Antidote

In the few moments of sunshine in this past week or so, autumn native bloomers spark light and color-joy.  Fall astersSymphyotrichum oblongifolium, beaten down by heavy rains, turn their exuberance to singular rays of sunshine.

Pollinators reveal themselves, taking advantage of limited breaks in the clouds.

Syrphid fly on a Fall aster.

 

Plume-heavy grasses, like this Lindheimer’s muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri,  add feathery grace to the garden.

Heavy rains weigh down the panicles, which sweep walkways,

…and drape over perennials like the ZexmeniaWedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.

Zexmenia’s yellow joy is undiminished.

Absent is the Texas sun, which bleaches color in the height of day.  Instead, gloomy is de rigueur, highlighting startling color.  Crimson Turk’s capMalvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, and Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, pair in a color palooza.

 

These days, sunshine is provided by blasts from blooms.

Plateau goldeneye enjoys its flowering zenith and pollinators (when it’s not raining!) rejoice.

 

Light in the garden serves as a beacon during dark times.  These little perennial shrubs, White tropical sageSalvia coccinea, and their partner, the still young Mexican orchid tree, Bauhina mexicana, flower intermittently throughout summer.  Both plants are in their prime once the cool and rain begin in autumn–and we’ve had plenty of rain, that’s for sure!

Amidst Austin’s emergency water restrictions caused by historic flooding, with silt and gunk slowing water treatment and risking bacterial infestation, we’re boiling water for cooking and drinking.

But water from the sky–pure and nourishing–pleases the garden.   Stately FrostweedVerbesina virginica, thoroughly pink Rock rosePavonia lasiopetala, and normally dry-loving Blackfoot daisyMelampodium leucanthum, are awash in blooms.

Austinites have heeded calls for water conservation, thus allowing our water treatment plants to meet demand.  Aerial photos of Lady Bird Lake demonstrate the mess that the treatment plants are rectifying.  We have a 90% chance of heavy rain today, but the rain is slated to end.  Sunshine is in the forecast and all–people, critters, and water treatment plants–will enjoy a break from the wet.   We’ll be boiling drinking water  for a few more days, but normalcy is anticipated.

This little Gray hairstreak (and all other pollinators) will be back in full-wing, fulfilling their pollinating drives. No doubt they’re weary of resting under leaves during heavy downpours.

 

While our blue skies are recently rare, my blue fix is provided by patches of Henry Duelberg Sage, Salvia farenacia.

Syrphid flies also appreciate the blue, working during rain breaks, the blooms of Henry Duelberg

Blue skies are forthcoming.  Our gardens will dry, our streams and lakes will clear. Blooms and beasts will return to their daily duties.

 

Frost Fest

Everyone is talking about it!  It’s the plant of the week, the one everyone wants to know and hang out with!  My own blog statistics show a dramatic spike in views of past posts written about it!  What is this trending plant, the plant with the cool vibe?  Well, it’s more than cool, it’s cold–it’s FrostweedVerbesina virginica.  Of course!

Frostweed is an excellent wildlife perennial plant, native from all the way up in Pennsylvania to here in sunny–usually mild–Texas.  Its striking summer-to-autumn white blooms, which feed many, are quite enough for me to adore Frostweed, but it’s the transitory ice show, as seen during the first hard freeze of winter, that gives this summer and autumn blooming, pollinator-loving perennial its name.

Frostweed.

Luscious ice sculpture!

In the first winter hard freeze, this week, my Frostweed strutted its icy, frosty stuff for almost three full days, due to the temperatures dropping late Sunday and not reaching above freezing until mid-day Wednesday.  The first thing I thought about on Monday morning, January 1, 2018, (okay, second–the first was about coffee…), was Oooh, I need to check out the frostweed, I’ll bet they’ve all burst open!  

Indeed, burst open they had–and how!

The moisture from the stem blasts open the epidermis of the stalk.

Breaks through the stalk, with additional curling (upper left) of the ice, occurs as moisture, forming additional ice, moves outward.

The ice formations are delicate and transient–melting at touch or temperatures over freezing.  Ice forms as the plant draws moisture up from the ground.  The supercooled moisture breaks open the epidermis, freezing from the base of the plant and upwards along the stalk.

The resulting ice sculptures can furl (unfurl?), scroll-like, along the stalk, which is how my Frostweed usually behaves.

Monday morning.

Sometimes, the ice creates wavy, ice-taffy inspired forms.

Same plant, Wednesday morning as more moisture froze along the stalk when temperatures continued to drop.

A closer look.

Curly.  Groovy.  Icy.  Beauty.

This winter’s show was special because in Austin, and certainly in more northern parts of the state, temperatures stayed below freezing for longer than the typical fleeting hard freeze, thus allowing the ice sculptures to expand, and remain frozen for admirers to appreciate for longer than just one morning.

Other perennials demonstrate similar freeze-n-bust action, but none do it with the verve and style of Frostweed.

As the sun warmed Wednesday afternoon, so melted away the exquisite, frosty art.  The frost show ended, probably until next winter, but it was fun to see.  Frostweed will be back in spring, after winter’s pruning, for another year of blooms and bust.

Frostweed–a frosty delight.

 

Native Season

This week, Texas gardeners recognize the value of native plants in our gardens during Native Texas Plant Week.  Native Texas plants belong here, where they’ve evolved alongside endemic wildlife, enduring capricious weather patterns, varied soils, and wide-ranging topography.  While not indestructible, native plants (once established) tend to withstand drought and periodic flooding better than most introduced plants.  There are exceptions of course, but when a garden is primarily natives, it reflects a strength of purpose which translates to less fuss and work for the gardener, as well as unique, regional loveliness in both flower and foliage  all year round.   

Spring flower cluster, with Black Swallowtail butterfly attached, of the Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora). The foliage is evergreen and attractive year-round.

The native plants thriving in my modest, urban garden array from those which bloom nearly year-round, to those that show-off seasonal glory.  When I evaluate my garden, I reflect that most of my native plants (and some of my non-natives) were gifted to me, either as seedlings or seeds.   Yes, I’ve purchased plants, mostly trees and a few shrubs, but gardening with natives doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor if you connect with local native plant enthusiasts, native/wildlife gardening organizations, or the wacky gardening neighbor down the street.  Increasingly, local urban nurseries offer an assortment of native plants for affordable prices.

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata), spring flowers feeding Texan Crescent butterfly.

It takes time and requires more knowledge and creative energy to plant with natives, rather than simply sodding your “yard” with mono-culture turf.  But the rewards in enjoying seasonal interest, in providing a respite for wildlife, and lessening regular maintenance (especially in the heat of summer) makes the effort worthwhile for home and commercial landscapes.

Gulf Coast Penstemon (Penstemon tenuis), blooming in spring.

Gulf Coast Penstemon with seed heads in late summer.

In this post you’ll see a few of the plants that grow happily in my garden, most of which I’ve profiled previously.  Some are spring-only actors, while some blaze the garden stage primarily in autumn.  Many bloom repeatedly throughout the long growing season, or morph from beautiful spring-summer blooms to spectacular fall-winter seedheads–alluring for the gardener, sustaining for wildlife.

This spring bloomer is a hybrid between my Yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) and my Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).  Check out my ‘Seasonal Look’ for Columbine.

In all cases, these plants are easy to grow–with the right light and soil requirements– and are appealing throughout the year.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) flowers in late spring and summer; rests during the heat of mid-to-late summer, then enjoys a second flowering again in autumn.

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is a small perennial, dormant in winter if there is a hard freeze. It emerges in spring and blooms through autumn, until winter, in earnest,  arrives.

White tropical sage is a natural hybrid of the red tropical sage. Some of my tropical sage are red, most are white–all are gorgeous!

For information about North American native plants, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.   Even better, if you live in or near Austin, go for a visit–it’s a stunning native garden dedicated to the education and preservation of native plants in North America.  Additionally for those in or near Austin, the LBJWC will hold its fall plant sale this Friday and Saturday, October 20-21–check out the website for more information.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is a long-blooming perennial shrub and a huge favorite of the pollinator crowd.

When someone visits my garden, a common comment is: You have such a green thumb.  My reply is always the same:  I don’t really have a green thumb, other than that I pick great plants that don’t need much care.  

Sunny Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia),  paired with Henry Duelberg sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’).  Buzzily nectaring native Carpenter bee–bonus treat!

And it’s absolutely true, since native plants are hardy enough to thrive, even for the most black-thumbed amongst us.

Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora) hosting a Long-Tailed Skipper.  This West Texas native blooms repeatedly throughout the growing season.

The same sage photobombing a containerized American century plant (Agave americana)

 

Native plants are necessary for the health of wildlife and are vital sources of food for migrating insects and birds.  With native plants in the ground, your garden will be alive with wildlife, and after all, isn’t that what plants are for?

Male Monarch butterfly nectaring on Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), another long-flowering perennial native.

 

Some native plants are endemic to a specific area, like this Big red sageSalvia penstemonoides.  The Big red sage was believed extinct, but in the 1980’s several groups were found in the Austin area, its only native habitat (as I recall, under one of the MoPac overpasses).  Since then, the seeds collected have been nurtured and plants are grown for nursery trade.  This stunning summer bloomer (and great hummingbird flower) is found in some locally owned nurseries.  I purchased mine at Barton Springs Nursery.

I’ve planted four of these perennials in my back garden; this one overlooks the pond and receives the most sunlight. Recently, with the downing of part of a non-native tree in my front garden, I’ve transplanted the three remaining to that garden, with hopes that they will get more sun and the pollinators (and the gardener!) will enjoy more of these deep, crimson flowers.

Other native plants are found in a larger geographical area, some spanning the whole of North America.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) has a native range from Virginia to Arkansas, Texas and Florida.

 

Natives are lovely planted together.

Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata), Turkscap, and in the bottom, right corner, the subdued, pink-blossomed Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)

 

While blooms are boss (at least, I think so!), don’t forget about our native grasses, appropriate for shade and sun situations, lending softness and grace to the garden.

Big muhly (Lindheimer’s muhly) in autumn plume

 

Plant natives.

Pipevine Swallowtail, feeding on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

Painted Lady butterfly on Frostweed

Migrating Monarch on White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis)

Big muhly, Shrubby blue sage, Turkscap, non-native, containerized bougainvillea

Texas craglily (Echeandia texensis)–blooming in fall

Wild blue aster, Fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), turning happy, autumn-aster faces. imploring you to plant natives!

You’ll be amazed at the transformation of your once-boring swath of grass as it becomes enlivened with blooms-n-berries, foliage-n-flowers, and critters galore–all with less effort from you.

Go native plants!

Happy Texas Native Plant Week!