Upcoming presentation in San Angelo: Design Tips for Drought-Proof Gardens


Hey, West Texans! If you live in or near San Angelo, I invite you to attend the Fall Landscaping Symposium, presented by Concho Valley Master Gardeners, on Saturday, September 13th. I’ll be speaking at 12:45 pm on my favorite subject: how to design your yard with less or no lawn. Afterward I’ll be selling and signing copies of my book, Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard.

As the drought continues, saving water is on all our minds, and reducing a thirsty lawn is a great way to start. My talk is called Lose the Lawn: Design Tips for Drought-Proof Gardens. And here’s the promo pitch:

Has your lawn turned to dust in the drought? If you ditch the lawn to save water, what do you do with an empty yard? Put down some rocks and a lonely cactus? Stop! Don’t let your yard be a “zeroscape.” Xeriscaping can be beautiful! Pam Penick talks about alternative design ideas for lawn-gone yards that are beautiful, less thirsty, and better for the environment.


The symposium is an all-day event and includes talks by three other speakers as well. Lunch is included! Come on out and get inspired. I hope to see you there!

Location: Stephens Central Library Community Room
33 W. Beauregard, San Angelo, Texas

Time: Registration begins at 8:00 am. Program will run from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm

Cost: $20 per person or $30 per couple; refreshments and lunch will be provided

Please call to RSVP: 325-659-6522 by Wednesday, Sept. 10, to assure seating and handout materials


Flyer and map courtesy of Concho Valley Master Gardeners Association

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Waiting for autumn’s reviving touch


Whew! After writing 16 posts about Portland gardens, each containing scads of photos of summer-lush and richly blooming borders, I’m somehow ready for a return to my own Death Star-blasted garden. August is my least favorite gardening month here in Austin. I’m over the heat. I’m over the humidity. I’m over, over, over summer.

And yet there’s love, still, for the garden as it patiently — much more patiently than I — awaits the reviving touch of fall.


Last evening I strolled through the front garden at sunset, taking a closer look than I’ve done in weeks. The trio of ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia (two are replacements after the cold snap last winter) is looking quite sharp.


The west side of the driveway-island bed is looking good too despite my neglect. ‘Color Guard’ yucca, gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), wavy prickly pear (Opuntia), ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia, and Vitex agnus-castus don’t ask for much except sun and an occasional deep watering to look their best, even in summer.


In the shade of the live oaks, heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) has gone to seed, leaving a trio of Texas dwarf palmettos (Sabal minor) to strut their stuff. They’d look better if I trimmed back the spent skullcap, but oh well.


A different view. Those sabals are putting on some height this year! Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), one of my few dependable summer bloomers, screens the street behind the palmettos.


Here’s the long view across the front garden and Berkeley sedge lawn, as seen from my neighbor’s yard (the fence runs along the property line). I think I’m going to Outlaw Gardener-up that bare spot in front of the giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera) — maybe a few colorful Mexican gazing globes?


And here’s the long view as seen from the curb: a garden of deer-resistant grasses, salvias, yucca, and herbs. The caged tree at left is a young possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), which I’m still protecting from deer. Every day I tell myself to get out here and whack back those autumn sages (Salvia greggii) by one-third, for better shape and fall bloom, but every day laziness wins out. Maybe tomorrow.


Stepping back about 15 feet into my neighbor’s driveway, you can see how her garden and mine blend together. I planted this for her a few years ago, and we share the decomposed-granite path that runs between our gardens from the street to the fence, and which continues into my garden. (She opted not to continue it around the back of her bed to her driveway, but that could be added later to reduce even more lawn and improve accessibility.)

Taking stock, I see that the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave has grown tremendously, but three Gulf muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) have not thrived. Two have been removed, and the last one needs to go. My neighbor planted a softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) to fill the gap; I would not have chosen to place the yucca so close to the agave, but after all it is her yard to play in. Her salvias, like mine, need a good whacking. It’s a bit crispy and could really use a deep watering, but overall this is typical for a largely unwatered, native-plant garden in August in central Texas. Fall rains will perk it up.


I’m not sure anything will perk up this poor, gnawed-to-a-nub ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia. I received two beautiful plants from the Sunset Western Garden Collection following the 2013 San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling. I’ve had good luck with this plant in shade, and I added the freebies to my new side garden with high hopes. From the start, however, the deer have chomped them, although they’ve never touched more-established mahonias along the front of my house. Frustrating.

Despite the challenges of August and Bambi, I know I will delight in being outdoors again soon. Just one month to go until the happy gardening month of October! How about you? Are you enjoying or hurrying along these last weeks of summer?

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Rocking a gravel garden in the Kuzma Garden: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


After the barely controlled excess of Floramagoria, the next garden we toured on the Portland Garden Bloggers Fling seemed, at first glance, restrained, even austere. No seating was visible aside from garden walls and steps. With the exception of a few monumental, colorful pots placed as focal points and a striking steel fountain, garden art was nonexistent. But, oh my, the plants are where owner John Kuzma lavishes his artist’s palette and experiments with an abundance of dry-climate species you wouldn’t expect to see in moist, cool Portland.


John’s suburban half-acre is one of the larger private gardens we visited, but the entry garden is modest in size. An open, gravel courtyard, wood-and-wire fence, and xeric plants like agave and nolina gave this space a very Austin look, at least to my mind. Here’s the paver path leading from the street into the fenced courtyard.


And the side entry from the driveway. A large, blue pot, left empty (such restraint!), provides a focal point from any direction.


As you enter the back garden, negative space greets you first — gravel, not water-sucking lawn. An expansive, dark-gray, gravel patio flows from the back of the house along the entire width of the lot. Bold-leaved palms, banana, phormium, and agave are planted along the margins, with silvery eucalyptus shining in the border. A straight line of black mondo grass runs like a fuzzy, black caterpillar from…


…a small, arbor-shaded patio to…


…a contemporary raised pond fed by two pipes projecting from a rusty-steel backplate.


Now you see where John’s passion lies. A dramatic foliage garden rises on terraced beds and gravelly berms behind the water feature, creating a feeling of exotic seclusion from neighboring homes, not to mention a fine view from John’s living room.


Palms, papyrus, giant cape restio (I think) — this garden is about texture, form, and bold foliage.


A smaller water feature is as simple as a lotus in a sealed, glazed pot. Mosquito dunks (available at big-box stores and independent nurseries alike) keep a still pond like this free from blood-sucking pests.


The gravel patio is largely open, but along the foundation of the house agaves and prickly pear (New World natives) mingle with Australian acacias and Mediterranean palms.


Steps lead up to an abundantly planted, almost prehistoric-looking garden. Despite its apparent lushness, John told us that his 4-year-old garden, designed by Sean Hogan of Cistus Nursery, took a hit in last December’s deep freeze.


Tammy of Casa Mariposa takes in the scene. (By the way, if you’d like to see a list of Portland Fling attendees and their blogs and locations, click here.)


This is where things really get good! Ah, kangaroo paws. How I wish I could grow you in Austin.


Spiky plants dig John’s gravelly berms, which keep them from rotting during Portland’s drizzly, gray winters.


On this large berm, John has made a trendy crevice garden for his agave collection. I’m seeing quite a few of these lately, like at Denver Botanic Gardens and, closer to home, in Shirley’s San Antonio garden.


I see a few ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agaves in there — Moby‘s cousins!


As in the front garden, John uses a big, glazed pot to create a focal point for multiple pathways entering an open space.


It looks great from every angle.


Orange kangaroo paws provide a perfect color echo amid cool-blue yucca, prickly pear, and gopher plant.


Here’s another example, with a blue pot acting as focal point for the end of a path.


More lushly planted berms


Portland has a friendly climate for green roofs, and we saw a number of them at the Fling, including this charming, sedum-planted one on a blue shed.


At the rear of the garden, a row of yuccas (Y. recurvifolia, perhaps?) was in creamy-white bloom.


Dramatic gunnera leaves


Let’s head down to the gravel patio for one last look at the raised pond and fountain.


This is a very Austin look, with the rusty metal and raw steel pipes. You’d need a metal fabricator to create this, right?


Well, I wonder. From the side I noticed that rather than a solid plate of steel, cut panels are screwed onto wooden posts to create the fountain backplate. The fountain basin itself is concrete, stained to match the steel. You’d still need someone to cut the steel plates, but this could be installed by a do-it-yourselfer, I think.


It would make a wow moment in any garden, wouldn’t it?

Up next: The romantic, wild-child, mysterious Bella Madrona, our final Fling garden. For a look back at the stunning, whimsical exuberance of Floramagoria, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.