Hello, winter — you’ve zapped my garden


Hello, winter! We’re not used to seeing you here in Central Texas. Despite predictions of a mild winter, with the warming influence of a La Niña, we’ve already had two multi-day stretches of hard freezes, with a couple of nights dropping into the upper teens.


The result? Brown, brown, brown plants. Semi-melted agaves and aloes. Tender succulents reduced to mush. (Notice the potted ‘Monterrey Frost’ squid agave looks great though!)


Considering that my garden didn’t have a single hard freeze last winter, this has come as a shock, not only to my marginally hardy plants but to my eyes. I’m not used to seeing so much brown. And I have to admit that I don’t like it.


Oh, the natives are fine, of course. They can take temperature extremes in stride. The Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) on the left still looks green and happy. So do certain exotics, like pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata) and ‘Sparkler’ sedge. But bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) and foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), both of which I rely on heavily because they thrive in dry, dappled shade and deer don’t touch them, have become as dry and bleached as straw. I can only hope they’ll come back from the roots.


It’s the same story with Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) and variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’). Mushy and brown.

If you’re wondering, yes, I cut back the dianella in the front garden because I couldn’t stand its straw-like ugliness near the front door. But generally I recommend waiting on cutting back until mid-February to give roots a little protection, to avoid stimulating early growth that could get zapped by another freeze, and to give shelter to wildlife.


In the back garden, the stand of Mexican honeysuckle, usually green all winter, is blackened and sad.


Even my normally winter-hardy ‘Jaws’ agave shows some bleached-out freeze damage.


This is when yuccas really shine, like these ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. Winter weather doesn’t faze them. Let’s sing the praises of ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood too, impervious to polar vortexes. Gah, the poor bamboo muhly behind the yuccas, though.

I’m sure those of you in colder climates are finding it hard to sympathize. What can I say? Mild winters are surely our reward, here in Texas, for putting up with blistering summers, right? RIGHT??


Ah well. Spring is already stirring here in Austin, as the Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) shows. By mid-February new growth will be glowing green throughout the garden, and winter clean-up will begin in earnest.

This is my January post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness — or ugliness — 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! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. 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

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added.

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

Maple and mangave for Foliage Follow-Up


I’ve been celebrating a belated fall here at Digging and on Instagram this week, as our Japanese maple flamed into orange and then red. Although it’s a little odd to see brilliant fall color at Christmastime, we deprived Texas gardeners happily take it whenever we can get it.

My garden hasn’t gotten a freeze yet, which is why the river ferns under the maple still look fresh and green. They’ll turn brown and shrivel this Saturday, when we’re expecting a hard freeze. Other good foliage plants here include variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei), holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia (Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’), and ‘Everillo’ sedge (Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’).

Of course lawn is a foliage plant too, and this one semicircular patch of St. Augustine is all that remains of the large lawn we inherited with the house. It’s both decorative and functional, as we have tons of live oak sprouts that come up in this spot, and it’s easier to mow them than to weed them out of a garden bed.


Here’s one of my rarer plants, ‘Espresso’ mangave, a white-edged version of well-known ‘Macho Mocha’ mangave. Austin designer and author Scott Ogden gave me a pup a few years ago, and it’s grown very slowly and produced a few sparing pups of its own, one of which I returned to Scott after agave snout-nosed weevils got his original plant.


This is my December 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! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. 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

Need a holiday gift for the gardener, new homeowner, or environmentalist on your list?
Please consider giving one (or both!) of my books. They’re packed with plenty of how-to info for newbies as well as lots of inspirational photos and design ideas for more experienced gardeners! Order today from Amazon (Water-Saving Garden / Lawn Gone!) or other online booksellers (Water-Saving Garden / Lawn Gone!), or find them anywhere books are sold.

“In an era of drought and unpredictable weather patterns, The Water-Saving Garden could not come at a better time. With striking photographs and a designer’s eye, Penick shows us just how gorgeous a water-wise garden can be. This is the must-have garden book of the year!”
Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants

“This thoughtful, inviting, and thoroughly useful book should be required for every new homeowner at closing. It has the power to transform residential landscapes from coast to coast and change the world we all share.”
Lauren Springer Ogden, author of The Undaunted Garden and coauthor of Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens

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

Mellow fall garden for November Foliage Follow-Up


Today is Foliage Follow-Up, a day to celebrate great foliage after the flower celebration of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Let’s take a spin around the back garden for my foliage faves this month, starting with the stock-tank pond garden. No flowers here since the water lilies slowed down. You’re looking good, ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood underplanted with Texas sedge (Carex texensis), squid agaves (A. bracteosa) in culvert-pipe planters, and pond crinum (Crinum procerum ‘Splendens’)!


On the deck, potted prickly pear (Opuntia macrocentra) is taking on a purple edge thanks to cooler temps. Sewing needle-like spines are a bonus!


One of my favorite little agaves is ‘Cream Spike’, a passalong from Bob Beyer of Central Texas Gardening. I adore those red teeth.


Agave x leopoldii, with cool curly white filaments. Both agaves pictured here must be brought inside during freezing weather.


My Austin sign faded this year, but I like its new placement against the blue stucco wall. A prickly pear passalong from Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer, ‘Santa Rita’ (Opuntia santa-rita ‘Tubac’), is getting established in the blue pot, with balancing help from a few bamboo stakes. Yucca rostrata peeks over the wall.


In a galvanized tub on the upper patio, I’m growing native Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa), artichoke agave (A. parryi var. truncata), and a new trial plant from Proven Winners: ‘Quicksilver’ artemisia (Artemisia stelleriana ‘Quicksilver’).*


It’s growing well in bright shade and needed very little water throughout the summer months, even with a late spring planting. It’s described as “vigorous” on Proven Winners’ website, and I’d treat it as such — i.e., I’d be very careful about setting it loose in the garden. Certain creeping artemisias, like ‘Oriental Limelight’, can be very aggressive, and ‘Quicksilver’ may prove the same.


But for a container you don’t want to water every day in the summer, it’s a great choice as a spiller under a xeric “thriller” like an agave or manfreda.


I’ll close my foliage-focused post with a last look at the pond garden with ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood balls, my favorite sitting area, and plenty of still-green foliage.

This is my November 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! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

*Proven Winners sent me this plant to trial in my garden. I’m writing about it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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

What’s hot in garden design — or about to be? I interviewed designers and retailers across the U.S. to find out! Natural dye gardens, hyperlocalism, dwarf shrubs, haute houseplants, sustainability tech, color blocking, and more — check out my 2017 Trends article for Garden Design and see if anything surprises you.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

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

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