leatherleaf mahonia

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.

A few early bloomers showing their colors…

This Garden Bloggers Bloom Day finds my garden rather sad, covered with the dreary blanket of winter that’s covered us for quite some time this year. In spite of that, Carol, of May Dreams Gardens, invites us to brave the cold and see who’s popping up in our gardens for a little bloom.

This Autumn Joy Sedum really should be named, Winter Joy, because she seems to love this winter weather. In spite of a freeze last night, today she’s still bright and perky and posing for me.
My grape hyacinths from last year’s indoor arrangement are still blooming strong, with lots of other bulbs yet to come from the original 3.
Ms. Phoebe Hellebore is still a sleepy little bud, but she’s so close, I decided to stretch it a little and let her join in our bloom day fun.
Several more Daffodils have opened up, but the best is yet to come.
The Japanese Quince is in full bloom and beautiful.
The Leather Leaf Mahonia still has the most interesting blooms on it — even more unusual with a reddish spent bloom on the stalk when the yellow bells are done blooming.

That’s all that’s blooming outdoors in my garden.

But I haven’t shown you the greenhouse this winter, so I thought today would be a good day for a little tour of what’s blooming there.
This Rose Kalanchoe has sent up a giant stalk and is blooming like crazy! And I have thousands of babies — that fall off the ruffle-edged leaves into every pot I own. (Austin gardeners, if you want one I’ll be bringing a bag ‘o them to our design event.)
This is the annual impatiens plant that my Mom and Dad gave me 2 years ago in March when our beloved Sierra dog died. I’ve managed to keep it alive this long and it is amazing to see it in bloom like this.
This is the Bougainvillea given to me by Robin, of Getting Grounded, so it would have a sunny home in which to bloom. It misses you Robin, but its happy!
This is a Cowslip that I bought a few weeks ago at the Natural Gardener. I have no idea if it will survive the heat or the deer in my garden, but I had to have it.
Here’s another close up of the Rose Kalanchoe – look at all those blooms!
And now we’re indoors. This is the bouquet that my son (26) brought me for Valentine’s Day. He came over yesterday and took his little sister (7) out to dinner for Valentine’s Day — just the two of them — as a special treat, and they brought me back flowers. So sweet, those two.
And this is a rose from the stunning bouquet I got from my husband for Valentine’s Day, along with chocolates and a singing card. I’m eating my chocolate right now as I post! I am so blessed.

Our temperatures have been about 10 degrees below normal on average here this winter, which put us down to freezing for several nights this week. Spring may be a little slower arriving here this year, but we have so much to look forward to.

Plants with interest in Winter

With yesterday’s beating rain, and last night’s predicted freeze, I decided to cut my first two daffodils and bring them inside to enjoy.

It was just too painful to watch the only flowers in my garden lying prone on the ground in a puddle.

So I rescued them.

Now I can sit and look at them beside me this morning while I enjoy a cup of tea and blog by the fireplace.

They seem to be enjoying my company inside!

While looking around the garden at all the dead, dying and dormant plants, I found a few bright spots.
Like this native Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria, growing wild in our wooded area. It’s chock-full of beautiful berries – a splash of bright red against the palette of browns that’s overtaken the garden.
And then there is the Leatherleaf Mahonia, Mahonia bealei, which is most interesting in winter. In some other states, it’s been declared invasive, but not in Texas. It’s not for everyone, or everywhere, with its upright and prickly form, but does provide unique structure in the garden. Its new winter growth erupts into a few dozen spires of tiny yellow bell-like flowers.
Although the sedum in the hanging planter is long-since dead – a few little Hens and Chicks found their way into the pot and seem to be quite happy.
I kept hearing the Woodpecker outside this week and finally got a picture of him as he landed close to the breakfast room window while looking for his bugs.
This — not so pretty, huh? On the left – a big HOLE! On the right? the roots of a previously chewed up Agapanthus that have now been ripped out of the ground. I moved them all from the back so Dakota wouldn’t eat them, so now the deer are eating them! And if that weren’t enough, then they are coming back to rip out the roots! Argh.

So the big question is, will I try to plant them around the pretty bird bath in the front again or will I give in a go another route to spare myself the aggravation? What do you think?

“Isn’t she lovely?”


Ok, I have to admit I have Stevie Wonder singing in my head as I write this post title, so now I think maybe you do, too!

I just had to share.
Look at Ms. Daffodil above — here she is this morning. Looking for the sunshine that graced us today.

And here she is, this afternoon, as she begins to unfurl her precious petals in preparation for her “First Bulb of the Season Party!”
And you are invited!
I’m continually amazed at how such a simple little thing can be so joyful.
The normally-cranky looking Mr. Leatherleaf Mahonia is quite perky in today’s sunshine as well, as he shows off his yellow berries.  The birds don’t eat them, though.  I’m guessing they taste like they look – kind of prickly.

And here’s the view up the side path to the wild garden, with that glorious sunslight glinting on the trees.  Lots of dead foliage and plants in here right now, but in spite of that, it looked beautiful to me today.  Sunlight has a way of changing your view of things, doesn’t it?
I guess that’s why I love living in Texas – LOTS of sunshine.  (Ask me how I feel about it in August!)
But, today, I’ll leave you with another jingle in your head – like McDonald’s…
“I’m Lovin’ It!”

A little Sunshine in my garden

We had a mixed bag of weather today – humid and damp and misty this morning, then that broke and the sun came out and then a cold front blew in and blew right back out again, leaving sunshine and warmth for the rest of the afternoon. As I was cleaning up the back patio and pruning some, I was struck by how many yellows I have in my garden. So I thought I’d take you on a tip-toe through the yellows today. This is a Gerbera daisy left from last year’s basket of mixed color.

Mickaela Euonymus
Daffodils – -again!
This is a Duranta stem with some yellow berries on it — hard to see because it’s in the garage still until we pass the early March last possible freeze point. I’m not moving that baby twice — she’s heavy.
Here are some flowers in my kitchen today.
Mums and Alstromeria – some of my favs.
Euryops Daisy
Primrose Jasmine
Variegated shell ginger.
(With quite a bit of freeze damage that I just
haven’t cutback yet, so this is a sample of
yellow and dead!)
Leatherleaf Mahonia.
Compact Daisies.

Thought this might be a little ray sunshine for those of you who are still deep in the throes of winter.

Enjoy.