Wildflower season, owlets, and native plant sale at Wildflower Center


When the universe offers a weekend of perfect weather, don’t squander it. Central Texans, if you’re looking for something to do outside this weekend, head on over to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Their spring native-plant sale is being held both Saturday and Sunday, so you can shop for treasures for your garden. Plus you’ll see plenty of wildflowers and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the great horned owl chicks in the entry garden.


I dropped in for a quick visit on Thursday morning and found the meadows of spring wildflowers — the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush — transitioning to summery yellows.


Prickly pear and Engelmann’s daisy (I think)


The bluebonnets may be past peak, but they’re still pretty, and you should find plenty to enjoy.


The main reason I went, however, was for the great horned owlets. Every year a great horned owl nests behind a sotol planted high in a wall niche in the entry garden. I missed mama owl on this visit, but I did get a good look at one of the two fuzzy chicks. And it got a good look at me too.


A guy taking pictures told me he saw mama owl deliver breakfast earlier that morning — a dark-feathered bird, probably a grackle or pigeon. Now and then, as I watched, they seemed to tear at what remained of the carcass.


The pond garden offers attractions other than owls, of course. Like this gorgeous magenta iris.


And ruffly purple irises by the spillway in the wall.


Kids are always drawn to water, and these young visitors were no exception.


In a sunny meadow, pink penstemons stood erect among spring-green grasses and a Lindheimer muhly just putting out new growth.


Fly your pink flags, penstemon!


A quick glance at the spiraling cistern tower in the main courtyard


Columbines with their comet tails, held aloft on delicate stems


More penstemon, with a patch of bluebonnets in the background


Along the shady Hill Country stream, a dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) seems to lift a hand in greeting.


Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) and Texas bluebonnets in stock-tank planters lean together for an embrace in the central Display Garden. These were pretty, but I have to say I thought this area looked a little unloved. A stock-tank pond was listing to one side, and many of the beds seemed a bit paltry. But then again, the Display Garden has never been my favorite part of the gardens. I keep hoping something great will go in here one day.


Aside from that one complaint, I enjoyed my visit and the wildflowers, and I encourage you to put aside your weekend to-do list and get on out there to enjoy it too.

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.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

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.

Palms and dinosaurs at McKee Botanical Garden


Two weeks ago, in mid-March, the family and I drove to Orlando for spring break. Before heading home, we stopped in Vero Beach, Florida, for a day at the shore and to visit McKee Botanical Garden. Yes, those are dinosaurs in the garden. Roar of the Dinosaur, featuring the life-sized creations of Guy Darrough, are displayed throughout the garden through May 1. Fun for the kids, no doubt, but I found them distracting. Still, I’d just enjoyed Orlando’s theme parks, so why not?


Happily, there’s plenty to see other than dinosaurs. This small public garden is a resurrected fragment of an 80-acre garden park that attracted droves of tourists from the 1930s through the 1960s. Operated by Waldo Sexton, an eccentric builder and nurseryman, and Arthur McKee, a Cleveland industrialist, McKee Jungle Gardens was famous for a “cathedral” of 300 royal palms, an extensive orchid collection, waterlilies, monkeys, and an alligator, Ole Mac. (The dinosaurs would likely have fit right in.) Disney World stole away its tourism base, however, and the garden was closed in 1976. Developers tore out most of the garden to build condos and a golf course.


Today, thanks to the efforts of locals and a land trust, 18 acres of the garden have been restored, showcasing palms, bromeliads, waterlilies, and other native subtropical and tropical plants.


The place does look a bit Jurassic, doesn’t it?


Richly colored bromeliads glowed in the sunlight during our late-morning visit. In the background, Spanish moss hangs from a tall, spreading oak.


A fallen tree trunk, arched at the edge of a pond, hosted an artful display of bromeliads and other plants.


Powdery blue culms of a beautiful Bambusa chungi


The silky plumes of this tall, grass-like plant caught my eye as well. Anyone know what it is? It’s tiger grass (Thysanolaena maxima). Thanks, Max!


Or this long-stemmed cluster of pink flowers — some sort of begonia?


Another temporary exhibit on display in the garden is a large-scale “stickwork” by artist Patrick Dougherty. Dubbed The Royals and sited amid the remaining royal palms, it’s like an oversized playhouse made of pliable willow branches, many of which showed signs of green-leaved regrowth. Dougherty’s fantastical stick structures last only until weather and time bring them down.


One of Waldo Sexton’s creations is The Hall of Giants, a 2-story wooden clubhouse that resembles something the Swiss Family Robinson would have constructed. A ruin after 20 years of abandonment when the garden shut down, it’s been restored to man-cave glory thanks to a grant from Florida’s Division of Historic Resources.


Sexton’s old bell collection is displayed along the porch eaves.


Inside it’s all elk-lodge timbers and iron lanterns. The crowning feature is a gleaming, 38-foot banquet table made from a single slab of Philippine mahogany. What a tree it must have come from!


Just outside, Sexton’s enormous Spanish Kitchen has also been restored, with room to grill 100 steaks at a time, according to garden lore. Those guys must have had some kind of parties here back in the day. Today the hall and outdoor kitchen are rented out for weddings and other events.


McKee Garden is small enough to see in about an hour, and even though I’m not especially into tropical plants, I enjoyed our visit.


It gave me a sense of Florida’s history, the costs of its rapid development, and the commitment of today’s residents to restoring some of what was lost.

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.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

TODAY AT NOON: Join me for Coffee with the Author at noon, April 6, at Holy Grounds
KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me about water-saving gardening and host a Q&A with the audience — which I hope will include YOU. 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 coffee shop is located in downtown Austin in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street. 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.

Thanks for coming to Zilker Garden Festival


Despite Friday’s surprising chilly rainstorm, the weekend turned out to be perfect, weather-wise. And gardening enthusiasts turned out in droves to attend Zilker Garden Festival, which is Zilker Botanical Garden‘s big fundraiser — money that goes toward keeping the gardens maintained and beautiful in this era of low city funding. Thank you to everyone who came, especially if you visited the Author Booth! Here I am working the booth and visiting with cactus and succulent expert Jeff Pavlat and Bob Barth of Oracle Gorge Nursery, who stopped by.


I met so many wonderful gardeners and readers, including this delightful Digging fan who told me she and her husband drove all the way from Katy, Texas, to meet me. How cool is that? I tried to talk her into starting a blog so she can join the online garden chatting and sharing. After all, she could be inspiring the next gardener to come along. Katy friend, if you start one, let me know, OK? :)


Aside from meeting readers and fellow gardeners, I had a great time hanging out with my fellow authors, like funny lady and goat breeder (just kidding, sort of) Jenny Peterson (who took this photo and the one above — thank you, Jenny!).


On Saturday I shared the booth with two terrific women, Judy Barrett and Cheryl Beesley.


And on Sunday, Jenny (in white) and I switched off with KLRU’s Trisha Shirey (in purple), Judy (in green), and Lucinda Hutson (in stripes). I was honored to share the booth with these talented women who’ve contributed so much to Austin’s gardening scene.


Huge thanks to Zilker Garden Festival organizers, especially Syd Teague and Cathy Wood, for hosting the author booth and giving me an opportunity to sell my books. I hope the festival raised piles of cash for Zilker Garden. And they really rocked it with this year’s hipster American Gothic poster too.

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

THIS WEDNESDAY: Join me for Coffee with the Author at noon on April 6 at Holy Grounds
KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me about water-saving gardening and host a Q&A with the audience — which I hope will include YOU. 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 coffee shop is located in downtown Austin in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street. 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.

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