The berry good season

I’m calling it. We’re over the hump of Death Star Summer and sliding into mellow fall. I know, it’s not exactly mellow out there yet, but I can feel it coming. Can’t you?

The beautyberries do. In the lower garden, black beautyberry (Callicarpa acuminata) is laden with rich purple berries that’ll darken with age.

Closer to the house, American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) shows off magenta berry clusters amid chartreuse leaves (brightened by a shaft of sunlight). Blue plumbago blossoms mingle too.

Out front, a Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) that bloomed earlier this summer is now sporting an arching wand of berry-like fruit. These should blacken later in the season.

Summer’s end sees an abundance of pale pavonia (Pavonia hastata) blossoms.

Pale pavonia is a Brazilian cousin to our native rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala).

On the front porch the other day, I spotted a young Texas spiny lizard stretched out on the wheel of a cart. I wasn’t sure if it was dead or alive. It was quite still when I leaned down for a photo. Suddenly it panicked and shot into the garden. I guess it was just enjoying a nice stretch!

Around the corner, the gravel garden is looking tidy since I pruned up the overgrown ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo. What a beast! But it’s so beautiful when pruned up to show off its yellow-and-green-striped “legs.” In the rusty steel “floating” containers, from front to back, are red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora); toothless sotol, or Mexican grass tree (Dasylirion longissimum); ‘Jaws’ agave; and ‘Frazzle Dazzle’ dyckia.

Galvanized steel, rather than rusty steel, dominates the back garden, including this trio of IKEA GRÄSLÖK pots planted with four of my xeric favorites for containers: Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), ‘Chocolate Chips’ manfreda (Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chips’), rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius), and blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum). All are native to central Texas except the manfreda from Mexico, but you could substitute our native Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa) to similar effect.

The view from the deck reveals a few more galvanized containers, including the 8-foot diameter stock-tank pond and three spiraling culvert-pipe remnants planted with squid agave (A. bracteosa).

Now that fall is on the way, it’ll soon be planting season in central Texas and throughout the South and Southwest. Do you have any projects planned? Do tell!

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

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.

Plant This: Grapes gomphrena

Since first planting it at Green Hall Garden in 2008, I’ve known this delicately branching gomphrena cultivar as ‘Grapes’, but it also goes by ‘Little Grapes’, ‘Itsy Bitsy’, and airy bachelor’s buttons. By any name, it’s a moderately reliable perennial in my fall garden, sometimes remaining in bloom well into a mild winter — like this year, still blooming in mid-January.

Its airy, slim-branching form resembles Verbena bonariensis. The singly held magenta flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser, or perhaps mouse-sized pom-poms.

Normally a freeze would have browned the leaves and bleached the flowers by now, but this year it’s still adding rich color to a part-shade bed beneath a crepe myrtle, where it combines nicely with variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’) and iris foliage. The leaves, you’ll notice, have colored up with a tinge of magenta too.

In its prime, in October and November, its green leaves contrast well with silver-leaved plants. I tried it with gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana) once, and loved the combo, but the globemallow didn’t thrive in the part-sun bed I’d planted it in. I believe that ‘Grapes’, like other gomphrenas, would probably take full sun in our climate, but I can’t confirm.

In spring and summer, you’ll hardly notice ‘Grapes’, and it can be easy to forget. Then its fall explosion of tiny flowers is a sweet surprise. Normal winters kill it back to the roots, and a hard winter may kill it outright. But most years it’ll come back reliably in spring. To give it a good start, plant it in spring, after any danger of frost.

And consider growing it in a pot to bring those airy blooms up where you can really enjoy them. I used to grow ‘Grapes’ in a big stock-tank planter along with ‘Macho Mocha’ mangave and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), and the colors harmonized nicely.

Pick a bunch of ‘Grapes’ for your garden and enjoy its delicate beauty next fall!

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

Peak fall color before the wash-out

A rainstorm overnight knocked a lot of the leaves down, so I’m especially glad I took these pictures yesterday afternoon. The ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate was glowing golden under gray skies, echoing the yellow stripes on the ‘Color Guard’ yuccas.

A golden puddle of leaves at its feet. The weeping redbud to the left of the Yucca rostrata had also gone yellow, although most of its leaves were already gone.

The sunny view from the deck

Out front, copper canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii) kept the sunshine going.

In the gutter lay the crimson leaves of the neighbors’ Bradford pear. Perhaps they’re washed away this morning from the overnight rainstorm.

October’s leaves were dancing around
Like angels dressed in robes of red and gold
But November’s come and gone now
And they’re lying in the gutter out along the road
They’re gonna make their way out
To the ditch or someday to the sea
They’ll get to where they’re going
Without the help of you or me
–Iris Dement

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