It’s Grown In

Last autumn we removed an old, freeze-damaged Arizona Ash from our front garden. Within a few hours, the west-facing garden morphed from mostly shade to full sun. With no tree canopy protecting the garden, it now faces all day, blistering Texas summer sun and that’s a thing that demands respect as well as tough-as-nails plants. I recognized early on that some established plants would welcome the challenge, but others would need immediate removal, and a few would require observation throughout the growing season to assess their viability in the changed conditions.

This is a view of my front garden in early December from the corner where the driveway and street intersect, using the zoom feature to capture the innards of the garden where the yellow chairs sit.

All that remains of the poor tree is a stump, now happily hosting a large potted bougainvillea, thriving in the searing summer sun.

A front-on photo in December demonstrates a completely new landscape in the center part of the garden. I transplanted appropriate plants from other parts of my garden, as well as newly purchased shrubs, perennials, and some small trees to this open garden. The southeast quadrant of the garden (behind the orange pot, along the right side of the photo) and the northwest quadrant (outside of this photo, to the left) are the two sections of establish plants that I left in place.

This shot was taken in June, roughly at the same angle. Stuff grew in! Who knew that would happen? Full disclosure: the following photos were taken in late May and June. (I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while.)

The tall 5-7 foot spikes in the background, right side of the photo, are American Basket flowers, Centaurea americana, and in the middle of the garden, you can see the large leaves of a couple of common sunflowers, which have grown to 6-8 feet. Both of these annuals have bloomed since late May, providing for pollinators, and now, as they complete their blooming cycle, for birds who are feasting on seeds. The tall plants have also allowed privacy for the seating area of the garden. I have planted several small trees and large shrubs for the long-term, but it will be a few years before they will be large enough to act as privacy screens.

I left bits and bobs of Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, and they’ve proved pretty and hardy, rocking their rich green foliage and fresh, creamy flowers.

To this bright landscape, I added Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, its grey foliage and creamsicle-orange blooms a fetching combination, several pink-to-red flowering evergreen Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii shrubs, and silvery Wooly Butterfly bush, Buddleja marrubiifolia. These new plants have flourished in the heat and with the abundant sunshine. Graceful Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima (bottom right in photo), Gulf Muhly, Muhlenbergia capillaris, and rusty Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, are new native grass additions. All are well-adapted to harsh conditions.

Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, adds lofty salmon flowers and keeps the little Red Oak tree company.

In June and July the sunflowers and basket flowers have towered over the garden. Pollinators are busy from sunrise to sunset: bees buzzing, butterflies flitting, and hummingbirds chasing one another, vying for dominance over disputed territory. Pretty pink- blossomed Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala and the crimson blooms of Big Red sage, Salvia pentstemonoides, rest below the taller plants at the corner of the garden.

As this very hot summer drags on, some plants are showing heat damage. At the corner of the garden grows a ground-cover, Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum. It has struggled with the heat and morning-to-evening sun, plus it’s situated at the intersect of the street and driveway, enduring reflective heat from the asphalt and cement.

Crispy critter! Last summer, which was a more ‘normal’ summer, the ground-cover grew well, lush and green, blooming beautifully in autumn. But this summer has been particularly hot; Austin just recorded its hottest 7 day streak ever and we’re breaking heat records regularly. The mistflower isn’t up to that kind of grilling. There’s also no water at this corner; the soaker hose is situated about three feet away. So what to plant there? I’ll probably go with one of the smaller native grasses or something like a Blackfoot Daisy, Melanpodium leucanthum or a small native yucca–all sun and heat lovers needing minimal water and care.

The sunflowers and basket flowers are colorful protectors of the center part of the garden, which I enjoy in the early mornings and late evenings. Their growth is a little wild and rangy, but I like that and more importantly, wildlife is pleased with the choice of meals.

Native perennials, like cheery Engelmann’s Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, and the blue-blooming Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea, are rock stars, happy during long weeks of heat, though even they are growing weary with the oven-like temperatures.

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, always puts on a good show, though the blooms are mostly done and seeds are spent; I’m currently pruning them to the ground, their rosette set to weather the remainder of summer. Coneflowers generally return in autumn with rain and cooler temperatures, not as tall or prolifically, but flowering nonetheless. While that’s something to look forward to, temperate weather seems almost an impossible dream right now.

While I’m pleased with most of my established and new plants, I’ll need to remove many irises and all of the day-lilies and crinum lilies. The full-day summer sun is too much for these bulbs. I’ve also grown a couple of shade-loving spring ephemerals and they’re now frying in this sunny, hot garden. If they survive until fall, I’ll need to move them elsewhere.

As I observe the good, the meh, and the ugly of this new garden, I realize that changes are required and I look forward to the time when I can tweak the problem areas. It’s way too hot to contemplate the particulars of that work for now, so I’ll have to be content with mulling, fretting, and flip-flopping about what I want to plant.

A garden is ever-changing, never completed, and full of challenges .

30 thoughts on “It’s Grown In

  1. Quite a lovely transformation, Tina. I love the wild and rangy look! You’ve got some wonderful natives to work with. I think a small yucca in that corner would offer a nice foliage contrast. 🙂


  2. I love your new garden area! Its wonderful to see real gardening here in Texas. Rethinking a garden area is part of the fun of being a gardener, I think. My gardens have been struggling this summer as well. The native plants are true survivors.


    • Thanks, Terri. It’s such a tough time this year, I think everyone is struggling. I’ll bet though that your garden is in better shape than your neighbors’ grass! Hang in there, October is just around the corner. Snark.


  3. You must have put in a lot of work to have your garden looking so good.

    Some good news to report: two weeks ago on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville I noticed some healthy new huisache growth, the first I’ve seen since the horrid freeze of February 2021.


    • Most of the work was in the installation last November and December, but yes, it was a lot of work. Now I’m starting the mid-summer pruning and it’s hard in this heat.

      I’m happy about your finding the huisache! I was talking to someone recently–can’t remember who–who mentioned that her huisache survived that freeze. Like you, I haven’t seen any, which is such a shame, as they’re so beautiful. Hopefully, plenty of seeds survived and there will be more in time.


      • On the good side, huisaches grow quickly. I remember that within maybe five years of Mueller Airport’s closing, a grove of them had already sprung up near an edge of the property.


  4. Although not as pretty as your garden, I used to plug cuttings of my ‘disposable’ common zonal geranium around stumps to obscure the stumps, and to accelerate decay. It grew like a big geranium ‘shrub’, and not one knew what was goind on inside.


  5. Your garden is fantastic! I’m quite jealous. For some reason my pathetic effort peaked too soon. Flowers were out weeks earlier than they should have been even though spring was a bit cool and dry. Some plants have died completely. The Mistflower has made little growth and to top it off we have just had 2 days of intense, record breaking heat (probably normal for Texas).


    • Thanks, Brian. I’ve been thinking about UK folks and others from usually cool places in Europe. Gosh, you’re just not used to frying in the heat. Hope your people, critters and plants made it through the heat.

      Give that mistflower some time, I hope it grows for you. I know that gardeners as far north as Wisconsin grow it, though you’re even farther north than that. I would think that it would have a short growing season. Texas wasn’t always as hot as it is now; even we’re suffering much hotter and longer spells. Sigh. Sweat.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sadly a lot of fires broke out across the Country and many houses were destroyed, quite a lot in my home County of Norfolk, also a large nature reserve was lost but nobody lost their lives thankfully.
        The Mistflower bloomed last year but it was in November! Far to late for any pollinators.


      • I’m so sorry about the fires and subsequent loss of homes and the nature reserve. Heat is so dangerous. Weirdly, we haven’t had as many fires as I would expect, but we still have August to get through…

        As for the mistflower, since it blooms so late and is a non-native, it’s expected that it wouldn’t be in sync with your pollinator population. I wonder if there isn’t a similar native in your are that would work?


    • The garden is now a little crispier than those photos, but there’s still plenty of green and blooms. I’m starting to remove the basket flowers–they’ve been so much fun this summer. Like you, I noticed my plants were remarkably resilient and hardier after last year’s freeze. Odd, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. If there was ever any doubt of your capabilities in a sun drenched as opposed to a shaded garden they are now well laid to rest. What abundance in the face of our hostile summer environment! It is clear there are zero excuses for the rest of us – if we choose the correct (mostly native) plants and put them in the right places we should be able to enjoy a wildlife supporting garden anywhere.

    I would love to see a post from you about how to approach gardening in the face of increasing temperatures and decreasing rain. Texas gardeners have been adjusting (consciously or not) for years now, yes, but it looks like those challenges will only increase. We’d all appreciate any words of wisdom you could pass along.


    • Sun drenched is right! It’s been an interesting experiment and such a change for me. I do miss being able to sit outside, middle of the day in July and August, under the glorious shade of a tree, but the front garden is nice in the early morning and even toward sundown.

      Fortunately, I really love many full sun plants, especially the grasses, so I’ve enjoyed adding them and will need to add even more come fall and winter.

      I think anyone who seriously gardens in Texas has already moved to mostly native plants and plants from Mexico/Central America. I noticed on a friend’s FB post, his commenters were complaining about their gardenias and such burning. Goodness! Why would you even plant such things here??

      Even though my garden is beginning to show weariness with the ongoing heat and drought, it still looks so much better than most people who have grass, even if they water. My water bill wasn’t that bad this past time, but I’m sure that it will be higher next month.


  7. We had to have a large multitrunked pine removed last year and are trying to establish a garden where its shadow once was. Your success is encouraging. Those yellow chairs remind me of the same type only red from my childhood that my grandparents had at their camp in the Adirondacks in Northern New York.


  8. Your garden looks wonderful. We’re still missing out on the rain, so things around here look like you’d assume if only .32″ had fallen in weeks, but there are increasing amounts of rain all around, and especially north and east. Our day will come. I laughed at your comment about the gardenias. I know a couple of places where gardenia enthusiasts try, year after year, but it sure is an iffy proposition. Even if they keep blooming, browning leaves are a real problem — I think it might be the humidity. Still, that fragrance!

    I laughed at your comment about the gardenias. I know a couple of places where gardenia enthusiasts try, year after year, but it sure is an iffy proposition. Even if they keep blooming, browning leaves are a real problem — I think it might be the humidity. Still, that fragrance!

    I love seeing your chairs, too. Those are near-duplicates of the ones that were arrayed on my grandparents’ porch. I remember green and a faded blue, and how hot they were in the summer, until the shade overcame them.

    Speaking of yuccas, the city of Friendswood re-did their main street, and added a median all the way through. One of the plants they added was Hesperaloe parviflora — that pretty red-blooming yucca. There are dozens of them, and when they were in bloom, it was fabulous. It’s good to see some cities moving to native plants, too. It’s certainly more economical to turn to drought-tolerant plants.


    • Never mind the duplication. WordPress refused to post my comment, so I tried a copy and past, and clearly things messed up. Not only that, the comment form is extending all the way across my screen: weirdness abounds. But, I guess you can figure it all out.


    • Remember that I mentioned the photos were taken mostly in June, except for the one with the crispy corner. The garden still looks pretty good, but the basket flowers are done and crispy; I’m planning to pull them all out on Sunday. The sunflowers are still blooming, though they look pretty rangy. Most of my native plants, except for the ones that I knew belonged in shade (which they once had!) are doing fine. I’m going to pull that mistflower, but I think I have a spot for it the back garden; I have another group back there that are very happy. I can’t even remember when we last had rain. 😦

      The chairs are part of that whole retro fad, but I have to say that they’re very comfortable–except in the afternoons!

      Yay for native plants and I’m tickled that Friendswood is using some of them–it just make sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ugh, Tina, I feel for you… For as much as I imagine you like to have all that new area to design after the demise of your tree, I’m sure it’s so much harder to establish anything and everything new. I mean, when the old tree and surrounding plants were planted, the climate was a lot more benevolent, and far more predictable. But, it’s fun to see what you’re doing with that new space – I had wondered. It looks great, and I hope you can withstand the heat at least here and there, so you can enjoy the new wildlife buffet you have created.


    • You know, as challenging (hellish) as this summer has been, things are looking pretty good. The things that I thought would struggle because they want more shade, are toast. Most of the new plants are rock stars and I’d say that the established plants that I thought would do well, have. I’ll definitely tweak though: I have more coneflowers to put in, I want some more native grasses, the mistflower by the street is struggling (it’ll go the the back garden, I have the perfect spot for it), and there are some that simply need to be moved to more appropriate spots. But so it always is with a garden: the creation never ends, the work never done. I like that. Mostly. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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