The Spring Garden

Despite late freezes, drought, and earlier-than-normal warm temperatures, it’s been a lovely, affirming spring in my garden. Plants are growing, leafing out, and blooming in their typical order and roughly on their same schedule. Some, like the multitudes of Tradescantia, Spiderwort, were so eager for spring to happen that they’re over-performing. Of course that has nothing to do with the fact that I routinely fail to control them by weeding during fall and winter. Ahem.

My Spiderwort are pass-alongs varieties and they’ve mix-n-matched for years, so I don’t have a definitive species. Because of their height, I suspect T. gigantea, but regardless of species, the flowers are stunning in shades of purples with a few pinky hues. Some are pure lavender, with rounded petals,

…and some are deeper lavender with or triangulated petals

Certain individuals bloom in shades trending pink. These below sport ruffly petals.

No matter their color or form, Spiderworts are favorites of the honeybees. Flowering early and for most of the spring season, bees are keeping busy with the nectar sipping and the pollen collecting.

The first yellow in my garden is typically Golden Groundsel, Packera obovata. The little group I have brightens a shady spot.

The groundsel echos the Adirondack chairs: cheery blooms, comfortable chairs.

Last year’s deep, destructive freeze ended 2021 hopes for the luscious clusters of blooms from Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora. This year, both of my Mountain Laurels flowered beautifully, if too briefly. These blooms are known for their grape juice fragrance. Weirdly, I can’t detect their very sweet fragrance unless my nose is right up in the flowers or at night, with whiffs of the grape scent on the wind.

The irises I grow, all pass-along plants, have bloomed prolifically this spring, more so than in many years.

I think every single bulb, even those that I separated and replanted in the fall, have pushed up stalks and adorned those stalks with flowers. The irises are still going strong and are now joined by European poppies. Tall, leafy American Basket flower stalks await their turn to shine in the sun, while a couple of Martha Gonzalez rose bushes add pops of rich red and burgundy-tinged foliage.

Spiderworts, irises, and poppies are all plants-gone-wild this spring, but the heat and drought have sadly rendered the columbines less floriferous. As well, given my now full-sun front garden, columbines won’t grow there–they fry in Texas sun.

This one, as well as a couple of others, still have a place in the back garden. I plan to add more in the shadier areas because I can’t resist these graceful additions to the garden.

Hill Country Penstemon, Penstemon triflorus, are in top form this year. Hummingbird moths and Horsefly-like carpenter bees are regular visitors.

I wonder if pollinators have a hard time deciding? Hmmm. Penstemons or Spiderworts? What am I in the mood for??

Of course, it’s not only gorgeous bloom time, but foliage presents a worthy rival in beauty and form during verdant spring. This silvery-green Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, waves, adding movement and action in the garden. In the past, I’ve witnessed migrating Painted Buntings nibbling at the tiny seeds that feathergrass produces. I wonder if those colorful birds will find this patch as they move through my garden this spring?

The drought continues and summer will be a bear, but I’m grateful for the gentle artistry and renewal of life that is spring.

What’s in your spring garden this year? I hope it’s colorful and ever-changing and provides a respite from the world’s troubles.

Happy spring gardening!

Soft-n-Spiky

Promoting Texas Native Plants Week, I’d like to put in a good word for Texas plants known for lovely or interesting foliage.  Foliage is often overlooked when planning a garden and it shouldn’t be; foliage is the bedrock of most winter gardens and sets the tone and backdrop for all blooms.  In my gardens, it seems like plants fall into three foliage categories:  scratchy, spiky, or soft.   I won’t give scratchy plants attention for now (looking at YOU, Lantana and Barbados cherry!), but I will profile a few foliage beauties from the other two categories.

The soil in my gardens is clayey, so I haven’t had much luck with the soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom leaves of the Wooly stemodiaStemodia lanata.  This plant  requires excellent drainage and a good amount of sun.  I am successful with a couple of individuals planted in containers and they’re  thriving.

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This Wooly stemodia gracefully cascades over the cherry-red pot, while its partner, an American century plantAgave americana sits firmly in the pot and the spiky category.  Both plants share a beautiful gray-green coloring, which is a characteristic of foliage of many Texas native plants.

In this photo, spiky dominates the scene with a second and larger American century plant, this time complemented by a deep blue pot that is its home.

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A spiky garden buddy, Pale-leaf yuccaYucca pallida, echos the gray of the agave, though I think the color suggests more blue than the gray-green agave.  The yucca also doesn’t have “teeth” like  the agave, though the ends pointedly exhibit their own danger, especially when the gardener is careless and/or forgets about the needling yucca while pruning or weeding. Ouch!  Truthfully, I’m not a member of the spiky-plant club that so many Austin gardeners belong to.  However, native yuccas and agaves provide low-maintenance beauty and structure and every Texas garden should showcase at least one.

The softer plants in the photo–Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus, Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, and Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, all exhibit larger, “tropical” leaves, and are typically considered shade-dwellers, although all three thrive in full-to-part sun.  The Zexmenia, Wedelia texana,  has small, hairy leaves, which are an adaptation with allows the leaves to absorb atmospheric moisture.  The Zexmenia is an extremely drought-tolerant perennial.

Another spiky native is this Twistleaf yuccaYucca rupicola, here haloed by blooming Zexmenia.

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A true green,  the Twistleaf yucca, like its cousin,  the Pale-leaf yucca, bloom in the spring and sometimes, later in autumn.  Four foot blooms stalks  topped with clusters of fragrant, creamy flowers, provide for many interested pollinators. For the most of the year, handsome foliage dominates.

More gray-green in the landscape comes from Big muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri. 

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RICOH IMAGING

A yearling Big muhly fronts a crown of blooming White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

I’ve struggled to find a good spot for the three specimens in my garden as they love full, blasting Texas sun and my garden is hampered by shade.

Really, I’m complaining about shade?  In Texas?

Big muhly is an elegant native grass.  I’ve contented myself with appreciating those that grow in other gardens (or in open spaces).  I’m crossing-fingers that the few in my garden will prosper–I believe I finally have good spots for each.

I am successful with this far West Texas native, Mexican feathergrassNassella tenuissima.

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These grasses are gorgeous in containers and planted in the ground, as well as happy in sun or shade–a win for the garden!  Stunning in the spring with  frothy, silvery-green foliage, they evolve into a toastier autumn presence as the growing season advances.

Texas beargrass, Nolina texana, is one more “grass” that is beautiful in a pot or directly in the garden.

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This slow-grower is in the Liliaceae family and works well as an ornamental grass. Evergreen with a draping habit, it makes a statement, especially when planted in groups of two or three. This is another plant which flourishes when planted in containers.

Native Texas Plant Week is winding down, but the use of native plants in commercial and home gardens is on the upswing, not only in Texas but in many other places.  Now is a good time here in Texas to plant trees and perennials and to plan for next year.  Whether you live in Texas, or not–go native!  Native plants are easy and special because they belong in and to the unique place you call home.

Whatever foliage you grow, please check out Christina’s lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day.  See interesting foliage from many gardens and from many places, and then share your own leafy loveliness.

Strings of Pearls

The toads were late to the garden party this spring but they’ve finally arrived and are croaking, mating, laying eggs–and filling their niche in the garden environment.
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I always think of the gelatinous strings of toad eggs as amphibian strings of pearls–and hopefully that mental image doesn’t put anyone off of wearing the real things. The Gulf Coast Toad or Coastal Plain Toad , Ollotis nebulifer (Bufo valliceps), is the likely species that laid these eggs-in-goo and soon there will be more toads for the croaking, mating, and egg laying. No doubt, some of the toads will make yummy meals for the resident Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, parents and their 5 offspring.

Along with toad eggs and fish, the pond hosts some handsome and varied foliage. I separated the ‘Colorado’ and ‘Claude Ikins’ waterlilies last month; both have since bloomed and very soon, will put on a rapid growth of lily pads, enough to cover about 75% of the pond surface by early summer.
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The pads serve as landing strips for bees and dragon/damsel flies, and occasionally butterflies. More importantly, the pads keep the water temperature even during the summer months, as well as cover and protect the fish as they swim underneath the pads.
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I also separated the Texas native Pickerel Rush, Pontederia cordata which grows in the bog.
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The open, moving water has given the birds, especially the little warblers and finches, a fun place to bathe. Every year, I promise myself that I’ll keep this assertively growing plant from filling in the bog–and every year I fail in achieving that goal. So this year is THE year: I’ll save some space in the bog for the birds to bathe–I’ll consciously weed out the Pickerel rush, even if it’s a weekly chore, so the birds can bathe in moving water.

Says me!

Another lovely and important pond foliage plant requiring yearly separation is the Ruby Red Runner, an Alternanthera hybrid that grows in the waterfall feature. Like the Pickerel rush, Ruby Red Runner serves as a biological filter for the pond.
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Ruby Red Runner grows vigorously, sprawling all over the edges of the pond as the weather warms and the days lengthen.

Taking in a wider view, I’m happy with the perennials which frame the pond.
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Across the pond from the perennial garden, is a pea gravel sitting area and pathway. A Katie dwarf Ruellia, Ruellia brittoniana ‘Katie’, and a Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, volunteered themselves for this spot and fit well beside the pond.

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These two neighbors sport opposite leaf types: ‘Katie’ is lance-like and deciduous and Rock rose is oval, scalloped, and semi-evergreen.

 

Nuri the Cat is comfy as he lies on the warmth of the pea gravel. Lazy cat.
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The evergreen Soft Leaf Yucca, Yucca recurvifolia, is a pup from the original, now-deceased mother plant. Just in front of the yucca, I recently transplanted some Firecracker fern, Russelia equisetiformis, that rooted out from the mother plant, to its right in the photo.
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It’ll be a couple of years before the transplanted Firecracker fern reaches maturity, but I think these two arching perennials paired side–by-side will be a nice addition to the garden and the pond.

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The mature Firecracker fern bloomed all winter during our non-winter winter, but is in a resting cycle now. The blooms of this plant are show-stoppers, but the foliage is also special: cheery, spring-green coloring pairs with graceful, arching stems and slender, elegant foliage.

Mexican feathergrass, Nassella tenuisima–soft and silvery all year–is stunning in spring glory.
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Behind the Mexican feathergrass, from left to right, is Martha Gonzalez rose, white blooming Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii), Iris, and Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima)

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In the perennial bed bordering a different curve of the pond, a feathery, bright green fennel (planted for butterfly larvae), combines with grey-green Heartleaf skullcapScutellaria ovata. I guess it’s true that opposites attract.

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Nearby, Winecup, Callirhoe involucrata, clamors over the limestone rocks bordering the pond.
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Individual leaves of Winecup are lobed and hairy. Winecup grows as a ground-cover and spreads about 3 feet wide during the bloom season, which is beginning.
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Engelmann Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, bursts with flowers next to more Heartleaf skullcap.

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The two flowering yellows are Blackeyed Susan ( left) and Engelmann daisy (right).

Like the Winecup, the foliage of the Engelmann daisy is deeply lobed–another common name for this spring/summer daisy is Cutleaf daisy. Engelmann daisy is an excellent pollinator plant, the blooms attracting a large variety of native bees, flies, and butterflies.

Celebrating foliage in the April garden, many thanks to Christina and her lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides. Check out her Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day for a look at foliage in many gardens, from many places.