May 19, 2018

15 Things I Discovered in Austin


The Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin was full of fun, forbs, and friends. Bloggers from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. gathered for the annual event in early May.

This was my third Fling, so I'm a relative newbie, although I knew what to expect from the busy pace of touring public and private gardens with fellow plant-lovers.

I also made a few discoveries (and rediscoveries), including:

1. Austin is green. I mean, in the sense that it is lush and full of green foliage and many beautiful trees. I expected it to be drier and closer to a desert-edge type of landscape. I was told that things get dry during the hot summer, but the landscape was certainly verdant in early May.

2. Mobile smartphones take decent photos. This is particularly useful during a rainstorm. Our first full day, Austin received several inches of rain and many of us tucked away our cameras and defaulted to smartphones for photography. Also, at the first event near the downtown library, all I had with me was my smartphone. The photos--both landscapes and semi-macros--turned out better than I expected: not frame-worthy, but fine for online posting.

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View from the top of the Austin Central Library

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Another scene looking out from the libraray

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Pineapple Guava flower (Acca sellowiana) in the rain

3. Poppies like Austin. I realize they're common in many gardens around the world, but they were prevalent and thriving in most of the Austin gardens we toured. The blooms and the seedheads offered color and structural interest--often in unexpected places. They spoke to me.

poppies 2

poppies 6

poppies 12

poppies 7

poppies 4

poppies 13

4. A fault line runs down the middle of Austin. To the west, gardeners must deal with limestone outcroppings, often with very little soil on top. To the east, the soil tends to be clay-loam, so a little easier for gardening, although the high pH can make it challenging for growing acid-loving plants.

fault line
Balcones Fault at the Zilker Botanical Garden

5. Austin borders the Hill Country, hence some of the views from Austin-area gardens are spectacular.

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View from the Kirk Walden garden

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View from the Mirador garden

6. Austin feels familiar and comfortable. I can't really explain why. Some people say Austin has a similar vibe to Madison but on a bigger scale. I guess that's true, but it's more than that. Austin is friendly and fun and easy to explore. I perceived it to be like a cross between Madison, New Orleans, and San Diego. Well, that's really simplifying it without really explaining it--Austin has its own vibe. But it feels comfortable.

hill country 1
View from the Ruthie Burrus garden

7. Stock tanks are great gardening vessels. Not much more to say about that. They were everywhere, and used in some pretty creative ways.

stock tanks 1
Plant displays at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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Pam Penick's creative stock tank pond and sunburst patio

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Jenny Stocker's nifty pond/rain garden

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Another creative Jenny Stocker pond

8. Praying mantis babies are cute, and they move fast! At Jenny Stocker's garden some mantises hatched in front of our eyes. Jenny patiently held the egg case and the mantises while we photographed the event.

praying mantis

9. Blue rocks and marbles create a sense of water and hydration. I mean, I guess I knew this, but it was great to see it in practice in several gardens.

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Blue rocks being "poured" at the Colleen Jamison garden

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Blue marbles in a "pool" of succulents; also at the Colleen Jamison garden

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Blue rock flowing through tiles at B. Jane Gardens

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Blue rock in pot echoing blue rock mulch; also at B. Jane Gardens

10. Austin gardeners know how to do rain gardens, ponds, and other water-management features. They were beautiful, functional, and structurally interesting.

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Rain garden with various rock sizes at Jenny Stocker's garden

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Rain drain system at the Mirador garden

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Modern pond feature at the Mirador garden

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Rain garden at the Kirk Walden garden

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Rain garden with fountain at the Colleen Jamison garden

11. Roses framed by Bamboo; who knew? This combination caught me by surprise at the B. Jane Gardens. It was lovely.

roses and bamboo

12. Broken dinnerware creates colorful garden flair. Lucinda Hutson's magical garden was chock full of fun, but the plates as decorations provided particular inspiration.

plates 1

plates 2

plates 3

13. Wine corks as mulch--great idea! Another fun touch at Lucinda's garden. I really like this idea, and I hope to incorporate it somewhere.

wine cork mulch

14. 'Magenta Spreen' Lambsquarter (Chenopodium giganteum) functions as a delightful ornamental in pots; plus it's edible. Lucinda incorporated many edibles in pots--they looked lovely and tasty. I realized this would be a fun plant to try as an alternative to coleus and other colorful foliage.


15. Loquats are tasty, but don't eat the seeds. Somewhere during our tour, we ran across a huge Loquat tree and were able to sample the fruit. I'd never tasted it before. It was sweet and delicious; I don't know how to describe it. But I was told to spit out the seeds, and later learned they contain toxins that release cyanide when digested.


And there's so much more to say and show, but too much for one post. This was a very fun Fling! I'm sure I'll have more posts about it in the future. For more coverage, check out fellow bloggers' posts at the official Fling website. Thanks to the planners: Pam, Diana, Laura, Sheryl, and Jennifer; and to all the friendly, welcoming Austin bloggers and gardeners!

May 09, 2018

Garden 'Firsts' I'm Glad I Didn't Miss

Clockwise, from lower left: Aquilegia canadensis, Sanguinaria canadensis, Viola sororia, Mertensia virginica, Enemion biternatum, Podophyllum peltatum, Claytonia virginica

Leaving a Midwestern garden in early May can be likened to leaving a young toddler with Grandma and Grandpa for a few days: You'll likely miss a few "firsts." In the case of the garden, that can mean quite a few first blooms of the growing season.

I traveled to Austin for the Garden Bloggers Fling recently, and when I came back I took stock of the garden's progress. Fortunately, I returned just in time for some early growing season highlights. I missed the quick spread of the Mayapples in the woodland, but I found many spring ephemerals at peak bloom or preparing for it, some shown above.

Clockwise, l to r: Trillium grandiflorum, T. erectum, T. grandiflorum, T. sessile

Some of the Trilliums were flowering or near bloom, including a Sessile Wake-Robin, which I've never seen in the garden before. It was smack-dab in the middle of the lawn, so I had to rescue it before the fishman mowed the grass!

Narcissus hybrids

A few Daffodils were still blooming.

Matteuccia struthiopteris

While many of the Ostrich Ferns were upright and unfurled, I found plenty of tight fiddleheads to sauté for supper.

Malus hybrids

The Crabapples were about to pop, and are at peak bloom now.

Left to right: Epimedium x warleyense, Epimedium x rubrum

Fairy Wings (Epimediums) were just opening.

Clockwise from left: Prunus glandulosa, Convallaria majalis, Cercis canadensis,
Clematis 'Nellie Moser'

I caught the Flowering Almond just before the rain washed away its petals, while the Lily-of-the-Valley, Redbud, and Clematis were about to burst into bloom.

So much happens here in May that it's hard to leave, even for a few days. But it was worth it! I had an amazing time at the Garden Bloggers Fling. Highlights from that very special event to come soon!

May 01, 2018

More Hellebores, Please

dark hellebore 1

The Hellebores are blooming late this year, but the show is exceptional.

While I'm moving more in the direction of adding and encouraging native plants, I do make a few exceptions. I honestly don't have "favorite" plants, but there are oh, so many reasons I'll always want Hellebores in my garden: They thrive in shade, they're hardy to zone 4 or 5, they bloom early, they're rabbit-resistant, the list goes on.... But mainly they're simply beautiful.

Originally, Hellebores were native to parts of Europe and Asia, but the hybrids are now cultivated in gardens around the world.

I only have a few, but they're all Helleborus orientalis hybrids. (Early on, these hybrids weren't reliably named, but each is unique. One nickname for the group is Lenten Rose.) The first few, which I added many years ago, return reliably each spring.

dark hellebore 2

dark hellebore 3

This wine-colored beauty has perfect form.

veined hellebore 3

As does this deeply veined variety, which was the first hybrid I added to the garden.

veined hellebore 2

It's almost as dreamy from the top.

veined hellebore 1

But flipping it over reveals the magic of its sepals, stamens, carpels, and nectaries.

newest hybrids hellebore 1

This sweet little cream-colored hybrid has been in the garden for several years, but this is the first year it's bloomed...almost.

newest hybrids hellebore 2

It's diminutive and delicate, and I can't wait to see more.

Hellebores often bloom in March in Southern Wisconsin, but this year we didn't have reliably decent weather until recently. I covered these guys during our late ice and snowstorms (just two weeks ago!) to preserve the blooms. I'm glad I did for a better show now.

new friends

I can't seem to get enough of these lovelies. I recently purchased two more unique Hellebore hybrids, and I look forward to adding them to the garden.