Waiting for autumn’s reviving touch


Whew! After writing 16 posts about Portland gardens, each containing scads of photos of summer-lush and richly blooming borders, I’m somehow ready for a return to my own Death Star-blasted garden. August is my least favorite gardening month here in Austin. I’m over the heat. I’m over the humidity. I’m over, over, over summer.

And yet there’s love, still, for the garden as it patiently — much more patiently than I — awaits the reviving touch of fall.


Last evening I strolled through the front garden at sunset, taking a closer look than I’ve done in weeks. The trio of ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckia (two are replacements after the cold snap last winter) is looking quite sharp.


The west side of the driveway-island bed is looking good too despite my neglect. ‘Color Guard’ yucca, gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), wavy prickly pear (Opuntia), ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia, and Vitex agnus-castus don’t ask for much except sun and an occasional deep watering to look their best, even in summer.


In the shade of the live oaks, heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) has gone to seed, leaving a trio of Texas dwarf palmettos (Sabal minor) to strut their stuff. They’d look better if I trimmed back the spent skullcap, but oh well.


A different view. Those sabals are putting on some height this year! Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), one of my few dependable summer bloomers, screens the street behind the palmettos.


Here’s the long view across the front garden and Berkeley sedge lawn, as seen from my neighbor’s yard (the fence runs along the property line). I think I’m going to Outlaw Gardener-up that bare spot in front of the giant hesperaloe (Hesperaloe funifera) — maybe a few colorful Mexican gazing globes?


And here’s the long view as seen from the curb: a garden of deer-resistant grasses, salvias, yucca, and herbs. The caged tree at left is a young possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), which I’m still protecting from deer. Every day I tell myself to get out here and whack back those autumn sages (Salvia greggii) by one-third, for better shape and fall bloom, but every day laziness wins out. Maybe tomorrow.


Stepping back about 15 feet into my neighbor’s driveway, you can see how her garden and mine blend together. I planted this for her a few years ago, and we share the decomposed-granite path that runs between our gardens from the street to the fence, and which continues into my garden. (She opted not to continue it around the back of her bed to her driveway, but that could be added later to reduce even more lawn and improve accessibility.)

Taking stock, I see that the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave has grown tremendously, but three Gulf muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris) have not thrived. Two have been removed, and the last one needs to go. My neighbor planted a softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) to fill the gap; I would not have chosen to place the yucca so close to the agave, but after all it is her yard to play in. Her salvias, like mine, need a good whacking. It’s a bit crispy and could really use a deep watering, but overall this is typical for a largely unwatered, native-plant garden in August in central Texas. Fall rains will perk it up.


I’m not sure anything will perk up this poor, gnawed-to-a-nub ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia. I received two beautiful plants from the Sunset Western Garden Collection following the 2013 San Francisco Garden Bloggers Fling. I’ve had good luck with this plant in shade, and I added the freebies to my new side garden with high hopes. From the start, however, the deer have chomped them, although they’ve never touched more-established mahonias along the front of my house. Frustrating.

Despite the challenges of August and Bambi, I know I will delight in being outdoors again soon. Just one month to go until the happy gardening month of October! How about you? Are you enjoying or hurrying along these last weeks of summer?

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

48 Responses

  1. Despite the heat and drought, your garden looks good.

    I’m very frustrated with mine. But, too hard-headed to give up.

    Let’s hope for a mild, damp fall and winter.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      End of summer is a frustrating time for most Texas gardeners, I’d venture to say. We’ll feel renewed hope and interest when that first cool front hits. Rain sure would help too. —Pam

  2. Your post is lovely as usual…cool and blue in this hot time of summer. Love all your photos and yes, we patiently await the return of fall. My garden looks pretty good for the season. Come visit!

    Good cheer,

    Lucinda

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Lucinda, your garden always looks delightful. I don’t know how you do it! Thanks for the invitation. I’d love to come by when the weather cools off. For now, I’m hunkered down inside, writing and trying not to think about the fact that my eldest child has left the nest. —Pam

  3. The color guard yuccas scene – yowza! And what precisely looks so “Death Star-blasted”? To me it’s as lush as one can expect for the summer dormancy – jealous.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Oh, you’re too kind, David. Everything looks shriveled and sad to me except the yuccas, agaves, sotols, and grasses, which are thriving. Maybe I should give up on the flowering perennials and just go with an evergreen garden. —Pam

  4. Alison says:

    Your garden is looking very good in August, after a hot summer under the Death Star. Mine needs reviving now too, and so do I. We’ve had a hotter summer than I like here, and right about now a lot of my perennials that looked good two months ago really need cutting back so they can renew their foliage, and maybe produce a second flush of flowers. It’s hard for me to get up much enthusiasm for that task though, since I’ve been gardening non-stop here since about February. I always poop out in mid-summer.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It takes an effort of will to get out there in the heat and trim fall-blooming perennials, doesn’t it? But they always look so much better for the effort. Maybe tomorrow. —Pam

  5. Cheryl says:

    I’m pretty much “done” with summer too. We should be cooling off now.. if we don’t it will be even harder for me to get back on the plane after a few days in Portland next month. LOL
    Your yard always looks amazingly lovely and I love the way your garden and the neighbors’ flow together. the purple heart is the perfect adornment for your little planter.

  6. Cynthia Miller says:

    You are quite the inspiration. I’m so happy my BFF turned me onto your site.

  7. Jean says:

    I don’t think it’s laziness that is winning out over whacking back the salvias, it’s just the heat. I’ve been feeling the same way. I can barely do all the things I want to do outside. By 9:30 I’m blinded by my own sweat. I knew that nice cool-ish summer weather couldn’t last here! Things are looking pretty good at your place. Nice to see how well my old cactus is doing! :-)

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Summer is back here in a vengance. Heat and humidity makes me a garden gazer from inside. Most if faring well tho since we have had, until now, a mild summer. I have several of your yard plants as potted plants here. I have to bring them in during winter. Oh tohave a greeen house. One can never stop dreaming.

  9. Scott Weber says:

    I’m so ready for fall (then again, I was ready a month ago)! I have to admit, even though I hate the sun and heat, this is about the laziest time of the year in the garden…aside from winter. There is something nice about not feeling guilty about sitting inside for a while ;-)

  10. Pam, I’m with you. I’m done with summer too. I can’t wait for the first rain of fall, although I’m afraid that’s still a few months ago.

    Your garden looks awfully good for August! It’s clear you selected your plants very thoughtfully, with the dog days of summer in mind.

    I tried Muhlenbergia capillaris for a few years but they never thrived here. I still don’t know why. They look sooooo good in plant catalogs!

    I planted a ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia in a large pot this spring but it hasn’t done much. It’s under a bay tree, mostly shade, but I thought that’s what it wants. I’ll give it another year…

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Isn’t it strange about the M. capillaris? It’s native here (though we’re on the western edge of its range, I think), and I have a picture of it thriving in a heat-blasted median in Phoenix in my book (courtesy of Noelle/AZ Plant Lady). And yet it just will not thrive for me. Ah well. I’m really loving pine muhly these days. —Pam

  11. Jenny says:

    I’m dying for some Autumn weather because it is so hot out there. I can’t stand to weed more than 10 minutes, and it really shows. :-/

  12. Mark and Gaz says:

    Despite the heat and drought there your garden is looking good Pam! We could do with some of your heat there as it’s turned cold here and we nearly even had a frost last night…in August.

  13. Arin says:

    My gopher plants are so leggy. I forgot to prune them after flowering. Do you think I could prune them now in August in Austin?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Sure, Arin. Just prune off the long, leggy branches. Leave the shorter branches, which should be clustered in the center, so they can bloom next spring. And be sure to wear protective gloves and goggles to keep the sap off your skin and out of your eyes. —Pam

  14. Tina says:

    Things look good, Pam. But it is so darn hot–I’m also so done with summer this year–whine, whine. Your sabals are lovely-I wish I’d planted some years ago, but alas, never did. I’ve never had much luck with Gulf muhly–I’ve given up and will simply enjoy those in other gardens. Just hang in, a little longer.

  15. Jenni says:

    Hi Pam,
    I’ve got the summer gardening fatigue and so does my garden. Portland was my first Fling and it was amazing, but overwhelming too. I came away with so many great ideas. I’m grateful for the wilting summer gardens only in that, it’s not a time to move any plants, which is giving me more time to consider a better long term solution.

  16. Kris P says:

    I’m ready for autumn too! Although SoCal’s heat isn’t turned up to the level that you experience in Texas, it’s hot enough to fry some plants, especially as irrigation has been reduced in response to the drought. I’ve got holes all over my garden and my fingers are itching to get started with my fall planting (with more drought-tolerant selections, of course).

  17. Melody McMahon says:

    Pam, you’ve struck a chord with all of us gardeners! I think everyone is ready for summer to go away!!! The only way to work outside now is to start as soon as the sun comes up and as the day goes on you don’t notice the heat as bad. If you go out too late you just want to turn around and get back in the a.c.! I found a wavy prickly pear in Dripping Springs to add to my garden. I love your yours!

  18. Diana says:

    Oh, the contrast. Here in New England I am seeing early signs of fall (helped along by a very dry August) and I’m dreading the end of summer. Fall is not a gardening season it’s a brace-yourself-for-winter season. If only we could have your winters and my summers.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Sounds like we both need to move to San Diego, Diana. Just kidding. Yes, each place has its challenges, for sure. Our best gardening season is ahead of us, and yours is drawing to a close. Here’s to a glorious fall for both of us! —Pam

  19. TexasDeb says:

    I just got back from Chicago where I’m always surprised to see a lot of the same plants as we enjoy here only everything there still looks so very lush. Oddly enough though they had a wet late start to “summer” the sumac and Va. creeper there are already showing the start of fall colors to come. The sumac is always redder…

    I’m ready for cooler weather but not sure I’ve gotten my perennials ready. Guess we’ll be seeing a lot of “weren’t trimmed when they should have been” salvias around town this year!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The impact of a shorter summer, and more rain, on the same plants we can grow here is always eye-opening. In Portland, the perennials are lusher, taller, and happier. However, the agaves, which they love as much as we do, are much smaller; they just don’t get the heat and sun that they really want. Of course as gardeners we want it all. —Pam

  20. Audrey says:

    Where did you find your blue heart?

  21. Susan says:

    Dallas has had a great summer so far. Still under water restrictions but with more periodic rain than usual my garden really has stayed ok. But now the heat has come on and I have also become neglectful. So now I am catching up on all the housework I did not do when I was in the garden earlier this summer! Looking forward to fall as I am putting in a new bed. Got plants at a great sale. Just waiting for a cool breeze!

  22. “Sweat blinding epidemic hits South” may soon be a headline if we gardeners insist on working in that heat! However, I agree that we’d never know you hadn’t been slaving away in yours had you not told us. Just gorgeous as always.

  23. Gina Harlow says:

    Pam,
    It’s so nice to see those hills full of something that doesn’t have to be mowed. (I did the mowing).

    I wrote about my summer angst too! http://peachesandprosciutto.com/2014/07/under-a-texas-sun.html/

    • Pam/Digging says:

      My son did the mowing until he left for college a few weeks ago, and each year he had less and less to mow! Now I’m mowing the last little semicircle of lawn by the front door. It’s not bad at all, but I’m sure glad there’s not more. It was never an easy yard to mow with all the trees and slippery berms. —Pam

  24. I missed seeing your garden :)

    Everything looks incredible!!!

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