Texas Treehugger | "Landscape Challenge: Bringing Color into Urban Gardens" | Text by Christy Ilfrey, Photos by David A. Ilfrey, Jr.

Indian Blanket
Concrete, concrete everywhere! Coastal urban gardens present a unique set of challenges. Adding colorful plants, creating habitat for birds, and developing a display for educational purposes seem like steep requests for this landscape design. Climatic conditions, such as intense heat and humidity, salt spray, blustery winds, and (normally) scant rainfall, make this challenge even more…well…challenging. But not impossible.

Currently we are implementing a design we created for a community here in the Coastal Bend. The planting beds line sidewalks in the community’s downtown district. In addition to the requirements mentioned above, we also want this urban garden to have year-round interest.

Our design represents some of the best of the Coastal Bend’s native vegetation. The evergreen “backdrop” for this project is Gulf Cordgrass, which we wrote about in a previous article (http://www.wwnrockport.com/2016/05/texas-treehugger-native-plants-that.html). Not only is it evergreen, it develops fragrant and spiky, white blooms that attract butterflies. Mixed with Gulf Cordgrass is Seaoats (http://www.wwnrockport.com/2015/07/Summertime-rugged-plants-texas-coastal-bend.html). Its tall, feathery blooms provide texture in the garden and food and habitat for birds. Turk’s Cap (featured in http://www.wwnrockport.com/2015/06/plants-attract-hummingbirds-planting.html) is one of our area’s prominent plants for attracting hummingbirds. Its red, tubular blooms are both beautiful and beneficial to Nature. We recommend Woolly Stemodia often (see http://www.wwnrockport.com/2016/05/texas-treehugger-no-mow-alternatives-to.html) because it uniquely represents Texas’ Coastal Bend. Endemic to our area, Woolly Stemodia is native only here. No other place on Earth can claim this evergreen groundcover dotted with light blue blooms that is beloved by Western Pygmy Blue and other butterflies.

Dune Sunflower

Two of the most overlooked plants at our public sales are also two of the best solutions to this landscape challenge. Both have leaves that remain green and flowers that bloom throughout the year. Both are colorful, attractive to butterflies, drought-tolerant, and low-maintenance. Both remain compact. Indian Blanket, or Gaillardia pulchella (see top of article), bursts with red-to-maroon with yellow-to-orange tipped blooms. Dune Sunflower, or Helianthus debilis, boasts lemony yellow flowers dusted with plenty of pollen.

The final plant is a hybrid of two Salvias that occurred accidentally at Huntington Botanical Gardens (Huntington Desert Garden) in San Marino, CA. Indigo Spires is a cross between the Mexican native, Salvia longispicata and US native Mealy Cup Sage, or Salvia farinacea. Mealy Cup Sage is native to parts of the US including Texas. Attractive to butterflies, Indigo Spires also meets all other criteria for this landscape challenge. Best of all, these plants will work well in suburban and rural environments as well as urban landscapes.

Indigo Spires Sage

Christy Ilfrey and her husband David own and operate NativeDave.com. Their mission: "To make positive changes in our community by way of sustainable landscape design and consultation services, speaking engagements and writing projects. We strive to educate, entertain and empower audiences to conserve, preserve, restore and celebrate Nature."

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