Wildflower Center aglow with the spirit of the season


Luminarias glowed and tree lights twinkled throughout the native-plant gardens at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center during last weekend’s annual Luminations event. I’ve been several times over the years, but this time the lights extended all the way to the new Family Garden.


We got there at opening and enjoyed the lights as evening fell.


My young nephew was with us, so we headed straight for the Family Garden, passing this golden bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum) along the way. That’s a russet bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) at the turn in the path.


In the fading light I was wowed by a mass planting of Lindheimer muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), whose bleached inflorescences stood tall enough to partially hide a bench. I wish the border of Lindheimer muhly in my own garden looked this fabulous, but it doesn’t get full sun and the grasses remain much smaller and floppier.


Wrapped in lights, a row of Arizona cypresses (Cuppressus arizonica) in the Family Garden made living Christmas trees.


Musical performances were scheduled throughout the garden’s pavilions, including this one, adding a holiday soundtrack to the festivities.


Luminarias lit the way back to the main gardens.


It struck me as kind of strange to be walking through dark gardens by candlelight, where all you could see was glowing paper bags. But it was nice too.


Back in the main courtyard, it was a party, with a steel band playing, people smiling and talking, and hot chocolate being handed out.


We popped into the gift shop. Of course.


I found a glass armadillo ornament, which I immediately realized we needed for our tree. I also perused the shop’s extensive garden-book selection.


Oh, looky here — autographed copies of Lawn Gone! are on display right up front!


At last it was time to go, and at the exit we stopped to ooh and ahh over this enormous live oak, seemingly lit with fairy lights all the way up into the evergreen branches. I was even more impressed to realize that the lights were not physical lights but projected images from four upward-pointing projectors at ground level. How clever, and no ladders required!

Merry Christmas, y’all!

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

Plant This: Chile pequin will spice up your garden


Native perennial chile pequin (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum) adds hot color to the fall garden with a profusion of tiny, red peppers held upright on rambling green stems adorned with chartreuse, spade-shaped leaves. And if you taste one, you’ll find it heats up your tongue as well! These diminutive peppers pack a fiery punch that rivals the habanero, or so I’ve read, having never dared to sample one myself. I leave that to the birds, which are unaffected by spicy heat.


Michael at Plano Prairie Garden passed along this volunteer to me, and I love how it works with the yellow stripes of ‘Bright Edge’ yucca. I grew chile pequin in my former garden as well, pairing it with fall blooming spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) that echoed the red of the peppers.

Chile pequin has always grown well for me in part shade to full shade, but I’ve seen it in full sun as well. Once established, it’s fairly drought tolerant, and it generally dies back in winter but returns from the roots. If you enjoy providing food for birds, chile pequin’s 5-alarm fruit is a favorite, which is why it’s also known as bird pepper. It grows to about 2 feet tall and wide — a small plant with spice to spare.

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

Festive orange and red berries adorn evergreen sumac


Every year I renew my fan-club membership for evergreen sumac (Rhus virens), a fine native shrub or small tree. What’s not to love? It sports handsome, shiny, nearly evergreen leaves, grows in sun or shade, attracts bees in late summer with sprays of tiny, white flowers, and decks itself out in winter with fuzzy, orange and red berries. Plus, once established it never needs watering, although an occasional deep soak will help it grow faster.


Birds feast on the berries, so planting evergreen sumac is a good way to attract them in winter.


I planted this one as a one-gallon several years ago, and it’s just now getting some height and putting on berries. In the background you can see a large evergreen sumac, which we were fortunate to inherit with the house. In past winters I’ve observed a screech owl roosting in it, camouflaging itself amid the leaves. Now that we’re approaching nesting season for screeches again, I’m always scanning the trees and bushes for a fierce, little face and bark-colored body. It won’t be long.

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