Plant This: Flipping for Philippine violet


Autumn is a boom time for most Austin gardens, with a spring-like explosion of flowering perennials like salvia, lantana, mistflower, and native daisies. Add Philippine violet (Barleria cristata) to the mix, and enjoy weeks of tubular purple flowers clustered on upright stems of glossy, green leaves.


Native to southeast Asia — but neither a violet nor of Philippine origin, according to online sources — Philippine violet is root hardy here in Austin’s zone 8b, meaning it dies back to the ground in winter but comes back in spring. It’s one of those somewhat cold-tender plants that I’d wait to plant until late spring in order to give its roots a whole growing season to establish before winter. It appreciates morning sun or bright shade in my garden.


I’ve heard that deer find it tasty, so mine are planted in the fenced back garden. It grows 2 to 2-1/2 feet tall and about 1-1/2 feet wide, but I suspect it’d grow larger if given more water. Mine are watered once a week in summer.


I resisted trying Philippine violet for a long time, thinking it too tropical (i.e., thirsty) for my garden. But now I look forward to its fall show and am impressed by its toughness and long bloom period — typically, from mid-October through mid-November. And those glossy green leaves are handsome all spring and summer, even when it’s not in bloom.

So try Philippine violet, fellow mild-winter gardeners. I predict you’ll flip for it.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Lazing Texas spiny lizards


I lifted an outdoor clock off the brick fireplace wall on Sunday to turn it back an hour and surprised two large Texas spiny lizards that were sheltering behind it. Well, hello there!


I froze, expecting them to dash up the wall. Unlike our non-native, bold-as-brass anoles, Sceloporus olivaceus is quite shy and will dash up a tree if you get too close.


But these two didn’t move except to keep a wary eye on me. I watched them, and they watched me, and eventually I went inside and left the clock on a table, planning to rehang it after the lizards skedaddled.


Twenty minutes later I went back out, camera in hand, just in case, and they were still there. Maybe they were cold, although the day felt pretty warm. They stayed put while I took pictures and admired their Spiderman-like grip and scaly skin. I left the clock on the table that night, and the next day they were gone, no doubt back into the trees.

I’m linking with Tina’s Wildlife Wednesday meme. Check out her blog and comments for more wildlife posts.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plant This: Bat-face cuphea, perfect for Halloween in Austin


Austin is home to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats, which summer under the Congress Avenue bridge downtown and constitute the largest urban bat colony in North America. The bat is the unofficial mascot of the city, and the rest of Texas thinks liberal-hippie Austin is pretty batty in every other respect, so what better way to show your civic pride in the garden than by growing a plant whose flowers resemble the heads of bats?


Bat-face cuphea (Cuphea llavea), like the Austin bats, is native to Mexico and enjoys Austin’s hot summers. Unlike the migrating bats, it may even overwinter in central Texas. Marginally winter-hardy here, it dies to the ground in normal winters and may be killed outright during a cold winter or even a short-lived deep freeze. Your best bet, then, is to plant it in late spring so that it can get well established before winter. While it blooms sporadically in summer, its best bloom season is late summer through fall, when its sprawling stems sport clusters of tubular flowers with purple calyxes (the bat face) with two showy, ear-shaped red petals.

Out of bloom, its hairy, oval leaves have a slight blue cast, which can be played up by pairing it with softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), as pictured above, or paleleaf yucca (Y. pallida).


Or amp up your fall display by pairing it with pink autumn sage (Salvia greggii) and Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha). It stays small — about 1 to 2 feet tall and wide — so it’s best used at the front of the bed.


Unlike its nocturnal namesake, bat-face cuphea loves the sun but does well in part-sun too. It can get crispy during our hot summers unless given regular water — at least once a week.

Even if you grow it as a warm-season annual, bat-face cuphea is a fun addition to the garden, especially if you like oddities, have children who would enjoy the bat “faces,” or just want to honor our local flying mammals. It also adds a playful touch of Halloween spookiness to the garden. (Ghostly shrubby boneset is another Halloween-blooming favorite of mine.)

So go ahead and plant some bat-face cuphea next spring. You’d be batty not to!

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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