Grasses, Berries, Groundcovers: Autumn Images

Cooler temperatures and regular rainfall herald autumn in Central Texas–and we all breathe a sigh of relief that the broil of summer has passed. Perennials awake from their summer siesta, ushering in a second spring of blooms. From September until first frost, there are easily as many blooming beauties, especially of the native kind, as in spring.

Our native grasses, soft and elegant throughout the summer, acquire a warmth of color and rock dramatic plumage in autumn, challenging the beauty of accompanying blooms.

Big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) graces a combo of Plateau goldeneye and Turkscap.

I’ve had mixed results with Big muhly, as my front garden has historically been too shady for this sun worshipper, while my back garden offered only a few spots of sun, coupled with heavier soil, so muhlies were typically short-lived.  With more opportunity for the sun to blast my front garden, the four Texas native Big muhlies planted have found a home.

The same muhly at a different angle.

 

Common yarrow, Achillea millefolium,  is a native North American plant which grows throughout the continent.

A beautiful ground cover for most of the year–especially in winter–yarrow blooms white clusters atop 2-3 foot stems in June and July, the florets turning toasty in August.  Mine haven’t bloomed particularly well in the last 2 years, but I don’t mind, since it’s the lacy foliage that I prize.

For wildlife, autumn provides a boon of berries, and Texas native plants oblige in spades.  Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis,  is a favorite of birds, especially–you guessed it–of pigeons and doves.

Leaves are ruffly and bright green, complementing both the tiny pink-to-white blooms and the cherry-red berries.   Once a light freeze happens, the foliage will blush burgundy, until a hard freeze renders this small ground cover dormant until late spring.

For now, the leaves remain a cheery green.

 

Another native plant, the deciduous herb, Chili pequinCapsicum annuum,  provides fruits for birds and mammals.  Birds are frequent visitors, so much so that another common name for this plant is Bird pepper.  Texas’ only true native chili pepper, the fruits are hot, but birds (and husbands) love the taste.

Red berries, ripe for picking.

The leaves are small and dainty, and the form of the shrub, elegant.    I love them planted as a mass, with 3 or 4 together.

Chili pequin planted with common yarrow.

 

Mexican FeathergrassNassella tenuissima–for obvious reasons that you can observe, has become a popular landscape plant throughout North America.

This is the spring view of two of the Mexican Feathergrass in my garden.

Native to Texas and New Mexico, southward into Mexico, and with a separate native population in Argentina and Chili, the Mexican Feathergrass is a tough, drought-hardy perennial grass prized by gardeners and easy to grow.

The autumn view of the same two plants. More muted and worn from a full growing season, these two still accent the garden and complement the rocks which border the pond.

I’ve grown Feathergrass in both shade (not deep, but dappled) and sun.   It’s been the native grass that has performed best for me and seems a go-to grass for both home and commercial landscapes in these parts.  It seeds out, not obnoxiously, but just enough that I can transplant and use in different situations.

Thanking Christina of Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for hosting this monthly tribute to foliage; please check out her lovely blog for more fall foliage fanfare.

Native Texans

In this post you won’t find any cowboy boots or hats, nor plates of barbecue and bowls of salsa, and certainly no funny, twangy accents, but you will see plenty of beauty and Texan toughness.  What is this you’ve stumbled across?  It’s an homage to Texas native plants and to the celebration thereof:  Texas Native Plant Week marked annually during the week of October 16-22.

Nectaring Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida).  Twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) serves as a backdrop

Established to educate and encourage Texans to recognize and utilize our lovely, valuable native plants in personal and public gardens, many communities in Texas sponsor events promoting the use of native plants during this week of native plant love.

Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

 

Native plants are valuable for many reasons:  they’re easy to grow and maintain, and require less irrigation; they feed and protect native fauna; they’re key to biological diversity, and vital for a healthy environment.

Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora)

 

Plants can be native to a wide geographical area–like the whole of North America–or specific to a small, confined eco-system–like the area in which you live.

Texas Craglily (Echeandia texensis)

 

Natives belong where you live, whether you’re in Texas or some other fabulous place.

Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

 

Do we need to practice purity in our gardening aesthetics and utilize only natives in our gardens? Well, it would be nice if we planted all natives, all the time, but for many gardeners, that’s simply not possible because native plants aren’t always as commercially available as non-native plants.  And it’s true that there are many non-native, well-adapted plants which enrich our gardens and beautify our world; it’s perfectly fine to garden with both natives and non-natives.

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) paired with non-native, potted Yucca filamentosa ‘Golden Sword’

But when you plant natives in your garden, you help define the place you live. What grows for me here in urban Austin, Texas doesn’t work–or may not fit–for gardeners in Chicago, Illinois,  Eugene, Oregon, or Bangor, Maine.  What grows here, doesn’t necessarily grow there; plant diversity makes the world go ’round.  All regions enjoy unique botanical flavor and that should be appreciated–and practiced–by those who’re driven to create gardens.

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

 

Plant natives in your garden for ease and practicality.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

 

Plant natives to protect and nurture wildlife.

Migrating Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on Turkscap

 

Plant natives for seasonal interest and to elicit a sense of place.

White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis)

 

Especially in urban areas, the use of native plants helps restore wildlife habitat and regional character.

Migrating Monarch on Plateau goldeneye

 

Flowers in the city are like lipstick on a woman–it just makes you look better to have a little color.  Lady Bird Johnson

Plateau goldeneye

 

For more information about Texas Native Plant Week, check out these links:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Native Plants of Texas

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

 

Today I’m also linking with Carol of May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.  Check out flowers from all over the world, honoring all things blooming–native or otherwise.

Wild blue aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

Texas Native Plant Week

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This week, October 19-25, is dedicated to celebrating home-grown native plants in geologically, topographically, and meteorologically diverse Texas.  My experience in gardening is limited mostly to urban gardens in Austin, but I also have limited knowledge about plants along the central Texas coast, owing to having grown up in that area.

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Texas is a big place–a really big place.

Natives that are completely at home in my gardens may not fare so well in the Panhandle or The Valley.  What works well in the High Desert mountains of West Texas definitely won’t like the humidity, drippy rain, and acidic soils of the East Texas Piney Woods. Native to here isn’t necessarily native to there.  Yes, there are crossover plants which thrive in vastly differing situations and there are plants which flourish worldwide.  I certainly grow some plants in my gardens whose ancestors originated halfway around the world. But when a gardener uses native plants, several valuable and aesthetic goals are accomplished.

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Native plants impart a sense of place.  My garden looks different from a garden in the Northeast or the Pacific Northwest–and it should. What grows for me should be different from what someone in Minnesota grows.  A home or commercial landscape in Arizona shouldn’t host the same plants as a garden in South Carolina.  Some natives exist only in a very specific area, while others range throughout much of North America, but all suggest a regionalism that defines a specific climate and geography–native plants identify place.

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Native plants require less irrigation and less chemical intervention.  Because native plants grow where they evolved, there’s no extra work in keeping native plants alive-except planting or seeding out the darn things, of course.  Other than some watering immediately after planting, a native perennial or annual usually survives without extra effort–extra watering, extra fertilizing, or extra babying.  The only plants I feed in my gardens are the pond plants and the roses; the entire process takes about 15 minutes, once per month.  I haven’t used any herbicide or other chemicals–well, I don’t think I’ve ever used a herbicide, and the last time I used a commercial fertilizer, excepting the aforementioned plants, was when I still had turf–and that’s some years ago. I do irrigate, sparingly, June-August, but that’s all the irrigation I give to my perennial gardens.

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For Texans who are happily riding on the native plants bandwagon, our primary gardening efforts tend to be in the winter and early spring–pruning, mulching, and readying our gardens for the long growing season.  Landscaping with native plants does require some work–they seed out (prolifically at times) and for the sake of tidiness, occasional pruning is a must. But the differential between landscaping with turf versus native plants is huge. When I observe the mowers in spring, summer, and fall, often perspiring as they pointlessly mow, edge, water and feed their grass–I’m befuddled. Why would you have grass, which requires weekly (or nearly weekly) maintenance, when there are so many beautiful, really beautiful, perennials, grasses, and annuals requiring little maintenance? What is the point of watering and fertilizing something, just so it can be mowed?  I used to have grass and only grass.  I used to mow, water, edge, fertilize–the whole absurd merry-go-round futility of turf–until I transformed my personal landscape with (primarily) native plants.

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Not everything in my garden is native–I grow plenty of native cultivars and non-native plants and they are some of my favorites.  But native plants are special–born and bred here in Texas. They are easy, lovely, and Texan and it doesn’t get better than that!  If you live elsewhere, then your native plants are easy, lovely, and…emblematic of the wonderful and special place that you live–wherever that might be.

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Native plants feed wildlife.  The synchronicity of native plants with their pollinators and other wildlife partners is an established biological paradigm.  In any given area, wildlife evolved along with their plant hosts–it’s just that simple.  When you have native plants in your gardens, you will attract wildlife.  Boom!  The home gardener can play an important role in providing for wildlife by planting natives: as large swaths of land are destroyed for a variety of reasons, why not help heal the world, in a way that is very real and practical, by planting natives which will feed displaced wildlife?

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I putter in my gardens–constantly reviewing, reassesing, and replanting.  Gardening is my passion, it’s what I do.  I recognize that not everyone is a gardener and most are unlikely to do what I’ve done.  I have been called “crazy” more than once by those who don’t get what I’ve done with my “yard.”  However,  I can’t help but wonder what would happen with our beleaguered and threatened natural world if everyone who owns property, the proverbial house with yard, would take out half, just half, of their useless and wasteful turf and install native plants instead.  Think of how unique each home garden could be. Think of the water which would be conserved. Think of the fossil fuel which would not be used.  Think of the wildlife which would be fed.  Think of the locally owned nursery and landscape businesses which would boast more clients, rather than the large mowing companies and the big box stores siphoning off that work.

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I don’t see a downside to using native plants in the garden. One difficulty you might encounter is if you live where the local nurseries don’t yet provide a selection of native-to-your-area plants, you’ll need to request they do. Business axiom dictates that if customers demand products, businesses will provide those products.  It may take time and persistence, but the native plants ship is sailing and the savvy nursery owner or landscaper will climb aboard.

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This coming week, I’ll be profiling a fraction of the natives that I grow in my garden. These plants are perennials that are doing something “now”–blooming or berrying or generally looking good. Readers from elsewhere–you might be bored with this week’s posts, as I’m writing primarily for Texas viewers.  Hopefully though, you’ll be encouraged to discover what is native in your areas–many places now celebrate the use of native plants in home and commercial gardens.

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Native plants work.  They are beautiful, unique to region, and typically hardy and drought-tolerant.   There are many resources available to learn about native plants and their value; you can start by checking out the “Garden References” section on this blog’s menu.

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For more information about Texas Native Plant Week, take a look at the websites of the following organizations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

National Wildlife Federation

Native Plant Society of Texas

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

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Go natives!