>My Favorite Five Plants for Austin


I was asked to present my favorite five garden plants to the Garden Club of Austin. It was extremely difficult to narrow the selection down to five but the following prevailed.

1. Cycas panzhihuaensis (Cycadaceae family) – a cycad

Certainly one of the most cold-tolerant of all the cycads, and one of the fastest-growing this not so common cycad is ideal for Austin. Grow it on in a pot until considered large enough, then plant it out in a sunny, south-facing corner. Fertilize heavily and you will be amazed at the speed it grows. In its native China, it withstands severe freezes, often at the same time damp. New foliage is blue tinted. It is fast becoming a demanded plant for landscapes due to its hardiness, attractiveness and growth rate. This plant may be hard to find but a treasure once you have it.

2. Murreya paniculata (Rutaceae family) – related to citrus

Murraya paniculata is also known as mock orange, orange jessamine or Chinese box. This shrub or small tree can reach up to 20, but is generally smaller, being about 6-10 ft tall. It belongs to the Rutaceae familly (just like the Citrus) and is native to Southeastern Asia, including China and Malaya. It has an evergreen foliage, sweetly scented flowers and bears small red fruits. Murraya paniculata has pinnate leaves. These generally have 3 to 9 leaflets. Leaves are small and the foliage is fairly dense, and this plant is often grown as a bonsaï tree. Flowers are white (they turn white-cream with age) and are sweetly scented, reminding of orange perfume. They are grouped in terminal panicles and generally have 5 petals. Fruits are small, being about half an inch long. They are orange-red when ripe and are not edible. The Chinese box is a very interesting plant, with ornamental foliage, flowers and fruits – the total package. It can withstand cold temperatures down to about 28°F, and thus can be grown in most sheltered parts of USDA zones 9 and warmer. This plant likes fertile, well-drained soils that remain moist during the growing season.

3. Eleagnus pungens – variegated cultivars only (Eleagnaceae family)

There is no plant more colorful and intriguing than any of the variegated cultivars of Eleagnus. These include “Hosobo fukurin”, “Gilt Edge”, and “Maculata”. The first is a dwarf plant staying within 4’. Eleagnus normally is a maintenance problem due to rapid growth, but variegated varieties grow at a much slower rate making this plant highly desirable for a year round colorful shrub. The blooms are insignificant but fragrant and the branches are so flexible, they can be tied in a knot. The underside of the leaves has a silvery appearance. It takes our drought, heat, cold, and poor soils without any adverse effect. It is native to China and Japan and hardy from Zone 7 to 9.

4. Citrofortunella mitis variegata (Rutaceae family) – a citrus

The calamondin orange is hardier to cold than any other true citrus specie and only the trifoliate orange and the kumquat are more tolerant to low temperatures. It can be successfully grown outside throughout California, Florida, and the gulf coast and is native to China and the Philippines. It is moderately drought-tolerant. It makes an excellent container plant in colder areas. The fruit is very acidic (like limes and lemons), and can be used to flavor iced tea and other drinks. The variegated cultivar is highly ornamental, boldly colored with variegated fruits. It blooms and produces fruit year round when temperatures are warm. The blooms are highly fragrant. I have had minimal freeze damage on a small tree in NW Austin down to 25 degrees.

5. Trachelospermum jasminoides variegata (Apacynaceae family ) – a vine

Despite the common name, Confederate jasmine is not native to the American south – it comes from China but has been a popular garden plant in Europe and the U.S. for centuries. Not particular as to soil but prefers well drained situations with some organic matter, bright sun to part shade, average water, and can tolerate drought once established. It is hardy in Zones 8 – 10. Confederate jasmine is pest-free, easy to maintain, drought resistant and heavenly fragrant, this is probably the south’s favorite flowering vine. The glossy evergreen foliage is a delight to see when not in bloom. This is why I prefer the vividly variegated cultivar. As for growth rate, once established, it is vigorous but can be easily controlled. It is not as rampant as many other vine choices.

Summary: You can see that these plants have a lot in common.

– all are evergreen
– 4 of 5 are variegated and colorful
– all are climate durable
– 4 of 5 have fragrant blooms
– All are easy to grow and maintain

For more information, put the botanical name into a Google search to find more information and pictures of these plants.


>Beyond the Digging


There’s More Gardening Enjoyment than Growing

You are going to think I am either crazy or weird but I propose to you that your enjoyment of growing plants can go much deeper than the actual growing process.  Broaden your gardening experience in the following ways.

Getting to know your plants in a more intimate way can be a fascinating thing. If you have and use a computer, I am talking about keeping a real time data base on the plants you grow and study about them from reading and internet research. I can go through my collection of over 400 different plants and tell a story about each one based on not only experience growing them but information I discovered by researching them on the internet. Every time a plant is eliminated or added, the data base is adjusted accordingly. Any new plant acquired is immediately researched to learn more about it. I recommend using the botanical name for internet research for best results. Learning is FUN!

My plant data base uses MS Excel (a standard software on MS Office) which I can sort by botanical name, plant family, plant category and other self defined features. Instead of using plant labels to remember their names, I use a booklet containing this data base information. I can associate names with a plant when I can’t remember the name itself. In the case of plants such as orchids, where so many hybrids have been created over time, you can trace the plant’s ancestry and derivation using a plant data base. The information you keep is up to you. My own plant data base can be seen at the following address: www.centraltexasgardening.info/plantlist.pdf Trying to remember the botanical names and other information about a plant is a daunting task, made easy by having this resource. Also, having such an up to date list helps facilitate plant trading with others.

The satisfaction and enjoyment of knowing not only a plant name, but other information about it is hard to describe. If you know a plant is from a particular part of the world and know from that it’s natural growing environment, that alone helps you to create a similar growing environment that will help that plant thrive in your garden or greenhouse. Starting a data base may be time consuming but once done, maintaining it is so easy.

Another enjoyment to growing that is equally fascinating is photographing your garden and individual plants, from a broad garden bed perspective showing the blend of texture, color, and form to detailed close up pictures of the individual bloom details or leaf patterns. Nature begs to have it’s picture taken. This is another way of sharing your garden and growing experience with others while enhancing your personal enjoyment of the plants you grow. The camera often catches things the eye doesn’t see. SEE THE GARDEN CLOSEUPS I HAVE POSTED SEPARATELY. You can keep a photo log of your plants to go along with your plant data base.

I hope these suggestions help you to enjoy your gardening and growing experiences more than ever before. They have certainly done it for me. I have learned so much in the process, that my gardening friends think I’m an expert. Have I ever got them fooled!

You never know enough about the plants you grow or about the many plants you haven’t tried yet. Make your growing experience a learning experience as well.