Ice Again

With each of this winter’s freezes and accompanying ice, I’ve assumed that the plants which create ice sculptures are done with their frosty shows until next winter. But with the latest round of mid-to-low 20s, more curling and swirling appeared, some on plants thus far unmolested by the cold, and some on plants that previously froze and were pruned.

These cut stems are all that remain of a mature Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, that I pruned in late January after an earlier hard freeze. Clearly though, there was just enough stem material left for the ice fairies to appear.

I hoped that the Mexican Honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera, would be spared a killing freeze this year and remain green. That hope was dashed Thursday and Friday as temperatures dipped to the lowest point so far this year. The wilted mush of the once bright green foliage will require pruning to the ground for each of these shrubs in my garden to make room for new growth.

On the positive side, the water-turned-ice-crystals in the stems created some lovely, if short-lived ice art.

I’m now in full winter perennial pruning mode. When I prune herbaceous perennials I typically leave 8 to 10 inches of stems, sometimes more. On the remains of a Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, the ice formed, puff pastry style.

I think the January/February 2022 plant ice capades has completed its final act. After the upcoming year of growth, it’ll be interesting to see if early freezes in November/December bring an encore performance.

Autumn Natives

I live in a region with nearly year-round gardening. Summer is hot–that’s a given–and winter is chilly, punctuated by hard freezes–sometimes rainy, sometimes dry. Spring and autumn are delightful, even when spring ends earlier than I’d like and autumn arrives way after it’s due. These pleasant months are the best times to be outdoors and in the garden; I’d suspect that many Texas native plants agree.

Perennials in the Asteraceae family are common, but well-worth having. These cheerful Fall aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, bloom for 2-3 weeks and I always look forward to their lavender display.

I like Fall aster even when it doesn’t bloom, but how can you not grin when you see these charmers?

This combination of blooming perennials and shrubs provides interest for the gardener and food and cover for birds and insects. The background shrub is Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra. Its subtle pink blooms are barely visible in the photo, outshined by its more colorful companion blooms. White blooms atop the leggy stalks of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and the red hibiscus-like flowers of Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreous are worthy competitors for attention to the lemony-yellow daisies of Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

More Goldeneye to brighten your day.

It’s not just flowers that add to autumn’s beauty, but native grasses are at their peak during this time. My garden is a shady one and I only have a few spots of truly full sun and therefore, limited room for the stunning native grasses that grow well here in Central Texas. Native grasses need the blast of the Texas sun to shine! But this Big muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, sits in one of those sunny places. It’s a gorgeous plant–even in winter–but in autumn, its fluffy panicles sway gracefully in the breezes.

The muhly is photobombed by a couple of branches of native Turk’s cap (left and front). The pinks in the background belong to the non-native Coral vine.

Be still my beating heart, I love this plant. I’m now growing several in my front garden (the back is too shady to host these sun lovers). This is the oldest of the bunch and I think by next year, the youngsters will be just as impressive.

A different specimen from the one above.

Another Goldeneye/Frostweed vignette benefits from the addition of Inland sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium.

Inland sea oats are excellent grassy perennials for shade. The “oats” are chartreuse in spring, deepening their green during summer, turning tan in autumn. I think that the group in the above photo turns toasty earlier because it receives more sun. This group below, growing in my back garden and in significantly more shade, still retains some of its green highlights; eventually, they’ll all turn to a warm tawny until pruning, just before spring.

Texas craglily, Echeandia texensis, is a less common garden perennial than the others I’ve profiled, though available in some local nurseries. I purchased mine from Barton Springs Nursey years ago and mine have spread somewhat by seed, but I’ve also separated the fleshy roots into new individual plants.

The lovely flowers, alternately posed on tall bloom spikes, are small, orange-yellow and lily-like. Texas craglily is a member of the Liliaceae family.

The base of the plant is grassy, with fleshy foliage and despite its delicate appearance, a tough and drought-tolerant perennial. From its grassy base which appears in late spring and provides lush green throughout summer, the plant sends up bloom stalks in September, blooming until November. An elegant plant, the bloom stalks move with the wind, flowers and seed pods in almost constant motion.

This week marks Texas Native Plant Week, a celebration of the native plants of our regions. Texas is a big place with a wide range of topography and weather patterns, but there’s something for every garden, plants that will please every gardener. Native plants, Texan or otherwise, are must-haves for any garden. They’re easy to grow, they belong where they grow, and they nurture endemic wildlife. In the bigger picture, most regions enjoy a wide palette of gorgeous and valuable native plants: trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, grasses and succulents. No matter where you garden and call home, if you haven’t tried growing natives, give it a whirl! You’ll be amazed at their beauty and ease.

Hat Trick

Hat trick: three successes of the same kind, especially consecutive ones within a limited period.

Three honeybees, working the glorious goodness of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, focused only on their goal of nectar gathering, offered zero attention–no buzzes, no curious fly-bys–to the human with three eyes as she bumbled through the garden.

This time of year, the second spring of Central Texas, when autumn perennials burst forward in floral song, after the hot summer and before winter’s chill, it’s not at all challenging to find pollinator hat tricks working varieties of lush perennials, which dispense both food and beauty, necessities for hearts and souls. Change is palpable: shorter days, cooler temperatures, and optimism for the future.

Linking with Anna and the lovely Wednesday Vignette, it’s all about telling garden stories.