Garden walk as spring – and live oak leaf drop – begin


My sore muscles today are payment for a beautiful gardening day yesterday. I puttered about, hefting bags of mulch and decomposed granite, repotting a few containers, planting a couple of mahonias (after 5 months in nursery pots in my back yard — the shame!), pruning, and generally getting things done and getting dirty. At the end of the day I strolled around the garden with my camera, which is when I do my best looking. At other times, my looking mainly involves critiquing and planning. The camera takes all that away (just as it does when I’m shooting other people’s gardens), and I can simply focus on what looks especially pretty or interesting at that moment.

Pictured above is a giant hesperaloe (which Denise wanted to see) and the Berkeley sedge lawn, still mostly green even after our unusually cold winter. Across the street, the cottony blooms of my neighbor’s Bradford pears steal the show.


Walking down the hillside path into the back garden, gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) electrifies the cool twilight. It tends to self-seed along the path, and I enjoy seeing where it will pop up each year.


‘Sharkskin’ agave echoes the blue-green of the gopher plant’s leaves.


Looking back up toward the heart gate, so dubbed for the metal hearts hanging above the gate and another on the other side of the fence.


Across the gravel path, another gopher plant sprawls at the feet of a ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress. A blue gazing ball cradled in the arms of a cedar stump — an idea borrowed from Philip’s garden at East Side Patch — echoes the blue of the tree.


Turning around and looking up at the deck, I see that I have company. Stretchhhh.


My supervisor


Moving down to the main level of the back garden, the stock-tank pond looks decent from this angle.


But from the deck, not so much. In the interest of keeping it real, here’s what the stock-tank pond looks like at the moment, drowning in live oak leaves, which fall all at once in the spring as new leaves emerge. After the leaf drop ends in another week, I’ll do the annual spring cleaning of the pond.


Moving on, back out front to see how my neighbor’s ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia), in the garden I planted for her, is doing. It’s grown a lot over the past two years. I’m so grateful the bucks haven’t ravaged it with their antlers, and I wonder whether it’s because a number of fragrant-leaved salvias are growing alongside it. Sadly, my big ‘Green Goblet’ agave was partly ravaged by antlering last fall, so I recently planted a semicircle of Salvia greggii around it, hoping that the salvias will deter the deer next fall.


I was happy to catch the last rays of sunlight brightening the patch of gopher plant and ‘Color Guard’ yucca alongside the driveway.


And for fun, here’s a shot of Buddha Frog, a delightfully humorous Christmas gift from my sister and sister-in-law. He’s meditating on the front porch for now.

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

Plant This: Winter Gem boxwood


Winter is when you really appreciate the evergreens in your garden, even in green-winter places like central Texas. While I rely heavily on non-shrub evergreens like agave, yucca, and sotol, I also have a soft spot for oh-so-English boxwood, specifically the cultivar ‘Winter Gem’ (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Winter Gem’), planted here as “gate posts” marking the four entrances to my stock-tank pond garden.

The name ‘Winter Gem’ attests to its relative cold hardiness. That’s not an issue in Austin, of course. We’re more concerned with a plant’s heat tolerance. Happily, ‘Winter Gem’ holds up exceedingly well in Texas summers too, at least in part sun and dappled shade. I’ve not tested it in full sun.


‘Winter Gem’ is fairly petite, maturing at 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, which makes it more useful as an accent or for low hedging than as a screening shrub. Forget using it as a mustache-hedge across the front of the house.


Instead, accent a loose planting of meadowy sedge or silver lamb’s ear with a clipped boxwood ball. Or add a little structure, as I did, by formally pairing boxwood balls on each side of a path entrance.


Or go all out and create a looping design with clipped boxwood in a gravel garden, as James David and Gary Peese did in their Austin garden. (I don’t know if they used ‘Winter Gem’, but one could.)

Although boxwood is often maligned as a fussy, poodle-dog sort of plant, I find ‘Winter Gem’ quite easy to maintain with a light clipping once or twice a year. Its emerald-green color looks equally nice with blue-green yuccas and yellow-green grasses, and its small leaves and tight, architectural form contrast beautifully with blowsy perennials or grasses. What’s more, deer tend to leave it alone.


Its biggest drawback may be how slowly it grows. I planted my “gate post” plants (from 1-gallon pots) five years ago, as seen in this photo. They are just now reaching the size I’d planned for; see the top two photos in this post. (For a time-machine trip back to this garden’s earliest incarnation, click here; the layout hasn’t changed, but I eventually ripped out the circular lawn and put in the pond and sunburst path.)

As for boxwood blight — from what I’ve read, a serious concern for gardeners along the East Coast — it doesn’t (yet) seem to be a problem in Texas. In researching this post I learned that ‘Winter Gem’ and other Korean box cultivars may have some natural resistance, as do mature plants. I’d definitely try to buy from a Texas grower like Greenleaf (you’ll see their tags on certain plants at Barton Springs Nursery and other independent nurseries) rather than from the big-box stores, where plants may be shipped in from regions affected by the blight.

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.

Evening in the garden after the late-winter cut-back


We woke to fog yesterday, and in the soft light and early morning chill, I got started on the garden’s annual cut-back of perennials and grasses. Six hours later, with muscles aching but the garden cleaned up for spring, I called it a day. I had much to be thankful for: cloud cover all day that kept temperatures delightful and sweat to a minimum (our high was 73F); electric hedge trimmers inherited from my in-laws, which totally beat hand clipping everything; and my darling daughter’s help with bagging up all the trimmings.


After dinner, as the light faded on a perfect gardening day, I strolled through the garden to admire the pared-back views, with all the promise of spring just a few weeks away.


This is perfect patio-sitting weather.


However, I find it hard to sit still in the garden. Do you?


Verdigris vignette. This is an Agave parryi var. truncata pup growing in a piece of scrap pipe, surrounded by ground-covering ‘Bath’s Pink’ dianthus.


I do have a thing for blue in the garden, and of course many of our xeric plants have a blue cast as well. The stock-tank pond is next on my list for a pre-spring clean-up. Mucking out the bottom of the tank and dividing all the pond plants is a big job. I’ll wait until after the live oak leaf drop in March to tackle it. Meanwhile, I’m pleased that my ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods, which mark the four “doorways” into the stock-tank garden, are finally achieving the size and shape I envisioned when I planted them a few years ago. The forest-green spheres stand out against all the blue-greens and yellow-greens here.


Evening light reflected in the stock-tank pond, and another Cosmo photobomb completes our garden stroll.

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