Oxblood lilies popping up after Hurricane Harvey


Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 10 inches of rain on my garden between last Friday and Sunday, and high winds littered the ground with leaves, twigs, and ball moss. A Texas mountain laurel fell over in the sodden soil, and we lost power for 6 hours. A weather event, but nothing compared to the walloping that Houston, our neighbor to the southeast, is still enduring. My thoughts have been with friends and family there, some of whom narrowly escaped having floodwater in their homes.

The first fall rains usually come in September and coax oxblood lilies and hurricane lilies out of the ground, to bloom in a sudden dash of red. Although the rains came early this year, sure enough the first oxblood lily opened yesterday, springing out of the sedge lawn just 24 hours after the rain stopped.


This is a stray that remained in the front garden after I dug the rest out and moved them to the back. Deer enjoyed snacking on them, you see. This one will probably be a munched stem the next time I look.


But others are popping up in the back garden, and I look forward to the big show.


Here’s the Texas mountain laurel that toppled over after the storm, one of several fallen mountain laurels I saw around town. The drought-tolerant, smaller trees like this one seem most dismayed by the heavy rains. My son helped me stake it yesterday, and I hope it’ll recover its balance. The inland sea oats at its feet are dressed for fall, their tan oats dangling like fish on a line.


The waterlilies don’t mind the rain, of course.


Peachy pink ‘Colorado’ is always blooming.


I found this dead cicada on a waterlily pad in the pond, perhaps a casualty of the storm. It’s been a big year for cicadas in Austin.


Very much alive and enjoying dinner was this argiope spider in the front garden. I’ve seen a number of these this summer, although some have disappeared, leaving behind torn webs — victims, perhaps, of bigger and hungrier creatures. Such is the circle of life.


Before the rains, I was enjoying a nightly show of datura blossoms.


On a recent night there were at least 25 white trumpets glowing by moonlight.


Beautiful and fragrant


I was away on a road trip from early to mid-August. Right before I left I took a few photos that I didn’t have time to post, so here they are, better late than never. This is a collection of sun-loving cacti and succulents on my deck. The galvanized potting table from Target goes well with the galvanized cattle panel railing on the new deck. On the bottom shelf, shaded somewhat from the Death Star’s high-beam, are my Moby spawn, aka pups from my dearly departed whale’s tongue agave. They’ve grown quite a bit this summer.


I wait all summer to see my pond crinum bloom, and I nearly missed it — but not quite! It started blooming the day before we left, and I enjoyed it for 24 hours and then came home to a wilted flower stalk lying in the water.


And in the side garden that I don’t visit every day, a ‘Purple Pillar’ rose of Sharon, a trial plant from Proven Winners, was putting on a good show too. Maybe the Harvey rains will encourage a rebloom.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Cactus & Succulent Society hosts its Fall Show and Sale on September 2 & 3, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, at Zilker Botanical Garden (2220 Barton Springs Road). Come see rare and beautiful cacti and succulents and shop for plants and handcrafted pottery. Admission is free with paid entry to Zilker Botanical Garden ($2 adults, $1 children and seniors).

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

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

Hello, winter — you’ve zapped my garden


Hello, winter! We’re not used to seeing you here in Central Texas. Despite predictions of a mild winter, with the warming influence of a La Niña, we’ve already had two multi-day stretches of hard freezes, with a couple of nights dropping into the upper teens.


The result? Brown, brown, brown plants. Semi-melted agaves and aloes. Tender succulents reduced to mush. (Notice the potted ‘Monterrey Frost’ squid agave looks great though!)


Considering that my garden didn’t have a single hard freeze last winter, this has come as a shock, not only to my marginally hardy plants but to my eyes. I’m not used to seeing so much brown. And I have to admit that I don’t like it.


Oh, the natives are fine, of course. They can take temperature extremes in stride. The Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) on the left still looks green and happy. So do certain exotics, like pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata) and ‘Sparkler’ sedge. But bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) and foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), both of which I rely on heavily because they thrive in dry, dappled shade and deer don’t touch them, have become as dry and bleached as straw. I can only hope they’ll come back from the roots.


It’s the same story with Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’). Mushy and brown.

If you’re wondering, yes, I cut back the dianella in the front garden because I couldn’t stand its straw-like ugliness near the front door. But generally I recommend waiting on cutting back until mid-February to give roots a little protection, to avoid stimulating early growth that could get zapped by another freeze, and to give shelter to wildlife.


In the back garden, the stand of Mexican honeysuckle, usually green all winter, is blackened and sad.


Even my normally winter-hardy ‘Jaws’ agave shows some bleached-out freeze damage.


This is when yuccas really shine, like these ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. Winter weather doesn’t faze them. Let’s sing the praises of ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood too, impervious to polar vortexes. Gah, the poor bamboo muhly behind the yuccas, though.

I’m sure those of you in colder climates are finding it hard to sympathize. What can I say? Mild winters are surely our reward, here in Texas, for putting up with blistering summers, right? RIGHT??


Ah well. Spring is already stirring here in Austin, as the Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) shows. By mid-February new growth will be glowing green throughout the garden, and winter clean-up will begin in earnest.

This is my January post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness — or ugliness — is happening in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

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 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.

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

Final fall foliage as winter’s icy breath freezes Austin


Austin plummeted from a high of 80 F (26.6 C) yesterday afternoon to 26 F (-3.3 C) this morning, and today the Japanese maple is clinging shiveringly to far fewer leaves than yesterday, when I took this photo. That’s Texas winter weather for you.


In preparation for the coming Arctic blast, I sweated yesterday for an hour in short sleeves moving tender succulents into the garage and covering with sheets any that are too big to move.


A blue norther (a strong cold front blowing in from the north) swirled into Austin around 8 pm last night, in the midst of holiday party hopping. The wind lasted through the night, and I fear it blew off some of the plant-protecting sheets, but it’s cold enough that the sheets might not have helped anyway. I hope the variegated flax lily (in the foreground) will be OK. I never cover it — I have too much — but it doesn’t like sustained subfreezing weather.


Of course the native and adapted plants, like river fern and Japanese maple (and most of my plants), will be perfectly fine and don’t need any special protection. The native ferns will die back to the ground and the maple will drop its leaves until spring returns in a couple of months.


Other fall-colorful plants, like chile pequin, will shrivel and go dormant too.


Moonlight-yellow flower spikes on the forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis) yesterday — farewell!


Pink abutilon blooming yesterday. It likes cool weather, but a few hard freezes may shrivel it too.


In the pond, dwarf papyrus has surprisingly wonderful fall color. I photographed it yesterday before dropping the pot to the bottom of my raised container pond to give it some protection from the cold.


I’ll pull it back up to the surface on Wednesday, when temps return to normal — i.e., comfortably above freezing at night — but the beautiful flowerheads will be limp and brown. No worries! They’ll be back next year.


Here’s hoping the hard freeze zaps a lot of mosquitoes and other pests. We didn’t get a hard freeze last winter, and our summer gardens were jungly and the bugs were fierce. We needed this.

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

Need a holiday gift for the gardener, new homeowner, or environmentalist on your list?
Please consider giving one (or both!) of my books. They’re packed with plenty of how-to info for newbies as well as lots of inspirational photos and design ideas for more experienced gardeners! Order today from Amazon (Water-Saving Garden / Lawn Gone!) or other online booksellers (Water-Saving Garden / Lawn Gone!), or find them anywhere books are sold.

“In an era of drought and unpredictable weather patterns, The Water-Saving Garden could not come at a better time. With striking photographs and a designer’s eye, Penick shows us just how gorgeous a water-wise garden can be. This is the must-have garden book of the year!”
Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants

“This thoughtful, inviting, and thoroughly useful book should be required for every new homeowner at closing. It has the power to transform residential landscapes from coast to coast and change the world we all share.”
Lauren Springer Ogden, author of The Undaunted Garden and coauthor of Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens

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

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