New sedge lawnette planted, dry stream spiffed up


While the death of a tree — or any plant, really — is disappointing, even angst inducing, there’s always an upside: the opportunity to redesign and replant! One of our live oaks (pictured front and center) succumbed to hypoxylon canker last December, and after its removal I was startled by the openness at the front of the house. I also worried for my shade-loving shrubs and Japanese maple along the foundation.


And then I put my worry aside (I’ll just have to wait and see about the shade lovers, which are still protected by the house to the south and by the remaining trees to the west) and looked on the bright side: an opportunity to rip out the last little bit of lawn on our property. I’d kept that tiny lawn for two reasons: oak sprouts — bristly, suckering stems coming up from the mother tree’s roots — grew thickly under that live oak, and it was easier to mow them along with the grass than to hand-prune them out of a garden bed, and I liked the green negative space that the semicircle of lawn provided.


After the tree came down, I had the stump ground out. I’m hopeful that will eliminate the oak sprouts. If not, I’ll prune them as needed (sigh).


I hired a landscaper to dig out the St. Augustine grass and spread several inches of Lightening Mix from Advanced Organic Materials in Buda — my new soil resource since The Natural Gardener closed its soil yard.


I also ripped out the old metal landscape edging that bordered the dry creek around the lawn — a budget-conscious choice that I knew I’d eventually replace — and brought in small limestone boulders to edge the new planting bed and keep soil out of the dry creek.


To keep the negative space (a serene, green groundcover) I enjoyed with the old lawn, I planted evergreen ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge (Carex sp.) from Barton Springs Nursery. When it fills in, it’ll be a meadowy “lawn” that doesn’t require mowing, edging, or nearly as much water. Just off-center, I planted a toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) from Vivero Growers. Eventually it’ll echo the one in the metal pipe on the other side of the front door (see picture below) — like a shimmery, long-leaved Koosh ball.


To protect it from bucks aching to rub their antlers on beautiful plants and smash them to smithereens, I encircled it with rolled wire, nearly invisible, which I’ll remove in the spring. Leftover Mexican beach pebbles around the base of the sotol help with drainage for this dry-loving plant (instead of moisture-holding wood mulch).


Everyone asks me if I had the new bed bermed up. No, the live oak was growing atop the berm, and I believe it’s part of the natural topography of our lot, as several other clusters of trees are growing on berms in our yard. My guess is the house was built around the trees back in the early ’70s.

Drainage problems have driven most of my design decisions here. When it rains, runoff flows down the circular drive back toward the house, and water used to pool in our front walk. We replaced the old walk with poured-in-place concrete strips surrounded by gravel that allows water to soak into the soil. Now, runoff from the driveway flows into the dry creek, and a sump pump in the gravel courtyard behind us pipes excess water into the creek as well.


Where the old steel edging once lined the dry creek, limestone boulders now provide a more natural look.


I had my landscaper dig a trench to set them at least one-third of their height into the soil.


Here’s the long view from the corner of the house. Soon the dormant river ferns in the foreground will be unfurling new fronds.


Here’s the other toothless sotol I have, growing in a steel pipe in the gravel courtyard. What a beauty this plant is! Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) and ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo add to the linear combo.


I’m going to plant pink rain lily bulbs (Zephryanthes ‘Labuffarosea’) amid the sedge this spring and cross my fingers that the deer will leave them alone. No such luck with the oxblood lilies I tried a couple of years ago, but perhaps the rain lilies will prove less tasty.

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.

Drive-By Gardens: Front-yard style in Tarrytown neighborhood


Cruising through tony Tarrytown neighborhood in West Austin last week, I slowed to a crawl to admire several houses with appealing front-yard style. For understated Christmas pizzazz, I like the way these homeowners hung a big, green wreath over their moss-green front door flanked by dramatic pots of — what is that? — black Colocasia? Another wreath hangs on a nearly black, horizontal-board gate on the fenced front yard, with mounding pittosporum shrubs on either side. Classic with a modern twist.


This sapphire-colored ranch gets contemporary style from Corten-edged porch stair risers and planters that stretch the width of the house, gracefully connecting home and lawn. Large white planters draw the eye to the steps, and an elevated steel dish planter by the door adds a focal point.


This stucco house with a contemporary-farmhouse vibe has a shaggy, eco-lawn of some kind — maybe Habiturf. A half-dozen steely blue agaves congregate under the live oaks in the lawn — an arrangement that wouldn’t be practical if you had to mow frequently. Happily, Habiturf requires minimal mowing. The bigger question, to my mind, is how do they keep deer from antlering these beauties to smithereens in the fall? The poor, battered agaves and hesperaloes in my own front garden would love to know.


This mushroom-colored ranch welcomes visitors with an updated front walk: a wide, zigzagging path of poured-in-place concrete. Masses of groundcovers and low-growing perennials alternate with curvy swaths of river rock (along the curb) and decomposed granite (for a cross path).

It’s always fun to see what people are doing with their yards, and these four are eye-catching in different ways. Have they given you any ideas?

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.

Mellow fall garden for November Foliage Follow-Up


Today is Foliage Follow-Up, a day to celebrate great foliage after the flower celebration of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Let’s take a spin around the back garden for my foliage faves this month, starting with the stock-tank pond garden. No flowers here since the water lilies slowed down. You’re looking good, ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood underplanted with Texas sedge (Carex texensis), squid agaves (A. bracteosa) in culvert-pipe planters, and pond crinum (Crinum procerum ‘Splendens’)!


On the deck, potted prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra) is taking on a purple edge thanks to cooler temps. Sewing needle-like spines are a bonus!


One of my favorite little agaves is ‘Cream Spike’, a passalong from Bob Beyer of Central Texas Gardening. I adore those red teeth.


Agave x leopoldii, with cool curly white filaments. Both agaves pictured here must be brought inside during freezing weather.


My Austin sign faded this year, but I like its new placement against the blue stucco wall. A prickly pear passalong from Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer, ‘Santa Rita’ (Opuntia santa-rita ‘Tubac’), is getting established in the blue pot, with balancing help from a few bamboo stakes. Yucca rostrata peeks over the wall.


In a galvanized tub on the upper patio, I’m growing native Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa), artichoke agave (A. parryi var. truncata), and a new trial plant from Proven Winners: ‘Quicksilver’ artemisia (Artemisia stelleriana ‘Quicksilver’).*


It’s growing well in bright shade and needed very little water throughout the summer months, even with a late spring planting. It’s described as “vigorous” on Proven Winners’ website, and I’d treat it as such — i.e., I’d be very careful about setting it loose in the garden. Certain creeping artemisias, like ‘Oriental Limelight’, can be very aggressive, and ‘Quicksilver’ may prove the same.


But for a container you don’t want to water every day in the summer, it’s a great choice as a spiller under a xeric “thriller” like an agave or manfreda.


I’ll close my foliage-focused post with a last look at the pond garden with ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood balls, my favorite sitting area, and plenty of still-green foliage.

This is my November post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness 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.

*Proven Winners sent me this plant to trial in my garden. I’m writing about it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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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