Aloe from the other siiiiiide


With apologies to Adele and her earworm of a song, aloes are still saying hello in my garden this mild winter with spring-like flowering.


I find their leaves equally eye-catching, with white spots reminiscent of disco-ball light effects.


Believe it or not, this is the same aloe (A. maculata), but it appears to have a Coppertone tan. Why? It’s been cold-stressed. Many succulents change color when they experience stress from cold or drought. Because it’s planted in a shallow dish container, this aloe has gotten a good deal colder this winter than the one pictured above, and its leaves reflect that. I think it’s pretty.


Also showing off right now are the abutilons.


This unnamed pink one — my last survivor of three over the years — is blooming well, with more buds ready to pop.


At its feet, native heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) carpets the ground with its blue-green leaves — its winter incarnation. Come spring, spires of lavender flowers appear, and then it’ll go dormant for the summer. In the culvert-pipe planters, squid agave (A. bracteosa) offers fountain-like form and dependable, cold-hardy winter interest.


As do the ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods. A pair of them guards each of the four “doorways” into the circular pond garden.


And one more abutilon to end with: ‘Marilyn’s Choice’, glowing in the fading light of last evening.

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Upcoming Events and News

Look for me on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

Hold the Hose! Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

Have you watched my zippy new book trailer?

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

Winter pizzazz of flowering maple and ornamental grasses


A mild winter makes flowering maple (Abutilon) happy, and that makes me happy. I adore its pink-veined, balloon-skirted flowers.


Here you see it in the foreground, part of the stock-tank pond garden. Let’s walk up the hillside path, shall we? But first, check out how big the ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress has gotten!


For comparison, here’s how big it was in 2009. A wee tyke.


The butterfly-shaped seedpods of the gallinita vine (Mascagnia macroptera) are still a mixture of chartreuse and winter-tan. This well-behaved vine clusters densely atop the Heart Gate, putting rich greenery up against the gray-greens of the live oaks.


A closer view of the lepidopterous (did I use that right?) seedpods


Beyond the gate, it’s all grasses, baby — inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) on the left, bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) on the right, and a variegated miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis) about halfway up the path. These grasses require little maintenance — just an annual cut-back and seedling removal in spring for the sea oats and periodic quick trims to keep the bamboo muhly tidy — and the deer shun them.


Here’s how this space looked when we moved in. Nice lawn but lots of mowing, edging, and watering. I much prefer ornamental grass to lawn grass. How about you?

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Upcoming Events and News

Hold the Hose! Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

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

Drive-By Gardens: Xeriscapes taking off at Mueller neighborhood


On New Year’s Day, we took a stroll through Mueller neighborhood, a New Urban community in east-central Austin. Built on the site of the old airport, where acres of runways and parking lots once sprawled, attractive homes and row houses in a mix of different styles (no cookie-cutter uniformity here) occupy tiny lots on walkable, tree-lined streets. The Lilliputian yards are offset by generous communal green spaces like the Southwest Greenway, and may be seen by many busy residents, like my in-laws, who’ve just moved in, as an asset.

A small garden must make the most of each square inch, and I was pleased to see that residents aren’t shying away from planting up the front yard. Many have embraced water-saving xeriscapes with a mix of native and adapted plants. Here are a few of my favorites, starting with this corner-lot contemporary. Wonderful steel planter boxes wrap around the L-shaped front porch. Nicely constructed at different heights, with a gap on the left to allow porch access, the boxes elevate plants to porch level and provide a sense of enclosure.


I love these foxtail ferns (Asparagus meyeri) but feel like something is missing along the front edge of the box. Or maybe they plant annual wildflowers there in warmer seasons?


On this side, silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) carpets the DG in shimmering foliage and cascades over the steel edge. It’s kept neatly trimmed at ground level. A hedge of softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) has architectural presence.


Another contemporary home has a traditional-style foundation planting, but it’s composed of tough, drought-tolerant plants like grayleaf cotoneaster (Cotoneaster glaucophyllus), sotol (Dasylirion texanum), and rosemary. At the far end, near the door…


…hulks a many-armed spineless prickly pear in a stone planter — beautiful!


I found this brick house very handsome. Its landscaping has some nice plants, although I think the line of bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) along the foundation would be stronger without the insertion of the purple pennisetum, and the yews by the steps overpower the entry. I love that trunking yucca on the right, though.


Nearby, a minimalist side yard comes into view, with a row of clumping bamboo and a Texas sotol in dark-gray gravel. Very tidy.


In front, symmetrical ‘Color Guard’ yuccas in trough-style containers add a burst of yellow to the minimalist green and gray garden.


Before we left, we checked out the big spider sculpture at the Southwest Greenway. What do you think: creepy or fun? I say fun, but thank goodness they’re small in real life.

I really enjoyed seeing what people are doing with their front yards at Mueller, and I look forward to a return visit in the growing season. Does anyone have a particular street to recommend for its gardens?

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

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