Lone screech owl and other creature features

Every day, through the open window, I hear the thin cries of cedar waxwings as they strafe the back yard, flying from ligustrums to yaupons in the greenbelt behind our house to polish off the late-season berries. With their sleek, tan feathers and robbers’ masks, they are among my favorite bird visitors.

Now that the weather’s warm, Texas spiny lizards have been sunning themselves on the brick chimney. I spotted these two as I was reaching to change (belatedly) our outside clock for daylight saving time.

The big one moved up the wall into the sunniest spot and posed for me. These skittish lizards have such interesting, scaly skin.

But our most surprising visitor over the past week is seen here. Where? Just under the eave, sitting atop the junction box for the string lights. See it?

We’d just gotten home from our spring break road trip, and we’d been up and down the back steps checking on the garden and the pool. On my third pass, I caught a glimpse of something gray under the eave and immediately thought, wasp nest. I froze and looked up, and that’s when I realized we’d been walking not two feet away from a tiny screech owl.

I softly called to the family to come look, and then I went inside to get my camera. He (or she) calmly held his ground, watching warily but not seeming alarmed as we gathered at a respectful distance to look and take photos.

He looks a bit quizzical, doesn’t he? Like, What are YOU doing here after a week of peace and quiet?

It looks like a cozy spot, but I wondered why he was here and not in the owl box. I could only hope that this was a male, standing guard as his mate nested in the owl box. We’d not seen any activity in the box before our trip, although by this time of year we normally have. In fact, I’d begun to think that we wouldn’t have a nesting owl this year.

After dusk, the owl flew off while none of us was looking, probably to hunt. I kept an eye on the owl box, hoping to see the male fly in with food for a nesting mate. But I saw nothing, and we’ve had no more owl sightings since last weekend. I’m still hopeful, however, that we just have a very shy nesting pair. Time will tell.

What else is going on in the garden? Dyckia ‘Burgundy Ice’ is blooming.

Fuzzy, yellow flowers staggered along tall bloom spikes are opening one by one.

On the front porch, the succulent dish is wildly overgrown. I need to take cuttings of these plants and replant the whole dish. And yet I do kind of like the shaggy look, so I keep procrastinating. Below it, a foxtail fern in a tall pot seems to be reaching out with tentacle-like fronds.

In other happenings, I was surprised and pleased to see The Water-Saving Garden featured in the spring 2016 issue of The Designer, the publication of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD).

Check it out — click here to read the digital issue, and look on page 17. My thanks to Bay Area designer Rebecca Sweet for her complimentary quote and to editor Katie Elzer-Peters for including my book.

If you love garden design, consider subscribing to The Designer. It’s free, and you don’t need to be a designer or a member of APLD to enjoy it. APLD members write all the articles, and in this issue you’ll find topics ranging from ways to use hedges to patio projects to photos of the home gardens of designers from Toronto to Nebraska to Arizona.

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come meet me at Zilker Garden Festival, Austin, TX, April 2 & 3
Get your gardening mojo on at Zilker Garden Festival! I’ll be at the brand-new Author Booth on both days between 10 am and 2 pm (near the main building entrance), and I’ll have copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! for purchase ($20 each), if you’d like a signed copy for yourself or for a gift. Zilker Garden Festival is the garden’s biggest fundraiser (and it needs our support) and offers all-day entertainment, vendor shopping, plant sales, demonstrations, live music, a beer garden and food vendors, children’s activities, a garden train, a flower show, and a docent-led tour of lovely Zilker Botanical Garden. Don’t miss it!

Join me for lunch downtown at Holy Grounds coffee shop and cafe on Wednesday, April 6, at noon. As part of their Coffee with the Author series, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me and host a Q&A with the audience — i.e., y’all — and afterward I’ll sign copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!. I hope to see you there for this intimate, lunchtime event. Holy Grounds is located in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street in downtown Austin. You can park in the surface lot in front of St. David’s main doors.

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!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

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

The public side of writing a book

This may be stating the obvious, but to write a book you have to be able to sit in a quiet room for hours a day, for months and months, and be alone with your thoughts, and write. Words may flow like honey, or they may ooze, drip by painful drip, like wringing blood from a stone (me!). But being comfortable with sitting in a quiet room for the better part of a year is an essential part of the process.

How weird it is, then, once that book is written, to switch into publicity mode in order to sell your book. Suddenly you’re standing in front of a crowd of people or television cameras, or you’re giving interviews by phone. This may be stating the obvious, but it’s an entirely different experience than sitting in a quiet room with your own thoughts. You have to be comfortable in the spotlight, talking about yourself and your ideas, and generally putting yourself out there. That’s the mode I’m in right now, and for this introvert it feels like riding a roller coaster: equal parts scary and exhilarating, with giddy relief afterward that all went well and I didn’t die.

Within the past week and a half, I’ve given a public talk and two newspaper interviews, called in to John Dromgoole’s radio show, and taped an appearance on KXAN’s Studio 512 with host Amanda Tatom. My son, who went with me to KXAN to help haul plants and my other props, took these photos during my Studio 512 taping about making water-saving container gardens.

What a learning experience! First, huge thanks to Barton Springs Nursery for letting me borrow plants for the taping. My goal was to show that you can have a beautiful container garden that doesn’t need watering every day during the hot Texas summer. In my own containers, I rely on succulents, yuccas, agaves, tough ornamental grasses, and native plants in deep pots, and that’s what I brought on set. To punch up the color, I added bright pots and blooming plants like ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, Mexican honeysuckle, and four-nerve daisy and plants with bright foliage, like ‘Color Guard’ yucca. Oh, and my cute Texas license-plate planter that I found at Potted in Los Angeles, of all places.

Amanda is a pro at putting guests at ease, and she made it all seem easy with a genuine interest in each guest’s topic. She likes to have hands-on demonstrations to engage viewers, so we did a quick cactus-potting demo, using BBQ tongs to carefully maneuver a prickly golden barrel cactus into a new pot. That made for a funny moment, as Amanda joked about using the tongs to flip your steak on the grill after potting your cactus. You can watch my segment here, if you’re interested.

Before the taping I referenced two posts by fellow garden bloggers who regularly appear on TV. Props to my friend Noelle Johnson of AZ Plant Lady, a Phoenix designer and garden coach who has shared helpful behind-the-scenes details about taping gardening segments, and to author and Garden Ranter Amy Stewart, who’s written about what to wear — and what not to wear — on TV.

A few days later I gave a talk at The Natural Gardener, a wonderful nursery in southwest Austin, about making a water-saving garden. My friend Shelley went with me to help me set up and sell my books afterward, and we got there an hour early to get prepared. With a little extra time to spare, I sat in the cedar gazebo by the labyrinth to gather my thoughts — and took this photo of a Texas redbud in full bloom.

It’s been a couple of years since I gave a public talk, and I’m always nervous beforehand (a feeling Central Texas Gardener host Tom Spencer once wisely advised me to embrace to stay sharp). But it’s also heartening to see a full house — 90 people, standing room only — gathered to hear what you can share with them. Several of my garden blogging friends were there too, which was so great to see. Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil took this photo during my talk and kindly shared it with me.

And Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer shared this photo from my book signing after the talk.

After the book signing, several friends joined me for a celebratory lunch at nearby Jack Allen’s Kitchen, which was great fun. From left to right: my friend Shelley, Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer, Rebecca of Rebecca’s Retreat, Cat of The Whimsical Gardener, Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil, me, Cheryl of Gardening Volunteers of South Texas, Caroline of The Shovel-Ready Garden, and gardening friend Theresa. Shout-out to two other garden blogging friends who came to my talk, Vicki of Playin’ Outside and Bob of Central Texas Gardening. Thanks for your support, friends! (If I missed anyone, I apologize and please let me know.)

I was really honored that this fun bunch of women drove all the way up from San Antonio for my talk: Melody, whose garden I visited in 2014; Cheryl and Shirley (again); and Jeanette of Gardening Volunteers of South Texas.

Thanks to everyone for coming to my talk at The Natural Gardener, especially YOU, dear reader, if you were there too!

Speaking of book promotions, my virtual book-release and giveaway party kicked off on Monday and runs through this Sunday, March 6th. Six blogging friends and I are offering 7 great giveaways related to saving water in the garden. Huge thanks to the excellent businesses who partnered with me on this and donated the giveaway items: Potted, The Rain Barrel Depot, Gardener’s Supply Co., Epoch Rain Barrels, High Country Gardens, General Pumice Products, and Boxhill.

Visit each blog listed below and leave a comment on the giveaway post to be entered:
North Coast Gardening
Gossip in the Garden
Red Dirt Ramblings
Danger Garden
Clay and Limestone

These bloggers — from Tennessee to Oregon, and from California to Oklahoma and Texas — all focus on sustainable gardening, water-thrifty plants, and/or gardening with less water, so you’ll want to follow their blogs if you don’t already.

I welcome your comments! If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.


Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you dig Digging? Please vote! Digging is nominated for the 2016 Better Homes and Gardens Blogger Awards in the Garden category. Click here to vote (refresh the page if necessary), and select “Skip This Category” to get to the garden blog nominees. You’re allowed to vote once per day through 3/7. Thanks for your support!

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

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

Formal gardening with native plants in Wildflower magazine

Native plants have come so far in the past 20 or so years. Once considered weeds, they’re now treasured by those who make gardens that attract pollinators and other wildlife, need less irrigation to thrive, and convey a unique sense of place. Enthusiasts readily fill their cottage and wildscape gardens with native plants. Even traditional suburban landscapes and clean-lined modern gardens that make use of native plants are not uncommon.

But one style of garden has not yet embraced the native plant revolution: formal gardens. I tackle this topic and offer design suggestions for using native plants in a formal setting in my latest article for Wildflower, the magazine for members of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “Thinking Outside the Box(wood)” can be found in the current issue, Spring 2016.

Want to get your hands on a copy? Become a member of the Wildflower Center! Members are subscribed to this beautiful and informative quarterly magazine, and you also get reciprocal membership at hundreds of public gardens in North America (a perk I take advantage of whenever I travel), a 10% discount at the Wildflower Center’s gift shop, free admission to the garden year-round, discounts at various events and plant sales, and more. Plus you’re supporting the center’s mission of conserving, restoring, and creating healthy landscapes.

The article is illustrated with photos by the inimitable Saxon Holt and Karen Bussolini, and a couple of my own as well. It’ll eventually be online, and I’ll link to it then.

By the way, Wildflower has a temporary new editor-in-chief, Lee Clippard of the Martha Stewart Living-recognized blog The Grackle. He did a terrific job on his first issue as editor!


Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you dig Digging? Please vote! Digging is nominated for the 2016 Better Homes and Gardens Blogger Awards in the Garden category. Click here to vote (refresh the page if necessary), and select “Skip This Category” to get to the garden blog nominees. You’re allowed to vote once per day through 3/7. Thanks for your support!

Join me for my kick-off garden talk this Saturday, 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 signed copies of my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, available for purchase ($20 each, includes tax) and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

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

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