Nonirrigated native plant garden of Lee Clippard is a foliage lover’s dream


Earlier this month I visited the East Austin garden of Lee Clippard, blogger at The Grackle, and his partner, John. The first fall rains had just arrived, following a relatively mild summer, so their foliage-centric garden of native plants was looking lush and green. I’d never have guessed, if Lee hadn’t told me, that he didn’t once irrigate his garden all summer, aside from a one-time spot watering of a wilting American beautyberry just off the front porch.


Smart plant choices make the no-water garden possible, although of course even these drought-tolerant natives must have water to get established. Once established though, the plants are on their own. Lee chucks the ones that don’t thrive and adds more of those that do.


You might recognize Lee’s garden from my book, Lawn Gone!; I profiled his garden in an early chapter. Lee screened the front garden with shade-tolerant foliage plants like palms, loquat, and Turk’s cap to give privacy and a sense of enclosure to a small gravel patio and to create green views from their windows.


Streetside, all that textural foliage makes for a secret-garden effect. What’s on the other side?


Entering the front garden you see a rectangular gravel patio edged with chopped limestone. A patio set used to sit here, but now there’s just a simple, wooden bench, very Zen.


A triangular stone sculpture sits in a soft patch of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) along one corner of the patio, framed by loquat and paleleaf yucca (Yucca pallida).


It’s a serene, inviting space framed by sedge and yuccas, with leafy shrubs along the perimeter screening the street from view. The stone path at right makes a friendly path for the mailman to cut through from the neighbor’s yard.


Lee gardens with a goal of attracting wildlife, with flowering prairie plants like coneflower where he has more sun along the driveway, and plenty of roosting and nesting places for birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife.


He lets plants stand after they go to seed in order to provide food for birds. A large spineless prickly pear adds structure to this “wilder” section of the garden.


Around back, a wood-slat arbor and gate invite you into the back garden. Spanning the gap between house and detached garage, the arbor offers shade from the Death Star and enclosure for their dog. A lovely cut-stone path set in gravel draws the eye and foot into the space.


To the right, on the wall of the garage, a trough fountain with a small copper spout pours a thin stream of water that seems to cool the sizzle of a hot day.


Ahead, a grilling station is set up near the back door, which leads to the kitchen. Hanging from a corner of the eave, a rain chain directs rainwater, when it comes, to a bowl filled with colorful, egg-shaped river rocks.


Native horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), considered a weed by some, provides a low-maintenance, no-water groundcover.


I think Lee made these concrete bowls, which he uses as succulent planters and to hold pretty river rocks.


The stone path makes a right-angle turn behind the garage, leading to a gravel patio and, farther along, to an herb garden. Here at the corner, terracotta pots of cactus and succulents attract the eye…


…and soften the base of four cedar posts that support a “ceiling” of string lights around the gravel patio.


Lee and John inherited the mortared-brick Celtic knot with the house, but they enlarged the patio space around it to make more room for entertaining. It’s a beautiful focal point for their patio.


They made the 8-foot-long wooden bench themselves. It’s backed by a fringe of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).


Red, recycled-plastic Adirondacks add hot color.


The purple berries of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) add plenty of rich color too.


Enjoy them while you can, before the mockingbirds find them!


The back of the garage is a place for Lee to showcase his potted-plant collection. He and John also use the wall (hung with a sheet, I assume) for showing outdoor movies with friends.


An insect hotel hangs from the corner of the house, part of Lee’s effort to attract bees and other beneficial bugs.


Behind the garage, Lee and John made a small, raised-bed herb garden. Anchoring the space is a signpost pointing to places that have special meaning to them. Wooden chaise lounges offer a place to catch a little sun, and a wooden-slat screen hides a view of the neighbor’s yard. In front of the screen, a tufted lawnette of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) makes an emerald groundcover.


We live in a big country, don’t we? A thousand miles, at least, whether you head for the East Coast or the West.


Pomegranates are ripening.


And lantana is blooming — more fall color that attracts butterflies.


And here’s another look at the Texas sedge lawnette.


I love that quilted look.


A metal grackle is a reminder that this is the home of The Grackle blog. If you haven’t ever read it, do. Lee’s posts are always thoughtful and beautifully photographed, with good information about wildlife and native-plant gardening and Tex-Zen design.

My thanks to Lee and John for sharing their inspiring waterwise garden with me again. Readers, if this has whetted your appetite for more, click for my spring 2012 visit to Lee’s garden. Also, see Lee and John discuss the design of their garden on Central Texas Gardener.

This is my October post for Foliage Follow-Up. I’d love to know what lovely leaves are making you happy in your October garden (or one you’ve visited). Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage plants their due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Fall blooms in front, construction in back


Kicking summer to the curb always feels satisfying in central Texas, especially when fall’s arrival is not just a date on the calendar but marked by cooler, drier air and rain. Between Wednesday night and Friday morning of last week, my garden received at least 8 inches of rain, maybe more. My rain gauge overflowed one torrential night, and our closest weather station reported 10 inches. To put it in perspective, that’s almost one-third of our annual rainfall in less than 48 hours.

I’d like to report that it was a drought-buster, but unfortunately little of that rain fell over our Highland Lakes, which supply Austin and other cities with water.


Still, it was a blessing for Austin’s green canopy and gardens, despite some washouts and flooding. My own garden saw a little of that, but once the rains stopped, having flowed straight to the construction I’m having done in the back yard, it was mostly a matter of mud and mosquitoes. Despite that, any rain is cause for celebration, and the garden immediately lifted its head to say Ahhhh!

This is actually my next-door neighbor’s garden, which I planted for her as a continuation of my own. Hers gets more sun and is therefore more flowery, with a color-explosion of Autumn sage (Salvia greggii), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), and lantana along the driveway.


Here’s my side, with the same Autumn sage and Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), but with the addition of catmint (Nepeta racemosa), possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), ‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly, bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’). Everything must be very deer resistant.


The view from my own driveway, with a decomposed-granite path running between the curbside garden and the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn. My daughter’s old tree swing, made by my husband, still hangs over one side of the path and occasionally tempts one of us to sit for a moment or kick into the air.


A trio of ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas grow amid the sedges, an idea I got from Scott and Lauren Springer Ogden’s garden. The yuccas offer a tempting target each fall for bucks with itchy antlers. I really should get out there and cage or net them for protection through the winter. I just hate the look of it.


We have a big, honking circular driveway that I confess I quite like, despite the fact that it’s a lot of nonpermeable concrete. But the water flows off it into our garden, not into the street, it’s a great play surface for kids (especially when you don’t have a lawn), and I enjoy the large, bermed island bed it encircles, which gives us some street screening.


Softleaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia) is blooming again. This sucker is getting BIG.


In back, the wall work stalled out for two days last week because of all the rain. But they’re back in force today, and the wall is already taller than when I took this picture.


Not much happening over here yet, although the footing is poured and materials are in place.


Philip of East Side Patch calls this the Normandy phase — the destruction that precedes construction. You must keep the vision of garden-beauty-to-come in your mind at all times or you could never go through with it. The guys are actually doing a terrific job of not tearing up my plants, but it’s still nerve-wracking. I just keep telling myself that it’ll all be worth it.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Slow evolution of a side garden


Here’s why, years ago, I started taking pictures of my yard, despite the likelihood of looking cuckoo to the neighbors while snapping away at stretches of lawn or barely there, newly planted beds: it’s fun to go back later and see how things have changed. Changes need not include high-dollar hardscaping or significant replanting in order to be appreciated either. Just seeing how much your trees have grown can be eye-opening. Through regular photo-taking you can study a moment frozen in time, and then skip ahead to the next year — so different from the day-to-day experience of a garden’s infinitesimal growth or even the slow creep of seasonal change.

I dug up old pictures of my front side yard this morning, the last area of my garden that’s been converted from lawn. Here’s how it started: a big swath of St. Augustine grass from the back yard all the way up to the street. At this point I’d already added the curbside garden along the street; this is a winter view after its first season, I think. Not too much going on.


In January 2012 I hired a landscaper to lay a decomposed-granite path that runs from the back gate (our vantage point) uphill toward the street, where it makes a Y. To the right it runs to the street between my yard and my neighbor’s; to the left it follows the curve of the curbside garden and leads to the driveway. This stretch is 4 feet wide. I’d have preferred 5 feet of width, but I was trying to minimize any damage to live oak roots in this narrow space between my yard and my neighbor’s. (The path widens to a generous 5 feet behind the curbside bed.)

I used economical steel landscape edging to keep the gravel in place and grass out. Stone would been preferable, but my budget ruled that out. Two shallow limestone steps help tame the slope and slow water runoff during our Texas thunderstorms. I’ve never had any wash-out of gravel on this path.


A year later, in March 2013, I was ready to dig out the remaining grass and plant. In the skinny strip along the right side of the path, I initially hoped to establish a spaced out hedge of ‘Will Fleming’ yaupons to screen the neighbor’s driveway and provide a sense of enclosure. To save money, I filled the remaining space with divisions from existing plants, mostly dappled-shade-tolerant grasses for low maintenance and good deer resistance: inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), variegated miscanthus (that straw-colored lump to the right of the live oak in the foreground), and bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa).


And here it is as of this morning. The grasses are filling in vigorously, and I’ve recently added Aztec grass to brighten the narrow strip at right. But the biggest change is, obviously, the lattice fence, which I had constructed in May. The ‘Will Fleming’ yaupons, much as I love them, just weren’t going to provide the enclosure and screening I wanted for a few years, and I continually worried that the deer would antler them to pieces in autumn.

So I sprung for the fence and am so glad I did. It instantly created an intimate garden space in an otherwise throwaway part of the yard, and yet it’s friendly, not standoffish, with breeze- and light-admitting, 5-inch-square lattice openings. Live oaks arch over this space — as they do all of my garden — and create a leafy ceiling. At the Y in the path ahead, a possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) is slowly growing and will one day be a graceful, red-berried focal point as you walk up the path.


Turning around, here’s the Heart Gate to the back garden, offering a peek-a-boo view of a Yucca rostrata, with a higher view of ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress visible through the arbor. I think I may paint the water-stained fence boards on this side of the gate. What color, do you think? Could I get away with not painting the lattice above, half of which is buried under a butterfly vine? I think I also need to elevate the silver pot of Nolina lindheimeri with a couple of concrete squares, and maybe add another pot.

All in good time. This side garden has been evolving at a Darwinian pace for 5 years. Still, one day I’m sure I’ll look back at these pictures and think, Now why didn’t I get around to [pick a project] sooner?

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.