The September Spring Lake Garden Club's September Yard of the Month is Carolyn and Bobby Whiteside's yard that incorporates native plants in a water-wise and deer-tolerant landscape that is closely tied to nature. Photos by Carolyn Whiteside
Capturing & sharing the beauty of nature
Spring Lake Garden Club’s September Yard of the Month features Bobby and Carolyn Whiteside, a couple whose lives are closely linked with the natural environment in Texas, and San Marcos residents since 1972. Bobby Whiteside retired after more than 30 years as a professor and fisheries biologist at Texas State University, and in 2017 joined the freshwater fisheries Hall of Fame sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Carolyn Whiteside is a prize-winning photographer, recording the natural beauty of our environment, and has exhibited her work in numerous Texas galleries. Their home on the corner of Reimer Avenue and Dees Street is a showcase of how an urban landscape incorporates native plants into a more traditional setting which is both water-wise and deer-tolerant.
As many Central Texas gardeners know, deer are a part of the landscape. The Whitesides have learned to embrace them in their yard.
Set among large mature oaks, the Whiteside home welcomes both shade and sun-loving plants, with healthy turf in both front and back yards (Zoysia and St. Augustine, respectively). Sustained with minimal irrigation by a sprinkler system, the grasses are encouraged to grow wherever they thrive, while areas not hospitable to turf have been replaced by edged beds of large gravel which serve as a backdrop for garden art and potted plants. Carolyn notes that a custom 60/40 mix of dark and light gravel is perfect for camouflaging fallen tree leaves and small sticks so the rocky beds look neat.
Brightly patterned Mexican ceramics used as plant holders provide color all year long, and metal yard ornaments invite closer inspection of the landscape. Several tree stumps with long curving roots are focal points throughout the yard, and offer a striking contrast to more formal items such as concrete bird baths and a large ceramic Japanese lantern on the backyard deck. A section of weathered and pocketed wooden pole, once a support for utility lines, is now a bird feeder, with seeds held in place by peanut butter. A resident woodpecker visits this feeder every day, and browsing deer take care of any leftovers in the crevices. Bobby Whiteside retrieved many of these natural sculptures from river banks after floods left them caught in trees — sort of a by-catch of his fishing and study of freshwater streams.
A section of a wooden pole, that once supported utility lines, is now a bird feeder, that a resident woodpecker visits every day.
The Whitesides accept deer as part of the environment in Central Texas, and have discovered by trial and error which new plantings may disappear overnight and which may be browsed or even untouched. Variegated ginger growing in pots is reliably avoided, but a Ti plant in the same pot may lose most of its leaves. Deer nibble the tips of large ferns (an inheritance from Carolyn’s mother) hanging from the front eaves of the house, and also remove any blossoms from neatly trimmed dwarf yaupon planted below the ferns. Most native Texas plants, and especially a blue sage in the front yard, are ignored by deer, and the neighborhood browsers seem uninterested in colorful periwinkle in planters on a sunny side of the house. However, a large firecracker bush beside the back deck is often “pruned” by deer, as are any non-native flowering plants in pots on the backyard deck.
The Whitesides' backyard deck sets stage for bird watching and photography, something that Carolyn Whiteside takes advantage of.
The Whitesides' home is well known in the neighborhood for the figures of Mr. and Mrs. Santa, long used as part of outdoor Christmas decorations, along with a wheelbarrow full of colorful light strings. The Santas may be nearing retirement age now, but capturing and sharing the natural beauty and interesting art in their landscape is the Whitesides’ year-long gift to San Marcos.