Have we outlasted the heat-wave summer? Leave a comment

August 31, 2022

What a summer this has been for Austin. Hot as Hades, rainless and parched for months and months. And then, finally, flooding rains in mid-August drenched parts of the city — I got 4.75 inches over a few days, although friends in South and West Austin got much less — bringing fallish relief. Let this be the end of the summer from hell! Temps in the low to mid-90s I can deal with.

But before summer flies away (haha, it’ll stick around until October), I’ll share a handful of images from July and August that I’ve been hanging onto. I didn’t spend much time in the garden this summer, but when I did I always found moments of beauty and interest, despite my reluctance to get sweaty. Like this bumblebee zooming around in the purple skullcap and Mexican feathergrass (top image).

If I zoom out you can see a mound of purple skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) growing at the edge of the hellstrip, sandwiched between two driveways and the street. This tough little native was unfazed by the brutal summer and provided nectar for the bumbles every day.

In the island bed, the ‘Old Mexico’ prickly pear has finally arisen from the dead — i.e., the 2021 Snowpocalypse, which killed it back to its dinosaur-bone stump. It’s almost back to its mature size and will soon resume its plan for world domination.

‘Vanzie’ whale’s tongue agave is looking a little peaked after the summer’s blistering heat, with yellowing, sun-scalded leaves. My other whale’s tongues didn’t react this way, even in more sun. Weird.

Succulents enjoying the bright shade of the front porch, and color-coordinating with the Wasabi paint color of the front door.

Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is finally back, having died to the roots last winter. The welcome mat is back out for hummingbirds.

But man oh man, did this understory planting suffer this summer. Despite some extra watering across its root zone, the big Japanese maple is showing curled, crispy leaves, and a few large branches have gone entirely brown. Ugh. Under its canopy, the giant ligularia is shrunken and sad, although I think it will bounce back this fall. Some of the ‘Everillo’ sedges in more sun have gone brown. This is a tricky space because the roof dumps tons of water here when it rains, and water runs off from the driveway into a dry creek, so in normal summers these thirstier plants do well. But this was not a normal summer.

Happily, on the other side of the front walk (in the background), the supremely dry-loving plants in the gravel garden are doing great with no more attention than usual: Agave ovatifolia, red yucca, toothless sotol, dwarf myrtle, and Anacacho orchid tree.

I’ve hardly ventured into the side garden, I’m sorry to say. Last I looked, it was doing fine with no attention from me whatsoever, with a once-a-week automatic watering.

In the back garden, plumbago loves the heat and is blooming its head off.

Moby Jr, a bulbil-clone from my original whale’s tongue agave, contentedly floats in a sea of silver ponyfoot in one of my old stock-tank planters.

Lanceleaf blanketflower (Gaillardia aestivalis) has gone to seed, but the white puffs on tan stems are pretty too.

Bat-face cuphea (Cuphea llavea) is blooming and happy, and representing for Austin’s bat obsession.

‘Moonglow’ mangave survived last winter’s deep freeze even in a container I left outside. The original plant died to the roots (no surprise), but I found a few pups under the dead leaves this spring. I kept weeding out pups as they grew until this solitary specimen was left. Will I make the effort to protect it this winter? Probably not. It’s heavy and there’s nowhere to put it, and it’s easier to just replace certain plants as necessary. Or maybe I’ll find more pups!

Soap aloe (Aloe maculata) has been hardy along a south-facing wall for over a decade. It just keeps pumping out the flowers too.

The speckled leaves are pretty even when not in bloom.

‘Quadricolor’ agave is another sun-or-bright-shade beauty. I grow it in a container and left it out last winter too. I can’t remember if it survived or if this is a pup replacement.

Native datura (Datura wrightii) returns each spring, either from the roots or volunteer seedlings. It can get droopy during drought, but it recovers quickly with a little watering or rain. Yes, it’s deadly poisonous, but only if you eat it. The deer don’t, so I can grow it out front too. I love its salad-plate-sized, night-blooming, fragrant flowers.

Hawk moths love to nectar in them too.

I’m looking forward to cooler, patio-sitting days ahead. Will September be the new October this year? That would be a nice break after this summer. Am I counting on it? Hah!

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Digging Deeper

It’s succulent time at Austin Cactus & Succulent Society’s Fall Show & Sale on September 3rd and 4th at Austin Area Garden Center in Zilker Botanical Garden. Includes a plant show, plant and pottery sales, silent auction, and plant raffles. Open 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free with paid admission to the garden.

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added. You can find this year’s speaker lineup here.

All material © 2022 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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