Texas Treehugger | "Sign O' The Times" | Text by Christy Ilfrey, Photos by David A. Ilfrey, Jr.

Datura with Dune Sunflower
Although most of our clients request low-maintenance, low-water landscape options, every project is unique and requires specific solutions to its challenges. When Lynn and Jack of Aire Serv of the Coastal Bend adopted one of the Rockport Heritage District signs, they sought our help with beautifying their project.

This particular sign – located at Market and Highway 35, the former site of Sipes Real Estate – definitely has its own special challenges. First, the planting bed sits within an old water feature constructed of concrete with a blackened stone façade. Second, the bed is shallow which means plants with deep root systems would need to be limited or avoided altogether. Third, there is no water to the planter, which means Lynn and Jack would have to bring water to the planter. “Water hogging” plants should be avoided, as well. Next, the project is in full sun, only a few blocks from Aransas Bay; the plants would also need to survive in salty, breezy conditions. And finally, they wanted something colorful that would not require much water or maintenance.

In the lower-level bed – which is shallow and narrow and lined with concrete – we installed Woolly Stemodia. You might remember this plant from previous articles. It is the silver-foliaged plant with light blue to lavender blooms that attracts butterflies, namely the Western Pygmy Blue. Here is a photograph of it incorporated into the sign project.

Woolly Stemodia

One might say Stemodia is our signature plant: we incorporate it into every possible project because of its rugged beauty and its natural endemic distribution in Texas’ Coastal Bend. Next time you visit Rockport Beach, check it out in the planting beds at both Saltwater and Beachfront Pavilions. It is also growing in downtown Rockport in front of Coastal Bend Health Foods and in the giant planters in front of Winery on the Bay and Rockport Discount Mattress. In Aransas Pass, it is in the planting bed in front of the building located at 361 S. Commercial across Goodnight from HEB. Woolly Stemodia is a good choice for residential applications, as well. Two homes adjacent to the pool at Palmilla Beach – as well as the entrance to Sunflower Beach, both in Port Aransas – boast sprawling swaths of this durable and delightful groundcover.

Gulf Muhly Grass, Yellow Bells, Dune Sunflower and Datura

In the upper level of the sign planter are Yellow Bells, aka Esperanza, to attract hummingbirds. Dune Sunflower brightens up the blackened planter with lemony yellow flowers. Alabaster bell-shaped flowers on Datura invite butterflies and moths. Hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, arrives around dusk to carry out its pollination duties. Grasses, the “shrubs” of the North American prairies, such as Gulf Muhly offer food and shelter to a variety of birds. All of these plants will continue to bloom bountifully throughout the summer. Sometime in October, the Gulf Muhly will steal the show with their pink, cotton candy-like blooms. As with all of our designs, our goal is to create interest year-round.

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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