Foliage and Bird

It was a sprinkling of snowy Four O’Clock flowersMirabilis jalapa, that caught my eye one evening, not too long before sundown.  My two Four O’Clock plants (the other one blooms a stunning hot pink) are pass-alongs from a gardener and former blogger.  This old-timey, Southern garden addition-by-way-of-Central and South America, is a night bloomer and grows from a fleshy root which can become quite large.  The creamy flowers brighten a shady area close near my pond;  the flowers open in late afternoon, bloom all night, and close by late morning.  

But it was the metal bird, standing in a diversity of foliage, that resonated as a garden story.  Even though I planted this crew, I didn’t recognize just how different the various leaf forms are and how well they complement one another as they mature. 

Sometimes, it’s challenging to see consciously what will be as a garden evolves.

Clockwise from top left, the blue-tinged Soft-leaf Yucca, Yucca recurvifolia, sits next to the tropical green foliage of the Four O’Clock.  To its right, another grey-blue foliage plant, Drummond’s Ruellia, Ruellia drummondiana, serves as backing for three individuals of strappy, stripy Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’ sedge–and that’s where the quirky bird perches.  A couple of iris straps and dangles of autumnal seeds of Inland Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium complete the oddball group.

The Drummond’s Ruellia and ‘Sparkler’ sedges will grow and will require management: the ruellia will need pruning and the ‘Sparklers’ transplanting.  Maybe the bird will  migrate elsewhere.

For now, the group is simpatico and the gardener is pleased.

It was Anna’s own lovely foliage photo which reminded me of my foliage and bird.  Check out her Wednesday Vignette for garden happenings.

Irrigation SNAFU

You can’t pick your neighbors.  

A pithy statement, to be sure.  While it might be true, another saying I’d like to introduce–Friends don’t let friends over water–also appeals to me.  I don’t live in a neighborhood that is particularly, um, progressive in the realm of home gardening. Especially for  a neighborhood in a region which is experiencing severe drought conditions.  Each of the mostly sterile, water-wasting landscapes throughout my neighborhood showcases a blank slate of water-guzzling St. Augustine lawn as the major “garden” feature and many are situated in full Texas sun. These properties require loads of mowing, edging, fertilizing, and irrigating.

There are a couple of folks who understand the value of home gardening and landscaping as a low-maintenance, water-conserving, perennial and wildlife friendly endeavor, but not many.

And I don’t live next door to either of those folks.

This is the result of over watering a Soft-leaf Yucca,Yucca recurvifolia, compliments of a neighbor who is an enthusiastic St. Augustine lawn waterer.

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Beginning in early August, this poor thing developed spots on its straps, which quickly spread, rendering each strap a mottled mess, which then died.  I couldn’t figure out what the cause of the diseased foliage was, but I pruned the disfigured and dying foliage, strap by strap.

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Damage from an insect infestation?  I searched and couldn’t find any offenders. Some sort of disease of Soft-leaf Yucca?    Always a possibility, though literature doesn’t suggest this species has any real disease problems.  Additionally,  I have eight other Soft-leaf Yucca plants thriving in my gardens, from full sun,

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…to deep shade,

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…and everything in between.

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There were and are no disease issues with any of those other yuccas.   The only variable with the sickly yucca that differed from the others was the weekly irrigation courtesy of  the neighbor.  I don’t water often–primarily my gardens are watered only with rain.  I pruned the mottled and dead foliage in hopes of stopping the necrosis and eventually the yucca sported a tree-like shape which was fun and quirky. I thought the yucca might survive.

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One morning though, I  found a rotted and toppled-over yucca.IMGP1752_cropped_3622x3410..new

Yuck-ah.

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Well, there wasn’t much I could do, except to cut my losses, or rather, the yucca, toss the mess into the yard waste can and stand there, hands on hips mulling my next step.  I considered digging up the whole root, but alas, the yucca root is too large for that.  Of course it is.  It’s a xeric plant and its xeric-ness comes from the massive root system, really a type of rhizome, that the mature plant develops.  Also, there were pups growing,

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…and rather than disturb them, I left the yucca root in place with its new, seemingly healthy growth.

My neighbor, Mr. I-Gotta-Water-Every-Week-No-Matter-What, watered his St. Augustine grass.  Every week!  You could set your clock by his schedule. I couldn’t really complain because he watered on his assigned day, during the accepted hours, and though more water than necessary ran down the curb, it wasn’t horrible. Trust me, I’ve seen worse.   What I didn’t realize during those months was that the yucca was probably watered every week. I never thought to check if his overhead sprinkler was watering my garden, which borders his property.  Because of its massive root, the yucca doesn’t require much irrigation.  Once I connected the rotted yucca with weekly summer irrigation, I realized the cause of the once-healthy yucca’s demise. The hardy Soft-leaf Yucca had received much too much water for its needs.

I should add that Y. recurvifolia is not native to Texas, but to the Southeastern part of the U.S.  I doesn’t mind a little irrigation from time-to-time, but certainly doesn’t like wet feet or require regular watering.

That’s why I plant what I plant–so that I don’t need to water often.  There are many benefits to using native and well-adapted, drought-tolerant plants in a home garden, and conserving water is certainly at or near the top of that list. But the prevalence of St. Augustine grass, especially in full sun and as a primary landscape feature, is not a regionally appropriate choice for Texas.  To look good, it requires more water than should be wasted on a landscape.

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…and they’ve grown.  I’ll talk to my neighbor next summer to explain why I don’t want extra water on my garden.  With our lakes (the prime water source for Austin and surrounding areas) down to about 30% capacity and heading toward a historic low, he might not be able to water anyway because of tighter water restrictions.

His grass will struggle with those restrictions, but my gardens will continue to blossom and boom.

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And my yuccas and other xeric plants, will be happy.

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