Fall flowers for a Texas garden

My shady, evergreen garden will never be showy with flowers. But I have pockets of seasonal blooms that brighten the garden for a week or two at a time and please me when they appear. Right now, Philippine violet (Barleria cristata) is one of these.

I have this subtropical perennial on each side on my back garden, and both started flowering in time for Saturday’s tour. Well done, P. violet!

Duranta (Duranta erecta ‘Sapphire Showers’) is also lovely with white-edged purple blossoms that dangle like chandelier earrings. It grows in a stock-tank planter in the raised bed behind the house, and it got pretty wilty this summer without twice-weekly watering. But I guess it was worth the trouble because these flowers are beautiful.

Here’s a mid-October surprise. Long after most of my oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) flowered and faded, these popped up just in time for Saturday’s tour. The bulbs lie under a trio of soap aloes (Aloe maculata) that don’t get watered by the sprinkler system. The aloes were looking drought-stressed the week before the tour, so I gave them a deep watering with the hose. And lo and behold, the oxbloods planted underneath them responded by popping up and bursting into crimson bloom. Many visitors on the tour mistook them for soap aloe flowers.

Forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis) is just revving up in the shade of live oaks.

Its yellow flower spikes show up well against the dark-brown cedar fence below.

Before the tour, I added a few more sunny flower spikes to the rocky bed behind the pool: a trio of the yellow-flowering variety of red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Yellow’), which I found at Shoal Creek Nursery.

Those are the limestone slabs that everyone asked me about during the tour. The hesperaloes’ moonshine-yellow flowers stand out beautifully against the cedar fence.

And they pop against the blue stucco wall too.

Flowers aren’t the only fall color I’m enjoying. Moody Mexican beautyberry (Callicarpa acuminata) is bejeweled with nearly black berries along its arching branches.

It grows in deep shade in the lower garden, but shafts of sunlight brighten the berries to a wine-purple. I imagine the mockingbirds will get them soon.

Some other critter has been enjoying my fall decor on the front porch. I walked outside this morning to find my pumpkins pushed up against the porch step. Huh?

Uh-oh. My daughter said forlornly, as we stood there looking at the damage, “And it was the best pumpkin too.”

What do you think did this? Deer? Raccoon? Possum? Grrrr.

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

Oxblood lilies pop up after first fall rain

Maybe last week’s inch of rain — the first in two months — wasn’t technically the first fall rain. After all, it still sweltered into the 90s that day and the day after. But by the reckoning of the oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida), the soil is refreshed and summer’s back is broken. Who am I to argue?

One good rain after the long, hot summer of dormancy, and these tough Argentine natives thrust themselves out of the soil and unfurl their bright red petals. We Austinites cheer for their arrival, which signals an end to the insufferable summer heat and the beginning of the fall bloom season.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) has been proclaiming the same for a couple of weeks, but I admit I wait for the oxbloods to be convinced. Now that the berries are fully purple, it won’t be long until the mockingbirds enjoy a fall feast and strip the branches bare. I’ll enjoy them while I can.

Last year I added a Mexican beautyberry (Callicarpa acuminata) to my garden, and I’m loving the darker purple berry clusters — almost black in a certain light.

A fleeting double blossom opened on the pond crinum (Crinum procerum ‘Splendens’) today.

The pale-pink, ribbon-like petals with raspberry stamens stand out so prettily against the strappy, burgundy-black leaves.

Candy pink rain lilies (Zephryanthes ‘Labuffarosea’) were enticed back into bloom by the rain too.

Stalwart native Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) hasn’t stopped blooming since early summer. But just because it’s dependable doesn’t mean I take it for granted. Turk’s cap draws hummingbirds to my garden every day, and now that they’re fueling up for their fall migration, a feeding stop is more important than ever.

Any definitive signs of fall in your garden? And does that make you happy or melancholy? Just please tell me you’re not turning your attention to Christmas decor already.

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

Plant This: Inland sea oats

Are you hunting for a shade plant that looks good from April to January but especially shines during the challenging late summer? Try inland sea oats, also known as northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), a grass that’s native to eastern and central North America, including central Texas. A riparian species — you’ll see it growing wild along creeks in Austin’s greenbelts — it’s marketed as a good choice for rain gardens. But with plenty of shade it grows just as well in the dry soil under live oaks.

This is the time of year I love inland sea oats the best — and there aren’t a lot of plants I can say that about. The oat-like seedheads, which to me resemble fish dangling from a line, begin changing from early summer’s apple green to fall’s bleached tan in late August and early September. The mix of soft colors is pleasing and adds interest to the late-summer garden, plus it’s a welcome promise that fall is on the way!

Inland sea oats grows in clumps, with erect but nodding stems that stand between 2 and 4 feet tall, depending on how much water it gets. Mine stays at about 2 feet under the live oaks, with once-a-week watering. It seeds out aggressively in moist conditions and can quickly form a spreading colony. This can be good or bad, depending on your goals; just be aware and be prepared. Seeds that fall into gravel (dry creeks or paving) will likely sprout in the spring, so plan on weeding to keep it in bounds. That said, seedlings pull easily after a rain, and once you have the spring volunteers weeded out, you’re good to go all year, as this plant does not spread by runners.

By January or February, inland sea oats will be done. Whack it to the ground around Valentine’s Day to clear out the freeze-dried stems and make way for the first green leaves of spring. Or, if you cut it back earlier, in the fall, you can use the stems and seedheads in dried arrangements — but then you’ll lose the quiet winter beauty of rustling, dried grasses. Plan to leave some of them standing for cover for wildlife and winter interest.

With its graceful habit and vaguely bamboo-looking stems, it’s especially nice in an Asian garden. But I love it as a dry-shade filler that deer won’t touch. Try pairing it with our native Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) for a shade-loving, wildlife-friendly power trio that provides plenty of fall color.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

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