Plant This: Moonflower vine for moonlit nights

When the sun goes down and the moon comes up, that’s when moonflower vine (Ipomoea alba) unfurls tissue-petaled white blossoms as large as your palm, inviting you to lean in for a deep whiff of its sweet perfume.

In my mind’s eye, the flowers glow like miniature moons themselves — pure and white. But that’s a trick of my camera setting.

In reality, the flowers are ivory with a hint of pale celery along a starfish-shaped indentation in the center.

By day, when you spot a tapered, spiraling bud — like a unicorn horn! — get ready for a moonflower show that evening.

If you’ve never grown moonflower vine, it’s easy to start from seed. (Note: this annual vine is not the same plant as our native perennial datura, or devil’s trumpet, although they look similar.) Just buy a pack of seeds, and in early spring soak them overnight in a bowl of water before poking each one into seed-starting mix in biodegradable pots you can make out of toilet paper rolls. Protect them from freezes and chilly nights, give them bright light but avoid blazing sun, and keep them moist, and in a week or two their little green noses will pop up.

When they’ve grown a few inches tall with a few leaves, plant them in the garden in the toilet roll pots. In Austin’s hot climate, morning sun is best, with afternoon shade. Give them a trellis to climb, keep them watered regularly, and soon enough you’ll be enjoying those fragrant, night-blooming flowers. In autumn, you can collect the ripened, ivory seeds from the dried seedpods and save them for growing next spring.

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.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Garden Spark talks kick off with Scott Ogden, and you’re invited!

Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’ve decided to host a series of garden talks by well-known design speakers out of my home, and I’m calling it Garden Spark!

Garden Spark talks are for anyone with an interest in gardening, garden design, and learning from design experts. You won’t find anything else like this in Austin! I know because I’m always looking for garden presentations geared to avid and experienced gardeners, by nationally known designers and authors, and they just don’t come around that often.

Hosting at home will help me keep down expenses and create a fun, intimate experience for a small number of guests (30). To attract excellent speakers I’m paying them a fair speaker fee, raised through ticket sales. If you’re not in the speaking biz, you might not know that speakers are often asked to present for free or for a nominal honorarium. Even if a speaker is hoping to promote a business or a book, it can be hard to justify the enormous amount of prep time for a good talk, which for garden speakers involves not just the talk itself but putting together a slide show of gorgeous photos that required a lot of time and maybe travel money to get. Since many organizations that might want to host great speakers are nonprofits, volunteer-run, or otherwise strapped for funds, bigger-name talks just don’t happen.

I’m hoping to change that with today’s launch of Garden Spark. For the cost of a dinner out or a movie, two drinks, and a popcorn, you can enjoy seeing a great garden speaker in a cozy, personal setting. Just SEND ME AN EMAIL requesting an invitation, and I’ll send you more info and a link to the event page, where you can register and pay conveniently by credit card. Keep in mind, there are only 30 seats — that’s how many I can fit in my living room — so secure your seat early! And please do share the event with your garden-loving friends and any garden clubs or master gardener groups you belong to!

I’m excited to announce that our very first speaker, on February 2nd, will be Austin designer and author Scott Ogden, who’ll present “The Moonlit Garden”:

Update 1/6: ***THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT. If you’d like to hear about future Garden Spark talks, please get on the mailing list. Send me an email and let me know you’d like to be added to the email list.***

In Austin’s hot climate, outdoor activity picks up during evening hours as temperatures cool, and this is true for nature as well as people. Many plants and flowers bloom in the evening, and for this reason romantic gardens for nighttime enjoyment have long been part of landscape traditions around the world, as in ancient Persia, with its jasmine-shrouded, enclosed formal plantings centered on rills of water; classical China, with reflecting pools, moon gates, and naturalistic limestone rockwork; and the English white garden composed of plants with silvery foliage and pale, sweet-scented flowers.

Scott Ogden’s visual presentation, “The Moonlit Garden,” explores how plants with features that shine during evening hours – silvery foliage, pale bark, or white or yellow flowers that can be enjoyed in dim light; glistening, silky textures; dramatic forms; and highly reflective foliage – combine artfully with dark-leaved plants for contrast and with pale native limestone, subtle lighting, and gentle sounds from dripping water to create sensual gardens beautiful day and night.

Scott is a nationally known speaker and designer of public and private gardens around the country, including the award-winning Tropical Mosaic Garden in Naples, Florida, and the refurbished Sibley Horticulture Center at Calloway Gardens in Georgia. Here in Austin, in addition to many beautiful private gardens, his design work includes the innovative xeriscape garden at Rollingwood City Hall. Scott is the author of The Moonlit Garden, Garden Bulbs for the South, and Gardening Success With Difficult Soils and co-author, with his wife, Lauren Springer Ogden, of Plant-Driven Design and Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens.

After the talk, Scott will be selling his books, and I’ll have light refreshments to enjoy while you meet Scott.

What: Garden talk by designer/author Scott Ogden on creating a “moonlit garden”

When: Thursday, February 2nd, 7:30-8:30 pm, with a book-signing until 9 pm

Where: Private home in northwest Austin (zip 78759) — my house, in fact

How to attend: Send me an email for an invitation and a link to the event page

Garden Spark is a speaker series on garden design, open by invitation and hosted in my home. Admission compensates our excellent speakers and helps make these talks possible. I’m hosting because I want to hear great garden speakers in Austin and share that with fellow avid gardeners.

Please note: Ticket sales are final. If the event doesn’t fill or is cancelled due to any unforeseen reason, full refunds will be given.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Late garden party at Kris Peterson’s ocean-view oasis

Kris Peterson, Los Angeles blogger at Late to the Garden Party, saw her blog title unexpectedly come true last week. Or rather, my friend Diana and I did. With flight complications, we arrived in L.A. four hours later than planned and were indeed late to the garden party that Kris had generously planned for us: lunch on her patio with two other L.A. garden-blogging friends, Denise of A Growing Obsession and Hoover Boo of Piece of Eden. By the time we got our rental car and fought our way through traffic, it was closer to dinnertime and Denise and HB had naturally had to go home.

Luckily, this story has a happy ending! Kris was still at home and welcomed us into her garden, which enjoys a spectacular view of the Port of Los Angeles, dotted with cruise and container ships.

The view is enjoyed from the rear garden, and Kris has managed the difficult trick of making an interesting and lovely garden that complements rather than competes with the view. A paver terrace juts into the center of the garden, capitalizing on the view and offering a pleasant place to take it in. A low clipped hedge serenely repeats the line of the horizon and protects visitors from the hillside drop just beyond. In front, low-growing perennials, grasses, and succulents enliven the curving border. An echoing bed runs alongside the house, with turf functioning as a path in-between. Hard hit by the drought, the lawn was scheduled for removal on the day after our visit, and I’ll be reading Kris’s blog to see what she does with the space instead.

Kris has a knack for combining structural yuccas and agaves with softer plants. Here, ‘Bright Star’ yucca makes a surprising contrast with frilly Eustoma grandiflorum ‘Echo Pink’.

She also has a number of pots filled with low-water succulents, like this cute frog planter.

A delicate vine climbs an animal-motif trellis on the back porch.

The back garden may have the most arresting view, but the front garden is lovely as well, especially in the glowing light of late afternoon. A curvy stepping-stone path leads through the lawnless garden…

…past flowering grevillea and gaillardia…

…and a strawberry tree (Arbutus) with its flaky, cinnamon-colored bark.

There were even a few orange fruits hanging from the strawberry tree. Do they resemble strawberries to you? Only in the bumpy skin, I think.

A wide circle of mulch around a large magnolia tree not only protects and cools the roots but makes a casual patio. A bench around the tree provides occasional seating and a place to display potted plants.

Here’s the pretty entry garden, with an arbor-shaded bench by the door and a welcoming garden on either side of the walk.

Lavender looks especially purple against golden foliage.

Aeonium (I think) glows purple too.

In the baking hot strip that slopes to the street, Kris has planted agaves, aloes, and other succulents to take advantage of the good drainage and dry conditions.

I love the crisp white margins and teeth on this agave.

Hummingbird magnet — an aloe in bloom

Kris has so many nice succulent planters in her garden beds, and this one may be my favorite. Notice how the blue-gray and rose-hued pebbles match the plant colors.

As the sun set behind the hills, it was time to say goodbye to Kris and her garden. Despite our late arrival, and though we were sad to miss Denise and Hoover Boo, it was a wonderful start to our L.A. visit. Thanks so much for the late but lovely garden party, Kris!

Up next: Designer Dustin Gimbel’s experimental and artistic Long Beach garden. For a look back at the colorful bungalow garden of Annette Gutierrez, click here.

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