Sunday, July 23, 2017

Exploring a Rain Garden from the experts

We San Antonio gardeners have by necessity sought out drought tolerant plants to use less water and lose fewer plants to the intense summer heat.  But what happens when there is too much rain all at once, when runoff becomes an issue?  Recent buzz about rain gardens, which serve to slow down and filter storm runoff, motivated me to visit the Rain Garden at San Antonio River Authority (SARA) offices last Spring.  SARA protects the San Antonio River watershed for water supply and conservation.  SARA's Sustainable Landscape Superintendent, Lee Marlowe, gives an excellent presentation on the concept and installation of this rain garden so I'd learned quite a bit about it in advance.  If you're in San Antonio, Lee currently stars in a SARA public information TV spot featuring this rain garden.  While SARA's main office is south of downtown along the River Walk, this office with the rain garden is at 600 East Euclid just north of downtown.

Let's see how pros do a rain garden.  The purpose of a rain garden is to slow down and filter rain water before it reaches our water sources.  When I first heard about the SARA rain garden I envisioned a channel with rocks in the bottom.  This is way more than that.  I should have known better since the plants were selected by Lee and her team.  Lee, aka "the plant lady" for SARA, is a native plant expert who can rattle off the ID of some pretty rare plants and the person largely responsible for restoring native plants to miles of San Antonio River banks over the past few years.  Her expertise shows in this beautiful urban garden.

Did I mention urban?  I-35 is right there in the background so all the freeway goop washes off onto their property during rain events.  Downtown San Antonio is just on the other side of the freeway.  SARA's rain garden also filters runoff from 9,000 s.f. of roof so it's a little deeper and larger than most rain gardens which is why they used heavy construction equipment.  While not something you'd have available for your yard we can find plenty of inspiration and ideas to take home.  LID or Low-impact Development features such as rain gardens are taking on more importance as cities like San Antonio assess fees for impervious surfaces to raise funds for drainage improvements.

A no mowing sign in case there are questions.

The site was a flat, boring strip of lawn just like this area along East Euclid Street near the SARA visitor entrance.  To the right is the rain garden running along side the building.

All these plants are commonly sold in local nurseries making the rain garden an example for the community.

Dyschoriste linearis or Snake herb fills the bottom of the channel to filter the tainted rain runoff.

Scutellaria wrightii blooms add color.

Mexican Olive (Cordia boissieri) trees run at intervals along the building with Texas sage, Leucophyllum frutescens filling in under the windows.  Muhlenbergia lindheimeri grasses add another layer of texture along the row.

In her presentation on this rain garden, Lee notes the amazing number of species of birds, bugs, and butterflies that have flocked to this previously wildlife free zone.  I was here a little early to spot much in the way of activity though she did ask about my observations.

A gray swath of Woolly stemodia stands out among the green while Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Mealy Blue Sage (Salvia farinacea), Gulf Muly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) a little lower on the slope and orange-gold Four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuras scaposa) add color to the mix.

Runoff also channels into the rain garden from the parking lot via grates like this.   Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) right, blue skullcap left

Wish I could grow coneflowers like these.  They should be easy to grow but for some reason I've killed way too many of them.  Time to try again.

A small field of white and yellow Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) topping a rise combines beautifully with Four-nerve daisies heading down the hill.

Well done SARA team!  A rain garden to be appreciated as a beautiful, functional native plant garden.  If you haven't seen Lee's presentation on this garden yet I highly recommend it.  Follow San Antonio River Authority and SAWS (San Antonio Water System) on Facebook for notification.

Now where can I place a rain garden?   Mine would obviously be a modified version.  There may be incentives on the way soon.  While San Antonio lowers impervious surface fees for commercial properties with LID features, there is no similar option for homeowners at this time although this oversight will hopefully be corrected sometime in the future.

To learn more about rain gardens in San Antonio:

Residential Rain Garden
Rain Garden in Action with Lee Marlowe and Heather Ginsburg of SAWS

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The kid's museum with a grown-up landscape

The DoSeum, a kid's museum in San Antonio, opened in June 2015 and the landscape has been catching my eye ever since.  For the last two years I've passed this landscape on Broadway just north of downtown and intended to stop.  A few weeks ago I did just that.  This may be a children's museum but the landscape is fun for grown-ups too.

Impossible to miss a bright red wall along Broadway, a major north-south artery connecting downtown with close-in suburbs.  San Antonio's Lake|Flato Architects, the museum's designer, and Austin's Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture collaborated on the project.  The two firms have worked together on several local sites recently and the results are always excellent.  See my post on landscapes at The Pearl here.

A block-long striking red wall (bright as it looks) gets attention on busy Broadway which also serves as the gateway to our Museum District and the Pearl Brewery mixed-use redevelopment area.  Gabions filled with aqua glass cool that hot red wall color.  Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) sits on a filled slope behind the wall.  Spots of bright red color show through softening trees.

Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) softens sidewalk edges and should be spectacular in full cotton-candy mode during fall bloom.  I'll try to return to see how all the fluffy pink works with the red wall.

The bus stops here.  Our Via bus system has a museum route plus a Trolley for visitors.  Mexican Olive trees and a bright yellow Esperanza are there to greet you.  Imagine that wall as seen from the bus.  I'd ride out from town to see this.

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition' looks best against a bright, solid background.

A peek inside the gabion revealed the center is filled with rubble rock but there still seems to be plenty of shine on all sides.  Four-nerve daisy  (Tetraneurus scaposa) is thriving in a west-facing location.

A curving hillside seems the perfect location for gabions.  Matching aqua recycled glass granules pressed into concrete at intervals repeat the color and a mix of textures make this a decidedly not boring sidewalk.

A few of the grasses are struggling on the slope.  Still looks good with dots of gold lantana.  I'd follow the aqua spiral up the hill but it's getting hot out here!

We'll turn to the cooling welcome of the museum entrance and the "place-based" design of Lake|Flato which draws inspiration from traditional buildings of South Texas.  With this approach, even the firm's earliest projects (now at 30 years) don't seem outdated.  Hesperaloe parviflora 'Brakelights' punching in more red accents brought over from the streetside wall.

Thoughtful architecture includes a walkway for families to safely navigate the parking lot.

Stroller and wheelchair-friendly access with shade sails to help beat the Texas heat.  Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) in raised planters with softening effects of Mexican Feather Grass and Salvia greggii alongside.

Back the other way, planning ahead for our inevitable deluges.

This is how it's done.  One of my favorite things about Christy Ten Eyck projects is most of these plants are already in my landscape or readily available at local nurseries and are a main reason for stopping: plant massing, repeating colors, varying textures--all good ideas to consider.

We won't have to wait long for Ten Eyck's next project which is expected to open just around the corner at the San Antonio Botanical Garden in October.  Looking forward to seeing what she does to follow this wonderful DoSeum effort.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Friday Project Fun

It's "hotter than the Fourth of July" outside in South Texas this week.  Even with the heat there's still time complete a few gardening projects in the mornings when the weather is a cool 78F.  When I posted about my patriotic wreath for Independence Day, I mentioned Dichondra Silver Falls had reached the porch and needed to be transplanted.  It could have gone straight into the garden but I had a better idea gleaned from Pinterest.

A hanging basket with a difference.  Instead of draping it over the sides, try running it through the bottom of the basket.  Something like this.

That part went pretty well.  The basket should be hanging up while doing this and a bucket to catch soil and other debris is useful.  I lined the wire basket with bird netting before adding moss to keep the moss and soil from falling through the basket wires.  The netting disappears when the moss is added.

Now what to put in the top basket?  Squid Agave (Agave bracteosa) of course!

Maybe it is too hot out there.....

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wildlife Wednesday July 2017

It's Wildlife Wednesday and that means rounding up wildlife photos from June to share on the meme hosted by Tina at "My Gardener Says...." on the first Wednesday of each month.  Let's look at the wildlife visitors I spotted recently in the garden.

This pretty creature is a Peucetia viridans or green lynx spider.  Green lynx spider is found throughout the southern U.S. and is a chief predator of southern pests such as the cotton bollworm, corn earworm, and cabbage looper moth.   It doesn't spin webs, but rather trails a line along behind like a trip wire, waits for prey to show up and pounces.  "Have a nice trip?  Ha Ha."  You can see a bit of what looks like a line between the glochids.

It's not all good with the green lynx spider since they are also a major predator of bees which might explain its presence on a cactus just to the left of Woolly Ironweed (Vernonia lindheimeri) where a Solitary Bee is working.  These Solitary Bees are actually very friendly and often come up to us just to take a look.

A green Carolina Anole (Anolis carolinensis) keeps an eye on the proceedings from a Yucca Rigida while waiting for insects to fly close enough.  Anoles claim plants, particularly tall ones and simply hang out there.  I heard one snap at a moth a while back and it's quite audible if you're in the right spot.

Turkey Vultures have been visiting us on a near daily basis for years.  Usually it's a thudding noise on our metal roof that alerts me to their presence.  They typically perch high up by the chimney, all the better for their view of the creek, but not easy to get a photo.  During June they moved closer to the water trough we keep out for wildlife and I created these GIFs.  Something may have died back there, a fairly common occurrence which is why they perch on the roof in the first place.

Our golf course correspondent turned in this view of an Egret and Cormorants fishing at a pond.

I typically conclude these posts with deer photos.  Today I'm posting deer damage instead.   Deer are creatures of habit and once they gain a taste for a certain plant they won't leave it alone.  Every new leaf is stripped nightly.  When we discovered this type of damage to a schefflera that had been near the front door for years without a problem, we protected it with wire grates assuming the baffled deer would move on.

Yesterday I discovered the deer apparently decided to destroy nearby variegated liriope plants instead.  Chewed down whole rows of them.

Deer typically nibble liriope randomly but not enough for me to worry about it.  This time whole plants were uprooted and dropped.

Fortunately, liriope is resilient which why it's planted here.  I've mentioned that we fenced deer out of the back garden a few years ago and these examples in the unfenced front yard show why.  Imagine going out and checking each morning to see what the deer got into overnight.

For more posts on wildlife in the garden, see the comments section at "My Gardener Says...".

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Independence Day!

Wherever you celebrate, enjoy our nation's special day.

Dichondra Silver Falls has reached the doorstep so these plants will be transplanted to the garden and I'll fill in with succulents for the next few months.  Succulents are easier since they require less water and keeping the basket watered has been a challenge.

Friday, June 30, 2017

One plant, different pots

The bistro set in my front garden has been a place to display succulents and various potted plants over the last few years.  Mostly I just set them out in the spring and bring them back indoors before the first freeze.   Not a bad way to show off assorted plants and pots.

This year I wanted to take things up a notch.  First step was to gather vintage white clay pots I've collected for years.  Plant choices were next and that's the biggest change.  Instead of rooting and potting up different existing plants, I started fresh with a single Micron Holly (Ilex vomitoria 'Gremicr') in each of the six larger pots.  Micron Holly is a tiny-leafed variety of native Yaupon Holly and perfect for this application since Dwarf Yaupon Holly already grows well in my shady front yard.  Deer resistant, low water once established, and cold hardy which means I won't have to carry them indoors this fall.  Mature size is 1-2 ft. tall x 2-3 ft. wide so they'll not outgrow these pots for a while.  

A few succulents from last year have found their way into the mix while smaller pots are training Rosemary topiaries which will need larger pots as they grow.  Having the same plant in the larger pots gives the area a much more pulled-together look and my vintage pot collection shows up better.  Now I need to find a place for all those other pots!

Since this is the last Friday of June, I'm linking to Danger Garden to feature Micron Holly as my favorite plant of the month.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Drive by photos? It's a compliment!

When a car stops in front of the house I have to peek, especially since this one also backed up.  She rolled down the window and out came her phone.  It's a drive by photo!  I'll take it as a compliment.  

The video is amusing.  Bloggers will recognize this move and I've done it many times.


Often when a car stops out front they're trying to find one of our neighbors.  We live on a confusing curve where the street names change for no apparent reason.  Even more confusing is the other street has the same house numbers except odd-even switches sides from left to right.  "Your destination is on the right", "or left (maybe)."  We've had to run up the street to redirect a few guests who ended up at the wrong house.  Some of my neighbors on the same street even live in a different town which adds to the fun.

This time I'm pretty sure it's the landscape that caught her attention.  I wanted to tell her it does look better than this in spring and fall, but maybe seeing how good it looks on a hot summer day is even more informative.  Just a few Pride of Barbados blooms by the garage because the Salvia greggii along the street has just finished blooming.  This view doesn't change much in the winter as I noted in a post last March.

With a significant increase in water bills this year due to a new tiered system designed to target irrigation systems we've seen a renewed interest in cutting back on lawn.  No lawn here.   This area is hot in the summer so most turf grass would brown out anyway.  That doesn't mean an absence of grasses.  Mexican Feather Grass has turned from green to tawny for summer.  It'll need a little grooming in early spring, otherwise it's pretty easy.  I used to pull out extra grass seedlings to maintain the original planting design.  I like the look so much better now with grasses popping up wherever to soften concrete and stone.   We've planted native Muhly grasses:  Pink Muhly, Lindheimer's Muhly, El Toro Muhly, Deer Muhly, and Seep Muhly.  African native Ruby Crystals grass is best along the driveway where even Mexican Feather Grass couldn't stand up to the heat.

While our neighbors fire up their lawnmowers each week, we cut back the grasses every few years in January and Salvia greggii gets a light haircut after blooming several times a year.  Grasses bloom in the fall, their soft colors adding so much more to the landscape than turf grass.

I very much enjoy knowing our choices are appreciated.  So thanks anonymous drive-by for stopping to snap a few shots of our landscape!