Aloe from the other siiiiiide

With apologies to Adele and her earworm of a song, aloes are still saying hello in my garden this mild winter with spring-like flowering.

I find their leaves equally eye-catching, with white spots reminiscent of disco-ball light effects.

Believe it or not, this is the same aloe (A. maculata), but it appears to have a Coppertone tan. Why? It’s been cold-stressed. Many succulents change color when they experience stress from cold or drought. Because it’s planted in a shallow dish container, this aloe has gotten a good deal colder this winter than the one pictured above, and its leaves reflect that. I think it’s pretty.

Also showing off right now are the abutilons.

This unnamed pink one — my last survivor of three over the years — is blooming well, with more buds ready to pop.

At its feet, native heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) carpets the ground with its blue-green leaves — its winter incarnation. Come spring, spires of lavender flowers appear, and then it’ll go dormant for the summer. In the culvert-pipe planters, squid agave (A. bracteosa) offers fountain-like form and dependable, cold-hardy winter interest.

As do the ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods. A pair of them guards each of the four “doorways” into the circular pond garden.

And one more abutilon to end with: ‘Marilyn’s Choice’, glowing in the fading light of last evening.


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Hold the Hose! Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

Have you watched my zippy new book trailer?

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Aloe surprise and prepping for owls

Aloes bloom in profusion at the Huntington in Los Angeles at this time of year, and my winter-blooming ‘Blue Elf’ aloe is already sending up asparagus-shaped bloom spikes. But soap aloe (Aloe maculata) prefers warmer weather to strut its stuff in my Austin garden. And yet…

…with no hard freeze yet (tonight may end that run), it was fooled into flowering and has been struggling to open this candelabra-shaped bloom spike for weeks. We saw a hummingbird on a neighborhood walk yesterday, so I’m hoping that an overwintering hummer or two will enjoy a few sips before a freeze finally nips it.

Since we’re here, we may as well say hello to Moby, the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia). Planted under a protective tree canopy, Moby escaped a pounding from our recent brief thunder-hailstorm.

My two ‘Green Goblet’ agaves weren’t so lucky, and show a Milky Way-like speckling. I’m going to call it patina.

While I examined the garden, David was all business getting a few winter chores done, like cleaning out the screech owl box in preparation for nesting season.

A mass of cedar shavings from our back fence was evidence of the squirrel I’ve seen in the box for the past couple of months. It’s time for him to go! David pulled out the nest, scattered a thin layer of clean, dry leaves in the bottom of the box, and closed it up again.

I expect we’ll see the squirrel in there again before an owl finally takes it over, as per usual, but at least we got it shipshape. A couple of Austin friends have said they’ve seen screech owls in their yards or owl boxes already, so clearly the males are scoping out nesting sites.

Under the owl box, forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis) has been blooming since my garden tour back in October. This is unheard of! I usually get a couple of weeks out of it. It appears to enjoy the extra rain we got this fall, and without a freeze to knock it back, it continues to shine pale yellow under the live oaks.

Overall the garden is still pretty green, which is how we Southerners like it. I’ll see what this week holds. Only one more month until the big winter cut-back of perennials, and then spring will be on its way.

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Evening garden design musings

Dusk is falling more softly as summer wanes, and the lingering evening glow is inviting, even if Austin is still hot and dry. Here are a few random shots from a recent walk-around at dusk. (The rest are in my post about foliage gardening apologies.)

This view emphasizes the arcs and circles that dominate the back garden design. The curvy swimming pool and two small, circular patios at each end were installed by the previous owners. I’ve continued to build on those curves with the stock-tank pond, sunburst paving, and stucco walls. Even the round pot fountain and boxwood balls emphasize the circular theme.

The limestone retaining walls along the back of the house (on the right) were also inherited from the previous owners, and they echo the curves of the pool. The new stucco walls repeat the curves, with modern flair, on the back side of the pool.

The commercial-grade string lights are from the Light Bulb Shop on Burnet Road. I love the soft glow they put out — perfect for parties! Hint: you can buy them online as well as in the store. We had ours wired into an outdoor light switch.

Looking in the other direction, toward the stock-tank pond and back deck. The gravel path leads uphill to the front garden.

Let’s check in on a passalong plant from Reuben Muñoz at Rancho Reubidoux while we’re here. Pilo (Pilosocereus pachycladus; do I have another named plant?) survived the spring deluge and has put on an inch or two of growth. Looking good!

My agave with the deadliest bite, the ‘Sharkskin’, is growing well too. It doesn’t mind heat or drought. I wish I felt the same way. But hey, it’s September, and fall is coming.


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