Pre-spring nursery shopping


Stacked pots of pansies, ornamental cabbage, and other annuals at The Natural Gardener

Even though the weather’s been terrific for gardening, I’ve been under the weather for about a week, keeping me from my annual late-winter cut-back of the garden. I really need to get that done because spring is arriving early in Austin this year. New growth is budding and unfurling on perennials, ornamental grasses, and trees, and I need to get the freeze-dried foliage out of the way.


Mockingbird ornament on a cedar branch fence at The Natural Gardener

Feeling a little run-down may have kept me from doing any physical labor, but it hasn’t kept me from cruising the local nurseries — just looking, for the most part. Barton Springs Nursery, Vivero Growers, The Natural Gardener, East Austin Succulents, Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery — they’re all getting new shipments of plants in daily, and I notice every place is hiring, so you can tell the big spring rush is nearly upon us.


I did, of course, buy a few plants here and there: ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge at BSN a couple of weeks ago, and a big whale’s tongue agave at Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery today. What?? you may be wondering. What are you doing buying another whale’s tongue agave when you potted up hundreds of bulbils from Moby after he bloomed?

Well, let me tell you. I needed it. Moby left an awfully big hole when he went to the great big ocean in the sky. I tried a 5-gallon ‘Vanzie’ whale’s tongue in his place, but it was just too small, so I moved it elsewhere. While I’m normally patient about buying smaller plants and giving them time to grow, I have in the back of my mind at all times now that the Garden Bloggers Fling will be coming to Austin in 2018, and there are likely to be a lot of bloggers in my garden looking for Moby’s legacy.

So today I picked up this big (15-gallon), beautiful new whale’s tongue agave from HCWG (well, I didn’t pick it up; two strong guys wearing protective goggles loaded it up for me), and my entire family — all of us wearing safety goggles — helped me unload it when I got home. It probably weighs 150 pounds and is bristling with spines along all its leaves, not to mention 2-inch, needle-like spikes at the end of each leaf.

My husband came up with a genius idea for getting it out of the trunk of our SUV: he wedged a ladder lengthwise between the trunk and a sturdy rolling cart, which one of us held in place. He and my son wrestled the agave onto the ladder and slid it carefully down to the cart. Then my daughter steadied the agave while I rolled the cart into the backyard. Did Moby2 draw blood? Yes, all four of us were bleeding afterward — just a little! But it was worth it.

At least I think so.


While we’re talking new plants, let’s check in on my baby ‘Bloodspot’ mangaves, shall we? I’m growing these from scratch — or rather, harvested from a bloom spike on a mature ‘Bloodspot’ mangave that died after blooming last fall. Here were the mangave pups in November, freshly potted up.


And here they are today. Look how much they’ve grown! I’m liking this business of potting up baby plants, which I never used to bother with. I can’t wait until these get big enough to set out in the garden.

How about you? Are you doing any gardening yet, preparing for spring, or still enjoying winter downtime?

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

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The upcoming talk with James deGrey David has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

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

Container gardens at Vivero to banish the winter blues


I popped in at Vivero Growers in far southwest Austin last week and was smitten by their beautiful container plantings, like this absolutely stunning succulent pot. The owner tells me her niece created it while working at the nursery last summer. Of course they’ve protected it from our freezes this winter, but clearly cool weather agrees with these plants, which include aloe, sedum, echeveria, graptopetalum, and crassula (I think).


A close-up of succulents nestling together


By the greenhouse door, this container caught my eye, with lady slipper (Pedilanthus macrocarpus) as the “thriller,” pink-flowering pelargonium (geranium) as the “filler,” and silver ponyfoot as the “spiller.” If you want to replicate it, lady slipper and silver ponyfoot will work year-round (with some freeze protection), but you’ll have to sub out the pelargonium once our weather heats up.


Here’s an easy plant for year-round enjoyment, come summer heat or winter freeze (in Austin’s zone 8b anyway): toothless sotol, also known as Mexican grass tree (Dasylirion longissimum). This is the plant I have in a steel-pipe container, and it grows beautifully if planted in fast-draining soil, given lots of sun, and basically left alone.


Did you know you can carve a design in a prickly pear pad? A star has been carved into this one for a Texas-style accent.

Vivero has many other beautiful containers and plants for sale, so if you need to banish the winter blues — although our winter weather has been pretty perfect lately! — head on down to see for yourself.

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

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get 24-hour advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

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

Roses, butterflies & garden goodness at Antique Rose Emporium


On Saturday my mom and I drove out to Brenham, Texas, for the Antique Rose Emporium‘s Fall Festival of Roses, where I was one of the day’s speakers. A gray sky spit rain on us during the 2-hour drive, but it held off as we strolled around the nursery before my talk.


ARE’s 11-acre display gardens bloom with abandon in autumn, Texas’s second spring.


Lush bouquets of roses picked from the gardens adorned the nursery’s help desk.


First-time visitors may be surprised to see the gardens are not just beds of roses.


I love the gardens precisely because they’re not just roses, although of course the roses are lovely. I dislike the apartheid of traditional rose gardens, in which roses are grown separately from other plants. Mingling roses with other flowering plants and grasses creates a sense of fullness and an opportunity for pleasing color echoes, and bare, thorny stems are more easily disguised.


The gardens were alive with butterflies, especially queens.


They were particularly attracted to flowering amaranth celosia (Celosia spicata).


I also spotted a white-striped longtail…


…and a beautiful Julia butterfly enjoying lantana.


A lily pond, glimpsed through trees…


…was in full bloom too, despite the cooler temps of autumn.


I think this is a tropical waterlily, as the flowers stand tall above the pond’s surface and the leaves have toothy edges.


A charming sculpture of a boy flying a toy airplane stands nearby.


Wandering on, along a pathway edged with Philippine violet (Barleria cristata)…


…to one of several homestead-style buildings in the gardens. This building and others used to be filled with garden gift items, but on this visit they were mostly empty. The Antique Rose Emporium property — display gardens and event spaces — have been for sale for more than a year (and I’m already mourning its loss unless someone buys it to keep operating it as a nursery), and perhaps that has something to do with the scaling back.


An old log structure — the Corn Crib


Some of the many roses for sale


For wow power, check out this awesome braided-pot arbor. There are two such arbors at ARE, one at each parking lot entrance. (The other is pictured at the top of this post.)


How many pots went into the making of this, do you think? The sky vine-draped arbor in the background is striking too.


Pink roses fronting a picturesque stone house, another former gift shop now mostly empty


Leaning in for a sniff


Such nice framing of views through doorways and arbors


Along one wall, a face fountain partially obscured by fig ivy (Ficus pumila) spouts water into a small pool.


Flowery border of canna, Celosia spicata, and salvia


More annual amaranth celosia (Celosia spicata), beloved by butterflies


Looking out the back door of the little stone house at an herb circle and greenhouse


And at the herb circle, looking back


A purple greenhouse with fish-scale shingles adds cottage charm.


More roses for sale, with ARE’s iconic vine-smothered windmill standing tall


White rose


The central area of the display gardens has sassy signage…


…and dry-loving agaves, yuccas, and other succulents in interesting displays, like this tiered potted arrangement.


Children and children-at-heart enjoy the Beatrix Potter Garden, a playful space framed by a low, purple picket fence…


…populated by pot people with spiky agave hairdos…


…taking baths in galvanized tubs.


A squirrel finial on the fence offers a friendly welcome.


There’s a bit of Wizard of Oz mixed in here too. I remember seeing Toto last time I was here. This time I noticed a witch just past a stand of Philippine violet — or maybe she’s leftover from Halloween?


A wavy-pruned hedge and mint-green table and chairs create an inviting scene.


Another view, with shade-loving purple oxalis (Oxalis triangularis) in the foreground


Yellow firecracker fern (Russelia equisetiformis ‘Lutea’) cascades from an old well.


Purple path


No Southern garden is complete without a bottle tree.


Moving toward an open lawn you see some of ARE’s event spaces — rose arbors, a gazebo, and a tin-roofed house — rentable for weddings and other events.


Another sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) in full bloom clambers along a trellis near the house.


This tropical-looking Asian vine is a showstopper in the fall.


Stopping to admire what I think is a white-flowering variety of Philippine violet (can anyone confirm?), I spotted a fuzzy bee hard at work.


Across the lawn, a picturesque red chapel adds its own fall hue to an autumnal border of cigar plant (Cuphea ‘David Verity’), ornamental grasses, white mistflower (Ageratina havanensis), and red roses.


This is where the speaking events are held.


Blazing orange cosmos adds more color around back.


Ask not for whom the bell tolls.


More fall loveliness


Here’s my mom helping me out at the book-selling table. It was so nice to meet everyone who stopped by to chat or buy a book. If you were there, thanks so much for coming!


And thanks also to Mike Shoup of the Antique Rose Emporium for having me back out to speak! If you’d like to get a signed copy of The Water-Saving Garden, I left a few with Mike to sell in the gift shop, so stop by soon.

And if you’d like to read more about ARE’s gardens — with lots more photos! — click here for my post (the first of 3) from the Fall Festival in 2013.

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

What’s hot in garden design — or about to be? I interviewed designers and retailers across the U.S. to find out! Natural dye gardens, hyperlocalism, dwarf shrubs, haute houseplants, sustainability tech, color blocking, and more — check out my 2017 Trends article for Garden Design and see if anything surprises you.

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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