Shirley Fox’s golden xeriscape garden in San Antonio


A week ago I traveled to San Antonio to give a public Lawn Gone! talk at the invitation of the Gardening Volunteers of South Texas. Among the 100 or so people in attendance, two Alamo City bloggers I follow, Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer and Heather of Xericstyle, were also kind enough to come see me. Shirley had invited me to visit her garden while I was in town, so after the book signing wound down I headed over to her north San Antonio home. The golden radiance of ‘Color Guard’ yucca, four-nerve daisy, and Mexican feathergrass greeted me at the curb.


More sunny goodness: ‘New Gold’ lantana brightening gravel-mulched beds of silver-blue Bismarck palm, ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave, and santolina. Despite nearly 100-degree temperatures, we strolled around Shirley’s garden for close to an hour, and I really appreciated how beautiful her garden looks under the twin annual stresses of Texas heat and drought. Her garden would have made a perfect follow-up visit for the attendees of my talk, enabling them to see firsthand how you go about creating a low-care, xericscape, deer-resistant garden that doesn’t rely on a swath of green grass for its appeal.


Along the street, in the very toughest conditions, evergreen Texas mountain laurel is a stalwart choice. Below, a trio of golden barrel cacti, salvia, and ornamental grasses are mulched with native river rock, accented by a lake-like space of smaller gravel.


Where her circular drive meets the main driveway, two angular beds express a continuity of plant choices — tough, low-water survivors like gold lantana, agave, santolina, and feathergrass. Evergreen and ever-silver plants keep the garden interesting during the brief San Antonio winter.


Around back, a sunny meadow appears, or so it seems. Actually, this is a small, native buffalograss lawn Shirley and her husband inherited with the house. She’s let wildflowers seed out into the lawn, to charming effect.


The centerpiece of her back garden is the sunny, butterfly-attracting circle garden. Shirley designed it to cover a bare spot in the lawn, and over time she’s expanded it to take up more lawn space. (Click the link to see her post about the circle garden’s construction, plus an overhead view that really shows off the pattern she used.)


In the center, a stand of hot-pink ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena blazed.


I wish a had a good spot to plant some of these myself.


Key lime pie-colored buttons, the flowers of a green santolina, brightened up the scene too.


Gardens you read about in a blog always surprise you in some way when you see them in person. Shirley’s garden surprised me with a large, shady deck behind the house, the perimeter absolutely filled with potted succulents, cactus, and other tropical and tender plants. I couldn’t remember ever seeing her deck garden featured on her blog, and so I had to spend a little time exploring it.


Potted cactus specimens occupy a tiered shelf in one corner.


Octopus babies! That is, octopus agave pups (A. vilmoriniana). I like the way Shirley has arranged these in a bowl planter — it’s their own little aquarium.


There’s a lot more growing on that deck than in some people’s gardens, but the bright light and deep shadows under the tree defeated my efforts to capture the scene. Shirley is lucky to have plenty of bright sun for growing agaves, yuccas, and butterfly-attracting plants, plus plenty of shade to sit outdoors and enjoy what she’s created.

Thank you, Shirley, for a lovely garden tour and a great end to my San Antonio visit!

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All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

16 Responses

  1. Tamara says:

    Another beautiful example of xeriscaping that is full and green and abounds with texture. Not just another rock garden.

    No indeed. I believe Shirley likes plants too much for rocks to predominate. —Pam

  2. Holleygarden says:

    I really enjoyed seeing Shirley’s garden through your eyes. She has some beautiful plantings, and I love the circle garden. The fact that she has a shady deck is perfect for Texas!

    Yes, and it felt so nice to be in the shade on the day I visited. I can see why she enjoys it so. —Pam

  3. Alison says:

    I just adore those octopus babies swimming in that pot. Thanks for showing us your views of Shirley’s garden.

    My pleasure, Alison. —Pam

  4. Ragna says:

    Beautiful! You’ve done justice to Shirley’s garden for sure. That’s a great picture of Shirley,too.

    Thank you for all your blogs, book, and garden tours. I love them all.

    Thank you for popping by and commenting, Ragna! I’ve admired your garden on “Central Texas Gardener” and on Shirley’s blog many a time. —Pam

  5. Great shots! I am in love with Shirley’s garden and all the brightness too. She has created so many different types of gardens on her property…I love all her areas so much!

    Shirley has made a very enticing garden that also inspires from a water-conserving point of view. Lots of inspiration to be gleaned here. —Pam

  6. I’ve always known Shirley’s garden was beautiful and you’ve done it justice! Thanks for showing a little more of her potted collection too!

    I wish I could have done her deck garden justice, but my camera didn’t cooperate that day (or I was just too tired after my talk earlier in the day). She has a really interesting collection of plants on the deck. —Pam

  7. Shirley’s garden is wonderful & it’s cool to see it through your lens. I’m envious that y’all can grow Bismarckia nobilis and great agaves but don’t covet your summer heat!

    I’m jealous that she can grow that Bismarck palm too, Peter. San Antonio is a bit warmer in the winter than Austin, and while I have seen two Bismarcks in Austin in all the years I’ve lived here, they are vulnerable to occasional hard freezes. While I don’t covet our summer heat either, our agaves do, and for that I’m grateful! —Pam

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    And thank you for taking us along with you. Love those Xeric plants.

    My pleasure, Lisa. —Pam

  9. Scott Weber says:

    It’s always a treat to see Shirley’s garden…thanks for the tour, Pam!

    You’re welcome, Scott. See you in a few days! —Pam

  10. ricki says:

    If we just didn’t blow every available dollar on plants, we would all be clamoring to fly you in to capture our gardens as only you can. You definitely added to Shirley’s mystique here.

    Ha! Thanks for the compliment, Ricki. Shirley’s garden was quite photogenic with all those billowy grasses and golden, structural yuccas. —Pam

  11. Thanks for a great tour of Shirley’s garden. I never noticed the golden theme until mentioned it.

    It really jumped out at me, Michael, but it might be a summer thing. She also has a lot of lovely blue-green structural plants and silvery groundcovers. —Pam

  12. Nice take on her garden; you really captured the essence of her circle or wheel garden. That first photo, and seeing that pulling up in my car, was almost as stunning as their oaks…almost!

    Yes, lots of oaks! I wish I could have captured her shade gardens better, but it was early afternoon, with deep shadows under the trees. —Pam

  13. Shirley says:

    Gold and silver–never quite thought of it that way and that’s just one of the many fun things that come from a blogger garden visit. I enjoyed your visit and seeing my garden on Digging along with your perspective. I also enjoyed the comments so thank you all for those too.

    The deck always looks “lived in” so I don’t think to blog about it. I will give it a try soon.

    Now the Christmas carol “Silver and Gold” is going through my head, Shirley. Your garden is so inviting, with interesting plants for sun and shade. Thanks so much for inviting me to see it! —Pam

  14. What a beautiful garden — in such harsh conditions. Really great balance of paving, gravel, and plants.

  15. I LOVE this landscape! Great ideas for color and variety in a low-water environment.

  16. Rae Ann Burman says:

    Lovely!