Brand-new Houston Botanic Garden showcases tropical and subtropical plants – part 1

September 24, 2020

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio all have botanical gardens, but until now, the biggest and most international city in Texas did not. Last weekend Houston finally got its due with the long-anticipated opening of Houston Botanic Garden. I road-tripped with my daughter three hours east to Houston to check it out.

The garden occupies a former golf course in southeast Houston near Hobby Airport, embraced by Sims Bayou, one of the slow-moving channels that meander through flat, flood-prone Houston. The 132-acre garden’s 30-year master plan, according to Inhabitat, includes “conserving water, promoting biodiversity and providing habitat for butterflies, birds and other wildlife. Garden designers integrated the plans into the surrounding Sims Bayou, allowing for the flooding and intense weather events so prevalent in Houston.”

We arrived right at opening on Saturday, entering through floral-themed gates.

Pine Grove

And hey, we’re not in Austin anymore, as evidenced by the pine trees of Pine Grove, one of many seating areas throughout the gardens. Some of the trees are already fairly large, but as they grow this space will eventually offer a shady, forest-like hangout right at the entrance. I like that it’s

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Water, water everywhere in Cat’s wildlife-friendly garden

September 22, 2020

Every time I visit my friend Cat Jones‘s garden, it’s lovelier than the time before. Over the past 4 to 5 years she’s been busily making her Steiner Ranch garden, which overlooks a wildflower meadow and a wooded canyon, into a retreat for her and her family and for the wildlife she encourages. Water features tucked here and there throughout her garden are a key part of her avian welcome mat, and she’s noticed that birds coming in for a drink or a bathe favor different water features — a birdbath, the brown ceramic fountain pictured above, shallow water dishes, a steel bowl with dwarf waterlily, and a stock-tank pond — depending on the species.

Here’s what Cat says: “The blue birdbath is favored by cardinals and eastern phoebes. The fountain by the deck is the finches’ absolute favorite, along with the mockingbirds and summer tanagers. Chickadees, titmice, and cardinals visit the dishes on the north side of the house. Doves visit the tanks, as do springtime flocks of cedar waxwings and robins. They robins and waxwings also like congregating around the base of the fountain.”

It’s interesting to hear how varied are birds’ preferences

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Tropicalesque Tanglewild, where bananas and palms grow big and bold

September 17, 2020

With the arrival of cooler weather it’s garden visiting season, and I’ve started calling on gardening friends who are willing to have me over for a socially distanced, masked, outdoor visit. How I love touring gardens! This week’s tour is at Tanglewild Gardens, a 1.7-acre garden in north Austin’s Wells Branch neighborhood, the creation of Skottie O’Mahony and Jeff Breitenstein.

It’s been two years since I saw Tanglewild on the Garden Bloggers Fling tour, and wow, what a lot has changed since then. In the spring of 2018, the lower part of the garden by the creek was just starting to be planted, and pathways in that area were simple mown-lawn or mulch. Today a limestone fire pit encircled by banana trees and other tropical-looking plants beckons you down a flight of stairs to a gravel patio.

Cushy chairs invite you to sit a while, and a low-profile, wood-plank bridge leads on across the creek to another flight of stairs and a tall arbor doorway.

Skottie pointed out that their bananas are producing! See the cluster of upside-down, green bananas at the top of the spent flower stem? I didn’t know bananas would produce fruit

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Read This: Windcliff by Daniel Hinkley

September 16, 2020

“There is no magic or revelation,” world-renowned plantsman Dan Hinkley modestly declares in the preface of his book Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens (Timber Press, 2020), just “my attempt to convey my thoughts on good gardening as applied to my own climate and surroundings.” Nevertheless, magical images (by photographer Claire Takacs) and revelatory anecdotes and humor abound in Hinkley’s garden autobiography. Whether or not you’re a collector of rare plants, as Hinkley is, Windcliff is worth reading for glimpses of the rarefied world of international plant exploration and stories about the making of an extraordinary garden.

Photo by Claire Takacs

Hinkley’s gardening climate near Seattle is edenic, his surroundings majestic. He and his husband live atop a bluff overlooking Puget Sound, Seattle, and Mount Rainier, and one might have thought to keep the garden low and subtle so as not to compete with the incredible vistas. Not Hinkley. Having sold Heronswood, his former garden and nursery, and moved to a house with an intimidatingly large expanse of lawn and juniper, he was eager to create a plant-rich garden in the sunny, open landscape.

Photo by Claire Takacs

Windcliff, the garden he’s made

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Oxblood lilies cavort with agaves in Tom Ellison’s garden

September 10, 2020

A couple days ago, between rainstorms, I returned to Tom Ellison’s garden to see his crop of oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida). Austin’s gardens, especially in older neighborhoods like Tom’s own Tarrytown, blaze with diminutive red flags after the first good rain of late summer. Although the oxblood lily show lasts only a week, it’s a good one, especially since it heralds cooler weather and autumn’s reflowering of our gardens.

I last visited Tom’s garden in May 2014, when his beloved daylilies were flowering. But Tom has a lot more going on than just daylilies. As you approach his corner lot, you see a trio of ‘Green Goblet’ agaves among limestone boulders, with scarlet oxblood lilies fanning out on either side. Tom fills in with annuals when the lilies are out of season.

As the morning sun cleared the trees, the oxbloods began glowing like Chinese lanterns. Behind them diaphanous foxtail fern catches the light too, while the darker green agaves hulk alongside.

Oxblood lily’s green stems are naked when the flowers pop up seemingly overnight. As flowers fade, narrow green leaves appear at ground level. These remain through winter, soaking up sunlight so the

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Oxblood and rain lilies bloom after late-summer rains

September 08, 2020

Oxblood lilies add a dash of hot color in the raised bed behind the house.

It’s oxblood lily time, baby! That excitement you hear is my delight over the early and unexpected end to break from Texas’s interminable summer. Late last week, two inches of rain and a welcome drop in temperatures made it feel like early October rather than early September. As soon as the rain ended, up popped the crimson trumpets of oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida).

Oxblood lily and ‘Bright Edge’ yucca

I believe this is the usual time of year for oxbloods to put on a show throughout Austin, but looking back through my blog posts from last year, I found nothing — not until early October. Of course September 2019 was dreadfully hot and dry. This September is more to their liking, and mine!

I’ll have more oxblood lilies to show you in my upcoming post about Tom Ellison’s garden, so stayed tuned.

Candy-pink rain lilies also popped up right after the rain.

So sweet!

Well, why stop with just the bulbs? Let’s go on a walkabout again to see what else is happening. Tecoma ‘Orange Jubilee’ has been flowering

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