November Blooms

Here in Austin, Texas, zone 8b, my late season garden is more about foliage and seed heads than petals and pistils. That’s especially true this year as we’re in a moderate to severe drought–we could use some rain! Even so, I’m fortunate to enjoy a few things in their last (?) blooms of the year.

This Mexican honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera, flowers-up as it feels like it: in spring, summer, autumn, and winter, this is a plant with a mind of its own! As long as we don’t have a hard freeze, this hardy shrub is truly a perennial bloomer.

The flowers appear, bloom for a time, followed by a rest period, and the cycle repeats. When bloom time is nigh–regardless of season–I eagerly await the cheerful orange blooms nestled in lush foliage. Especially now, with limited flowering plants, I’m glad that honeybees have these blooms available.

This particular Mexican honeysuckle bush is large and growing at one part of its base peeks out Purple heart, Tradescantia pallida. The tangled green, orange, and purple medley is nice.

In another spot of my garden, the Purple heart showcases charming three-petaled pink flowers. No bees here, but these dainties are popular with the bee and small butterfly crowd.

Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, is past its blooming time, though three individual flowers remain in my garden, defying expectations,

…and providing for pollinators, like this Sleepy Orange, Abaeis nicippe, more hungry than sleepy, I think. It enjoyed a yummy nectar breakfast.

The small, year-old patch of Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, growing at my garden’s edge has performed well this year. Without missing a beat in spread and bloom, it ignored heat from the Texas sun, aided by the human-made cement driveway and asphalt street which borders the plant. Blue mistflower is a tough and lovely groundcover.

This nymph Assasin bug, Zelus longipes, patiently waited for its meal. I imagine the hungry nymph moved in for the sip after I was out of the picture.

A consistently late-blooming perennial, Forsythia sage, Salvia madrensis, brings sunshine to a shady garden.

Each August, as the stalks of the lanky plant grow ever upwards, I promise myself that I’ll prune those tall things to half their size, ensuring that the blooms–when they come in late September–don’t weight down the stalks and branches. Some years I’m better about completing this chore, some years, I forget or succumb to August’s heat. Well, this year I didn’t prune by half, indolence as my main excuse, August’s heat as my backup excuse. Forsythia sage blooms beautifully, but the flower load is too much for floppy the stalks and they’re now lying near to the ground, draped dramatically on and over one another and other perennials. Nevertheless, the flowers are available for a nectar buffet, though photography is a bit trickier. Next year, I promise to keep this wayward thing in check.

Right. We’ll see about that!

There’s always something interesting in the garden and that’s something to cheer about. Today, we celebrate blooms with Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Pop on over and enjoy blooms from many lovely places.

A Tale of Two Mistflowers

October is the month for mistflowers in my garden. I grow three different ones, two of them closely related. My original mistflower is the Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum.

My first experience with this plant was a four-inch pot, purchase 20-ish years ago. It spread with joy and bloomed gorgeously many an October, until deep shade forced its move to a different spot along this pathway. As this second area has become shadier, it’s time for another move. Soon, I’ll pull the strands up by their roots and transplant the lot to my SIL’s garden. That said, the Blue mistflower has grown and bloomed in this less than ideal situation, perhaps not like it should, but enough to satisfy.

Blue mistflower blooms are a rich purple-blue, its leaves slightly scalloped and triangular shaped.

My other Conoclinium is Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, happily grows in one of my rare full sun spots. I planted this group from a one gallon pot a year ago and it has thrived.

The Gregg’s blooms boast a lighter shade of lavender-blue–more lavender than blue, I think. The foliage is bright green with a pinnate leaf structure. I admire the foliage and even when not blooming, this mistflower is an attractive groundcover.

The spent blooms turn to toasty puffs as they mature, or once a freeze ends the blooming.

Mistflower blooms are fuzzy and feathery.

The lighter Gregg’s,

…the darker Blue.

Mistflowers bloom primarily in autumn, but pop out a few flowers throughout spring and summer. These plants are groundcovers, drought tolerant (Gregg’s more than Blue) and dormant in winter. I prefer the Blue mistflower–the color is divine–but pollinators prefer the Gregg’s.

Unknown fly-type enjoying some of Gregg’s nectar.
Unknown wasp (I think it’s a wasp…) on Gregg’s flowers. Any ideas who this character is?

There are other “mistflower” plants, several in shrub form, but these two blue-hued mists are well-worth growing. Gregg’s mistflower grows in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Blue mistflower enjoys a much wider range throughout the United States.

You won’t tell a sad tale with either of these mistflowers!

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.