Cottage garden meets Zen garden: Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2017


Ever get the hankering to have two different styles of gardens at once? Daphne Jeffers — whose east Austin garden will be on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour this Saturday, May 6 — made it happen, with a flowery cottage garden out front and, in a surprising change of pace, a Zen garden out back.


Along the street, her riotously colorful garden is a gift to the neighbors and to pollinators.


Daylilies add rich color amid purple- and pink-flowering perennials.


A few poppies were still blooming.


I bet there are excellent butterfly- and hummingbird-watching opportunities here.


Head around back via a side-yard gate, and the colors become calmer and a contemplative mood prevails.


What a surprise! Bamboo fencing, an Asian-style shed, and clipped greenery introduce a meditative Japanese-style garden.


A gravel path leads around a small lawn to bermed planting beds with junipers, stones, and dry stream of Mexican beach pebbles.


From a bench tucked in a back corner, you enjoy a small waterfall trickling over limestone rocks into the pebble “pool.”


Native Texas mountain laurel has been carefully pruned for sculptural effect.


I especially admired the effect of the bamboo fencing in enhancing the Zen garden mood.


It appears to be made of rolled bamboo screening laid against a frame of lattice attached to an existing chain-link fence. Wooden framing supports it and gives a finished look.


Near the back porch, a spherical stone basin accepts a trickle of water from a bamboo fountain.


Daphne’s shady back porch, accented with potted succulents…


…is the perfect spot to enjoy the scene, which includes an Asian-style screened structure protecting a collection of bird feeders from squirrels and pigeons. Smaller birds can fit through the screen holes in order to feed.

Up next: Scenes from three more gardens on the tour, ranging from suburban to country farm. For a look back at Shari Bauer’s whimsical found-art garden, click here.

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

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

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. 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.

How to prune clumping bamboo


I’ve known many people who are afraid to plant any kind of bamboo, even a clumping type, for fear it will take over their yard — and with good reason. Here in Austin, many a back yard is clogged with running bamboo, which is often planted for privacy along a fence but quickly metastasizes, spreading across the lawn and into the neighbors’ yards as well.

Clumping bamboos, however, don’t “run,” making them garden-safe.* Even so, they grow vigorously enough to require regular pruning in order to look their best. Take ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, for example (pictured here). I usually prune it twice a year, in late spring and early fall, to keep it from looking like a shaggy green beast and to give it shapely definition. Here it is in beast mode (above) — lots of leaves amid a thicket of culms (the canes) that are arching over the gutters and blocking a window.


And here it is after an admittedly exuberant pruning. I removed about a quarter of the culms entirely, all the way to the ground (never cut them off halfway, which causes ugly side growth), and limbed up others, revealing the green-and-yellow stripes on the exposed canes.


I start by trimming off the side branches that grow along the culms, starting at ground level and pruning up to just above my head. How high up you prune should depend on the height of the bamboo. You do still want to have plenty of leaves up top to keep the plant healthy.


Using a pair of sharp bypass pruners, clip off the stems close to the culm, holding onto them with your free hand to keep from making a mess below. Just toss them in a bin for composting later. And be careful not to nick your free hand with the pruners!


I use a long-handled pruner for getting into the culms and pruning out weak ones or those leaning over the gutter. I also thin out culms that spread beyond the original planting.


And that’s it. It’s a pretty Zen activity, really. Here’s another look at the overgrown beast, before pruning. Nothing wrong with this, of course, if you need a green screen that won’t run, but it’s too much for a small space like this one.


And here it is after an hour of pruning. Leggy, airy, and out of the gutter!

Here are a few more bamboo-pruning resources:

I first learned about limbing up bamboo on the Austin blog Growing Optimism, which also features a nifty bamboo-and-zip-tie fence to hold leaning canes away from paths: Growing bamboo in a narrow space – pros, cons, and a solution for support

For expert advice, watch Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty explain how to prune bamboo: How to Prune Bamboo – Instructional Video w/ Plant Amnesty

Also, watch Austin’s own Merrideth Jiles share his extensive knowledge of bamboo, including pruning tips, on Central Texas Gardener: Bamboo Basics | Merredith Jiles |Central Texas Gardener

And finally, here’s a helpful list of clumping bamboos for Austin from The Great Outdoors nursery. By the way, although TGO’s guide says bamboo needs to be watered twice a week during Austin’s summers, I have not found this to be true in my garden. Once a week works fine for my established bamboos ‘Alphonse Karr’, ‘Tiny Fern’, and, to a lesser extent, Mexican weeping bamboo.

*Note: Clumpers do gradually expand but not aggressively. Please, do your research to learn which is which before buying. I can’t think of any reason to plant a runner, frankly.

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

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

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. 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.

Garden clean-up in progress for Foliage Follow-Up


The pond patio garden is mostly evergreen, so the big cleanup here occurs later, in March, when I muck out the pond and divide the water plants.

With our brief winter segueing right into spring, February is a transitional month here in Central Texas. We may yet get another freeze, but new growth is greening up many plants, even as winter-browned foliage hangs on.


Inland sea oats still sporting its winter look, with chevron seedheads dangling. Fresh green leaves are already popping up from the roots, so I’ll cut it back this week.

It’s important to provide cover and food sources for birds and other wildlife as well as have something to look at all winter, so I leave plants standing after they go brown. But now it’s definitely time.


Flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) branches are showing new leaf growth. I’ll cut the branches back to about 12 inches to keep the plant compact.

My garden thinks winter is over, and I’m racing to keep up. Cutting back renews many of the woody natives and keeps them from getting straggly, like autumn sage and flame acanthus.


Mexican honeysuckle after its cut-back — not pretty now, but it’ll grow. I only cut it back this hard in years with hard freezes that turn it to mush.

Still, the big mid-February cut-back gets a little harder every year, the older I get, and I may hire help next year.


‘Vertigo’ pennisetum after its cut-back

But for now I forge on solo and try to get it done in manageable stages: a little last weekend, a little more this weekend.


I also need to make time for unexpected tidying, like this drooping ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon, which I noticed today leaning over the path. But check out the size on that Yucca rostrata by the shed! It grew a lot last year and now stands about 6-1/2 feet tall.


Last weekend I got sidetracked (of course) with some repotting, like the squid agave in the culvert-pipe planter, which had settled too deeply and needed to be pulled out and replanted in added soil.


I also replaced a shaded-out yucca in the taller blue pot with a ‘Sparkler’ sedge I transplanted. I hope it’ll survive my tough love of containers this summer by not requiring more than a weekly or maybe twice-weekly watering. I’ve struggled to find a plant that likes the bamboo-shaded, dry conditions of the stock-tank planter. I’m going to try Texas sotol this spring.


I’m happy to see a freeze-damaged ‘Chocolate Chips’ manfreda coming back nicely in the smaller pot, alongside Mexican feathergrass.


I’ve also done some significant planting lately, including a new 5-gallon Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ from Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery to accompany my prize-money yucca along the back fence.


I also planted a new and bigger Moby replacement — that is, a new whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia) for Moby’s old spot. I’ll have a post about agave-planting challenges soon!


I still need to tackle some pot clean-up chores, since December’s deep freeze made a mess of some of my succulents. Like this ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, for example. It’s normally beautiful at this time of year, with coral bloom spikes hoisted above slender, blue-green leaves. It’s blooming OK, but the fleshy leaves have bleached, frostbitten tips and would benefit from selective pruning.


The cinderblock succulent wall looks forlorn too, in spite of a brave show by the Palmer’s sedum (Sedum palmeri), which survived our freezing weather just fine and has been feeding honeybees for weeks. For future reference, other survivors include ‘Blue Spruce’ sedum, ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense), variegated prickly pear, and soap aloe with a little damage. I was most sad to lose my Coppertone stonecrop, but I can easily buy a new one, along with a few other small succulents, to refresh the wall planter this spring.

Like I said, it’s a busy time of year in the garden!

This is my February post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness — or dead-foliage clean-up chore — 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 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.

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