Grow a hedge using native Texas plants

November 30, 2020

I want to share a little more Wildflower Center inspiration, this time from the maze in the Family Garden. Traditionally mazes are defined by clipped boxwood or yew hedges that grow at least to head-height — about 6 feet tall. Here at Austin’s native-plant botanical garden, the maze is hedged with several different native Texas species or cultivars.

Bright with red berries, yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), pictured above, makes a colorful, bushy hedge along an outer path. Since yaupon holly generally grows into an upright, multi-trunked small tree, these must have been pruned over time to create a thicker, more bushy look. I’d love to hear from someone at the Wildflower Center about how they prune them.

Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) is a straightforward choice for a sunny, dry location. The standard species can be airy, especially at the lower branches, so I’d guess this is a bushier cultivar. You can see it’s been pruned to create a hedge, although not severely sheared. The solid effect is well done.

A more unusual but effective choice is ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly, a fastigiate, non-berrying cultivar of the native yaupon holly. Because its form is columnar,

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Home-garden design inspiration using native plants

November 29, 2020

On my recent visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, I was struck by the design of this small garden, which uses native Texas plants in a traditional but lively way to create a space that would look right at home in a residential setting.

It’s the Texas Mixed Border Home Inspiration Garden, where evergreen balls of dwarf yaupon holly substitute for traditional boxwood in an English-cottage-garden-meets-Texas style. Those round balls are key. Their repetition leads the eye along the herringbone brick path and across to the fence, emphasizing the depth of the long, skinny planting bed.

Blue mistflower and flowering vines on the fences and arbor entice pollinators during the growing season. Ornamental grasses add movement and seed for birds in winter. At the opposite end of the path, a circular patio elevated one step up makes a perfect end point for the path. Can’t you imagine this design as a home’s front walk, with the round patio just to the right or left of the front door? How inviting, right?

Well done, Wildflower Center. Your home garden inspiration game is strong.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post

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Flowers for a warm Texas fall

November 24, 2020

Aside from forsythia sage, which is STILL going strong after nearly a month of flowering (you can see its yellow flowers in the background), let me highlight a couple other plants that have been putting on a show into late November. Philippine violet (Barleria cristata), while nearly done now, has been covered in rich purple blossoms all this month.

What a beauty — and yeah, you’re pretty cute too, Cosmo. He’s always photobombing!

Dark-blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata ‘Dark Blue’) is still flowering prolifically under the crape myrtle, looking a bit like a blue hydrangea from the top-down vantage of the kitchen window.

OK, no flowers here, but I love the way the afternoon light shines through the foliage of the side garden, including ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon, ‘Sapphire Skies’ Yucca rostrata, purple-tinged loropetalum, and ‘Frazzle Dazzle’ dyckia (in the blue pot).

In the front garden, tractor-seat ligularia (Farfugium japonicum ‘Gigantea’ ), aka giant leopard plant, has sent up rubbery bloom stalks topped with yellow, daisy-like flowers.

They glow like little suns in the shade of the Japanese maple.

So cheery!

And those big, shiny, tractor-seat-shaped leaves are cool too.

I welcome your

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Hide out at Fortlandia at the Wildflower Center

November 21, 2020

Bring your child — or just your inner child — and explore the collection of architectural play forts at Fortlandia. This hands-on exhibit at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center occurs every fall through winter, with local architects, designers, and artists creating one-of-a-kind forts that are spaced out along the Arboretum trail.

My kids were already grown when Fortlandia started a few years ago, but I go every year anyway. Who doesn’t love a good fort? And you’re never too big to play, as my daughter and our Italian exchange student proved last year.

This year, because of Covid, hand sanitizer stations are located near each fort, and you must have a reservation for a particular day and time, which allows the center to keep a handle on how many people are in the garden at any one time.

Here’s a look at all 9 forts plus a few other spots along the trail.

A-Frame by Pollen Architecture & Design

A-Frame creates a dizzying, pop-art effect, depending on your viewing angle. Brown slats faced with blue paint…

…make the fort appear to change color as you move around it.


Community Garden by Letterpress

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Bigtooth maples and more fall foliage at the Wildflower Center, part 2

November 19, 2020

Did a few bigtooth maples from Lost Maples Park lose their way and end up at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center? It sure looked that way last week, when I spotted pumpkin-spice trees in the Family Garden. This is part 2 of my tour.

Big, colorful maples are rare in central Texas, disliking our dry alkaline soil. We can grow Japanese maples with enough shade and water, but they tend to be small and uncommon except in well-tended gardens.

However, there is one large maple tree that thrives in central Texas: bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), native to cool, sheltered, alkaline canyons west of Austin. These “lost maples” were left behind when the last Ice Age ended and maples retreated north. Today leaf-peepers flock to see them at Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool.

Growers began selling bigtooth maple about 15 years ago, and now you can find it in local nurseries. If I had a sunny open spot I’d try one.

The bigtooth maples at the Wildflower Center were putting on a fiery show last week. This one looks like a candle’s flame against a backdrop of green trees.

Other colors

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Colorful fall foliage at the Wildflower Center, part 1

November 17, 2020

Fall pounced on Austin quickly this year, then retreated for nearly a month, and then dashed back in, ushering in a brief flare of color. We’d planned to visit Lost Maples this month in hopes of seeing the bigtooth maples flaming red and orange, but we missed that window because reservations were so hard to get.

Still, I got my fill of leaf-peeping last week at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, where I was greeted by these smoldering flameleaf sumacs (Rhus lanceolata). As you’ll see, I also enjoyed a few bigtooth maples in full color, but that’ll be in Part 2 of my post.

Flameleaf sumac lives up to its common name in autumn. For those not familiar with the Wildflower Center, all plants grown here are native to Texas, and you’ll often see them growing wild in greenbelts and state parks.

A thicket of sumacs near the parking lot were putting on a bright show.

Contrasting with their pale gray trunks, the leaves look even prettier.

Silver agaves lounge in a soft bed of tawny Mexican feathergrass, under the orangey leaves of a cedar elm.

The aqueduct is festooned with red leaves

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