Evolution of a side garden with trash-bin screening


I like to show in-process pictures — not that garden making is ever about finishing a space — so here’s an update on a little-talked-about part of my garden: the front side-garden path, which leads from the circular driveway (out of view, upper right) to the gated side yard/utility area (behind us), where we store our trash bins, gardening supplies, and other not-so-pretty items.


Here’s an unimproved view of this space from a few years ago, looking from our front walk over toward the neighbor’s house. The neighbor (a lovely person, by the way, and we all have these things, so no judgment) stored trash bins and tree trimmings alongside the house, out of view of her front door but highly visible from ours. The A/C unit stared us in the face too. Soon after we moved in, I had our wooden privacy fence extended toward the front of our house to create a storage space for our trash bins, but we still lacked a path for pulling the bins out to the driveway.

The thing about this area, pedestrian though it may be, is that our family uses and sees it daily, either when taking out the trash or simply walking to the front door. It’s also a space clearly visible to visitors as they walk to the front door. We needed screening and access, pronto.


Also, considering how often we went in and out of the side-yard gate, I wanted a nicer view looking toward the street, not just a dull expanse of lawn punctuated by live oaks.


A curving path and a focal point to stop the eye from running straight to the cars parked along the street — that’s what we needed. That plus screening along the lot line.


For screening, a fence would have been the ideal solution (something like what I eventually had built along our other side yard), but I lacked the funds, plus I wasn’t sure how a short section of freestanding fence would look. So I opted for an affordable and DIY-able solution: a hedge.

Evergreen, deer resistant, shade tolerant, and low growing (it tops out at about 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide), Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) fit the bill, so I planted a row of six shrubs 18 inches inside the property line. The downside, of course, is that a hedge is not an instant solution, and Chinese mahonia is slow growing. So I watered them, twiddled my thumbs, and waited.


But I couldn’t stand all that turf, plus I wanted to distract from the view of cars in the driveway next door. So a year later I ripped out most of the grass in the side yard, leaving only a small swath in front of the house, which I liked for negative space and also to avoid battling oak sprouts — i.e., suckering growth from live oaks that’s easier to mow down than clip out of a garden bed. (Some live oaks sucker more than others, and no, there’s nothing you can do to make it stop. Sorry. Never use herbicide, as they’re connected to the mother tree. Just clip them, mow them, or use a weed-eater on them.)


I added a curving flagstone path between the trees (with flagstones installed flush with the soil), which we use to pull our trash bins in and out. Spaced-out flagstones are less destructive to tree roots than a paved path would have been. Comparing this picture (newly planted) and the one above, you can see I also tweaked the line of the remaining tiny lawn, curving it in toward the Japanese maple. That gives the lawn a pleasing semicircular shape, and the expanded garden bed/path area looks more natural too.

Things were looking better. While the neighbor’s storage area wasn’t hidden, the growing garden was creating a green distraction, as well as a sense of enclosure for our own space.


A few years later, the house next door changed hands, and the new owners extended their privacy fence toward the front of their house, which sits closer to the street than ours does. The result? A wonderful new fence (and free!) for my own garden, which hides their utility area from view and creates a backdrop for the Chinese mahonia.


OK, one more look at the “before.”


And now, “after” — or, more accurately, “in process.” No more street view. No more trash-bin view. A path for access. And lots of shade-loving, deer-resistant plants, planted in masses for continuity, that green up the side yard: Chinese mahonia, variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), native river fern (Thelypteris kunthii), and shrubby Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera).


Side view “before”


And “after”

Next month, we’ll have been in this house for 8 years. (Here’s my very first post about it.) I’ve been working on the front side garden for all that time. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Austinites and native-plant shoppers, I’ll be at the member’s day Fall Plant Sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on October 14, and I hope to see you there! I’ll be signing books between 1 and 3 pm in the Wild Ideas gift shop. If you’re not a member, of course you can still come on out and see the gardens and stop in at Wild Ideas. Hope to see you there!

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Rocky Mountain high by car and rail in southwestern Colorado


Colorado’s Rocky Mountains have been our summer playground many times, but we’ve always stayed on the eastern side along the Front Range, or in north-central Breckenridge, never on the western side. To see what we’ve been missing, earlier this month we rented a house in the Durango area and used it as base camp for a week of exploring southwestern Colorado. Not far from New Mexico and Utah, the area nurtures an Old West vibe, with quaint mining towns and small ski villages tucked in mountain-walled valleys. Plus, dramatic rock formations and high-desert vistas are found in the Mesa Verde area.

One day we drove the incredibly scenic San Juan Skyway, a 236-mile loop twisting through jagged mountains and picturesque towns, opening at times to breathtaking vistas like this.


My husband hates this area, as you can see.


One of the most beautiful spots — and a great place for lunch, shopping, or just kicking off your shoes and wading in an icy mountain stream — is Telluride. Its old-timey main street enjoys a view straight to Ingram Falls cascading from the rugged peaks that box in the town.


Just past the shopping district, adorable mountain cottages line the road, including this one with a lawn-gone, colorful front garden.


Across the street, a public park runs alongside the pebbly San Miguel River, and people and their dogs were frolicking in the frigid water.


We merely dipped our toes.


The sheer-falling plume of Bridal Veil Falls hangs over the valley too. Like Mr. Fredricksen’s balloon-lofted house in the movie Up, a hydroelectric power plant perches improbably on the cliff just above the falls.


Pandora Mill below the falls once processed zinc, lead, copper, and silver-and gold-laced ore from the mines that built the town.


After Telluride, Ouray is another former mining town worthy of a long stop along the way. I wish I’d taken pictures of the charming main street lined with Victorian homes, or its hot-spring swimming pool. But I only have photos of Ouray’s Box Canyon Falls


…and these cannot convey the tiptoeing walk visitors make along a vertigo-inducing catwalk bridge…


…which snakes under massive ledges of rock and around the craggy walls of the claustrophobic box canyon. You creep along this grid-floored bridge, which allows views to the rocks far below…


…with the roar of the water getting louder and louder as you reach the end of the canyon, where thousands of gallons of water erupt through a narrow slot to fall 80 feet.


You can walk down three flights of open-grid stairs to the canyon floor and watch the water froth past minivan-sized boulders.


If you lean out over the rail, you can glimpse old abandoned mining equipment along one cliff wall.

The road out of Ouray is a white-knuckled, gasp-inducing thrill ride. I have no pictures for the simple fact that I was driving, with my hands superglued to the wheel, and my husband and daughter urging me not to look away from the road for even a moment to take in the view. Dubbed the Million Dollar Highway, the side-winding, mountain-hugging road lacks even the pretense of guardrails along sheer-drop curves. Where the white line edges the pavement, the road simply disappears into space, with not even a weed clinging to the edge. The views are amazing. It is a thrill. You have to do it, just to say you did.


Another fun thing we did was ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.


The train, which has operated continuously since 1882, once hauled silver and gold ore out of the mountains.


Today it’s a National Historic Landmark that hauls tourists.


Passengers ride the 45 miles of track that alternately hug mountainsides and trace the Animas River through the canyons far below, a 3-1/2-hour journey each way.


If you sit on the right-hand side of the train on the way up (reserve well in advance), you get some hair-raising views as you snake around bends.


Almost straight down!


Our car was near the front, so I poked my head out the window to look back at the rest of the train. Every time, a sprinkling of coal cinders and ash landed in my hair and on my face. It wasn’t hot, but you didn’t want it in your eyes.


We crossed the Animas several times.


The coach interiors are comfortable with cushioned seats, and with windows open for a cool breeze (and a little ash). We’d tried to ride a gondola car — roofed but open-air, with bench seats facing outward for great views and easy photography — but those were all booked.


As it turned out, I got the shots I wanted by poking my camera out the window — after first checking to make sure no cliff was coming up, inches away from the train.


The Animas River is “one of the last free-flowing rivers in the entire western United States,” according to the train’s website.


It’s gorgeous.


These views are only accessible to hikers and riders. There’s no road here.


About two hours into the trip, the train stopped in an alpine meadow to take on some hikers/campers who’d been out there a while, from the looks of them. A few adventurous souls exited the train here too.


Pack llamas were waiting patiently for new wranglers.


Horses too


See ya!


The old mining town of Silverton is a tiny but colorful tourist destination today, filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. Many of our fellow passengers stopped here for lunch, but we had arranged to take a bus back down to Durango, shaving an hour and a half off the return time and getting a narrated tour of the area from the driver, which was great.


But it would have been fun to return on the train as well. Next time!

Up next: Our “journey to the center of the earth” at Carlsbad Caverns. For a look back at the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Hot child in the city: August Foliage Follow-Up


Surely August will be our last worst month here in central Texas. It can’t possibly remain blisteringly hot and humid through September, can it?


Yes, it can, and it probably will, but that’s why I love agaves, yuccas, prickly pear, and other tough plants. They breeze through a Texas summer looking as cool as an Austinite floating in spring-fed Barton Springs Pool. Here’s one of my current favorites, Agave applanata ‘Cream Spike’ (formerly Agave parryi ‘Cream Spike’), a pup given to me last fall by Bob Beyer of the blog Central Texas Gardening. Just look at those cream-and-lime-striped leaves and tidy, red teeth lining each crimson-spined leaf.


Agave x leopoldii is also a fine small agave for a sunny deck or patio. It needs some winter protection, but its coppery summer coloration — a little stressed from heat and drought — is especially lovely.


Out front, in the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn, lemony ‘Margaritaville’ yucca easily withstands summer’s heat.


For the first time, I’m experimenting with keeping tillandias — aka air plants — outside during the warm months. I’ve managed to keep the big one on the left alive indoors for a couple of years, and I’d hate to lose it. But they look so perfect in my new Tentacle Pots that I decided to take the chance. I hope they don’t burn up in Austin’s summer heat! They’re in filtered shade, and I’m misting them with distilled water once a week.


Since today is Foliage Follow-Up — a celebration of great foliage — let’s venture outside my own garden for a moment. I spotted this honor guard of ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon hollies at the “castle” house in South Austin. Its narrow, upright form and tidy, evergreen leaves make ‘Will Fleming’ a great screening plant for a tight space, or a striking vertical accent.


At the same house, in the hell strip outside a limestone wall, a zigzagging row of large, silver-blue agaves is eye-catching too — like campfires with tongues of blue flame. Atop the wall, prickly pear finds a crevice home. None of these plants minds the heat or the Death Star, and they make architectural additions to the summer garden.

This is my August post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is going on in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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