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.

Beautiful exotic blooms welcome me home…

Back from a magical 6-day garden trip that covered Winterthur, Longwood, and Chanticleer gardens, visions of blooms danced in my head last night.

It’s always a little hard to come back to your own garden after seeing the grandeur of such vast and amazing gardens. Lucikly, I was greeted with stunning blooms on my Peruvian cereus this morning. Cereus repandus (formerly Cereus peruvianus) is a thorny cactus with a sculptural shape that blooms in spring-summer.

It’s native to the rocky outcroppings and savannas of South America. In the wild, it can grow up to 30 feet tall, but is well contained in pots (thank goodness).

I had two blooms last year, and only one the year before that after I bought it. Its showy blooms are normally followed by red fruit much like dragon fruit, though more round. We ate dragon fruit every day when we were in Thailand 3 years ago.

Sadly, I haven’t had any fruit develop after the flowers yet. Last year, we had heavy rains during the bloom and they simply fell off when they were done. There is no rain in the forecast for this week, if we do get some soon, you can be sure I will be bringing it under cover. I’m eager to try the fruit.

It goes into the greenhouse for the winter, because it’s only hardy in zones 9-11. This year, it would have been fine outside, since I never had a freeze, but I’m not taking any chances!

I shot these photos early this morning, just as the sun was beginning to shine and the blooms were still at their peak.

I’ll have to enjoy my photos for the rest of the day, however, as the blooms have already closed up and are starting to shrivel. They are one-night bloomers. I’m so glad I was home to see them – if we’d come back one day later, I would have missed these 3 beautiful blooms. Now I have two more to look forward to.

It’s great to be back home in my garden.

Succulent planter filled with fun foliage…

When we put gutters on the cabana, I took down my rain chain and moved the large, smooth stone-filled terra cotta basin sitting at the bottom of it.

I rehung the rain chain (for decor only) from a tree, since we had no other place for it to channel rain. The basin sat in the woods, forgotten, for quite some time.

This weekend I decided to put it to good use, turning it into a lovely succulent planter. I collected several different kinds of succulents to provide interesting texture, form and color. I filled the basin with lots of large rocks at the bottom, then used decomposed granite mixed with soil for the fill and placed another layer of DG for the top.

Then came the dilemma – where to place it? I couldn’t really put it out front in an existing bed – the deer would eat it there. I didn’t have an appropriate sunny space in the back where I would get to see it.

So I decided I wouldn’t put it on the ground inside of a bed, I’d raise it up on a stand so it wouldn’t get lost.

After a trip to At Home (what used to be Garden Ridge – I think I’m doomed to call it Garden Ridge forever! Or at least “what used to be Garden Ridge!”), I found a stable enough plant table of a suitable height.

I’ve placed it by the front door. The deer DO come up to the door on rare occasions – I know I am taking a risk, but I like it here. And I can see it, especially now that we have created a kitchen and breakfast room in the entryway while our kitchen and family room are being remodeled.

Tuscan transformation…

It’s really quite an honor when a former landscaping client calls us back to design again at a new home. Several clients have entrusted us with repeat projects, including our current installation.

Located on a large ranch in the Hill Country, this Tuscan farmhouse begged for a fresh landscape to match the grandeur of this beautiful home.

I was first struck by the way the existing split rail fence seemed to detract from the view of the home. The entrance to the front door came in from a tight, side angle, the existing path gray and worn limestone. As I walked the front of the property, inside and outside the fence, the existing beds appeared tiny and out of scale. I realized that the front of the home, with it’s fairytale front door, roofline and window detail was lost to visitors coming up the walk from the side so close to the house.

As I explored further back, two large oaks caught my eye and I envisioned a new entrance, winding through the oaks and arriving at the front door straight on, giving guests an opportunity to experience the stateliness of the home.

With the cornerstone of the design determined, the rest of the plan fell into place.

We moved the new fence back a full 40 feet from the house, tore up the existing path and front stoop and build a mortared Oklahoma flagstone path that meandered from the driveway to the entrance. New, deeper beds enveloped the front of the home on both sides, anchored by a series of ‘tiny tower’ cypress trees and traditional xeric, Mediterranean-style native and adapted plants.

You can see where the old stone path came out and the new, albeit muddy, flagstone path meandering through the trees.

Having redesigned a landscape with these clients before, I knew their taste well, so choosing plants they would love was easy. We did leave the existing mature Crape Myrtle in the new landscape. The beds include a mix of rich red Salvia Greggii and Texas Betonies along with Zexmenia, Jerusalem sage, dwarf Greek Myrtles, ‘sandankwa’ Viburnum, Foxtail ferns, Dianella, Catmint, ‘new gold’ and variegated gold Lantana, ‘soft caress’ Mahonia, yellow shrimp plant and an existing Sago palm. The blend of texture and form gives the design a lush feel with many traditional Texas plants.

The project is ongoing – we’ve moved onto the back of the property now, building stone beds around the pool and creating a rose garden. More photos to come as we progress, though it may take a while with rain forecast for the next 7 days.

The scent of a garden…

I was walking up to our front door this morning when I was literally stopped in my tracks by a lovely, perfume-like scent. I looked all around me, examining the plants on both sides of the path. Hmmmm…Mexican oregano, nope – that has a sharp, herbal scent, and usually only when touched. Not the iris, not the ‘purple pastel’ salvia, the purple skullcap, the Zexmenia, or the black scallop ajuga. What was it?

So, then I expanded my search and saw the Magnolia ‘little gem’ magnolia far out in the middle of the yard. Sure enough, a large white bloom stared back at me.

And then I spied another, and another. I stood there for a while and absorbed the luscious scent.

Unlike many of the blooms in my garden, which are small and delicate, the magnolia bloom is bold and beautiful, it’s creamy white petals like intricate porcelain saucers.

Since there are many of them on the tree, I plan to bring one bloom inside to float in a glass bowl and infuse the house with its heady perfume. Nature’s potourri, there’s nothing better.

Rain, rain…well, just take a break, please…

Living with frequent drought makes dealing with torrential rains tricky. We want rain. We need rain. But, in the Hill Country, it’s tough for the ground to absorb. Which leads to floods. Dangerous floods.

Beyond the frightening potential human toll, gardeners also have to deal with plant-killing floods. I just turned in my article for next week’s Austin American Statesman, where I write about plants that “don’t like to have wet feet.” Today, that’s gonna be all of the plants in my garden. That’s from 3.34″ this morning alone and 8.29″ for the month.

Having lived through the sizzling, scorching drought, I am hesitant to wish for an end to the rain. But, geez, it can take a break for a little while — enough already!

Our home sits downhill from several other homes and so we get run-off. Serious run-off! We have French drains and dry creeks in 3 separate places, designed to deal with days just like today.

And our drainage abatement IS working. Water is moving to where it’s been directed.

The dry creek is no where near dry.

No sign of any let up right now, but it’s ok, cuz the rain is “Rollin’ down the river…” We also have a 10,000 gallon rainwater tank, which is totally full. I’d take a picture of the gauge and the tank for you, but I’d have to get wet. No thanks!

Fresh foliage follow-up …

Having blogged HERE about everything that was blooming in my garden this weekend, today I’ll join Pam Penick of Digging, and highlight some of the lush foliage in my garden.

Refusing to be dismissed by a lack of blooms, many of my favorite plants in the garden earn their status with colorful, textured foliage that delights season after season.

Last fall I planted a few more heuchera — actually gold zebra heucherella — the lime and burgundy plants in the foreground. I was delighted when they reached out with these wispy white blooms, almost like exclamation points emerging from their core.

I try to limit the annuals in my garden because I have enough work caring for the perennials as it is, but I reliably plant coleus in many places each spring. Their hot, popping colors brighten any shady spot and bring an energy to the garden that I just love in our Texas summers.

My Cephalotaxus, or Japanese plum yews, continue to thrive in the mostly shade areas of the front and side gardens. I love seeing the new growth arrive, heralded by the luscious lime foliage. I began using these in the garden about 3 years ago and they are tough as nails and satisfy my wish to have other conifers in the landscape.

This cardoon qualifies as a foliage favorite for sure. Fuzzy, spiny, and dusty, these leaves are always showing off in the garden.

This Yucca aloifolia, commonly known as Spanish Dagger or Bayonet, means serious business. Unlike the variegated ‘bright edge’ and ‘color guard’ yuccas that live in other parts of my garden, this guy’s leaves are sword-like and quite dangerous to work around. This pup popped up when I had to move its momma several years ago because she was getting too tall for the front of the bed. Her little one is following in her footsteps, so this one may soon move to another bed behind the back fence.

My Persian shields never fully died back this winter, so they are already getting to be a nice size in the shade garden. Score!

Plectranthus amboinicus, also known as Cuban Oregano, Mexican Mint, Spanish Thyme and Indian Mint, is a staple in my ornamental gardens. It is an herb and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. But I grow it for it’s cool, textured and succulent leaves. Mature, it’s about 18 inches tall and wide and makes a nice front of bed plant. It’s an annual here, but can easily be propagated from cuttings, which is what I do. It’s not a true mint – it’s botanically closer to Swedish ivy, which I also grow for similar places in the garden.

Another fabulous variegated abelia. I’m kicking myself for not keeping the tag. I love that this one is creamy and mild, while the ‘Twist of Lime’ and ‘Kaleidoscopes’ I love are spicier — with lime, bronze and reddish foliage.

Sparkler sedges are scattered throughout my garden. This winter I thought I’d lost one in the back, but it’s coming back from the roots. Sadly, it has reverted and is coming up solid green.

I’m about to plant several more of these variegated dwarf firebushes for their hot, tropical color.

That’s the foliage tour for today. What’s your favorite foliage in the garden?