Let’s take a walk around the garden


Live oak leaf and pollen season is finally over, and the patios are clean again, hallelujah! This calls for a spring garden stroll, so let’s go.


I’ve been playing with a squid theme on one wall of the upper patio. A couple of tentacle pots from Tentacle Arts contain squid-like Tillandsia xerographica, accompanied by a few metal squids and a ceramic succulent that looks like an anemone. I recently moved a table over here to display some potted plants.


In Moby’s old spot, a new whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) is getting established. Grow, agave, grow! Behind it, the succulent wall has had a spring refresh and is looking good again.


A barbed-wire star gives a Texas twist to one of my new pie-pan succulent planters. A faded star outline on the fence shows where I used to have a different piece of garden art. Apparently I have a fondness for stars as well as squids.


I’ve also refreshed or tidied up the winter-weary pots on the porch steps.


Walking around back by the pool, you can see the soap aloes (A. maculata) in bloom.


I adore these showy, candelabra-like flowers, and so do the bees and hummingbirds.


The pond garden, with winter-bleached bamboo muhly (Muhlenberia dumosa) starting to green up again behind a curved line of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood balls anchor the “doorways.”


Opposite the yuccas, a curved line of blue-green heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) plays off the shed colors.


In a few more weeks, it’ll start blooming.


We gave the deck a refresh this spring, which included redoing the stairs. Once narrow, rickety, and squeezed onto the left side of the deck, we had them extended from the outer edge and widened to a generous 8 feet for better access to the garden. To make room for the new stairs, I had to dig up and move a few plants, but I like the simpler look. We also replaced the deck rail’s old, jail-like, vertical balusters with galvanized welded wire and the old lattice skirting with horizontal boards. Let’s walk up…


…and view the pond from the deck. The Louisiana iris is still blooming in the pond, adding a spot of rich color amid all the greens.


Walking up the side-yard path, you pass the Yucca rostrata, one of my favorite plants that’s really grown over the past couple of years. The pomegranate is blooming beside it. Beyond is ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress, which I’ve had to limb up for walking under it.


Up the path and looking back, here’s the opposite view. The upright vertical shrub on the right is ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly, and the little tree on the left, just past the blue pot, is weeping redbud ‘Traveller’.


Outside the gate, in the front yard, a Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) holds court by a bench. The golden shrub just visible in front is ‘Eureka Gold’ dwarf yaupon.


It colors up beautifully in spring but then goes green summer through winter.


Moving around to the front garden, the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn is greening up with warmer weather. It doesn’t exactly turn brown in winter, but it definitely takes on a tawnier hue during the cooler months. On the edge, Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) is blooming. Wouldn’t that ‘Eureka Gold’ yaupon look pretty beside it? I’ll have to give that some thought. Paleleaf yucca (Y. pallida) looks good with it too.


The ‘Green Goblet’ agave near the driveway is recovering from antlering damage from the deer last fall, and putting on new growth.


And along the front of the house, in the shade of live oaks and a Japanese maple, native river ferns (Thelypteris kunthii) create a cool, lush look along a dry stream.

Thanks for coming along with me on this garden stroll! Are you changing up anything for spring in your garden?

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.

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

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.
_______________________

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.

Install low-voltage outdoor lighting and create a welcoming glow


It’s only taken us 8 years to install outdoor lighting along the foundation of our house, and now that it’s done I’m wondering why on earth we waited so long. I love the warm, welcoming glow that a few wall-washing low-voltage lights creates.


What a change from before, as seen here. Two boxy, contemporary sconces (our replacement for too-small, traditional porch lights that we inherited) on either side of the porch nicely illuminate the doorway. But without additional lighting, the porch appears to float in pitch darkness — not very welcoming.


When we lost a tree this winter and I tore out the last patch of turf where it had stood, I decided it was now or never.


We bought 4 LED low-voltage flood lights from Hampton Bay at a local Home Depot. I considered wall wash lights, but I’d used floods at our previous house and thought they had a little more flexibility. We like that the fixtures are metal, not plastic, and we wanted LEDs to save energy and avoid the regular bulb changing required for traditional incandescent fixtures. LED lights are more expensive, but we hope it’ll pay off in the long run.

We also bought low-voltage cable to hook up the lights. Confusingly, there were two sizes of cable for sale, and the Hampton Bay box didn’t specify which size I needed. So I asked a Home Depot employee for help, and they looked up the lighting specs online and told me which size I needed.


Lay out your lights to decide how you want to position them.


Our ranch home’s facade is asymmetrical, and we decided one light would be enough on the left side.


We opted to highlight a sotol in a steel planter for nighttime drama, but we soon found it needed to be lit from the side, not head-on. Otherwise we had a big, pipe-shaped shadow on the front of the house.


The right side of our house is longer, so we placed two lights over there, one washing across the Chinese mahonias in the center of the foundation bed (between the windows) and the other highlighting the Japanese maple at the corner of the house. We added another light along the side-yard fence to highlight a piece of garden art and brighten a side path.

Run the low-voltage cable from the outlet where you’ll plug in your transformer to each light, leaving a little slack at each light so you can move it around if needed.


We already owned a transformer from our previous home’s lighting, so we didn’t need to buy one. Your transformer must be able to handle the wattage of lights you’re installing, so add up the wattage for all your lights and buy a transformer that can handle at least that amount. You may end up adding more lights (that’s easy to do), so it doesn’t hurt to buy a bigger transformer than you currently need. Of course LEDs use less wattage, allowing you to use a smaller transformer than if you choose incandescent lights.

Hook up the cable to the transformer by using wire strippers to remove about a half-inch of insulation from the two strands of wire at one end of the cable. Follow the instructions that come with your transformer to hook up one wire to the “A” terminal and the other wire to the “B” terminal.

Plug the transformer into a nearby outdoor electrical outlet and mount the transformer box on the wall. To hang it, screw a couple of screws to the wall, aligning them with pre-drilled holes on the back plate of the transformer box. If you don’t have an outdoor electrical outlet in the right spot, hire an electrician to run a line from your house to the spot where you need it, and have an outdoor GFCI outlet box mounted on a post that’s tall enough to support the transformer too. Make sure it’s situated where it won’t be an eyesore in your landscaping, but convenient to your lights.

A transformer with a timer allows you to set it to come on at dark every day and turn off at dawn, or in the wee hours if you prefer.


The lights have pinch-clips that bite into the cable. Once you’re sure about where you want your lights to be, unplug the transformer and simply clip each light onto the cable. The low voltage means it’s easy and safe to work with. When all your lights are hooked up and you’ve tested that they work by plugging in the transformer and turning them on, finish up by burying the cable a few inches deep, preferably along the house foundation or line of edging where you won’t be likely to dig in the future. If you ever do accidentally cut the cable, you can repair it by stripping the wires of both cut pieces and reconnecting them with wire nuts and electrical tape.


Press each light into the soil, being careful not to apply pressure to the head of the fixture, as that could damage the rotating joint that allows you to adjust the upward angle of the light.


Adjust the angle of the light as necessary to “wash” the wall or highlight a structurally interesting plant.


Avoid “hot spot” glare — where you see the bulb — by pointing lights away from pathways, doors, and windows.


It’s better to have too little light than too much. A prison-yard ambience is not what you’re after but rather a soft glow pulling certain features into focus.


Try it along your foundation to create your own welcoming glow.

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.

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