freeze-damaged duranta
2008-01-22. After a hard freeze the duranta is a fountain of forlorn brown leaves and my neighbor’s lantana looks like dry brush.

January 23rd, 2008
Welcome Cold and Dreary

January can be Austin’s bleakest months and 2008 has been a good example of that. We’ve had gray skies and drizzle, temperatures hovering in the 40s. And last weekend downtown got our first solid freeze. Temperatures fell to the 25F/-3.5C on Sunday morning effectively killing back all those summer plants which were still flowering on the last GBBD. At last!

I’d covered up the strawberries and brought the potted plants back inside. The winter hardy annuals (sweet peas, violas, pinks, and sweet alyssum) weren’t bothered. But a lot of plants, like the duranta and the podranea are finally gone and I’m not really sorry. Now I can clear them back with abandon.

I feel a sense of relief when I look out at the brown, uninviting landscape and think, “Oh good. It’s too miserable to be out there today.” Actually, I welcome the opportunity to work on some indoor projects guilt-free. The garden is demanding and never satisfied.

This week I’m going to turn my back on it, build a fire, and ponder this pile of seed catalogs.

photo: Duranta erecta Sapphire Showers
2006-06-15. Austin, TX. Duranta erecta ‘Sapphire Showers’…or possibly ‘Geisha Girl’. The nursery didn’t identify it and some sources say that it’s the same cultivar under different names–ruffled, violet-blue flowers with white edges.

June 15th, 2006
Duranta erecta

That last cool and rainy week in May I popped in at Barton Springs Nursery as a reward for my taking my car in for it’s yearly inspection before the sticker expired. My wandering into a nursery is as wise as an alcoholic browsing at a liquor store. The last two years I’ve put myself under a strict plant-purchasing moratorium, taking advantage of these drought years to focus on the hardscaping of the garden in hopes of adding some structure and manageability.

Like everything marketable, plants are subject to human whims in taste, to horticultural fashion. Before me lay all sorts of plants I didn’t know, but the first to catch my eye was a tropical looking plant with lime-green leaves and delicate panicles of violet blue flowers, Duranta erecta. It’s common names are golden dewdrop, or pigeonberry, for its golden fruit which is poisonous to humans but beloved by birds. It is an attractive nectar plant for butterflies and hummingbird. Golden dewdrop is very trendy in Austin this year because it’s been named a Texas Superstar plant.

Disregarding my own advice about buying plants in the summer, seduced by the cool light drizzle stirring up memories of my recent week in England, I bought three of them. After all, they were on sale. [They’re on sale because it’s summer. They’re doomed. Don’t do it! — Your Rational Mind]

Everything about golden dewdrop reminds me of plumbago: its multiple, arching stems form a small fountain of a bush; its five-petaled flowers hang in loose racemes at the tip of each branch; its glossy, green leaves withstand heat and sun. Also like plumbago, golden dewdrop will die back to the ground in a freeze. So, although it is naturally a large bush or small tree, in Austin it will remain a mid-sized shrub. In colder climes than Austin, golden dewdrop is often grown as a potted plant and brought indoors to overwinter.

In its native South America golden dewdrop grows on limestone which means it should be happy in Austin soils as long as it is planted in a well-drained spot and not in heavy clay. (The requisite caveat in all garden writing.) It is reputed to tolerate drought (What do gardeners in Puerto Rico consider a drought?), poor soils, and some shade but it grows and flowers best if planted in a nice garden bed and watered.

photo: Duranta erecta Sapphire Showers

In order to get them through the summer, I put the golden dewdrops in the front planter as potted plants. Recently, in order to clear the driveway of the gravel pile, AJM moved the stone into the reconstructed planter until I can use it elsewhere in the garden. Then I thought, hmmm, this looks like a design.
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