Diana C. Kirby

About Diana C. Kirby

Diana Kirby is a lifelong gardener and longtime Austinite, who loves the Central Texas climate for the almost year-round opportunities it offers for active gardening and seasonal splendor. Known as an impassioned and successful gardener, Diana began by helping friends design and implement their landscapes. Soon, she was contracted as a professional designer by a popular local landscaping installation firm, where she designed landscapes for residential and commercial clients for several years. In 2007, her new passion blossomed with the launch of her own firm, Diana’s Designs. ... Diana is a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, the Garden Writers Association of America, and she writes a monthly gardening column for the Austin American-Statesman. Diana teaches the Landscape Design classes for several county Texas Agrilife Extension Service Master Gardener certification programs and speaks about gardening and design for garden centers and other groups. Learn more about presentation topics, availability and speaking fees.

Plants that shine in the winter garden…

After a few days and nights at 21 degrees, my Central Texas garden took a serious hit last month.  But, we were due.  Last year it didn’t freeze at all in my garden, so you can imagine how huge some of our perennials were by the end of 8 seasons of growth!

Our typical winter includes a few freezes, but the temperature dips to around freezing for a few hours and then climbs right back up during the day.  Not so this year.

I’m leaving the last of the fall leaves in the beds to help protect the plants and provide habitat for bees, so you are going to see the good, the bad and the very ugly.  It’s an all-exposed tour.  Viewer discretion is advised — you may need to avert your eyes in some parts!

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While the ferns and the bletilla striata are dormant, he dry creek pathway is lined with hellebores, a few sedges, a few cephalotaxus prostrata.  Mostly out of view on the left are two leatherleaf mahonias.

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The brilliant yellow berries on the mahonias add great color to the garden on gray winter days.

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In drought years, the foliage of the hellebores disappears in the summer garden, and reappears in fall and through the spring.  I have a collection of different varieties.  Below is a winter photo of my favorite – ‘Phoebe,’ from several years ago when we had snow.

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Isn’t that a gorgeous bloom?

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Where the path diverges, a few more sedges and a standard Japanese aralia and a variegated Japanese aralia add a pop of green.  The squid agave in the Artemis statue head was unfazed by the cold.  Farther back, a small clump of cast iron plant draws the eye.

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I’ve had this aralia for a long time.  It’s been through drought and covered in ice in bad winters, but nothing seems to slow it down.

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This fall I planted another aralia variety – a variegated one.  I was a little concerned that it might be more tender than the other, but it has held up beautifully.

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In the front bed, the one we jokingly call the hideous bed, natives and other well-adapted plants are hanging on.  Catmint, skullcap, Mexican feather grass, a whale’s tongue agave, salvias, Mexican sabal palms and a Spanish dagger yucca are all going strong.

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Across the driveway, more xeric plants are showing off, like the Jerusalem sage, a Texas sotol, a sago palm,  and some salvia Greggii.

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You’ll find Jerusalem sage in many parts of my garden.  It’s unusual color makes an intriguing contrast — and its fuzzy leaves make it completely deer-resistant.

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Another variegated fatsia Japonica is keeping a squid agave and a mountain Laurel company.  Sadly, the dianella in the background looks like it’s toast.  I’m hopping it was established enough to come back from the roots quickly, once spring arrives.

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A bright edge yucca, several more hellebores and a few almost hidden heucherellas are peaking out of the carpet of leaves.

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Bright edge definitely earns its name!

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I added a few new compact shrubs to the front beds last year.  These ‘Flirt’ nandinas make a beautiful middle-layer, evergreen addition and their added burgundy tips coordinate well with the larger loropetalum.

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One of my favorite plants for winter/spring interest is Japanese quince.  It’s sculptural and almost-bare branches are sporting a flush of gorgeous, salmony-pink blooms.

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The butterflies are so thankful that at least something is blooming out there!

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And no matter what the plants are doing in the garden, we can always count on at least a few cardinals on our many feeders in the wooded area.

While these aren’t the prettiest pictures of my garden, they allow me to see the true bones of the landscape, and evaluate the beds to determine what projects I’ll want to undertake in the spring.

Summer still hanging on in the garden …

It’s hard to believe that it was 93 degrees here in Austin yesterday. While I am ready for the crisp edges of autumn, I have to admit that the lasting beauty of the summer garden is a daily delight.

The Lord Baltimore hibsicus, Pride of Barbados and variegated shell ginger are all perfectly happy with the hot weather.

The Tecoma stans, or Esperanza, are still blooming like crazy.

The path down the side of the house still has some blooms, though they are beginning to dwindle.  Except for the Salvia madrensis, or pineapple sage, which blooms very late in the summer (well, OUR summer, that is).

These stunning spires are criss crossing with a single Salvia greggii bloom.

And at the end of the path, Artemis awaits.

Her hairdo, comprised of squid agave and creeping Jenny, adds a whimsical touch.

In the back, the fountain shade garden is lush with tropical flair, including Persian shield, Philodrendron, Coleus, sparkler sedge and Duranta ‘golden showers.’

The front bed is full or oranges and yellows at this time of year, with narrow leaf Zinnia, Calylophus, and Asclepia.

More yellow awaits farther up the bed with this Thryallis, the whale’s tongue agave and a view of the deep orange Tecoma ‘balls of fire.’

Yes, the brisk breezes of fall sound very appealing, but I love enjoying these long-lasting Indian summer blooms.  The forecast calls for a drop this week — 90 on Wednesday and then 80 for the high on Thursday, and 74 on Friday.

It’s coming, it’s just a little slow getting here!

By | October 16th, 2016|Sharing Nature's Garden|1 Comment

I’m ready for cantaloupe — is it ready for me?

With a high of 99 degrees yesterday, summer’s sting is lingering.  But that’s good news in my vegetable garden, where I am eagerly awaiting my first cantaloupe.  Its smooth, green, immature surface has been steadily changing, forming a lacy, beige skin that tells me it’s almost time to eat.

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This one still has a long way to go.

As it begins to evolve, you’ll know it’s getting closer.

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If you have a sunny spot and some room for vines to meander, you can grow cantaloupe.  They like well-drained soil; my veggies grow in raised beds, so that makes it easier.

Their growing season is about 12 weeks.  In Central Texas, we can plant them in late March-April and harvest them from mid summer to fall.  Cantaloupes are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium, and are low in calories.

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There are several ways to tell if your cantaloupe is ready.  First, make sure it’s covered with that raised, lacy netting-like skin.  Then, it should come off of the vine easily with a gentle twist.  If you have to work at it, you’ve jumped the gun!  And finally, sniff the end where you removed it from the vine — it should yield that sweet, heavenly, cantaloupe scent.  The one above still isn’t ready, the skin between the lacy part needs to turn a beige-ish color, too.  Don’t worry, if you do get too excited an pick one too soon, you can let it ripen a few more days in the refrigerator before you dig into it.

I’m hoping for a big bowl of cantaloupe with my breakfast this weekend!

Enchanting Lyndale and Como Park gardens at the 2016 Fling

As is always the case, there is much to see at a Garden Bloggers Fling, and our 2016 adventure kept us going at a fast pace.

I fell in love with the explosion of color where this beautiful beehive beckoned in the Lyndale Park Garden. I waited quite a while to get a solo shot of this amazing sculpture in the garden, as all the other flingers were as enthralled with it as I was. (You can see I didn’t quite let the last person get out of the frame. Tag yourself if that’s your elbow!)

This garden was a creative combination of formal beds with this refreshing fountain, and some unique displays of a wide variety of pollinator plants.

I was smitten by this display of Verbena bonariensis as the focal point in the midst of this checkerboard of annuals. I know this took a great deal of work to achieve, because my Verbena bonariensis is like a naughty child in the garden — it never stays put where I’ve planted it!

It was interesting to see so many plants thriving here that we can grow back in our gardens in Zone 8b in Austin, Texas, like the catmint and lamb’s ears and rudbeckia.

Blue can be elusive in the garden, so I was drawn to this monochromatic display filled with so many of the plants I love, like salvias.

This is the perfect example of how repetition in garden design packs a powerful punch.

And then I found the pink bed! Between the hot sun bearing down on us and the profusion of pink and lime color contrasts in this display, it wasn’t easy to get a great photo. But the Zinnias, Hibiscus, Fountain grass, Cannas and Cleomes were begging to have their photos taken. I had to oblige them!

Oh, and now I see that they were joined by Guara as well.

I grow cleome in my garden as well, although it gets a little weary of the heat about this time of year.

We also visited the Como Park Conservatory and gardens, where I have visited many times, as I lived in the Minneapolis – St. Paul area for four years, from 1988 to 1992. Conservatories always capture my fancy.

I first visited the Conservatory’s Sunken Gardens in the Spring of 1989, when snow still blanketed the grounds outside but bulbs brought spring indoors. This picture of my son was taken when he was 5.

He’s 32 now, and that is still one of my favorite photos of him. Visiting the park brought back many wonderful memories of our time there.

A pond of stunning water lilies greeted us as we approached the entrance.

The Sunken Gardens look so different at this visit. Purples and lavenders and limes seem to dot every surface of the space.

To see other posts of fabulous Fling gardens, check out my overview of Wouterina De Raad’s mosaic sculpture garden and the Eloise Butler Wildlife Garden and Bird Sanctuary.

Design, plant collections and spectacular, larger-than-life sculptures dominate fabulous Fling garden

It’s always interesting to poll Garden Bloggers Fling attendees about their favorite gardens. Some like gardens that showcase collections, some like gardens that highlight design. Personally, I had several favorite gardens at last week’s Fling in Minneapolis. But this one stood out above the rest, filled with beautiful plant selections, gorgeous design and the heart and soul of the artist and gardener who calls this stunning collection home.

Just across the border into the luscious, rolling hills of Wisconsin farmland, Wouterina De Raad’s Concrete Mosaic Sculpture Garden brought it all to the game. Chicken-lover, gardener, artist, and sculptor extraordinaire, De Raad, a self-taught artist, began creating life-size concrete and mosaic sculptures 27 years ago.

Of Dutch heritage, De Raad grew up on her family’s coffee and rubber plantation in Indonesia. She brings life to her sculpture garden by drawing on her upbringing in the Indonesian jungle. Her collection includes statues of jaguars, pythons, and other exotic and mythical creatures. Leading the tour through garden, she regaled us with the folk tales of her childhood, and the stories from her own life that inspired her unique creations.

Welcome to the garden — come on in!

Her love of the garden and all its inhabitants is evident in this oversized Monarch caterpillar bench, complete with the jungle-inspired monkey on its back. And, don’t miss the exotic bird on the monkey’s head.

The intriguing sculpture vignettes of the garden are bound together by pretty pathways and endless beds filled with beautiful blooms, stitched together like a life-sized garden quilt.

The perfect dog breed for the serious gardener. This one won’t dig up bulbs, eat tomatoes or chase chickens! You’d better watch out, Fletcher and Dakota, you could be replaced!

On one end of the charming clothesline, Momma and her young-un try coaxing a chicken off of the pole.

On the other end, Mr. America holds everything in line.

The garden also sports a seemingly endless array of little cottages, sheds, workshops and other quaint buildings, each its own palette for yet another display of De Raad’s artistic talent.

She wove a spell-binding tale about the jaguars in Indonesia as we passed by this building, closely guarded by her sculptural tribute to the fierce cats.

Sadly, my iPhone notes simply read, “jaguar story,” and I can’t remember the details.

I marveled at every turn at her innate ability to transform the most meaningful impressions of her life’s experiences into beauty and art.

The charming chicken coop, complete with its own namesake statues, was full of reused and recycled decor and several beautiful chickens.

I couldn’t really get any good pics of the chicks, and after all, the garden was calling…

But even the quaint bed in front of the chicken run was an art display. I can’ resist – De Raad left no stone unturned in bringing character into this part of the garden. Each of the border stones were given unique expressions, most of them smiling up at garden visitors.

And then, the chicken chair. Who wouldn’t feel like the queen of poultry sitting atop this perch?

With so much to see in this 3-acre garden, visitors can stop and rest at many lovely seating areas. This perennial border dotted with lilies frames the man and dog sculpture in the background. I didn’t catch the story of the body-less head the man is holding, but I’m sure it’s a doozy!

This seating vignette transports me to Alice in Wonderland…

Most of the sculptures in the garden are also lighted. I would have loved to seen this magical place in the evening, with all of De Raad’s concrete family members shining beacons across the garden.

After hours of editing and prepping, this post only skirts the beginning of this amazing garden. So, stay tuned, another post is yet to come!

Gorgeous gardens dominate 2016 Garden Bloggers Fling in Minneapolis

I just returned from a wonderful 5 days at the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was a long weekend filled with good friends, good food and gorgeous gardens. It’s always so fun to spend time with long-time friends, some of whom came to the very first Fling in Austin, and to meet new Flingers and get to know them.

Our first stop was the Eloise Butler Wildlife Garden and Bird Sanctuary
. The garden includes 500 different plant species and more than 130 bird species.

It was a cool morning — which felt like heaven to this Texas girl who left behind temps in the 100s in Austin. We began walking through the most amazing wildflower prairie, walking through narrow paths with beautiful blooms up to my waist and higher. We brushed by many plants I knew, and many that I didn’t. Peaceful, serene and natural, the garden provided the perfect start our day.

I didn’t many photos in this garden, as I focused on being in the moment, truly able to reach out and touch the garden with every step.

These were some of my favorite blooms in the garden.

See how high the wildflowers were?

This is just a short, teaser post. Many more are percolating in my head, so check back soon!