Plant This: Candy lily blooms are a sweet surprise

Visiting the garden of my friend Cat/The Whimsical Gardener earlier this summer, I exclaimed over a dainty, freckled flower on a long stem, with the sword-like leaves of an iris. Candy lily, she said, adding that she took no particular care and it thrived in morning to mid-afternoon sun. I was smitten.

By happy coincidence, a week later Katina of Gardening in Austin mentioned on Facebook that she’d seen 4-inch pots of candy lily (× Pardancanda norrisii) on sale for $.99 at Barton Springs Nursery. Despite the fact that late June is way past my stop date for planting anything except cactus or succulents, I drove straight there to buy a dozen, not knowing or caring what color their blooms would be. I planted some in my front garden (risking deer foraging), some in the back (risking too much shade), and gave the rest to my mother to try in her garden. I watered them in well and then left them alone except for our allotted once-a-week irrigation.

Last week I was surprised and delighted to see a bloom stalk forming on one of the candy lilies in the front garden, and two days ago it bloomed! I didn’t expect it to flower in late summer, nor so soon after I planted such a small plant. Now another one is putting up a flower stalk.

Each bloom lasts just one day, but online sources say candy lily has a long bloom period. I don’t know whether late-summer blooming in my hot climate is typical or unusual, so if you have experience with this plant in central Texas, please comment; I’d love to know more. What I do know is that candy lily is a man-made hybrid of blackberry lily (Iris domestica, syn. Belamcanda chinensis) and vesper iris (Iris dichotoma, syn. Pardanthopsis dichotoma). Despite its name, it’s not a lily but rather in the iris family. It’s said to be short-lived but may seed out. I hope so. I’d love to have more, especially if it turns out to be as deer resistant as iris.

While I was out front admiring the candy lily, I noticed an old favorite also going strong in the driveway-island bed.

Pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata), the Brazilian cousin of our native rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala), has tissuey, pale-pink flowers with a wine-colored eye and veins. In favorable conditions it seeds out prolifically, but in my fairly dry garden it doesn’t overseed its welcome.

Deer leave established plants alone (in my garden at least), but they occasionally sample young seedlings I’ve planted. Hard winters sometimes kill off pale pavonia. Luckily a few seedlings always seem to pop up in spring to keep these lovely, hibiscus-like flowers coming.

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

Fixing a floppy Will Fleming yaupon for Foliage Follow-Up

‘Will Fleming’ yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’), a fastigiate cultivar of our native yaupon holly, is one of my go-to vertical accent plants. It’s a green punctuation mark, ideal for adding height to a flat bed or using in multiples as a narrow hedge to screen an ugly view. In sun or shade it’ll grow to 10 or 15 feet (I like to give mine flat-top haircuts at about 6 feet tall) but only 1 to 2 feet wide. Sometimes, however, the outer branches go a bit floppy, ruining the vertical shape.

Like this — not the look I was going for.

You might think this calls for the pruners. Stop! Put the pruners down and grab a pair of scissors and a spool of fishing line instead. Tie one end of a length of fishing line loosely around a branch, leaving room for the branch to grow. Loosely wrap the fishing line in a spiral around the body of the tree, thereby creating a neat column again. Tie it off, taking care not to tie or wrap any part of the line tightly. You don’t want to strangle your tree. A gentle touch is all that’s needed.

And voila! A columnar ‘Will Fleming’ is restored.

One more time — floppy!

And fixed!

‘Will Fleming’ yaupon is my Foliage Follow-Up featured plant this month. Please join me in posting about your lovely leaves of April for Foliage Follow-Up, a way to remind ourselves of the importance of foliage in the garden on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

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

Plant This: Winter Gem boxwood

Winter is when you really appreciate the evergreens in your garden, even in green-winter places like central Texas. While I rely heavily on non-shrub evergreens like agave, yucca, and sotol, I also have a soft spot for oh-so-English boxwood, specifically the cultivar ‘Winter Gem’ (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Winter Gem’), planted here as “gate posts” marking the four entrances to my stock-tank pond garden.

The name ‘Winter Gem’ attests to its relative cold hardiness. That’s not an issue in Austin, of course. We’re more concerned with a plant’s heat tolerance. Happily, ‘Winter Gem’ holds up exceedingly well in Texas summers too, at least in part sun and dappled shade. I’ve not tested it in full sun.

‘Winter Gem’ is fairly petite, maturing at 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, which makes it more useful as an accent or for low hedging than as a screening shrub. Forget using it as a mustache-hedge across the front of the house.

Instead, accent a loose planting of meadowy sedge or silver lamb’s ear with a clipped boxwood ball. Or add a little structure, as I did, by formally pairing boxwood balls on each side of a path entrance.

Or go all out and create a looping design with clipped boxwood in a gravel garden, as James David and Gary Peese did in their Austin garden. (I don’t know if they used ‘Winter Gem’, but one could.)

Although boxwood is often maligned as a fussy, poodle-dog sort of plant, I find ‘Winter Gem’ quite easy to maintain with a light clipping once or twice a year. Its emerald-green color looks equally nice with blue-green yuccas and yellow-green grasses, and its small leaves and tight, architectural form contrast beautifully with blowsy perennials or grasses. What’s more, deer tend to leave it alone.

Its biggest drawback may be how slowly it grows. I planted my “gate post” plants (from 1-gallon pots) five years ago, as seen in this photo. They are just now reaching the size I’d planned for; see the top two photos in this post. (For a time-machine trip back to this garden’s earliest incarnation, click here; the layout hasn’t changed, but I eventually ripped out the circular lawn and put in the pond and sunburst path.)

As for boxwood blight — from what I’ve read, a serious concern for gardeners along the East Coast — it doesn’t (yet) seem to be a problem in Texas. In researching this post I learned that ‘Winter Gem’ and other Korean box cultivars may have some natural resistance, as do mature plants. I’d definitely try to buy from a Texas grower like Greenleaf (you’ll see their tags on certain plants at Barton Springs Nursery and other independent nurseries) rather than from the big-box stores, where plants may be shipped in from regions affected by the blight.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

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