San Antonio Botanical Garden reopening, part 1

May 19, 2020

After a month and a half self-isolating at home, I was craving a garden visit when I got the news that both the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and San Antonio Botanical Garden were opening back up at limited capacity. I immediately went online and secured tickets for the Wildflower Center (click for my recent visit) and SABG, which is honoring reciprocal memberships with other botanical gardens, so I got in for free. Yippee!

It’s only a 1-1/2-hour drive from my house in northwest Austin to San Antonio Botanical Garden, an easy drive that requires no stopping at a public restroom along the way — ha! So last week my Italian exchange student (yes, she’s still here for a couple more weeks) and I hit the road and headed south to the Alamo City for a little garden therapy.

SABG marks its 40th anniversary this month, and the gardens are looking lovely. And summery, with a red-hot color scheme near the entrance slightly tempered by blue salvia.

Cool-red firecracker fern with blue nolina (I think) and golden thryallis — shazam!

‘Bells of Fire’ esperanza hulks over Mickey Mouse-eared spineless prickly pear, firecracker fern, and ‘Brakelights’

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Plant This: ‘Old Mexico’ prickly pear

May 17, 2020

Everyone needs at least one beautiful beast of a plant in their garden, a tough old boot intent on annexing adjacent real estate, but not so quickly that you can can’t beat it back. Texas tough. Meet ‘Old Mexico’ prickly pear (Opuntia gomei), also called wavy-leaf prickly pear.

Its lemon-yellow, ruffled flowers glow like cups of pure sunshine in late spring. Each flower lasts just one day, but mature plants produce dozens, extending the floral show for a couple of weeks.

More flower buds ready to pop

Its large leaf pads have a wavy shape with scalloped edges. While technically spineless, it does have tiny, nearly invisible glochids that embed themselves in skin and cause pain if you handle a pad with bare fingers. Just don’t. I speak from experience.

Don’t use cloth or leather gloves to handle it either unless you want glochids permanently embedded in them. Instead use BBQ tongs to handle fallen or pruned pads. Sometimes I’ll just use a shovel blade or the sole of my shoe to knock off a pad at the joint and then scoop it up with a shovel.

Why bother knocking or pruning off pads? I

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Xeriscape in bloom at Wells Branch Community Garden

May 14, 2020

Lemon-lime retama trees in bloom caught my eye recently as I drove by the Wells Branch Community Garden and its native xeriscape garden.

Someone takes really good care of this waterwise garden, which dresses up the exterior of the walled community-garden plots. Until a few years ago it was just a tiny bed with a couple of agaves. After those agaves bloomed and died, the bed was ambitiously expanded, and now it’s eye-catchingly planted with drought-tolerant and sun-loving plants like retama (Parkinsonia aculeata), a green-trunked native tree with butter-yellow flowers in spring.

Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), with slender, hummingbird-attracting bloom spikes that flower for weeks at a time.

Whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia), a solitary (non-pupping) agave that looks like a big blue rose. It appreciates filtered shade like that provided by the airy retama, or morning sun with afternoon shade. It grows just fine in full sun too, although it sometimes suffers sun scorch during especially hot Texas summers.

Ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense), a cold-hardy, pinkish-gray succulent. This plant thrives in pots in my shady garden, and I hadn’t really seen it in full-sun conditions, but it looks

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Wildflower fiesta at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

May 11, 2020

Bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and other early wildflowers bloomed in solitude this spring at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which closed in mid-March due to the pandemic and Austin’s shelter-in-place order. Happily, the gardens reopened last weekend to members, who must reserve in advance a specific arrival time on the website. I grabbed a Saturday morning time slot, got my mask and camera ready, and arrived bright and early on reopening day.

Oh, how I’d missed this place! The late spring wildflowers like purple coneflower, firewheel, and thistle look glorious. So I’m going to let the flowers do the talking in this post. Enjoy!

Purple coneflower and a limestone and glass sculpture
Paleleaf yucca
Trumpet creeper
Purple coneflower
Giant coneflower
Spineless prickly pear and nolina
Confetti meadow
Standing cypress
American basket flower
Firewheel and thistle meadow
Giant hesperaloe in bloom with agave and yucca
Manfreda bloom spikes
Cardinal in flight
Pale purple coneflower
Firewheel meadow with agave and yucca
Firewheel with prickly pear and yucca
Thistle and firewheel
Grassy savanna
Firewheel meadow
Brown-eyed Susan
Purple coneflower

I’ll end with the entry kiosk and its wildflowery green roof, and a masked visitor as

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April visit to Antique Rose Emporium garden

May 10, 2020

In early April I took a wildflower-hunting drive through the country east of Austin. I ended up driving out to Brenham and past The Antique Rose Emporium, which was open to visitors, so I stopped for a quick tour of the gardens, socially distanced of course. The fuchsia pennants of Byzantine gladiolus were flying.

Cottage garden charm around one of ARE’s many outbuildings

A zen moment

Jerusalem sage flowering under a leaning tree — some sort of fruit tree perhaps?

The purple greenhouse


Brick labyrinth and rose trellis-tower

Multicolored bottle tree and a cast-iron squirrel finial on a purple fence

A bottle tree is a must-have for any Southern garden, and ARE’s tree is tall and colorful.

The nursery tables and arch made of braided terracotta pots

A pot of succulents within a pot of succulents

In an orchard across the road, orange-red Indian paintbrush pooled amid green grass studded with pale-pink flowers.

Last winter’s berries still adorned a possumhaw holly, even as spring wildflowers sprang up at its feet.

Some of you reading this have been plunged back into winter this weekend, but spring will return soon. Meanwhile, Austin is enjoying a late-season, lovely

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Early May, summer as it should be

May 08, 2020

Hesperaloe ‘Desert Dusk’ flower spike

I’m always grateful when early May rolls around, even though it means summer’s sauna-like heat is right around the corner. Why? Because the 20 mature live oaks in my garden are finally done dropping daily heaps of leaves and pollen catkins. And because I’ve managed to clean it all up and can see my plants again.

 ‘Sterntaler’ coreopsis and Mexican feathergrass

Early May has all the promise of glorious summer in more-temperate climates, with none of the heat and drought stress that often occur during a Texas summer.

It’s summer as it should be.

A sunlit ‘Macho Mocha’ mangave with flowering ice plant in a blue pot

In order to soak it up, I’ve been spending as much time as I can out on the patio.

Aloes and ‘Chocolate Chips’ manfredas send up red-flowered bloom spikes that delight hummingbirds

And we’ve already been swimming a few times. Another month and I’ll be soaking in here and staring at the garden with a critical eye, deciding what needs to change come fall. But for now, in early May, I simply appreciate what looks good.

I’ve been catching up on my reading on our

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