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Category Archives: Perennials

A Bright Spot in the Early Spring Garden

copper canyon daisy As with many plants, Tagetes lemmonii is known by so many common names (Copper Canyon Daisy, Mexican Bush Marigold, Mountain Marigold, Mount Lemmon Marigold, tangerine-scented marigold, and Perennial Marigold) that it is almost easier to refer to it by its Latin nomenclature.  Yet even its Latin name has a fascinating story behind it.

Tagetes lemmonii is native to the high mountain canyons of northwestern Mexico and southern Arizona.  A finely leafed plant with a very distinctive aroma often described as minty and fruity, lemon and tarragon, or (for some people) just plain “Yuck,” it can grow to a size of four to six feet tall and can spread to six to ten feet.  It can be sheared back however.  It grows best in full sun in well drained soil. It can be grown in part shade, though it may get leggy and have fewer blooms.  Once established it needs little to no supplemental watering.  If grown in an area where deer are a problem, deer will definitely avoid it.  However pollinators, including yellow sulpher butterflies and beneficial insects, are drawn to it.

T, lemmonii is considered to be photosensitive and blooms with bright yellow daisy-like flowers in the fall, winter and early spring when the daylight hours are shorter.  In mild winters, it provides a welcome bright spot in the garden since the flowers can last for quite a while.  However in colder winters, it will sometimes die back to the ground but return in the spring.

Though I always thought that its Latin name lemmonii came from its strong citrus/lemon aroma, a Google search from San Marcos Growers ( reveals otherwise:  “This plant was discovered in southeastern Arizona, by the early plant collectors, self taught field botanists, and husband and wife, John (1832-1908) and Sara (1836 – 1923) Lemmon. These two incredible people met in Santa Barbara, California, where Sara Allen Plummer lived, in 1876 when she attended a lecture given by John, who at the time was the California State Board of Forestry Botanist. They married in 1880 and botanized throughout the southwest and in the process discovered over 150 new plants including an unknown species of Tagetes, from which they sent seed to Asa Gray at Harvard University, who then named the plant to honor them. Sara and John also climbed the highest mountain in the Catalina Mountains near Tucson, which is now called Mount Lemmon reportedly because Sara Lemmon was the first woman to climb it. Both authored books and articles which Sara often illustrated and she was instrumental in the efforts to name Eschscholzia californica as the official California State Flower, as it was done officially by Governor George Pardee in 1903. The Lemmons established plants of Tagetes lemmonii in their garden in Oakland, California and progeny of these plants were introduced to the nursery trade in southern California, and England by the early 1900’s.”

copper canyon daisy top downThere is one word of caution when pruning or working with Tagetes lemmonii. Some people are extremely sensitive to the oils in the leaves and can develop a painful, itchy rash when their skin is exposed to sunlight. Sometimes this rash can continue for several days. Therefore it might be best not to plant Tagetes lemmonii where it can be brushed against, be sure and wear gloves and long sleeves when working with it, or at least wash your skin well with soap and water after handling.


Picture by Roseann from Texas Discovery Garden.


Globemallow Sphaeralcea ambigua

We didn’t think it would survive in Dallas. Much less bloom. Well, the Globemallow’s exquisite pink flowers triggered gardeners’ squeals—this is a passionate bunch!—last week at the Raincatcher’s Garden.


We planted Globemallow on a whim last year in the Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden. Most natives from the Big Bend region fail miserably in our dense clay, but this shrubby perennial will tolerate our soil and treat gardeners to “spectacular displays in wet years” according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The combination of purplish-pink 1” cup-shaped flowers and grayish-green scalloped leaves is a show stopper. The most common bloom color, however, is an apricot-orange suggestive of spring quince. If you prefer a color, you might be wise to purchase the plant in bloom.

Steer clear of stroking the leaves. The little hairs can irritate and sometimes cause an allergic reaction.

Plant Globemallow or Desert Mallow in full sun. It will become straggly in partial shade.  It is lovely with grasses or scattered throughout natural plantings.


Picture courtesy of

Hardy Amaryllis

Our dear friends Evelyn and the late Harold Womble, have shared Hardy Amaryllis bulbs with us at the Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road and now at Midway Hills.  Their home is graced with a  large bed of these bulbs that have multiplied over the years and ended up in their son’s gardens and friend’s gardens. Their original bulbs came from Evelyn’s family home place in Brownwood.

Evelyn, Hardy Amaryllis and Daffodils, All Blooming!

Evelyn, Hardy Amaryllis and Daffodils, All Blooming!

Hippeastrum x johnsonii, the St. Joseph’s lily, blooms in early April in Dallas. The bright red blooms, trumpet shaped, are striped with white. The strap like foliage lasts late into the year and looks tropical.

Because the bulb perennializes so well it is often called the finest amaryllis for southern gardens.

Hardy Amaryllis and daffodils 2015

In Perennial Garden Color, Dr Bill C. Welch calls the bulbs “living antiques because they are tangible symbols of success for generations of Southern gardeners.  Many have been lovingly handed down among the families that contribute cultural diversity and richness to our gardens.”

We will now have our own supply of “living antiques” thanks to Harold and Evelyn.


Pictures by Starla

Garden Progress

“It won’t be a chore, it will be a garden.”

 Quote by Jeannie Mobley

Come with us on this journey as we  build and transform our gardens at 11001 Midway Road.    “It won’t be  a chore, it will be a garden.”  You can see  from these pictures that we are enjoying the process.

Here we are beginning to build the raised beds:

Here we are, beginning to build our raised beds-Jim, Judy, Dorothy, Elizabeth

Jim, Judy, Dorothy, Elizabeth

Knowing we will be having school field trips in the spring, our first order of business was to get the vegetable garden beds built.  This was possible because of a generous donation from Loew’s on Inwood.

Vegetable Beds and our Crew of Dallas County Master Gardeners

Vegetable Beds and our Crew of Dallas County Master Gardeners

We are also working on a shade garden demonstration for the lucky people in Dallas, Texas who have shade. The courtyard at Midway Hills Christian Church is being renovated.   Asian Jasmine and Mondo Grass have been removed to make way for shade gardening with winter color in mind, WaterWise of course.

Hans and Michele, part of our Courtyard renewal team!

Hans and Michele, part of our Courtyard renewal team!

This spring you will see swaths of daffodils and Hardy Amaryllis .  The Amaryllis came with us from the old garden. You’ll see; they multiply like crazy.

Evelyn on the left, Sarah, Carolyn, and Cynthia on the right, Amaryllis top right

Evelyn on the left, Sarah, Carolyn, and Cynthia on the right, Amaryllis top right

By the way, this would be a good time to study bulb nomenclature and you can do that by clicking here.


Pictures by Starla


A Monarch Pit Stop


The first semi-cool days around October bring the annual Monarch butterfly migration through Dallas.   Some of the Monarchs, coming from the northern states, follow a corridor through Dallas as they continue on their trip to their wintering grounds in the highlands of Mexico.  These travelers need all the “fuel”/nectar they can get for their long journey.  Even an urban backyard can provide a respite for them.

Picture by Janet D. Smith

Picture by Janet D. Smith

One of the Monarch’s favorite nectar plants is frostweed, Verbesina virginica . It is such an exceptional nectar plant, drawing in not only Monarchs but also Pipevine Butterflies and Great Purple Hairstreaks, that it has been selected as monitoring plant by Monarch Watch.  Dale Clark, local butterfly rancher and founder of the Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society, says that he has seen Monarch butterflies literally drop out of the sky when they see a patch of frostweed.

Frostweed, a perennial, is a member of the sunflower family.  It will grow in sun but prefers shade or part shade.  It requires very little water.  Because it can grow up to six feet tall, it is best to use it in the back of a border and in a more natural, rather than formal, landscape.  It has large green leaves on a straight, winged stem.  Native Americans would sometimes roll the leaves and smoke them like tobacco.  It blooms in late September through October in Dallas, making it a perfect nectar plant for the migrating Monarchs.  The blooms are large composites, dirty white, and (at least to me) rather drab, but obviously Monarchs, bees, and small wasps see beyond superficial beauty and flock to it in droves.  Even a small group of frostweed plants may be covered with four or five Monarch butterflies on each flower.  It is a sight to behold!!


Picture by Larry Waisanen

Picture by Larry Waisanen

Like many plants, especially our native plants, frostweed has several common names. Karen H. Clary in Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine’s October 2012 issue says:  “Frostweed has other names, including iceplant, white crownbeard, Indian tobacco and squawweed.  Native Americans- including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Mikasuki Seminole- used the leaves to treat fever, chills and body aches, and they used the roots as a purgative to treat indigestion.  Mat t Turner, in Remarkable Plants of Texas, attributes the name “squawweed” to a specific use for women.  Turner notes that the Kickapoo, as late as the 1970’s, were still using hot decoctions of the plant for near-term and post-partum issues, such as cleansing the womb and stanching excessive bleeding.”

Frostweed gets its most commonly used name from the fact that with the first freeze, its stem splits and sap oozes out of the winged stem.   The sap freezes into fantastic ribbons forming mini-ice sculptures.  The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center says that “the ice crystals formed on the stems of this and other plant species have been given many names – among them: ice ribbons, ice flowers, ice fringes, ice fingers, ice filaments, ice leaves, frost flowers, frost ribbons, frost freaks, frost beards, frost castles (Forrest M. Mims III, crystallofolia (coined by Bob Harms at The University of Texas), rabbit ice and rabbit butter.”

Frostweed after Frost!

Frostweed after Frost!

There is one important fact to remember if you plant frostweed in your garden.  Not only is the “frost” part of its name representative of one of its important characteristics, but the “weed” part is too.  Just be careful, it will reseed freely—and probably in amended soils will spread rapidly by underground rhizomes.  I have my frostweed growing at home in un-amended black gumbo clay soil under the shade of a huge cedar elm.  I am also very careful to immediately cut off any flowers that are going to seed, bag them, and put them in the trash (not the compost pile).  Doing this I have never had problems with frostweed’s being an uncontrollable “weed.”

So, think about doing your part to help the Monarch “fuel up” for their long journey to Mexico.  Frostweed is a great plant for the Monarchs—but just take some extra precautions so it doesn’t become a “weed.”



It Keeps on Blooming

rock rose in bloom


Do you want a Texas native plant that, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps on going/or in this case, blooming throughout our over 100 degree weather?  If so, then consider planting our Texas native Pavonia (Pavonia lasiopetala).  Like many of our native plants it also goes by many different common names: Wright’s Pavonia, Rock Rose, Rose pavonia, and Rose mallow.

rock rose close up Of course, these last few names give one a clue as to the most eye catching part of the plant: its beautiful, showy, rose colored flowers that are roughly 1½ inches wide with a bright yellow center formed by the pistil and stamens.  These flowers appear from April to November on a small shrub that has velvety, scalloped leaves and that grows only four feet tall (usually smaller, if sheared back to encourage more blooms).

Native to the Edwards Plateau through the Rio Grande Plains, Pavonia prefers dry, rocky woods and slopes, and open woodlands.  Though it will grow larger and bloom more profusely in full sun, it can even take partial shade.  Unlike many members of the Mallow family, it prefers to be dry, growing on well-drained limestone soils or even our clay soils.  It requires very little water, once established, and is a great plant for a WaterWise landscape.

Perhaps the only downside to Pavonia is that though it is considered a perennial, it is a short-lived perennial, tending to decline after three or four years.  However, it readily self-seeds and younger plants will come up to replace the older one.  Pavonia can also be propagated, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, from softwood tip cuttings.  “These cuttings should be taken in the spring before the plant starts to bloom.  Cuttings with big buds or blooms are at a disadvantage.  The cuttings root and grow fast in hot weather.  Cut a stem three to six inches long, just below the node.  Remove all but the top leaves and place in vermiculite.”

If you haven’t already decided that Pavonia is the plant for you, another one of its very favorable attributes is that it is a hummingbird and nectar-loving butterfly and moth attractant.  So if you are looking for a tough little native plant that is not only beautiful but feeds the hummingbirds and butterflies, consider planting a Pavonia/Rock Rose.  You won’t be disappointed.



Pictures by Starla



Separating the Seeds from the Chaff

It is a common mistake made by those gardeners who wish to save their own seeds.  Just what part of a seed pod is actually the seed and what is the chaff, that part of a seed head that can be separated and thrown away.  Sounds easy to tell?  It is, if you are saving squash, tomato, sunflower and other easily distinguishable seeds.  However, if you have ever gone to a seed exchange, perhaps you have excitedly brought home a small zip lock bag full of handpicked, thin, sharp, dark brown “seeds” from the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).  After carefully planting and watering these “seeds” in your garden, you find that not even one grows.   Unfortunately at this point you have now joined the ranks of many gardeners in confusing the seeds from the chaff.

Coneflower, a native perennial, is one of the prettiest and easiest plants to grow in both full sun and even partial shade.  Though they prefer good, fertile soil, being a native plant, they will adapt to less hospitable areas and are hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.  Long-lived and drought tolerant once established, they are impervious to most insects and diseases.  A butterfly nectar plant, their seed filled cones are a favorite of song birds such as Goldfinches.

Purple Coneflower in Bloom

Hybrid Coneflowers now come in a wide variety of colors including pink, white, yellow, and orange.  Unfortunately for the seed saver, these hybrid varieties may not always reproduce true to their parent plant.  However the native Purple Coneflower is an easy plant from which to save seed, once you know the secret of distinguishing the seed from the chaff.


To save the seed, wait until late summer or fall when the coneflowers begin to fade and the seed heads develop.  At this point, begin to keep an eye on the plant, so the seeds can be harvested at the right time: after the seeds have matured, but before they drop off or the birds eat them.

imageUsually the seed pod will turn from dark brown to black and the stem will begin to wilt.  At this point, if you inspect the seed pod, you can easily see small, light brown, bullet shaped seeds nestled in the spiky, woody seed pod.

To save the seed, one of the easiest methods is to cut the seed pod off, leaving a little stem, tie a paper bag around the stems and dry upside down, letting the seeds fall off themselves.  Another method is to manually separate the seeds from the spiky pod by crushing the pod.  Be sure and wear gloves when doing this as the needle-sharp dried spikes can be painful.  After the pod has been crushed, it is easy to pick out the plump, hard seeds.  They can be stored in a cool, dry place in a paper envelope or in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  The addition of a silica gel pack, found at craft stores, to the container will help keep the seeds dry.

So next time you are at a seed exchange and see a packet of sharp, brown, skinny spikes labeled Purple Coneflower seeds, remember that, just as in life, it is necessary to distinguish “the wheat from the chaff,”  Do not take that which is unnecessary but look instead for those light brown, plump seeds.  They are the ones to save.


Pictures by Ann

More about seed saving?  Click here.

What Would We Do Without Turk’s Cap?

All gardeners have those tough spots where nothing seems to want to grow.  Dry shade? Morning shade followed by hot west sun? Neglected, hard to water spots? It’s enough to bring on a tension headache.

The bright apple green leaves and red furled blooms of Turk’s cap Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii are often just the right solution.  I love easy to grow plants, but this Texas native is almost beyond belief.  Shade, sun, or a little of both? Moist or just on rainfall alone?  Clay, loam, sand, or limestone soils (with good drainage)?  Insect damage? Very minimal. All North Texas gardeners have to do is cut the stems back to the ground after a hard freeze in the fall.

The blooms on Turk’s cap are so unusual.  The vermillion red flowers are twisted into a loose tube of overlapping petals, with a red stamen protruding from the center.  The flowers are said to resemble a Turkish turban, thus the name, Turk’s cap.  Butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn to the blooms.  The marble-sized fruit is edible and is enjoyed by a number of birds and animals.

Red Turk's Cap, Dallas Garden Buzz

At the Demonstration Garden, we have enjoyed a Turk’s cap with pink blooms for many years.  I hope it is the Greg Grant introduction, named after the first woman horticulture student at Texas A&M, Pam Puryear.  Her namesake has been designated a Texas Superstar by the AgriLife Extension Service.

Pink Turk's Cap

Pink Turk’s Cap

The variety name for Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii,  honors another groundbreaking botanist in Texas.  Thomas Drummond was a Scottish naturalist, born in Scotland about 1790.  In 1830, he came to America to collect plant specimens from the western and southern United States.  He arrived in Velasco, Texas, in March 1833, and collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds in the almost two years he worked in central Texas.

Although Turk’s cap will adapt to full sun (and I do have several blooming like crazy in west sun), I really think it should be ideally planted in morning sun, afternoon shade.  I have found that if Turk’s cap is in deep shade, the blooms are limited.  Although Turk’s cap is drought tolerant, the plant will wilt noticeably in full sun.  It loves heat, and is a dependable August bloomer.  The bloom season runs from May to November.

For a low maintenance light to medium-shade garden, mix Turk’s cap with southern wood fern and caladiums.


Pictures by Starla and Ann

For more perennial information see our post on Gardening With Perennials.


In Texas, our 52-week growing season has a double-edged sword: Yes, we can grow flowers in the garden all year round (well, the vote is still out on August).  But if your plant choices are flats and flats of annuals—changed out by the season–you’ll either throw out your back or overdraw your checking account.  Or both.

Seldom in life can one say: unequivocally here’s the answer.  With a vision of Oprah guiding my thoughts:  Here Is The Answer: Practically Perfect Perennials.  They bloom, come in every size, shape, and color of the color wheel, and make a return visit to your garden next season.  Ideally, mix annuals (one season show) with perennials (several week bloom) for long lasting color.

Gardeners’ hearty embrace of the charms of perennials has only come about in the last decade or so.  I remember a Fort Worth nurseryman telling our class on perennials that he couldn’t give them away in the 1980s.  Traffic stopping masses of white periwinkles were as ubiquitous as padded shoulders and Dynasty.

As purchasing habits have moved from annuals to perennials, the look of gardens has also changed.  Carefully chosen groupings of perennials tickle the senses with different bloom shapes, colors, and leaves in comparison with the banality of one type of annual.

Enough already.  I’m converted.  I see the light.  I want to add perennials to my garden beds.  How do I start?

Soil Prep: You can’t escape it in North Texas.  Lots of compost, 3 inches of expanded shale, tilled in.  Run a drip system or soaker hose up and down your beds.  Plant, remembering the eventual height and width of the plant (tall goes in the back).  Mulch like your plant’s life depends on it, at least 2-3 inches.

What do I choose?  I start with color.  For example, for a house with brown brick you might consider going with warm, bright colors.  Hot yellows, warm oranges, and flaming pinks pop against the neutral brown.  Pick a unifying color; I almost always choose blue or purple.  It goes with everything.

Now life gets interesting.  I use a yellow legal pad and some good gardening books.  Make of list of plants you can’t live without.  Like daylilies? Bee balm? Search for background perennials with high, mid-level, and low front of the bed plants.  Think about bloom season to narrow your plant choices.  Early spring? Early summer? Fall? To narrow your selections and make your garden more interesting, look at plants by bloom type.  The four flower types are spike (salvia), tubular (petunia), ray (daisy), and umbel (lantana).  You want to include each type of bloom.

Spike, Tubular, Ray, Umbel Flower Types, Dallas Garden Buzz

Spike, Tubular, Ray, Umbel Bloom Type

Also consider leaf shape and size.  The huge leaf of a Mexican sunflower contrasts well with feathery yarrow or long and narrow salvia.

Cannas, Dallas Garden BuzzOne of the selling points for cannas is their huge leaf, some varieties come now in shades of purple.  For purple heart, the leaf is the big draw of the plant; the flower is small and insignificant.

Stumped or overwhelmed?  Don’t do it on your own.  Go to the outstanding arboretums and botanical gardens in the area for ideas.  Stroll the aisles of good nurseries and talk with the knowledgeable employees.  Call the Dallas County Master Gardener Help Desk at 214/ 904-3053 for assistance.  Oh, and have fun!


Pictures by Ann

For more soil prep garden advice review:  One Way To Prepare A New Garden Bed.


 I am not one of those people—and you know who you are—who are very organized.  Ask anybody. The spring trip to the local plant sale usually goes like this:  “Plants for the vacant spots in the front flower bed? Ok, this year,” I muse to myself,  “we’re using ______ colors, and I don’t have one of _______, yet. “ 

Plant Sale Shopping in Dallas

Not this spring. This year, I’m going to have a PLAN. The real deal: down to the ¼- inch, drawn on the drafting board with the compass and scale ruler kind of inspiration.  And from the plan, I’ll have a plant list.  Clutching the plan tightly, I’ll march into the spring plant sales that lure gardeners much like the waft of ribs from the barbecue joint seduce ‘cue lovers.  No impulse purchases for me.  I’ll have something I’ve never had before: a shopping list. Not on the list? Not in the checkout line. 

I did get the plan drawn up.  It took several weeks of looking at the favorite plant books, doodling around on the computer, and checking on mature sizes of plants.

Each plant had a circle drawn to scale representing its place and size in the grand scheme.  I finally had the shopping list. 

Things began to unravel within minutes at my first plant sale of the season.  Blame the perfect spring day. Chalk it up to cash burning a hole in my pocket. Proceeds go to four charities? Oh Lord, help me now. 

 Needless to say, I emerged from the check out line with two unplanned Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’ that promise a cool purple thistle-looking bloom. Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis wasn’t on the list either.  But how else was I going to have “dense spikes of brilliant red blooms that are a hummingbird magnet?”  Just put “hummingbird” and “magnet” in close proximity and I am a goner. I bought three. 

Chiding myself, I shopped at the Texas Discovery Garden plant sale the following week.  Russian sage, black-eyed Susan, asters, and Mexican sunflower went on the cart.  Each of those was on the Shopping List. 

But then I fell for Miss Huff lantana.  The “BEST of the lantanas” says the plant description.  I bought two.  I overlooked that it grows 3-6 feet high. The Best of the Lantanas needs to be moved to the side yard. 

It was getting easier to tally what purchases were not on the Shopping List: Bridal Wreath vine, “Peter’s Purple” monarda, Louisiana iris, Mountain sage…… 

Husband Mike’s only request was for something to shade the brick wall of the house from the hot west sun.  I snagged dwarf pomegranate ‘Nana’ at a sale in Collin County.  Perfect plant: 3-6 feet tall, orange blooms and fruit from spring to fall, gorgeous color next to the brown brick.  The next day as I popped it out of the pot, I noticed a slight discrepancy: the tag said ‘Wonderful’ which grows into to a small tree. 

Oh bother. Is it 3-6 foot ‘Nana’ as the plant list specified? Or have I planted a really, really big ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate? Time will tell.  


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