Inspiration for my new bottle tree comes from the desert


When it’s too hot to plant, consider planting a bottle tree. It’ll never need watering, and the more the Death Star shines on it, the better it looks.


I made a simple, post-style bottle tree 5 years ago. But the cedar post was rotting, and it was beginning to list. I decided to replace it, and as I pondered my options I remembered a plant I admired at Big Bend National Park and in Phoenix last spring. Suddenly I knew what I wanted.


An ocotillo bottle tree! Poetic license means its blooms are blue instead of red, but I like the organic, vase-like structure — a nice change from my former stylized tree.


Bob Pool of Draco Metal Works (and a blogger at Gardening at Draco) constructed it to my specifications: upright rebar “branches” welded to a metal base, about 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide, with a base that can be anchored to the ground with rebar stakes. He did a great job bending the rebar to give it an ocotillo’s form.


After setting it up yesterday afternoon in 100-degree heat, I jumped into the pool to cool off and admire it. As often happens while studying the garden while neck-deep in cool water, I decided to rearrange a few things, starting with the yellow motel chairs that used to sit off to the side in the shade. I moved them front and center to create even more of a long-view focal point with the bottle tree.


And I moved my red-orange Circle Pot over by the orange-blooming Mexican honeysuckle for a hot color echo. Hmm, what other art or seating redos can I come up with until it’s cool enough to plant?

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

Waiting for autumn’s reviving touch


Whew! After writing 16 posts about Portland gardens, each containing scads of photos of summer-lush and richly blooming borders, I’m somehow ready for a return to my own Death Star-blasted garden. August is my least favorite gardening month here in Austin. I’m over the heat. I’m over the humidity. I’m over, over, over summer.

And yet there’s love, still, for the garden as it patiently — much more patiently than I — awaits the reviving touch of fall.


Last evening I strolled through the front garden at sunset, taking a closer look than I’ve done in weeks. The trio of ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia (two are replacements after the cold snap last winter) is looking quite sharp.


The west side of the driveway-island bed is looking good too despite my neglect. ‘Color Guard’ yucca, gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), wavy prickly pear (Opuntia), ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia, and Vitex agnus-castus don’t ask for much except sun and an occasional deep watering to look their best, even in summer.


In the shade of the live oaks, heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) has gone to seed, leaving a trio of Texas dwarf palmettos (Sabal minor) to strut their stuff. They’d look better if I trimmed back the spent skullcap, but oh well.


A different view. Those sabals are putting on some height this year! Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), one of my few dependable summer bloomers, screens the street behind the palmettos.


Here’s the long view across the front garden and Berkeley sedge lawn, as seen from my neighbor’s yard (the fence runs along the property line). I think I’m going to Outlaw Gardener-up that bare spot in front of the giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera) — maybe a few colorful Mexican gazing globes?


And here’s the long view as seen from the curb: a garden of deer-resistant grasses, salvias, yucca, and herbs. The caged tree at left is a young possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), which I’m still protecting from deer. Every day I tell myself to get out here and whack back those autumn sages (Salvia greggii) by one-third, for better shape and fall bloom, but every day laziness wins out. Maybe tomorrow.


Stepping back about 15 feet into my neighbor’s driveway, you can see how her garden and mine blend together. I planted this for her a few years ago, and we share the decomposed-granite path that runs between our gardens from the street to the fence, and which continues into my garden. (She opted not to continue it around the back of her bed to her driveway, but that could be added later to reduce even more lawn and improve accessibility.)

Taking stock, I see that the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave has grown tremendously, but three Gulf muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) have not thrived. Two have been removed, and the last one needs to go. My neighbor planted a softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) to fill the gap; I would not have chosen to place the yucca so close to the agave, but after all it is her yard to play in. Her salvias, like mine, need a good whacking. It’s a bit crispy and could really use a deep watering, but overall this is typical for a largely unwatered, native-plant garden in August in central Texas. Fall rains will perk it up.


I’m not sure anything will perk up this poor, gnawed-to-a-nub ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia. I received two beautiful plants from the Sunset Western Garden Collection following the 2013 San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling. I’ve had good luck with this plant in shade, and I added the freebies to my new side garden with high hopes. From the start, however, the deer have chomped them, although they’ve never touched more-established mahonias along the front of my house. Frustrating.

Despite the challenges of August and Bambi, I know I will delight in being outdoors again soon. Just one month to go until the happy gardening month of October! How about you? Are you enjoying or hurrying along these last weeks of summer?

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

Succulent and cactus container garden thrives under Death Star: August Foliage Follow-Up


Two months ago I acquired another steel pipe remnant and set it in the gravel garden by the front door. There it sat empty for nearly 8 weeks as I traveled and debated what to plant in it. Finally, taking my own advice not to plant anything in August except cactus, I decided on an opuntia.

I was one of only two customers at The Natural Gardener yesterday at 5 pm in 102 F heat. Blech. Well, the Death Star can set its laser beam on high and still not harm this cute bunny ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys). ‘Jaws’ agave, next to it, doesn’t mind the heat either, although it may have a little sunburn. Behind both is a beautiful pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia), a passalong from Michael at Plano Prairie Garden.


This is becoming quite a spiky forest. I need to stop.


I did pick up one more little cactus for my sadly underplanted steel wall planter, Coahuila lace cactus (Echinocereus pectinatus var. coahuila).


Well, that helps a little. Birds have been nipping leaf-pads off the ghost plant. Grr.


In contrast, my Hover Dish planter has filled out beautifully this summer. The tall succulent is blue chalk fingers (Senecio vitalis), with a graptoveria and jelly bean plant (Sedum rubrotinctum) beneath and ‘Blue Spruce’ sedum spilling over the edge.


Foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri) and a dyckia add more fun foliage below.


Also out front, along the driveway, this chartreuse cloud of bamboo muhly (Muhlenberia dumosa) caught my eye yesterday afternoon. What a beautiful light-catcher!

So what lovely leaves are making you happy in your August garden? Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage plants their due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

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