Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2011: Sheryl Williams garden

I was particularly interested to see Sheryl Williams’s garden during our sneak peek on Tuesday because she’s a fairly new Austin garden blogger, and, well, y’all know how I love our garden-blogging group. I’d met Sheryl before, but this was my first time to see her garden in person, having followed its progress on her blog, Yard Fanatic.

Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) in bloom

Sheryl is a woman who knows what she wants and has the know-how to make it happen. She moved to Austin from Portland, Oregon, two years ago and told us she house-shopped by finding likely homes and then scoping the street for front-yard gardeners who weren’t necessarily obsessed with neatness. That was to her a good sign, and she’d walk over and ask them how the neighborhood treated them and their gardens.

A favorable response on her current street helped make up her mind about the house, and soon after she moved in she killed her entire front and back lawn. While a couple of neighbors expressed concern, she soon made converts of them with an alternative lawn of native Texas sedge, which she purchased in 15 flats from Barton Springs Nursery. She considered liriope, she told us, but chose the sedge because she wanted a native plant with the look of lawn grass to blend in with the neighborhood, but with none of the mowing and almost no need of supplemental water. Last summer, in fact, she never once watered it (it was already established; don’t do this with a newly installed landscape). Yes, it tends to go dormant (i.e., tan) in dry summers if not watered, but it greens up, she said, fall through spring.

Metal chickens strutting their stuff in a patch of pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa)

Portland and Austin share an 8b hardiness zone, but Sheryl often marvels on her blog about how different those zones really are. Spring comes earlier to Austin, and our summer is brutally hot. We get much less rain, and when it comes, it arrives in thundering gully-washers that can carry away one’s garden. We have lots of bugs.

Russelia equisetiformis, or firecracker fern

Sheryl’s house is on a sloping street, and she quickly learned that rain would sheet across her property and collect in her downhill neighbor’s driveway. It made her crazy, she said, to see that water go to waste when she wanted it to soak into her yard. She was determined to capture all that rain and keep it on her property. So she trenched shallow ditches around the perimeter of her entire yard and built up berms, which serve to slow runoff and capture it. She plants the berms with xeric perennials for color. Lo and behold, her neighbor’s driveway no longer pools with water, and Sheryl gets to keep all that goodness where her plants can use it.

Sheryl also set up a rainwater harvesting system to capture every drop of rain from her roof in cisterns like this one. She even keeps a bucket set in the ground to collect the condensate from her A/C unit, which she uses to hand water her plants.

Whereas her front garden gives a nod to the neighborhood aesthetic of lawn and perennial borders, her back yard is fully devoted to a large organic vegetable garden.

Blackberries are ripening on a vertical trellis.

There’s a ripe one!

Colorful chard has its own raised bed…

as does eggplant.

A few tough shrubs and perennials, like this yarrow, soften the edges of the raised beds and add color.

There’s also a deck and a patio where Sheryl can relax and admire her garden and enjoy a handful of fresh-picked vegetables…

…and a glass of sun tea.

My thanks to all the hosts for welcoming us to their gardens, and especially to Sheryl for the delicious green salads she made for us. For a look back at Sue Nazar’s shady, lush, deer-resistant garden (and links to 3 other gardens on the tour) click here. Two additional private gardens will be on Saturday’s tour: Jeff Pavlat’s masterful cactus and succulent garden and Joe Posern’s garden, which I’ve not yet seen.

Inside Austin Gardens Tour
“Water-Wise Gardening”
Saturday, May 14, 9am–4pm
Tickets available at each garden on the day of the tour; a single-garden entry costs $5, or pay $10 to see all 7 tour sites.

Gardening Demonstrations / Education Sessions in Sheryl Williams’s garden:
9:30 Ed Parken – Rainwater Harvesting
10:30 Ed Parken – Rainwater Harvesting
11:30 Ed Parken – Rainwater Harvesting
1:30 Sheryl Williams – Keeping All Your Rainwater & Collecting Some of the Neighbors’

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

10 Responses

  1. Bonnie says:

    Great shots Pam. I feel like I just want to go grocery shopping in her yard!

  2. Oh this is going to be fun! An ex-Portlander in Austin. I’m going to have to go read her blog from beginning to end. Thanks Pam!

  3. Jenn says:

    I’m sure she’ll be appalled I noticed this, but I’m rather gladdened to see the sticker residue on that last pot. They put those suckers on with something industrial that just doesn’t peel. And who wants to run into the house for the goo gone when they are gardening? I’ve sticker residue on pots from years ago … one of my thoughts was that the desert hot and dry would bake the suckers off. Not so much. What do they use as adhesive? It’s scary.

  4. Les says:

    Thanks for showing us the first tour and the sneak preview tour. Both of these tours make me think about regional garden styles, and Austin’s is very distinct, but without the gardens looking like clones of each other. It makes me wonder what our regional style would be here, but I do not want to investigate too deeply afraid I will just come up with Williamsburg-wannabes.

  5. Mamaholt says:

    Great post, Pam. Sheryl has a wonderful yard, doesn’t she? I’m all obsessed with that sedge now.

  6. Chookie says:

    I think Sheryl and I might get on well!

  7. Sheryl says:

    Pam! It was great having you over to take a peek at what I’ve been doing. It’s really fun having other gardeners over to talk about different ways of doing things and sharing ideas.

    And Jenn, your comment about the sticker residue cracks me up. I considered doing the Minnie Pearl thing and leaving the tag on, but I was afraid someone would tell me I paid too much! As it is, some things are just not worth the effort, so let’s just call it “patina”.

    Hope to see more of you on Saturday. The blackberries are ripe and ready for sampling!

  8. I enjoyed seeing that lady’s garden, and reading about how she chose where to live. That’s a good idea. We have one neighbor who got rid of all of her grass, but her front yard is a bit busy, with some plants that are a bit aggressive. Larry doesn’t like her yard. I’m not sure what other neighbors think of it, but she used to get into spats with the next door neighbor about her plants going onto his property. There are different people living there now, who won’t care if the plants spill over.

  9. ricki says:

    Portland to Austin transplant? I’m with Loree…it sounds like a must-read.

  10. […] how about a nontraditional, drought-tolerant, native Texas sedge lawn, like Sheryl’s? (Click for a larger tour.) The Austin blogger at Yard Fanatic is watering this alternative lawn […]