Today let’s talk about a flowering plant that is
native to the tropical Americas. The Purple Training Lantana and New Gold
Lantana, or Lantana montevidensis and Lantana x ‘New Gold’ respectively,
are outstanding examples of the Lantana family. The Purple Training flourishes
in USDA Zones 8-10, while the New Gold does best in USDA Zones 10-11. Both of
these plants like to be in full to part sun. However, full sun will result in
the best blooms!
While these have some visual similarities, they also
vary quite a bit. The Purple Trailing is larger in size growing to 1’-2’ tall
and 3’-5’ wide. In addition, there are a few varieties that can come in under
3’ in width. The New Gold, on the other hand, grows to 1’-1.5’ tall and 1.5’-2’
tall on average.
When it comes to looks, the Purple Training
brings fragrant, coarse-toothed, slightly-hairy, dark green foliage filled with
year-round purple blooms. The New Gold has a showy presentation with its yellow
blooms from spring through summer in most climates. In frost free regions, it
can bloom all year round as well. Both of these variants attract butterflies
and are deer tolerant.
And when it comes to maintenance, both are considered very easy to plant and flourish. Once established, the New Gold is heat loving and only requires occasional watering. The Purple Training is considered strong at handling coastal exposure, wind, extreme heat/drought, all soil types and Ph. Overall, it’s clear that both of these are an easy choice for adding color to your outdoors. And if you aren’t a fan of purple or yellow, have no fear. There are about 150 different species of Lantana. Needless to say, these will have you covered no matter what your favorite color may be.
Caesalpinia pulcherrima, more often known as Pride of Barbados (sometimes referred to as Bird of Paradise, although this common name belongs to another plant), is a favorite medium to large, tropical shrub for Texas landscapes. You can expect this fast-growing plant to reach 4 to 8 feet tall and around 6 feet wide. It can grow in tree form in the tropics, reaching up to 20 feet tall. Caesalpinia pulcherrima can be treated as a perennial in zones 8 to 11 or throughout central and south Texas and needs sun to partial shade in order to bloom correctly. Pride of Barbados has fiery flowers starting in a rich red color at the base and turning bright yellow at the ruffled tips with long, showy red stamens. The flowers bloom from mid-summer to fall and can provide a welcome sight in the hottest days of Texas summers when many other plants look worn out. The foliage is most often deciduous and is a blue green color, contrasting nicely with the yellows and reds of the blooms.
Originally from Mexico and the Caribbean,
this plant can provide that colorful, tropical look that many people long for.
It does need hot weather to bloom, but if it freezes to the ground in a colder
area it will regrow in the spring quite quickly. The flowers are followed by
bean-looking pods of seeds that can be several inches long and contain acids
that are poisonous, so be careful when using this plant in areas with kids and
pets. Another aspect to be aware of is the spiny stems of the Pride of
Barbados, and they should not be planted near patios and walkways. It can
tolerate drought to an extent, but will bloom much better if watered deep but
infrequently during the growing period. Pride of Barbados does self-sow its
seeds so be sure to deadhead this plant if you wish to prevent volunteer
seedlings from appearing the next season.
Caesalpinia pulcherrima ‘Phoenix’ is a Pride of Barbados variation with solid bright yellow flowers and only hardy in zones 9b to 10a (Corpus Christi and along the gulf).
Echinacea spp. also known as Coneflowers, are a popular and colorful perennial accent for landscapes, gardens, and as cut flowers ranging in height from 24 inches to 4 to 6 feet. Hardy from zone 2 to 10 depending on the variety, they require full sun to partial shade, average watering, and come in a variety of colors. Echinacea spp. bloom in mid-summer to mid-fall and attract bees, butterflies, and birds as well as being unattractive to deer. The most common coneflower for Texas landscapes is the Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) which is characterized by a medium purple flower with petals that hang down from the seed head.
In the landscape, you may Coneflowers or similar plants in naturalistic designs such as Texas native or English garden style, and in containers. Coneflowers are some of my personal favorite for their simple blooms and natural look in the landscape. They pair well with Artemisia, Rosemary, boulders, Salvia, and grasses.
Pixie Meadowbrite Coneflower (Echinacea ‘CBG Cone 2’) has a vibrant pink flower with an orange center with petals that hold themselves horizontally. It can be 8-20 inches tall and 2 feet wide with more than 20 flowers on a single plant, and is hardy throughout Texas in zones 4-9.
Echinacea ‘Julia’ is a compact cultivar of Echinacea with bright orange flowers that grow 15-18 inches tall. It is hardy in Texas (zones 6-9) and needs full sun. It is a lovely alternative to the common purples and pinks normally seen in coneflowers.
Echinacea purpurea ‘Double Scoop Cranberry’ is another interesting coneflower that differs in appearance from the standard. It has a pompom like flower with slender petals falling downwards from a double blooming center. It is bright and vibrant in the garden and makes for an excellent cut flower for arrangements and bouquets. It is hardy in all of Texas (zones 4 to 9).
Echinacea hybrida ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is a variety of coneflower featuring a mixture of colors from yellow to red to purple in a massed planting. It provides a colorful and natural look to any landscape and looks great as a potted plant. It is hardy from zone 4 to 10 and can be grown in most of the continental US.
More Varieties: ‘Magnus’, ‘Razzmatazz’, ‘Merlot’, ‘Cleopatra’, ‘Passion Fruit’, ‘Butterfly Kisses’, ‘Evening Glow’ , and ‘Supreme Cantaloupe’
Similar to Echinacea: Coreopsis, Ratibida columnifera or Mexican Hat, Rudbeckia or Black Eyed Susan, wildflower Indian Blanket
Do you ever want more function in your landscape than just something nice to look at? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone and we have something for you! Say hello to the Celeste Fig tree; Also known as Ficus carica ‘Celeste’. This handy little tree grows up to 7’-10’ tall and wide in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 -9.
The typical fig producing regions have mild winters and hot, dry summers. Fortunately, even with Houston’s humid weather and frequent moisture, it’s a great area for the fig tree to grow with little to no maintenance and watering! The interesting thing about this plant is that it has large, showy leaves which is not typical of plants that are more tolerant of hot, dry environments. So, if you are looking for a bold, large texture in your landscape design, then this may be a great fit.
I have personally grown this variety as well as other fig tree varieties in full sun, part sun, and dapled shade. A majority of my yard has to stand on it’s own two feet without any care or attention from me, and this plant is a perfect fit for my busy lifestyle.
The Celeste is great alternative to the classic Brown Turkey Fig tree produces a beautiful light brown and purple fruit alongside its classic green foliage. Adding to its low maintenance previously mentioned, it is pest/disease resistant and can produce a crop with a single tree. In the Houston area during years that do not have a late spring frost, I have received 2 crops from my trees – one in early summer and one in late summer.
Want to add even more variety? Then let’s quickly talk about what some of the other fig trees can provide. While looking similar, the classic Brown Turkey Fig produces a very sweet tasting fruit while not being as rich as those produced by the Celeste. Its fruit are also slightly larger and darker. The LSU Gold Fig, for the Tiger fans out there, has an attractive light green/yellow crop with a nice sweet fig flavor. The LSU Purple Fig produces a light red fruit with a mild flavor and high sugar content.
I may be a bit biased, but where is my Maroon, White, or Gig ‘Em fig tree? Just kidding. Another option, the Banana Fig, provides a light green to near yellow fruit with banana colored spots when ripe. Even the banana phone didn’t give you these! The last fig we’ll mention is the O’Rourke Fig. It is easily be compared to the Celeste Fig as it is also referred to as the Improved Celeste, but ripens earlier. A great option for those who do not want to wait or wants their fig crops spread out through the season.
No matter what your taste may be, there are countless fig tree varieties that can add versatility to your landscape while enhancing the look.
Searching for a large, exotic feature to your tropical landscape? A great addition is Split-Leaf Philodendron, or Philodendron bipinnatifidum, which sports huge, palm-like, dark green-lobed leaves.
Reaching 12-15′ in height and with a potentially matching width, this seemingly tropical and moisture loving plant actually prefers well drained fertile soils with an opportunity for the soil to dry out somewhat between watering. This plant does well in part-sun to part-shade conditions, is heat tolerant, but not very drought tolerant. Philodendron does produce white flowers, but they are inconspicuous and should be removed promptly to encourage leaf growth. Split-Leaf Philodendron is known to produce aerial roots which allows it to climb far past its published growth.
Native to the jungles of tropical America, easy-growing Philodendron loves humid conditions and thrives best in the Houston areas in USDA hardiness zones 8-11. (Hint: Mimic any plant’s native habitat for best growth.) This plant is not a preferred option for the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, but if planted, make sure to protect leaf growth from frost to prevent damage as these plants are only cold tolerant to 36 degrees Fahrenheit.
Philodendron can also be a great house plant as long as its leaves are washed regularly and misted often. It will tolerate low light but thrives in medium light indoors. Re-potting is needed as the plant’s roots get larger, and this is best done in the months of active growth (late winter or spring). Although a massive plant outdoors, Philodendron will not reach its full potential indoors.
Xanadu Philodendron is an excellent dwarf variety of Philodendron that gives a landscape a tropical feel without becoming an overbearing addition. ‘Xanadu’ is commonly propagated by divisions of the rootball, and only grows to be 4′ tall and wide. Its compact form can be used more readily as a minor accent, border, container plant, and house plant.
HDG Landscape Design was fortunate enough to be selected as the first and only Texas designer for DIY Yardcrasher’s Houston episode. The California crew and host soon realized things really are bigger in Texas after receiving lots of donated resources from generous local companies including Tomball’s beloved nursery, The Arbor Gate. We were about to embark on the biggest Yardcrasher’s project in the history of the show, and we still only had the designated 1.5 days available to install.
Thankfully, the design process started for HDG Landscape Design in September 2013, but the design process was the quickest executed in HDG’s history to date. HDG was hired 24 hours before visiting the episode’s property, was notified just 2 hours in advance of the location of the property, was only allowed 30 minutes on the property while the crew was there to ensure no one interacted with the owners, and our team worked diligently in one of Houston’s famous rain events to measure the site and take photos as it would be the last time we saw the property before filming in just 2 months.
To make sure we would be ready for filming on time, HDG prepared a detailed plan, material inventory for purchasing, and site furniture selections in just 4 business days, and the team got to work finding local Houston vendors to support the project. Through this process a major but seemingly minor change was made to the design. The main patio designed with large set Oklahoma Flagstone was vetoed by the show’s producer and replaced with a raised wood deck. This decision was not agreed with by HDG due to the site’s slope, issues with Houston’s climate and floods, and wildlife issues for this particular site located in rural Tomball including mosquitoes and rodents. For the reference of the reader, it is recommended that a project located any area with known drainage issues or potential flooding (such as areas in and around Houston) includes appropriate drainage solutions in their project’s budget.
As an additional bonus for the home owners, HDG prepared 3-Dimensional graphic representations of their project to present to the owners on the day the project began in mid-November 2013. These graphics did not give the owners an instant look at what to expect in just 1.5 shorts days from the project’s beginning, but it gave the behind the scenes team including HDG and the producer an opportunity to plan where to shoot footage and final photos from in advance.
The first day of filming went off with a slight hitch or two. The “off camera” fun was had to fix the unknowns found on site, and a generous neighbor lent the owner his tractor to remove a particularly difficult tree stump.
Even in November, it was hot and humid out in Houston, but the behind the scenes team worked hard from 7:00 am – 11:00 pm to make sure we stayed on schedule.
HDG’s role on this day included project layout, directing the behind the scenes team, educating the host about the types of plant and hardscape materials selected and design intent behind the layout, construction, and small details in the design so it could be relayed to the audience when on camera, and most importantly reassuring the producer that we were staying on schedule with the largest project ever constructed on the show. By the second day it was evident that our hard work at night after the show left made all the difference in keeping the project on schedule. All that was left included fun scenes to film including dressing up pottery with edible plants, laying out the dry river bed, and putting in final touches with site furnishings.
By 3:00 pm on the second day of filming, the behind the scenes team and California crew was ready for final photos and filming. With a short 24 hours of labor and over 20 team members, the seemingly impossibly large project was made possible. For Holly and Barrett, this project finished just in time to host friends and family for Thanksgiving festivities.
By nightfall, the crew and team enjoyed the cool night around the fire pit fitting 12 people comfortably on the seat wall alone.
The “Behind the Scenes” Team waited silently behind the camera during filming, and then quickly got back to work between takes.
Home owners Holly and Barrett reflecting on the whirlwind installation.
Find the Charming Southern Retreat Episode on DIY Network Show’s YouTube!
Do you require a show stopper to set your yard apart from your neighbors? Variegated ginger’s striking, yellow and green striped form provides a perfect tropical look you’ve been searching for in your landscape. These unique plants will quickly fill in an area of your landscape, but be careful that you leave enough room for their vibrant and abundant growth.
A cousin of culinary ginger, Variegated Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’) boasts arching stalks of bright yellow and green-striped lanceolate leaves. Often referred to as Shell Ginger, it blooms in spring with white clusters of shell-shaped flowers with pink tips. These fragrant flowers are grow on the end of a stalk that rises from the middle of the plant. A rapid grower, Variegated Ginger will mature to 6’ tall and up to 12’ wide, although awareness of the rapid growth rate, spread, and how to maintain this plant can create a more reasonable 4′ tall by 5′-6′ wide growth.
This plant is not drought tolerant and enjoys a regular watering schedule with well-drained and regularly fertilized soil. Plant Variegated Ginger where it can receive up to 6 hours of sunlight each day with afternoon shade and take care not to water too late in the evening to avoid a particularly nasty fungus.
Due to its lack of cold tolerance, this herbaceous perennial is best kept in USDA hardiness zones 8-11. Variegated ginger can withstand a low temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit, so if using in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area you can apply a thick layer of mulch during the winter and as long as the soil doesn’t freeze, it should reappear in the spring.
Easily propagated, Variegated ginger’s roots can be divided every two years. A low maintenance plant, regular pruning is only needed to remove a dead leaf, when the flower stalks have bloomed out, or to maintain size. Take care not to plant it too close to other plants or each other. A spacing of four feet from trees, plants or houses is recommended. It is these rhizomes that allow the plant to spread and can lead to a wider growth rate than published in climates where it does not act as a perennial and die back to the ground (cooler climates than zone 8). You can dig up these rhizomes and store them, give them away, or discard them if your Ginger is traveling further than you prefer or if you would like to move it to another location where it will be easier to maintain.
Variegated Ginger’s ability to grow fast and provide contrasting pops of color makes it ideal for any tropical landscape. Keeping in mind its large size, it is best planted in groups, under palms or trees or to create a border under larger growing plants with smaller plants located in front of the Ginger. It can be used in large containers as a specimen but will need to be divided every few years to manage its size.
Looking for a unique and showy succulent for your Central Texas garden? Tropical-looking Bulbine is sure to become the “star” of your garden. Bulbine frutescens, or Bulbine, is a clumping, succulent, tender perennial with aloe-looking leaves and bright blooms. Bulbine’s tough evergreen leaves grow 18”-24” high and spread just as far. The showy, star-shaped yellow to orange flowers are borne in clusters on the end of a stalk above the plant and have yellow fuzzy stamens in the center.
Not only are the flowers unique and beautiful but they bloom for a long time, from spring to late summer. Like most succulents, Bulbine is a full-sun, low maintenance, low water use plant and is tolerant of most soils except wet.
Bulbine grows in spreading clumps and can be propagated by stem cuttings and rhizome division. Originally from South Africa, it has adapted to the Central Texas and Austin area, zones 9-11. Classified as a cold tender perennial, Bulbine is not a good selection for the Dallas/ Ft. Worth area. While it is reported to survive to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it will show foliage damage at such low temperatures.
Due to its tropical appearance, Bulbine is enjoyed in a variety of ways in the landscape. It can be used as a low layer in a xeriscape landscape or rock garden, or massed as a groundcover, accent or in a container. Apply Bulbine to Mediterranean and rustic landscape styles where you want to attract wildlife such as hummingbirds and butterflies.
Not only is Bulbine similar in appearance to the aloe plant but also contains the same jelly-like substance in its leaves to ease burns, rashes and itches. There are three common varieties of Bulbine, mostly relating to the color of the flower, ‘Yellow’ and ‘Orange’ have corresponding colored flowers. ‘Tiny Tangerine’ has an orange-yellow flower and smaller growth of only a 6”-12” height and 12” – 15” spread.
HDG Landscape Design’s tried and true winter edible garden can be contained in a single large landscape pot. Using the thriller, filler, and spiller method, I like to plant a Meyer Lemon tree as a central focal point, a ring of bright green Butter Lettuce surrounding, 3 trailing Rosemary spaced evenly at the edge of the pot, and purple Pansies between. Yes, even the Pansies are edible, and the contrasting colors are exceptional!
Many flowers are edible, and even the Meyer Lemon flowers and other bulbs such as tulips can be used to decorate a cake or plate as a dual edible and beautiful addition!
Nassella tenuissima, more often known as Mexican Feather Grass is a common ornamental grass in Texas landscapes and still referred to Stipa tenuissima by some authorities. This perennial grass can reach 24” to 36” in height and 15” to18” in width. Ornamental grasses in general are grown for a texture and interesting foliage. Mexican Feather Grass has a light and airy texture consisting of green foliage with tan to cream plumes. This grass blooms throughout late spring to mid-summer. Hardy throughout most of Texas, Mexican Feather Grass is a great choice for a low to mid-level accent needing full sun and infrequent watering.
Mexican Feather Grass is one of my favorite grasses to use in the landscape because it provides movement as it sways in the breeze. Its graceful stems contrast with broad leaved succulents, bright flowers, and xeriscaping plants, such as Agave, Red Yucca, Lantana, Salvia, and even boulders and river rocks. Mexican Feather Grass works particularly well as a lining plant for pathways because the leaves and plumes fall over the edges of the path to provide a softer transition and immersive feel. It will self-sow freely which may be beneficial if used in large landscapes and meadows or even on slopes for purposes of erosion control. When used in containers and modern design it would be wise to deadhead the plant to control growth.
Maintenance at least once a year is suggested. Removing gray colored old growth is simple and will allow for more air flow between the healthy grass blades. I have found the best way to manage this is to run your fingers through the blades like you are detangling long hair. The dead growth will remove easily, and it will give you an opportunity to restructure the plant if you found it laying too far on one side.
*Warning: This plant doesn’t like soggy, wet soil and roots will rot in these conditions!!