The trials & tribulations of a Texas lawn

Susan and John McGee’s home on Summit Ridge Drive is a testament to the sometimes harsh and beautiful landscape of Central Texas, having survived multiple flooding events, droughts and the occasional pack of wild hogs. Large grey green Texas sage shrubs line either side of the driveway, with a live oak that provides shade in the front yard. Photos COURTESY OF THE SPRING LAKE GARDEN CLUB

March Yard of the Month

When Susan and John McGee moved back to San Marcos from New Braunfels and built their dream home in 2006 on a little over one acre plot on Summit Ridge Drive, they were moving back to familiar territory – the floods, the drought and the deer.

Sculpted with rocks and mulch and tough native plants, the landscape was ready and equipped to handle it all. Two 100 Year floods, followed by feral hogs – who just about destroyed their efforts completely with all the rooting, digging and general mayhem. With grit and determination, the McGees fought back with tougher plants, changes in their rock design and gardening culture. The end result is a super tough, beautiful landscape for all to see and chosen by Spring Lake Garden Club members as the March Yard of the Month.

The front bed, bordered by the entrance sidewalk and the driveway, contains bright and colorful mounds of yellow lantana, purple Mexican bush salvia, flame acanthus, salvia greggii, cenizo and mountain laurel shrubs.  PHOTO BY SUSAN MCGEE

The McGee home is situated in the middle of a sloping lot, off to the right side from the street. Drainage swale areas follow a slightly curving angled line from the street curbing down and around each side of the house that are defined by large rocks in shades of dark brown and grey directing runoff. As the McGees found out soon, heavy rains and large hogs, not to mention other wildlife such as armadillos, possum and deer nosing, walking and digging can sling, move or bury rocks quite a distance – generally wreaking havoc on said landscaping design. Some good-sized limestone rocks were installed to outline drainage and pathways to keep the others in line. An immoveable concrete sidewalk was poured for stable footing from driveway to front door, stamped to resemble large patio stones and blend with the landscape.

Evergreen, mid-sized mountain laurel trees stand to the side of the front entrance planted with Salvia greggii, cenizo (Texas Sage) lantana and Mexican bush sage. The right side of the drive is lined with large rocks for drainage and planted with Texas Sage, oleander, germander, sage and crape myrtle, the distinctive leafless branches and bark, adding an interesting sculptural accent to the garden. Dwarf palmetto palm, Mexican feather grass and lantana with more cenizo lining the left side of the curving drive way to the street, also anchored with large taupe and grey colored rocks. The soft grey green leaves of cenizo play off the darker green of the mountain laurel, with the bright green of Mexican feather grass waving softly underneath. A superb copse of live oak trees was saved, front and center of the lot and under planted with salvia varieties able to take shade. Now all that was needed was mulch. And mulch they did. The landscape thrived, the resulting mature full and tall size plantings evident from the street. They were rewarded with beautiful blooms, healthy plants and only watered once a month. They were set.

Front and center of the landscape, a beautiful copse of live oak trees is under planted with mountain laurel shrub trees that bloom in spring with sweet droops of lavender blooms.

The drainage swales worked just fine during regular rains, but when the occasional heavy storm came the mulch started floating and most of it rapidly left. And then here came the hogs. Using moist banks of ancient waterways and trails, marauding through central Texas. Big and brawny, traveling in packs, they came through farm country and green belts into and around town. Searching for worms and fungi in rotting humus around wet drainage areas, they grubbed and tromped, sniffed and chewed, tearing up and mangling any greenery or rock landscaping in their path. And they adored the bumper crop acorns from the heavy rains.

Mountain laurel shrub trees planted at the gated front door welcome visitors with their fragrant blooms each spring.

Susan McGee spread 4 inches of mulch, one spring not too long ago, in her beds. She remembers it well, it was just before the last big storm when some places in San Marcos received 8 to 10 inches of rain. After it abated, the weather heated up and the remaining mulch that didn't wash away, cooked up a beautiful batch of grub worms and fungi. Yep, you guessed it. The hogs invited a bunch of friends and came over to feast and party on. As she surveyed what was left of their landscape that summer, her neighbor remarked to her that, "Every time it rains, it costs us $2,000!" She decided she would love what was left and only grow what would live. The mulch had to go. She raked it out of the beds and distributed it over the native grass growing in the back. She replaced some key salvias and added some strong fencing along the back to block the hogs from coming through the adjacent greenbelt area.

Texas sage, a bright yellow carpet of spreading lantana, oleander and red salvia line the sides of the driveway.

What the McGees have left is tried-andtrue Texas plants, grown in alkaline soil, mulched by rock and stone and watered from the clouds. When you drive by and see it, the beauty is understated elegance, sometimes lush – depending on the rain – but the large, mature remaining plants are colorful in bloom and leaf. The maintenance is plucking out an offending misplaced plant (weeds) and replacing the occasional expired one. The McGees tough love has produced a tough garden, not exactly hardscrabble, but one that can stand the test of time with all of the trial and tribulations, well deserving of the recognition bestowed on the end result and them.

San Marcos Daily Record

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