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.

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.