Nonirrigated native plant garden of Lee Clippard is a foliage lover’s dream

Earlier this month I visited the East Austin garden of Lee Clippard, blogger at The Grackle, and his partner, John. The first fall rains had just arrived, following a relatively mild summer, so their foliage-centric garden of native plants was looking lush and green. I’d never have guessed, if Lee hadn’t told me, that he didn’t once irrigate his garden all summer, aside from a one-time spot watering of a wilting American beautyberry just off the front porch.

Smart plant choices make the no-water garden possible, although of course even these drought-tolerant natives must have water to get established. Once established though, the plants are on their own. Lee chucks the ones that don’t thrive and adds more of those that do.

You might recognize Lee’s garden from my book, Lawn Gone!; I profiled his garden in an early chapter. Lee screened the front garden with shade-tolerant foliage plants like palms, loquat, and Turk’s cap to give privacy and a sense of enclosure to a small gravel patio and to create green views from their windows.

Streetside, all that textural foliage makes for a secret-garden effect. What’s on the other side?

Entering the front garden you see a rectangular gravel patio edged with chopped limestone. A patio set used to sit here, but now there’s just a simple, wooden bench, very Zen.

A triangular stone sculpture sits in a soft patch of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) along one corner of the patio, framed by loquat and paleleaf yucca (Yucca pallida).

It’s a serene, inviting space framed by sedge and yuccas, with leafy shrubs along the perimeter screening the street from view. The stone path at right makes a friendly path for the mailman to cut through from the neighbor’s yard.

Lee gardens with a goal of attracting wildlife, with flowering prairie plants like coneflower where he has more sun along the driveway, and plenty of roosting and nesting places for birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife.

He lets plants stand after they go to seed in order to provide food for birds. A large spineless prickly pear adds structure to this “wilder” section of the garden.

Around back, a wood-slat arbor and gate invite you into the back garden. Spanning the gap between house and detached garage, the arbor offers shade from the Death Star and enclosure for their dog. A lovely cut-stone path set in gravel draws the eye and foot into the space.

To the right, on the wall of the garage, a trough fountain with a small copper spout pours a thin stream of water that seems to cool the sizzle of a hot day.

Ahead, a grilling station is set up near the back door, which leads to the kitchen. Hanging from a corner of the eave, a rain chain directs rainwater, when it comes, to a bowl filled with colorful, egg-shaped river rocks.

Native horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), considered a weed by some, provides a low-maintenance, no-water groundcover.

I think Lee made these concrete bowls, which he uses as succulent planters and to hold pretty river rocks.

The stone path makes a right-angle turn behind the garage, leading to a gravel patio and, farther along, to an herb garden. Here at the corner, terracotta pots of cactus and succulents attract the eye…

…and soften the base of four cedar posts that support a “ceiling” of string lights around the gravel patio.

Lee and John inherited the mortared-brick Celtic knot with the house, but they enlarged the patio space around it to make more room for entertaining. It’s a beautiful focal point for their patio.

They made the 8-foot-long wooden bench themselves. It’s backed by a fringe of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).

Red, recycled-plastic Adirondacks add hot color.

The purple berries of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) add plenty of rich color too.

Enjoy them while you can, before the mockingbirds find them!

The back of the garage is a place for Lee to showcase his potted-plant collection. He and John also use the wall (hung with a sheet, I assume) for showing outdoor movies with friends.

An insect hotel hangs from the corner of the house, part of Lee’s effort to attract bees and other beneficial bugs.

Behind the garage, Lee and John made a small, raised-bed herb garden. Anchoring the space is a signpost pointing to places that have special meaning to them. Wooden chaise lounges offer a place to catch a little sun, and a wooden-slat screen hides a view of the neighbor’s yard. In front of the screen, a tufted lawnette of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) makes an emerald groundcover.

We live in a big country, don’t we? A thousand miles, at least, whether you head for the East Coast or the West.

Pomegranates are ripening.

And lantana is blooming — more fall color that attracts butterflies.

And here’s another look at the Texas sedge lawnette.

I love that quilted look.

A metal grackle is a reminder that this is the home of The Grackle blog. If you haven’t ever read it, do. Lee’s posts are always thoughtful and beautifully photographed, with good information about wildlife and native-plant gardening and Tex-Zen design.

My thanks to Lee and John for sharing their inspiring waterwise garden with me again. Readers, if this has whetted your appetite for more, click for my spring 2012 visit to Lee’s garden. Also, see Lee and John discuss the design of their garden on Central Texas Gardener.

This is my October post for Foliage Follow-Up. I’d love to know what lovely leaves are making you happy in your October garden (or one you’ve visited). Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage plants their due 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 © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

27 Responses

  1. Pam this is one of the most beautiful gardens. I love the peacefulness of it and that they use natives to attract wildlife. It is foliage heaven and gives me some food for thought. And I have that same tear-drop shaped insect hotel as well. I will be popping over to Lee’s blog.

    I am joining in with a little bit of autumn foliage.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Wow what a space. I love the lawnette with the sedges.

  3. Cat says:

    His is a garden full of inspiration. Thanks for the detailed photos of his spaces. There is much to admire there!

  4. TexasDeb says:

    A great garden, and as usual, your virtual “visit” is both illustrative and provocative.

    As much as I appreciate the serene beauty of these spaces, I believe I appreciate the beauty of Lee’s approach to gardening even more. His willingness to let plants go to seed, and to hold off pruning plants that are past their visual prime in deference to the wildlife that has further use of them, helps me temper my tendencies to get very “trimmy” this time of year.

    Thanks for sharing these spaces and for pointing more readers his direction!

  5. rickii says:

    Yet another inspirational tour. Every time you pull out your camera you show us something to store away for future reference. Fall is such a great time for foliage. Here’s my humble contribution:

  6. Oh this is a good one, I love their green screen in the front garden and the short (limestone?) wall with those generous steps. I had to smile when you noted the path for the mailman, they do have an affect on our front garden plans don’t they?

    My “fav” plant post this week is doing double duty as a foliage follow-up entry:

  7. Alison says:

    What a fabulous treat you’ve given us for Foliage Followup! I love your garden tour posts, they are always so thoughtful and detailed. I wish the previous owners here had left something as cool as that Celtic knot. My FF post is here:

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Re: your Foliage post, Alison: Wowza, that echium foliage is stunning. Smart of you to buy it, even if it was sneaked into your cart. I enjoyed your fall leaves as well, especially the wreath-framed shot — such a fun perspective! —Pam

  8. Kris P says:

    This garden is an object lesson on what beautiful gardens can be created even under drought conditions. That reminder is a kick in the pants to some of us in California, currently in the “oh, woe is me” phase of reacting to our own drought. (Perhaps you need to write your next book on gardening for drought, Pam!)

    My foliage follow-up post also plays homage to drought tolerant plants: Thanks for hosting!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Re: your Foliage post, Kris: You have a talent for putting together striking succulent combos, and each is matched so well to the pot. Succulents are such great plants for drought, and you probably don’t even have to give them winter protection — win-win! —Pam

  9. Jean says:

    That is really nice. And that’s the best looking spread of horseherb I think I’ve ever seen! Haven’t done a Foliage Followup post or any other kind in a while. Working up to one, though. ;-)

  10. Their garden captures so many great design concepts – thoughtful planning has really paid off in a peaceful, functional space.

  11. peter schaar says:

    Fabulous garden, fabulously photographed. Kris, check out Mary Irish’s books on gardening in Arizona. She has one on woody lilies, one on trees and shrubs and one on perennials. All very good for gardeners in warm winter dry climates.

  12. Evan says:

    It looks for green and tranquil. I can just picture myself lounging in one of those chairs with a glass of ice-cold lemonade.

    Fall is just about at its peak glory in Milwaukee. Here’s my foliage follow-up:

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Re: your Foliage post, Evan: Your first maple photo is almost heart-stopping. Do you lucky northerners just go outside and stare at your beautiful fall foliage every day until it drops? I would! —Pam

  13. Love the river rock displays! I can’t believe he didn’t water much–the garden looks so lush! As Evan mentions, we’re having a particularly colorful October this year. Thanks for hosting! Here’s my post:

  14. Jennifer says:

    Wow, what a lovely garden! It looks very inviting.
    My Foliage Follow-up can be found at:

  15. These are beautiful gardens Pam and it was nice to be able to experience them through your post. Thank you for hosting Foliage Follow-Up and for the inspiring tour!
    My Foliage-Follow-Up can be found at:

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Re: your Foliage post, Lee: I like that you included those touchable spruce and cedar cones. They add so much interest to the garden at this time of year, don’t they? —Pam

  16. Kristin says:

    Pam, such a beautiful garden! I need to get some beautyberry.
    My Foliage Folow up can be found at

  17. I was sorry to miss this garden, in person. But, you’ve presented a wonderful tour.

    Here’s my Foliage Follow-up offering for this month.

  18. Anna K says:

    It is truly hard to believe that this garden is a “no-water” garden – it is so marvelously lush. I love all the intimate spaces revealed throughout. Thanks for a lovely tour! A few days late, but here is my October foliage post: