bright edge yucca

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!


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.


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


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.


Isn’t that a gorgeous bloom?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


Bright edge definitely earns its name!


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.


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.


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


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.

Spring garden spruce up…

While the weather was cold and before it was planting season, I started a project at my house to add a chopped limestone edge and an Oklahoma flagstone cap to the beds along the front walk.  It turned out great and I was very happy with the result.

But then the nice weather came, and with it, clients.  Clients who wanted designs and hardscaping and landscaping and the items left unfinished on my project remained unfinished.  Until this week.

An unexpected opening for the crew found them at my house with 4-1/2 yards of great soil – Thunder Garden Soil from  Geo Growers.  That was worked into the front beds, which are now, in essence, raised beds.  Miscellaneous volunteer seeds – zinnias and salvias and other random plants were hoed out and given the boot.

I stood back and took stock of my bed and tried to view it as I would a client’s.  I’d been unhappy with it for a while.  So off  I went, three days in a row, to the nursery to load up every inch of my car with plants.

We filled the holes and created structure and contrast and texture (all the things I preach about!) These are the plants I added:

  • Foxtail ferns
  • Variegated agapanthus – these are way cool!
  • Persian shield
  • Sparkler Sedge
  • Purple pixie loropetalum
  • Mexican bush sage
  • Amistad salvia
  • Bat-faced cuphea
  • Blackfoot daisy
  • Mexican honeysuckle
  • Purple skullcap
  • Yellow zinnias
  • Skeletonleaf goldeneye
  • Sun coleus
  • Copper plant
  • Helianthus maxmilliani
  • Whale’s tongue agave
  • Miss Molly buddleia
  • Yellow bulbine
  • Hibiscus
  • Mexican bird of paradise

These didn’t all go into the walkway bed, I filled holes in other beds, too. I finally replaced my critically-wounded franzosini agave with a whale’s tongue.  It will never be the same, but it also won’t make 30 pups a month that have to be cut out and it won’t get 20 feet tall and it won’t freeze as easily.

I love the new plants and the new mulch that followed, but one of the things I’m most excited about is that they finally brought me moss rocks to put in the section of dry creek right by the front door.  After lots of — no, tilt it this way, no, bury that end, no turn it around, not this way, that way — I am happy with the placement of the rocks.  They add so much to the natural look of the entire area.

Though they are still small, the Persian shield and loropetalum will add a nice purple to the lime spikes of the sparkler sedge and the hot gold Cuban duranta that’s now just emerging from dormancy.

My new passalong bronze iris from Robin at Getting Grounded went into this bed along with some coleus to mirror the lime and purple on the other side.

These foxtail ferns (my first ever) will provide some structural contrast for the rock rose volunteer in the center that I babied over the winter.  The yellow zinnias will coordinate with the yellow skeletonleaf golden eye and the bright edge yucca further down the bed.

I can’t wait to see the brilliant purple Amistad savlias bloom next to the bright edge and the agapanthus.  (It’s still hard to envision it all since almost nothing is blooming quite yet.)

This vignette is at the end of the path – yellow columbine, golden grass, sun coleus, creeping jenny, a yellow lantana and hidden – a copper plant that will grow to become a nice tall bronze backdrop on the left.

This is just a little slice of the bed behind the pool.  The ginormous Maggie roses used to live here.  Now the center piece will be this Miss Molly buddleia, surrounded in front by a semi-circle of pure yellow bulbine.  On either side of the bed are phlox paniculata and lavender trailing lantana and Mexican oregano.

I moved the Amistad salvias from behind these bright edge yuccas last fall.  They just didn’t do well in this bed – I think it was too hot for them here.  The stock tank I painted holds an evergreen wisteria planted in the fall – check out the amazing bloom color here.  So now between the two I have three Mexican honeysuckles with their hot orange blooms to play off the purple, yellow and lime.  Love those combos.

So, now I wait, and water a lot by hand.  Bought a few new expandable hoses (yes, I love them and will do a post soon).  And I’m using rainwater from the tank, so that feels great.  I think there are probably 200-250 gallons in there and that’s going to go fast if it’s going to be 90 every day.

I’m happy with the result and enjoyed walking through the garden tonight with gin and tonic in hand, surveying all the new things and appreciating my garden.

Rocky, no soil spot? No Problem!

After several years of trying various vines along a fence, the light bulb finally went off in my head.  There is a sizable section of fence on the back corner of our driveway, and I really wanted to cover it in beautiful blooms.  I have grown morning glories, white potato vine, Mexican flame vine, passion vine, and star jasmine.  Some lasted longer than others.  The passion vines were decimated by caterpillars almost as soon as I planted them.  Others vines just struggled in the hot, rocky, dry bed.

This bed is shallow, and below a few layers of amended soil you will find nasty caliche and rock.  No amount of building it up helped, and even then the soil would often wash away.  I have been known to keep beating my head against the gardening wall, but I finally got tired of losing.

Then it came to me — I needed a container to fill with good soil.  A BIG container.  I was motivated by a stunning evergreen wisteria that I just had to have.   (It’s not a wisteria at all, it’s millettia reticulata, but that’s one of its common names.) 

This was my motivation:

Isn’t this the most amazing bloom? 

So, off I went to Tractor Supply in Dripping Springs to get myself a small, 2x2x4 stock tank.  Add a few cans of Rustoleum hammered-metal spray paint and I went to town.

I didn’t think the silver would work in that bed, and this is a great color that I’ve used on countless pots, home fixtures and other items when I was flipping houses.

I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that the spray paint mist did give my feet and toenails a nice tan that required nail polish remover to take off. 

 Removed the pathetic jasmine vine and smoothed out the tank’s new home.

There – that looks nice.

Last night, with my dear husband’s help, the wisteria, Natural Gardener garden soil, decomposed granite and Native Texas Hardwood Mulch all went into the tank. 

All ready for the rains forecast for this weekend.  Didn’t want to miss that opportunity. 

The Amistad salvias in front of the tank will have to find a new home this fall — with a little less sun.  They struggled there this summer.  I haven’t decided yet what will join the bright edge yuccas in that spot.  Any ideas?  Magenta vine, yellow and lime yuccas, yellow cassias — on the other side is a desert willow.  It’s a hot, dry and rocky bed.  But I want a hot color to play off the yuccas.

Now we wait for the next bloom on the wisteria!

Flora Grubb delights bloggers with pots, plants and garden design and decor

Come on in.

Where to start?

Our 6th annual Garden Bloggers Fling in the San Francisco area this year was phenomenal.  The Fling crew, Kelly KilpatrickAndrea Fox, Charlotte, Claire and Maggie, did an amazing job of crafting a program filled with beautiful private gardens, public gardens and nurseries.  They babied us and fed us well and it was so fun to gather with friends, old and new, and join together to discover the Bay area.  

As we began our Fling, we all laughingly said that they can grow everything in California.  After these garden tours, I think it may be true!

I’m starting my blog posts from the end.  After numerous problems with my computer and iPhoto (all self- created problems having to do with TOO many files – 18,000 photos – even after moving 5 years worth of photos elsewhere), these are the photos I’ve uploaded so these are the photos you get to see!

Our last stop – a shopping tour and  reception filled with wonderful food and drinks – at the well-known nursery, Flora Grubb.  Wow. 

The nursery had me on garden overload with its unique plants, bursts of hot color and just plain old cool stuff.  Creative vignettes like this classic car overflowing with ferns and phormium captured our attention.

This exotic staghorn fern makes me think of Medusa as it spills out of this Buddha head planter.

The pruning of this palm tree created a live piece of sculptural garden art.

Endless bromeliads – loving the heat and humidity of the Bay area – and paired with hot pots.

Or succulents sitting side-by-side in cool concrete.

Flora Grubb did the landscaping for nearby gardens, and we got a walking tour of the area, which included these great yuccas.

I loved this plant – tibouchina – and was pondering its viability here in Austin, Texas, when Kelly came along, laughed at me, and said: 

“No, it won’t grow in Austin, but it will grow in my garden!”

Then she snatched one up and sauntered up to the cash register!  I had to laugh.  I had a case of serious plant envy by this point without a doubt.

Inside the store, we were surrounded by more beautiful pots and decor.

As things were winding down, and I sat to chat with friends, I almost didn’t notice the cool trenched table inlaid with succulents.  I knew I couldn’t get this in my suitcase.  Think I could make one? Hmmmm…

Each year at the Fling, there seems to be one specific plant that’s in its full glory in almost every garden we visit.  In Buffalo, I remember the mondarda, in Chicago, I remember the alliums.  From the San Francisco fling, I will always remember the over-the-top phormium we found in almost every garden.  We’re a little too hot and a little too dry to grow them here, but you can bet money I’m gonna try!  Maybe in a pot, in a carefully chosen spot and lots of TLC.  (No work involved in trying to grow this plant!) 

Here’s a glimpse of what I brought home in my suitcase – a succulent, a fern and a few tilandsias along with a trio of metal planters and some red long beans.  I would have liked to fill a truck with so much more and drive it home, but that would have been impractical.

This was a spectacular ending to a wonderful Fling.  Thanks to everyone who helped by working, hosting, opening their homes, and sponsoring our special event.

Spring garden project …before, during and during…

It’s time for spring garden projects — time to implement the ideas that have been percolating over the winter, waiting for sunny days and a fresh, new start.

A section of my landscape has been sad for several seasons.  It wasn’t quite what I wanted and most of the plants just wouldn’t grow anymore.  Lantana wasn’t growing, for heaven’s sake.  What does that tell you?!

So,  this week, we (the royal we – meaning I had help!) dug up the strip of grass designed as a contrast, shoveled up the existing rock to make a more natural-looking dry creek, brought in a yard of soil and turned up what little existing soil was there — some of which was caliche and some was actually road base, left by the construction workers when they built the house 12 years ago.  Seriously?  You just dumped it here?

I planted a row of bright edge yuccas and some mystic spires salvia along with a firecracker fern.  There are still some Mexican mint marigold there, along with some blackfoot daisies that are going to have to move, but I had to look at them with the other plants to make decisions about what to do with them.

So, it’s not done-done, but it’s pretty close and I’ve got a good sense of what I’ll do next. 

When it comes to spring projects, are you still plotting or planting?