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.

Great garden color combos to perk up the fall garden…

A big package from Plant Delights made me squeal with delight yesterday.  Because I already had two flats of small plants for containers and the garden waiting impatiently in the garage, I vowed to spend the time to get these right into the ground.  

As I considered where to put them — they are additions to collections I’ve already started — I thought I would just mix them in with the existing varieties.  The order included 3 heucherella ‘Solar Eclipse,’ and 2 hellebores — ‘Berry Swirl’ and ‘Golden Lotus’ — and 1 sprekelia (red – so going elsewhere).  And, sitting in my garage for two weeks – 2 ‘Tutti Frutti’ shrimp plants.  

Hmmmm. chartreuse and burgundy and cranberry and yellow — that looks like a fabulous combination.  So, I looked for a spot to place them all together and found a corner with 1 existing ‘Tutti Frutti’ and plenty of room.
Oh, and see my new shovel?  It’s the first time I’ve used it — it has a nice flat bar to step on and provide more power and stability and has a nice handle that makes it easier to press down on it and put some oomph into it.  Especially great for me, with tendonitis in my arms and an occasionally cranky back.
It was much easier to use and it’s a little smaller than a standard shovel – just my size. I found it at Red Barn Garden Center up north when I was up shopping for a client the other day.
It was getting dark when I finished, so this isn’t the best photo of it all done.
Now, Central Texas is flooding, the rain is about to come into my garage and I expect my plants to swim by at any moment.  So much for getting them in before a nice rain!

Winter garden blooms – the hellebores are back with a flair…

Balancing precariously on the see-saw of spring weather in Central Texas (yesterday it was 77, today’s high will be 57), this season’s garden bloomers have to be tough.

Did someone say ‘hellbore?’  These prized beauties are the perfect antidote to the cold and windy weather blues. 

 This blazing beauty is called ‘stained glass.’

I found only one plant blooming last week.  Today there are 3 in bloom and 3 more have new buds, eager to open.

 This one is ‘winter’s wren.’ 

Aren’t they wonderful?  Also known as Lenten Roses (though they are not related to roses), hellebores are frost-resistant and most are evergreen.  In my garden, they sometimes disappear in the heat of summer, but always come back reliably when the real chill of fall arrives.  They are known for their drought and neglect tolerance and their exceptionally long bloom period from late winter through spring.

I misidentified this as ‘winter’s wren’ last week.  I just went through my plant notebook and now know that this one is ‘green gambler.’  (And then I just spent 30 minutes looking through the notebook and adding plants that I planted last year but didn’t record…rabbit hole!)

These are in a mostly shaded spot and I give them a periodic extra hand-watering with the hose.  A few houses down, my neighbor’s are beautiful and she does no supplemental watering.  They are fine in dry shade but they do like decent drainage.

It’s sometimes hard to see their downward-facing blooms, but they make me feel like a kid again in the garden.  I find myself rushing out to check the plants for new buds and blooms, happily rewarded when I find a shy new flower hiding under the canopy of leaves.

If you’ve got an empty spot or two in your dry shade garden, try a few of these.  Different varieties have different zones, so check closely, but they range from zones 4-9.  Hellebores, a must-have for your winter/spring garden!

Signs of spring in the garden…

Like all gardeners, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring.  While the calendar won’t declare it spring for some time, here in Central Texas, the signs of spring abound with the recent above-average temperatures.

 These aren’t new spring plants popping up, but I love the color in the winter garden.

 If you look closely, you can see the buds forming on the Mexican plum tree.

The new bark is emerging on my lacebark elm tree.  Beautiful bark is a wonderful sculptural element in the garden.

The bluebonnets are growing quickly now – getting ready to put on a real show in my crushed granite path.

My loropetalum has hundreds if not thousands of teeny tiny buds, waiting to turn into pink fringe flowers.

The hellebores are starting to bloom.  I have to go out and lift them up to see these delicious drooping flowers. Even though I can’t see them easily when walking down the path, the lure of these mysterious blooms makes for a fun garden game of hide and seek.

This one’s in full bloom.  It’s limey-green petals camouflage this flower even more than the others.  Helleborus ‘green gambler,’ is a fast grower and usually has some burgundy spotting, veining, or picotee on each bloom.   The picotee is the edge that is a different color than the flower’s main color.

These are very special little specimens — muscari golden fragrance. Unlike most muscari, these are not the tell-tale purple, but rather a soft yellow and they have a wonderful scent. They are very low to the ground – about 5 inches high – so I literally have to get down on the ground to get a whiff of them. But it’s worth it!

The primrose jasmine is about to burst forth beautiful yellow blooms.  This one is about 5 feet tall, so it will be brilliant when it’s covered.

These little daffodils are looking good.  Soon it will be time to blow away the blanket of leaves and let the flowers shine.

The deer have been checking things out in the almost-spring garden as well.  It’s ok, maybe they pushed down my newly planted bulbs since I know I probably didn’t plant them deep enough. (I don’t really worry about that, though, since they seem to come up and perform regardless of my late and lazy planting!)

My cemetery passalong irises are already blooming.  I believe these came from my garden blogger buddy, who blogs here about her garden, which is filled with many kinds of iris.

The loquat tree is sporting new foliage.  I love this tree and the lime-colored new growth that contrasts with the glossy, established dark-green leaves.
And, one last bloom – I bought 3 lovely glass daffodils at the nursery last week and put them next to the emerging real ones.  I wonder what the growing daffodils will think when they come up to find these imposters in their garden.
What’s coming up in your garden today?

Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham filled with vintage garden charm

The first stop my friend Pam, of Digging, and I made on our way to a delightful gardening weekend  Houston was at the Antique Rose Emporium.  Sadly, with our late Texas spring, we arrived before all the roses were in bloom.  We saw buds galore, though.

In spite of missing the roses in bloom, the rest of this destination nursery’s gardens were filled with beautiful plants, charming vignettes, and lovely gift shops.

We were greeted upon our arrival by this beautiful monarch – having second breakfast on a lantana bloom

As I was perusing the plant table with 4″ pots, I was suprised to find another greeter – but this one was sleeping on the job.  He slept through my camera clicks as I had to get a picture of him curled up so cute among the plants.

And the tables were full of pretty plants that all called out to me: “take me home, take me home.”

We had a full day’s garden agenda, or we would have loved to lounge under this beautiful tree and enjoy the scenery.

 I was fascinated by this beautiful tree and its bark.

The view out to the amazing rose display – I’m not sure if they would be called obelisks, but they are amazing.

While the garden is filled with roses and perennials, it also has a sculptural side – filled with yuccas, agaves and cacti.

This decades-old building houses garden items for sale and is well preserved.

 What a life — being a duck in this garden.

The building is so charming.

And I was fascinated with the preserved structure – imagining folks living in here a long time ago.

The hellebores were getting a head start on the roses, though they were still shy.


Another pretty area to stop and sit or gaze across the garden.

While blue is my favorite – this white delphinium really stood out.

On the path to the secret garden – drawing visitors in, wanting more.

Wish, anyone?

Circular paths wind around the rose towers.

More drought tolerant plants along the path.

There’s so much to see — time to sit a spell again.

Having a ginormous artichoke in my own garden, I was wowed by this beautiful display.

What a show of color on this kale.

 The cute kitty napping on the plant table near the entrance can rest easy with this dog on the grounds.

 What a pretty vegetable garden – filled with healthy plants and surrounded by a lovely fence.

I loved wandering around the grounds on my second trip to the Antique Rose Emporium.  It’s a delightful gardening jaunt, and well worth the little drive.  In a word, it’s charming.

Hope in the winter garden…

After a bout of self-pity stemming from an ice storm the night before last, I decided to venture out in the 39-degree morning in search of hope in my garden.

And I found it.

Of course, I’m not surprised that this hellebore is still stunning.  Hellebores grow happily in the snow up north, so our cold snaps this winter probably invigorated mine.

This one, Helleborus ‘green gambler,’ is a fast grower and usually has some burgundy spotting, veining, or picotee on each bloom.   The picotee is the edge that is a different color than the flower’s main color.

Because they droop, it’s almost impossible to get an upright photo of the blooms.  I wasn’t able to get one this morning – I was afraid I’d snap the stem while trying to push it up far enough for a good picture. I think this is the most stunning part of the bloom, anyway. And there is another bud right behind this bloom, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on it.

I have 4 other kinds of hellebore in my garden.  Other than ‘Phoebe,’ which is the most established,  they haven’t all been consistent bloomers.

I hope our harsh winter reveals a silver lining of hellebore blooms in my garden this spring.

That is, after all, what gardening is all about, isn’t it?