Globe Mallow-Bewitching Bloom, Fair Foliage

On the heels of celebrating blooms with May Dreams Garden and foliage with Digging, I can’t help but think about the Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, which is graced with both characteristics in abundance.

With fuzzy, ruffly gray-green leaves and orange dreamsicle blooms, the Globe Mallow is botanical eye candy.

But it’s also drought tolerant and hardy, so its marriage of beauty and brawn makes for a sexy and solid relationship! Globe Mallow is certainly a great perennial for the home garden in Central Texas.

For years I  thought the “globe mallow” that is commonly available in Austin nurseries was a native shrub, but that’s not the case.  The gray-leafed and orange-bloomed “globe mallow” that most Austin gardeners pine for and plant is usually the Sphaeralcea ambigua and isn’t native to Texas according the the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s plant database. The native-to-Texas orange-blossomed “globe mallow” is Sphaeralcea incana  and the only place I’ve ever seen it sold is at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Fall or Spring plant sale.  For whatever reason, it appears that the S.ambigua has cornered the commercial nursery market.  The Texas Sphaeralcea incana grows from a tap-root, so it might be more difficult to propagate or perhaps it’s harder to grow by seed. Regardless, the S.ambigua, Globe Mallow, works well for us in the Austin area. The Globe Mallow is a perennial that I like, but I’ve only experienced moderate success with it.

I’ve planted several of these lovely mallow shrubs.  The first was planted beside a Mt. Laurel, Sophora secundiflora and that was a majestic plant combination. Unfortunately I have no pictures, but imagine in cool, verdant March, the pairing of Mt. Laurel’s deep, glossy foliage, dripping with rich purple blooms planted alongside the airy gray foliage and orange flowers of the Globe Mallow–it’s a stunning sight.  I grew that combination for several years until the Globe Mallow sputtered in the increasing shade of an Oak tree. It grew leggy and thin, plus it stopped producing those gorgeous blooms.  I moved the mallow to this spot where it still didn’t receive enough sun to do much of anything except to flop over.

Then I transplanted it here,

…in the middle of my large perennial garden and purchased a couple of companions to keep it company.

For the first year the transplanted Globe Mallow performed well in the garden, though the newly planted mallows puttered along, with limited growth.

As I’ve written before, the biggest frustration with my gardens is the amount of “part-shade” I have.  My back gardens, which were once full sun, have less of that sun every year.  Darn trees.   My ill-fortune with Globe Mallow is a prime example of my part-sun predicament. This group of three were okay in that spot, but still didn’t quite receive enough sun to perform their best. They grew and they even bloomed in spring.

The foliage was stellar,

…but I wanted more orange-blossom beauty!

As the plants matured and the Oak trees cast shadows over the garden, the Globe Mallow would leeaan into the available sun, so they ended up looking a little silly.

This past year, I moved those listing mallows again, only this time to my front gardens.  One is here,

…planted in a strip garden, along with Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea and annual Sunflower.  These are just on the edge of my property.  Really, just on the edge. Don’t ask what I was thinking when I planted the mallow there, I have no idea. But I’m not moving it. I’m not moving it.  I’m not moving it. Transplanting woody perennials (like mallows) is tricky, so that’s not happening again.  

Except if I need to find more direct sun for them!

The second Globe Mallow is planted down the property line, nearer to the street.

I like this group with the Globe Mallow: Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, the not-in-bloom-yet Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, Mexican Feathergrass and Soft-leaf Yucca,  Yucca recurvifolia.

With this move, both Globe Mallows are doing quite well–finally, they get a full 6 hours of sun, year round. And that, kids,  is the trick with Globe Mallow success: they really do need FULL SUN. None of this part-sun, part-shade nonsense. They enjoy being tortured by the death rays of the Southwest Sun.  And why not?  These are desert plants–native to sandy, rocky soils and arid climates and the furnace blast of the sun.

My experience is that Globe Mallow bloom fully in the spring and again in fall, taking a rest during summer.  This one though has bloomed sporadically throughout this summer, which was a treat.

I recently pruned the mallow back a bit, as it was lolling over everything around it. Like many in the Malvaceae family, Globe Mallow flowers best on new wood, so pruning for tidiness also enhances blossom production.

According to the Wildflower Center, the Sphaeralcea are important plants for native bees, but I haven’t noticed bees favoring my blossoms.  Again, the S. ambigua is not native to the Austin area, or Texas, for that matter, so that might explain why I haven’t seen significant numbers of native bees at my flowers–other gardeners may experience differently.  If you plant the S. incana, the native bees in your neighborhood surely will enjoy the blooms.

One more note about “globe mallows” in Austin.  I’ve seen the Sphaeralcea angustifolia, also called Globe Mallow, for sale at Austin nurseries.  I don’t have that plant in my garden, but click here for the Wildflower Center’s database photos.  It produces similar foliage to the other two discussed, but blossom color ranges from pink to purple. Like the S. incana, it’s also native to Texas, as well as other Western states.

Stunning foliage and lovely mallow flowers,

…extend an invitation for Sphaeralcea shrubs to take their place in the sun and in your gardens.

Foliage Follow-up, August 2014

Thanks to Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-up, the monthly fanfare of foliage in the garden. As much as I love flowers, a plant’s foliage is often a deal-breaker when choosing for my gardens.  Especially in August when Austin blooms are a little scarce, the plant parts that are not flowers can lend beauty and definition to a garden space.

While not exactly foliage, seed heads certainly aren’t  blooms either.  Ex-flowers, I guess, but I’m including them because in mid-to-late summer, seed pods produced by former blooms impart interest to perennial gardens.  This group of seed heads of the Gulf Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis, are just about to POP open and spread their glory!

The Gulf Penstemon is a lovely lavender spring-blooming perennial.   I keep the seed heads as long as possible to give the seeds time to develop for propagation of new specimens for this short-lived perennial and also because I find them attractive.

Little, tawny turban-hats, the hard shell will burst open, spreading the seeds to nearby areas.  Or, the gardener (that’s me, folks) can prune the stems, crack open those turbans, shake out the seeds and in doing so, appear to evoke some pagan ritual while waving the stalks over the gardens.  I wonder what the neighbors think?

The Hill Country Penstemon, Penstemon triflorus, sports a larger, darker turban-capped seed head.

This year marks the latest I’ve ever left these seed pods on their bloom spikes. Usually, this plant topples over by early summer, I lose patience with the mess and cut it to the ground.

This seed pod of the RetamaParkinsonia aculeata, hangs from the tree’s slender branch like a pea ready for pickin’.

Retama is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae), so the pea analogy works.

This combination of varying foliage pleases me:  Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, Globe MallowSphaeralcea ambigua, and GoldeneyeViguiera dentata.

This trio includes some of the premier hardy perennials easily available for the Austin gardener.

If you have, have had or have ever seen a teenage boy of that certain age when the hair is long and a bit shaggy, close your eyes and visualize that in this DamianitaChrysactinia mexicana.

I love the swoosh of the “bangs” framed over the decorative stone.  Just imagine the teenage boy-head, constantly swooping his hair back to keep those bangs out of the eyes, in that annoyingly cute, but insolent way.

The wide, heart-shaped and deeply veined foliage of Coral VineAntigonon leptopus,

suggests a tropical lushness that is welcome this time of year.

I’m enamored with strappy, striped foliage, like that of this Dianella or Variegated Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’,

…and this Color Guard YuccaYucca filamentosa, ‘Color Guard’.

Those banded beauties work nicely in concert with each other and with another pairing I like, the native ColumbineAquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana, mixed with the cultivar  Katie’s Dwarf RuelliaRuellia brittoniana, ‘Katie’s Dwarf’.

The evergreen Columbine, with its soft form and graceful foliage, blooms yellow in spring. Conversely, the deciduous Katie’s Dwarf Ruellia has dark, lance-like leaves and sports sprays of deep purple from July through October.  Opposites attract and work well together–at least that’s true of these two plants.

Head over to Digging to check out other accolades to the leafy among us.


Bloom Day, August 2014

Celebrating August blooms,  I’m thanking Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this fun flower meme.   With sporadic rains and relatively mild temperatures this summer, there are fewer burnt-toast blossoms in Austin’s August.

My Mexican Orchid Tree, Bauhinia mexicana, has bloomed on and off all summer.

Elegant, snowy blossoms cool a shady spot on hot Texas afternoons. These flowers are  a favorite of Black Swallowtail Butterflies.

In stark contrast with the white Mexican Orchid, but also favored by butterflies, is the Pride of BarbadosCaesalpinia pulcherrima.  Tropical-hot orange and yellow,

… these drama queens thrive in the heat.

Royal SageSalvia guaranitica, blooms stunningly in early and mid-spring, but not as commonly though summer.

This year though,  a smattering of midnight blue gorgeousness has graced the two royal specimens in my gardens.

With multiple flowers opening everyday, the Lemon Rose MallowHibiscus calyphyllus dances through August.

Flouncing her petals open in the mornings, sashaying during afternoon breezes and bowing to heat at the end of the day, this mallow is a consummate performer.

The  blooms of Coral VineAntigonon leptopus, form on lacy loops along climbing tendrils.

I’ll replace its trellis next winter when this tropical, but hardy-for-the-Austin area herbaceous perennial freezes to the ground.

The trellis is a bit wonky, even for me.  The honeybees and I eagerly await the apex of Coral Vine’s blossoming period–soon, very soon!!

A close-up of a coral  Autumn SageSalvia greggii, flower,

…it belongs to a woody shrub native to Texas which produces a variety of colors.  I like this soft coral pink–it’s the best blooming salvia in my gardens this year.

The bright red Martha Gonzales Rose, Rosa ‘Martha Gonzales’, flowers throughout summer.

I wish mine received a little more sun–it would bloom even more.  This is a terrifically tough antique rose for Central Texas.

The Mexican HoneysuckleJusticia spicigera, returned full-force after our hard winter.

It’s orange clusters await early fall visits by butterflies and the occasional hummingbird.

The shrub is covered in tubular goodness now and that’s likely to continue into the fall months.

This pairing of pink and blue is too sweet!

The creeping groundcover, Leadwort Plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, produces sky blue florets,

…which beautifully complement the small periscope blooms atop the stems of Pink Skullcap, Scutellaria suffrutescens.

And still screaming: Summer! Summer! Summer!–is the sunflower de jour.

Or rather, sunflower de l’ete.

While new flowers open daily,

…those spent blossoms that have gone to seed are providing yummy munchies for the local finches.

Happy finch!

Visit May Dreams Gardens for more blooming beauties this Bloggers’ Bloom Day.

Skin Flick

Skin photo, more like. Old and new skin together, highlighted in early morning sun as he/she emerged into the adult form during the last molt of life.   I found this cicada and its former skin hanging on an expanse of Cast Iron foliage as I finished some necessary pruning of summer wayward perennials.

Opalescence of blue and green, I was astounded at the beauty of this common, often disparaged insect.  Growing up in Texas, the buzz of the cicadae are a fixed, noisy part of the fabric of my life.  Ubiquitous and incessant in late summer, I don’t always notice the cicadae’s mating songs, but the songs are there.  Always. Loud and desperate for love, or sex, anyway. They never SHUT UP about it!

In a post last month by Deb at austin agrodolce, she wrote about finding a cicada in much the same way I did–going about her gardening business and happening along to witness the drama a cicada’s molting for a mate.  Like Deb, I knew it was a cicada, but it turns out these insects are particularly hard to identify to exact species.  I’ve been using an excellent site to identify the various insects found in my gardens and I turned to this site for my cicada’s confirmation: Austin Bug Collection.   I’m reasonably sure that the cicada is a Tibicen species and I’ll posit that the wearer of The Blue and The Green is a Tibicen resh.

But I could be wrong.

Earlier that same morning, I was freshening my dog’s outdoor water bowl and spied an odd thing floating in the water.  I fished it out and it was the exoskeleton of the front section with connected eyes of a cicada.  Yuck.  And cool.  I guess someone found a vulnerable cicada, mid-molt, munched it and then washed down the delightful snack with a slurp of water, leaving the morsel of head adrift.

My morning for cicada discoveries.

I checked later and Mr./ Ms. Cicada in the Cast Iron was gone.

Gone to participate in the cacophony of summer’s din.  Gone to find the one true love. Gone to make more cicadae.

Gone to continue the racket for appreciative and unappreciative listeners.

Okay, It’s Not Entirely “No-Mow”

I finally rid myself of this bad boy last

I left that gas mower out on the street for the City of Austin’s twice annual large waste pickup, where I’m assured it will be dismantled in a responsible manner. At least that’s what they say and I choose to believe them. I haven’t used a gasoline powered mower for 8-10 years. Its oil and gas long since drained and properly disposed of, I can only attribute to laziness my not having scrapped the mower before now.  I ended the last patch of grass on my property in 2011–you can read about that process here.   Instead of grass

there is now a simple swath of pea gravel, bordered by perennial gardens and the cooling, restful pond. I drool over photos of the extravagant and creative walkways I see on garden blogs and in garden literature, but I have to be practical with my walkways.  My dog, Asher,

likes to roll in mulch, so that pathway product is out of contention because of the mess engendered. He also enjoys rolling in pea gravel.  But pea gravel is cleaner than mulch and I like walking on it, so that’s the medium I’ve chosen for two open, negative spaces and one pathway in my back garden. The maintenance is easy and pea gravel has a tidy appearance.

This area was once entirely turf,

…and this one, too.

In fact, my whole back yard was lawn.  Now the area is a  low-maintenance, no-lawn alternative. There is no turf, no grass: nothing which needs heavy-duty weekly upkeep or irrigation is left in my back gardens.  Just lovely perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses,

…with accompanying pathways.

This front part of my Slice of Paradise was all St. Augustine grass for many years.

But for the past 8-10 years,  it’s promoted perennials and host plants for wildlife, while providing herbs and vegetables for me.


The main section of my front yard was entirely St. Augustine grass until 18 years ago.  I added a border garden stretching along the street side and up the driveway to enclose the space.  After a cold winter about 16 years ago which killed the St. Augustine grass, I expanded the garden inward toward the center of the lot.  For many years, I  mulched the open space, resulting in a restful sitting where we enjoy the garden, mosquitoes notwithstanding.

I admit I missed the green expanse that turf lends to a garden space.  I didn’t want to install grass because most lawn varieties are water-needy and wasteful. Most turf doesn’t feed any wildlife, it needs regular irrigation to look its best (St. Augustine, in particular is water-thirsty) and it requires mowing and fertilizing. None of that for me!

A while back, I noticed  Horseherb, Calyptocarpus vialis, popping up in crooks and crevices around my gardens, or more correctly, in pathways around my gardens. I don’t know where it came from, but I like Horseherb,

…also call Straggler Daisy.  Rough-textured foliage, with tiny, sunny-yellow flowers,

some years it blooms more than others.  This year, so far, hardly at all.

Horseherb is a drought-tolerant, hardy native ground cover which accepts shade and moderate foot traffic. While I didn’t mind it spreading in my garden space, I was attempting to keep it under some control.   As I was yanking out some Horseherb (which has returned…) from the crack between the driveway and this raised bed,

I thought: Why can’t I use the  Horseherb as a groundcover in that sitting area?  There’s no reason this can’t be transplanted.

And so I did!

I’m pleased with this project.  The Horseherb nearly filled the space last summer, though with the cold winter of 2013-14, it returned slowly and unevenly.

I transplanted some of the clumps of Horseherb very late last fall–I believe there wasn’t sufficient root establishment for those particular plants and that’s why it didn’t return after the hard freezes.  Also, I haven’t transplanted any new clumps this year to replace the lost Horseherb.  If I had, this area would be completely filled in by now.

I watered it three times last summer and not at all this summer, so far. I probably should water at this point, but it certainly doesn’t need the weekly irrigation that the typical lawn would require.

Two downsides of using Horseherb as a “lawn” ground cover are, 1) it needs trimming along the edges to prevent weediness into the garden, and 2) it’s not evergreen. Those minor issues aside, Horseherb allows me some green expanse of lawn that I missed and desired.

However, I do have to mow it.  So I use this not-so-bad-of-a-boy for that job.

A friend gave me this old-fashioned, human propelled push mower a few years ago. It’s perfect for the tiny area which needs mowing and I don’t waste fuel when using it. The fuel used is Tina-powered calories and I’m always happy to spend of a few of those.

I don’t live in a gardening-centric neighborhood.  I’m dismayed when I see homeowners replace dead grass with the same, or similar, grass.  In my neighborhood, that happens all too often. (What’s the definition of insanity?  Making the same mistake over and over?) With the reality of increasing limits on water usage faced by urban areas, here in Austin and elsewhere, homeowners will need to remove water-hogging turf and install usable pathways and native/well-adapted perennials. The market is also expanding for commercial drought-tolerant lawn substitutes–there’s more than just St. Augustine and Bermuda grass to choose from.   Practical lawn alternatives support water conservation, can (and should!) promote wildlife gardening, and are easy to maintain.

Lawn alternatives are at least as attractive as a stretch of green lawn, if not more so.

I wish the less lawn revolution was happening more quickly, but it is happening.  I’ve never regretted ditching my lawn so long ago.  If you want to read about my yard transformation, click here.

No more bad boy turf for this gardener!