Look for my interviews in Austin Home and Texas Gardener


Digging has been a little quiet for the past week because I was away at the Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling, touring public and private gardens in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and northern Virginia. But on the home front, I’ve been interviewed by writers at two local magazines, both of which are on newsstands now.


In the Summer 2017 issue of Austin Home, my garden is featured on pages 48-49 in an article titled “The Water-Saving Garden,” which is about my efforts to grow a more water-thrifty garden using native and adapted plants. My thanks to writer Nadia Chaudhury and editor Gene Menez for including me and mentioning my book The Water-Saving Garden in the issue.


And in the July/August 2017 issue of Texas Gardener, I’m interviewed about one of my favorite turf alternatives — sedge (Carex).


Titled “Tired of Turf? Try Sedge Instead,” the article suggests planting sedge in place of a thirsty, chemical-dependent lawn. Regular readers may recognize my photo of my front-yard sedge “lawn.” My thanks to writer Suzanne Labry for interviewing me and mentioning my book Lawn Gone!. By the way, this article is currently available online.


And last but not least, an Austin garden I scouted for Southern Living, and which I’ve also written about, appears in the magazine’s July 2017 issue in an 8-page spread starting on page 78.


It’s the garden of Margie McClurg, designed by Jackson Broussard of Sprout, and it’s a real beauty!

If you’re an Austin-area reader, you should be able to pick up all three magazines right now at local newsstands, including at Barnes & Noble, where I saw them today. Readers throughout Texas can find Texas Gardener, and throughout the South you can find Southern Living. And if you don’t already subscribe, you should to support local gardening coverage.

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.
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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.

Read This: 101 Organic Gardening Hacks, The Spirit of Stone, and The Cocktail Hour Garden


A raft of gardening books has piled up on my desk this spring. I’m tempted to lash the whole stack into a raft and paddle to a deserted island, where I’ll have time to read them all (if only that wouldn’t make them soggily unreadable). If you’re looking for some good gardening books to kick back with this summer, here are three I’ve recently enjoyed and recommend.

101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden, by Shawna Coronado, Cool Springs Press (January 1, 2017)

Shawna Coronado, a Chicago-based speaker and blogger on gardening and wellness, applies the trendy idea of “hacking” — creatively using something in a way it wasn’t necessarily intended — to gardening and outdoor decorating in this appealing, well-illustrated book. From organizing seed packets in a photo album to building a garden tower out of leftover plastic pots to making your own seed-starter soil, Coronado offers up a variety of clever gardening practices that DIYers, thrifters, and eco- and cost-conscious gardeners will especially enjoy. On a visit to Austin, she even spotted a hack in my collection of steel-pipe and tractor-rim planters in my entry garden and included it on page 115.

Many of the featured hacks are classic gardening solutions from a time when people were thriftier and more inclined to reuse household scraps — i.e., grandmotherly garden practices like using old pantyhose as plant ties. But that’s not to say they aren’t still clever and thrifty gardening solutions for today. In our age of buy-new, buy-specialized, it’s refreshing to remind ourselves, as this charming book does, that gardening need not be a rarefied, costly endeavor, and that gardening — an inherently creative act — lends itself to creative solutions.

The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden
by Jan Johnson, St. Lynn’s Press (February 15, 2017)

Jan Johnsen, a New York-based designer, instructor at New York Botanical Garden, and blogger at Serenity in the Garden, “has a soft spot for hard rock.” In The Spirit of Stone, her fourth book, she indulges her love for stone with poetic musings about its ageless presence in a garden, its practicality and grace as a building material, and even the cultural lore that has been ascribed to certain kinds of rock, like standing stones, Chinese scholars’ stones, and Native American split rocks. Stone’s “unique appeal,” she writes, “lies in its ability to be many things, from a solitary garden feature to an artful wall or a quiet gravel ‘sea.'”

As Johnsen points out, stone forms the bones of most gardens, from paths and patios to steps and walls, and she shares design and construction tips for using it. Artistic stonework — rock gardens, crevice gardens, Zen gravel gardens, dry streams, pebble mosaics, and stone “waterfalls” — is also described with how-to instruction. Lastly, plants that play especially well with stone by growing in crevices, cascading over walls, or brightening shady rock gardens are suggested with useful design advice. If you weren’t already sold on incorporating stone into your garden, this book’s inspiring images and eloquent descriptions will convince you.

The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining
by C.L. Fornari, St. Lynn’s Press (March 1, 2016)

Radio-show host, speaker, and author C.L. Fornari wants you to put down your cell phone and laptop and go sit outside as the sun sets on the workday. Preferably with a cocktail in hand. Reclaiming the phrase “the green hour” from 19th-century France, an era of absinthe happy hours, Fornari playfully uses it to denote a cocktail hour spent amid natural greenery — our gardens — and makes the case for a return to the quieter pleasures of watching sunsets, inhaling the fragrance of night-blooming flowers, and watching sphinx moths and fireflies.

It’s funny-sad that we need such a reminder to put aside our electronic diversions for a brief hour out-of-doors. But the fact is, we do. A Nielsen Company audience report last summer revealed that Americans spend 10-1/2 hours per day staring at screens. Subtract from a 24-hour day one’s working hours (which may involve a screen), commute time, a few errands, and a decent night’s sleep, and, well, there’s not much left over.

In urging us to set aside at least one green hour per day, Fornari is, of course, preaching to the choir for those most likely to buy her book — we who already enjoy gardening (and cocktails!). But she does so with lighthearted humor and a sense of fun, evoking party imagery while dispensing design advice — What does a particular plant bring to the party? she asks — not to mention a sprinkling of cocktail recipes throughout the book. She walks the reader through the creation of a garden best enjoyed at the end of the day, with flowers that glow at dusk, sweet scents to enjoy at twilight, soft garden lighting, and other sensual aspects of the garden that might be overlooked by those focusing only on daytime visual enjoyment.

If you’re looking for an excuse to slow down and reconnect with nature — whether meditatively solo or socially with friends and family — you’ll find plenty of ideas to incorporate into your garden and your lifestyle. For me, the book served best as a reminder that gardens are meant to be enjoyed, not just worked in, and I resolved to spend more time sitting in mine, and inviting friends to join me in that noble endeavor more often. Cocktails are being shaken. Chair cushions are being fluffed. Here’s to the green hour!

Disclosure: All three books were sent to me for review by their publishers, and I know Shawna Coronado and C.L. Fornari professionally. I reviewed each book at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Daylily Society will host a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. 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’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers 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.

Turning a neighborhood median strip into a garden


A few years ago I toured Colleen Jamison’s beautiful garden in central-west Austin, and a few days ago I had the pleasure of a revisit. It is still wonderful! But here’s what wowed me before I even stepped foot in her garden: a median strip down the middle of her street that she’s transformed, little by little, into a garden for her neighbors and passersby to enjoy.


Wow, just look at this lovely space, with staggered benches inviting one to rest under an allée of crepe myrtles. Colleen says she started planting the median years ago to block an unwelcome view of trucks parked directly across the street from her house. And then she just kept expanding it.


As you’d expect, the median lacks a water source for irrigation, so Colleen chose tough, mostly native plants that can thrive without regular watering once they’re established, like Mexican feathergrass and crepe myrtle, shown here, as well as retama, Texas mountain laurel, iris, blue mistflower, prickly pear, and agave. (Note: she does water new plants by hand until they’re established.)

Colleen’s eye for design is evident in the repetition and massing of relatively few species of plants, which also makes maintenance easier, and in the way she breaks up the bowling-alley effect of a long, narrow space by zigzagging benches along the length and creating a focal-point mound of blue mistflower in the center of the path.


The blue mistflower mound marks the end of the crepe myrtle allée and the start of a retama allée.


Turning around and looking back toward the middle, you get to enjoy the effect all over again.


So inviting! And so well maintained too.


The allée pathway widens in the midsection of the median to embrace both sides of the street, inviting access.


Directly across from Colleen’s garden, the median is more densely planted in cottage-garden style — the better to hide those trucks! Actually, the trucks may be long gone now, but this was the earliest section she planted, and it’s lush with Texas mountain laurel, prickly pear, iris, and agave. A metal sunflower makes a cheerful accent.


From the median, here’s the charming view of Colleen’s house and front garden. What a gift she’s given to the neighborhood with her own garden and the median garden.


For fun, here are a couple more images from Colleen’s garden, including a ruffled kalanchoe in a mint-green vase…


…and this peaceful side-yard garden with a classical fountain, a pillow-strewn bench for comfortable lounging, and masses of pretty shade-garden plants.

Don’t you wish you were Colleen’s neighbor?

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.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. 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’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers 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.

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