Our Christmas present one year was a birdbath designed by Zach Zamora of Variance Design. We wanted it tall enough to be somewhat safe against stray cats. Zach’s renowned for his sustainable, living ecosystems in museums, science centers, zoos, and aquariums, along with with unique garden art. He understood how to create progressive levels for insects and birds small and large.
The outermost ledge is a bee beach where they can sip without drowning (bees can’t light on water). At nightfall, I fill it back up for morning’s splashing birds, leaving that ledge clear. By late afternoon, so many birds have swooped out enough water that the bee beach is even wider.
It’s the bees’ watering hole between meals, like on fat and fluffy mountain laurel flowers.
Bees are seeing red (or pink) to feast on redbuds catching our eyeballs all around town. Horticulturist Greg Grant says that genetic diversity is why we see such a color range. The owner of this tree said that his started out dark pink/red and gradually faded.
Not to be outdone, Lady Banks rose is showering flowers, even on curbs where it’s resided for years without any babying.
This is one tough cookie, I’ll tell you.
Mine is hiding a chain link fence, out of reach of the water hose. I’ll shape it up after it blooms—this is one rose you don’t want to prune in February.
So, have you ever planted something that’s a mystery a few years later? This narcissus popped up on slender jonquil leaves between bearded irises.
Greg Grant told me that it could be ‘Pipit’. Hmm—did I ever get one? Not on my spreadsheet, but you know how that goes.
Anyway, it shows up every year, here with native golden groundsel (Packera obovata).
Here’s the most bizarre thing! A few years ago, a leafy thing showed up among my plumbago and shrimp plants. I thought it was a bird food plant, but I left it alone. Then one year it sprouted branches.
You never know what you’ll find during winter cleanup: maybe those Felcos you lost last summer! When I cut things back recently, I discovered that the mystery plant’s a tree, obviously a Prunus of some type.
Who knows where it came from or what it really is, but obviously, it’s a survivor that’s claimed its home.
The only mystery with native spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea) is what color it comes up with this year or where it lands. This one pleases the bees while Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’ maintains structure for its ephemeral companions.
I don’t have much luck with Euphorbia rigida, since it rots in heavy duty rains, but since it’s been so dry, this potted one did its spring thing against a muhly grass I’ve yet to primp.
So, you know how pets love a newly turned bed with its soft composted soil. This Waco gardener (her story on CTG this spring) solved the problem with leftover chicken wire from her cute coop to deter scratching cats.
She removes it once seedlings are mature and the cats leave it alone. Since snails find their way in, she crumbles eggshells around new plants to fend them off.
This time of year, if you blink, you’ll miss something new. In just a few hours on Sunday, baby blue eyes popped open under native golden groundsel (Packera obovata). Perennial companions are growing back in after their winter haircuts.
Some plants are taking their time to show up, but it looks like everybody made it through fine, even firecracker fern.
My abutilons fared well, too, in their warmth against the house.
So, be patient before digging up anything. Established roots fare much better in drought and freeze. Despite the warm temps, the soil is still cool in mid-March. Give your plants time to rally ‘round.
Agave celsii took a hit once again, but I’ll saw the damaged leaves off as I always do. I love this plant, but it does not like temps below 25°.
Jerusalem sage will be flaunting flowers any minute. But, this one’s taken over the path, so I’m going to see how grumpy it gets when I move it. And yes, I made the mistake of miscalculating mature size when I planted it!
Little Spring starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum) guard the pathway without claiming ownership.
Dutch iris sings the blues to Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’.
Every spring, I thank the people long ago who planted a bit of beauty that endures for generations, like early-blooming bearded irises often called “Grandma’s Flag.” Maybe these were planted by newlyweds who got divisions from their grandmothers.
I’m glad that later owners didn’t toss them, like Iris albicans, also called “white flag” and “cemetery iris.”
Thing are busting out all over in my garden, even though spring’s officially 3 weeks away. Mexican plum opened this week to a chorus of bees replenishing food for whatever hive they call home.
Narcissus ‘Marieke’ made another comeback since I planted them in fall 2014. I highly recommend this yellow, trumpet-shaped cultivar for Central Texas. Supposedly, it’s even resistant to deer!
‘Erlicheer’ is just as reliable but this one’s sweetly perfumed. In our little showers, one found a handy prop on silver germander.
Leucojum aestivum is one of the hardiest, easiest bulbs to grow.
Without any assistance, in a few years they’ll form a miniature grove of winter greenery that explodes with thimble-sized flowers in February, despite their common name “Summer Snowflakes.”
I’m about 1/3 of the way through the winter cut-back since my garden time is limited. I whack back the durable natives first to show off the bulbs I’ve tucked underneath.
By the first day of spring, when these early narcissus fade, the perennials will be speeding up to cover those nourishing leaves.
But things are coming back fast! I didn’t worry too much about Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) but boy, I sighed with relief when I brushed away leaves to see signs of life.
Lemongrass looks a bit crunchy right now. At Thigh High Gardens in San Marcos—a sustainable growing education center—Zach Halfin told me that he lets the browned top growth protect the roots. He’ll shear them in a few weeks. Their path-lining sculptures are just as lovely in winter and act as hose guides!
I pruned my heirloom roses in late January since they were pumping out fat buds. I love the rosy, juvenile leaves soon to take on green adulthood. For now, Buff Beauty echoes indoor ‘Lagoon’ amaryllis in the den window.
For bright light, they brought along Fiddle-leaf fig and a less fussy ficus, ‘Audrey’ Bengal fig. Since the right container makes a design statement, they hand select each one for the shop.
Glamorous ‘Looking Glass’ begonia doesn’t need pampering.
General Manager Lindsey and Houseplant Manager Melissa note the top 2 houseplant mistakes: too much water and not enough light. If you buy a darling pot with no drainage hole, either ask the nursery to drill it for you or insert a smaller container that drains. Traci Hutson, married to Tillery Street owner Jon, crafts some of their pottery, too.
We didn’t get to everything, including the latest houseplant love, Marimo moss ball, but here’s a group of plants for low light (but some indirect light): ZZ plant, Marimo moss ball, snake plant and Satin Pothos. Watch now!
Jon Hutson’s been an Austin garden innovator for years. When he ventured into East Austin to open Tillery Street, he started a new chapter, one that continues to evolve.
We can control our houseplant soil. Outdoors, we can nourish and improve soil with compost, leaves, and mulch.
But can we change our soil pH? I’ve heard every trick to grow acid-loving plants in our alkaline soil: from coffee grounds and egg shells to mulches and sulfur. Sure, they will help your soil. Get Daphne’s answer.
In front, they chose plants that don’t mind intense light swings, from shade to sudden sunlight bursts.
Nolina tends to the evergreen structure while winter-dormant Conoclinium greggii feeds the butterflies come late summer.
Since Maverick’s on a direct path for cars racing down a steep intersecting street, strategic boulders prevent a vehicle careening through his yard. Cenizo, grasses, and succulents replaced crape myrtles as a privacy screen.
To screen the neighboring side shaded by his beloved heritage live oak, understory plants like American beautyberry thrive in dappled light.
With chunks of broken up sidewalk, Scott suggested turning them over for a textural path at the back gate.
In back, for shade and a break from the back alley view, the Ogdens selected a grove of silver-toned Mexican sycamores layered with perennials to embrace a dog friendly lawn of Buffalo grass.
Maverick mesquite, a thornless variety of honey mesquite, monitors its side fence hedge of evergreen and deciduous foliar and floral companions.
South Texas fiddlewood (Citharexylum berlandieri), topped with bee-loving flowers, fills in the informal hedge.
Hacienda creeper, a northeastern Mexico version of Virginia creeper, winds through the alley-side fence of cedar and cattle panel.
To provide a sense of intimacy for Maverick’s upper deck, the Ogdens planted Hacienda creeper in containers to climb up chains.
So, you know, there’s a silver lining to every cloud, right? For me, those clouds haven’t dropped significant rain for months, so my usually statuesque narcissus are stunted this year.
The silver lining? The weeds have kept a lower profile, at least for now. They’ll certainly make up for lost time if rain arrives with warmer temps.
Every spring, I get questions about weed control. Honestly, it’s faster to pull or mow rather than spray with herbicides that can damage valuable plants and certainly mess with the watershed. When I pull them—before they’ve set seeds—I tuck them under perennials as free fertilizer.
I’m the first to acknowledge that weeds are in the eye of the beholder, since many are edible and feed tiny pollinators, like chickweed. But to tame unwanted garden crashers, Daphne explains how to take charge.
Many succulents resent too much rain in winter. Designer Liz Klein worked with Marilyn Tinstman to create a glorious collection of drought-tough plants including red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) and Yucca rostratas.
Houseplants will flat out die when overwatered. Confined in pots, there’s nowhere for extra water to go except into frantic, suffocating roots. A hard lesson I learned is to abandon my loving schedule and handle houseplants like the garden: check the soil first. John shows how to spare the water and save the plant.
As we’ve become more sensitive to water resources, rainwater collection tanks are seriously on the radar. But what should you know before diving in?
When Chris and his wife served in the Peace Corps, rainwater harvesting was their only water supply. No longer taking water for granted, they started Innovative Water Solutions with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer once they returned home.
He explains the difference between wet and dry systems, whether to go for galvanized metal (lined to prevent rusting) or polyethylene, and how to tie into an irrigation system.
Plus, find out when you can go gravity fed or when you need a pump. He’s also has solutions for small spaces and underground storage tanks. Watch now!
In every design, he brings together architecture, plants and memories with heartfelt craftsmanship.
A very special makeover landed him in his East Austin childhood home that he bought from his parents a few years ago.
Eventually he built a narrow treehouse home for himself in the backyard he shares with renters up front.
He gave the front yard a new look, defining spaces with layers of mysteries and nooks, tucking in sentimental relics and repurposed treasures.
In this sociable neighborhood, Jackson and his neighbors are great friends, so his low wall between properties wasn’t a “keep out” dividing line.
Not only does it help with drainage on his Blackland prairie soil, it gave him a chance to tuck in memories from near and far.
Jackson’s artful wall extends into his makeover carport screened from the neighbors with a cedar coyote-style fence.
It’s become a neighborhood hangout as well as work space.
From the carport, he proclaims entry into his own abode via carefully chosen scraps for footing and regal columns.
An altar of plants, viewed from either side, unites the spaces even while designating separation.
Here, as throughout the garden, he displays carefully selected terracotta pots from Impruneta in Italy.
In the narrow space, heightened by a Mission olive tree (that made it through recent low temps just fine), he crafted a sliding steel and rebar gate that started with hardware from a defunct butcher shop in Seguin.
In back, he diversifies viewpoints and experiences from outdoor dining spaces to a Geo Zoysia lawn for cocker spaniel Daisy Mae. Bay laurel, that Jackson plucks for the kitchen, enclose the semi-shaded cove under post oak trees.
In 1992, Carol Ann Sayle and Larry Butler parked themselves in East Austin when it wasn’t yet the cool thing to do.
When they started iconic Boggy Creek Farm, ‘locavore’ hadn’t made it into everyday talk, and although farms were once commonplace in the area, urban farms had become a novelty.
Even then, people were hungry for fresh, locally grown food that they didn’t have the time or space to grow themselves.
Wandering around a farm, greeted by gregarious chickens and cats, they discovered a much needed respite from busy computer-dominated calendars.
As I’ve watched them grow, Carol Ann and Larry helped me grow, too. In fact, along with their scrumptious seasonal harvests, Larry’s smoke-dried tomatoes, and locally sourced meats, cheeses, and eggs, customers line up for gossip and DIY gardening tips at the Wednesday – Saturday farm stand (2 days only in August).
Between growing, harvesting, social media and selling—long days in themselves—they’ve fostered plenty of new urban farmers. Always, they’re ready to embrace anyone needing a seed of encouragement, including Paula and Glenn Foore of Springdale Farm.
Coincidentally, it was in 1992 that the Foores bought their land just a few blocks away. At the time, they were in the tree and landscape business, though, making the switch to food crops in 2009.
Their romantic farmhouse-style home overlooks rich fields bursting with harvests ready to cut and others just starting out their journey to someone’s table.
Clued-in chefs revel in seasonal variety as do eager home cooks who make a beeline to the Wednesday and Saturday farm stand.
The tree-graced grounds are a popular event site for their comforting ambience of flowers, silly chickens and geese, and the renewing scent of healthy soil bursting with life.
Last spring, KLRU NEXT, a fun group of young professionals and emerging leaders, gathered at Springdale Farm to make terrariums with Keri Anderson of Plant Party (then Slavonk & Hortus).
So, when Brie Arthur, Raleigh-based horticulturist, speaker and author of the The Foodscape Revolution, headed back to Austin, I couldn’t resist connecting her with the Foores.
On another visit, we’d taped Brie in the studio about why she adapted experience as an ornamental horticulturist to food growing (as did the Foores) and how gardeners can combine both in home gardens.
This time, I wanted to find out what a North Carolina home gardener and Central Texas urban farmers had in common and how they differed.
So, we met up at Springdale Farm for a lively swap of techniques and philosophy.
All three are passionate about the importance of getting back to the roots of our food. And Brie and Glenn agreed that there’s one tool every gardener needs: a soil thermometer.
Vertical gardening, they campaign, maximizes production wherever you’re growing.
Brie brings in HOA directives and how to sneak edibles into the shrubs and flowers to please both neighbors and essential pollinators.
In the end, what was their biggest difference? Soil pH, the measure of acid and alkaline soil. Brie’s a 5: acid soil. Springdale’s a 7: alkaline. This explains why Brie can grow blueberries and the Foores cannot!
Paula and Carla Crownover will continue making and marketing their refreshing Springdale Handmade soaps, salves, sugar scrubs and more. Their venture started with clippings from the gardens and two creative minds!
We thank them all for their urban farm campaign to keep Austin delicious.
And I look forward to Paula and Glenn’s stories and upcoming adventures!
One thing that Texas gardeners agree on is that squash vine borers are a menace, wiping out beloved crops in no time. Last year, Trisha experimented with a squash vine moth trap to such success that she had to tell you all about it!
On tour: In a 40 x 60 backyard, Ratna and Venkappa Gani unite global tastes and sensations in a food and flower forest.
Influenced by their childhoods in Southwestern India, they opted for a sustainable backyard food forest instead of lawn when they bought a house in a new Austin subdivision.
Venkappa wove together leftover construction limestones and bricks into pathways of harvest and beauty.
Respecting the value of water, he engineered two 1500 gravity fed rainwater collection tanks.
After its untimely upheaval December 26, my rather grumpy Yucca rupicola x pallida’s back in the ground after the big drainage pipe project under the house.
That bed by the front door was a big, deep hole for 3 weeks. Temptation to scurry down and explore under the house was quickly quelled by the expert house “cavers.”
The mountain of excavated fill dirt only revealed brick-like clods, though. No wondrous archeological finds here.
Thankfully, these sensitive, efficient tunneling guys set the first few feet of well-composted top soil to the side for me to shovel back once they were done. The bed is pretty barren, since many plants are still sheltering in protected pots until warmer weather (that green container is sort of marking the location for one of them).
Until I return them and pop in new additions, Greg hauled 6 wheelbarrows of our compost to leach in if errant rain ever gives us a hand. Note: I scooted the compost away from the yucca’s hole.
There are countless ways to corral your compost ingredients, from casual piles (my way) or contained. Ten Acre Organics built multiple bins out of recycled pallets in their home (sub)urban farm. Once a bin is “simmering,” they start a new batch in another bin.
Pflugerville gardener Paul Lofton inserts a drilled PVC pipe into his wire bins for aeration and to moisten via the water hose.
Rolled wire fencing can be shaped to any size and to cover, too.
Keyhole gardens utilize a central wire tube that tunnels garden and kitchen scraps (not meat or dairy) into a feeding machine as they break down.
Tumblers are popular, especially in small gardens.
Tim and Sheila Smith in Waco use big trash barrels drilled with holes for air and rainfall.
Compost is the best thing you can do for your trees. Spread now or anytime, but avoid covering the base of the trunk. But what’s going on with Gail Allen’s redbud tree at Natural Bridge Caverns that’s splitting at the crotch?
The culprit is our dramatic weather patterns: heavy rainfall followed by equally intense drought. Lots of rain spurred overly eager growth, leading to heavy branches that can stretch limbs apart, “exposing interior plant sap, which would oxidize, or might attract opportunistic microbes, such as sooty mold, either of which would cause the black ridges seen here,” Daphne says. Find out more and why providing deep irrigation during drought can help.
Now, let’s get to planting! Are you looking for an easy-care, evergreen herb to edge a border to trim spicy culinary taste? Energetic and absolutely fun Herb ‘n Cowgirl Ann McCormick packs a peppery punch with perennial winter savory.
Combining the flavor of oregano and thyme, winter savory isn’t as finicky as thyme. Growing about a foot or so high and wide, this perennial even handled Ann’s lengthy days of temps in the 20s. Find out how to grow this winner!
On tour in San Marcos, Lydia Kendrick weaves together a garden on many levels.
A practical goal was to deflect rainwater in her sloping yard and also to collect it. She only hits the hose in super dry times.
Lydia’s artistic mission led her to singling out destinations, each with a particular mood.
She unites them all through her intricately woven hangings.
A few years ago, Lydia found a new passion as a fiber artist after taking a weaving class (my dream!). On looms indoors, she designs absolutely gorgeous scarfs, runners, wall hangings, and placemats—well, just about anything that can be woven!
She took her leftover yarn outdoors to pattern frames of all kinds, even from recycled finds.
Her birds have the fanciest nests in town since she stuffs a suet feeder with yarn of their own.
Then she discovered how to put all those colorful plastic newspaper sleeves to work! Looks real, doesn’t it?
Watch the whole story now!
Weaving Garden on Many Levels |Lydia Kendrick |Central Texas Gardener - YouTube
And thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda
To celebrate the Peace Park Conservancy’s 10th anniversary to restore this historic and very beloved park, they commissioned Patrick to create an interactive artwork with invasives cut down by volunteers and cleverly woven together.
Already it’s attracted lots of attention! Opening day coming soon and our video later this year.
I’ve got a few “stick sculptures” in my garden right now. Once I’ve cleaned up dormant perennials, family-minded birds will busily craft their own intricate sculptures to replace last year’s wind-bedraggled homes.
Until native zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida) rebirths after its annual haircut, native spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea) claims the green glory.
My vast collection, starting from a few strays we collected, has diminished in recent years.
Although they naturalize via roots, I’ll collect seeds this year to ensure future February – April flowers for bees and butterflies.
Cobweb spiderwort (Tradescantia sillamontana) favors our summer gardens with low-growing, clumping fuzzy foliage and spurts of pollinator-loving flowers. They turn to mush in winter, but typically return in my garden. After days of 20° temps, this is a “wait and see.”
Our soil also naturally contains many elements that help plants grow. Other elements, like lead, arsenic, and cadmium can be harmful in certain edible plants. It doesn’t affect all of them and doesn’t impact flowers for pollinators.
My garden, for example, was most likely once a farm where arsenic could have been used to repel insects. Peeling lead paint isn’t just an issue indoors; it remains in the soil.
Outside of Austin, check out TPS Lab for every soil test under the sun (or ground), including heavy metals, compost, organic testing and more.
To get a solid grip on what’s going on with plants—including nutrients and heavy metals—check out How Plants Work by Linda Chalker-Scott, Associate Professor and Extension Horticulturist at Washington State University.
On tour in a standard backyard, Don Iden and Jana Beckham cultivate over 100 species of food, flowers, herbs, and succulents, many grown from seed or divisions.
When he bought his house, Don decided, “Some people collect stamps or coins, and I went for plants and so did Jana because you can grow them and reap the benefits as far as the food, or the view.”
Since planting seasons intersect in Central Texas, they install future crops while getting the last harvests from the current crowd, rotating locations every few years.
Don also grows tangerines, oranges, lemons, limes and even a pomelo. He raised a variety of miniature fruit trees from seed, growing them in buckets that are easy to move to warm quarters in winter.
Jana built the central island’s frame for a color wheel of plants for pollinators.
Their vigorous tomato crop, including heirlooms, begins in winter by starting last year’s collected seeds indoors, usually in January.
Since window light isn’t enough, they install a grow light. A heat mat underneath the seed flats speeds germination. Last year, they added ‘Patio’ tomato.
“It’s a smaller bushy form and ideal for pots. We like to maximize the space that we have,” Jana says.
To anchor larger tomatoes, Jana drilled holes in the ground for bamboo stakes to stabilize typical tomato cages. She also drilled holes into the sides of recycled buckets and fills them with homemade compost. Watering directly into the buckets nourishes with each drench.
She stretches bird netting over the bamboo, weaving together the seams with fishing twine. Slices of pool noodles prevent tearing. So far, her technique has deterred birds and even squirrels.
Lots more tips from Don and Jana, so watch now!
Turning Lawn into Backyard Food & Flowers | Central Texas Gardener - YouTube
And thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda
Fortunately, in Texas, we don’t have to protect roses, like ‘Marie Pavie’.
Its sport, ‘Marie Daly,’ was yet another find made by intrepid horticulturist Greg Grant, now stalking plants at Smith County Extension in Tyler.
That’s one of the many delightful stories in The Rose Rustlers, where once again Greg teamed up with former professor and post-graduate mentor William C. Welch, Professor and Extension Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulturist.
Bill’s been a favorite professor for many of us, thanks to his generous energy to guide our horticultural paths.
Many have survived without care for decades, remaining nameless until curious horticulturists discovered, identified and propagated them for today’s resourceful gardens. One of Bill’s finds is richly-hued, fragrant ‘Maggie,’ named for his late wife’s grandmother who grew it in her Louisiana garden.
In The Rose Rustlers, Bill and Greg swap poignant and often humorous stories, give us the scoop on the birth of Michael Shoup’s The Antique Rose Emporium, and have us laughing about Greg’s conversion from rose-hater to rose rustler.
Check out Heirloom Gardening in the South, too, for horticultural history and cultivation tips of some of your garden stalwarts.
Other keeper plants include native perennial penstemons. Although they’re called beardtongue, I think a more apt moniker is “bee tongue” since bees love them, as do hummingbirds and butterflies.
Spring-blooming Brazos (Gulf) penstemon (Penstemon tenuis) handles my heavy soils, though it loves to reseed in decomposed granite to hang out with winecup and Calylophus berlandieri. Note: the Calylophus doesn’t love me back, so I’ve given up on it.
Prairie penstemon (Penstemon cobaea) prefers lighter soil, though I have luck with a few paired with white Salvia greggii. They like sun or at least sun part of the day.
A close relative is Hill Country penstemon (Penstemon triflorus). I spotted this one in a Hyde Park curb garden with California poppy, bluebonnets, and succulents.
After spring blooming, you can cut the flower stalks to the base. If you want them to re-seed, it can be late summer before they’re totally dried.
Already, January’s been as fickle as a cat. Between Texas-style nips, spurts of sunlight warmed up a few crispy plants, like Barbados cherry. It desperately needed cutting back anyway, a chore for March. In this little cove, it’s business as usual for Jerusalem sage and roses along with wildflowers, bulbs, and pink skullcap.
‘Country Girl’ mum is bound and determined to keep a few insects fed.
Indoors, Amaryllis ‘Lagoon’ is in its prime.
A treat from White Flower Farm, I accidentally knocked off one bloom—almost as big as my hand—while closing the open window one balmy evening. All was not lost; in fact, it’s quite a bonus on my kitchen window ledge.
Native and adapted shade trees don’t care about our dips into the 20s. What WILL kill them is mounding soil or mulch against the base of the trunk.
Questions about trees ruled my 2017 inbox. When should you fertilize trees, how do animals kill trees, and when can we prune oak trees susceptible to oak wilt?