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The Wolverton's historic home on San Antonio Street is the Spring Lake Garden Club's April Yard of the Month. Photos courtesy of the Spring Lake Garden Club

Springtime under shade trees

April Yard of the Month
Sunday, April 7, 2019

Some landscapes feature showy flowers in spring, marking the season’s new growth, while other yards slowly awaken from winter, especially when shade dominates the scene. For almost a century, three huge trees – a burr oak, an American elm and a cedar elm – have shaded the front yard of the historic house at 827 W. San Antonio St., the Spring Lake Garden Club’s Yard of the Month for April.

Towering trees and widespread shade give a sense of peace and calm to the landscape, mirroring the simple elegance of this heritage home with potted ferns hanging on a welcoming wraparound front porch.

Blue-eyed grass and red freesia share the shade in Wolverton’s front yard.

The present owners, Byron and Betty Wolverton, have enjoyed this handsome residence for over 40 years since they came to San Marcos to teach – Byron in the music department at Texas State University (then Southwest Texas State) and Betty in secondary schools until joining the English faculty of Texas Lutheran University in Seguin. In recognition of their stewardship in preserving part of the city’s history, their home received a Landmark Award in 2014 from the Heritage Association of San Marcos.

Betty Wolverton is a hands-on gardener and as the old trees grew larger, she realized that sunshine required for lush flower beds and turf grass was increasingly in short supply. Her solution to the problem was to transform half the front yard from lawn to a mixture of shade-loving ground covers and less showy flowers, all of which she planted herself. Liriope and mondo grass, both members of the lily family, cover the ground between the front sidewalk and house on the shadier side of the yard, interspersed with a few clumps of sharp-edged holly fern.

Ground orchids in a shady area under old trees present healthy blooms even after a late freeze took its toll on some browned leaves.

In springtime, this green mix showcases low-lying flowers including purple ground orchids, red freesia, blue-eyed grass, and mounds of oxalis with its pale pink blossoms over shamrock leaves. These floral jewels encourage careful viewing of the landscape. Betty Wolverton notes that most of the yard is filled with so-called “pass-along” plants from friends and neighbors, and every time she enjoys their blooms or foliage she is reminded of the person who gave her the plant.

Nandina planted along the front porch perimeter presents its reliable red berries and supports a sense of simple elegance appropriate to the age and style of the house. A small square bed near the side entrance of this corner lot includes a few more nandina and is filled with a mass of ferns backed by the dark green leaves of cast iron plant. Opposite this bed, a large pecan tree is surrounded by the same ground covers as the front yard, and a bare crape myrtle beside the circular drive promises more blossoms later.

Oxalis welcomes spring with pale pink blooms topping shamrock leaves.

A sprinkler system in front is used weekly to maintain both the deeply shaded areas and the reduced lawn. Betty Wolverton now engages help with more strenuous tasks of gardening, but during the Wolvertons’ residency, she has laid a brick walkway in the backyard, using old bricks from a demolished building at Texas Lutheran University, next to a low stacked stone wall that she also constructed herself. With a sunnier orientation, the fenced back yard supports a variety of plants, including a white althea shrub, a night blooming cereus, and a potted lemon tree and bougainvillea, both protected in freezing weather. A small shed with corrugated plastic panels is a winter home for the potted ferns which again claim their place on the front porch.