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Yard of the Month

The McCowan house and front beds viewed from a corner bed of Jerusalem sage, rosemary and cenizo.
Photos by Sharon Lockett

Yard of the Month

Stalked balls (seedheads of Jerusalem sage) join upright blooming rosemary behind potted red yucca and muhly grass in the bed at the street corner.

Yard of the Month

Mulched beds flanking the sidewalk include natural art of tree stumps and holey limestone rocks.

Yard of the Month

Blooming rosemary adds pale blue flowers to the McCowan landscape.

Yard of the Month

The north-facing McCowan house features large yaupon and boxwoods flanking entry, along with crape myrtles and hollies at the side of house.
Photo by Sharon Lockett

Yard of the Month

McCowan home focuses on native plants that can endure freezing winter temps and summer heat
Sunday, March 3, 2024

Spring Lake Garden Club’s Yard of the Month for March is the McCowan home on Alamo Street, between Schulle Canyon and Holland Street, just blocks from the university campus. Dolly McCowan has developed a landscape in tune with nature, focused on native plants that live through winter freezes and summer heat. Some still provide food for birds or protection for a new generation of pollinators but are ready to be cut back for new growth.

The McCowans moved to San Marcos almost 30 years ago after Dolly’s husband, Fred, took early retirement from a career in the energy industry. Both were drawn to central Texas hills after years living on the coastal plain near Houston. The stark contrast in climate proved a challenge at first: “It was like living on the moon,” recalled Dolly, who was accustomed to frequent rain and fertile soil in Baytown and Highlands on the San Jacinto River. But her life-long dedication to plants inspired landscaping a new home. Dolly practices organic gardening to avoid triggering chemical allergies, and early support from Gardenville Store and its master gardeners was a welcome benefit to new San Marcos residents. Although her husband helped with heavy work like digging holes for new plants, Dolly led the way in learning about a new environment and choosing plants that would thrive in it.

Like any gardener with a long-range plan, Dolly first added trees to the front yard: one red oak and a few live oaks. A yaupon holly near the entry suffered frost damage one year and now “grows like a bonsai,” Dolly said. Other hollies fill out the raised bed at the foundation and crape myrtle (grape color) grows at the side of the house. On the opposite side of the entry, the bed hosts a line of evergreen boxwood, originally growing along the front sidewalk but now providing a background for smaller plants in season. Other trees added to a side yard over the years include a mountain laurel, desert willow (fenced against deer damage), chinaberry and retama, along with vitex (chaste tree) and cenizo (Texas sage). A lady banks rose, grown in tomato cages for protection from deer, climbs the back corner of the side of the house.

Dealing with wildlife visitors from the Schulle Canyon nature area made fencing the back yard a clear necessity, and Dolly enjoys a variety of potted and flowering plants under trees behind her patio. A resident hawk has discouraged frequent visits from doves, but occasional sightings of foxes, raccoons, possums, skunks and even a roadrunner are not surprising.

Besides building a backyard fence, the McCowans also installed stacked interlocking pavers to replace disintegrating railroad ties supporting the front raised bed. Other beds in the front yard are edged with large rocks, and all plants outside the fence are resistant to deer (and drought).

One highlight of the front landscape is a large bed at the street corner, now filled with Jerusalem sage, its seedhead balls towering above dusty green foliage. Gray cenizo joins the sage along with red yuccas and feathery muhly grass, but the star of the show is upright rosemary, covered with pale blue blossoms. Beds flanking the sidewalk at curbside are well-mulched but still in seasonal “downtime,” so natural garden ornaments like driftwood stumps and pieces of holey limestone stand out. Once spring arrives, these beds and others in the landscape will fill with yellow flowers of Zexmenia and scarlet sage, plus Mexican oregano, rock rose and lavender. Meanwhile the graceful muhly grass has spread itself from curbside to the raised front bed, adding yet another all-seasons accent to a March garden.

San Marcos Record

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