A tiger in the salvia


A butterfly as big as my hand fluttered along the streetside border, which is ablaze with the hot-pink flowers of autumn sage (Salvia greggii).


The yellow-and-black stripes are the distinctive markings of the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly.


Beating her wings nearly constantly as she fed, she flapped from flower to flower, drinking her fill.


Had the argiope spider still been lurking nearby in her web, I would have worried for this beautiful butterfly. But the argiope disappeared a week or two ago, leaving behind two egg sacs.


I watched the tiger swallowtail while she fluttered from blossom to blossom. Would I have been able to enjoy this beautiful sight if my yard consisted of a lawn with a few evergreen shrubs? No way.


I noticed that she was more attracted to the Salvia greggii than this mass of lantana and Salvia leucantha just a few steps (or flaps) away. I hope to see other butterflies filling up at this feeding station soon. Hummingbirds will fuel up for southbound migrations here too.


And here. Salvia guaranitica is a favorite of the hummers.

Are you seeing butterflies and hummingbirds in your garden right now? If so, which plants do they love best?

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

Fall blooms in front, construction in back


Kicking summer to the curb always feels satisfying in central Texas, especially when fall’s arrival is not just a date on the calendar but marked by cooler, drier air and rain. Between Wednesday night and Friday morning of last week, my garden received at least 8 inches of rain, maybe more. My rain gauge overflowed one torrential night, and our closest weather station reported 10 inches. To put it in perspective, that’s almost one-third of our annual rainfall in less than 48 hours.

I’d like to report that it was a drought-buster, but unfortunately little of that rain fell over our Highland Lakes, which supply Austin and other cities with water.


Still, it was a blessing for Austin’s green canopy and gardens, despite some washouts and flooding. My own garden saw a little of that, but once the rains stopped, having flowed straight to the construction I’m having done in the back yard, it was mostly a matter of mud and mosquitoes. Despite that, any rain is cause for celebration, and the garden immediately lifted its head to say Ahhhh!

This is actually my next-door neighbor’s garden, which I planted for her as a continuation of my own. Hers gets more sun and is therefore more flowery, with a color-explosion of Autumn sage (Salvia greggii), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), and lantana along the driveway.


Here’s my side, with the same Autumn sage and Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), but with the addition of catmint (Nepeta racemosa), possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), ‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly, bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’). Everything must be very deer resistant.


The view from my own driveway, with a decomposed-granite path running between the curbside garden and the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn. My daughter’s old tree swing, made by my husband, still hangs over one side of the path and occasionally tempts one of us to sit for a moment or kick into the air.


A trio of ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas grow amid the sedges, an idea I got from Scott and Lauren Springer Ogden’s garden. The yuccas offer a tempting target each fall for bucks with itchy antlers. I really should get out there and cage or net them for protection through the winter. I just hate the look of it.


We have a big, honking circular driveway that I confess I quite like, despite the fact that it’s a lot of nonpermeable concrete. But the water flows off it into our garden, not into the street, it’s a great play surface for kids (especially when you don’t have a lawn), and I enjoy the large, bermed island bed it encircles, which gives us some street screening.


Softleaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia) is blooming again. This sucker is getting BIG.


In back, the wall work stalled out for two days last week because of all the rain. But they’re back in force today, and the wall is already taller than when I took this picture.


Not much happening over here yet, although the footing is poured and materials are in place.


Philip of East Side Patch calls this the Normandy phase — the destruction that precedes construction. You must keep the vision of garden-beauty-to-come in your mind at all times or you could never go through with it. The guys are actually doing a terrific job of not tearing up my plants, but it’s still nerve-wracking. I just keep telling myself that it’ll all be worth it.

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

First oxblood lily heralding fall


After our first September rain I start my annual oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida) watch, eagerly scanning the garden floor for green shoots nosing up or, more likely, the improbably sudden appearance of red trumpets. These September-blooming bulbs, dormant spring through summer, pop up that quickly after a late-summer shower.


Could there be a happier sight for a summer-weary gardener than these cheery trumpets heralding that fall is on the way? My garden received two half-inch showers last week, and the first bulb is already up. So far it’s playing a solo, but I know it’ll be joined soon by a full brass section.


Not to be outdone, American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is announcing summer’s ebb with clusters of purple berries on long, arching stems.

Add these two to your Southern gardens for the happy promise of cooler weather to come.

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