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Tag Archives: Dallas Perennials

Plant Sales and Church Potluck Dinners


If you think about it, a plant sale is a lot like a church potluck dinner.  You never know what you’re going to have, the good stuff goes fast, and you get to try new things.  And it’s all homemade, except for the tubs of fried chicken.

Our Sarah outdid herself organizing the Demonstration Garden’s annual plant sale on May 22, held each spring when the Demonstration Garden volunteers host the Master Gardener monthly meeting.  The speakers giving announcements didn’t start until 11:30 a.m., but the early birds were scrambling long before that for the best deals.

Plant sale cashiers

And what deals they found: About 33 bright cardstock plant tags in Elizabeth’s calligraphy hovered over the “Have to Have It Plants” like Purple Coneflower, Lyre Leaf Sage, and White Autumn Clematis.  “Garden Standbys” like Rock Rose and Red Yucca enticed shoppers.  And then there were the “You Don’t Find That Very Often Plants” including horseradish, Jewel of Opar, and Rose Campion.

Plant sale sign

Of course, garden advice was dished out with each purchase.  Want hummingbirds?  Flame Acanthus must be in your basket.  Malabar spinach? Well, it’s sort of like spinach, but it will take hot weather.

Now you don’t just decide to have a plant sale the week before.  This is a multi-month process for our Sarah to keep up with.  In March, eager plants are divided and seeds started.  Then nursemaids take these little guys home to pamper them.  Gardeners also raid their own yards for contributions. We even had many lovely plants donated by a friend of the Demonstration Garden, Master Gardener Margaret Burnette.  Then there’s the “I Don’t Know Exactly What’s Coming In” factor, as Sarah was inundated days before the sale with last minute “I’m Bringing….” emails.

This was a Plant Sale with added attractions.  Shoppers could also bring home some of the Demonstration Garden’s magical compost or worm castings.  Cindy has the knack of coaxing compost out of a mound of clippings and leaves, and shoppers knew to stock up.

Dallas County Master Gardener with Plant Sale Specimens

Dallas County Master Gardener with Plant Sale Specimens

It’s a year until the 2015 Demonstration Garden Plant Sale Extravaganza, and I’m already making my shopping list.


Pictures by Starla

October In Our Garden!

Our garden at 2311 Joe Field Road in Dallas, Texas has turned delicious!

This is Salvia greggi ‘Raspberry’, a perennial you will want in your water wise garden! Hmmm…looks good enough to eat, but please don’t.  Plenty of edibles  from our garden are coming.

Blooming Salvia Greggi, raspberry color

Jim made pumpkin pie for us after cooking up these pumpkins we grew!

pumkins and squash on countertop

We have been picking pomegranates in our garden and are ready to make our famous pomegranate jelly again.

Two Master Gardeners holding a bucket of pomegranatesLisa picked pomegranates from a neighbor’s tree; after asking permission. Imagine they didn’t want the fruit!  Should we share a jar of our pomegranate jelly with them?

Master Gardener holding a bucket of pomegranatesIf you would like to buy a jar of pomegranate jelly made from Sarah’s recipe and these pomegranates, come to our Dallas County Master Gardener meeting on Thursday, October 24th at 11:30 am at the Farmer’s Branch Rec Center.  All welcome!


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.

Princess Caroline In Our Dallas Garden

Grasses Planted June, 2013, 2311 Joe Field Road, Dallas, Texas

June 18, 2013

In mid-June we  planted ornamental grasses between the arbor and the Mexican plum tree:

  • Pennisetum purpureum (Purple Fountain Grass)
  •  P. alopecuroides ‘Hamelin’ (Dwarf Fountain Grass)
  •  Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass)
  • variegated Liriope
  •  Princess Caroline, a Pennisetum hybrid, our favorite. 

We planted 3 1-gallon size Princess Carolines on 3 foot centers. The foliage is a lush purple with leaves that are wider than that of Purple Fountain Grass. These plants are filling in very quickly despite the heat and drought early in July. This welcome rain should really give them a growth spurt.

Same Area After One Month's Growth

July 9, 2013

This area was full of weeds, dallisgrass and nutsedge when we began to prepare it in 2012. Mulching with newspaper/shredded tree trimmings took care of most weeds; dallisgrass and nutsedge required hand digging for removal. We amended native soil with expanded shale and compost during the winter. Spring rain and warmer temps bought germination of weed seeds as well as the beautiful poppies and larkspur you’ve seen in previous posts. Since planting the new grasses, drip irrigation is now in place and weeding continues each week, especially to root out residual nutsedge. At our next opportunity, adding a 3” layer of shredded tree trimming mulch should finish this area off nicely.

Close Up View of Princess Caroline Grass

We think you will like this ornamental grass as much as we do!

To read more about  Pennisetum purpureum ‘Princess Caroline’ click here!

Susan S

Red Yucca

 When the tall plumes of Red Yucca brighten up the Dallas landscape, it’s time to break out the mojitos: summer can’t be far behind. We’ve had a long, cool, graceful spring filled with the most beautiful roses in years. But today’s crushing heat and humidity signal the end of May, the last days of the school year, and the start of sun tan season.

Red Yucca With Larkspur in Background at The Demonstration Garden

Gardening just doesn’t get any easier than Red Yucca. You mix in expanded shale into your clumps of clay soil (for better drainage), plant the yucca, and watch its red blooms for 30 (THIRTY!) Weeks of the Year. Then you trim off the spent flowers at the end of the season. After yucca is established, you don’t even water it; the plant lives off rainfall. Poor drainage is its only downfall.

No wonder TXDOT plants these in large groups along the highway. Whizzing along at 70 mph, a large swatch of Red Yucca is breathtaking.

The one-inch bell-shaped flowers cluster up and down the stalks, rising 4 to 6 feet above the ground. Flowers are full of nectar and irresistible to hummingbirds. The most common flower color of Hesperaloe parviflora is the lovely coral outside, with pale yellow on the inside. A solid yellow selection is also available.

Close Up Red Yucca Bloom

Red Yucca is a great choice to use around swimming pools and patios. Combine it with ‘New Gold’ lantana to pick up the soft yellow insides of the bloom or Coral Autumn Sage to repeat the color of the yucca’s flowers. Add a few grasses and you’re ready for a carefree landscape.

Coral Salvia and Lantana, New Gold

Mix me another mojito and pass the sunscreen.


Close up photo of Yucca by Harry Cliffe


 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.  


Iris Blooms In Our Dallas Garden

Too bad I didn’t get to attend last week’s Dallas County Master Gardener meeting.

I would have learned all about Iris from the speaker, Bonnie Nichols, and could have given you alot of information about them.  One thing I know for sure: it was worth it to divide our iris last August.  Look at them now!  This is a variety called Queen’s Circle.                       .

Iris Growing At The Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road, Dallas, Texas

Queen’s Circle is a  Tall Bearded Iris, ruffled, with standards that are pure white and falls that are white with purple along the edges with a yellow beard.

Iris, Larkspur, and Verbena

We have 8 more Iris varieties about to bloom in another garden called our Rose Trellis Garden. We borrowed the classic pink, blue, and grey color scheme . Our Iris, Larkspur,  and the early blooming, can’t live without;  Salvia, ‘May Night’  provide the blue.


Pictures by Starla

Plant Your WildLife Habitat

The flowers that are blooming in our WildLife Habitat right now were selected with a purpose.  We wanted to provide food for all kinds of creatures and yes, they are flying in to feast on our plants and eat our berries.   Monarch, Gulf Fritillary, and Giant Swallowtail butterflies have been identified. Skippers, bees, dragonflies, and birds are in residence.

Consider these Suggestions from landscapers around the USA of  The National Wildlife Federation for Your Backyard Habitat:

In every landscape I design and with the volunteer consultations that I do there is one plant that I always suggest: Asclepias (milkweed). I try to use native varieties, and A. incarnata (swamp), A. speciosa (showy) and A. verticillata (whorled) milkweeds are my gold medal winners—the wildlife garden equivalents to Shaun White. I like them not just for their importance in habitats—they are host plants for the monarch butterfly—but because of their educational value for children. My kids love to go out into our flower garden and check to see if there are any new monarch eggs, larvae or chrysalides, and they love watching the butterflies fly in to feed on the nectar.”—Mat Paulson of Moorhead, Minnesota.

 At the Earth-Kind® Water Wise Demonstration Garden we have planted Asclepias currassavica, tropical milkweed. (Love the super star reference made to Shaun White-Olympic snowboarding Gold medalist.)

Tropical ButterFly Weed In The Wildlife Habitat

 “The purple flowers of aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius) provide color in the late summer and fall and attract swarms of pollinators. The plant’s short, shrublike appearance makes it a good candidate for more formal landscaping applications. The silvery checkerspot butterfly, pearl crescent butterfly, and asteroid moth utilize this plant as a host. Tolerance to poor soil conditions has allowed me to add it to my own suburban residential lot. This aster is naturally found in the eastern and north-central United States.”—Perry Eckhardt of St. Charles, Missouri

Aster Growing At The Demonstration Garden Wildlife Habitat

“Purple coneflower (Echinachea purpurea) is a great nectar plant in any butterfly garden and is used by many other insects as well. I think it’s like candy to them. Purple coneflower is also a favorite of American goldfinches and sparrows, who love the seeds. Plant big clumps for the best effect.”—

Purple Coneflower In A Dallas Garden

“One of my favorite native beauties, which is also a hit with the birds, is the American beautyberry. This large shrub makes a wonderful understory plant, perfect for shady areas in your yard or along riparian areas in need of restoration. This beautyberry takes care of itself in the maintenance department, requiring little effort on the part of the caretaker. The open branching structure, brilliant green leaves, and fuchsia-colored berries of this plant make it a lovely addition to any habitat garden. The birds will thank you by devouring the tasty berries, and the butterflies will come calling to taste the sweet nectar of the dainty whitish pink flowers.”—Alice Nance of Austin, Texas

Butterfly Weed, Aster, Coneflower, and Beauty Berry are a benefit to our Demonstration Garden and we thought you might like to include them in yours!


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