October blooms brighten my garden

October 12, 2023

October! It’s the best month of the year, providing sweet relief from a Texas summer with cooler weather and rain and bringing the garden back to life. Let’s take a stroll ALL around the garden and see what there is to see.

It’s oxblood lily season! These dark-red beauties (Rhodophiala bifida) pop up from summer slumber with a late-September rain, and while each flower lasts only a couple of days, each bulb keeps making new flowers for two or three weeks. 

I divided a bunch of bulbs last spring and tucked them in the stock-tank planter along with divisions of ‘Labuffarosea’ rain lilies (Zephryanthes). And now they’re all blooming, just as I’d envisioned, over a silver field of native woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata).

Bees love them too.

Look at those stuffed pollen baskets she’s toting!

The ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood balls that outline the Circle Garden scorched a little during this hellish summer, but they’re putting on fresh new growth and greening up now.

‘Color Guard’ yucca and lantana (can’t remember which one) glow in the mellow October light.

The Circle Garden as seen from the deck steps

And as viewed from up on the deck, where the sunburst stonework is best appreciated

A wider view

Curves and more curves, blues and more blues, silvers and more silvers

The beautiful whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia) in the center of the stock tank is a variegated variety that was a passalong from a friend moving overseas.

More of those sweet pink rain lilies and a new-to-me variety of purple heart — ‘Pale Puma’, a division of which was given to me by designer Toni Moorehead of Signature Gardens in Grapevine, Texas.

It’s filled in a challenging strip of bare soil encircling the stock-tank planter and asked for literally nothing this summer.

More rain lilies, plus a volunteer Verbena bonariensis that snuck in there

‘Fireworks’ gomphrena, my new favorite summer annual that’s behaving like a perennial for me. Or maybe it’s all coming up from seed, but at any rate, it’s a great plant that survives our broiling summers.

In the lower garden, Mexican beautyberry, aka black beautyberry (Callicarpa acuminata), is all berried out with striking, wine-red berry clusters.

What a gorgeous plant for shade! Birds don’t seem to find it as tasty as the American beautyberry, so the berries last longer. Plant the American for the birds and this one for you — but give it lots of space. It gets big.

I’m so happy this native tree has finally come back from Snowpocalypse. Evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) is a handsome tree all year, but when it blooms in fall, it’s even better. And bees love the lightly fragrant white flowers too.

Yucca rostratas and blue wall behind the blue pool

The long view

More oxblood lilies with soap aloe (Aloe maculata)

Ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) in the Texas license plate planter

Squid agave (Agave bracteosa) in its tall, fluted pot makes a focal point at the end of the swimming pool. Beyond is the covered porch where I’ve been working during these beautiful October days.

A collection of succulents on the potting bench and hanging on the fence

A Wilson’s warbler rests on the ’70s-groovy, tree-man candle holder from my childhood home. I’m afraid this sweet little bird may have hit a window because it seemed stunned and let me get close to investigate. After a while it flew away, and I wish it safer travels.

Side path up to the new metal-mesh gate

In the front garden, the sedge lawn is lush and green. This is Berkeley sedge — click for the story of how I planted it 10 years ago (yes, 10!).

Along the driveway, a silver garden shines with a little more sun: Paleleaf yucca (Yucca pallida), Wheeler’s sotol, and woolly stemodia, Texas natives all.

‘Amistad’ salvia adds deer-resistant color along the curb.

My garden’s story is mostly a story of trees and deer. The dark-gray, undulating trunks of live oaks stand everywhere in my garden, and the shady spaces that result must also be tremendously deer resistant. Therefore my plant palette is limited to grasses, sedges, yuccas, sotols, and scented- or fuzzy-leaved plants like shade-tolerant salvia, garlic chives, Jerusalem sage, and the like. I cage a few small trees but prefer to avoid unsightly wire cages. To get medium height plants that deer won’t destroy with their rut-season antlering, I find elevated containers helpful, like the steel pipe planters at left.

The trees have taken a beating the last several years thanks to drought, extreme heat, and the odd ice storm. But I try to help them with regular arborist checkups, an application of compost throughout the garden in fall, and summer watering. I can’t deep-water each tree during droughty summers the way experts recommend — I have 30-some trees — but I do my best with them. I find myself often worrying over them though, and fantasizing about a smaller garden with one or two shade trees to keep healthy instead of 30. I can’t deny their beauty, though, and distinctive Central Texas look.

Right now it’s acorn season. It’s funny how often a falling acorn gets impaled by a yucca below. A shish kabob for a squirrel!

The street view

It was just last February that it looked like this, after Austin’s epic ice storm. The garden has amazing powers of recovery.

‘Vanzie’ whale’s tongue agave with volunteer pine muhly, yuccas, and blue Mediterranean fan palm

Softleaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia) and hummingbird-favorite Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)

Wheeler’s sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), woolly stemodia, sedge lawn, and those iconic live oaks

Back into the rear garden to admire Bat City’s mascot plant, bat-face cuphea (Cuphea llavea)

And those glorious bunches of oxblood lilies. Planting them in a raised bed like this lets you enjoy their blooms up close.



Purple oxalis (Oxalis triangularis)

And a hypnotic-eyed copper snake — he’s friendly!

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Digging Deeper

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. The Season 7 lineup can be found here.

Tour several Austin gardens on Saturday, November 4, on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day tour for Travis County. Tickets must be purchased online in advance and will be available beginning September 1st.

All material © 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.