Grasses, Berries, Groundcovers: Autumn Images

Cooler temperatures and regular rainfall herald autumn in Central Texas–and we all breathe a sigh of relief that the broil of summer has passed. Perennials awake from their summer siesta, ushering in a second spring of blooms. From September until first frost, there are easily as many blooming beauties, especially of the native kind, as in spring.

Our native grasses, soft and elegant throughout the summer, acquire a warmth of color and rock dramatic plumage in autumn, challenging the beauty of accompanying blooms.

Big muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) graces a combo of Plateau goldeneye and Turkscap.

I’ve had mixed results with Big muhly, as my front garden has historically been too shady for this sun worshipper, while my back garden offered only a few spots of sun, coupled with heavier soil, so muhlies were typically short-lived.  With more opportunity for the sun to blast my front garden, the four Texas native Big muhlies planted have found a home.

The same muhly at a different angle.


Common yarrow, Achillea millefolium,  is a native North American plant which grows throughout the continent.

A beautiful ground cover for most of the year–especially in winter–yarrow blooms white clusters atop 2-3 foot stems in June and July, the florets turning toasty in August.  Mine haven’t bloomed particularly well in the last 2 years, but I don’t mind, since it’s the lacy foliage that I prize.

For wildlife, autumn provides a boon of berries, and Texas native plants oblige in spades.  Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis,  is a favorite of birds, especially–you guessed it–of pigeons and doves.

Leaves are ruffly and bright green, complementing both the tiny pink-to-white blooms and the cherry-red berries.   Once a light freeze happens, the foliage will blush burgundy, until a hard freeze renders this small ground cover dormant until late spring.

For now, the leaves remain a cheery green.


Another native plant, the deciduous herb, Chili pequinCapsicum annuum,  provides fruits for birds and mammals.  Birds are frequent visitors, so much so that another common name for this plant is Bird pepper.  Texas’ only true native chili pepper, the fruits are hot, but birds (and husbands) love the taste.

Red berries, ripe for picking.

The leaves are small and dainty, and the form of the shrub, elegant.    I love them planted as a mass, with 3 or 4 together.

Chili pequin planted with common yarrow.


Mexican FeathergrassNassella tenuissima–for obvious reasons that you can observe, has become a popular landscape plant throughout North America.

This is the spring view of two of the Mexican Feathergrass in my garden.

Native to Texas and New Mexico, southward into Mexico, and with a separate native population in Argentina and Chili, the Mexican Feathergrass is a tough, drought-hardy perennial grass prized by gardeners and easy to grow.

The autumn view of the same two plants. More muted and worn from a full growing season, these two still accent the garden and complement the rocks which border the pond.

I’ve grown Feathergrass in both shade (not deep, but dappled) and sun.   It’s been the native grass that has performed best for me and seems a go-to grass for both home and commercial landscapes in these parts.  It seeds out, not obnoxiously, but just enough that I can transplant and use in different situations.

Thanking Christina of Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for hosting this monthly tribute to foliage; please check out her lovely blog for more fall foliage fanfare.

Wildflower Wednesday, July 2014

Given the seemingly intractable problems our world faces, sometimes it’s hard for me to take garden blogging seriously.  But encouraging beauty and sustainability through practical gardening choices is one ingredient toward healing a troubled world–even if it’s only on the trifling scale of our own back yards.  Celebrating native plants and wildflowers, I’m joining with Gail at clay and limestone for July’s Wildflower Wednesday.  Native plants and wildflowers provide year-round pleasure and sustenance–for gardeners and wildlife.  There are so many reasons to use wildflowers in the home garden: they are beautiful, they require little irrigation and no chemicals and wildflowers evoke a sense of regional location.  Using wildflowers in the home garden is one way to honor the natural, local beauty inherent in all places and to affirm a positive future, wherever one lives and grows.

In my gardens, FrostweedVerbesina virginica, is just beginning its bloom period.  I captured the very first tiny florets recently.

The flowers will expand in summer and early fall, then form into attractive seed heads. A mature Frostweed is multi-trunked,

and tall. This deciduous plant fits nicely into a shade or part shade garden.

One of this year’s first GoldeneyeViguiera dentata, flowers was hiding behind some large leaves.

Another primarily fall bloomer, this happy native will burst forth with masses of blooms in October, so Texas-bright that you’ll almost need sunglasses to look at them!    For now, the perennial sunflower is growing and producing a smattering of blooms.

The Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, is common in Central Texas. The clusters of pink-to-coral blooms,

are favored by hummingbirds, bees and people.   Red Yucca is quite dramatic when viewed in its full form.

The tall, arching branches hold aloft those bloom clusters high above other perennials.

Closer to the ground, Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis,  is a low-growing ground-cover that is beautiful and cooling in shade.

It produces many small, pink flower spikes which form luscious red berries which grateful birds enjoy.

In my gardens, a variety of doves snack on these berries.

Another strong hummingbird attractor is the Flame Acanthus, Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii.  A deciduous shrub, the Fame Acanthus grows red-to-orange tubular flowers.

These striking blossoms bloom profusely during the summer and fall months and without efforts from this gardener.

That’s my kind of wildflower plant!

Here it is in full shrub mode, photo-bombed by a hardy Turk’s Cap!

There are many native Ruellia Texas.  The one I grow is called Drummond’s Wild Petunia or Ruellia drummondiana and is another wildflower at the start of its summer/fall bloom cycle.  A very tough plant which doesn’t require work from me, it displays small, purple blooms. Fresh blooms open each morning, then drop at the end of the day.

A versatile perennial, it performs well in either shade or sun and isn’t large.  Ruellia dies to the ground in the winter, so  I like to plant it between evergreens, like this group which is sandwiched between native Columbine on its left and native Yarrow to its right.

To me,  Turk’s CapMalvaviscus arboreus,  is the quintessential Texas wildflower.  Thriving in the hottest and toughest conditions, it blooms, blooms, blooms.

It provides all sorts of good things for wildlife: cover, nectar, pollen and fruit.  What’s not to love about that plant for Texas birds, bees and butterflies?  And for two-legged Texans, Turk’s Cap form lovely perennial shrubs for their gardens that are easily maintained and make the statement: I’m from here!

Beauty matters.

Wildflowers matter.

Grow what belongs where you are: for ease, for wildlife, and because wildflowers work in the garden–in all sorts of ways.

Grow wildflowers because they give joy.  And joy matters.


Wildflower Wednesday, May 2014

Here in Austin, Texas, May is quite pleasant and we’ve enjoyed some rain.  Yipppy!  Even better, our lakes have received some of that rain.  Double yippy!  We’re still in drought and the lakes are low, but at least we’ve had some relief.  Central Texas wildflowers continue their seasonal segue into summer bloom.  Thanks to Gail at clay and limestone for hosting Wildflower Wednesday to encourage and celebrate gardeners utilizing regional wildflowers in their home gardens.

My Yarrow, Achilliea millefolium, is especially beautiful this year.

Yarrow is an excellent perennial for Central Texas.  It sports pretty white flowers which will fade to an attractive tawny brown as summer progresses.

PigeonberryRivina humilis, is a small, delicate looking ground cover with sweet flower spikes at the top of the stems.

Luscious red berries will develop after the blooms fade and those berries are favorites with many birds, including their namesake pigeons.

The combination of  pink Hill Country Penstemon, Penstemon triflorus,  sunny Engelmann’s (or Cutleaf) Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, and deep blue ‘Henry Duelburg’ SageSalvia farinacea, continues its happy riot of color this spring.

Heartleaf Skullcap, Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata,

is a gorgeous, cool season ground cover.   It spreads prolifically, but is easily controlled by pulling up individual plants as needed.  With beautiful blue blooms and soft, grey-green leaves,

it fills in the late spring/early summer garden.  By mid-to-late July, Heartleaf Skullcap will be dormant, reappearing with cooler fall temperatures.

And always in my gardens: Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea.

I don’t think a garden is complete without some variety of this endemic American perennial.

Planted with Engelmann’s Daisy,

or Heartleaf Skullcap,

or Zexmenia, it is a perfect companion plant in full-to-part sun conditions.

It’s a favorite flower for pollinators.

Purple Coneflower is the bomb.

The xeric  Zexmenia, Wedelia texana,  begins its long bloom cycle in May.

It’s another wildflower that pollinators prefer.

Even without a dinner companion, Zexmenia are lovely and tough perennials.

Planting native plants and wildflowers is the easiest and a beautiful way to a fabulous, regionally appropriate perennial garden.  Rip out your grass, plant native wildflowers and perennials and celebrate your sense of place in our world.

Happy Wildflower Wednesday!