winter

Gardening trends in my landscape

I’m always fascinated about the transformations in the garden each year.  From month to month and season to season, small adjustments often result in big changes.

Here are some of the new plants and hardscape changes in my landscape this year.

January:  We enjoy watching the animals that wander, fly and hop into our garden.  My husband keeps about 10 bird feeders full.  We regularly see cardinals, titmice, sparrows, scrub jays and blue jays, wrens, mockingbirds, road runners, woodpeckers, finches, doves, cliff swallows, and every couple of years, a painted bunting.  Several birdbaths and birdbath fountains provide water for sipping and bathing.

February:  Last year, spring came very early, and the nurseries were full of beautiful plants at least a month ahead of schedule.  If they are selling them, we should be buying them, right?

I didn’t count how many trips I made to our independent nurseries in Austin.  Several times a year, I make all the rounds and come home with the SUV full of flowering friends.

 

Orders I placed over the winter also begin to arrive, ready to join the garden.  The slew of catalogs, full of vibrant photos of unique plant specimens give us visions of plants as we settle in for our long winters naps

They provide promise as gardeners experiment with new colors, sizes and varieties.

March:  I was delighted with the spread of my ground orchids this spring.  The Bletilla striata finally began to naturalize in the woodland garden, making the shady path pop with brilliant fuchsia blooms.

April:  When writing about Central Texas gardening, lush is a rarely used adjective.  But, it was the perfect description for our beds after a unseasonably warm spring and much-needed rains.

May:  This month marked the return of the Rio Grande Leopard frogs to the garden.  We often find them resting in plants in the morning, showering in our accessible fountains during heat of the day, and skinny dipping in the pool at night.  Fletcher runs around the pool in the dark, flushing them out from the neighboring plants so they jump into the pool.  He whines and paces around the perimeter, frustrated that he can’t get to them.  No worries, they can jump back out of the on their own.

June: With most of the garden filling nicely by the onset of the heat, I often shift my focus to decor, pots and creative elements in the landscape.  This piece of aged cedar inspired me to place a few bromeliads in the shade bed.  They had to come in later in the summer, but they added a nice touch for a while.

 July:  By now, the veggie garden provides us with an ongoing  variety of great fruits and vegetables.  Sadly, it is also the time for stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs to attack the tomatoes.  Almost impossible to eliminate, I get depressed about the impending demise of my tomato crop. They multiply so quickly, it’s impossible to control them by hand squishing or spraying them with the hose.

 

 

August:  The dog days of summer are also prime time for many of our native and adapted tropicals.  Pride of Barbados, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, is bursting with blooms by now, like electric orange fireworks all over town — and along the sides of our pool.

September:  This month marked the beginning of my major landscaping project for 2017.  The removal of the playscape paved the way for a new garden.  Eager to create something different, I settled on a pie-shaped parterre garden.  Using the same Oklahoma flagstone in the existing garden path, I had my crew create a rough-edged set of symmetrical beds.  To save money and recycle, I kept some of the pea gravel from the playscape area to build the pathway.

October:  More progress on the parterre.  We revised the existing left path to the vegetable garden, taking out the decomposed granite, flagstone steps and river rock.  This path was a continual source of frustration and weeds.  In spring, it brought forth a profusion of bluebonnets and winecup that were stunning.  But the remaining 10 months of back-breaking proved too much.  We then created a mortared flagstone path, leaving a few periodical spaces for plants — a guarantee that they wouldn’t be able to spread.  I added another path to reach the new parterre.

November:  Fall also brought forth blooms from the newly planted Phillipine Violet, Barleria polytricha.  My first experience growing this plant, it was awelcome addition to the tropical garden.

 

 

 

Finally, we finished the parterre and paths.  Well, almost.  I still need to add one more rose bush and all the accompanying border plants in the beds.  I filled the planting holes in the pathways with purslane. You can be sure I will post after pictures in the spring when the beds are full and blooming. To complete the focal points, I added a center birdbath, a wooden framed mirror on the back fence to provide interest and give the space more dimension, and a floral-themed bench to sit on and enjoy the growing garden.  If you look closely, you can see my taking this photo in the mirror. Once those elements were in place, I sat on the bench and marveled that I have never really looked at my garden from that vantage point.  It’s a wonderful and reflective place to sit and I’m so pleased to see my vision come to life.

December:  This month shocked all Central Texas gardeners with a surprise snowfall.  Not the dusting and melting immediately variety of snow we occasionally see, but a solid inch of sticking snow.  It turned the garden into a southwestern version of a winter wonderland.

Luckily, the blanket of snow insulated the plants and we were spared the worst possible damage of the unseasonably early freeze.

Winter has officially settled in and January feels like January, just colder than normal.  Seed catalogs sit by my chair as I cozy up to the fire with my hot tea, dreaming of garden plans to come in 2018.

What were your favorite garden additions in 2017?  New plants, new beds, new hardscape — what rocked your garden last year?

 

 

 

 

Ice in the garden…

Baby, it’s cold outside…

Central Texas gardens are being slammed with ice and even snow in some parts.  I feel for our northern friends who have it so much worse than we do.  We’re feeling very deprived of our “normal” warmer early spring temperatures.

Iris, wisteria, and Texas Mountain laurel buds are being sabotaged. Delicate new shoots on perennials have bitten the dust. And, our evergreens will once again be slow to start their growth. 

Here are a few signs that it’s really cold in my garden. 

This Japanese aralia will recover, but isn’t this one of the most pitiful things you’ve seen in the garden.  It’s hard to believe that it will perk back up when the temperature warms back up.

After several years, the pump on the birdbath fountain died.  I replaced it a few weeks ago with one that was the same size – to fit in the reservoir – but much more powerful.  It has a great bubbler.  If you look carefully, you can see that the majority of the water is frozen, except for the bubbling center, announcing loudly to the bird world that the water bar is still open for business.

Luckily, both the plum tree and the loropetalum were already in full bloom when the ice hit, so I am still enjoying this sight in the back landscape. 

It’s 31 degrees and raining this morning, so I guess it’s time to settle in with the seed catalogs for a little bit longer around here.

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!

Some color in the winter garden…

The sun came out today and I took a tour around my garden, basking in the warmth.  As I passed each plant, mental notes began to form. 

Cut this one back in a month…this one fared really well in the last freeze…oh no, I should have covered that one…and, best of all…hey — this one is blooming!

Against the backdrop of grey and brown, several bright spots dotted the landscape.

 If you were a bird, wouldn’t you love spending the winter here?

 Although the roses have turned to hips, the tips of the branches remain alive with budding color.

 Apparently, the cold weather agrees with my viburnum.

 My absolute favorite spring bloomer, Japanese Quince, has begun showing off bright flowers against it’s spiny, sculptural branches.

 And next to it, the primrose Jasmine is bursting into blooms and buds as well.

 The variegated ascot rainbow spurge has been transformed from the lime and yellow stripes it sported in summer to this rich, dark green and burgundy. 

And the sight of yaupon holly berries brings the woods to life with their shiny fruit.

While I’m certainly eager for the budding days of spring, it brings me a sense that all is right with the world as I watch the garden unfold across the seasons, as it is surely meant to do.

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?

Mourning the garden – post ice storm

It’s a sad day in the garden. Last night’s freezing thunderstorms decimated all of our signs of spring.  All the beautiful new buds and blooms we’ve been enjoying in the warmer weather over the last few weeks are gone. 

This plum tree’s tender new blooms are all toast.

This is what she looked like two days ago.

The blue bonnets will probably perk back up, but they are drooping under the weight of ice this morning.

The aralia looks miserable, but it will come back – it always does.

Even the winter-hardy quice blooms are all brown and wilted.

This ice looks very sculptural on this yucca rostrata; luckily it will be fine once it warms up.

I know we aren’t suffering like our friends up north in the real polar vortex, but it’s been a rough winter for us here, relatively speaking.  And it’s a sad time for Texas gardeners.  Our spring won’t just be late this year, we’ve lost most of the buds and blooms of spring for the year.