Plant This: Texas persimmon

One of my favorite small trees for winter interest is Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), which occurs naturally in central and south Texas but is found as far east as Houston and as far west as Big Bend National Park. This picture, which I took at a client’s house yesterday, shows why you’d want it in your garden: just look at those milky white, muscular trunks and branches! They attract attention all year but really stand out during our quieter winters, when gray-green and tan are the dominant hues. I like how these homeowners have planted deep-green rosemary beneath their stand of persimmons, offering a nice contrast with the white trunks.

In my own garden, I inherited a number of Texas persimmons, several of which are growing in cracks between huge slabs of limestone. This is, as you can see, a tough, drought-tolerant tree. Growth is slow, and so it’s probably priced higher than faster-growing trees at the nursery. Give it well-drained soil and full sun to part sun.

I think Texas persimmon looks best pruned up into a multi-trunked small tree, like a crepe myrtle, the better to show off the white trunks and branches. Unlike a crepe myrtle, however, Texas persimmon lacks showy, colorful flowers, and its leathery, small leaves aren’t much to write home about either. It’s really all about the bark and shapely limbs.

Texas persimmon is described as semi-evergreen. In Austin some trees drop their leaves in winter (like the ones pictured at top) and others, like mine, simply thin out and then drop their leaves in late winter, with only a month of bare branches before the new leaves appear. Others, especially further south, hold onto their leaves all winter and only drop them as the new leaves come in, just as live oaks do.

The small black fruit (about 1 inch diameter), which appears in early fall, occurs only on female trees. All my trees are male, apparently, because I never see any of the dark, berry-like persimmons, which are edible and also a favorite of wildlife. That’s fine with me, since my biggest Texas persimmon hangs partially over our pool. Update 8/15: One of the trees does actually produce fruit, so I know it’s female.

So if you need a 10-15 ft. tree for a hot, sunny spot with rocky soil, or even a well-drained spot with some clay and some shade, try Texas persimmon. Look for it at Barton Springs Nursery, the Natural Gardener, or the Wildflower Center’s spring native-plant sale.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

European formality with relaxed Texas style in Ware Garden: San Antonio Open Days Tour

Last Saturday I road-tripped to San Antonio for the Open Days garden tour, sponsored by the Garden Conservancy. Shirley Fox of Rock-Oak-Deer was one of the organizers this year, and I was eager to see the gardens that she’d chosen for the tour.

The Ware Garden is the grandest, an estate-size property entered via a gate with stag sculptures on limestone pilasters. A long, curving drive leads past clipped yew and boxwood hedges, and you might think you’re only going to see lawn and live oaks.

Not so! Masses of tufty Mexican feathergrass add subtle golden color and texture beneath live oaks along the drive, where a dry stream channels runoff.

A circular pool and spouting fountain appear near the house, set in an emerald lawn amid the dark, gnarled trunks of dozens of live oaks.

And here it’s seen from the home’s front terrace. The live oaks make this scene magical, elevating it from something classically formal and rather ordinary — a fountain in a big, open lawn — and giving it a fairy-tale, dark-wood dimension. There’s a sense of mystery here.

Turning around, you see the front steps to the house — not at all ostentatious but rather a study in elegant simplicity: a pyramid of limestone steps, potted boxwood spheres, and a scrolled iron lantern alongside a handsome wooden door.

Side view

Walking around the house, you get a jolt of humor from a glass-mosaic cow wearing the Texas flag and gazing at a limestone-edged swimming pool, as if longing to take a dip.

In front, a fountain splashes in a raised rectangular pool, with a rill that leads the eye across the pool, where it stops at a perfectly manicured boxwood hedge, clipped to the same dimensions as a limestone retaining wall to the right.

Past the pool, a gentle slope is terraced with a low limestone wall. The house wraps around a rectangular lawn studded with more live oaks.

Clipped boxwood in various pots makes a simple and elegant accent throughout the garden.

Shallow limestone-and-gravel steps lead past a wing of the house with expansive windows, which I imagine provide a lovely view of the evergreen landscape. I believe that’s our native palmetto (Sabal mexicana) lifting its droopy-leaved fans to mingle with live oak limbs.

Palmetto and cast-iron plant add lush-leaved, subtropical San Antonio style (also common in Austin).

Details are simple and clean lined.

Rustic features like the rough cedar arbor are pure Central Texas.

The brochure says that the owners “envisioned a European garden reminiscent of a hotel where they had lived for three years. Architect Don McDonald…designed terraces around the house as a stage for beautifully sheared boxwood hedges and classic European pots planted with boxwood balls.”

A relaxing limestone-and-gravel terrace along the guest house…

…enjoys a view of the swimming pool and those wonderfully bent and twisted live oak trees and a gray-trunked Texas persimmon.

At the end of the lawn, a vine-draped cedar pergola with a faux bois bench offers a shady place to enjoy the view.

Looking back toward the main house

The beautifully pruned live oaks are the stars of this understated garden.

A lacy limb drapes around a narrow window in the guest house.

A small terrace off the main house features a built-in outdoor fireplace made of limestone.

A carved stone flower makes a pretty accent on the gravel paving.

A last look at the fountain, pool, and Cow Tex.

On the opposite side of the house, by a detached garage, a terraced boxwood parterre and center patio are framed by a monumental, grid-like trellis constructed of rough cedar posts and cloaked in fig ivy. The trellis runs from the garage to the house, connecting the two and creating a sort of window-walled garden room.

Clipped boxwood parterre, set off by limestone-and-brick paving.

In the central patio space, a faux bois table and chairs invite you to sit and enjoy the view. Under that long, snaking live oak limb, a handsome limestone trough and outdoor faucet make an outdoor sink.

The faux bois looks remarkably like real wood.

The elegant — and enormous — detached garage creates another sheltering wall for this outdoor space.

At a corner of the garage, in a space that might easily be overlooked, a wooden folding chair and white-garden urn create a pretty vignette.

There’s more to explore from here, as a limestone-paver path leads between boxwood spheres and olive and pine trees out to an olive grove.

Nearby, beneath the shady canopy of live oaks, classical planters and a wooden table and chairs beckon.

The classicism of this garden, tempered with rustic Central Texas features like limestone edging and shaggy cedar posts, is very appealing. European formal landscaping meets relaxing Texas style in the Ware Garden, and I loved it.

Up next: The Tupper Beinhorn Garden in San Antonio’s Monte Vista neighborhood.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Don’t miss the Austin Open Days garden tour sponsored by the Garden Conservancy on November 4.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Early autumn color at the Wildflower Center, part 1

Showy palafoxia (Palafoxia hookeriana)

That first hit of cool autumn air early last week sent me running (well, battling Austin traffic) for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Arriving on a solemn, overcast morning, I was surprised to see quite a few other visitors there too. But that’s what happens when the Death Star finally relents.

Let’s go for an early-fall stroll through the gardens. The stone aqueduct in the entry garden is cloaked in soon-to-be-reddening Virginia creeper.

A hint of orange appears on some of the leaves already.

But quieter shades of green and gray prevail at this time of year, like the sculptural trunks of this Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), framed by an evergreen backdrop of junipers.

Near a pond and trickling fountain, a line of cute little ferns caught my eye. The yellow flowers and tufted greenery below are four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa).

Jamaican sawgrass (Cladium mariscus ssp. jamaicense), a strong performer in summer, is still looking good around the blue-hole pool in the courtyard, although the hibiscus (at right) is fading fast.

Lavender spires of liatris, or gayfeather, are a sure sign of fall. It was flowering in the courtyard…

…and in the main garden meadow along with yellow sneezeweed (Helenium amarum).

Some swaths of it had already blackened and gone to seed, though still providing interesting punctuation marks amid the meadow flowers and grasses.

A wider view shows frothy foliage and sparkling yellow flowers of prairie broomweed (Amphiachyris dracunculoides).

Pruned-up yuccas stand tall at one end of the meadow, adding strong structure amid billowy Lindheimer’s muhly grasses.

A vertical yucca echoes the landmark spiral tower in the background.

More showy palafoxia (Palafoxia hookeriana)

In the woodland stream garden, I spotted a new-to-me plant: Texabama croton (Croton alabamensis var. texensis), which is part of the spurge (euphorbia) family. At a distance this deciduous shrub would be easy to overlook.

But up close, the foliage seems to sparkle with pairs of small, silver leaves laid atop bouquet-like clusters of dusty-green leaves.

Here’s something else I’d never seen: the pear-like fruit of red buckeye (Aesculus pavia var. pavia).

In the demonstration garden, a long grape arbor, viewed from the side, frames a view of a formal native-plant garden in the distance.

A big silver-blue agave looks great at any time of year.

The elaborate showiness of passionflower always captivates me.

But simple sunflowers are lovely too.

The Wildflower Center was my earliest inspiration for making my own stock-tank pond, and they still have several examples throughout their gardens.

In the shade, a showy fall combo of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

More American beautyberry backs a rustic bench under a shade tree.

In the butterfly garden, tall daisies (or sunflowers?) were providing their own rays of sunshine on this cloudy day.

A woodland path leads to the family garden, and I set off in that direction…

…where for now I leave you to ramble under the trees.

By the way, I’ll be at the Wildflower Center’s member’s day Fall Plant Sale on Friday, October 14. I’ll be signing books from 1 to 3 pm in the Wild Ideas gift shop. Even if you’re not a member, of course you can still come on out and see the gardens and stop in at Wild Ideas. I hope to see you there!

Up next: Part 2 of my visit to the Wildflower Center, with bees, butterflies, and other buggy critters enjoying the plants along with human visitors.

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.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

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