Monday, May 28, 2018

What Is It About Austin Gardens?

Portal to one of Jenny Stocker's garden areas

The Austin Garden Bloggers Fling 2018 has flung. And what a time it was. I had such mixed emotions on this Fling. Austin is my former home and where I left my heart. I loved trying to see it through a first-timer's eyes. And I wept silently for the loss of so many soulful and unique aspects to Austin.

For a while I pondered what to write about the experience and finally settled on what I think defines the gardens we saw - they evoke a very confident sense of place and individualism. I hope to show you examples of both in this blog post.

A unique bottle tree in Donna Fowler's garden

Each garden, both public and private, was unique in its own way but one garden that strongly showcased the individual was Lucinda Hutson's garden. Lucinda's home and garden reflect her abiding love for Mexico.

Lucinda Hutson's home in the Rosedale neighborhood

She LOVES color and although her flowers are colorful, it's her use of color on objects that keeps her homestead lively through all seasons.

Part of the vegetable garden in Lucinda's yard

Near the entrance to Lucinda's tequila cantina

Lucinda's garden makes me want to sit down, put my feet up, sip a tequila drink (a traditional margarita would be my favorite), and while away the time asking Lucinda about her travels to Mexico.

A vignette in Pam Penick's garden

Pam Penick's blog Digging was one of the first blogs I ever read and probably what inspired me to start blogging (that and having the time after getting laid off in 2008!). I've visited her garden multiple times and each time I find it so reflective of Pam. Her design sense is strong and she smartly contains her plantings to what will do well in her growing conditions. And she loves a little whimsy as well.

B. Jane's front yard with prickly pear (Opuntia sp.), whale's tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea)

Austin gardeners embraced the xeriscape garden movement many years ago and it's wonderful to see the great variety of plants that are now available in the nurseries there (envious!). Though some of the nursery plants are ones that have adapted readily to the heat and occasional (frequent?) droughts in the area, others are natives that can be found by simply driving into the Hill Country or farther west.

Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima) and wildflowers in Tait Mooring's garden

The native and adapted plants evoke that sense of place I mentioned in the beginning. There were few fussy plants here. I know from experience that most of them are hard-working, sink-or-swim ones.

Jenny Stocker's English-style garden

Case in point is Jenny Stocker's exuberant garden (only a little bedraggled from a Texas-sized gullywasher!). Her plants, such as Indian blanket, cacti, and ornamental grasses, evoke the cottage garden exuberance of her native England but with sensible plants for Austin.

The deer-prone exterior of Jenny's garden

Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) in Zilker Park. This fern is common on the limestone cliffs of the Texas Hill Country. I try to grow some each year in homage to the area.

For me, the plant that spoke Austin was the escarpment live oak, Quercus fusiformis. This is one of those plants that I took for granted when I lived there. Yet this time I was seeing it with fresh eyes.

View of the Austin skyline from Ruthie Burris' garden, framed by the ubiquitous live oaks

Live oak in a field outside Johnson City

You've got to be one tough plant to make it and thrive in Austin. The aloes, agaves, and other drought-tolerant plants that dot the Austin landscape are great but relative newcomers. The escarpment live oak is the one that's been there for a while. There's nothing like driving country roads and seeing a majestic live oak in a field. What kind of stories could it tell?

I had a wonderful time at the Austin Fling and feel so lucky to have attended nine (nine!) Flings so far. I've made some great friends whom I wish I could see more frequently. I hope to see you next year when the Fling goes to Denver!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2018. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day for January

Muscari armeniacum 'Alida' 

On this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day there is zip, nada, not a thing blooming outdoors in my garden. That's fairly unusual for this southern garden but we've had some pretty severe freezes in the first part of January. And we're on the precipice of some more temps in the teens preceded by SNOW!! That is a major event down here, lol! But back to the topic of blooms... I managed to squeeze out a bloom plus an almost bloom today indoors.

'Lizard Lips' aloe

From the succulents that are indoors, the 'Lizard Lips' aloe is still blooming. In fact, it's almost always in bloom. It's quite a hit with the hummingbirds when it's outdoors. The blooms are pretty small as is the plant.

Muscari armeniacum 'Alida'

This past fall I sprang for some pre-chilled muscari bulbs from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. They arrived in mid December and are just putting on buds. I have two pots of them and can't wait to see them all in bloom. They should get darker than this photo. Even though I planted both pots at the same time, one pot is just about to burst into bloom and the other is taking it's time. That's okay. The show will last longer that way.

Be sure to visit Carol's blog, May Dreams Gardens, where she compiles all the GBBD posts from around the world. I'm sure something is blooming in the southern hemisphere at least!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2018. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Big Experiment in My Garden

Willow oak (Quercus phellos) in early December

This year I've tried to lighten up my gardening load. The years just keep on coming but the body can't do what it used to, know what I mean? So, among other things, I have been rethinking my goals around the relatively new "woodland" garden. I installed this area in 2015. It had been a shady area with plants along its back edges and a motley look of St. Augustine grass and weeds. Here's what it looks like today:

View of the woodland garden from the pathway near the deck

From this view you can get an idea of the size. It's bounded on two sides by the fence, on the left by a concrete patio, and an S-shaped edging barrier in front. My idea originally was to plant shade-loving perennials and spring ephemerals. Sounds like a nice idea, right? But then I got to thinking about how much work it would take to find the right plants and keep them alive, and all the money I would spend.

Long view of the woodland area from the back corner. The small yellow plant to the right is a native witch hazel.

For a while I was happy with just letting the fall leaves build up. But alas, some very undesirable weeds also showed up. And since there is a bird bath and lots of trees, the birds dropping invasive Chinese privet seeds didn't help. Who wants to spend time weeding and not planting fun things?

Close up view of woodland area

I continued to plant the edges as I expanded the old alleyway garden. The alleyway garden really was an alley at one time many years ago. That means it's full of gravel, broken asphalt, and assorted weird things that escaped the old garbage cans that used to live there. We tackled the area in the back corner when we first moved here. After being an alley it had become a dog pen. So we had to remove mounds of torn up dog cushions and other gross things.

Latest alleyway plantings and self-sowings - 'Goldsturm' rudbeckia on the left, Nasella tenuissima (Mexican feather grass) on top center left, a couple of varieties of columbine at top, and various Carex species that planted themselves as well as "weeds"

The alleyway is both a challenge and a delight to plant. The challenge is finding small enough specimens that can be planted in a couple inches of soil amongst rocks. The delight is watching what does well. Mostly it's been ferns, columbines, small phlox varieties, and daffodils. But while I've been very slowly expanding this area, I noticed what started to happen in the other half of the alleyway.

Looking west from the compost pile down the unplanted alleyway

The western, unplanted half of the alleyway started to do its own thing with respect to plants. First, up popped loads of spiderwort, Tradescantia sp. Yes, it can be a pest here! Then some of my white iris migrated up the hill to the alleyway. Then various Carex species appeared. And of course, an assortment of more "traditional" weeds including sweet autumn clematis. And my ever-present, ever-cursed Liriope spicata. Some escapees from the compost pile also took up residence - rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'). So I figured I oughta help out and this fall I scattered more black-eyed Susan seeds as well as purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

View looking east down the alleyway of the more planted side (and my compost pile)

This led me to decide to start letting the larger part of the woodland garden do its own thing, too. I've planted a few native shrubs like witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and smooth withe-rod viburnum (V. nudum). There are some daffodils that I didn't have any other place to plant. I moved lots of Southern wood fern under the oak tree since I didn't care if it went wild. There have been some interesting and different species of carex showing up. I haven't identified them all with any level of confidence yet so will hold off on naming them. But there are ones that are bluish with wide leaves and others that have skinny, green leaves.

Unidentified Carex species with skinny leaves

I'm really liking the clumping varieties but have found one kind (that I think is a carex) that is a runner and looks pretty invasive. So I'm removing that. I've also found some small grasses. You might ask why I would leave a random collection of grasses and carex about. I will grant you that it doesn't look that tidy. But I've been very influenced by Doug Tallamy's book 'Bringing Nature Home', and Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher's book 'Garden Revolution, How Our Landscapes Can be a Source of Environmental Change'. The 'Garden Revolution' book especially argues for leaving in place (or planting) small grasses and other plants that will feed the early spring pollinators and foraging birds. I hope I'm doing our planet at least a little bit of good. I do know that it can use all the help it can get these days.

Now if I can just identify all these new plants that are growing without my help, that'll make my year!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2017. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Friday, November 3, 2017

What's Happened to My Garden?

Hibiscus paramutablis 

If it's small consolation, I hope I'm not the only one who has had a lackluster year in their garden. I'm starting to realize that the unpredictability of climate change is making it darn hard to figure out what to plant where. Our weather year so far has been one strange trip indeed - only one hard freeze in early January followed by incredibly mild temperatures the rest of "winter," rains throughout spring AND summer, followed by almost drought-like conditions in September and October. We had our first freeze last weekend but now I'm wearing shorts and flip-flops. Is it any wonder the garden is suffering?

Former willow oak tree and numerous smaller trees that were in the way of the saw

I'll show you a few of the misfortunes in the garden. First up was the once large, old willow oak tree on the side of the carport. About two years ago I noticed some sawdust at the base and suspected borers. When I was finally able to get someone out to inspect, they determined the tree was on its last legs but they weren't sure it was the borers' fault (he said many old willow oaks were succumbing around town to something unknown). Unfortunately they had to cut several smaller trees that had created privacy in order to take this one down. It's hard losing such a tree!

JalapeƱo plant with some kind of virus or fungal blight?

Every pepper plant I purchased in spring had some kind of virus or blight. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a fungal blight given the rainy summer we had. So although my pepper plants produced, they were not prolific.

The disaster that my front side garden became this fall

Because of several things happening in September and October, I somehow didn't realize how badly the drought was affecting this bed. Since I can't see this bed from my backyard, it was very neglected. Almost every single black-eyed Susan died (if you have experience with Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', you know how hard it is to kill them!). And my 'Martha Gonzalez' rose was looking terribly puny so I ripped it out. The ornamental grasses hung in there though. Good thing since they had been divided early in the year so they weren't up to full capacity yet.

Fall fence garden looking kind of shabby

The garden along the side fence is always a challenging area. It sits under a giant shortleaf pine tree that likes to grab available moisture. But because this garden is also downhill from the rest of the backyard, it's the last to drain if we've had a lot of rain. So I have both moisture-loving plants like Joe-Pye weed that you can see bending over in the back, and plants that tolerate drought like Eryngium yuccifolium (rattlesnake master). I guess that means at least something will survive! In spring it looks okay with the purple coneflower blooming and then the daylilies. But sadly, I lost two roses here just this year. That makes three roses in one year, a new record for me.

Rock wall garden with sweet potato vine taking over

This year I didn't have to plant this sweet potato vine because the roots survived the mild winter. Small favors! More exciting to me though is the fact that the mild winter means I'll get lemons off my tree this year.

Back boxes in October

Not much happening in the boxes now except for the Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) blooming away. One of my asters, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, commonly called fall aster, did its usual good job.

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium aka fall aster

Yay for fall asters! There have been some successful things in the garden.

Green Lynx spider with a successful catch. This is on a ‘Deuil du Roi Albert’ dahlia.

Like this kind of large spider on my dahlia. It's a Green Lynx spider. It will eat pollinators but such is the cycle of life. When I cut this bloom after it was spent, I discovered the spider had an egg sac on the old bloom that it was tending. So I carefully placed the cut bloom in the middle of its web hoping it would stay there. It did and here's the result!

Mama Green Lynx (can you see her?) with her babies

It's been fascinating to watch the lifecycle of this spider. But kind of hard to watch the slow death of several beloved plants. I'm worried that gardening is just going to be a matter of luck for me from now on. And I fear climate change is going to be our constant. Sigh...

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2017. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Flinging in D.C.

Part of the Enid A. Haupt garden at the Smithsonian

In late June I once again had the pleasure of attending another Garden Bloggers Fling, this time in the Washington DC area. Wow, we saw a lot of extraordinary gardens, both public and private. This time around I decided not to spend so much time behind the camera and just enjoy the gardens. So my trove of pics from this trip is a little skimpy! I finally went through my photos intending to pick out one garden I liked the most and do a blog post on that. But... just when I thought I had settled on one garden I'd find pics of another garden I really liked. Eventually I settled on the Public's garden - the gardens around the Smithsonian.

Sorry, I'm not sure what these are but most likely they're one of the newer Echinacea varieties.

Yes, I know that anyone who's in Washington can see these gardens anytime and so you may be disappointed I chose them but really, they were quite extraordinary. Take this giant gardenia, for example.

One gigantic gardenia in a pot! Here Gail and Andrea take a whiff. 

Seriously, this potted gardenia was huge! It was in the Enid A. Haupt garden right next to a little sitting area. Perfect place to sit and inhale that sweet Southern perfume. I imagine it's quite a task to bring that plant in for the winter.

Assorted purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea spp.)

The Haupt garden had a huge number of coneflowers. All the newest varieties and also the tried and true species. It was a pollinator haven.

Might be Echinacea pallida. Anyone know for certain?

Next to the Haupt garden is the Mary Livingston Ripley garden. It was amazing, due in no small part to horticulturist Janet Draper and her team's efforts. We ran into Janet in the garden the day before the Fling started. She said she was cleaning up in prep for us. As if gardeners don't have messy gardens sometimes!! :-)

WANT!! Looks like blue chalk sticks (Senecio mandraliscaein the background, some kind of echeveria in the middle, and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) as the spiller.

Most of these gardens are in raised beds that give you a great up-close view of the plants. As you round the corner into the garden it becomes intimate and scaled to people. That doesn't mean it's wimpy - far from it!

A wall of succulents. This looks so good I could eat it!

There were a lot of really interesting plants in beautiful combinations. And lots of really interesting made objects, like this succulent wall.

Pollinator hotel

And like this pollinator hotel that was made mostly with found objects. It's almost like a sculpture, isn't it?

Shade garden

This shade garden caught my eye because of the sculptural little tree along the wall. The Ripley garden is relatively small but big on impact so I urge you to visit it if you're ever in the capitol.

The best part of Flings is reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Here are just a few of the Flingers I was happy to see this year.

Andrea, on the left, was our guide around the Mall. She's temporarily in DC but moving back to Texas soon. Gail, of Clay and Limestone, and I got the grand tour from Andrea!

Barbara Wise and I have a tradition of taking each other's pic at the Flings. Hi Barb! :-)

Gail, Janet, Karen, and I sweating it out in the U.S. Botanic Garden.

If you're a garden blogger, you need to come next year - it's in Austin to celebrate its 10th anniversary, woot!!

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2017. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day March 2017

'Climbing Pinkie' rose

It's time for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and spring is nigh! (Actually, I'm a day late for it but so it goes.) Fortunately down here in north Louisiana we're not dealing with the incredible snowpocalypse that the Midwest and Northeast are experiencing. But we did get some unwelcome (to me) cold temperatures. The poor plants are so confused!

'Sombreuil' climbing rose

As you can see, there are a few roses blooming in my yard. Not many yet but two out of the three climbers are starting to look pretty. Wish I could show you how the 'Sombreuil' and 'Climbing Pinkie' are starting to intertwine on the top of the pergola but I'd have to climb up there for a decent shot!

'Thalia' daffodil

The daffodil show is still going though many of the early ones finished blooming some time ago. Still blooming for me are 'Thalia', 'Pipit', 'Mount Hood' and 'Pink Charm', with a few more varieties to come.

Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant' (aka summer snowflakes)

Hyacinthoides hispanica 'Excelsior' (aka Spanish bluebells)

Other bulbs are still blooming, such as the summer snowflakes, or just starting to bloom, such as the Spanish bluebells.

Phlox divaricata ‘Louisiana Blue’

I ordered these 'Louisiana Blue' phlox last year and am shocked at how pinkish-purple they are. But I love the color! These are growing in my former alleyway now optimistically called 'the woodland garden'.

And here are a few other bloomers.

Improved Meyer lemon tree blooms

'Texas Gold' columbine (seems a bit early to me)

'Butterfly Blue' scabiosa (aka pincushion flower)
Matrix Beaconsfield pansies

I've talked before about how I'm lukewarm about pansies in the landscape. But I love potting them up. And once I learned that fertilizing them every 3-4 weeks really helps, I'm starting to really love them. These Matrix Beaconsfield pansies are quite lovely. I also have Matrix Morpheus blooming in vibrant purple and yellow.

Graptopetalum sp. 

Okay, this Graptopetalum isn't really a bloom but it kinda looks like one, right? I have this growing in my rock wall and I always love how it develops a rosy tinge in the winter. Maybe I should use this for Pam's Foliage Follow-up Day?! Be sure to also visit Carol's GBBD page to see what's in bloom around the world.

This post was written by Jean McWeeney for my blog Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog. Copyright 2017. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.