Celeste and Bill Healy's yard on Mountain Drive is the Spring Lake Garden Club's February Yard of the Month. Photos courtesy of Sharon Lockett
Building a yard that's more than a lawn
A landscape with over 30 years’ history in surviving deer, drought, floods and Central Texas’ ruggedly challenging environment is still going strong in Willow Creek at the home of Bill and Celeste Healy on Mountain Drive. As Spring Lake Garden Club’s yard of the month for February, the Healy home exhibits a long-term vision of how to create a varied yet coherent landscape with lowmaintenance native and adaptive plants in an urban neighborhood.
Society garlic surrounds mature oaks, sago palms and other plants in a stone-edged bed.
The Healys built their house far from the street, not only to spare oak and elm trees already on the property, but also to maintain privacy. This siting left plenty of space for a circular drive edged with rectangular stones, first covered with gravel but later paved to better withstand the effect of rainwater flow over the front yard. Although most neighbors brought in soil to support turf grass, the Healys are content with native groundcovers and grass where enough soil has collected over the years, as well as areas where large rock outcrops accept no cover except a few hardy native plants. A natural mulch of tree leaves helps keep most of the ground moist and benefits a long list of plants that thrive in the trees’ partial shade.
A beautiful gazebo provides a point of focus to front yard landscape.
Some of the first additions to the yard were a few red oaks, selected for fall color, and several understory trees with colorful blossoms or berries, such as American beautyberry, crape myrtles, rose of Sharon (actually a type of hibiscus), anacacho orchid and Mountain Laurel. A later addition was a burr oak near the street and a number of sago palms from a friend who likes to give away the “pups” to other gardeners. The sago palm is not actually a palm but rather a cycad, an ancient species more closely related to conifers. They are reliably green in winter, when the bare trunks of crape myrtle and rose of Sharon provide a striking structural element against evergreens. Celeste Healy notes that she prefers a natural form to crape myrtles, rather than committing “crape murder” by severely pruning back limbs to only a few sites for new growth.
The entrance to the arbor area of Haley's yard.
Certainly the most notable addition to the front yard landscape is a charming gazebo encircled by the driveway and a decorative wire fence, which encircles the structure and supports a large lady banks rose, known for its bountiful yellow blooms, and also a pipevine which attracts swallowtail butterflies. Celeste Healy explained that she saw a picture of the gazebo in the magazine Southern Living and ordered plans offered by the publisher. Unfortunately the scale was too small for their yard, but after plans were expanded, the gazebo perfectly fills the space and serves as a focus point for the area inside the circular driveway. Gravel pathways from the gazebo lead toward the street and to other parts of the yard through gates in the gazebo fence, offering multiple choices of paths to explore the garden.
A flame acanthus provides striking summer and fall color in the Healy’s landscape.
One useful plant for all seasons in the Healy landscape is society garlic, which softens the edges of rock-edged beds around large trees and other areas of the yard. Originally from South Africa, this hardy specimen is avoided by deer and is easy to divide and propagate. The name is said to be applied by Dutch settlers who considered plain garlic not “polite” enough for social events, but the plant offers beautiful flowers in spring and in fact has medicinal and culinary uses.
Celeste Healy notes other plants advertised to be deer-resistant have not met expectations in her landscape, since she notes “Deer don’t read the manuals.” These animals regularly sample the large dark green leaves of cast iron plant and the sharp-tipped leaves of holly fern in her yard, which struggle to maintain a presence.
The Healys are now pleased to share their urban retreat with grandchildren, and have added a sandbox area as part of new landscaping in the back of the house, where the usually dry Willow Creek marks a boundary of their property. Growing up with such a variety of plants and pathways to explore nature demonstrates how beautiful our natural environment can be, far beyond lawns and trees.