Archives for category: Edible landscaping


They’re  beautiful and they’re edible. They attract pollinators, they bloom in the shade, and they seem immune to pests and diseases. They’re also adaptable to most soil types and rainfall averages.

But best of all? Texas spiderworts pop up and do their thing every Spring without a bit of help from me.

And yes, I know, Texas bluebonnets do that too, but mostly along the highways. Bluebonnets, which seem to prefer gravelly, poor soil, haven’t adapted well to my Blackland Prairie clay soil. I once tried planting a few in an old caliche driveway, but they didn’t like that either and disappeared after one season.

I don’t think my spiderworts will ever disappear. They don’t seem bothered by anything, no matter how painful: Summer heat (they simply go dormant and come back later when it’s cooler). Drought (somehow they manage to bloom a little even during a dry spring). Seasonally soggy heavy soil (are they wearing little Wellies on their root tips?)

And one more thing:  Bluebonnets don’t need any more attention than they’re already getting. Think about that the next time you’re dragging your kids or your dogs around town looking for a photogenic patch of bluebonnets. One that hasn’t been tromped flat by hundreds of other baby- or puppy-toting photographers before you.

Spiderworts need love too.



A final note: Although spiderworts are edible and nutritious, I consider them “emergency backup food.” In other words, they’re far from my first choice when I go foraging in the backyard for something to eat.

The bees in my neighborhood are of a different mind. This morning they were dancing and dipping and diving all around my backyard spiderwort patch. They couldn’t seem to get enough.

So I guess it’s a good thing I’m not terribly fond of the taste of spiderworts.

(Photos are by Renee Studebaker. Do not use without permission.)

For more about the half dozen or so varieties of tradescantia (commonly known as spiderworts) that grow in our area, visit the Native Plant Society of Texas and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. 


The Inside Austin Gardens  tour is only two days away, and I’m feeling surprisingly mellow. Yes, my garden is on the tour, and yes, I’m one of the featured speakers that day. And yes, I’ve been incredibly busy getting the garden spruced up and ready for viewing.

So why am I not freaking out? Well, I’ll tell you. But first, a little about the tour:

On Saturday, from 9 am to 4 pm, my garden will be on parade along with six other area gardens chosen by the Travis County Master Gardeners. This is a great chance to get an up close look at the gardening methods and different design sensibilities of a handful of experienced gardeners. This year’s tour focus is edible gardening, a topic near and dear to my heart, so I am thrilled (and honored) to be part of this event.  Funds raised from ticket, plant and book sales will help to support the continued good work of the master gardeners of Travis County,  a group of hardworking and talented volunteer gardeners dedicated to demonstrating and teaching the art and the science of good gardening. Here’s a link to find out more about the event:

And if you missed “Central Texas Gardener’s” pre-tour show and interviews last weekend, you can catch up here:

OK, so how to explain my Zen attitude despite the fact that about a hundred people (or more!) will be descending on my garden in less than 72 hours? I have a new hard-working, motivational helper (and no, I’m not talking about xanax or adderall) who has inspired me to keep working toward my goal, regardless of the heat, the rain, the chigger bites, the sore back and the occasional  “huh?” I get from friends who stop by to see what I’m up to.

Here’s a picture of my little Zen buddy hard at work in the garden:


This is not to say that I’m not grateful for the several hours of real help — weeding and mulching — I’ve received from human friends (thank you, dear friends; you know who you are), but this little fuzzy buddy (who I’ve started calling Bud) is amazing. His work in my garden is all about food gathering  — snipping pecan clusters from my tree (and my neighbor’s tree), burying some of the nuts and eating the rest. (Not all that different from what I do with my vegetable and fruit harvests, now that I think about it.)

Bud’s nut clusters usually contain 3 or 4 nuts, but I saw him carry one limb that had six nuts on it. That was the day he stumbled  and missed as he leaped from one tree to another. He landed with a big plop on the ground, and the nuts went flying. He snatched up what was left of the little pecan limb (now lighter after losing a few nuts in the fall), looked up at the elusive tree and bounded up the trunk. I couldn’t help but smile — despite the fact that he is slowly but surely stealing all my pecans.

Sidenote: I am not the only one who’s paying extra attention to fox squirrels lately.  In a new research project, a team  at UC Berkley is documenting all sorts of interesting things about what it means to be a fox squirrel. Fox squirrels are loners, for example,  and are apparently quite happy that way. Here’s my favorite part of the study: Using GPS technology, researchers are tracking squirrels’ nut-stashing activities in hopes of learning once and for all how they are able to accurately retrieve so many of their own nuts. So far, about 1,000 nut burial sites have been recorded and mapped. And contrary to popular belief, according to these professional squirrel watchers, these little guys are actually quite good at remembering where they buried their nuts.  Researchers think there’s a special cognitive talent not related to a sense of smell that guides their nut recovery missions. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a nature nerd. But if you are too, here’s a link to the squirrel project: The Berkley researchers have also noted that when a squirrel is blocked from something he wants, usually some sort of food, he doesn’t just shrug and walk away. He studies the problem and tries to solve it. Well, yeah, duh. That’s no big surprise to an urban gardener.

Bud is also fond of Swiss chard. Twice I’ve planted yellow chard seeds and twice Bud has nibbled and shredded the seedlings into nonexistence. (He’s no dummy; Swiss chard and pecans taste great together!) But instead of getting pissed, I have been inspired by his great determination and problem solving skills to take action.  I purchased several large transplants from a local nursery, planted them, and then covered them with hardware cloth cages, which I secured to the ground with long metal stakes. That was three days ago and so far Bud has left them alone. I don’t think this means necessarily that my problem solving skills are better than his.  He may yet revisit the chard and figure out how to get under the cage. I’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m applying the wait and see approach to other parts of the garden too. I have some green heirloom tomatoes on the vine that don’t seem to be attracting any 4-legged attention.  And the army worm march across the green bean plants has been averted (squish, squish).

But I know no matter how diligent I am over the next two days, not all of my garden projects will be finished by tour time. And no matter how many army worms I squish, my planting beds will not be bug free. But that’s ok. Just like Bud, I’m willing to hang in there and solve problems as they arise — all for the love of growing and eating good food.  Bud and the worms will get some of my harvest, but not all of it.

And finally, although I’m feeling pretty chill about the tour (and my resident squirrel), I can’t quite shake the tiny worry in the back of my brain that a plague of grasshoppers or a freaky hailstorm might swoop in and flatten everything. So just in case, here are a few photos to document how my garden was looking earlier this week:

In the backyard garden, Mexican tarragon is ready to start blooming just in time for the tour.

Fall asters are coming on next to Siam basil and Chinese cabbage in the front yard garden. Love it when summer, fall, and winter plants share garden space so happily.
And finally, for those who know me and my garden: I rounded up enough vintage bricks to finish the path! So the brick path that for so long has gone nowhere now has a destination — the big compost pile behind the back picket fence.
Happy gardening and hope to see you on tour day…..

There’s no place I’d rather be right now than in my garden.

As I’m writing this, I can hear a chorus of  birds (warblers, mockingbirds, wrens, and finches) tweeting their little hearts out. They apparently don’t want to be anywhere else either.

I can almost imagine what they’re saying: “Look! Over here! The loquats are getting ripe. And look down there at those fat little caterpillars on the chard and kale leaves. Quick, get ’em! And check out that fountain — it’s FULL of rain water. And that lady who’s always in our yard? She’s finally gone inside to work on her blog. Hurry. She never stays gone for long!”

And now that the big bad drought has taken a break, all the plants are singing too. The chard  is taller and bushier than I’ve seen it in two years, the larkspur are giants bursting into brilliant bloom, and the tomato plants are growing so fast and blooming so well that platters of sliced homegrown tomatoes are already dancing in my head. (Sigh) I know it’s too soon to tell exactly what late spring and summer will bring, but for now, I’m feeling nothing but gratitude for the present and hope for the future. And those feelings of renewal and growth are spilling into other parts of my life too. Funny how that happens.

Here are a few scenes from my spring 2012 garden:

Loads of loquats. Biggest crop I’ve ever gotten off this tree. Should be plenty for me and the birds. And even the squirrels.


Thanks to MS at Zanthan Gardens, who passed along Larkspur seed a few years ago, these lovely spring bloomers  have been reseeding every spring  and spreading all over my front yard and back yard gardens. I love the frilly greenery and the purple, blue and white flowers. I have only a dozen or so blooms now, but by next week I expect to have a hundred or more. (Too bad it’s not edible.)


Larkspur have grown up all around my winter and spring greens, which I don’t mind at all. I’ve decided larkspur looks lovely with vegetables as well as other perennials.

Here it is with red romaine lettuce, which, as you can see, is starting to bolt. As a matter of fact, it bolted  right onto my dinner plate last night.


When the larkspur start winding down next month, I should have a bunch of rudbeckia blooms to keep the show going. Every time I look at these young buds, I am filled with happy anticipation.


But here are some little buds that give me an even bigger thrill every time I look at them. Baby red table grapes. Last year’s crop was my first off this 5 yea-old vine, and it was so good and so sweet that I can hardly wait to see what this year’s harvest will bring.


Oh, and another thing. Be sure to check out my story about garden greens in today’s American-Statesman food section (and online at And look for more to come every month or so.

And finally, mark your calendar for Oct. 20 if you want to get an upclose look at my garden and other edible gardens in the Austin area.  The Travis County Master Gardeners’ annual Inside Austin Gardens Tour this year will put a spotlight on  gardens that combine edible and ornamental plants. More details to come. And probably lots of worrying and fussing from me as I try to make my oftentimes unruly garden (especially in October!) presentable enough for guests.

Happy spring! And happy gardening!


The Blackfoot daisies near the curb in my front yard garden are  practically shouting, “Hey, look at me! I’m blooming!”

And apparently I’m not the only one who is appreciating their outbursts. A woman (not someone I know) walking by my house earlier this week  got the message loud and clear.

“Wow!,” she said, as she paused in front of the daisies, “I love this!” And then, as she glanced over the entire yard, she added, “I love all of your garden!”

I smiled, and of course gave her a big “Thank You!” And then, much more quietly to myself, I said, “And thank you, spring.”

Yes, spring is indeed busting out all over town, but there’s nothing quite like watching this annual transformation happen in your very own garden. And given the record breaking hard freezes of winter  2010-11 and the extreme heat and drought of summer 2011,  I am amazed (and dare I say?) thrilled that my little piece of Central Austin is beginning to feel like my personal paradise again.

Which brings me to another transformation, or restructuring, that is taking place in my world. Instead of  working to support my garden habit, I’ve decided to try letting my garden habit be the force behind the work that I choose to support  my life. So in addition to free-lance writing and speaking engagements about food gardening, I am now offering my services as a garden coach and garden designer (with an emphasis on edible landscapes); and as an organic gardening teacher, with hands-on Gardening 101 classes soon to be scheduled in my backyard. In addition, I am also organizing occasional private garden supper gatherings featuring performances by buzz-worthy local singer-songwriters, as well as local food (mostly from my garden and entirely prepared by me).

More details on the new garden projects are coming soon, but for now, here are a few images I promised to post for folks who attended the recent edible garden design talk I gave at It’s About Thyme:

Here’s the front yard garden next to the curb in a picture I took a couple of days ago. Flatleaf parsley, Blackfoot daisies, Swiss chard, French thyme, Red Giant mustard, and a volunteer poppy (from passalong seeds from CTG’s Linda L. who got her first seeds as passalongs from Joan H.) that should start blooming by this weekend. The poppies are a deep shade of pink, so deep that in certain lights they look almost red. Check this post from my previous blog at for earlier versions of  my edible landscape and to see pics of the first year that Joan’s poppies bloomed in my front yard garden.

Here’s a backyard garden scene that includes a variety of leaf lettuces, spinach, larkspur (which has reseeded itself with wild abandon all over my entire garden), and fennel bulb:

Here’s one of my favorite drama queen greens: Red Giant mustard. This easy to grow mustard green adds  a bold and beautiful splash of purple to the winter and spring garden and an eye-opening wasabi like bite when used raw in a slaw or sandwich. Or try  the raw leaves as a wrap for sauteed pork or tofu.

And here’s a good reason to let at least some of your open pollinated greens set seed before you send them off to the compost pile.  These little romaine style lettuces (which popped up from seed thrown off by last spring’s bed of Parris Cos) have proven tough enough to bounce back from the occasional crunch of the mailman’s boot and tasty enough to star in many of my favorite dinner salads.

A final note: As my garden bursts into spring I am reminded that nothing, not the hard droughty times or the lush green times,  is set in stone.  For that matter, not even stone is set in stone. But on this day, in this moment, my garden is vibrant and hopeful. And I am too.

Happy spring and happy gardening! And come back soon because I have more pictures to post of my everchanging edible landscape.