The garden knows summer is slipping away

As yet another long, hot Austin summer drags on, with no real relief expected until early October, I start combing the garden for signs of a change in season. Late yesterday afternoon I found quite a few — hallelujah!

The dangling seedheads of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) are changing from apple green to toasty brown.

Clusters of berries on American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) are ripening to a rich purple.

Papery chartreuse “butterflies” — the seedheads of butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera) — perch among the vine’s twining stems.

Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) has revved back up with a hot-orange rebloom that pops nicely against the nearly black ‘Vertigo’ pennisetum I’m trialing from Proven Winners.

Winter-white garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are beginning to flower…

…with more still in bud.

And more! The starry white blossoms will really shine against the purple-black of another ‘Vertigo’ grass.

The summer-sad autumn sage (Salvia greggii), which never really bloomed this spring (too much rain?), grew woody and thin this summer. About three weeks ago I’d had enough and whacked them back really hard. I trusted they would return, neatly compact and ready for fall flowering.

Finally I see they’re putting on new leaves. Thank goodness! I was tired of having to avert my eyes from this part of the garden.

Of course summer still holds sway for now, which in my garden means mostly grassy and spiky greens. The Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn (also visible in the background of the photo above) has filled in beautifully this year. I love the vertical element of the TerraTrellis blue tuteur in it, and I’m keeping an eye out for any mason bees making a home in the bug hotel on top.

Another view, with Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) in front.

The wide-leaf giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera ssp. chiangii) has also grown a lot this year, and a lone survivor white Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii ‘Alba’) is flowering beside it.

Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) is always so pretty backlit by the setting sun. The visual weight and dark coloring of a trio of ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia in the steel-ring planter contrasts nicely.

While summer remains, this Death Star-averse gardener takes shelter where she can, either indoors…

…or submerged to the neck. That’s quite nice, I’ll admit, but…come on, fall!

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

Plant This: Turk’s cap

Death Star-adapted plants tend to be small-leaved and airy, the better to retain precious water. But our native Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) defies that expectation with vaguely heart-shaped leaves the size of a napkin scrounged out of your car’s glove box, and just as crinkled.

For the foliage alone, which the deer ignore in my garden, Turk’s cap would be worth planting. But the twisted, tomato-red flowers that blaze among the leaves from late spring through fall make Turk’s cap one of my favorite perennials for shade or part sun. Hummingbirds adore these blossoms, and you’ll see them zipping around for a drink all summer long.

Turk’s cap will grow in either sun or shade, although it can look wilted by the end of the day in full sun. For that reason I prefer to give it afternoon shade. If you garden under live oaks, as I do, you’ll find Turk’s cap thrives in those conditions. This photo was taken in Tucson, Arizona, showing that Turk’s cap can be grown west of its native range.

Flowers give way to small, red fruits around Thanksgiving, which birds enjoy. It dies to the ground after a hard freeze, and I usually leave the stems standing until my mid-February cut-back, when I prune them to about 6 inches. This year I’m finding a lot of Turk’s cap seedlings in my island bed out front, but they pull easily.

In my garden, Turk’s cap grows to about 4 or 5 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide, and it pairs nicely with bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) in sunnier spots and inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) in shadier ones. It’s said to be root-hardy to zone 7b.

If the standard red Turk’s cap is old hat for you, you might enjoy trying other cultivars, like the pink ‘Pam Puryear’, also called ‘Pam’s Pink’, or the hard-to-find and harder-to-grow (at least for me) white Turk’s cap. There’s also a variety from Mexico called ‘Big Momma’, whose red flowers are larger and showier.

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.

Evergreens, color, and hardscape carry garden through winter into spring

A recent conversation on Linda Lehmusvirta‘s Facebook page got a few Austin gardeners talking about winter interest. Tracie, a local gardener, wrote that her mostly native garden looks great spring through fall but is “asleep” in winter, and she wanted ideas. Lori at The Gardener of Good and Evil responded by posting year-round views of her Blue Border, showing how evergreens sustain her garden.

I’m joining in by sharing current pictures of my garden, in all its patchy, cut-back, late-winter-on-the-cusp-of-spring glory. While winter is not high season in mine or any garden, I find that three elements keep a garden interesting post-freeze: evergreen plants; color on pots, furnishings, and structures; and defined hardscaping like paths, patios, and walls.

All three are put to use in the pond garden pictured above. ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods, ‘Color Guard’ yuccas, squid agaves (A. bracteosa), evergreen sumac (Rhus virens), and Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) keep the garden in green (and gold) all winter. Blue paint on the shed door, a blue pot fountain, and strongly defined hardscaping continue to attract and lead the eye when flowers have faded away.

At the other end of the garden, which slopes dramatically, retaining walls give structure and line, and a cold-hardy agave and yucca collection is evergreen (and gold and blue-gray) all year. ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) anchors the grouping. A bottle tree and blue pots add more color to brighten dreary days.

‘Blue Elf’ aloe is not only evergreen but blooms in late winter/early spring.

In the narrow raised bed behind the house, which I’ve begun to think of as my golden garden, several variegated evergreens keep it “awake” in winter: ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, ‘Bright Edge’ yucca, and ‘Color Guard’ yucca (in the blue pot). In the stock tank, Artemisia ‘Oriental Limelight’ adds to the show in winter and spring, before dying back in our hot, humid summer. In summer, Duranta ‘Sapphire Showers’ will return.

More evergreens hold the winter garden together in the east side path from the front garden to the back: Arizona cypress ‘Blue Ice’ (blue-green tree at left), bamboo muhly grass (at left), gopher plant (in bloom on both sides of the path), ‘Bright Edge’ yucca, ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly (columnar tree at right), ‘Green Goblet’ agave, Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’, and ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood.

Moving into the front garden, Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) offers lush winter greenery. The Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn behind it gets a little yellow but mostly remains green. Low retaining walls add a strong line of hardscape.

Wide-leaf giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera ssp. chiangii), evergreen with interesting white filaments along the leaf margins, tolerates part shade with ease. I need more groundcovers here though. I tried Jewels of Opar one spring, but the deer ate it. The dormant (maybe dead) plant at right is ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia, which I’ll replant if it doesn’t come back. It’s only borderline hardy here but blooms beautifully spring through fall in dappled shade, and deer ignore it.

Another shot of the Berkeley sedge lawn, which is studded with evergreen ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas. A broad decomposed-granite path through the front garden leads to the back gate. Its curving line directs the eye and defines the surrounding beds. I’ve decided to stain the lattice fence a dark gray-green, which will, I hope, make the plants in front of it pop a little more.

Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) and paleleaf yucca (Y. pallida), both evergreen, take over on the sunnier side of the garden.

‘Green Goblet’ agave, a curved line of ‘Teresa’ autumn sage (Salvia greggii), and groundcovering wooly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) keep things green all winter in the raised bed near the driveway. The stemodia can get a little ratty by winter’s end, but it greens up quickly in spring.

How about the streetside view? This is actually my neighbor’s garden, which I planted for her. A ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave will be the centerpiece of this bed as it grows. Cut-back autumn sage is still green, though not showy yet, and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa), red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), and Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) offer year-round color and texture.

Panning right, my own streetside garden is at its quietest, recently shorn of last season’s growth and awaiting spring. Possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) — caged against deer — is our native deciduous holly. It makes up for losing its leaves with brilliant red berries, which the birds have mostly devoured. In front are autumn sage, catmint, Mexican feathergrass, ‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly grass, and softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) — a mix of evergreens, flowering perennials and sub-shrubs, and grasses selected for deer resistance.

Panning right some more, softleaf yucca, ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas, sedge lawn, and foxtail ferns (Asparagus meyeri) in pots add plenty of winter greenery. The dead grass in the foreground is purple fountain grass, which I replace every spring for its rich, purple foliage.

On the west side of the circular driveway is a more colorful scene thanks to a sprinkling of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. Gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), currently in full bloom, echoes their golden stripes. Other evergreens like rosemary, spineless prickly pear (Opuntia), and softleaf yucca keep things green until flowering vitex, copper canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii), and majestic sage (Salvia guaranitica) return in spring.

So how do you achieve winter interest in your garden? Or is that something you are working toward?

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