Foliage Follow-Up: Dynamic xeric gardens in Serene Hills


Billowy, chartreuse clouds of bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), shimmering balls of Yucca rostrata, Mickey Mouse-eared prickly pears, feathery firecracker fern (Russelia equisetiformis), and a silver carpet of ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea): could you ask for a more striking, drought-tolerant garden for a full-sun, fast-draining site in central Texas?


Believe it or not, this is the entry garden for the Serene Hills neighborhood in Lakeway, just west of Austin. Designed by Curt Arnette of Sitio Design, the plant combos are ripe for emulation by any central Texan with a hot, sunny, rocky slope where traditional lawn grass fails to thrive.


Aside from summer color provided by the firecracker fern, a creamy yellow lantana, and red yucca (below), all the color and interest in this bed comes from foliage.


Spiky or feathery, stiff-leaved or cascading, blue-green, olive-green, chartreuse, or silver — leaves are the show-stoppers here.


One of my favorite vignettes is also one of the simplest: Agave (americana?), ‘Green Goblet’ agave, and spineless prickly pear (Opuntia), backed by bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) and underplanted with woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata).


Curt also designed this contemporary re-imagining of a mission bell tower, a focal point along the neighborhood’s main drive. Broad, terraced steps edged with Corten steel and paved in pale gravel are punctuated by a desert-style landscape of Yucca rostrata, red yucca, cholla, and prickly pear — all foliage plants with bold forms and extremely low water needs.


Another view


Annual spicy jatropha (Jatropha integerrima ‘Compacta’) and perennial lantana offer spots of seasonal color, but they can’t eclipse the shimmering yucca heads as they catch the last light of sunset.


Gotta love that fab foliage!

Please join me in posting about your lovely leaves of October for Foliage Follow-Up, a way to remind ourselves of the importance of foliage in the garden on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

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

26 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    He does great work and as you say would never guess it was Austin. I wonder how the plants are faring with all the rain. I noticed today that one of my T cosonnii is out of sorts with all this rain. Maybe drainage isn’t quite as it should be.

  2. Holleygarden says:

    I love all the blue-gray foliage. The silver ponyfoot and stemodia are gorgeous!

    I’m linking in with my post here:
    http://dreamingofroses.blogspot.com/2013/10/garden-inspiration.html

    Thanks for hosting.

    Tropical foliage really is as colorful as any flower. Thanks for sharing, Holleygarden. —Pam

  3. Thank you for hosting Foliage Follow-Up. The contrast in the textures and color of these plants is beautiful. I agree…the Agave and Prickly Pear combo is breathtaking!

    I’m linking with my post here:
    http://landscapedesignbylee.blogspot.com/2013/10/bloom-day-october-2013-colors-of-autumn.html

  4. That is absolutely stunning! I’ve posted lots of foliage going strong but not sure I can ever compete with giant Agaves. http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com/each_little_world/2013/10/foliage-follow-up-10162013.html

  5. Kris P says:

    Very attractive! I’ve been experimenting with some of those plants in my own garden here in SoCal.

    Thanks for hosting foliage follow-up, Pam. Here’s my contribution this month: http://krispgarden.blogspot.com/2013/10/october-2013-foliage-follow-up.html

  6. Peter/Outlaw says:

    The entry planting beautifully demonstrates that Xeric plantings can be lush and full! Simply stunning foliage combinations!
    My post is here: http://outlawgarden.blogspot.com/2013/10/foliage-follow-up-october-2013.html

  7. Well, “Serene Hills” pulled me in…my last 15 years were spent in Serenity Hills in Abq. True, except during east canyon (uber) winds! The coolish palette in your post, and way even the structure looks on the site, and the terracing & your area’s love for corten steel, does seem very calm…and I’m not into that structure at all. The low gray planter walls with the agave and red yucca mass gets me almost as much as the lighting in the last few pics.

  8. Alison says:

    Oh, I love those gravel terraces edged in Corten steel. The Dichondra flowing over the walls looks like a waterfall.

    I took the easy way out and focused on turning fall foliage today. My post is here: http://bonneylassie.blogspot.com/2013/10/foliage-followup-october-2013.html

    Ooh, beautiful fall foliage, Alison. I love those pretty begonias too. —Pam

  9. Wow…I am in love with those first 5 photos! So perfectly gorgeous!

    I cheat a little for foliage follow-up this month and tie it into my “fav plant” feature: http://dangergarden.blogspot.com/2013/10/eryngium-venustum-is-my-favorite-plant.html

  10. Ally says:

    Seeing those pictures of Santa Rita prickly pear remind me that I need to get mine into a sunnier exposure. Mine is not pink at all. I’ve heard they pink up when they are stressed. Is that your understanding?

    My understanding is that color is best in full sun, but stress from drought or cold contributes to the purple coloring. —Pam

  11. Helen says:

    Those Agaves are amazing
    Here is the link to my post – less dramatic http://patientgardener.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/foliage-follow-up-october-2013/

  12. Pam I love this compilation of foliage. I especially love the love growing foliage spilling over the walls as the foundation for other plants rising out of it. Almost like islands in the sea.

    Here is my post:

    http://gardenseyeview.com/2013/10/14/fallin-into-bloom-day/

    Thanks for hosting!!

  13. ricki says:

    I couldn’t hack your Texas heat, but I sure could go for your horticultural wonders. Thanks for another wander through your lens. Here’s some foliage, Oregon style: http://bannersbyricki.com/archives/3418

  14. How interesting to see garden that thrives under such different conditions than my zone 3.

    I have highlighted grasses in their natural habitat for my FF post: http://astudentgardener.blogspot.ca/2013/10/natural-beauty.html

  15. You’re making me want to retire in Austin–or at least consider it. Seriously, the foliage is so fascinating, and the idea of having Agaves and Yuccas in the landscape is so tempting. I’m not much of a grass person, but I LOVE all the Muhly grasses. And they work so well paired with your dry climate plants. Very nice examples. Here’s my post: http://plantpostings.blogspot.com/2013/10/october-color-beyond-my-expectations.html . Thanks!

    Your first photo perfectly illustrates the beauty of fall foliage. Thanks for joining in! —Pam

  16. Bob Pool says:

    That is one beautiful garden, but I really love the grays. A couple of globe mallow would have sure looked good in there.

  17. Julie says:

    Wow, autumn sure looks different where you are! See my post below. I really need one of those red yuccas – gorgeous. Thank you for hosting.

    http://portlandtreetour.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/foliage-follow-up-october-2013-sourwoods-autumn-brilliance/

  18. What serene shades of blue and green … I am inspired to paint! Love the forms and textures especially that wooly thing. Here, we have the traditional fall foliage of New England: http://thevioletfern.com/2013/10/15/whats-blooming-amaranth-rockets-into-cosmos

  19. b-a-g says:

    Really striking. I never thought of cacti as foliage, but I suppose they are.

    Here is my contribution to your meme :
    http://experiments-with-plants.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/heuchera-16-oct-2013.html

  20. Hoov says:

    No foliage followup to speak of from me, but I’m interested in the Stemodia lanata, which I’m not familiar with–how long does it go before looking ratty and requiring rehab (assuming no frost)? Does it built up a thatch? Is it thuggish? It’s very nice looking.

    Hi, Hoov. Stemodia lanata is new to my garden, and so far I’m very pleased with it. It filled in over decomposed granite very quickly, does not seem to want to climb into my agaves or other plants, and spills beautifully over retaining walls. It does go dormant after a freeze, although I’m hoping in mild winters such as we had last year in Austin (only a few light freezes) it will remain mostly intact. Otherwise I expect to cut it back off the walls in winter and await fresh growth in the spring. I haven’t grown it long enough to see its long-term performance. I’ve asked around, and if I find the answer I’ll post it here. Update: Hoov, a couple of gardener friends here in Austin tell me that it can get a little ratty looking in winter, so a light trim just before spring tidies things up before the fresh growth emerges. —Pam

  21. Angie says:

    So many plants I could only dream of growing here in Scotland.
    I’ve posted my first ever foliage follow up, thank you for hosting and I don’t know why I haven’t joined in before now!

    Here’s my link

    http://mygardenblogs.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/foliage-followup-october-2013.html

  22. Anna K says:

    Positively swoon-worthy! My heart is all aflutter – especially over the first vignette! I love that Dichondra waterfall” and the varying textures. As always, thanks so much for sharing such inspiration, and for hosting Foliage Follow-up. Late to the game, my post this month is a bit of a mish-mash. http://thecreativeflux.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/fall-foliage-berries-and-a-few-blooms-too/

  23. cheryl says:

    Does your dichondra make it through your snowy winters or does it die back?

    Hi, Cheryl. We don’t have snowy winters here in Austin. We get a little bit of snow, oh, every 5 years or so. It does go dormant after a hard freeze, returning with fresh growth in the spring. In mild winters such as we had last year it remained evergreen (silver?) in my garden. —Pam

  24. Those beautiful pictures are really from the entrance to a development? That’s awesome! I wish more people would do entrances like that.

    I did post for Foliage Follow-up, but forgot to leave my link here. (Thanks for finding my post–that reminded me to come back!) :-)

    http://blackswampgirl.blogspot.com/2013/10/from-traditional-to-tropical-october.html

  25. Larissa/landofsunandsky says:

    Love Love Love this. My taste in gardens leans toward the theatrical, and this is awesome. As a bonus, except for maybe the ponyfoot, all of this does well here in Phoenix as well. Will have to check out the bamboo muhly. I covet it, but am not sure it will grow here

    Larissa, you may be amused to know that bamboo muhly is native to Arizona! Maybe not Phoenix, as it’s also native to northern New Mexico, but I bet you can grow it just fine. —Pam

  26. Mitchell says:

    Wow, that design and plant combination is beautiful. How lovely!
    CheyDesignGuy

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