Evergreen combos (mostly) for Austin


A local reader asked me about evergreen plants that grow well here in central Texas, and as I was putting together today’s Foliage Follow-Up post, I realized it’s a good opportunity to share some of my faves. I use a lot of evergreen plants — though not necessarily shrubs — because 1) they tend to require less maintenance than plants grown for flowers, 2) they look great year-round, 3) they provide wonderful structure, and 4) I have lots of shade, and flowers generally need more sun.

In the photo at top you see a chartreuse scrim of bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), an ornamental clumping grass that stays evergreen in most winters. Last winter’s two Arctic blasts did bleach out the foliage, and it takes its time in greening up again. But for a light-catching green cloud, drought tolerance, and deer resistance, this grass can’t be beat.

In the steel planter, ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia offers a dark-leaved evergreen option for Austin gardens. Again, it can be damaged in extreme cold, but most winters it does fine. As a low-growing, front-of-border plant, white skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens ‘White’) is a semi-evergreen sub-shrub that tolerates dappled shade. It looks best with a light shearing in late February and maybe again in mid-August. The white-flowering skullcap can be hard to find, but pink is readily available. Save the purple skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) for full sun and gravelly conditions.


Here’s a long view of this same bed, from a little further along the driveway. Strappy Texas sotol (Dasylirion texana) is the star here, backed by bamboo muhly. In front, I just took out all my iris, which wasn’t blooming in the dappled shade, and replaced it with evergreens ‘Micron’ dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Micron’), foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), and variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’). ‘Micron’ holly is a new one for me and is said to get only about 1-1/2 ft. tall by 2-1/2 ft. wide. (I bought all of Barton Springs Nursery’s supply, but I spotted it at The Natural Gardener last weekend.) Foxtail fern and flax lily both can be hurt by deep freezes, but generally they do fine in Austin’s winters, and they are workhorses that require very little care or maintenance.


‘Green Goblet’ agave (Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Green Goblet’) is a winter-hardy agave with a beautiful olive-green leaf with a tinge of blue. It produces pups on underground runners, but not too many, so they’re manageable. I just tug it loose whenever one pops up — usually several feet away from the mother plant. The silver groundcover woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) is not evergreen, but it’s a good choice for part or full sun and gravelly conditions. Fuzzy-leaved mullein (Verbascum spp.), which is generally evergreen for two years until it blooms and then dies, grows amid the stemodia.

In the background, I’m growing a lawnette of evergreen Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa). I now recommend ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge (Carex retroflexa ‘Scott’s Turf’) instead of Berkeley (Scott’s is less fussy), but both are good lawn substitutes for part shade or dappled shade and green all year.


Purple-leaved ‘Vertigo’ grass (Pennisetum purpureum ‘Vertigo’) goes brown and dormant after a freeze, but it does return each year, unlike traditional purple fountain grass. Next to it, lavender-flowering Mexican oregano (Poliomintha longiflora) has fragrant, edible, evergreen leaves. You can see the evergreen sedge lawnette in the background.


My favorite agave has to be whale’s tongue (Agave ovatifolia), a powder-blue agave that doesn’t pup but grows in an open, rose-like form. I also like evergreen softleaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia), growing at left of the agave — and too close, unfortunately. In the foreground, blooming hot pink and attracting hummingbirds, is autumn sage (Salvia greggii). Its tiny, semi-evergreen leaves release a minty fragrance when you crush them or brush against them.


I also love wide-leaf giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera ssp. chiangii), a stately, more open and vase-like relative of the common red yucca. Its evergreen leaves are long and sword-like, although not particularly spiny, and white thread-like fibers dangle from their edges. A white-flowering Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii ‘Alba’) grows in front — not evergreen, but a nice companion in dappled shade. The white Turk’s cap is harder to find than the common red, but last week I saw some 1-gallons for sale at Barton Springs Nursery.

The only downside of using giant hesperaloe is that bucks love to rub their antlers on it in the fall and winter, smashing its beautiful form. So now I put rolled wire fencing around it from early fall through spring. And I do the same with my ‘Green Goblet’ agave, which the bucks will also antler-damage.


The side-yard path into the back garden is mostly evergreen with bamboo muhly, ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice’), ‘Sapphire Skies’ Yucca rostrata, ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon (Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’), ‘Bright Edge’ yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Bright Edge’), and prickly pear (Opuntia).


I’m loving the totem-pole shape of my one surviving Indian fig opuntia (Opuntia ficus-indica). The others succumbed to a deep freeze one year. Indian fig is less cold tolerant than many prickly pears.


Peeking around the Yucca rostrata, you see a couple more hardworking evergreens, ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood and the ubiquitous live oak (Quercus fusiformis), which shades most of my garden and indeed most of my neighborhood, none of which were planted by human hands and grow as Mother Nature planted them in loose clusters.

This is my September 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

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

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.

Oxblood lilies popping up after Hurricane Harvey


Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 10 inches of rain on my garden between last Friday and Sunday, and high winds littered the ground with leaves, twigs, and ball moss. A Texas mountain laurel fell over in the sodden soil, and we lost power for 6 hours. A weather event, but nothing compared to the walloping that Houston, our neighbor to the southeast, is still enduring. My thoughts have been with friends and family there, some of whom narrowly escaped having floodwater in their homes.

The first fall rains usually come in September and coax oxblood lilies and hurricane lilies out of the ground, to bloom in a sudden dash of red. Although the rains came early this year, sure enough the first oxblood lily opened yesterday, springing out of the sedge lawn just 24 hours after the rain stopped.


This is a stray that remained in the front garden after I dug the rest out and moved them to the back. Deer enjoyed snacking on them, you see. This one will probably be a munched stem the next time I look.


But others are popping up in the back garden, and I look forward to the big show.


Here’s the Texas mountain laurel that toppled over after the storm, one of several fallen mountain laurels I saw around town. The drought-tolerant, smaller trees like this one seem most dismayed by the heavy rains. My son helped me stake it yesterday, and I hope it’ll recover its balance. The inland sea oats at its feet are dressed for fall, their tan oats dangling like fish on a line.


The waterlilies don’t mind the rain, of course.


Peachy pink ‘Colorado’ is always blooming.


I found this dead cicada on a waterlily pad in the pond, perhaps a casualty of the storm. It’s been a big year for cicadas in Austin.


Very much alive and enjoying dinner was this argiope spider in the front garden. I’ve seen a number of these this summer, although some have disappeared, leaving behind torn webs — victims, perhaps, of bigger and hungrier creatures. Such is the circle of life.


Before the rains, I was enjoying a nightly show of datura blossoms.


On a recent night there were at least 25 white trumpets glowing by moonlight.


Beautiful and fragrant


I was away on a road trip from early to mid-August. Right before I left I took a few photos that I didn’t have time to post, so here they are, better late than never. This is a collection of sun-loving cacti and succulents on my deck. The galvanized potting table from Target goes well with the galvanized cattle panel railing on the new deck. On the bottom shelf, shaded somewhat from the Death Star’s high-beam, are my Moby spawn, aka pups from my dearly departed whale’s tongue agave. They’ve grown quite a bit this summer.


I wait all summer to see my pond crinum bloom, and I nearly missed it — but not quite! It started blooming the day before we left, and I enjoyed it for 24 hours and then came home to a wilted flower stalk lying in the water.


And in the side garden that I don’t visit every day, a ‘Purple Pillar’ rose of Sharon, a trial plant from Proven Winners, was putting on a good show too. Maybe the Harvey rains will encourage a rebloom.

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 Cactus & Succulent Society hosts its Fall Show and Sale on September 2 & 3, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, at Zilker Botanical Garden (2220 Barton Springs Road). Come see rare and beautiful cacti and succulents and shop for plants and handcrafted pottery. Admission is free with paid entry to Zilker Botanical Garden ($2 adults, $1 children and seniors).

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.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, part 2: Succulents, Ocean Trail, and Dahlia Garden


In my last post I showed you the Perennial Garden and Heath and Heather Collection at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Ft. Bragg, California, which I visited in early August. Today let’s continue the tour, starting with the Succulent and Mediterranean Gardens.

My first thought upon seeing this beautiful garden of agaves, cactus, and other dry-loving plants was, Not fair! How is it that they can grow cool-summer plants like fuchsia and heather and heat-loving desert plants? The gardening world lacks justice, but I enjoyed the scene all the same.


Both succulents and Mediterranean plants appreciate good drainage, and mounded and gravelly planting beds keep their feet dry — a trick we can use in Austin too, to keep desert plants from drowning in rains like Hurricane Harvey just delivered.


Spikes and hot color!


Variegated agave and a winecup-looking flower, with Australian peppermint willow (Agonis flexuosa ‘Jervis Bay Afterdark’) in the background.


Aloe, aeonium, and pig’s ear (Cotyledon orbiculata) succulents


Agave stricta, I think, and its fish-hooked, black-flowerbud bloom spike


A closeup of the agave flowers. Most agaves bloom once and then die, going out in a blaze of glory.


Houseleeks (Sempervivum calcareum) in bloom


On the Mediterranean side of the path, Australian beauties like grevillea spread their feathery foliage and curlicued, peach blossoms.


Touchable texture


Now at last we were ready to take the ocean trail to the Pacific, a half-mile walk through an extensive natural area populated by deer. This rustic gate made of branches helps keep deer out of the main gardens.


The ocean trail leads through a lush wooded area with ferns and a trickling stream. Crocosmia were growing wild here.


Farther along, a coastal pine forest of craggy trees makes an essential windbreak that protects the main gardens from the punishing wind and salt air of the ocean. I spotted a trod-on flower, pressed into the trail as if pressed between the pages of a book.


It was a pleasant stroll to reach to the coastal bluff offering views of the Pacific Ocean. In winter and spring you can spot migrating gray whales, I read. The trail meanders through a coastal prairie atop the bluff before circling back past an event lawn and then to…


…the Dahlia Garden, which was in full bloom in early August. The garden is located outside of the deer gate because dahlias are deer resistant, according to the garden’s website. I used their photos to try to identify the dahlias I photographed, starting with peachy-orange ‘Marmalade’.


‘Victoria Ann’ dahlia


An unknown pink ball dahlia


‘James Albin’ dahlia


‘Honka’ dahlia


An unknown red


‘Gonzo Grape’ dahlia


‘Victoria Ann’ dahlia


‘Crossfield Ebony’ dahlia


‘Ryan C’ dahlia


Hot-colored beauties


‘Bright Star’ dahlia


More ‘Bright Star’


Unknown red dahlia


More ‘Ryan C’?


A bee doing a split to get in there.


Unknown yellow


Unknown red


Unknown pink and white dahlia


‘Sterling Silver’ dahlia


Shades of red


One last closeup of these gorgeous flowers


Heading back to the main gardens, I spotted some naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna), pretty pink-flowering bulbs I’d seen blooming all along the coast at the ends of driveways and by mailboxes, clearly a popular passalong plant.


Prehistoric-looking Gunnera manicata was in bloom too, its low-growing flowers resembling spiky ears of corn.


Back in the perennial garden, my daughter found a bench to lounge on, surrounded by lush foliage including…


Melianthus major ‘Antonow’s Blue’


Richly colored flowers dazzled my eyes.


Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’


‘Harlequin’ French marigold (Tagetes patula ‘Harlequin’)


Bidens ‘Beedance Painted Red’ and Bidens ferulifolia ‘Goldmarie’


A yellow Helenium and dark-blue salvia


Lavender-headed alliums atop mossy green stems


If you’re smitten with a particular plant in the gardens, you might be able to find it in the on-site nursery, which is appealingly displayed.


I longingly browsed but did not buy for my Death Star-blasted Texas garden.


In the gift shop, I was thrilled to find a copy of my book The Water-Saving Garden for sale. Thanks for carrying it, MCBG!


Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens wowed us, and I’m so glad we were able to visit during our road trip.

Up next: Supersized trees in Redwood National Park and a hike in Fern Canyon. For a look back at part 1 of my visit to Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, including the colorful Perennial and Heath/Heather gardens, click here.

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

The Austin Cactus & Succulent Society hosts its Fall Show and Sale on September 2 & 3, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, at Zilker Botanical Garden (2220 Barton Springs Road). Come see rare and beautiful cacti and succulents and shop for plants and handcrafted pottery. Admission is free with paid entry to Zilker Botanical Garden ($2 adults, $1 children and seniors).

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.

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