Saturday, October 3, 2015

2015 Inside Austin Gardens Tour preview

On Tuesday, I joined several Austin garden bloggers for a preview of the Travis County Master Gardener Association's Inside Austin Gardens tour, scheduled for Saturday, October 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine! This year's tour gardens feature native and adapted plants that do well no matter what Texas throws at them: shade, sun, drought, deer, you name it, these gardens can handle it! You can see six private gardens and the Travis County AgriLife Extension demonstration public garden for $20 or see a single garden for $5. Proceeds support TCMGA's educational service programs and projects such as the East Austin Garden Fair.

I was able to catch sneak peeks at four of the seven gardens before I had to head back to work:

Cottage Natives
1315 Cullen Ave

This garden features tough, classic plants that are native to the region. It’s also got a bunch of fountains, bird baths and ponds, multiple seating areas including two swings, a veggie garden, a big old rainwater collection tank and lots of ’shabby chic’ decor.

Cottage Natives

Cottage Natives

Cottage Natives

Sunbathing Natives
1012 N Weston Ln

This Austin, Texas garden features native plants that thrive in brutal, full sun. It’s also got one hell of a view of the Hill Country and the Colorado River plus a drop-dead gorgeous pool and patio.

Sunbathing Natives

Sunbathing Natives

Sunbathing Natives

Oh, Deer!
4503 Mountain Path Dr

This garden was designed by nationally-known garden writer Pam Penick, author of “Lawn Gone", “The Water-Saving Garden” and the garden blog Digging. The garden features native plants that are deer-resistant, a stock tank pond, and Moby the whale's tongue agave. This garden looks glorious year-round in all seasons.

Oh, Deer!

Oh, Deer!

Oh, Deer!

Death-Defying Natives
7002 Treaty Oak Circle

This Austin, Texas garden features especially hardy native plants for Austin that require minimal watering. It also has some lovely seating areas, a fire pit and a darling doggie that I expect will be locked indoors on tour day!

Death-Defying Natives

Death-Defying Natives

Death-Defying Natives

The other gardens on the tour are:

Shady Natives
4603 Palisade Dr

Flashy Natives
401 Cloudview Dr

Natives Testing Ground
1600 Smith Rd

I saw the Palisade garden when it was on the tour in 2011, although I hear Sue’s made quite a few changes to it over the past four years. I see the Smith Road garden every time I work the Travis County Master Gardener phone desk (but somehow never manage to take photos of it). I hope to see the Cloudview garden the morning of the tour. I’ll be working as a ‘stroller’ in the Mountain Path garden from 12 to 4 on tour day, so if you’re touring, look for me and say hi! If you don't make it, you can check out more photos on my Flickr page or on the tour's website at

Words and photos © 2009-2015 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gardening Gone Wild Photo Contest - End of Summer

As the sun sinks slowly in the West...
Sunset at the Window View
This is my farewell to summer photo entry for the current Gardening Gone Wild photo contest. I took the photo on September 14, eight days before the autumnal equinox, at Big Bend National Park. This mountain formation is called the Window and it's a popular place to hang out and watch the sunset.

If you'd like to enter a photo in the contest, you have until October 9. Click on the link above to read the complete entry rules, and good luck!

Words and photos © 2009-2015 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Portland Garden Bloggers Fling - Day 3 - Rhone Street Gardens

On an overcast Day 3 of the Portland Fling, our tour bus made its first stop at Scott Weber's Rhone Street Gardens. Through Scott's blog, I've long loved his garden from afar, and I was so excited to finally see it in person.
Rhone Street Gardens

We piled out of the bus and spilled out onto the street and sidewalks, where Scott (in navy-and-white plaid shirt and khaki shorts, lower left) was waiting to greet us.
house on Rhone Street

Rhone Street house - North Border

At long last, here were all the Pacific Northwest plants I've come to know and love through Scott's blog, up close and in person, like Geranium 'Rozanne',
Flowering perennials and grasses

a multitude of grasses and Persicaria and big fluffy allium seed heads,
Grasses, Persicaria, allium seed heads

Rudbeckia triloba and Teucrium hircanicum and so much more! Despite the cloud cover, at times the light would illuminate a plant just so, giving a tiny hint of the ethereal glow that Scott's photos capture so well.
Rudbeckia triloba

Walking along the North Border toward the back of the house,
North border

I found a fence covered in Clematis tibetana and an open gate. Peeking inside, I found -

the Back Garden, hooray! - with a little teak bistro set for two on a brick patio,
Sitting area

surrounded by foliage and flowers, vining plants and wavy grasses,

in an explosion of soft textures and soothing colors. I was particularly taken by the cloud-like seed heads on this ornamental grass, a Panicum, I think. I'm pretty sure the purple flowers are Verbena, but I never found out what the broad-leaved dark and green plants were (maybe Rodgersia?), or the masses of little golden flowers (an Astrantia, perhaps?).
An explosion of texture and color

Sitting in one of the bistro chairs, one can gaze out upon the beauty of the Back Garden's raised beds.
Raised beds border the garden path

A grouping of galvanized steel planters stands nearby to hold the overflow. The white lily is 'Silver Scheherazade', the purple flower is Geranium 'Roxanne', and I think the raspberry-red flower is 'Mars Midget' Knautia macedonica.
Container plantings

Walking back toward the Front Border of the house, I passed this cute garden shed, a stock tank full of more gorgeous plants,
Garden shed

a big purple Salvia guaranitica (is this 'Purple Majesty' or 'Amistad'?) in a galvanized steel container,
Purples and greens

and another seating area with two green Adirondack-style chairs behind a bushy green Amsonia hubrichtii (left) and a big frilly yellow-green Rhus tyhpina 'Tiger Eyes' sumac (right). A rain chain directs water from the porch roof into a wooden rain barrel.
Front porch and seating area

One last glance at the Front Border as we say farewell...
The Front Border

Of all the glorious Portland Fling gardens, Rhone Street Gardens was a special treat. It was lovely to see an unabashed plant collector's garden curated so perfectly. Despite the large number and variety of plants in a very small urban plot, Scott's skillful use of texture, color, bloom cycle and plant placement avoids the "Plant Geek Plunker Syndrome" that plagues gardens of impulse buyers like me. Scott's garden has inspired me to take a hard look at my own Front Border and do some careful planning before embarking on an overhaul. I can't grow many of these PNW plants in Central Texas - our summers are too hot and too dry for too long - but I can grow a few, and come up with some native and adapted Texas plants that could give a similar look and feel.

Many thanks to Scott Weber for opening his garden to us Flingers, and for coordinating the Portland Fling along with Loree Bohl of Danger Garden, Jane Howell-Finch at MulchMaid, Ann Amato-Zorich at Amateur Bot-ann-ist and Heather Tucker of Just a Girl with a Hammer.

Next up, a pair of gorgeous private Portland gardens, side by side.

Words and photos © 2009-2015 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - April 2015

Here's what's blooming in my Central Texas garden this April.

In the vegetable garden, the potato plants are blooming.  This is a sign that new potatoes will be ready to harvest in about three weeks. The red potatoes have purple flowers and the white potatoes have white flowers.
Red Pontiac potato flower

white Kennebec potato flower

The multiplying onions are also in bloom. They look fabulous en masse and the bees go nuts over them. They've really multiplied a lot so I may move some of these to the front garden.
bee on onion

I spy lots of little golden yellow spiders in the onions, too, weaving little webs.
web on onion

One of the webs caught this bee and I had to rescue her. Although she was strong enough to break the web apart, her feet were caught in a strand of silk and she was just spinning around aimlessly, dangling from this blossom. I found a stick and held it out. She climbed on and I deposited her on top of the flower. She took a moment to gather her wits then flew away.
bee on web

In the rose garden, there are more fragile, dewy webs. This one is on the 'La Marne' rose. I would show you the rose itself, but as usual, it is absolutely overwhelmed with powdery mildew. Neither Actinovate or Green Cure is making a dent and it is spreading to the other hardier roses. I'll be trying Serenade next, and if that doesn't work, I'll have to pull it out.
web on rose

'Dame du Coeur' on the other hand is having a grand year. It gets a tiny bit of black spot and mildew but not much.  'Hot Lips' salvia is right behind and 'Mutabilis' rose is in the back.
roses and salvia

From another vantage point you can see 'Old Blush' in pink in the back of this shot.
salvia and roses

Close-ups of 'Dame du Coeur' - this one is rather Georgia O'Keefe inspired,
dew on rose petals

while this one's more in keeping with the Old Masters.
dame du coeur

The buttery-yellow 'Sunny Knock-Out' rose is blooming, too.
yellow knockout rose

Along the stone path, all manner of salvia and poppies are in bloom.
stone path

The bees adore the poppies.
bee on poppy

There's also red poppies,
papaver rhoeas


Jerusalem sage,
jerusalem sage

lyre-leaf sage,
lyre leaf sage

and my favorite garden thug, pink evening primrose.
pink evening primrose

African hosta (Drimiopsis maculata) is back, a very reliable passalong plant from Linda Lehmusvirta of Central Texas Gardener fame.  Another common name for this plant is 'Little White Soldiers'.
Drimiopsis maculata

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Visit her April 2015 GBBD page to see springtime blossoms in gardens all around the world.

Words and photos © 2009-2015 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Gardening Gone Wild Picture This Contest - Best of 2014 (Portland Fling Day 3 teaser)

On this week’s coldest evenings, l conducted a final review of the 893 photos I took on the last day of the Portland Garden Bloggers Fling. Looking back at these photos helped take a bit of wintery shiver out of my bones. It was such a superb event and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go. I’ve managed to edit the day’s shots down to 79 photos: way too many photos for a single blog post, even for me. So I’m planning to divide the last day into several posts, to give each garden a proper review.

I also read this week that Saxon Holt is resurrecting the Picture This photo contest at Gardening Gone Wild with a Best of 2014 theme. While organizing and categorizing last year's photos (because we all do that every year), Holt is encouraging us to look for the best photo - the one with the strongest composition that uses the entire frame to tell a story - then write a blog post about it and enter it into the contest. First prize is Holt’s eBook, Good Garden Photography, and second prize is a one-month membership ($5 value) to the PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop. With prizes like these, I realized I had to make time to enter.

Without a doubt, my Portland Fling photos were my top photos of 2014, and one shot in particular sends me right back to those summery days in the Pacific Northwest. I took this photo at Bella Madrona, the final and most enchanting garden we toured. With this photo, I tried to capture the fairy-tale feeling of this garden room, one of hundreds of vignettes I found while wandering through the five-acre estate.

Bella Madrona, Portland OR

The ducks in the center of the photo led me to this space, you see; they waddled and I followed. Because I took the photo with a wide-angle lens, the three chairs in the foreground appear larger than life, grabbing the eye while giving the image an Alice-in-Wonderland feel. The blogger in the background provides a sense of scale, albeit an altered one, and the color of her hot pink blouse helps to draw the viewer's eye across the photo from left to right. (Wait, maybe there’s two bloggers in the background... or is that a garden fairy hiding in the thick foliage just left of center?) The overcast sky is blown out, but in this case, I rather like the hazy, open, lightheaded effect this has on the top third of the photo, drawing the eye upward to the airy, feathery treetops in contrast to the darker topiary arches - so let’s pretend I planned it that way.

Maybe Holt’s eBook will offer some tips on how to ensure a properly exposed image when shooting gardens with deep, dark shadows under a white cloudy sky, as this has always been a personal challenge.  I'm aware that large apertures and slow shutter speeds can result in overexposed images, but at a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second and an aperture of f/13.0, that wasn't the issue here.

If you want to enter the contest, better hurry: the deadline is tonight at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time.

Words and photos © 2009-2015 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.