Turning a neighborhood median strip into a garden


A few years ago I toured Colleen Jamison’s beautiful garden in central-west Austin, and a few days ago I had the pleasure of a revisit. It is still wonderful! But here’s what wowed me before I even stepped foot in her garden: a median strip down the middle of her street that she’s transformed, little by little, into a garden for her neighbors and passersby to enjoy.


Wow, just look at this lovely space, with staggered benches inviting one to rest under an allée of crepe myrtles. Colleen says she started planting the median years ago to block an unwelcome view of trucks parked directly across the street from her house. And then she just kept expanding it.


As you’d expect, the median lacks a water source for irrigation, so Colleen chose tough, mostly native plants that can thrive without regular watering once they’re established, like Mexican feathergrass and crepe myrtle, shown here, as well as retama, Texas mountain laurel, iris, blue mistflower, prickly pear, and agave. (Note: she does water new plants by hand until they’re established.)

Colleen’s eye for design is evident in the repetition and massing of relatively few species of plants, which also makes maintenance easier, and in the way she breaks up the bowling-alley effect of a long, narrow space by zigzagging benches along the length and creating a focal-point mound of blue mistflower in the center of the path.


The blue mistflower mound marks the end of the crepe myrtle allée and the start of a retama allée.


Turning around and looking back toward the middle, you get to enjoy the effect all over again.


So inviting! And so well maintained too.


The allée pathway widens in the midsection of the median to embrace both sides of the street, inviting access.


Directly across from Colleen’s garden, the median is more densely planted in cottage-garden style — the better to hide those trucks! Actually, the trucks may be long gone now, but this was the earliest section she planted, and it’s lush with Texas mountain laurel, prickly pear, iris, and agave. A metal sunflower makes a cheerful accent.


From the median, here’s the charming view of Colleen’s house and front garden. What a gift she’s given to the neighborhood with her own garden and the median garden.


For fun, here are a couple more images from Colleen’s garden, including a ruffled kalanchoe in a mint-green vase…


…and this peaceful side-yard garden with a classical fountain, a pillow-strewn bench for comfortable lounging, and masses of pretty shade-garden plants.

Don’t you wish you were Colleen’s neighbor?

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

Drive-By Gardens: Front yard gardens strong on foliage


I can’t believe I forgot about Foliage Follow-Up yesterday, and I’m the host! To make up for it, I’m combining my Foliage Follow-Up post with Drive-By Gardens, always a reader favorite. I have two Austin gardens to share with you for this Drive-By, and both are largely foliage gardens, with little attention paid to flowers. Instead the focus is on strong foliage forms and easy-care evergreen groundcovers.


The first drive-by is really a walk-by. This xeric, deer-resistant, front-yard garden belongs to a neighbor just down the street. I’ve been watching its progress on dog walks, and it’s looking great after a year of growth. Here’s the first post I wrote about it last November. Comparing the images, you can see how much the woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) groundcover has filled in, like a silver-gray carpet in the main part of the yard.


In the hell strip between the sidewalk and the street, red yucca, Mexican feathergrass, and blackfoot daisy — Texas natives all — are tough as nails given plenty of sun and good drainage.


On the shadier side of the yard, under a large tree, sedges are filling in nicely (additional plugs were added this spring to fill it out), and bamboo muhly along the side yard glows in the afternoon light. Grasses and sedges are wonderfully resistant to deer, who neither nibble nor antler them.


The second drive-by is one I passed in the Highland Park West Balcones Area neighborhood while looking at houses on the AIA Austin Homes Tour on Saturday. I was struck by the color-block architecture and the charming mosaic flowers on the stucco retaining wall and along the entry walk.


Panning right you see a wavy strip of turf grass, curvy rock paving, sculptural and xeric foliage plants like agave, yucca, and dasylirion, a steel bridge (crossing a dry stream, maybe?), a gently undulating stucco retaining wall with colorful mosaic agaves (or yuccas?), and a life-size mosaic sculpture of a woman. An artist either lives here or did a lot of work for this garden!


I love to see people enjoying their front yards with alternative plantings and art!

This is my (belated) October post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is happening 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.
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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 are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

I’ll be speaking at the Antique Rose Emporium Fall Festival 2016 in Brenham, Texas, on Saturday, November 5th, 1:30-2:30 pm. Come on out to the Antique Rose Emporium’s beautiful gardens for a day of speakers and fun! My talk, with plenty of eye-candy photos, is called “Hold the Hose! How to Design a Water-Saving Garden that Wows.” Meet me afterward at the book-signing table!

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.

Drive-By Gardens: Contemporary curb appeal in Shoalwood


Last week, while cruising around north-central Austin’s Shoalwood and south Allandale neighborhoods, I noticed a trend: contemporary curb appeal with gravel and concrete-paver paths, low walls and fences to separate public and private areas, and turf reduction in favor of lower-water plants.

Take this 1950s ranch, for example. Located in my old neighborhood, this house has had a landscaping facelift since I last saw it. Check out the “before” picture in this Trulia link. The wildscaped “before” garden has been transformed into this clean-lined, geometric space that I think better suits the style of the home. The low, board-formed concrete wall subtly separates the home’s “personal space” from the public sidewalk and street — a modern equivalent of the picket fence. Notice the cool detailing where the house numbers appear on separated sections of the wall.


A pillowy swath of sedge replaces traditional turf to the left of the poured-paver walk. More sedge softens the front of the wall. Lawn grass, neatly defined by steel edging, makes a green carpet to the right of the walk. The hell strip between the sidewalk and the street is paved, simply and effectively, with water-permeable decomposed granite, which makes a welcoming landing pad for visitors exiting their cars.


Similar elements are at work in this front garden: a low fence defining public and private spaces, gravel paving in the hell strip, and a reduced geometric lawn defined by steel edging. Regular readers may remember that I’ve featured this garden before — in 2012, to be exact — and it’s been well maintained since then. If it were mine, I’d continue the poured-concrete paver path through the lawn to the front steps, but that’s me.


More poured-concrete pavers lead the way to this home’s front porch, where a semi-translucent wall screens a small sitting area from the street. The burgundy tree at left nicely echoes the color of the home’s siding.


This new-construction home in a contemporary-farmhouse style has gone casual-modern with its landscaping: a field of dark-gray gravel in lieu of lawn, a poured-paver walk, and steel risers leading to the front porch. Planting is minimal, just a solitary yucca and agave in front, with bamboo closer to the house.

The layout has an appealing geometric simplicity, and the permeable paving allows rainwater to soak in. Unfortunately, the larger tan gravel in the hell strip distracts the eye; I’d use the dark-gray gravel for both sections, with one more poured paver connecting with the street — or, since it’s in the city easement, perhaps a row of off-the-shelf square concrete pavers aligned with the poured pavers. A few more plants — perhaps a cluster of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas and blackfoot daisies? — would soften the gravel too.


A plant lover clearly lives here, with a naturalistic garden with a few contemporary touches. A curving flagstone-and-gravel path is bordered by a xeriscape garden with grasses, santolina, agave, and other low-water plants. Modern L-shaped path lights add a contemporary note, as does what looks like geometric steel edging in the garden bed. It’s a welcoming garden walk that invites people and wildlife.


This last garden isn’t contemporary, but it has some similarities to the others: a decomposed-granite landing pad along the street, reduced lawn, and steel-edged definition. But I confess what really caught my eye are the colorful birdcages hanging from a graceful old live oak. What a playful, whimsical touch! I enjoy seeing people having fun in their front yards.

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

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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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