The first thing I always do when moving to a new part of Texas is gather information, and the very best place to get that is from the local Texas Cooperative Extension agent. The Austin chapter put out that little booklet you see on the right -- An Earthwise Guide For Central Texas -- and it has been invaluable! They have them available at pretty much every nursery around. Best dollar I ever spent! Not only does it list all the best plants by category, from trees to groundcovers, it also tells you whether they are native, their ultimate size, light and water needs, seasonal interest, availability, maintenance requirements, the wildlife they attract, how deer resistant they are, and more! If you are determined to go native, I recommend that book on the left -- How To Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest, by Jill Nokes. I should tell you right now, however, that I am not a purist. I love native plants, and have a ton of them here on our property: Live Oaks, Cedar Elms, Texas Mountain Laurel, Agarita, Texas Persimmons, Yuccas, Texas Sage, Prickly Pear, all kinds of grasses, Texas and Mexican Buckeyes, Agaves, Anisacanthus, Mexican Bird of Paradise, Fairy Duster, Beauty Berry, and at least a dozen more. But that is not all I have.
You see, as I said yesterday, design is very important to me, and the number one rule in landscape design is to plan it according to viewpoint. Where will most people be viewing the garden from? In my case, that happens to be above! No one can see it from the street. Mostly they see it when looking down from our balcony or dining room windows.
And, if I planted nothing but natives, it would be pretty much a sea of this...
fine-textured green foliage with smallish blooms. Yawn! Not too exciting, when seen from up above. So I work really hard to find plants that add contrast in size, shape, color and texture, but which aren't too appealing to deer. It ain't easy!
One of my very favorites is this guy,-- perilla 'Magilla'.
Looks just like a coleus, right? Only deer love coleus, and they never touch this fellow. You'll be seeing a lot of him in my garden pics. It is an annual, so I have to replant every year, but it is oh so worth it, and one big plant can be divided into two or three smaller ones, which grow really fast.
One of the hardest things to find in such a dry, sunny place is anything with really big leaves. I've found two that are semi-tropical, I suppose, but though they may die down to the ground in winter, they keep on a-comin' back! This one with the big heart-shaped leaves is Hoja Santa, or Root Beer Plant, and is actually an aromatic herb that can be used in cooking.
This next one, with big citrus green and yellow striped leaves, is a variegated ginger, though I don't think it gets the edible root. It really pops when you put it next to dark purple!
My two favorite groundcovers, which make for nice patchwork blocks of color, are this fuzzy grey Wooly Stemodia, which trails nicely over my tiers...
|The taller lime green plant on the left is a new variety of our native Turks Cap, which gets bright pink blooms instead of red.|
I use lots of trailing rosemary too, as well as santolina, pink skullcap, damianita, winecup, a few sedums, and trailing purple lantana and verbena.
My two favorite vines so far are Crossvine (not to be confused with Trumpet Vine) and Coral Honeysuckle.
Favorite shrubs include Flame Acanthus, Bush Germander, Texas Sage, and Red Yucca. Though deer won't mess with the yucca plant itself, I should probably warn you -- they do love those tasty bloom stalks!
My favorite perennials include Salvia greggii (Autumn Sage), Salvia leucantha (Mexican Bush Sage), Mexican Mint Marigold, Esperanza (Tecoma stans, or Yellow Bells), Russian Sage, Texas Betony, Yarrow, and Purple Coneflowers.
Speaking of coneflowers, when we first put in the Cantina Garden, I had to fill the beds up a bit at a time. One bed was left completely empty so I gathered up a bunch of wildflower seeds and just tossed them in. Apparently there were some coneflowers in the mix, and they have since grown into several nice-sized plants! Most of the other wildflowers came back for a year or two, then fizzled out. One thing that does reseed itself reliably, though never in the same location, is Asclepias, or Butterfly Weed. If you want butterflies in your garden, plant that! Cosmos is also supposed to be a good reseeder, and when I spotted this new Chocolate Cosmos the other day, I just couldn't resist. Hopefully it will produce lots of babies!
Favorite grassy things are Pink Muhly and Inland Sea Oats. Love the dark purple grasses too but, alas, they don't overwinter here.
As for seasonal color, well, therein lies the rub. In another life I was known for my beautiful container gardens and seasonal color changeouts, but all of the plants I used in them are like Golden Coral for deer families. So these days I have to make do with those streaky-veined petunias, verbena, Profusion zinnias, snapdragons, dianthus, my wonderful perilla, the occasional purple grass, and lots of gray fuzzy or herby stuff.
So that's about it for my Hill Country favorites. I guess I'll close by sharing a few things I had to learn the hard way:
- Don't even try to grow veggies unless you've got a really tall fence with no gaps, and either automatic drip irrigation, or a friend who doesn't mind hiking up your long driveway and dragging a hose all over tarnation whenever you are away. Except maybe asparagus. Not very thirsty, and deer seem to think it's revolting. Maybe they don't like the way their pee smells afterwards.
- Recirculating fountains have to be refilled way more often than you'd think. Like every dang day.
- Don't plant anything that isn't cold hardy down to at least 20 F. Running outside in the dark and bitter cold to cover up a bunch of tender plants gets old fast.
- Don't expect to grow much around your oak trees, 'cept maybe yuccas, inland sea oats, and perhaps a bit of Turk's cap, if you're lucky.
- Never try to outwit an armadillo. It'll make you crazy.