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.

Foliage gardening apologies: do you do it?

At least once or twice a month I find myself trying to explain my garden to politely interested non-gardeners. A couple of days ago the smiling inquiry was from a new doctor. Upon learning that I liked to garden, she asked the standard question, “What do you grow: vegetables or flowers?”

Well, neither, actually. But instead of trying to explain that I love the design aspect of gardening, and that I choose most of my plants for evergreen structure, foliage texture and form, grassy or fuzzy deer-resistance, and sturdy drought-resistance, I usually offer a pseudo-apology that goes something like this: I have a shady garden, so there really aren’t many flowers, mostly shrubs and grasses. Also I like agaves. This often elicits an Oh, I can’t handle cactus!

When a new friend, or a friend of a friend, learns that I’m a gardener and asks for a tour, I find myself making excuses even as I’m leading them through the gate: it’s not what you might expect, it’s mostly evergreen, I don’t have many flowers.

Am I the only foliage gardener who does this? In a world of showy flower gardens and practical edible gardens, do you ever find yourself feeling shy about your ornamental foliage garden, like an introvert at a party full of extroverts?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy flowers and eagerly anticipate seasonal shows from plants like rain lilies (pictured), oxblood lilies, garlic chives, and Texas bluebonnet. I also value flowers like sweet almond verbena for their fragrance, and those that attract pollinators and hummingbirds.

But flowers aren’t why I garden. I garden to create views that look good all year, with strong bones and interesting foliage. I garden to make enticing destinations out of open space. I garden to create a journey.

Anything else is icing on the cake.

And yet the apologist in me is always ready when that question arises: What do you grow: flowers or food? To be sure, it’s not a question that fellow gardeners or readers of Digging ask. It’s strictly a non-gardener’s question, which tells me that foliage gardening is not on the radar for most people.

In the popular conception of “gardener,” you either fuss over flowers or toil over tomatoes. What about fawning over foliage? Or digging design?

How about you? If you consider yourself a foliage gardener, do you ever find yourself tongue-tied when a stranger asks you about your garden? Or do you apologize for your garden in any other way, even though you may be perfectly happy with it yourself?

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