Tough-enough plants


They’re a dime-a-dozen in gardens all over Austin. Here are a few plants easy to overlook because of over-familiarity, whose praises I rarely sing, but which keep my garden green even during the hottest and driest summer anyone alive can remember.


‘Katie’ dwarf ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana), also known as dwarf Mexican petunia, is a compact plant with long, pointed leaves and tissue-textured flowers in pink or purple. It’s great for dry shade, blooming all summer until frost. Cut it back over the winter, and it’ll return in spring for a reliable, summer-flowering groundcover. While it tends to self-sow, I find dwarf ruellia easy to control, unlike the taller Mexican petunia that is so aggressive.


My little collection of Echeveria continues to bloom in part-shade in the gravel bed by the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave. Full, midday sun can scorch succulents here, but if you can find the right location they turn out to be quite xeric.


Unlike the ‘Totally Tempted’ cuphea I trialed for Proven Winners until it burned to a crisp, batface cuphea (C. llavea) can take the heat and stay in the kitchen. This one gets afternoon shade, which helps, but I grew it in full sun in my old garden, and it needed water only about once a week.


Queen Victoria agave (A. victoriae-reginae), a nearly maintenance-free plant that is also quite beautiful. Its small size makes it a natural for the garden.


Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera), which I’m growing for the first time this year. Tubular, orange flowers appear amid green leaves, and it grows well in part-shade or dappled shade.


Live oaks (Quercus virginiana), pictured back right, are Texas tough, but even they need supplemental water in a drought like this. Growing in their shade, and just as tough: Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), white trunks in middle of picture; cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), with the broad, evergreen leaves; giant liriope (Liriope muscari), also evergreen; and purple heart (Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’), which dies to the ground in winter but comes back in spring. Of course, limestone slabs are very xeric too.


At Shoal Creek Nursery earlier this week, I bought two more softleaf yuccas (Y. recurvifolia) to plant near the one that’s blooming. One is good, but three is better!


I also picked up this beautiful, blue Wheeler’s sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri)—a total impulse purchase, but how could I resist?


Just look at those ghostly leaf imprints along the strappy, toothy leaves. Gorgeous!

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

15 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I can see why you couldn’t resist the Wheeler’s sotol. Those ghostly prints are marvelous.

  2. Susie says:

    Beautiful, I’ll have to look for the dwarf ruellia. I was protecting my bat-faced cuphea, but he’s not thriving….I’d beter move him to a hotter spot!

  3. Hi, Pam, Now I want to try those Mexican petunias. I would not mind having an “aggressive” petunia in my garden. Not at all. Will check out. Thanks!

  4. Loree says:

    What’s even better than three yucca? Five!

    I love Dasylirion wheeleri too, and thankfully they seem to be happy here in the dry hot/rainy cold Oregon climate. The Mexican honeysuckle is gorgeous! I am going to have to track that one down, wonder if it will grow here?

  5. Jenny says:

    It’s times like this that we really get to appreciate the ruellia. I had and lost bat faced cuphea. I’m so sad.

  6. Bob Pool says:

    I’m glad you had the Wheeler’s sotol on this post. Earlier in the year a real estate lady at a job I was working at stepped on one in the brand new landscaping. I mentioned to her that she was standing on it. She reached down and jerked it out of the ground and gave it to me and said take it home. I did. The pricklys on the leaves didn’t even bother her. She looked to be a mean old witch. Any way I didn’t know the name of it and now I do. Thanks

  7. Gail says:

    We complain about the weather here but we have nothing on Texas gardeners. You’ve been wise from the onset planting xeric and the newest additions are beautiful. Batface cuphea continues to charm. I do have to laugh~~ Katie ruellia didn’t survive me! She died from neglect and it wasn’t benign. gail

  8. I really like the limestone and oak corner of your garden. It really has a great earthy feel to it.

    Nice that you’ve highlighted some of your more common plants. There are good reasons why some plants are used over and over again in a tough climate like yours. We have a few selections that every other yard seems to have, and it doesn’t hurt to plan to include some for when the more delicate plants have checked out.

  9. Pamie G. says:

    I don’t mind Katie but her cousin Mexican Petunia makes me say a few choice words! :) Hope you are having a great day! I am hoping some of the MP did not jump into my pots when I left Bexar County! Pamie G.

  10. Um, lots of ideas to add to my list. I’ve been hesitant about Katie, but now may give it a whirl. This year I tried the ‘David Verity’ cuphea. It’s nice, but I love the batface much better. I’ve had my Mexican honeysuckle for years. This year it’s not doing too well, but I forget to water that area, oops. Am really thinking about a spot for the soft-leaf yuccas.

    And between your xeric rocks, you might want to consider wedelia. I bet it would do great there & the yellow flowers are superb all summer.

  11. I do love a Texas persimmon. Such a beautiful trunk and limbs, and it adds a lot of winter interest, too.

  12. Love that impulse buy. If not for you, I would never know about leaf imprints; that is such a magical bit of information. Batface: not sure if I could plant something with that name, but it is perfect for that flower. And your garden is looking very good given all the drought.

  13. Bruce Tate says:

    Old standbys! The hotter it gets, the more my Mexican petunias like it. I’ll have to give Echeveria a try.

  14. Leslie says:

    The ruellia looks very enticing and Sunset tells me Katie is not invasive here! We have some common garden traits…my succulents also need afternoon shade and the batface cuphea is happy here so far as well.

  15. Heather says:

    Hi Pam,
    I’ve been reading your blog for some time and really enjoy your garden. Thank you for keeping such an inspiring blog! I have a question for you. I have recently planted a Mexican Honeysuckle (at least that is what it was labeled as at the nursery) and it has not bloomed. I noticed that it has these bright red pepper-looking things on it. They look just like a pepper you might eat. Does your plant produce these? I am hoping that my plant was not mis-labeled.
    Thanks,
    ~Heather (in Cedar Park)

    Hi, Heather. I’m not aware of any peppers on Mexican honeysuckle. I wonder if you could have gotten chile pequin instead? You might Google it to see if looks like what you have. Good luck getting it sorted out, and thanks so much for reading. —Pam

Follow