Drive-By Gardens: A new lawn-gone garden in my neighborhood

Bravo to my neighbors, who’ve ripped out their front lawn and replaced it with native groundcovers woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) and sedge (probably Carex texensis), accented with xeric specimen plants like Agave parryi var. truncata, gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), Wheeler sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), squid agave (Agave bracteosa), and ‘Color Guard’ yucca.

For comparison, a “before” image from Google Maps. It looked so much smaller with just lawn! Now there’s an abundance of interesting plants to catch your eye, and the new flagstone walk invites you to meander, not rush, to the front door.

Their front garden faces east, and they went with xeric (dry-loving) plants on the sunny side of the yard, mulching these with decomposed granite. The woolly stemodia should fill in quickly, covering the DG with a silvery green carpet that sparkles with lavender flowers in late summer. The accent plants should do well too, although if we have a cold, wet winter the variegated ‘Arizona Star’ agave at the back may suffer.

On the shady side, under a large oak (red oak, I think), sedges will eventually fill in to make a low, grassy groundcover. Shredded wood mulch suppresses weeds, and it looks more natural under trees than gravel. This should look very pretty in a few years. They only thing I would have done differently, being impatient, is to plant the sedges more thickly. A dense initial planting also gives opportunistic weeds less of a chance to sneak in. Along the edge of the yard, bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) makes a feathery, chartreuse screen.

Along the foundation, under a limbed-up crepe myrtle and Texas mountain laurel, variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), bicolor iris (Dietes bicolor), and a few flowering perennials are planted on either side of a paver path leading from the driveway to the front door. The handsome paver driveway and path are a nice upgrade from concrete, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had French drains installed to move runoff away from the garage.

Unlike my house, theirs has a sidewalk, and they planted the hell strip too. I see blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), and Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), good choices all. Again, I would have planted more densely, and they’ll need to be vigilant about weeding this section because there’s no woolly stemodia to fill in and outcompete opportunistic weeds. In my experience, Bermudagrass, nutgrass, and mats of spurge love to colonize open stretches of DG. But they can be defeated with constant vigilance.

Also, I would have added 10-foot sections of paver or flagstone paving on each side of the driveway, for visitors who park at the curb. Car landings allow visitors to get in and out of their cars without trampling your plants or getting poked in the shins.

Our neighborhood’s regular visitors have already stopped by to check out the new garden, with hoof prints left as evidence. Deer are a constant presence in my northwest Austin neighborhood, and everything one plants must be highly deer resistant. Even so, they’ll sample many of those when they’re newly planted, sometimes pulling them out of the ground in the process, and at this of year agaves, yuccas, and young trees can be damaged by bucks rubbing their antlers against them.

It takes determination to garden under such circumstances, but I love to see my neighbors going for it and making their yards more beautiful and inviting to birds, bees, butterflies, and other creatures (but hopefully not the deer, not if they want to have a garden). I can’t wait to see how this garden evolves, and I know it will bring them — and their neighbors — a lot of pleasure every day.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

17 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    Oh how I wish I was your neighbor!!! I’m a Northerner trying to garden in Houston and getting attacked by fire ants each time I venture out into my yard.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Oh no, what a rude introduction to Houston gardening! Those fire ants are evil. Don’t let them win. :-) —Pam

      • I love the idea of turning a boring lawn into a lovely planting bed. The diversity is so much better for the wildlife. I agree with your comments on each. I preferred some areas for a bench or seating too!
        For Carol…orange oil works well to get rid of fire ants. Just becareful it sterilizes the soil for a period of time. You can find it here in Houston at Wabash Feed store on Washington ave.

  2. Luisa says:

    What fascinates me is how much more interesting and attractive the new yard is — and in a year or two, the new garden will look even better. Great to see these transformations!

  3. This looks like a nice change. I really like the new sidewalk to the front door.

  4. Nell says:

    I’d have gone for twice the density of Carex; not only does it improve the odds of the wanted plants vs. weeds, but it turns into something neighbors recognize as a lawn that much more quickly — important if you want this approach to spread.

    And I’d for sure protect the two or three biggest agaves & yuccas with a little caging, just for this first period of establishment. Says the woman whose Cornus alternifolia is still in a big cage entering its fifth year (*almost* past antler-rubbing size, but not yet).

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The bucks are so destructive with their antlering in fall and winter. I’m trying to protect one of my agaves with a perimeter of fragrant-leaved salvias, and it seems to be working. —Pam

  5. Lori says:

    That looks great! I am a little concerned about the plant spacing, though. I don’t think they’ve taken the mature size of some of those hesperaloes and sotols into consideration. There’s plenty of time to move them before they get huge, though.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Yes, that’s true. Hopefully they’ll have regular maintenance help from an experienced gardener. Maintenance is the key to any successful garden. —Pam

  6. Barbara Gordley says:

    I visited Berkeley, California last month and don’t remember seeing a lawn in the hill neighborhoods. All of the front gardens, some of them quite large, have been planted with beautiful collections of native and Mediterranean drought tolerant plants. Smart gardening that’s also more interesting and attractive than grass and roses on a steep slope; deer resistant too!

  7. Wendy Moore says:

    Good on them! It looks better, I hope they’re proud of it! It says something about my conversion to a Texas gardener that I can’t wait to remove the grass on the sunny side of my house! :-)