Drive-By Gardens: A new lawn-gone garden in my neighborhood

Bravo to my neighbors, who’ve ripped out their front lawn and replaced it with native groundcovers woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) and sedge (probably Carex texensis), accented with xeric specimen plants like Agave parryi var. truncata, gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), Wheeler sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), squid agave (Agave bracteosa), and ‘Color Guard’ yucca.

For comparison, a “before” image from Google Maps. It looked so much smaller with just lawn! Now there’s an abundance of interesting plants to catch your eye, and the new flagstone walk invites you to meander, not rush, to the front door.

Their front garden faces east, and they went with xeric (dry-loving) plants on the sunny side of the yard, mulching these with decomposed granite. The woolly stemodia should fill in quickly, covering the DG with a silvery green carpet that sparkles with lavender flowers in late summer. The accent plants should do well too, although if we have a cold, wet winter the variegated ‘Arizona Star’ agave at the back may suffer.

On the shady side, under a large oak (red oak, I think), sedges will eventually fill in to make a low, grassy groundcover. Shredded wood mulch suppresses weeds, and it looks more natural under trees than gravel. This should look very pretty in a few years. They only thing I would have done differently, being impatient, is to plant the sedges more thickly. A dense initial planting also gives opportunistic weeds less of a chance to sneak in. Along the edge of the yard, bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) makes a feathery, chartreuse screen.

Along the foundation, under a limbed-up crepe myrtle and Texas mountain laurel, variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), bicolor iris (Dietes bicolor), and a few flowering perennials are planted on either side of a paver path leading from the driveway to the front door. The handsome paver driveway and path are a nice upgrade from concrete, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had French drains installed to move runoff away from the garage.

Unlike my house, theirs has a sidewalk, and they planted the hell strip too. I see blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), and Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), good choices all. Again, I would have planted more densely, and they’ll need to be vigilant about weeding this section because there’s no woolly stemodia to fill in and outcompete opportunistic weeds. In my experience, Bermudagrass, nutgrass, and mats of spurge love to colonize open stretches of DG. But they can be defeated with constant vigilance.

Also, I would have added 10-foot sections of paver or flagstone paving on each side of the driveway, for visitors who park at the curb. Car landings allow visitors to get in and out of their cars without trampling your plants or getting poked in the shins.

Our neighborhood’s regular visitors have already stopped by to check out the new garden, with hoof prints left as evidence. Deer are a constant presence in my northwest Austin neighborhood, and everything one plants must be highly deer resistant. Even so, they’ll sample many of those when they’re newly planted, sometimes pulling them out of the ground in the process, and at this of year agaves, yuccas, and young trees can be damaged by bucks rubbing their antlers against them.

It takes determination to garden under such circumstances, but I love to see my neighbors going for it and making their yards more beautiful and inviting to birds, bees, butterflies, and other creatures (but hopefully not the deer, not if they want to have a garden). I can’t wait to see how this garden evolves, and I know it will bring them — and their neighbors — a lot of pleasure every day.

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

Blowsy autumn beauty at Rollingwood Waterwise Garden

Last Saturday, a drizzly, cool day, I returned to the West Austin neighborhood of Rollingwood to see how the waterwise garden at city hall had fared over the summer. Designed by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, the garden was installed two years ago. Following an initial harsh winter and now an unusually wet year, it’s really filling in. Ornamental grasses like Muhlenbergia ‘Pink Flamingos’ and Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) are showy in the rain garden, a shallow basin designed to hold runoff and give it time to soak into the soil.

For a fun comparison, here’s the same view in April of this year. Before the grasses grew tall, you can see the contours of the rain garden.

‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly on the left, and Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘White Cloud’ on the right

Planted high on gravelly berms, golden barrel cactus and other dry-loving plants look happy. ‘Strawberry Fields’ gomphrena adds dots of fiery color.

In the hell strip (a term coined by the designer, Lauren Springer Ogden), flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) wends around a spineless prickly pear and a pretty yucca with white-edged leaves. I didn’t see a plant tag nearby; anyone know the ID?

Whale’s Tongue agave, low grasses, and a cheery groundcover of four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa)

A gravelly berm near the city hall entrance is smothered in more four-nerve daisies.

Aloes cluster, starfish-like, around a boulder.

I really love this spiraling council ring of limestone blocks, with stacked limestone pieces to fill in the gaps. ‘Green Gem’ boxwood topiaries enhance the circular theme and add evergreen color.

Located under the shade of live oaks, this part of the garden is, I believe, known as Council Oaks.

A wider view

Looking in the other direction across the garden

‘Green Goblet’ agave (I think), one of my favorites

That dusty, blue-green coloring at its base is lovely.

A rugged limestone stair leads up a slope at one end of the garden. A unique mix of agaves, columbines, ferns, tradescantia, sedum, salvia, grasses, lantana, and yucca grow here. Pacific chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum pacificum) flowers at the base of the slope.

Looking across the rain garden, in all its feathery fall glory

White-blooming autumn sage (Salvia greggii) brightens the hell strip. Pink autumn sage and bamboo muhly are visible in the background.

This is eye-catching: ‘San Carlos’ firecracker fern (Russelia coccinea ‘San Carlos’). Shazam!

Rollingwood’s residents were far-sighted in bringing this sustainable garden to fruition, and (even smarter) budgeting for its continuing care by a design team that fearlessly experiments with tough yet beautiful native and adapted plants. It’ll be fun to watch this garden continue to evolve. I imagine it will inspire many other lawn-gone gardens around the neighborhood.

I do wish, however, that the garden had its own website, or at least a dedicated webpage on the City of Rollingwood’s site. I can find very little information about the garden online, except from outside sources like the Statesman, Central Texas Gardener, neighborhood resident Deb at Austin Agrodolce, and my own post about the garden last spring. I’d love to be able to read about the garden’s origin (how the idea arose, and how funds were raised, which will be useful for other groups looking to do something similar); how the design was developed (from the designers’ perspective, including special challenges that were overcome); a detailed and updated plant list organized by section of the garden, or by sun/shade conditions; and a monthly update on maintenance (to provide real-life info about what a garden like this requires and what to do at certain times of the year). Such information would extend the reach of this garden, which is hidden deep within the winding roads of Rollingwood, and turn it into a teaching garden for the whole city, region, and even the world.

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

October evening stroll on South Congress Avenue

I had dinner on Austin’s iconic South Congress Avenue on Wednesday evening and afterward took a leisurely stroll to people-watch and window-shop. Honky-tonk music from Guero’s Oak Garden filled the cool evening air, people were smiling, and the street had a festive yet laid-back vibe that made me fall in love with Austin all over again.

Tesoros had closed for the day…

…but Dia de los Muertos skeletons were having a party in the shop window. A bony fellow played the guitar while a skinny gal in a red dress danced and a skeleton cherub hovered overhead.

Colorfully painted skulls with flower eyes and leafy adornment illustrate the celebratory nature of Dia de los Muertos, so unlike Halloween’s horror of death.

Speaking of Halloween, costume shop Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds was doing a brisk business.

In a nearby clothing shop, I spotted this hilarious t-shirt…

…and crayon-bright dino planters filled with succulents — fun!

Outside, super-sized succulents — agaves and yuccas — grow in street planters.

Live oaks offer shade to strolling tourists and locals, as always a mix of hipsters, cowboys, students, hippies, and techies. Look all the way down the street and squint, and you’ll see the buildings of downtown and the Texas Capitol building.

Guero’s Oak Garden was pulling people in with cold beer, tacos, and live music by Ted Roddy.

Listeners sit on wooden benches beneath live oaks, with string lights glowing overhead. Notice the Austin City Lemons parking sign. Yes, that is a lemon-shaped food truck at the left.

This guy on a horse — a regular on South Congress — was parked nearby, checking it all out.

Speaking of cowboys, Allens Boots is the place to get your boots. As I walked by the closed-up shop, I wondered about the pair of boots sitting out on the sidewalk.

From old Austin to new Austin — the South Congress Hotel, a hip new boutique hotel, is open for business where the food-trailer park used to be.

Its landscaping caught my eye, like this horizontal rebar trellis and Corten planter at the entrance. The friendly valets invited me to have a look at the hotel lobby and bar, which I did. It was the definition of Austin cool, and I plan to go back and get pictures of its courtyard garden sometime.

Along the street frontage, white-trunked Texas persimmons grow amid concrete strips, which remind me somewhat of a High Line detail. Christine Ten Eyck, Austin’s premiere landscape architect of sustainable gardens, did the design.

And check out this shaggy vertical planting of Texas-tough groundcovers like Mexican feathergrass, firecracker fern, and purple heart! Sorry for the poor quality of the photo; I only had my cell phone, and it was dark.

I’ll have to go back and see this in the daytime. I’m also curious to see how it holds up long-term, especially during the summer.

Although displaced by South Congress Hotel’s construction, Hey Cupcake! has set up a sweet little trailer park of its own just down the street.

And that’s my snapshot of SoCo, on the eve of Halloween 2015. Old and new, it still has plenty of charm. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the 6-minute documentary about neon sign artist Evan Voyles, who makes all these iconic signs, you’ll enjoy this little slice of Austin charm.

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