Hot Weather, Cool Vibes

smiling woman on TV set with herbs on baskets and jars of honey
Hey, who turned up the heat? Just in time to cool down these icky-sticky days, Caroline Riley from Mutable Earth Botanicals serves up aromatic herb infused honey and sun tea from garden harvests. “Really just working with honey brings a smile to your face. It’s kind of impossible not to smile,” she tells us.
woman coming through gate with large basket of cut herbs
From her gardens at Whole Life Learning, a pre-K through 8 school founded with husband Michael Carberry, she harvests fresh tulsi (holy basil), mints, lemon balm, hibiscus, roses–whatever strikes your fancy that day. Once dried, she covers them with golden honey.
bottles of herbal tinctures and jars and packets of dried herbs
On straining day a few weeks later, she scoops dollops of honey-soaked herbs into a clean jar and snips in more herbs and flowers including salvias, pink evening primrose, elderflower and rock rose. Top with crystal clear water. After a few hours in the sun, pour into ice-filled glasses to drink in the tastes of summer.
woman smiling at camera in room with large basket of herbs on a table and shelves of bottles behind her
Follow Mutable Earth Botanicals to source tinctures and herbal mixtures and learn about herb classes and community events. If you’re interested in permaculture techniques, check out Austin Permaculture Guild workshops that she co-directs with Taelor Monroe.
large pink rose in front of berms and swales herbs and flower beds around large leafless mulberry tree in December
Watch our video of Caroline’s gardens taped December 2022. Please note that she has closed the nursery to focus on herbal education.
field of vivid orange and red flowers against old building
Swoon-worthy flame orange and red Indian blanket ushers us into summer, animating highways, byways, and gardens across town. Most spectacular is Robert Mangum’s property in Goldthwaite, where scattered seeds a few years ago magnified into a field of glory.
smiling woman at back of open vehicle trunk; carts of plants and 3 crew members (1 woman and 2 men) smiling
Perennial Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) is just one of the showstoppers that Liz Pfluger from Green ‘n Growing nursery in Pflugerville brought to this week’s program. And everyone wanted to help load ‘em in and out to get extra insider tips from Liz!
man and woman on CTG studio set with plants
And yes, Liz heralds from the first Pflugers in the area. She grew up in the nursery and on the Blackland Prairie, so she knows plants from seeding to grafting. “Drainage tends to be an issue with us. We also tend to be a little rainier and wetter, and we hold that moisture longer,” she said. “And plants that can take those conditions are really critical for success with natives in our area.” But many are familiar friends in the Edwards Plateau, too.
orange, red, and yellow flowered Indian blanket wildflower against strappy Mexican feather grass and agave with white margins
And a lot of plants, including Gaillardia and grasses, grow across the state.
rusty hued grasses against street
Liz brought several native grasses for their structural beauty and value to pollinators. Their seeds feed birds that build nests from the blades of grass. And all grasses provide winter shelter for so many creatures. Little bluestem is an attractive favorite all year, and a stunner in fall. Here it’s with sideoats grama, the state grass of Texas.
golden-hued seed heads on grass at Wildflower Center
Blue grama’s also a favorite, and like all grasses, elevates visual impact in masses. “I love to use it as a low groundcover in what a lot of people call the hellstrip,” Liz notes. “Very drought tolerant, very good with hot sun, very good with reflected heat, which isn’t always the case with grasses.”
fluffy white seed head and seed heads of lindheimer muhly beyond
On the other hand, bushy bluestem works in areas with really poor drainage that stay wet or seasonally wet. It’s a beauty in all seasons, including winter. In fall, its fluffy seed head stand out against Lindheimer muhly.
fluffy looking russet-colored grass seed head
Liz notes that she often sees it in the strips between houses–those spots that hold moisture. “This grass will live there, colonize there, bring in a ton of wildlife, and it is absolutely beautiful in the fall and winter.”
man and woman on CTG set looking at various plants
She and John Hart also look at elbow bush, a huge shrub that’s great as a privacy break in woodland edges; Caroline buckthorn, an understory tree that needs shade from afternoon sun; and Artemisia ludoviciana, a gorgeous silver touch in sun, if you’ve got a spot for it to “run”!
slightly oval-shaped leaves on shrub with strappy iris and fuzzy-looking Mexican honeysuckle leaves and purple gazing ball
I’m a fan of the coralberry that she always recommends for shady spots. It does tend to thicket (which I like for no-care swaths of small shrubbery that can get to 4’ tall. In this shady spot in my garden, coralberry’s rambling around the purple gazing ball. Strappy Louisiana iris just bloomed and to the right, ‘Mystic Spires’ salvia is starting to bloom. On the left, Mexican honeysuckle (also a “runner”) just starting a few orange tubular blossoms.
vivid magenta berries
Pollinators go for its summertime white flowers. Like possumhaw holly, it drops its leaves in winter to show off glistening magenta fruits favored by birds and mammals. Moderately deer resistant, it defies hard freezes and drought.
mounding plant with purple flowers
In sun, Liz recommends purple skullcap. I’ve always thought of it as an escarpment plant, but she assures us that it handles Blackland Prairie, too.
bee in tubular purple flowers
This mound’s growing near our office at ACC Highland, as popular with hummingbirds and butterflies as it is with bees that slide right into those tubular flowers.
stone-lined garden bed next to house filled with young plants. A pathway of flagstones set on crushed granite ends at a wide patio
Last fall in Natalie McAnarey’s garden near Killeen, she borders this lovely bed with three mounds against a ‘Little Gem’ magnolia, butterfly iris, agave, and Turk’s cap along the back.
narrow-leaved plant with small purple flower
We didn’t get to a couple of plants: pink evening primrose, prairie verbena, and snake herb, pictured above.
slender leaves on plant with small lavender flowers growing close to the stem
Liz introduced me to this perennial years ago and I promise you it’s a trouper! A no-fuss groundcover or edging plant, snake herb grows in sun to part shade tolerant of rain and drought. It usually freezes back in winter but bounces up by March.

As new plantings, they do need water, so keep an eye on the soil moisture. It really helps to rig up some shade for a week or two (even old newspapers clipped to stakes) while roots acclimate.

man standing in backyard garden entrance with sign that reads Bienvinedo
Finally, last May we headed to San Antonio to meet Jeffrey Harris and Kevin George in their San Antonio garden. Starting pretty much from scratch, their collaborative imagination, creative reuse, and spirited fun turned an empty backyard into a sensory voyage. Circular paths amble from vibrant poolside color to tranquil conversation nooks. “Before I started, I didn’t really know anything. So, it’s been an adventure,” he told us.
blue chaise lounges on grassy spot next to raised beds of colorful plants
Windsor stones came in handy to add dimension in this flat yard. Jeffrey stacked them to define a poolside alcove. “As this was kind of close to the pool deck, I started thinking like, I really want to create more of a rounded form of garden where there’s plants in a circle rather than in a line,” Jeffrey said. Native and adapted flowering perennials and annuals join evergreens for a sense of intimacy. Bees and butterflies also like to hang out here.
flagstone and gravel path bordered by plants to large iron gazebo and sky blue flowers
“I worked as a social worker for many years and that work was pretty stressful. So, I needed a place to de-stress. And I had been to a few gardens around the country, and I always found them so tranquil and they really created this sense of peace for me,” he said. “And I thought, you know what? I want that at my own house so I don’t have to keep traveling to all these different gardens.” Read our blog, published earlier this year.

Watch now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time, Linda