The Spring Garden

I don’t often show photos or write about my garden as a whole–the wide views–as it’s often phrased. While I love the  macro of my garden–I’ve designed and implemented a connected set of gardens and pathways–I’m more interested in exploring and discussing the micro of a garden area: the big and small wildlife that make a garden truly a living space, as well as the specifics of plants–foliage, flowers, bark–the stuff of plant life. Also, I think a garden is a very personal expression and so I don’t necessarily seek discussion about whether a chair or shrub or some other garden accessory is placed in an appropriately designed spot; the chair (or whatever) is where I put it because it works for me and for my garden.   I should add that I enjoy looking at others’ gardens and appreciate what I learn from gardeners’ accomplishments. As well, I’ve certainly benefited from  gardening advice that I’ve received  when I couldn’t get past a troubling gardening problem.  I’m continually impressed with (and maybe a bit jealous of) the ingenuity and creativity displayed by gardeners, especially home gardeners, in the articulation of their outdoor spaces and the artfulness and technical knowledge that gardening requires and that these gardeners supply. For my own purposes in assessing whether my garden is what I want it to be, I photograph my garden–the wide views–usually once per season, to help me with that assessment.

Photographing a garden, or parts of a garden, is instructive. I’m fascinated at how viewing a garden–in any light–is different from viewing a photograph of that same garden–in any light.  More than once, glitches in my garden layout have revealed themselves through photographs, even when they were hidden from my eyes in real-time.

In the back garden, which is where I usually photograph, the early March garden bursts with spring green and early blooms.  A new fence, with trellis added, hosts three new Crossvine,  Bignonia capreolata, plants  which have bloomed and are growing rapidly. The vines should cover the trellis within a couple of years.  I hope.

Garden "stuff" seems to me too busy. Does some of it need to go?

Garden art makes the garden too busy. Does some of it need to go?

The back corner is an odd place:  full sun in summer, shady, or in and out of shade,  for most of the remainder of the year.

It's becoming clear that I must do something, SOMETHING, about the back fence. I guess a new fence is in order.

It’s become painfully obvious that I must do something, SOMETHING, about the back fence. I guess a new fence is on the garden menu.


The center part of the back area gets a good amount of sun most days, most of the year, though parts of the garden play hide-n-seek with shade from the trees and house.

Generally pleased with the central part of the garden, I'm constantly making amendments because of ever-increasing shade. Many plant choice mistakes have ensued.

Generally pleased with the central part of the garden,  I’m constantly amending because of ever-increasing shade. Many plant choice mistakes have ensued.


The narrow part of the back garden is given almost exclusively to shade plants, but there are bloomers in the mix throughout the long growing season.

A closer


Foliage and flowers flushed out as March progressed, filling in with diverse colors and textures.

Back to the central garden, I’m especially fond of the waves of grey-green Heartleaf skullcapScutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata  undulating through the main garden bed, supervised by newly-in-bloom Old Gay Hill Rose shrub and Martha Gonzales Roses, as well as white Autumn sageSalvia greggii.  Accents of spring bloomers like Spiderwort, Tradescantia,Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea, Purple coneflower,  Echinacea purpurea, Iris, and others, thwart monotony.   Deadheading spent blooms can be tricky as I trip over rock stepping-stones in the laudable goal of keeping things tidy. Summer flowers will appear in short order.

The Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) blazes red and echoes the red chairs at the end of the garden, as well as other pops of red, here and there.

The Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) blazes red beside the pond and echoes the red chairs at the opposite end of the garden.  There are other pops of red, here and there, throughout the garden.

A  longer wide


The back corner garden has been an early morning coffee retreat for me–and just for me. That’s about to change with two new sets of Langstroth bee hives which will soon find a home where the bench sits.  I’ll miss sitting here, but I can plop myself down on the walkway (with a pillow for my bum) to watch the bees.  The bench will be moved to a better bird watching spot.  And who knows–when I hire out for the new fence that I mentioned above, maybe a new sitting area will follow.


The “shallow end” of the back garden is in full spring mode,

…and there’s plenty for the pollinators and the gardener to enjoy.

Gulf Penstemon (Penstemon tenuis) spike in lavender loveliness during March and April.  Here, they’re accompanied by red poppies and soon these will be  joined by the flowers of my mother’s unknown variety of Amaryllis.


I rarely take photographs in my front garden.  During spring, there’s enough wind whistling down the street that attempts for bee or butterfly photos is pointless.  I also don’t have much maintenance in the front garden, except when it’s time to mulch or when I’ve decided to rip up a  garden and re-do it.  The main part of the front garden abuts the garage, which is bordered by an old stand of Burford Holly shrubs.  Birds adore the winter berries and bees the tiny white spring blooms.

By way of a mulched path, the garden opens to a sitting area with mostly, though not exclusively, shade-tolerant and foliage-dominant plants bordering the area.

The groundcover is Straggler Daisy (Horseherb),  Calyptocarpus vialis.

I mow the Horseherb as needed with an old-fashioned push mower. Yes my neighbors think I’m odd–nothing new there.

Spring bloomers like Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha and A. canadensis, Iris,          Mexican honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera, and this year (due to our non-winter), both Firecracker plant and white Tropical sage, as well as some smaller groundcover-type perennials, add color and pollinator pizzazz to this garden.

This view is from the mulched pathway as it rounds the corner of the garage, headed to the back side of the house.


From the street, for now, it’s all about foliage and texture.  That will change when the Rock rose,  Pavonia lasiopetala, Turk’s cap,  Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii    Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, and Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, begin their bloom cycles.  This corner is challenging: full shade, except for the last, blast of hot, west sun.  Additionally, this area fries in the summer with the reflective heat from the street and driveway.

Mexican Feathergrass (Nassella tenuisima) and Rock rose  smirk  at summer’s heat.

Down the curb from the corner, the colorful Purple Heart, Setcreasea pallida, is a welcome change from the ubiquitous green.


The “driveway” garden has undergone renovation and is still finding its footing.

There will be more blooming action during summer and autumn and when the Rock rose, Red yucca, and Martha Gonzales Rose grow to maturity. Some other perennials and shrubs here include Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ and Barbados cherry, Malpighia glabra.

The “upper end” of the driveway garden sports many of the same plants, plus a lovely young Texas smoke treeCotinus obovatus.

Along with the Smoke Tree are more Rock Rose, Turk's Cap, Goldeneye, Frostweed and Purple Coneflower.

Along with the Smoke Tree are more Rock rose, Turk’s cap, Goldeneye, Frostweed and Purple coneflower.


The Butterfly/Blackberry garden is weird.   From a “design” aesthetic, it doesn’t quite fill the bill.

This garden is much more attractive in real life than in photos. I’ve come to the conclusion that its lack of photogenic character is one of life’s mysteries that I’ll never understand.  I’ve stopped trying.

Seven Tropical milkweed,  Asclepias curassavica  grow here, though are currently looking poorly and mostly munched.  This spring the plants fed some Queen Butterfly larvae, which have pupated, and at least one Monarch larva, which also pupated. I’ve also planted scads of white Tropical sage because they seed out prolifically and the bees and I love them. There are also Purple coneflowers that haven’t yet hit their stride this season, as well as a culinary sage and some larger perennial shrubs, not yet active. The Brazos blackberry vine is weedy and thorny (ouch!!), but oh those blackberries are tasty as they come off in May and June.  So, it stays.

I like the front door garden–plenty of color and good structural plants to boot.

Soft Leaf Yucca is currently in bloom and Red yucca (in front of the window) is now sending forward its bloom stalks. This year there are four. Woo-hoo!!

There are other, smaller side and fill-in gardens nestled in my urban plot, but some are under construction and others, well, they’re just not that interesting or challenging and I’m not going to waste your time or mine with them–for the moment.

I plan to re-visit these same views in the summer.  The perennial mixed-border garden is one of organic change and seasonal interest.  There’s always, always room for improvement and new issues and trials to face.

If you’re reading this, you’re a gardener–and gardeners are never quite satisfied with what their gardens are.  Do you photograph as a method of looking at your garden spaces differently, or to find problem areas?  Are you open to advice from other gardeners? If you’re a typical gardener, my guess would be that you’ll answer ‘yes’ to both questions.

A garden is never so good as it will be next year.   Thomas Cooper

26 thoughts on “The Spring Garden

    • Thanks! It’s probably a bit larger than average urban lot, but not huge. I don’t really spend that much time on a regular basis in actual work/maintenance. From January to early March is my busiest time with winter pruning and mulching as needed. Mostly for the rest of the year it’s all about light pruning and deadheading spent blooms. I do have some weeding in some open areas and mostly I do that just to keep things in check. My biggest maintenance headache is that so much of what I grow seeds out. And yes, other than the horseherb, which isn’t a grass, but a groundcover, I have no turf grass. At one time, all of my property was St. Augustine–that was work!!

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    • How do I keep track? It’s actually a fairly organized bit of garden, even though it might not look like it. The “w” word? Hmmm, with me that could mean anything: weeding, working, wacko? I assume you mean weeds and yes, there are those. That’s the biggest maintenance issue in my space. Much of what I grow seeds out–a lot–so there are always plenty of new *whatevers* that I have to ditch. Just yesterday, there were hundreds of Frostweed seedlings just emerging from the stand of mature Frostweed in the back of the main back garden. It only took about five minutes for me to scrap them into oblivion with my trowel and shoe (when I didn’t feel like bending down). I think that’s the key, to keep on top of the proliferation–seedlings, when they’re in the two-leaf stage are much easier to get rid of than when they’re a foot tall. But it is an issue in my walkways, especially the rock walkways. Keeps me out of trouble.

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    • The sky is the limit! Be open to trying new plants and think about what your priorities are. I’m not one much for the newest fads (if you saw how I dress, you’d get that), so do what you like, not what *someone else* suggests is the thing to do.


      • Actually, I realize that I misspoke. I think it’s good to ask and take advice from someone who might see a space and its issues differently from you–that can be instructive. I guess what I means is don’t follow gardening fads, be true to your interests and tastes and your work will be much more rewarding. Gardening is a lot like life that way.


  1. Your garden reflects your love of plants and wildlife. You’ve designed it over time for your enjoyment and it clearly works. i always enjoy seeing a gardener’s garden filled with favorite plants, personal touches, and places to enjoy them.


    • About those questions, as a blogger I take a lot of photos and often I identify areas to address. Generally “yes” to advice about growing or best plant placement, not so much with design since that’s the part I enjoy most.


      • Yes, I agree. The “design” is so very personal and really, there’s no right or wrong, it’s about personal expression.


    • I hope so, Shirley, because that’s been the aim and goals. Like you, I enjoy a garden that clearly reflects the gardener’s taste and interests.


  2. Worrying about design can suck the joy out of gardening so just do whatever you want! Why are you getting a new fence? It looks fine to me. I think your garden is wonderful. I’m sure all the wildlife who live there agree!


    • Yes!! Just garden, dammit! Here’s the thing: I have two neighbors who abut my back yard–one just replaced his fence, the other is an old metal fence that I can’t grow anything lovely on because it doesn’t get enough sun except for that awful mid-afternoon Texas summer sun. I’m tired of trying to pretty it up. The neighbor on one side also replaced her fence. So, with two new, pretty fences, the ugly fence looks even uglier. For now, I’m just getting bids. But I’d love to have a completely private back garden. No orgies or anything interesting going on, but maybe I could talk to the birds and insects more freely. Though, come to think of it, I already do that. 🙂


  3. I really like your pathways! I need to do more of that in my garden. Currently, however, we’re at a place where we’re more interested in maintenance until we have the house ready to sell. I’m slowly saying “goodbye” to this garden in little ways. It’s difficult, but having a vision of more opportunity for change in my next garden is helping. I have to keep telling myself that I’m really only a temporary caretaker in any garden I inhabit. Your garden “rooms” are fabulous!


    • Thank you, Beth. I’m a pathway girl–just makes life easier. I’d prefer mulch in the back garden, but Asher-the-dog loved to roll in the mulch and then come into the house. You can imagine. Pea gravel it is. You’re moving!! I can imagine that it’s hard to say goodbye. I’m in a similar situation; in fact, i developed cold feet with a bid on a beautiful not-in-Texas property last fall, in part, because I’m not quite ready to leave this garden. I understand that feeling.


  4. I’ve never seen ornamental plants smirk before. Thanks for sharing the wide views of your garden. I really like how you’ve got it put together: the stone edging and gravel paths meandering around the beds. I also really like the looks of the gulf penstemon.


    • Would you believe if I used the phrase “laughed off” the heat? Poetic license, m’dear. 🙂 And thanks for the compliment! Isn’t that gulf coast penstemon a lovely thing? I doesn’t bloom that long–about a month–but its seed heads are attractive through much of summer.

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  5. I adore your garden, Tina. Thanks for sharing the long shots. They are beautiful and it is funny (but true) that your garden in real life always exceeds even the photos.


  6. It has taken me a month to reach the point I could comment on this post. There is so much to enjoy and appreciate about your spaces as shown more widely. I’d come thinking I’d comment and spend so much time lost in admiration at your clever plant combinations and provisions for wildlife that I never wrote a word.

    The idea of sharing particular plant experiences while gardening is key to understanding some of the most local microclimate variations for a gardener new to any area. I’d agree that most of the design decisions ought to be left to the folks (and critters!) who daily inhabit the spaces.

    I’ve often attempted to limb up various small to mid-sized shrubs because I appreciate the openness it brings along with opportunities to grow more interesting plants underneath. In at least one case however, that limbing up seemed to interfere with birds visiting a water source comfortably. Apparently I made things a little too open. Reluctantly I watched lower limbs grow back in, but that turned to joy once our resident cardinal couple began re-visiting the bird bath affected. I’d thought the bed with the bird bath “looked” better under a canopy overhead. It only functioned however, once the previously protective limbs were allowed to grow back in.

    Slowly but surely I continue the transition from thinking about these spaces as “my garden” to seeing them as “the garden”. The accommodations I can make for better sharing with wild visitors may not make for the best wide shot photos, or follow the most popular design mantras, but the company I keep out there is much more diverse and lively!


    • I think your insights to “the garden” are where I’ve settled in my own view of the purpose of a garden. I guess there’s a tension between those who view garden as “design” and those who view garden as “sustenance”–for wildlife. I guess I come down on the second, rather than the first. While I often look at designed gardens and drool at the artistry and beauty, I now often think: where are the pollinating/berrying plants? (especially when it’s all agave/cacti/small sedges), where is the cover for the nesting/migrating birds?, where is the diversity of plant life for the wildlife of the area? I don’t have a “designed” garden, even though I’ve made efforts to plant for structure and form in spaces, it’s not my overriding goal in the garden–and maybe never was, I think. I like your example of trimming shrubs, but then realizing that the cardinal couple lacked the formally good space to nest or hide or drink. To me, that is the purpose of a garden–to provide. Any other goal is secondary. Thanks for chiming in–always a good read, you are!!


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