Greening Up

As days pass, there’s no slowing down for emerging buds, unfolding ferns, and  greening up of the garden.  In these climate changing times with weird to mild winters, it’s no longer normative for February to be Central Texas’ coldest month of the year, hosting regular hard freezes with mild days in between. Instead, chilly–not freezing–days are interspersed with warm, April/May-like temperatures.  Non-native plants like irises and introduced trees gear up for growing with the surplus of balmy days, but if a hard freeze rears its icy head, those non-native plants struggle with the unexpected cold. So far, my native plants are “weathering” the weird fairly well.

Alongside older leaves which never bothered to drop, emerged new growth is appearing on a young Rough-leaf Dogwood treeCornus drummondii.  A beautiful, small native tree, it grows well in shade and is a known wildlife winner.

My older Rough-leaf dogwood, a gift from a fellow Austin-area garden blogger (Thanks, Deb!) has grown, grown, grown.  No longer is it a stick with some other sticks coming out the sides, it’s now a real tree (paraphrasing Pinocchio).  New foliage has recently become noticeable, dotting limbs up and down the tree.


Last weekend, I transplanted a well-established Leatherleaf mahoniaMahonia bealei, from my full-sun front garden to my mostly shady back garden.  After half of an Arizona ash tree was damaged in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey rains, the front garden now receives significantly more sun than it did in the mahonia’s early days.  The poor thing was suffering foliage burn during the long summer months; sun fried leaves dropped, causing stress for the shrub.  The mahonia should be happier in my back garden where it will live in dappled shade and that’s the environment this mahonia species likes.

I hope it survives the transplant; it’s an early bloomer–great for hungry pollinators– and a tough, attractive shrub.  I’ll need to remember to water regularly during July, August, and probably, in September.


I like this picture of green, with varying textures.

At the right of the photo, are straps of iris, unknown variety; in the center-front, the foliage of native columbine pair nicely with Katie’s dwarf ruellia.  Back-center, you see a crimson pot topped with the foliage of fuzzy, bright green Foxtail fern.   To its left, another tough non-native, Dianella.  The Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’ is a great plant for our long, hot growing season, but oh so tender when the cold winds blow.  I have 5 groups of this plant–I love it–but it’s also the only plant that I must cover when the temperatures take a deep-dive, well below freezing.  So far in this non-winter winter, the Dianella have remained green, white, and stripey, with no need for covering.

Last winter, I notice a seedling of Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora,  nestled at the edge of a clump of amaryllis that my mother gave me years ago.  I’m leaving the Mountain Laurel, but where it’s situated, it will eventually grow large enough block the view of the pond from my kitchen and living room window.  Yikes!  That’s not going to work, but I don’t have the heart to pull it, but pull it out I must. Eventually.

The amaryllis straps should be dormant, but they’re not.  Thanks mild winter!  Behind these two plants, grows another group of Dianella.

I’ve grown this Mexican orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana for about 10 years. Until the past two years, the tree regularly lost its leaves in winter frosts.  This year and last, it’s had practice at becoming reliably evergreen.  I like the foliage and the tiny song birds really like the foliage, but I would prefer more winter, fewer leaves.

The long-views demonstrates the greening of my back garden.  To be fair, it’s not only that winters are warmer that encourages more garden green, but that I’ve planted more shade appropriate plants–many of which are evergreen, no matter the winter–to better adjust this garden’s transformation from a full sun space, to a mostly shade situation.

Looking southeast. My sister-in-law’s garden is just over the fence.

A northwesterly view.

The long view, again, looking southeast.


Greening, along with some other coloring, is also a winter thing in my front garden.

Iris blooms have emerged and will open…soon.

Ugh, if there’s a hard freeze in late February or in March, the blooms will be mush.  That happened last year:  a mild winter, then a hard, hard freeze during the first week of March.  Most of my individual iris plants had produced stalks and along those stalks sat a minimum of 6-8 blooms each.  I clipped as many irises as I was able, so that the blooms would happen, rather than losing all to the freeze.  Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Every glass and ceramic container I owned was filled with irises. EVERY ONE.  While it’s nice to have cut flowers in the house, I’d rather leave–and see–flowers outside.  So, stay away, hard freeze(s)!!

In past years, this sitting area would be less lush, more barren.  This winter, green is queen and blooms…are blooming. Firecracker/Coral plant, Russelia equisetiformis, (bottom left in photo), has produced its tubular red-orange flowers all winter.

Back when winters were normal, the Mexican honeysuckleJusticia spicigera (far left in photo) would be frozen and by now, pruned to the ground; ditto the bronze foliaged Ruellia ‘Chi Chi’ (center-right in the photo).

We live in a new climate paradigm and must adjust and adapt; we’ve waited too late to mitigate these early impacts of climate change.  In my own garden, the best I hope for is utilizing native plants as much as possible because of their evolutionary partnership with the capricious Texas weather patterns, without–and with–the onslaught of our changing climate. Going forward, I accept that non-native plants, even those which have been reliable, will be less so.  Milder, greener winters, early springs, searing summers, and delayed autumns are here.  Now.  

25 thoughts on “Greening Up

  1. Are those Iris pallida, or a cultivar of bearded iris. Mine came from the garden of my great grandmother in Oklahoma. It took me a while to figure out why they lived in such a utilitarian garden, and that they were orris root. While I was in Oklahoma, I wanted to bring back a dogwood, but they were so deeply rooted. I do not remember what species was endemic there.


    • A cultivar, most likely. These and another, solidly deep lavender, iris where in the ground when we bought our home in the mid 80’s. Many divisions later, lots of bulbs given away, they’re still plugging along.

      Iris are generally so hardy, that they can take a lot of ignoring. The bloom time seems to be what is being impacted by our weird weather, but I still like the straps and am happy to have them in my garden.

      Nice that you have iris from your grandmother–those are the best kinds of plants!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That describes Iris pallida, except for the ‘deep’ lavender. They are more of an average lavender, although variable. They are so very resilient that they survive in abandoned gardens in which other iris have died off.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Tina, I read somewhere that iris don’t like mulch at all and much prefer gravel or stone. My garden is full of leaves in the winter but do notice that my iris don’t perform very well. Do you have any hints? Thanks!


    • Yeah, I think that’s generally true and I don’t mulch mine, except for a light layer or just some compost or leaves. Iris are fairly tough; are yours in sun? Too much shade? Mine are all in part shade or dappled light and seem happy. I suppose you might have some that are picky, so you might try something different? My soil is heavy, so I don’t plant too deeply and I divide (roughly) every three years or so, depending upon time and if I remember to do so! 🙂 Late summer/fall is the best time to divide and replant iris. Good luck with them!


  3. Enjoyed the various views of your garden. I live in fear of a late freeze. MY Mountain Laurel hads begun blooming and the blooms are not any where beautiful as they were in past years. The blooms are short and stubby and I fear that it ight have some sort of disease. My laurel grew from a seed that I planted about 45 years ago- maybe longer. I should have been planting seed all over my yard when it began putting on seed years ago. I did not have enough sense to do that then and now it is too late for me to see a tree grow from seed. There a few seedlings this year and I will transplant them but I will not live long enough to see those old enough to bloom. You should dig your laurel seeding- maybe in by next year before it puts down a deep root and transplant it to a spot in the garden where it can be on full display.

    I had my helper dig 5 rusty blackhaw viburnum and directed him on how to dig and the plant. It was cold and misty on Monday when the saplings were moved. I love the viburnum since mine came from what once my grandfather’s 30 acre woodland many years ago. It is rather slow growing but I am hoping that I can hasten the growth of these saplings and be able to enjoy the gorgeous foliage in the fall.


    • Back in the day, when we stayed relatively cold, had freezes often, it was fine to have a “late” freeze because nothing would be out, yet. Them days is gone, I fear. Like you, I hope we’re done with any freezes, but wishing doesn’t make it so.

      Wow–that’s so nice that you planted the Mt. Laurel and have seen its life span. I think it’s probably too late to easily transplant that seedling. I have transplanted one or two other ones, though. I suppose it couldn’t hurt as one way or another, I’m going to have to pull it out eventually.

      Sigh–rusty blackhaw vibernum. I really want one (or more!) of those gorgeous trees. They’re super expensive (slow growing) and hard to come by.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will have my helper dig one more and pot it for you. Not sure how to get it to you but my daughter lives in Lake Hills and when- I can get it to Austin, I will gladly share the sapling with you. It will likely need to stay potted for another year. I will need to find one that looks like it will not be too hard to dig. It might take me a while to get the plant to Austin but I will one day sooner or later.


  4. We are ahead seasonally here too and semi-evergreens have been evergreen for the last couple of years at least. I fear that March/April will bring a cold snowy snap to wipe out all the greenness now emerging. (It wouldn’t be the first year to happen recently). Do you tend to select non-natives with different climatic requirements then? Your irises are quite glorious! I do hope they survive to flowering this year.


    • I guess the answer to your question is yes, since a lot of my non-natives are either natives to Mexico or further west of where I live: West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. Any cultivars that I purchase can have their origins in a variety of place. I price things that feed wildlife, but that are also water-wise and will take our hot summers.

      I love those irises. I’m not sure exactly what they are, they were here when we moved in. I’ve researched and seen a couple of different species that might be what I have, but who really knows?


    • Thanks–me too! So far, no hard freezes are in the forecast. Much as I hate to say goodbye to chilly weather, at this point, I don’t want anything below 31-32.


  5. Your irises are beautiful. When I was out last weekend, I found a few natives blooming in the ditches — blue flags. They’re just starting, and this year I’m going to keep better track, so I can get photos of them in full bloom. Two years ago there were creamy yellow/white ones, too, just hanging out in the water. There are large stands of them in and around the San Bernard refuge — as well as a ditch full of that native yellow canna that I posted about. I was so surprised to find it there — fodder for another post.

    Now I know what the fern is that’s growing outside my new place — foxtail. It’s really quite pretty, but a little odd, too. I like the tiny white flowers, and the red berries. Does anything eat the berries?
    The best news of all is that I’m getting sun on one end of my patio now, until about 9:30 a.m. By the equinox, in another three weeks, I think I’ll move some of my cacti and the duranta down there, so they get catch some rays, too.

    And although this isn’t green-related, I noticed late this afternoon that all of my birds suddenly weren’t making a peep, or even at the feeders. Sure enough, there was a big old hawk up in the tree. If you feed birds, the hawks will come, I guess!


    • Yes, you can always tell when the hawks are around! The whoosh of birds through the air…then nada!

      I don’t think my foxtail fern has ever produced the berries, though I have seen them on others. I’ve really liked that plant. I didn’t want to put it in the ground and only wanted one, so the pot-n-plant was a good addition to that particular garden.

      I hope you have enough sun for the duranta–keep me posted!

      I just love the irises; I meant to get a shot of my first to open this year it and forgot to do that today. Drat–I’ll catch it in the morning. The little native irises are lovely, so much simpler, but that’s what makes them nice.


      • Hahahaha! I know who’s been lurking around the feeders at night — a possum! I need to get in the habit of bringing them in at night (the feeders, not the possums).


      • Yeah, you probably don’t want to bring your critter in the house. We’ve had to bring our seed in at night because we saw rats. It takes a while to get into that habit.


  6. I was reading yet another farming book and a few days ago stumbled upon a few maps of the US in it that outlined various climate aspects – freeze dates, sure, but also mean number of days over 90, mean number of days under 32, etc. etc.
    As I looked them over for areas with which I’m familiar, I kept thinking I was misreading the legend for how off everything was. And then I saw the footnotes. Some were from 1960s and others from decades earlier.


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