Autumn Garden

Central Texas is deep into its second spring, the autumn blooming bonanza that occurs after summer’s heat abates and rain returns. I’m pleased with the results in my “new” front garden, primarily planted last December and January. The garden thrived in the hot summer, plants surviving and growing, valiantly withstanding heat and drought. With autumn’s arrival and October’s gentler temperatures, plus a smidge of rain–it’s exploded with color and life. Native perennials abloom with nectar and pollen keep pollinators crazy-busy, while native grasses wave their delicate panicles in the wind with grace and elegance.

Who says there’s no autumn color in Texas?

Along the lengthy driveway, bright Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, brings sunshine to its spot and contrasts with rich purple Fall Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium. .

Moving away from the street, towards the house, the Aster fronts a Barbados Cherry, Malpighia glabra, not currently in bloom, but always providing lush green cover for birds. Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, its silver foliage a stand-out, complements both Aster and another Goldeneye.

Across the span of driveway cement, more lush Goldeneye towers over orange Mexican Honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera. Both attract various pollinators and provide cover for critters, though the Goldeneye also produces seeds beloved by finches, wrens, sparrows and mammals.

Looking toward the house, blasts of autumn yellow dominate, but there’s also plenty of white, red, blue and pink, buttressed by the large swath of cheery orange Honeysuckle.

Another pairing of Goldeneye and Fall Aster. I do like yellow and purple together!

In the center of the garden, colorful flowers surround: white from Mexican Orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana, and Tropical Sage, Salvia coccinea; red from several ‘Martha Gonzales’ roses; pink from a ‘Caldwell Pink’ rose; blue from’ Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea.

Observing the garden’s center from a different angle, we see the back side of the driveway Goldeneye–it’s a big plant. It’s really too big and once the flowers finish and the seeds are devoured (by critters) and sown (by the wind and gravity), I’m yanking it out. I’ll separate bits of each stalk-with-root and replant in other spots where its rangy, floppy character is less cumbersome and more appropriate. It needs space to spread.

The smeary red flower photo bombing this shot is the flower of a Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Another dab of autumn pink comes with a cluster of native Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, paired with a second Mexican Honeysuckle shrub and more ‘Henry Duelberg’ sage. From my shady back garden, I transplanted five individual non-native, but well-adapted Softleaf Yucca, Yucca recurvifolia, and a couple of smaller native Pale-leaf yucca, Yucca pallida. These plants will serve as stalwart evergreen anchors. As expected, they were hot summer champs and flourished in the Texas sun.

To the right of the yucca sits a Texas Beargrass, Nolina texana, which spent many years in a large ceramic container. I was hiking at Enchanted Rock last October and along the trails around the rock, noticed plenty of arching, shapely Beargrass clumps throughout the sun-blasted landscape. I’d always kept my potted Beargrass in shade/part shade, but inspired by the beauty of those Beargrass individuals full sun with no water, decided to pull mine out of the pot and plant it directly in the sunny garden. It was a bear (yuk!) to remove, but has settled nicely into its new home. It bloomed in the container, it’ll be interesting to see if it blooms in the ground.

The ridiculously brilliant pink-in-the-pot is a bougainvillea. It sits on the stump of the removed Arizona Ash tree. Bougainvillea love the heat, bloom magnificently from May through November, but will be safely tucked away in the garage for winter. Maybe I’ll find a garden gnome to be the winter stump care-taker.

Throughout the garden, wispy Mexican Feathergrass accompanies flowering perennials, but they’ve all gone toasty, as they do, in autumn.

I’ve always loved silver and grey foliage and with a full sun situation, now indulge this passion. I planted several Globe Mallows and a couple of native Wooly Butterflybush, Buddleja marrubiifolia. The mallows develop in a tidy, round form while the Wooly Butterfly bushes grow vertically, often in a wonky, decidedly non-tidy, shape. That’s fine with me, I rarely turn wonky away.

I’m thrilled with the six gorgeous Gulf Muhly, Muhlenbergia capillaris, I can now grow, thanks to the blasting sun. A pretty, tough green-foliaged thing in spring and summer, autumn sees the plants’ flower spikes become feathery and frothy in stunning pink/purple hue.

I’ve had a few Lindheimer’s Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, grasses for several years, but was able to add a couple more. I mean, why wouldn’t I?

This garden is a beacon for bees (native and honey), butterflies and moths, and birds, many and active. I love my shadier, sedate back garden, but the colors, forms, and textures in this sun-drenched space are worth the end of a dying tree and the efforts involved in re-imagining this area. I’ve made some mistakes (duh!) and will move a few things this winter, but I’m happy with the garden’s progress.

In this garden, second spring equals autumn color!

Thanks, Wildflower Nymphs

Every year for most of the past decade, I find a wildflower in my garden that I didn’t plant. Each year it’s a different wildflower and typically not repeated by either seed or root during the next growing cycle. The wildflowers have all been Texas natives, usually spring or spring/summer bloomers. Each plant has appeared in a different spot: some in the back garden, some in the front; a few popped up in containers where other things were housed, and several have grown along the southern side of my house, where there isn’t much of a garden, only a utilitarian pathway.

Where do these garden gifts come from? Maybe birds have dropped seed by way of their excrement, maybe seeds wafted into my garden space from the wind. Perhaps, wildflower nymphs, being such quirky critters, choose to leave me something new and unique to my garden– just because they can.

This year, Texas Thistle, Cirsium texanum, was the wildflower nymphs’ gift of choice.

This pretty-in-pink flower bloomed in June and July, having arrived as an attractive, though prickly, evergreen rosette. Trust me when I say that those prickles HURT! Actually, the wildflower nymphs left the rosette last year, but no flowers appeared, as Texas Thistle is a biennial, blooming in its second year. I was aware of the rosette last year, but left it alone and unidentified.

While I never observed any eggs or larvae on this foliage, the Texas Thistle is a host plant for the Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui. Indeed, I enjoyed the presence of several flitting Painted Ladies earlier this summer. Thanks , Texas Thistle, I’m glad someone likes that foliage!

Bright blooms develop atop stems with few leaves, about 18 inches from the base of the plant. Once open, they resemble deep pink Koosh balls.

Insects, especially native bees, are big fans of this plant. Here, a Leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus, and its nymph (immature form of the bug), rest on a bud. They were probably doing some bug-like slurping, but I didn’t see any damage to the bud or plant.

I didn’t bother the bugs. Generally speaking, I let bugs be bugs; mostly, they’re harmless.

In the information about Texas Thistle from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website, the bumble bee is specifically mentioned as a frequent pollinator of thistles’ disk blooms. Lots of bumbles have graced my garden this year, though I observed none of them on the thistle flowers. However, other native bees relished the nectar offered and picked up pollen as they worked the blooms. I’m not sure what species of native bee this little one is, but its pollen pantaloons are packed with rich pollen, gifts from the flower.

Most years, the wildflower nymphs have gifted one individual plant of one species. This year, there were two thistles that magically bloomed: the one of this post, growing in full sun along the side of my house, and a second, in a pot of variegated American Agave, in part shade, in my back garden. That one didn’t produce as many flowers as this one, but both completed their life cycles; I hope that the seeds will assure some thistles in my garden in future seasons. Also, the other nymph wildflower gifts have been annuals, but as mentioned, Texas Thistle is a biennial, 2022 its year to flower. Those wildflower nymphs, they like to mix-it-up and keep me guessing.

So, wildflower nymphs–what will it be for 2023? I await your gift(s)!

The Spring Garden

Despite late freezes, drought, and earlier-than-normal warm temperatures, it’s been a lovely, affirming spring in my garden. Plants are growing, leafing out, and blooming in their typical order and roughly on their same schedule. Some, like the multitudes of Tradescantia, Spiderwort, were so eager for spring to happen that they’re over-performing. Of course that has nothing to do with the fact that I routinely fail to control them by weeding during fall and winter. Ahem.

My Spiderwort are pass-alongs varieties and they’ve mix-n-matched for years, so I don’t have a definitive species. Because of their height, I suspect T. gigantea, but regardless of species, the flowers are stunning in shades of purples with a few pinky hues. Some are pure lavender, with rounded petals,

…and some are deeper lavender with or triangulated petals

Certain individuals bloom in shades trending pink. These below sport ruffly petals.

No matter their color or form, Spiderworts are favorites of the honeybees. Flowering early and for most of the spring season, bees are keeping busy with the nectar sipping and the pollen collecting.

The first yellow in my garden is typically Golden Groundsel, Packera obovata. The little group I have brightens a shady spot.

The groundsel echos the Adirondack chairs: cheery blooms, comfortable chairs.

Last year’s deep, destructive freeze ended 2021 hopes for the luscious clusters of blooms from Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora. This year, both of my Mountain Laurels flowered beautifully, if too briefly. These blooms are known for their grape juice fragrance. Weirdly, I can’t detect their very sweet fragrance unless my nose is right up in the flowers or at night, with whiffs of the grape scent on the wind.

The irises I grow, all pass-along plants, have bloomed prolifically this spring, more so than in many years.

I think every single bulb, even those that I separated and replanted in the fall, have pushed up stalks and adorned those stalks with flowers. The irises are still going strong and are now joined by European poppies. Tall, leafy American Basket flower stalks await their turn to shine in the sun, while a couple of Martha Gonzalez rose bushes add pops of rich red and burgundy-tinged foliage.

Spiderworts, irises, and poppies are all plants-gone-wild this spring, but the heat and drought have sadly rendered the columbines less floriferous. As well, given my now full-sun front garden, columbines won’t grow there–they fry in Texas sun.

This one, as well as a couple of others, still have a place in the back garden. I plan to add more in the shadier areas because I can’t resist these graceful additions to the garden.

Hill Country Penstemon, Penstemon triflorus, are in top form this year. Hummingbird moths and Horsefly-like carpenter bees are regular visitors.

I wonder if pollinators have a hard time deciding? Hmmm. Penstemons or Spiderworts? What am I in the mood for??

Of course, it’s not only gorgeous bloom time, but foliage presents a worthy rival in beauty and form during verdant spring. This silvery-green Mexican Feathergrass, Nassella tenuissima, waves, adding movement and action in the garden. In the past, I’ve witnessed migrating Painted Buntings nibbling at the tiny seeds that feathergrass produces. I wonder if those colorful birds will find this patch as they move through my garden this spring?

The drought continues and summer will be a bear, but I’m grateful for the gentle artistry and renewal of life that is spring.

What’s in your spring garden this year? I hope it’s colorful and ever-changing and provides a respite from the world’s troubles.

Happy spring gardening!