Woody lilies, groundcover & ornamental grass: Pretty & simple Foliage Follow Up


Has the landscaping at a strip mall ever made you look twice? North Star Home Center, an ordinary shopping strip at Burnet Road and Anderson Lane in North Austin, is doing something right because every time I drive by I’m craning my neck to see how the plants look. Yesterday while running an errand I pulled in and took a few shots with my cell phone camera (again!) for Foliage Follow-Up. This is simple, attractive, and hardy landscaping for a hot, sunny space—think streetside, where lawn grass fries in summer.


There are only four species: Wheelers sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), Agave (A. scabra or A. salmiana var. ferox, perhaps?), purple heart (Tradescantia pallida), and Miscanthus grass. That’s two species of structural evergreen shrubs (the large agave stands alone; the sotols are grouped to one side), one medium-size ornamental grass for seasonal interest and movement (planted en masse along the back of the bed), and one groundcover to fill in below with summer color. Simple!


Purple heart is often used as a shade-tolerant groundcover in Austin, but in full sun its color deepens beautifully. As you can see, it’s still blooming and will do so until our first hard freeze turns the whole plant to mush. It can be cleaned up in fall for a neat look or left until early spring, which is what I do in my own garden.


Another agave used to grow here (visible at left), but it bloomed this summer and then died, as agaves do. It should be removed. Crushed, recycled glass is being used to mulch these xeric plants—a nice touch. The City of Austin used to give away recycled glass for free, and perhaps it still does.


A shocking theft occurred here last year—shocking to me, anyway. A large and magnificently purple ‘Santa Rita’ prickly pear stood in front of the agave, surrounded by the glass mulch. In all seasons it was a crowning touch for this bed, but in winter, when its color deepened in response to the cold, it really stood out. I admired it every time I drove by, and many times I contemplated breaking off a pad in order to grow it in my own garden. But that’s stealing, marring someone else’s plant, and what if everyone did it? So I reasoned and kept my sticky fingers to myself. And then one day I drove by and—horrors!—the ‘Santa Rita’ was missing. I am sure someone else who’d been admiring it stole the darn thing. No doubt it’s gracing someone’s back garden right now.

Ah well. There is still much to admire in the landscaping here, and I appreciate the owner’s efforts to keep it looking nice. If only more strip centers would follow their example and yank out the patchy grass or drought-browned shrubs.

So, what foliage is inspiring you today? Join me in posting about your lovely leaves of November—it’s called Foliage Follow-Up, and it’s a way to remind ourselves of the importance of foliage in the garden. Just leave a comment on this post with a link to your foliage post so everyone can find you, and please link to me in your post. If you can’t get to it so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

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

34 Responses

  1. hb says:

    Love the deeply green, powerful Agave and wind-sculpture Dasylirion together with the tawny grass. Just right.

    Here’s some of our area’s November foliage: http://pieceofeden.blogspot.com/2011/11/november-foliage.html
    Thanks for hosting a “foliage follow up”!

    Thanks for your link! I wasn’t able to leave a comment on your blog without an account, but I just wanted to say you seem to have the best of both worlds: traditional New England fall color plus a pretty selection of lovely succulents. Thanks for participating in Foliage Follow-Up! —Pam

  2. Candy Suter says:

    That is such a shame that someone took that Santa Rita. I love mine and would be heartbroken. You get one and start your own in your yard. And I have two Dasylirion. Slightly different kind though. Very curly and pokey. It’s in a post or two ago. Love those Agave! Big and beautiful!

  3. I like the combination of plants they have used here – the Wheelers sotol and Purple heart look so good together. Love the colours & textures!
    My November Foliage Follow up is live – Thanks for hosting this Pam!
    http://www.thegardeningblog.co.za/gardening/foliage-follow-up-for-november/

  4. Pam I love the simple design and the unique mulch. Here we see the same boring barberry bush type of design at malls many times with orange mulch..yuck…so sad when someone takes a plant…I always marvel at how they do it and no one sees them or reports them. At a school where I taught years ago we designed the front garden with students and within weeks many of the plants were stolen. My Foliage Follow Up is a mix of blooms and foliage…hope you like it!! Thx for hosting!!

    http://gardenseyeview.com/2011/11/14/frosty-november-blooms/

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Great FF Pam. I would love to be able to grow some of these. Love that texture. It is a shame that you didn’t snitch just a pad from the prickly pear before it vanished. http://greenbowgardens.blogspot.com/2011/11/foliage-follow-up-november-2011.html

  6. Jenny says:

    That strip is really well done. What a pity about the Santa rita. It is a common occurrence in the UK and gardeners have insurance for such things! You and your phone take great photos. I actually got my phone out the other day and took some photos at a commercial site.

  7. Gail says:

    That is a very nice planting. We haven’t had plant theft in my neighborhood, but, someone did cut all my blooming iris that once grew by the mailbox. I hope they enjoyed the bouquet! gail

    You’re more charitable than I am, Gail. I’d have hoped they got stung by a bee while smelling their stolen flowers! ;-) —Pam

  8. Great landscaping! Beautiful textures and fit for the environment. I love to see that. I just stopped in at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, Andirondacks, NY and couldn’t help but admire the natural landscaping that led to the entrance. Shame I didn’t take pictures but I will visit again. I can’t believe someone stole the Santa Rita! I guess that is the sincerest form of flattery! But bad Karma – yours should be extra good. This is the first foliage follow up I’ve been organized enough to jump in – hope to be a regular.

    http://thevioletfern.blogspot.com/#!/2011/11/fall-foliage.html

  9. I love using purple heart in shade containers (it’s an annual in the PNW). Will it really do OK in sun as well?! I pair it with deep oranges or baby pinks and it looks fabulous with both!
    I’ll definitely participate in Foliage Follow-Up in future but I have my next two blog posts scheduled and they have a time factor! However if anyone cares to look I have just posted an album on my Facebook page called ‘porch containers’ which shows two foliage based designs. This link takes you to a single wall photo of Korean Silver fir which was my inspiration.

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=294723953885206&set=a.233579416666327.64713.232114903479445&type=3&theater

    Facebook http://facebook.com/lejardinet

    Pam – I’ll link this blog post onto my FB page since I can’t do so on my blog right now.

  10. Wow..that’s pretty nervy to steal something you have to dig up, right out in the open. But, seems there are a lot of nervy people out there.

    I’ve seen some really good landscaping around in retail areas lately. Good for ideas of things growing in tough conditions. My biggest problem is the deer. No Purple Heart where they can get at it.

    Here’s my Foliage Follow-Up. Thanks for hosting.

    http://patchworkgarden.blogspot.com/2011/11/30-day-challengethanksgivingday.html

  11. Karen Miller says:

    I too have admired the landscaping at that center and have to admit that I took a pad of the purple cactus that had fallen to the ground where someone had knocked several off. Unfortunately, mine did not survive.

    Another shopping center with nice landscaping is Penn Field. Nice use of knockout roses, esperanza, and tangerine dream crossvine. I was there in early October, and landscaping was gorgeous.

    I’m not familiar with Penn Field, Karen. I’ll have to do a drive-by sometime. —Pam

  12. Lucy Abbott says:

    I took these pictures in my garden yesterday, after over a half inch of rain fell. Gardening in this terrible drought gives me such an appreciation of how water looks on foliage. Follow the link to veiw the picture: http://www.lucysinthegarden.com/2011/11/foliage-follow-up.html

    Thanks for joining in, Lucy! I wasn’t able to leave a comment on your blog without an account, but I just wanted to say I’m grateful too for the rain we got yesterday. Sweet raindrops indeed. And I couldn’t help noticing how many elephants and tigers you have in your garden. ;-) —Pam

  13. Love this planting! I too would be doing slow drive-by’s just to check it out. As for the Santa Rita I contemplated doing the same thing as you (breaking of just one pad) multiple times on our recent Arizona/New Mexico vacation…just one and always in a public planting not someones personal garden (it’s all about the rationalization right?)! But instead I actually bought a plant at a nursery.

    My foliage follow up is taking a look at the strong shapes and texture of foliage when there is no color to distract (well…maybe just a little bit). http://dangergarden.blogspot.com/2011/11/novembers-foliage-follow-up.html

    I’m glad you found a ‘Santa Rita’ of your own, Loree. I actually have one too—have had it for many years in a purple pot. It colors up in winter, but not so beautifully as the one I’d seen at this shopping center. I think there must be variations within the species. If I ever see one for sale that’s a deep, rosy purple, like this one was, I’ll snap it up. —Pam

  14. noel says:

    Here are some of our tropical colors, mostly foliage some from my garden and other gardens that I tour in our island.
    http://aplantfanatic.blogspot.com/2011/11/its-amazing-that-we-can-have-three.html

  15. Nice! So simple, so effective, and such a great example of the way to treat low maintenance commercial plantings. Here in the NW, commercial plantings seem to be moving to a lot of grasses, along with drought-tolerant natives in drainage swales (due to parking runoff disposal concerns.) I’m shocked about the theft of the ‘Santa Rita’. That’s just wrong!

    My post is a bit of a mixed bag, with an emphasis on the gorgeous fall color we’re enjoying: http://mulchmaid.blogspot.com/2011/11/foliage-follow-up-november-2011.html
    Thanks for hosting!

  16. Scott Weber says:

    Ha…I FINALLY got myself together enough to do a FFU post! Of course, I LOVE the grasses most of all..that wonderful texture and warm, autumnal coloration is so lovely. So sad about the theft…it’s a sad reality…and the reason I don’t put things like Lilies too close to the sidewalk…some people just DON’T know how to resist tempation!

    http://www.rhonestreetgardens.com/2011/11/foliage-follow-up-november-16-2011.html

  17. Cyndi K. says:

    Yes, I AM looking twice at commercial landscaping more and more; while driving through a strip mall just last week, I said to a friend- I need to post about this place. Need to keep my camera handy.
    Of all the plants to steal, a santa rita?! Sounds more like a dare.

  18. Greggo says:

    I always get tempted to take a start when I go to botanical gardens and see different varieties of sedum. hmmm, we won’t go there. lol. Less is more for sure and and simple is good. don’t know why i can’t follow that reasoning. Thanks for hosting. Greggo

    http://greggosgarden.blogspot.com/2011/11/absence-makes-heart-grow-fonder-gbbd.html

  19. Ohh, I’ll have to chime in next month… great idea! I think foliage is far more fascinating than the blooms.

    Please do, Dirty Girl. I’d love to see what foliage rocks your garden in December. —Pam

  20. Pam — I was out at 7 am gathering recall signatures and just remembered it’s Foliage Follow-Up today! Alas, there are people only too willing to take a plant that appeals to them. We had a golden barrel cactus stolen off our porch many years ago. I could never imagine picking that monster up and just walking away with it. http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com/each_little_world/2011/11/foliage-follow-up-11162011.html

  21. peter schaar says:

    Pam, nice photos, as usual. I think that Agave is A. salmiana var. ferox, a common passalong from Dallas to San Antonio and in the hill country. Thanks again for the inspiration! Peter Schaar

    Thanks for the ID, Peter. Perhaps that is it. —Pam

  22. ricki says:

    I see a lot of barberries pruned into blobs and box shapes, but a glimmer of hope is out there. I think the gardening consciousness is rising bit by bit. Your example is lovely. The colors are quite different than what we are used to seeing here, so of course I want to replicate it. GOOD LUCK on that. http://bannersbyricki.com/archives/1959

  23. Amy F says:

    I’ll have to check North Star out. Mueller and the Taco Shack on N Lamar are a couple of my landscape rubbernecking spots. As for the Santa Rita, we had a couple of agave thefts in my old neighborhood; it takes a determined person to try to steal plants with such good defenses! Thanks for hosting.
    http://waitingforplumeria.blogspot.com/2011/11/foliage-follow-up-november-2011.html

    Thanks for joining in, Amy! I wasn’t able to leave a comment on your blog without an account, but I wanted to say how pretty all your November leaves are. And I love that you included a few pine cones too. —Pam

  24. We have a parking lot in Charleston, the Wal-Mart on James Island with Serenoa repens planted in mass with the trees that grew there and it is just the most amazing planting. No one really thought much about the aesthetics, I know it was somewhat of an easy plant scenario, but foliage used in mass in these situations can drum up drama!

    It really can. It’s a lesson for the home gardener, if we can only show more restraint in our own gardens. Then again, the joy of one’s own garden is the freedom to be a collector if you want. :-) —Pam

  25. kim shields says:

    How sad someone could actually take the time to dig up someone else’s plant. I thought everyone who loved plants was a wonderfully honest person ready to share not take. Check out my Foliage Follow Up at http://cactuspad.wordpress.com

  26. Abbey says:

    Thanks for organizing the Support Your Local Nursery contest last month. I included several of the plants that I bought with my Sunshine Landscape and Garden Center gift card in today’s post. http://downtoearth-abbey.blogspot.com/2011/11/foliage-follow-up-november-2011.html

  27. Those plants look like they are in someone’s lovely garden. It’s too bad someone stole that one plant. Several of our shopping areas have planted areas. Some look better than others.

    We have a student at the high school I work at who moved here from Austin. This will be her first winter here. She’s cold already, and we haven’t even had many 20s yet. I was able to tell her I had a friend from Austin. I asked her if she knew you, but she didn’t. I imagine Austin is a big place. ;o)

    When I went to bed last night, I remembered I had forgotten to come over to link up my foliage follow up post. I see you’ve visited it already. Here’s the link:

    http://acornergarden.blogspot.com/2011/11/november-foliage.html

    I’m sure your new student from Austin won’t miss the summers, but I bet she’ll be cold this winter. My own family starts to shiver whenever it dips below 70 F. As for Austin, yes, it’s pretty big, with a population of 790,000 people, although in many ways it seems smaller than that. Must be the friendly people. ;-) —Pam

  28. Karla says:

    We have more garden theft here in Connecticut that I care to even think about. It’s usually just containers, but on occasion, whole plants will be taken from the ground as well. It’s usually urban gardens and public gardens but it will also happen at newly installed plantings in office parks and shopping centers as well. It always shocks me. How can you be so mean spirited as to teal a plant? That’s just bad karma, somehow.

    Here’s my link–and thanks!

    http://gardendaze.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/wordless-wednesday-extra-5/

  29. Nice contrasts in foliage and form. There are some really nice planting design examples in non-residential gardens, for sure. I am always looking for them, even in a “bad” drought year. But back to some major work, until I check out the other posts later!

    My (fashionably late) post:
    http://desertedge.blogspot.com/2011/11/foliage-follow-up-1111.html

  30. Tina says:

    I also love that landscape–good for them for choosing such beautiful and hardy plants for a tough
    My tardy post: http://mygardenersays.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/tardy-again-this-time-to-foliage-follow-up/

  31. I just realized I forgot to answer your question about my gooseneck loosestrife. Yes, I did plant it in a tub because I don’t have room for it to spread in the ground.

  32. Les says:

    One can only hope that the gardening gods made certain the thief(s) were covered in those insidious little thorns that Santa Rita has.

  33. [...] the day after Bloomday, too soon for many of us to be able to get a second post up, here’s the link to this months [...]

  34. Oh what a pity – it is so easy to just ask for a cutting, and most gardeners are only too happy to share. Also that is a way to meet other gardeners.
    I am a bit late to be a part of the foliage follow up, but I did see that you din’t mind latecomers so here I am.
    http://africanaussie.blogspot.com/2011/11/red-backed-foliage.html