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Birds, Wildlife and Gardening

Reds for fall and foliage power

September 21, 2021

Ah, end of summer in Texas, and fall only a few weeks away. It’s still a bit too early for the fresh flowering of our “second spring,” but festive reds blaze among the ferny foliage of cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) on the deck railing.

Everyone warns me about the aggressive reseeding of this annual vine. But I find it’s a bit thirsty, and unless seedlings are nurtured with extra water, they just don’t take off in my garden. I do nurture this one (not seed-grown) to attract hummingbirds that we can view from inside the house.

Jolts of red are also appearing behind the house, where a few oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) have popped up. They really need a good rain to put on a show, and we just haven’t had any lately. But even a few oxbloods are better than no oxbloods!

Out front, the driveway bed in full summer flower looks amazingly lush, considering how hard hit everything was by the epic February freeze. All of this holds up to constant deer pressure. My fave is the native purple skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) in front, which thrives in baking hellstrip heat and with every dog in the neighborhood stopping to mark it. Behind are ‘Bright Edge’ yuccas, Mexican feathergrass, ‘Peter’s Purple’ monarda, ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia, Texas sotol (Dasylirion texana), and golden thryallis (Galphimia gracilis).

Behind the golden thryallis are datura (Datura wrightii), bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), and ‘Vertigo’ pennisetum. The tall corten pot in the center holds a young toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum), a replacement for one killed by the February freeze. This bed screens the neighboring driveway…

…and gives them a nice view too. Here’s the golden thryallis and ‘Vertigo’ pennisetum from their side. I dug two small divisions of an established ‘Vertigo’ root ball this spring and plopped them in this bed to fill a couple holes. Boom! They took off and now look stunning against the yellow thryallis flowers.

The original ‘Vertigo’ grass hulks here in the island bed (top-left), across the driveway. This bed was absolutely crushed by the February freeze. But it’s recovered well! Remember the “dinosaur bone” that remained after the ‘Old Mexico’ prickly pear (Opuntia gomei) melted? Well, here it is today. It’s a quarter of the size it was, but that woody rooted section pushed out a couple dozen new pads this summer. I expect it’ll be a monster again by end of next summer. Behind it, ‘Vanzie’ whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia) shows off its pointy-armed, star-shaped form.

Here’s another success story — the silver Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis var. argentea). From this in April, two months post-freeze…

…to this in mid-September — yaaaay! I’m so relieved. It’s not yet back to its full size pre-freeze, but at this rate it should be there after next summer.

In the same island bed, native Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) never even blinked after the freeze. I am grateful for its steady, green presence in my garden all season as other plants recovered — or didn’t.

It looks particularly fetching in late afternoon, when the sun drops under the live oak canopy and lights it up, along with the  ‘Rubrum’ Chinese fringeflower (Loropetalum chinense) behind it. Unfortunately all the fringeflowers in my garden were hammered by the freeze, and half of this one died. I’m hopeful it will hang on, but branches continue to die. It’s amazing how long it’s taken for some of the plants to show the full extent of the freeze damage.

An enormous brown praying mantis caught my eye recently on the ‘Opal’ variegated American agave.

I’ve only ever seen green praying mantises in my garden before. Isn’t this the non-native one from Europe or Asia? What a monster!

I’ve been lazy about giving my garden an end-of-summer trim for fall. Didn’t do it in August like I should have. And still haven’t done it. Which is why the path into the back garden is half-obscured by bamboo muhly, zexmenia, and flame acanthus. But I still enjoy the view down to the leaning tower of Austin — that is, my biggest and oldest ‘Sapphire Skies’ beaked yucca (Y. rostrata). What a showoff, with that 8-foot thatched trunk and powder-blue, Koosh-ball tuft of leaves!

My focal-point plant may be outgrowing the focal-point space. Will the top soon be hidden behind the fluffy ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress or columnar ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly in front? Perhaps. But do your thing, yucca! It’s been marvelous over the past 12 years to watch this yucca grow up from the tiny 3-gallon I planted. I’m curious to see just how big it will get.

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