It’s been a cold winter, but the garden’s still got it going on


Thank heavens for evergreens, grasses, yuccas, and structural features like stock-tank ponds, big containers, and low walls. After this withering, frostbitten winter, my garden would otherwise be flattened. Of course I’ve been moaning and groaning about the damage anyway. (Isn’t that what we gardeners do?) But taking stock a few days ago, I realized there’s still plenty to enjoy in my winter garden. Case in point: the stock-tank pond, seen here reflecting a mango-colored sunset sky. Let me also give a shout-out to ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood balls and winter-tough squid agaves (Agave bracteosa) in raise-em-up-so-you-can-see-em containers.


Cast-iron plant is a dependable (if ubiquitous) evergreen for Austin too. I may not notice those upright, broad green leaves the rest of the year, but I’m sure glad to have them in the winter. Similarly, Texas nolina (Nolina texana), which grows low to the ground, becomes a winter focal point when elevated in a pot, especially framed by the winter-tan foliage of a dwarf Barbados cherry hedge (Malpighia glabra ‘Nana’). In the background, winter-hardy Yucca rostrata stands tall like a blue Koosh ball atop a trunk.


More yucca goodness here, with a twisted-leaf paleleaf yucca (Yucca pallida) elevated for attention in a purple pot atop a concrete plinth. A squid agave in a culvert-pipe planter stair-steps a little higher. Filling in around them are evergreen shade lovers ‘Cream de Mint’ pittosporum and Chinese fringeflower.


In a sunny bed along the driveway, ‘Color Guard’ yuccas take center stage with bright yellow and green stripes. Evergreen gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) is beginning to bloom in the foreground, while last season’s inflorescences still dazzle on the pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia). I’ll cut the pine muhly back soon, but for now, everything that remains evergreen or stands tall through winter is treasured.

This is my February post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is happening in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

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

Calling all garden bloggers! You’re invited to register for the annual Garden Bloggers Fling tour and meetup, which will be held in Austin this May 3rd-6th! Click this link for information about registering, and you can see our itinerary here. Space is limited, so don’t delay. The 2018 Fling will be the event’s 10th anniversary, which started in Austin in 2008.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring 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 © 2006-2018 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Mowing the sedge, and other expressions of hope for spring


Central Texas gardens got walloped by Old Man Winter this year, and a lot of plants that normally contribute to Austin’s evergreen palette — bamboo muhly, sago palm, flax lily, even ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo — are sporting sad shades of tan or brown. With a garden tour coming up in just 3 months, my emotions about this winter have ranged from pique to gloom. (Ironically, from a personal standpoint, I’ve enjoyed the cold weather and have been wearing boots, jackets, and scarves every time it dips below 65 F.)

Yesterday I made myself do one garden tidying chore — one thing that wouldn’t be too early (I’m still saving the big cut-back for closer to mid-February), and that would help prepare the garden for spring: I charged up the electric mower and ran it over the winter-browned sedges. What a difference it made for my mood and for the late-winter aesthetics of my garden.


Now instead of yellow-brown, tired-looking lumps, there are tidy tufts of emerging green leaves in the ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge “lawn” that I planted last February.


The more-established Berkeley sedge lawn in front of the house got a few passes with the mower too, and now it looks very much like a shorn traditional lawn. It’s funny how mowing those sedges turned into an act of faith that spring will return and green things up again.


There are other things that need tidying, like my “totem pole” prickly pear that fell over in our first winter blast. Drat!


Here’s how it looked a few months ago, growing straight and tall like no Opuntia I’d ever seen. It should be easy to replant by sticking the broken end into the soil, although it’ll have to be staked.


I’m not sure if two of my ‘Platinum Beauty’ lomandra trial plants will pull through. I planted them in the front garden last fall, eager to see how they’d hold up in dry semi-shade and with deer. No problem there, but two deep-freezes-for-days later, they’re bleached and brittle.


Ah, it kills me! Still, I see a little fresh green at the base of the plants, so I’ll leave them alone for now and wait until after our last freeze date to cut them back and see if they recover. The third trial plant is in a container up by the house, and it came through the freezes just fine with a protective cover over it. I covered the two in the ground too, but they are in a more exposed location.


More brown, which should be evergreen, around the pool: a brown hedge of dwarf Barbados cherry continues to provide structure on the left, but brown stems are all that remain of a beautiful stand of Mexican honeysuckle at the far end of the pool. I can only avert my eyes for now and hope for a recovery by early May.


But why dwell on the brown when I can dwell on the green? And there’s still plenty of it, like the blue-green of paleleaf yucca underplanted with heartleaf skullcap…


…and silver Mediterranean fan palm doing its year-round fan dance.


We just need to keep the green in our hearts a little while longer. Spring is coming.

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

Calling all garden bloggers! You’re invited to register for the annual Garden Bloggers Fling tour and meetup, which will be held in Austin this May 3rd-6th! Click this link for information about registering, and you can see our itinerary here. Space is limited, so don’t delay. The 2018 Fling will be the event’s 10th anniversary, which started in Austin in 2008.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring 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 © 2006-2018 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Waterwise outside, oasis inside a walled Sonoma garden


Last August a family road trip took me through Sonoma, California, where I had the pleasure of seeing a garden I was writing about for Garden Design magazine. The owner, Marilyn Coon Stocke, had generously extended an invitation to me and my family, and so we stopped by after a visit to Cornerstone Sonoma and its gardens.


My earlier phone interview with Marilyn had been mainly about the garden inside the courtyard walls, which she’d hired landscape architect Mike Lucas to build to block the wind and provide privacy from the road. But as we approached her garden gate, I was wowed by the waterwise exterior garden. Blazing orange flower spikes of kangaroo paws towered over tuffets of chartreuse lomandra. Both plants hail from Australia and are water thrifty and heat tolerant, allowing Marilyn to focus limited water resources on her interior courtyard garden.

By the parking area, a tumbleweed-like sphere of barbed wire makes a sculptural, Wild West-style accent.


How I wish we could successfully grow kangaroo paws here in Austin! Alas for our sauna-like summers.


Majestic Weber’s agaves punctuate a meadowy front garden of lomandra and tall verbena.


Large cutout windows in the white walls of the courtyard offer peek-a-boo glimpses of the secret garden inside. A barn-door-style shutter can slide closed to keep out the wind.


Eucalyptus and bottlebrush (Callistemon) add more Australian foliage.


Inside the courtyard, a sheltered, green oasis greets you, and a trough-style water feature flanked by an elevated terrace leads to the front door.


A bisecting path frames a view of the trough’s scupper fountain through towering agapanthus blossoms.


The agapanthus flowers were nearly spent by early August but still lovely.


To the right you see steps leading up to the front door, and a row of ‘Livin’ Easy’ rose standards.


The apricot-orange roses echo the orange of the kangaroo paws outside the wall.


Boston ivy traces green-leaved tendrils across the white walls, making a green frame for the window views.


And what a view through this window! I love seeing that big Weber’s agave flexing its muscles amid purple salvia, with a row of eucalyptus trees and golden hills beyond. In the foreground, a firepit and built-in seating offer a reason to stay a while.


Opposite the window, the firepit axis leads straight out of the courtyard and through an allee of ornamental pear trees, which reference the property’s history as a pear orchard.


As a focal point at the end of the allee, a water feature made from a manganese rock crusher — essentially a giant dish — bubbles gently. From here, the garden proper ends, and the path leads to the wilder parts of the property and, eventually, to a borrowed view of a neighbor’s vineyard. Ah, the beautiful Sonoma wine country.

My thanks to Marilyn for the tour of her lovely home and garden! It was a treat to meet her too. If you’d like to read more about her garden, just get your hands on a copy of the Winter 2018 issue of Garden Design and look for my article on page 54.

P.S. Marilyn’s home and garden fortunately escaped damage from the Sonoma wildfires last fall, which I was relieved to hear.

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.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Calling all garden bloggers! You’re invited to register for the annual Garden Bloggers Fling tour and meetup, which will be held in Austin this May 3rd-6th! Click this link for information about registering, and you can see our itinerary here. Space is limited, so don’t delay. The 2018 Fling will be the event’s 10th anniversary, which started in Austin in 2008.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring 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 © 2006-2018 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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