Drive-By Gardens: Xeriscapes taking off at Mueller neighborhood


On New Year’s Day, we took a stroll through Mueller neighborhood, a New Urban community in east-central Austin. Built on the site of the old airport, where acres of runways and parking lots once sprawled, attractive homes and row houses in a mix of different styles (no cookie-cutter uniformity here) occupy tiny lots on walkable, tree-lined streets. The Lilliputian yards are offset by generous communal green spaces like the Southwest Greenway, and may be seen by many busy residents, like my in-laws, who’ve just moved in, as an asset.

A small garden must make the most of each square inch, and I was pleased to see that residents aren’t shying away from planting up the front yard. Many have embraced water-saving xeriscapes with a mix of native and adapted plants. Here are a few of my favorites, starting with this corner-lot contemporary. Wonderful steel planter boxes wrap around the L-shaped front porch. Nicely constructed at different heights, with a gap on the left to allow porch access, the boxes elevate plants to porch level and provide a sense of enclosure.


I love these foxtail ferns (Asparagus meyeri) but feel like something is missing along the front edge of the box. Or maybe they plant annual wildflowers there in warmer seasons?


On this side, silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) carpets the DG in shimmering foliage and cascades over the steel edge. It’s kept neatly trimmed at ground level. A hedge of softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) has architectural presence.


Another contemporary home has a traditional-style foundation planting, but it’s composed of tough, drought-tolerant plants like grayleaf cotoneaster (Cotoneaster glaucophyllus), sotol (Dasylirion texanum), and rosemary. At the far end, near the door…


…hulks a many-armed spineless prickly pear in a stone planter — beautiful!


I found this brick house very handsome. Its landscaping has some nice plants, although I think the line of bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) along the foundation would be stronger without the insertion of the purple pennisetum, and the yews by the steps overpower the entry. I love that trunking yucca on the right, though.


Nearby, a minimalist side yard comes into view, with a row of clumping bamboo and a Texas sotol in dark-gray gravel. Very tidy.


In front, symmetrical ‘Color Guard’ yuccas in trough-style containers add a burst of yellow to the minimalist green and gray garden.


Before we left, we checked out the big spider sculpture at the Southwest Greenway. What do you think: creepy or fun? I say fun, but thank goodness they’re small in real life.

I really enjoyed seeing what people are doing with their front yards at Mueller, and I look forward to a return visit in the growing season. Does anyone have a particular street to recommend for its gardens?

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

Drive-By Gardens: Desert-style garden in Wells Branch


In the Wells Branch neighborhood just north of Austin, on the way to my mom’s house, I regularly drive past this desert-style, no-lawn front garden. I’ve watched it evolve from a few tiny plants dotted across an expanse of decomposed granite to its current lusher look, softened here and there by pools of spreading groundcovers like silver ponyfoot and the red-flowering perennial along the sidewalk (some sort of salvia?).


While it’s still sparsely planted for central Texas, leaving lots of DG open to potential weed invasion (increasing maintenance), I like how the owners have clustered plants in loose triangles for a more natural effect, like the agaves and foxtail ferns. Clumps of winter-tawny Mexican feathergrass and pink-flowering Gulf muhly help soften all the rock.


Extremely drought-tolerant Wheeler sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) is an unusual choice for the foundation, but planted in a raised, steel-edged bed it’s obviously getting good drainage. How do I know? Because otherwise it would have rotted. Wheeler sotol won’t play the fainting-couch game. A handsome prickly pear anchors the left side of the garden.

The house sits on a corner lot, and along the other street (not pictured) the owners are growing an ocotillo — with apparent success! Octotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is rare in subtropical Austin; we just get too much rain and humidity for this southwestern desert plant. These folks have had theirs for about three years, and I saw it in leaf a couple of months ago (ocotillo branches are bare much of the year, a desert survival adaptation), showing that even this year’s ultra-rainy spring and fall didn’t phase it.

This water-conserving garden likely needs no irrigation for most of the year, with perhaps a once- or twice-a-month soak in summer if it hasn’t rained. An open desert style is unusual for Austin, but I think it’s working for them.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Drive-By Gardens: Home with the armadillo on South Lamar


“All the fun of a real armadillo family with no unpleasant aftertaste,” is how the artist at 20 Digit Design describes his steel creatures. I’ve rubbernecked at these fun armadillo sculptures many a time while driving down South Lamar Boulevard toward Mockingbird Domestics, one of my favorite home-goods shops. On Wednesday I finally stopped at the Post South Lamar apartment/retail complex to take a few pics.

“Armadillo Family” captures the not-so-charming-in-real-life-but-plenty-cute-in-art behavior of a digging armadillo.


The other armadillo sculptures are more fanciful. I love the humor of “Planter Invading Armadillo,” standing on his hindquarters with his head hidden in a stand of horsetail reed. What an awesome, curving steel planter too.


He seems to be trying to peek through at the patio diners sitting behind the horsetail screen.


“Hey, darlin’, how are yew?” “Oh, I cain’t complain.”

“Talking Armadillos” are fully anthropomorphized, standing erect and jawing like co-workers at the water cooler. I’d totally put any of these in my own garden. So much better than the real thing, which regularly tear up my garden beds, although they are cute.


The plaza planters are nice too. Check out this gigantic steel bowl planted with a Yucca rostrata, two whale’s tongue agaves, asparagus fern, and cool-weather pansies.


Another view


Surprisingly, there’s even some chard in there!


Around the northern perimeter of the plaza, a mix of mostly xeric plants in a variety of blue and bronze pots screens the street view.


At the southern end, next to a restaurant’s outdoor seating, I admired this arrangement of Yucca rostrata, sago palm, and what looks like bicolor iris, all underplanted nicely with perennial groundcovers like trailing purple lantana and silver ponyfoot and some sort of annual color. Sorry I don’t respect you more, annual color, but you look pretty good here.

Oh, and if you’re not from Texas and are wondering about my blog title, take a listen to “London Homesick Blues.”

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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