Aloe surprise and prepping for owls


Aloes bloom in profusion at the Huntington in Los Angeles at this time of year, and my winter-blooming ‘Blue Elf’ aloe is already sending up asparagus-shaped bloom spikes. But soap aloe (Aloe maculata) prefers warmer weather to strut its stuff in my Austin garden. And yet…


…with no hard freeze yet (tonight may end that run), it was fooled into flowering and has been struggling to open this candelabra-shaped bloom spike for weeks. We saw a hummingbird on a neighborhood walk yesterday, so I’m hoping that an overwintering hummer or two will enjoy a few sips before a freeze finally nips it.


Since we’re here, we may as well say hello to Moby, the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia). Planted under a protective tree canopy, Moby escaped a pounding from our recent brief thunder-hailstorm.


My two ‘Green Goblet’ agaves weren’t so lucky, and show a Milky Way-like speckling. I’m going to call it patina.


While I examined the garden, David was all business getting a few winter chores done, like cleaning out the screech owl box in preparation for nesting season.


A mass of cedar shavings from our back fence was evidence of the squirrel I’ve seen in the box for the past couple of months. It’s time for him to go! David pulled out the nest, scattered a thin layer of clean, dry leaves in the bottom of the box, and closed it up again.

I expect we’ll see the squirrel in there again before an owl finally takes it over, as per usual, but at least we got it shipshape. A couple of Austin friends have said they’ve seen screech owls in their yards or owl boxes already, so clearly the males are scoping out nesting sites.


Under the owl box, forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis) has been blooming since my garden tour back in October. This is unheard of! I usually get a couple of weeks out of it. It appears to enjoy the extra rain we got this fall, and without a freeze to knock it back, it continues to shine pale yellow under the live oaks.


Overall the garden is still pretty green, which is how we Southerners like it. I’ll see what this week holds. Only one more month until the big winter cut-back of perennials, and then spring will be on its way.

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

20 Responses

  1. Renee says:

    So pretty! I’ll show your Moby’s picture to my agave, so it can figure out what it’s supposed to look like… And that yellow salvia is a nice pop of color. I wonder if it would like the desert? Thanks for sharing!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Salvia madrensis would, I’m afraid, probably not like the desert. It prefers more water than it gets in my Austin garden (normal rainfall is 33 in. per year). But I’m not going to feel sorry for you because I bet you can grow agastaches, which melt away in our hot, humid summers. :-) —Pam

  2. I was reading through my Feedly account, where I keep my list of blogs while half asleep. When I first saw the pictures, I rushed back to the top because I thought they looked like yours. You do have a very definite, and wonderful style.

  3. Denise says:

    I just noticed hail damage today on some agaves too from an overnight storm a couple days back. That’s an incredible no-freeze run all the way to January — so glad your aloes squeaked by! Love that sage too. No freeze here means it reaches ginormous proportions. Wish I had the room to let it romp away.

  4. Caroline says:

    Thanks for reminding me to put some hummingbird food out! I wish I had room for S. madrensis; it’s lovely. I’m afraid to look in my owl box – last year, the squirrels nearly scared me off the step stool as they bolted out the door!

  5. hoov says:

    Moby looks awesome. Hope your weather holds a while longer so you can enjoy days in the garden without the summertime “Death Star”.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It’s kind of chilly right now, Hoov, but in general the weather should be quite reasonable until late May. Of course I know lots of Austinites who don’t like anything below 65 degrees. —Pam

  6. Kris P says:

    I’m glad you’re able to enjoy your garden this winter, Pam! It’s too bad about the damage from the hail but at least the’Green Goblets’ aren’t too badly scarred. I’ve never thought about hail here but, based on Denise’s experience, I guess it’s something I should be prepared for. And here I thought Agave edema was the worst thing I was going to have to contend with.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      It’s hard to prepare for hail. It comes on suddenly, when you least expect it, and is gone just as fast. We get hail at least once a year in Austin, although generally it’s not too bad. But every few years, it seems, at least one part of town gets a real pounding.

      I’m not familiar with Agave edema, so I had to look that up. Here in central Texas we also have to deal with the dreaded agave snout-nosed weevil. Is that pest in L.A.? –Pam

  7. Everything is encased in ice and snow here. It is so nice to see your lovely green garden.

  8. Mark and Gaz says:

    You can get away with calling the Green Goblet variegated :)

  9. Wendy Moore says:

    I may have gotten some “patina” on my car in that hailstorm! ;-)

    I think with every other of your posts I add another plant to my list of “needs”: Salvia madrensis!

  10. Janet Sluis says:

    Hi! Is that a not eaten Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ I spy behind the Salvia madrensis?

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