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Water Wise Garden Style |Shirley and Neal Fox |Central Texas Gardener

December 25, 2019


– [Narrator] Shirley and Neal Fox grow a beautiful
garden. One thing missing: irrigation. Long before drought response was on everyone’s
radar, they’d learned water conservation techniques when Neal served as an Air Force officer,
stationed around the country. So, in 2008 when they retired to San Antonio,
watering restrictions were no big deal. Their challenges? Drainage, caliche, and deer. – We resisted putting a fence across our back
yard because we so like the view into the green space. But ultimately, we built a fence that works
quite well. It keeps the deer out and we can see through
it. And out front we have an accommodation with
the deer where we put plants out there that generally they won’t eat or they’ll just nibble
on from time to time. – [Narrator] They’ve also got rocks galore. – I own two digging bars, one a four footer
and one a six and a half footer. To plant a four-inch potted plant takes me
maybe half an hour in this caliche sometimes depending if I hit a rock. Oh well, which you do every time. – All those rocks that are around the beds,
those all were dug up when we were planting. We brought in three truckloads of soil to
do the beds that are around the fence line. – [Narrator] Along with the rocks they unearthed,
they sourced others from friends with leftovers. They’d actually bought the house in 1995 when
Neal was stationed at former Brooks Air Force Base. Before he was transferred two years later,
Shirley planted a tiny fig tree, still there when they returned in 2008. But the garden was a far cry from today. – First of all, it was pretty stark and kind
of grim and none of the plants were from around here except there were Texas mountain laurels
that were there originally, and the oak trees. So I got plants from my friends and then I
just figured out what would work and what wouldn’t work. I’m an interior designer and so I didn’t ever
really make a plan, but I could see what I wanted. – [Narrator] One thing they both wanted was
to control rainfall runoff. – We’re at the bottom of a little hill here
and the water flows down the road. And actually we are the pass through for that
water. – [Narrator] With gravel and dry creek beds,
they direct water underground or to the creek behind them. They created levels, too, as small check dams. The berms offer visual appeal as well as good
drainage. Neal builds them up with pebble-sized stone. – I built a base and then eventually work
in sand and dirt, but it drains very well. And that’s important when you’re putting in
those kinds of plants is to make sure they drain well. – [Shirley] One of the biggest challenges
is we go through two years or more where it almost never rains. And then sometimes we’ve had just massive
amounts of rainfall and that’s why we put them up on the mounds. – [Neal] And Shirley is an artist as well
as a technical designer. Her training, although an interior design
degree, focused on art. So I think that served her well in designing
our gardens. – I like to mix when there’s like the agave
and then mix a soft plant with it so that it doesn’t just look like an agave sitting
on a mound in a pile of gravel. There was lantana, but it died back in the
winter. So now I’m using damianita, that stays green
all year. One of the biggest things about the front
was I wanted it to look like a landscape. It was difficult to do because the one side
can get 10 to 12 hours of sun along the driveway and there’s a reflected heat and then at the
same time the other side is deep shade. Just recently I had liriope growing through
the whole thing as basically a lawn, and so I’ve taken that out and put in Berkeley sedge
and then I discovered Weberville sedge. – [Narrator] One of their backyard rock finds
inspired a low profile disappearing fountain, a watery welcome mat for wildlife. – And by the way, it’s almost always filled
with rain water. We catch rain water and I truck it up there
in my wheelbarrow and dump it in. Shirley has set up destinations throughout
the garden that you’ll go to this one area and it has this type of a theme and then another
area might have another. – I like to sit out in the garden so we have
a number of different sitting spots and benches. – [Narrator] One of their favorite spots is
a perch high above the back garden. It’s here that Shirley cultivates her collection
of container plants, some overwintering in the warm garage. – [Shirley] Most of the color I keep up here
close to the house where I can see it. – [Narrator] Her flowering plants stand out
better these days since they gave the cedar red deck and railings a new, subtle persona. – [Shirley] As soon as we started painting
the gray it just went right into the trees. The same thing with the color on this wall. I wanted a wall that would disappear into
the backyard. – [Narrator] For another bird’s eye view without
being pestered by mosquitoes, they built a screened room – My dad was a master carpenter and my uncle
built houses, so I’ve worked for my uncles in the summers and I learned all the trades. – Actually the deck ended where the screen
porch is. He built a platform and then we built the
screen porch on top of the platform. – Yeah, we built the, Shirley actually helped
me hold up some timbers. – Literally, picture me on the other end of
a board on a ladder holding it up. We’re not afraid of anything. We just figure it out and do it. There’s a hotel over there, a high rise hotel
just across the fence. And so we built that and now we can sit out
on our deck or in that porch and have privacy. The door on that, we purchased that at a garage
sale for $2. So that’s why it has that old screen door
creak. – [Narrator] They even salvaged an old military
aircraft seat with room for a parachute just in case Shirley wants to dive into the garden. – [Neal] We go to some resale shops around
town and find little pieces that we put here and there in the garden and that adds interest. – [Narrator] So, that means no ordinary shed
for the Foxes. The one they built looks as if they’d plucked
it off a dusty roadside where an icy coke bottle and mustardy hotdog await within. – I didn’t want to have just a shed, I wanted
to have it look like it belonged here in Texas, that it had that old fashioned look. And I wanted it to be a destination, not just
a shed. – You might wanna describe your tank garden. – When we first built it, the tank wasn’t
in the middle of it. I thought I would find something else to do
with that. We moved it all over the yard trying to find
a place for it and then one day I just pulled out all the plants that were in the middle
of the circle garden and put it in there. – [Narrator] Drought prompted the new design
in back. – During the drought in 2011, that all just
died out. It just turned to dust and there were just
a couple of scraggly weeds in there. I wanted a parterre garden that we could walk
through to get to the shed or other parts of the yard. I really like the native grasses. Like the muhlies, they don’t need water, right
now in the fall they look wonderful. – The butterflies love Shirley’s garden, they’re
just thick out there. – [Narrator] Wildlife also head to the partially
shaded niche against the side of the house. Different textures thrive here against gently
billowing Buffalo grass. – We never water in the buffalo grass, ever. – [Narrator] Under the live oak trees, they’re
sprinkling in sedges. This soothing park-like destination blends
seamlessly into their greenbelt. When needed, they can water once a week, a
long-term restriction in San Antonio. Mostly they rely on rain water collection
for thirsty plants and wildlife. Adopting water conservation doesn’t mean living
with a boring landscape. – The types of plants can be grown here in
San Antonio is quite large. But Shirley keeps coming back around to the
native Texas as the core plants. The worst part of the summer, this yard is
quite colorful.

No Comments

  • Reply A I September 12, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    I'd like to borrow them to do my garden 😁 Beautiful!

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