Cindy Pryor’s home on Algarita Street is a shady and verdant yard full of resilient Texas natives. Photos courtesy of the Spring Lake Garden Club
Lush & shady in a Texas Summer
A huge red oak shades most of the front yard at Cindy Pryor’s home on Algarita Street, and although shade is welcome at the end of another scorching summer, it can be a mixed blessing. Pryor has tended yards in East and North Texas in previous homes, and was delighted to find a new home in San Marcos in 2012 with a front yard landscaped with native Texas plants, complete with a large mature shade tree. But as the tree and the native plants grew together over the years, the red oak has claimed the majority of sunshine, leaving sun-loving natives longing for more light. This situation, often termed “dry shade” can be tolerated by most plants, although they may bloom less frequently or irregularly.
A piece of “Found art” created by Pryor’s daughter mimics the look of native plants in front yard.
The layout of Pryor’s front yard, composed of curved edge planting beds surrounded by streams of grass, is immediately pleasing to the eye, and remains green even with infrequent watering. Two smaller native trees on one side of the property, a huisache and another native with puffy yellow flowers (possibly a Goldenbell), screen a neighbor’s driveway, and both trees are covered with yellow blossoms in spring.
The complex intertwining of the slender huisache trunks offer a sculptural element marking one edge of the yard, echoed by the bare trunks of a crape myrtle (dark red when blooming) near the house, plus three more (white in season) at the opposite perimeter. A small bottlebrush near the steps up from the driveway is still a determined holdout for more sun before it produces its red feathery blooms, but meanwhile provides an interesting shape and leaf texture.
Edged beds with Texas natives and screening trees line the perimeter of the front yard, giving the lawn privacy and vegetative contrast.
Definitely a star of the show at this time of year, a large healthy sotol, old enough to be naturally dividing itself in two, sports a tall stalk of flowers in the middles of the yard near the front entrance. Pryor notes that the bees go crazy when the sotol blossoms, and several more younger ones are included in planting beds. But masses of red sage and rosemary show few if any flowers, partly because of dry conditions but also because of increasing shade under the spreading crown of the red oak. One plant enjoying shade is turk’s cap, whose large healthy leaves and a few small bright red blossoms indicate it has found a favorable habitat. Nearby boxwoods also thrive in the partially shaded environment, and a beauty berry is adorned with its signature clusters of purplish blue berries.
In a sunnier spot near the front curb, several red yuccas are blooming next to a large clump of agarita, and the contrast in leaf forms adds to the garden’s interest, even without the agarita’s usual collection of red berries. This area receives ample morning sun as well as sunlight most of the day, unlike the sages in the mid-yard. Nearby Texas persimmon and mountain laurel are also holding their own with reduced sunlight, confirming the adaptability of these Texas natives.
A beautyberry bush has clusters of colorful berries with lush leaves. The beautyberry plant relishes the partial shade under Pryor’s red oak.
One note on spelling: the name of Pryor’s street, “Algarita,” is an old variant of the name of the Texas native plant, “Agarita,”now the more usual term for the plant. By whatever name it’s known, native agarita is a decorative and reliable plant for landscaping in Central Texas, both as an individual plant and as a hedge composed of seriously spiked leaves. This image is mirrored by an example of “yard art” beneath the mail box, using found materials resembling real plants but which is actually an art project from Pryor’s daughter. This “natural sculpture” is indifferent to sun or shade, and complements the forms of the living sotols and yuccas already established in the landscape.