New sedge lawnette planted, dry stream spiffed up

While the death of a tree — or any plant, really — is disappointing, even angst inducing, there’s always an upside: the opportunity to redesign and replant! One of our live oaks (pictured front and center) succumbed to hypoxylon canker last December, and after its removal I was startled by the openness at the front of the house. I also worried for my shade-loving shrubs and Japanese maple along the foundation.

And then I put my worry aside (I’ll just have to wait and see about the shade lovers, which are still protected by the house to the south and by the remaining trees to the west) and looked on the bright side: an opportunity to rip out the last little bit of lawn on our property. I’d kept that tiny lawn for two reasons: oak sprouts — bristly, suckering stems coming up from the mother tree’s roots — grew thickly under that live oak, and it was easier to mow them along with the grass than to hand-prune them out of a garden bed, and I liked the green negative space that the semicircle of lawn provided.

After the tree came down, I had the stump ground out. I’m hopeful that will eliminate the oak sprouts. If not, I’ll prune them as needed (sigh).

I hired a landscaper to dig out the St. Augustine grass and spread several inches of Lightening Mix from Advanced Organic Materials in Buda — my new soil resource since The Natural Gardener closed its soil yard.

I also ripped out the old metal landscape edging that bordered the dry creek around the lawn — a budget-conscious choice that I knew I’d eventually replace — and brought in small limestone boulders to edge the new planting bed and keep soil out of the dry creek.

To keep the negative space (a serene, green groundcover) I enjoyed with the old lawn, I planted evergreen ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge (Carex sp.) from Barton Springs Nursery. When it fills in, it’ll be a meadowy “lawn” that doesn’t require mowing, edging, or nearly as much water. Just off-center, I planted a toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) from Vivero Growers. Eventually it’ll echo the one in the metal pipe on the other side of the front door (see picture below) — like a shimmery, long-leaved Koosh ball.

To protect it from bucks aching to rub their antlers on beautiful plants and smash them to smithereens, I encircled it with rolled wire, nearly invisible, which I’ll remove in the spring. Leftover Mexican beach pebbles around the base of the sotol help with drainage for this dry-loving plant (instead of moisture-holding wood mulch).

Everyone asks me if I had the new bed bermed up. No, the live oak was growing atop the berm, and I believe it’s part of the natural topography of our lot, as several other clusters of trees are growing on berms in our yard. My guess is the house was built around the trees back in the early ’70s.

Drainage problems have driven most of my design decisions here. When it rains, runoff flows down the circular drive back toward the house, and water used to pool in our front walk. We replaced the old walk with poured-in-place concrete strips surrounded by gravel that allows water to soak into the soil. Now, runoff from the driveway flows into the dry creek, and a sump pump in the gravel courtyard behind us pipes excess water into the creek as well.

Where the old steel edging once lined the dry creek, limestone boulders now provide a more natural look.

I had my landscaper dig a trench to set them at least one-third of their height into the soil.

Here’s the long view from the corner of the house. Soon the dormant river ferns in the foreground will be unfurling new fronds.

Here’s the other toothless sotol I have, growing in a steel pipe in the gravel courtyard. What a beauty this plant is! Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) and ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo add to the linear combo.

I’m going to plant pink rain lily bulbs (Zephryanthes ‘Labuffarosea’) amid the sedge this spring and cross my fingers that the deer will leave them alone. No such luck with the oxblood lilies I tried a couple of years ago, but perhaps the rain lilies will prove less tasty.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The upcoming talk with James deGrey David has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

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18 Responses

  1. I think this new planting is so charming. It goes so well with your house and the surrounding plantings. Well done.

  2. Laura Munoz says:

    Looks great and obviously is well-thought out. The limestone curve juxtaposed against the rectangular lines of the house and walk really pops. (I’m not pretending to be a garden designer. I just like the way the geometry works together.)

  3. Cheryl Hawes says:

    Just a warning..I have had bucks catch their antlers in hog wire fencing and either smash it into the tree it was there to protect or actually get it stuck on their antlers to be deposited some other place in the yard.They do seem to learn from that experience..I’ve not had repeats this winter. LOL

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Those darn bucks! If it’s not one thing it’s another, right? I AM glad to know they can learn from experience. But there’s always another young buck who has to learn the hard way. —Pam

  4. Fantastic! While the loss of a tree is definitely an occasion to mourn, it is also as you say an opportunity. It already looks wonderful and fits with the rest of your garden.

  5. rickii says:

    I just sent a link to a friend who is planning her front garden. You rock!

  6. Gail says:

    Pam, It looks like it was meant to be! I hope the deer leave your rain lilies alone…Darn deer.

  7. Evan Bean says:

    I love the simple redesign. It already looks great and will look even better as the sedge and sotol fill in. I hope the deer leave your rain lilies alone. If they don’t, maybe try an allium, iphieon, or brodiaea? They’ve all got a bit of onion/garlic smell when bruised.

  8. It looks simple and pleasing. I’m sorry you lost the tree – there’s been some of that around these parts this winter, too. But your replacement solutions, with all of the criteria you had to include, is both attractively simple and interesting. And I’ll be paying closer attention to your deer solutions now, as the neighborhood of my new Astoria house is full of deer! It’s a whole new way to garden!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Oh, it sure is, Jane. I wish I could say it’s a fun challenge. But it’s just a challenge. It can be done, however, with an abbreviated, non-tasty plant palette and, to protect large succulents, strategic caging in fall and winter to prevent antlering damage. —Pam