Foliage in full spring swing: May Foliage Follow-Up


The day after Bloom Day is Foliage Follow-Up, a day to give foliage plants their due. This month I’m leading with the fresh spring greens of ornamental grasses, like shade-loving inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).


Their “oats” are just forming, and by mid-summer will turn from apple green to tan.


Along the fence (and in many other places in my garden), bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) makes soft mounds of chartreuse foliage.


Peek through the peek-a-boo gate and you see more bamboo muhly behind the live oak, incandescing celery green in the afternoon light.


Here’s the view from the other side of the gate, with variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), native river fern (Thelypteris kunthii), and Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) along the neighbors’ new fence.


A wider view shows the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) that anchors this shady northeast corner of the garden. The gate leads to the side yard where we store our trash bins. Our new neighbors recently moved their fence forward to enclose more of their side yard, and so now we have this nice-looking fence along part of the property line, providing a comfortable sense of enclosure.


Here’s how this space looked in 2008, when we moved in. The Japanese maple, planted by previous owners, has grown a lot! I underplanted it with the river fern, pulled the gate/fence forward to enclose the trash-can storage, added a stepping-stone path, and planted a hedge of Chinese mahonia along the property line (see above).


A side view shows the Japanese maple glowing in afternoon light. The dry stream carries water from the driveway around to the back garden.


Leaving the shade garden behind, let’s move to the sunny gravel garden on the other side of the front door, and a slew of foliage plants: ‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia, ‘Color Guard’ yucca, ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum), and ‘Jaws’ agave.


Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) spreads its fan-like leaves in the island bed. The blue-green foliage of heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) fills in underneath.


Along the driveway, ‘Color Guard’ yucca and purple sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’) make a showy combo in a sun-baked spot.


I’m trying a new shrub on the other side of the driveway: spreading Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’). I planted 4 of these last winter, replacing several autumn sage ‘Teresa’ that were not getting enough sun to thrive. The plum yew may really prefer more shade (in our hot climate) than this part-shade location provides, but we’ll see. So far the deer have left it completely alone. Gray-leaved, creeping woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) fills in around it.


A few fuzzy mulleins (Verbascum) are studded in along the front of this raised planting bed.


That bed segues into the alt-lawn of Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa), accented with a couple of ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas and a tuteur from TerraTrellis.


Spring is the showy season for Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), its blond tresses blowing in the breeze. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) adds fuzzy, silver-green texture beneath.


Moving into the back garden, silver-blue foliage leads the eye back and forth along the path: Arizona cypress ‘Blue Ice’ (Cupressus arizonica), gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), and Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’. A blue gazing ball and turquoise shed door reinforce the blue hues.


Of course there’s plenty of green foliage too, including ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), ‘Bright Edge’ yucca (in bloom), Agave lophantha, spineless prickly pear, Mexican feathergrass, and a few other odds and ends.


Face-to-face with Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ — shazam!


Variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica) is one of my favorite foliage plants for shade/part shade. Its white-striped, strappy leaves light up a dark spot, and it’s surprisingly drought tolerant. In our zone 8b, there’s a risk of winter die-back or even outright death during a hard cold snap, but I’ve decided it’s a risk worth taking. They’re blooming right now, and while the airy flowers are not particularly showy, they look nice mixed with other cut flowers in bouquets, as I learned at Linda’s house in San Antonio.


It would be a rare Foliage Follow-Up without a few succulents, like winter-hardy ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) in an Esther pot. A orange-spined cactus pops in a blue, skeleton-impressed Rick Van Dyke pot. Moby, my whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), looms in the background.


This striking ‘Painted Fingernail’ bromeliad (Neoregelia spectabilis) was a gift from talented Houston design team and bloggers Laurin Lindsey and Shawn Michael of Ravenscourt Gardens. A pot of purple oxalis (Oxalis triangularis) enhances the bromeliad’s magenta “fingertips.”

I admit I would never have thought to try a bromeliad, had it not been a gift. I always assumed they were thirsty, needy plants. But this potted specimen has done really well for me with only a once-a-week drench in the summer. Notice the tiny, purple flowers emerging in the center cup?


To close, here’s one more little succulent-and-cactus planter, this one adorning the garage wall.

This is my May post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is going on in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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

25 Responses

  1. Wonderful changes to your front garden since 2008!

    Grass is my subject today too: https://enclosuretakerefuge.com/2016/05/16/gb-foliage-follow-up-for-may/

  2. I so enjoy your foliage days. So much that you grow can’t be grown here. It is a treat to see it.

  3. There is nothing like fresh spring foliage. Your gardens are looking so lush and beautiful! Here is my Foliage Follow-Up post for the month of May: http://landscapedesignbylee.blogspot.com/2016/05/garden-bloggers-bloom-day-foliage.html#.Vzm8gvkrKUk

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Lee, thanks for sharing your beautiful garden. Your weeping Japanese maples, all leafed out in spring colors, look like a place to spread a blanket and stretch out for a stained-glass gaze up at the sky. —Pam

  4. Wow! Looks great and so mature. Aren’t you glad to have taken before pix? It’s always nice to be able to look back because it gets hard to remember what things used to look like. I will be posting my Foliage but probably not till later today or tomorrow. http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com/each_little_world/2016/05/foliage-follow-up-5162016.html

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Yes, “before” pictures really show you how far you’ve come on the gardening journey. I have some beds that I’ve changed up nearly every year, and others that have slowly but less changeable evolved. I’d forget everything if I didn’t take photos. —Pam

  5. Your foliage always looks great, since that’s really where your heart lies! Very lush looking this month. Hope it stays that way for a long time!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks, Diana! I absolutely do love foliage, but of course I have tons of shade, and you don’t get a lot of flowers in the shade. So I have embraced foliage plants even more in the years since we’ve lived here. —Pam

  6. Shirley says:

    So many great combinations, and foliage makes a garden look great with less effort year round.

    I took a walk in a special park last week so I’m linking it here.

    http://rockoakdeer.blogspot.com/2016/05/a-place-of-beauty-contemplation-and-joy.html

  7. Anna K says:

    Your changes have made a great improvement. Thanks for the virtual tour of your own garden – I really enjoyed it! Happy FFU day! Here is my leafy goodness! https://flutterandhum.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/foliage-follow-up-may-2016/

  8. There are some delightful foliage combinations here. I had no idea bromeliads would be so little trouble. We live and learn…. lovely to stumble upon this meme.

  9. I love your Chinese mahonia — how is it doing? I remember last year’s rains seemed to be hard on it. Your purple sage also looks great next to the yucca. I’m following up, but a day late! I guess that’s technically following the follow-up. In any case, these rains produced an abundance of fresh and fun foliage in my garden. http://sharingnaturesgarden.blogspot.com/2016/05/fresh-foliage-follow-up.html

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The Chinese mahonias had powdery mildew (or whatever it was) again this spring, but it seems to be clearing up on its own. Laziness pays off? —Pam

  10. rickii says:

    Your foliage is an inspiration, as always. I love my oat grass, so why have I not appreciated it at that early stage? Once again, you open my eyes to new possibilities. I’ll be back later with a foliage post link.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The early stage may be my favorite, Ricki, although it’s also pretty fine in mid-summer when the oats ripen. I look forward to seeing your foliage picks. —Pam

  11. Kris P says:

    I love all the frothy grasses and that lovely variegated Dianella. I’m growing D. tasmanica ‘Tasred’ but may try the variegated form as well if and when I find it. Here’s my belated foliage post: http://krispgarden.blogspot.com/2016/05/foliage-follow-up-hedging-my-bets.html

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Kris, thanks for sharing your hedge post. It’s difficult to see a hedge decline, but I hope your newly planted shrubs fill in quickly. —Pam

  12. Evan says:

    I love all the blues and greys. And the purple salvia. I need to plant more of that in my own garden. Most bromeliads can really take a lot of abuse. They’re great to have around. My post makes up for its tardiness with volume: http://practicalplantgeek.blogspot.com/2016/05/foliage-follow-up-may-2016.html

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