Hot July

Clear blue skies dotted with drifts of puffy clouds, warm south breezes creating shadow puppetry underneath leafy trees, and the onslaught of truly toasty temperatures are all reminders that summer has settled in.  This is a relatively mild summer compared to some of recent years and one benefiting from plenty of rain in May and June.  The humidity is high and skin is sticky, hats are worn, sunscreen applied, mosquitoes are slapped, water taken, and air conditioning is always appreciated:  it’s hot July in Central Texas.

As well, the garden is lush, with blooming action to satisfy pollinators and gardeners.

My Retama treeParkinsonia aculeata, has bloomed non-stop since May.   The flowers are borne in clusters and bees buzz all around.

Petals are sunny summer yellow, except for one with a honey gland which turns the petal orange-red.

Retama are native to the southern and western states of the U.S., but have proven invasive in other parts of the world.  My tree is about 15 years old and beginning to decline.  It’s only produced a couple of viable seedlings in my garden, one of which is now about 3 feet tall.

I’m quite fond of Tasmanian flax lily, Dianella tasmanica, ‘Variegata’.  I originally planted several individuals for their fun foliage and brightening impact in my shady back garden.  My garden also wanted some structural detail and I’m not a fan of spiky plants,  so softer grasses and grass-like plants appeal.   Plus, flax lily stands strong against our hot, typically dry summers.

While Flax lily are noted for foliage they do produce blooms.  The slender, slightly arching bloom stalks are graceful and the petite flowers are shooting-star enchanting.  They last for quite a long while.

I recall seeing some small native bees and flies around the blooms last summer, but haven’t spied such things this year.   This flower looks like it’s ready for a pollinator pal.

 

Some years ago, I was given a tiny seedling of a Mexican orchid treeBauhina mexicana.  It was early autumn and I dutifully planted, watered, and mulched  the baby tree.  After a cold winter with a number of hard freezes, I assumed that the seedling orchid tree was probably a goner.  However, it returned and now, a decade (or so) later, it returns each spring after winter freezes, and in mild winters, remains evergreen.  This little tree blossoms on and off through the long growing season.

With a rangy, shrub-like growing habit, my original specimen sports pure white flowers.  A favorite flower among the pollinator crowd, the larger swallowtail butterflies are enamored with the gorgeous orchid-like blooms.

The original has bequeathed several seedlings, some of which I’ve given to gardening buddies, but one I kept and planted in my front garden and it’s flourished.  The blooms on this tree are tinged pink, rather than the pure white of its parent.  In the photo below, check out the smeary green metallic bee (left side) heading with determination for a taste of Mexican orchid nectar.

 

Nothing says summer like sunflowers!  I feed my urban bird visitors black-oiled sunflower seed year-round and each spring dozens of individual sunflowers germinate from those very seeds.  I cull most of the seedlings, but allow some to stay.   They always grow tall, but with this year’s rain, they’ve grown Jack-in-the-beanstalk giant.

It’s not a difficult task to find someone feeding on these happy flowers almost anytime of the day.

As the flowers fade and seeds replace blooms, House and Lesser goldfinches (and other birds, too) become feeders-in-residence on the tall annuals.

 

My pond gurgles and flows in increasing shade each year.  The water isn’t impacted by the shady situation, but the pond flowers bloom less, though still manage some lovely and welcome flowers.  These pink pretties are waterlily Nymphaea ‘Colorado’.  Soft pink petals paired with golden centers, the flowers float among fish and fins and lily-pad foliage.

A pond colleague, Pickerel rush, Pontederia cordata, sits in the bog section of the pond.

In contrast with the lily flower floaters and their spider-like spread of leaves, Pickerel rush is upright in both floral and foliage form.

 

If this were March rather than July, the Yellow columbineAquilegia chrysantha,  would be a resounding choice as a main garden bloomer.  But this is the first year EVER that I’ve seen columbine bloom in my garden through June and into July.  These summer columbine blooms came from one particular columbine plant and the blooms certainly weren’t as prolific as they are in the spring, but the individual columbine shrub flowered until about a week ago.  Of course I’m not complaining about the summer appearance of a typical spring bloom, I’m just baffled at this bit of serendipity and have assigned credit for the bonus blooms to our rainy June.

Sweet flower mug shot, face forward,

…and side view.

The columbines are done for the year, I believe, but I enjoyed their long bloom cycle in 2019.  I’d love it if this summer’s blooming business signals a trend, but I’ll be surprised if the summer columbines make an appearance next year.

 

My mother was a gardener who planted.  She didn’t particularly care about color or form or name of plant–she just like plants and especially flowering plants.  My parents gardened near the Gulf of Mexico and in their garden grew this crinum lily.

  

Long ago, before they both died, they gave me a number of bulbs which I planted in my own back garden.  I don’t know the crinum’s name, nor do I know from where it originally hails.  Blooms from this lovely lily have been rare treats in my garden; usually, it’s one stalk per year in mid-summer and that’s it.  Most years, no blooms appear and I’ve long contented myself with the crinum serving as a nice foliage perennial, rather than anything of a floral nature.  This summer–again, it’s the rain–all of my established crinum plants have bloomed and each with several bloom stalks.  What a treat it’s been!

 

Conversely, the Texas native TurkscapMalvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, is normally a powerhouse bloomer in the summer. Not so this summer.  Thanks, rain!

Turks are wonderfully drought tolerant and prefer to live and bloom in dry, shady conditions and my garden supplies plenty of that.  The summer started wet and lots of foliage grew, but not as many blooms popped on the plants–including Turkscap–which prefer arid conditions.  As we’re now in a more normal dry summer pattern, the crimson hibiscus-like flowers are making up for lost time.

The little honeybee accommodated my photo by flying in and nectaring at just the right moment.

 

Another summer bloomer grown in Central Texas is the Pride of BarbadosCaesalpinia pulcherrima.  It’s an eye-popping plant with shocking orange and yellow flowers, along with dramatic red stamens.  It’s hard to ignore and why would you want to?

A popular landscape plant,  this prolific bloomer is root hardy here in Austin, but evergreen in the southern parts of the state.  Pride of Barbados is also a pollinator magnet; bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds all spend time working the blooms’ bounties.

I only have one spot that comes near to providing enough light for this sun lover and even there, my specimen is, quite frankly, a little lame.   In the right conditions–full, blasting sun–these herbaceous perennials can easily grow 5 feet wide and 6-8 feet tall.  They are drama queen plants!

July in Austin is a mixed-bag:  blue skies are full of cheer and hope, but hot temperatures wear thin over the long days.  There’s plenty in the garden worth celebrating though and I hope your July garden is providing a good flower and foliage show too.

The Green of Spring

Spring is springing here in Austin, Texas–and how!  After a mild winter, punctuated by a few days and nights of low 20sF/-6 to -16C, fresh greens are poking out and peeking through, heralding a new year of plant growth and garden possibilities.  It’s only the beginning of the Central Texas season of verdancy, but notable for its altering of the tawny and gray palette that is the Texas winter landscape.

Possumhaw hollyIlex decidua, is flushing out new yellow-green foliage growth.

Buds of the tiny white flowers are developing at the base of the leaves.

Bark of this attractive small tree serves as elegant white scaffolding in an emerging sea of green, popped here and there by luscious red berries which haven’t yet been gobbled up by various wild critters.

 

The Possumhaw’s  garden neighbor, an Almond verbena,  Aloysia virgata, was an impulse buy for me some years ago and one I don’t regret.  No berries on this small tree, but after each rainfall during the growing season, fragrant white blooms materialize and are friends to the pollinators.  For now, its foliage blushes new, transforming to solid green when ready.

 

Another small native tree with multicolored foliage is my Texas smoke treeCotinus obovatus.  

This one is a couple of years old and growing well, with foliage color year-round and sprigs of blossoms coming soon.

 

The Goldenball leadtree, Leucaena retusa, has sprouted its new greens against the clear blue sky.

Additionally, its koosh-like blooms will be ready for interested pollinators in the next month.

Budding blooms keep new foliage company.

Not as tall as the aforementioned wildlife-friendly trees is the shrub White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis, a semi-evergreen, sometime spring, and always fall bloomer, whose blooms are beloved by butterflies and bees alike.

Some leaves remained on my shrub after our hard freezes, but fresh foliage is quickly appearing to fill in the bare-limbed gaps.

 

Closer to the ground are the evergreen serrated leaves of the wildflower Golden groundsel,  Packera obovata.

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The oval leaves lend year-round groundcover beauty, but the lance-like and dramatically serrated leaves announce the pedicels that host cheery yellow blooms which will mature in the next month or so.

 

Turk’s capMalvaviscus arboreus,  is awakening from its winter slumber, as well. It’s hard to imagine that this plant’s stems will grow to 5 or 6 feet by May.

This set of Turk’s cap leaves share space with a Giant spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea).

A close-up shot shows a slight fuzz, which is part (only part!) of the reason that Turk’s cap is such a water-wise perennial.

 

I’m awaiting the vibrant blooms of the Red poppy, a reseeding annual, world-wide garden favorite and welcomed spring flower.  Its foliage is beautiful,

…a gray-green, ruffly wonder in the unfolding spring garden, and in this case,  hosting a green stink bug.  Do you see it?

Whatever foliage you grow–bugs, or not–please check out Christina’s lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day.  See interesting foliage from many gardens and many places, and then share your own leafy loveliness.

Additionally, many thanks to howtostartagarden.org for honoring ‘mygardenersays’ with a ‘Top Southwest Garden Blogs’ recognition.  I’m honored and humbled.

 

Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii): A Seasonal Look

Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus  was one of the first native plants that I became acquainted with when I began my native plants gardening adventure.

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From the beginning, I was smitten.

Over the years, I’ve  planted  seven Turk’s Cap shrubs, all of which spread and developed into large specimen plants which anchor several of my garden beds during the course of the long growing seasons here in sunny Austin, Texas.

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Turk’s Cap is a native southern United States plant, but is also native to Mexico and Cuba.  There are cultivars of this plant, like ‘Big Momma’, (who names these??) , that are listed as herbaceous perennials in USDA gardening zones 7-10.  Though this native Texan dies to the ground during our normal winters (except in South Texas), this hardy shrub emerges every spring and gifts to the garden and wildlife a long and prolific parade of blooms and fruits.IMGP0440.new

The Turk’s Cap is not picky about soil, nor does it need much water once established. Considered an understory plant, Turk’s Caps are best in shade,

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…but flourish in full sun and anything in between.  In full sun, the leaves will turn downwards, darken, and crinkle in a manner that many gardeners find unattractive.   The plant looks like it’s struggling in the blazing sun and heat, but even under those conditions, Turk’s Cap is a tough and drought hardy perennial. All of my Turk’s Cap shrubs grow in shade to part-shade and in fairly heavy soil, but I’ve seen others perform beautifully in full sun while planted in sand.    In shade and part shade though, the foliage is lush and suggestive of plants that are tropical mallows–which Turk’s Cap is!

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Turk’s Caps are classified as shrubs, but I always think of them as a forming in a cluster or thicket and as performing more like herbaceous perennials.   They tend toward the amorphous–shooting upwards and outwards from their thick roots after winter and reaching for the sky throughout spring, summer and into autumn.

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During a wet spring, Turk’s Caps grow quickly, adding lots of stem length and leafy greens.  Over the course of the growing season, those stems can flop over and look rangy, especially once heavily laden with masses of blooms. That’s a fine way to go if you’re aiming for a casual, wild garden.  But if structure in the garden is a goal, Turk’s Caps can and should be pruned.   Here is an example of a wayward limb.

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The snipped off wayward limb allows a more formal look.  This group,

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…is one that I should have pruned back after our heavy rains in the spring and early summer (2015).  I failed to complete that little chore and now this shrub has limbs flailing and falling this-a-way and that.  I don’t think this is horrible and certainly bees, butterflies and hummingbirds have no issue with wonky limbs, but the human Turk’s Cap tender who prefers a tidier look, should keep this hardy shrub checked. This example is more representative of how I like my Turk’s Caps:

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Actually, this large bunch is one of the first Turk’s Caps that I planted and is over 20 years old.

To keep the mature Turk’s Cap well-shaped, I prune up the outside limbs to about 2 feet in height, the next group inward to about 3-4 feet in height, in a graduated form, shorter to taller, toward the middle of the shrub.  In general, I only prune for shape in late spring, with the occasional lopping off, as needed, in late summer or fall. It’s an easy, quick chore and I only prune what needs pruning.

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Here in Austin, Turk’s Caps emerge from the ground in early spring with  fresh and vibrant green foliage.

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Depending upon rainfall, Turk’s Caps will grow in a moderate to rapid pace.  If the spring is wet, the stems grow to about 4-5 feet, sometimes reaching 6 feet tall by late May, but often with little bloom development.  During drought, moderate or otherwise, the foliage growth is slowed, but flower development (at least in my garden) isn’t retarded at all.  Personally, I prefer Turk’s Caps during drought–these shrubs grow and bloom, without the rank limb development that occurs in wet years; the shrubs don’t require pruning under those circumstances and that’s a good deal for the lazy gardener.

Ahem.

Turk’s Caps begin their flower show in late spring (May in Austin) and the blooming continues throughout the summer months, with no rest.  Summer is when Turk’s Caps shine.

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Or rather, bloom like crazy.

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The shrubs produce masses of blooms, each day, with each bloom lasting for several days. In a cluster, one can find buds, blooms and those destined to become fruits.

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The petite flowers are stunning:  they remind me of a jaunty turban, complete with pollen plume.

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The Turk’s Cap belongs in the Mallow or Malvaceae family, thus sharing many characteristics with other hibiscus plants. The ruby-red, tiny hibiscus blooms never quite open.

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Bees of all kinds, butterflies, and hummingbirds love these blooms.

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Additionally, because the Turk’s Cap shrubs form thicket-like,  birds and lizards use it for cover.   Turk’s Caps are considered moderately deer resistant.

One of the things you’ll notice in these photos are holes in the foliage.  During some summers, there is munching of the wide and wonderful Turk’s Caps foliage.

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In the American garden of the past century, sterile, non-insect attracting plants were the desired garden outcome.  As we have come to realize that wildlife is seriously threatened and in decline, the wildlife-friendly gardener recognizes that insects, often the larval stage of important pollinators like butterflies and moths, will eat foliage.  Furthermore, it’s actually okay that they eat foliage–that’s what they’re supposed to do and that’s what the plant is there for.  The plant won’t die; it’s uncommon for an insect herbivore to actually kill its host plant.  It happens, but it’s not the norm.  Are the holes unattractive? Well, it depends upon whether you want foliage that looks unreal–completely pristine and untouched–or whether you understand that there is a powerful and complex food chain mechanism at work in your garden.   I like to think that the holes in the foliage are feeding beneficial insects that become pollinators or perhaps, food for  birds or small mammals.  Acceptance of some leaf damage is all about  perspective and some knowledge of the natural world. Remember that plants were invented to serve insects, birds, and mammals.

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Once fall is firmly in play, with its shorter days and eventually, cooler nights, Turk’s Cap shrubs cease blooming.  Here in Austin, that occurs in October. The fruits begin developing in late summer,

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…and turn a luscious red during the fall months.   I’ve never tasted them (not sure why, I should correct that!) but the fruits reportedly taste like apples.  The Spanish name for Turk’s Cap is Manzanilla, which means “little apple”–and you can clearly see why.

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In my garden, Blue Jays and Mockingbirds are particularly fond of these fruits.

As the days and nights cool, the Turk’s Cap foliage turns yellow.

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It’s not a particularly spectacular fall foliage display and in fact, the limbs lose some foliage and the plant becomes sparse and spindly during the cooler fall and early winter months, prior to the first hard freeze. In late fall, If my Turk’s Caps look sloppy, I trim them up just a bit  to give the shrub a neater look.

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The meager foliage in late fall is in striking contrast with the lushness that is the signature of the spring, summer, early/mid fall growth pattern.

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In my urban garden, it takes a hard freeze to completely knock the Turk’s Caps to the ground for the duration of winter.

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At that point, sticks rising from the ground is what a Turk’s Cap shrub is. I let the leaves fall as mulch and then, when I can no longer stand the brown gloom,

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…I whack them back to the ground.  That singular event, usually undertaken in late January or early February, is the major pruning that this plant requires.  The result a minimalist garden look, to say the least. It’s a good idea to pair Turk’s Cap shrubs with evergreen or structured plants so that the minimalist look is, well, minimized.  Here in Austin, winters are variable–sometimes they are consistently chilly with freezes throughout on a regular schedule; sometimes winters are very mild with no freezes at all.  In mild no-freeze winters, I usually prune the still-green limbs with a few new leaves to about 12 inches from the ground in February.

The toughest situation for plants is when a hard freeze occurs early (I define “early” as anytime in December), with the remainder of winter being mild–no hard freezes at all.  In that situation, Turk’s Caps will flush out with new growth in January or early February.  No worries though for an established Turk’s Cap plant; the early growth will be slow and if there is a hard freeze once the new growth appears, the freeze will damage the leaves and maybe the stems, but the tough plant will survive.  At that point, prune to where there is green on the stem, sit back and let spring happen.

I’ve paired some of my Turk’s Cap shrubs with a native Texas groundcover, Heartleaf Skullcap, Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata, because I like the combo of the bright green Turk’s Cap foliage mixed with the subtler, softer Heartleaf foliage throughout late winter and spring.

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Very nice.

Once past winter’s chill, Turk’s Caps flourish–in foliage and blooms.

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Turk’s Cap is a staple plant in my garden.  Lovely and reliable, it’s a rich wildlife plant, as well as being a water wise and low-maintenance plant for the gardener.

Spring

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Summer

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Fall

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Winter

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Turk’s Cap is a plant that any gardener who is interested in feeding wildlife, while also enjoying a long blooming cycle, should add to the garden.

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You’ll be happy you did.

I’m glad to join with Gail of clay and limestone to profile our wonderful native plants.  Check out the link to learn about other native plants.