DIGGING DEEP & GARDEN SPARKS, with AUSTIN, TX GARDENER, PAM PENICK
All photos courtesy of Pam Penick, all rights reserved - see full gallery at bottom of post.
Pam Penick is the gardener/writer behind the well-known long-time garden blog known as Digging. Based in Austin, Texas, Pam is an avid and audacious gardener and garden writer. She is also a determined garden community builder in all that she does from digging, to writing, to organizing gatherings like the Garden Bloggers Fling (now just known as The Fling), a convening of garden communicators in a different city or gardening region of the US each year.
In 2017, Pam dug in deeper and began organizing and hosting a garden design speaker series called "Garden Spark, garden design talks for thinking gardeners" to facilitate bringing some of the best voices in gardening for the benefit and expansion of her garden region.
Pam is dedicated garden community builder in all that she does. Even her books, which are fabulous for any audience, speak to some of the greatest challenges for gardening in Texas. These books, to date, include Lawn Gone published by Ten Speed Press in 2013 and The Water Saving Garden also by Ten Speed in 2016.
You can follow Pam's work - from blog, to Flings, to books, to Garden Spark, all online at www.Penick.net and on Instagram @pamdigging
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JOIN US again next week, when we linger a little longer in Late Summer Texas this time in conversation with Amy Hovis and William Glenn of Barton Springs Nursery where they believe that Today Plants the Future and they welcome you to the most glorious native plant selection in town, and they encourage and support us all in raising our plant babies and their garden homes right! Listen in.
Speaking of Plants...and Place:
When I think of TEXAS I think of the iconic and storied Texas Bluebonnet – the state flower of Texas since 1901, the common name attributed to the flower resembling settler women’s bonnets, which is of course a Lupine. Lupinus texensis along with four other similar annual lupines make up the Texas state flower designation, and I have seen L. texensis covering grasslands stretches of hill country like a blue sea in April, as beautiful a sight as the Texans say.
According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, found at Wildflower.org, Texas lupine has larger, more sharply pointed leaves and more numerous flower heads than similar small annual lupines, that are “Light-green, velvety, palmately compound leaves (usually five leaflets) borne from branching, 6-18 in. stems. topped by clusters of up to 50 fragrant, blue, pea-like flowers. The tip of the cluster is conspicuously white.” The species one of the six lupines collectively designated known as the state flower of Texas.
The joy of lupines in our ecosystems and gardens extends far beyond Texas. With more than 250 species, the genus Lupinus has members into central and south America and the Mediterranean, but many lupines are renowned across North America – from Texas Bluebonnets to Lupinus oreganus endemic to Oregon, and Lupinus latifolius, which I have seen blanketing the ground beneath tall conifers on the slopes of Oregon’s Mt Hood in spring, to Lupinus perennis also known as sundial or prairie lupine native across much of the north and southeast, to silvery Lupinus argenteus found at elevation in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, among other sites.
California is home to more than 130 species and varieties of Lupine from coastal dunes, to the spring damp and summer dry central valley, to high mountain meadows and the alpine reaches. The American west is one of the global centers of diversity for Lupine.
In the pea family or Fabaceae (which translates as Faba - or pea - famiy), lupine are probably best known for their bold upright flowering stems of often brightly colored flowers, comprised of four parts – an upper flared petal called the banner, and a lower part made up of two wing petals surrounding a boat like keel, in which the pollen producing stamens are held. Ranging from dark blue, pale blue and white, purple, mauve, yellow, pink, and pure white, in some aspects of the flowers will change colors after pollination – signaling which flowers have more resources and which have fewer.
Lupine come as low growing almost groundcovers, as well as larger than life big-shouldered woody shrub or bush lupines, such as California Lupinus albifrons – silver leaf bush lupine, a good dry garden plant.
Annual and perennial (though mostly short lived as perennials), lupine, as legumes/pea family, are nitrogen fixers and so they are beneficial to soil life, but they are also high in alkaloids and seeds and foliage can be toxic to humans and livestock.
Early in the 19th and 20th centuries, English plantspeople hybridized north American native lupines for bigger more colorful flowers, and these hybrids, like the Russell Lupines, are great garden choices and often seen in classic border combinations with peonies and delphinium. Except for these hybrid and those that grow naturally in damper climates, most lupine like full sun and drier, lean well-draining soils and exposures, although even these tend to bloom after winter and spring moisture and then dry up or go dormant in the heat of peak summer.
Look for mature seed in mid and late summer (making sure to only collect with permission or permits from abundant plant sources, never taking more than a small fraction of the seed produced by the plant). Their pea-pod like seed casings are easy to spot on the dried plant stalks. Wait for them to fully mature - when they are about to pop open and disperse themselves – but don’t want to wait too long, because once they’re ready – their casings will dry or dehisce into a spiral. The torque of that will literally – and audibly POP catapulting the small hard dark seeds sometimes many feet away from the mother plants.
Sow your own seeds just as they sow themselves, in late summer and early fall through winter in areas of draining even rocky soil and water them in over the winter as needed for spring bloom. You can sow them in starter pots or flats under cover and plant out in spring. It can help to abrade the thick seed coat by nicking it with sand paper or gravel, and soak the seeds before sowing. Some people recommend inoculating your lupine (and other pea) seeds with rhizobium, a beneficial bacterial inoculant to kick start them and their own nitrogen fixing processes.
Lupine can intermix quite readily, so when collecting be aware of what lupines are in the area so you know what to expect from your seed. Likewise, if sowing out-of-area lupine seed in areas where lupine are also native and wild be very careful to not disturb or endanger the genetics of your local populations by planting too closely.
There’s a cautionary tale here, in that the planting of the western native Lupinus polyphylus in Maine has resulted in the near extinction of the Maine native Lupinus perrenis, whose populations are declining across its range. Introduced as a landscaping plant, Lupinus polyphylus is now invasive in Maine.
Too much of a good thing is just that – too much. So pay close attention and due respect. Look to your regional native plant society or your independent or native plant nurseries for the best lupine to plant in your area. For interesting California native lupine seed try Ginny Hunt’s seedhunt.com or Larner Seeds.
I love that lupine are beautiful bloomers, sometimes even fragrant and a pretty good cut flower even – but you want to know what I love best about them? They are almost all evolved to play, work and live well with bumblebees – who have the heft and determination to open the semi-closed pea petals in search of nectar and pollen. Witnessing bombus (the genus name for bumblebees) gathering vivid lupine pollen; The fuzzy black and yellow bodies, their deep orange pollen filled corbicula, humming against the sky blue or saturated purple blooms – it is a moving and artistic study in life, in color, in diversity, and in symbiotic mutualism.
A good garden life goal for us all.
Thinking out loud this week:
One of the threads that runs through this conversation with Pam is this thinking about and wondering about the childhoods our world is offering to its children, with access to the outdoors, to nature – whether moderated in a public park or home garden, or the ability to run free in the real out of doors – up the street, up a mountain.
It reminds me of the importance access to fresh air and clean dirt – our gardens are just such access points to knowing this intimacy and understanding with the world – if we let them be.
It reminds me of the importance of unstructured, undirected time, of loose parts, and play and that most creative of mindsets which results from all of us – young and old gardeners alike – remembering to find and cultivate space for all of this….don’t forget about free time and play time in your garden life….
Another thread in this conversation worth noting, I think, is the desire Pam’s work taps into – from Garden Blogger’s Fling to her Garden Spark series for us as gardeners to gather. To be together and to share and learn and commune. It is both practical and existential, it is what drove the history of seed sharing and keeping, the history of granges, of garden and plant societies, and now of on-line garden forums.
And while the on-line offerings are wonderful and MANY – never forget the great gift of your in person garden people. Love them, thank them, appreciate them, and most importantly – get together with them and invite others to join you.
I also really like Pam’s description of the Garden Spark talks being "for thinking gardeners" - thank you all for being part of this thinking, caring, purposeful and welcoming gardening community.
We help grow the world …
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