Mermaids & Mirth in February

The Butler’s home on Franklin Street relies on native plants for landscape interest. The entry area of the home, usually marked by yellow lantana, is filled in by potted yellow blooms. Photos COURTESY OF THE SPRING LAKE GARDEN CLUB

February 2018 Yard of the Month

After a long spell of freezing weather, any Central Texas landscape that still looks inviting is probably filled with native plants. A local example is the home of the Butler family at 601 Franklin Street in San Marcos, chosen by Spring Lake Garden Club as the February Yard of the Month.

As Brenda Butler explains, she doesn’t cover plants to protect them from weather, and those that suffer from extremely cold temperatures – like several clumps of yellow lantana around the front yard – will reliably rebound in early spring after being cut back to the ground. Meanwhile, she recalls their vibrant color with pots of yellow blossoms near the entry where lantana usually flourishes.

Butler has several mermaids around her yard – this one sits on the gate to the backyard – an ode to the spirit of San Marcos from the early days of Aquamaids at Aquarena Springs to the present day revitalization of the mythical creatures.

Brenda, a fifth generation San Marcan, grew up in the house next door to her own. Her father was one of the early developers of the area, and donated part of the land for San Marcos City Cemetery behind the houses lining Franklin Street near Old Ranch Road 12. Since construction in 1972 through 1973, several changes were made by Brenda and her late husband Wade, an acclaimed wildlife artist whom she met in high school in San Marcos. Wade worked as a fisheries biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department until 1984 when he turned full time to depicting outdoor sports and wildlife, as Brenda resumed her teaching career in kindergarten and early grades. Their two daughters were always welcomed home by a parent after school and one is now working to reopen her father’s gallery on Hutto Road in the spring.

Changes to the Butler home over the years have included a small raised deck by the front door to accommodate the wheelchair used by her mother, who loved to sit outside and greet neighbors stopping by. Near the deck are several boxwoods – the only plants that she waters in especially hot weather – and a handsome clump of upright dark green leaves that Butler identifies as ginger. Two hollies and more boxwood fill out plantings by the front walk to the driveway. The driveway itself was widened to provide turnaround space for the Butlers’ cars and for visitor parking off busy Franklin Street.

Even hillside houses in San Marcos can be subject to flooding, as Butler discovered in last October’s record rains, when a combination of heavy runoff from the cemetery behind her back fence and a shed roof in the backyard threatened the house. She recalls starting at 6 a.m. to dig a ditch to divert water around the back corner of the house to the front yard, before calling in family members for assistance. Crisis averted, the ditch is now lined with stone and leads to an underground pipe in the front yard to carry runoff directly to the street.

The walkway to the driveway is bounded by boxwoods and native or adapted plants, requiring very little maintenance from Butler.

Butler decided to gradually replace grass in the front yard with large gravel near the curb, where watering is difficult. She noted where grass struggled, even with some shade from the large pecan trees dotting the yard, and marked off areas for native plants or gravel. Separations between grass and gravel are undulating, reminiscent of a river’s flow. A large planting bed at the foot of the drive now features sage, spineless cactus, rosemary and red yucca. Once warmer weather returns, the brilliant yellow lantana will begin its regrowth and light up the yard. Two crape myrtles, a white one at curbside and one uphill beside the walk, show the sculptural limbs that make them attractive in winter. Butler has planted several more in the backyard over the years, each marking the final resting place of beloved family pets.

Although all current plants in the Butler landscape are deer resistant, Brenda admits to experimenting with non-natives which catch her eye. However, she quickly reverts to native plants when deer obliterate newly introduced plants overnight. Deer have, however, pruned one of the boxwoods into an interesting teardrop shape, probably attracted to tender new growth at the top of the plant. But she has chosen to keep this example of “deer artistry” rather than prune the boxwood to a more standard rounded shape.

Deer have pruned one of the boxwoods into a teardrop shape, most likely nibbling the tender new growth at the top of the plant. But Butler has chosen to keep this example of “deer artistry” rather than prune the boxwood back to a round shape.

One striking yard ornament on the wooden gate to the backyard, visible from the street, is a mermaid figure and “Welcome” sign which demonstrates Butler’s passion for this San Marcos icon. She says she’s enjoyed collecting mermaids, dating back to the Aquamaids at the Aquarena Springs, much longer than the current craze. Other mermaid figures decorate the backyard and pool area, reminding viewers of San Marcos’ precious natural beauty, or as Butler quotes, “A river runs through it.”

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666