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.

Frost Fest

Everyone is talking about it!  It’s the plant of the week, the one everyone wants to know and hang out with!  My own blog statistics show a dramatic spike in views of past posts written about it!  What is this trending plant, the plant with the cool vibe?  Well, it’s more than cool, it’s cold–it’s FrostweedVerbesina virginica.  Of course!

Frostweed is an excellent wildlife perennial plant, native from all the way up in Pennsylvania to here in sunny–usually mild–Texas.  Its striking summer-to-autumn white blooms, which feed many, are quite enough for me to adore Frostweed, but it’s the transitory ice show, as seen during the first hard freeze of winter, that gives this summer and autumn blooming, pollinator-loving perennial its name.

Frostweed.

Luscious ice sculpture!

In the first winter hard freeze, this week, my Frostweed strutted its icy, frosty stuff for almost three full days, due to the temperatures dropping late Sunday and not reaching above freezing until mid-day Wednesday.  The first thing I thought about on Monday morning, January 1, 2018, (okay, second–the first was about coffee…), was Oooh, I need to check out the frostweed, I’ll bet they’ve all burst open!  

Indeed, burst open they had–and how!

The moisture from the stem blasts open the epidermis of the stalk.

Breaks through the stalk, with additional curling (upper left) of the ice, occurs as moisture, forming additional ice, moves outward.

The ice formations are delicate and transient–melting at touch or temperatures over freezing.  Ice forms as the plant draws moisture up from the ground.  The supercooled moisture breaks open the epidermis, freezing from the base of the plant and upwards along the stalk.

The resulting ice sculptures can furl (unfurl?), scroll-like, along the stalk, which is how my Frostweed usually behaves.

Monday morning.

Sometimes, the ice creates wavy, ice-taffy inspired forms.

Same plant, Wednesday morning as more moisture froze along the stalk when temperatures continued to drop.

A closer look.

Curly.  Groovy.  Icy.  Beauty.

This winter’s show was special because in Austin, and certainly in more northern parts of the state, temperatures stayed below freezing for longer than the typical fleeting hard freeze, thus allowing the ice sculptures to expand, and remain frozen for admirers to appreciate for longer than just one morning.

Other perennials demonstrate similar freeze-n-bust action, but none do it with the verve and style of Frostweed.

As the sun warmed Wednesday afternoon, so melted away the exquisite, frosty art.  The frost show ended, probably until next winter, but it was fun to see.  Frostweed will be back in spring, after winter’s pruning, for another year of blooms and bust.

Frostweed–a frosty delight.