of my treasured Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae), which I had even longer than Moby, my recently expired whale’s tongue agave. After all the rain last year, her lower leaves succumbed to rot, and moving her to a pot with extra-sharp drainage couldn’t save her.


So I pulled her out and repotted the green pot with a ‘Monterrey Frost’ squid agave (A. bracteosa ‘Monterrey Frost’), which had outgrown its old pot. Isn’t it gorgeous here? The variegated squid agave, which is much less common than the regular (but also lovely) squid agave, gets a lot of admiration whenever I have gardening friends over. It occasionally produces pups, which I’ve shared, keeping just one for myself as insurance. If you’re in lust yourself, I believe I purchased it from Plant Delights, although it’s currently out of stock. Other online retailers may have it, though, so search around.


In the side yard on the opposite side of the house from the one I wrote about yesterday, fall has worked its magic. Native inland sea oats grass (Chasmanthium latifolium) is bent under the weight of toasty-brown oats, contrasting with billowy (spring-blooming) bamboo muhly grass (Muhlenbergia dumosa) on the right. Sparkling in the distance are the hibiscus-like flowers of Brazilian beauty pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata).


Walking up the path is now a meadowy experience, with an abundance of grasses and pavonia arching over. Low-growing native Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) is starting to bloom too, so I expect clouds of butterflies when the sun comes out again. I need to move that burgundy glazed orb — a cracked freebie from The Great Outdoors several years ago — next to the pale pavonia.


The color exactly matches that wine-colored eye!

Has fall begun transforming your garden?

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

Austinites and native-plant shoppers, I’ll be at the member’s day Fall Plant Sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on October 14, and I hope to see you there! I’ll be signing books between 1 and 3 pm in the Wild Ideas gift shop. If you’re not a member, of course you can still come on out and see the gardens and stop in at Wild Ideas. Hope to see you there!

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

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.

Evolution of a side garden with trash-bin screening


I like to show in-process pictures — not that garden making is ever about finishing a space — so here’s an update on a little-talked-about part of my garden: the front side-garden path, which leads from the circular driveway (out of view, upper right) to the gated side yard/utility area (behind us), where we store our trash bins, gardening supplies, and other not-so-pretty items.


Here’s an unimproved view of this space from a few years ago, looking from our front walk over toward the neighbor’s house. The neighbor (a lovely person, by the way, and we all have these things, so no judgment) stored trash bins and tree trimmings alongside the house, out of view of her front door but highly visible from ours. The A/C unit stared us in the face too. Soon after we moved in, I had our wooden privacy fence extended toward the front of our house to create a storage space for our trash bins, but we still lacked a path for pulling the bins out to the driveway.

The thing about this area, pedestrian though it may be, is that our family uses and sees it daily, either when taking out the trash or simply walking to the front door. It’s also a space clearly visible to visitors as they walk to the front door. We needed screening and access, pronto.


Also, considering how often we went in and out of the side-yard gate, I wanted a nicer view looking toward the street, not just a dull expanse of lawn punctuated by live oaks.


A curving path and a focal point to stop the eye from running straight to the cars parked along the street — that’s what we needed. That plus screening along the lot line.


For screening, a fence would have been the ideal solution (something like what I eventually had built along our other side yard), but I lacked the funds, plus I wasn’t sure how a short section of freestanding fence would look. So I opted for an affordable and DIY-able solution: a hedge.

Evergreen, deer resistant, shade tolerant, and low growing (it tops out at about 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide), Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) fit the bill, so I planted a row of six shrubs 18 inches inside the property line. The downside, of course, is that a hedge is not an instant solution, and Chinese mahonia is slow growing. So I watered them, twiddled my thumbs, and waited.


But I couldn’t stand all that turf, plus I wanted to distract from the view of cars in the driveway next door. So a year later I ripped out most of the grass in the side yard, leaving only a small swath in front of the house, which I liked for negative space and also to avoid battling oak sprouts — i.e., suckering growth from live oaks that’s easier to mow down than clip out of a garden bed. (Some live oaks sucker more than others, and no, there’s nothing you can do to make it stop. Sorry. Never use herbicide, as they’re connected to the mother tree. Just clip them, mow them, or use a weed-eater on them.)


I added a curving flagstone path between the trees (with flagstones installed flush with the soil), which we use to pull our trash bins in and out. Spaced-out flagstones are less destructive to tree roots than a paved path would have been. Comparing this picture (newly planted) and the one above, you can see I also tweaked the line of the remaining tiny lawn, curving it in toward the Japanese maple. That gives the lawn a pleasing semicircular shape, and the expanded garden bed/path area looks more natural too.

Things were looking better. While the neighbor’s storage area wasn’t hidden, the growing garden was creating a green distraction, as well as a sense of enclosure for our own space.


A few years later, the house next door changed hands, and the new owners extended their privacy fence toward the front of their house, which sits closer to the street than ours does. The result? A wonderful new fence (and free!) for my own garden, which hides their utility area from view and creates a backdrop for the Chinese mahonia.


OK, one more look at the “before.”


And now, “after” — or, more accurately, “in process.” No more street view. No more trash-bin view. A path for access. And lots of shade-loving, deer-resistant plants, planted in masses for continuity, that green up the side yard: Chinese mahonia, variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), native river fern (Thelypteris kunthii), and shrubby Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera).


Side view “before”


And “after”

Next month, we’ll have been in this house for 8 years. (Here’s my very first post about it.) I’ve been working on the front side garden for all that time. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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

Austinites and native-plant shoppers, I’ll be at the member’s day Fall Plant Sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on October 14, and I hope to see you there! I’ll be signing books between 1 and 3 pm in the Wild Ideas gift shop. If you’re not a member, of course you can still come on out and see the gardens and stop in at Wild Ideas. Hope to see you there!

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

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.

First oxblood lily, tree cavities, and last Moby


The majority, I think, are waiting for that first fall rain. But two oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) are trumpeting red in my garden, including this stray in the sedge lawn out front. I transplanted the bulbs from the front to the back last year, after the deer impressed upon me how much they enjoyed them.


What else is going on in the garden? Panning right, flagstones lead through the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) to the decomposed-granite path along the side-yard fence. Golden thryallis (Galphimia gracilis) sprawls in the foreground; giant hesperaloe (still recovering from last winter’s deer antlering) and white Turk’s cap sprawl in the background. Looking past the fence, my neighbor’s streetside garden blends with my own.

Several of our live oaks have cavities in their trunks, which my arborist says not to worry about, although I do worry about mosquitoes breeding in them when it rains (sprinkle organic Mosquito Bits every other week to prevent this). If you look carefully at the one on the left…


…you’ll see a sedge has seeded itself in the hollow! I’m happy to leave it and hope it’ll suck up any water that ends up there after a rain. The white rock in the hollow is a chunk of concrete, poured there by a previous owner worried about the cavity. My arborist kicked most of it out and said it’s not necessary for the health of the tree. In fact, it’s detrimental. Here’s more info from the University of Florida hort website.


Moving on, here’s a close-up of lace cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus var. coahuila) and ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) — looking like a crown on the cactus! — in a wall planter on the garage.


And one last view of Moby, my beloved whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), which bloomed this spring and has hung on for months, continuing to look good. But he’s finally yellowing on the other side, and that towering bloom stalk is leaning, plus I need to get his replacement planted before cooler, wetter weather sets in. So he’s coming out on Monday.

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

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

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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