Plant This: Peter’s Purple bee balm, a pied piper for hummingbirds


The plant getting the most attention in my garden right now is ‘Peter’s Purple’ bee balm (Monarda fistulosa ‘Peter’s Purple’), a 4-foot tall perennial with pincushiony, lavender-pink flowers atop long stems. I bought my original plant 5 years ago from Plant Delights (High Country Gardens carries it too) and have since shared divisions with neighbors and gardening friends.


Nearly every garden blogger in Austin is growing it, thanks to our plant swaps, and I hope it’s available in local nurseries because this is a terrific plant for central Texas. Hybridized here in Texas and tested by Dallas Arboretum, this bee balm doesn’t get powdery mildew in our hot, humid climate, the way other bee balms can.


Just give it sun or part sun and set it loose. It grows well, with established clumps growing wider each year, and it also spreads readily by seed. You can divide it easily at any time of year. I give it once-a-week water in summer, but I suspect it may be able to go longer without, especially in part shade. It blooms for a couple of weeks, and I let it go to seed before cutting it back. In Austin, rosy-hued stems and leaves can hang on all winter.


Hummingbirds love it. Can you spot the hummer in this picture and the one below? Since I’ve planted divisions all around my garden, I imagine the hummers must be well-fed right now.


Plant ‘Peter’s Purple’ bee balm and watch it lead hummers to your garden too.

U.S. hardiness zones: 6-9

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 © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plant This: Gray globemallow lights up the garden


Its frosty, felted, gray-green leaves hint at its exceptional heat and drought tolerance, and they’re very pettable too. But when gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana) opens clusters of cupped, orange blossoms atop its silvery branches, it becomes a beacon of blooming beauty.


Fire and ice! Gray globemallow is native to the southwestern U.S., including West Texas, so it needs good drainage, lean conditions, and plenty of sun to thrive. This a plant for your hot, dry, caliche-soil garden. And because the leaves are hairy, deer tend to ignore it.


Flowering is best in spring and fall, while summer is pretty quiet and can be a good time to cut it back hard if you want to keep it more compact. It grows 3-4 feet tall and wide, maybe bigger if you never prune. Gray globemallow is cousin to the airier, less-woody, green-leaf globemallows that also grow well in sunny, dry locations.

So don’t be afraid to go gray. If you have a tough spot that’s blasted by the Death Star, gray globemallow may be the right plant to light up your garden too.

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 © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plant This: Chinese fringeflower


As winter and spring duke it out in late February, Chinese fringeflower (Loropetalum chinense) starts strutting its stuff, flashing hot-pink, strappy-petaled flowers amid its dusky-purple, evergreen leaves. Dark foliage is kind of rare in central Texas — our native and adapted plants tend to have gray-green and silver-blue leaves, an adaptation for surviving heat and drought — so the wine-colored leaves of this Asian shrub are a welcome addition to our gardens.

Pictured here, in the lower garden along my back fence, is Loropetalum ‘Sizzling Pink’, which has grown quickly to about 5 feet tall, with an open branching habit and fairly vertical form. Without the fuchsia blossoms, it blends in a bit too well with the rough cedar posts that line our old chain-link fence, but I like the way it pops against the culvert-pipe planter. A light background would be better for showing off its dark leaves.


Loropetalum is versatile. I’ve seen it espaliered along a wire fence in the Lofgren-Bayer Garden in Houston.


And it makes a beautiful clipped hedge, as seen in the Jones Garden here in Austin.


Taller varieties can be left shrubby or clipped up tree-form, like a small crepe myrtle. A fairly new cultivar called ‘Purple Pixie’ is perfectly sized for containers (as seen in Cyndi Kohfield’s garden) or as a groundcover, but I confess I’ve killed three of the ‘Purple Pixie’ and have given up on it.


Three larger cultivars are doing quite well for me, however. Aside from ‘Sizzling Pink’ (shown at top), I’m growing ‘Plum’ and ‘Rubrum’. All prefer morning sun/afternoon shade or dappled shade in our hot, humid climate. The leaves tend to lose the rich purple coloring in too much shade, but full sun can bleach out the leaves and stress the plants. Given a little shade they are reasonably drought tolerant once established (excluding ‘Purple Pixie’, in my experience), and deer ignore them in my garden.

Chinese fringeflower is quite handsome, especially in bloom. But I often see large varieties planted as foundation shrubs, which quickly outgrow their intended size, so choose with care and look for dwarf cultivars unless you plan to hedge them.

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 © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.