Planting for a drier future at Nuevo Santander Garden: Austin Open Day tour

November 19, 2019

The Nuevo Santander Garden on the Austin Open Day tour, sponsored by The Garden Conservancy earlier this month, reminded me of native-plant gardens from the old Wildflower Center tour that used to be held Mother’s Day weekend. With its wild and woolly design using Texas natives, it would have fit right into that tour.

One key difference: the native Texas plants were selected for a drier, hotter future Austin, the one predicted by climate change scientists. With some exceptions, the plants are native to West Texas and northern Mexico. The garden’s location on a steeply sloping lot no doubt helps with the sharp drainage preferred by these dry-loving plants.

A rugged limestone stair leads from the street into the garden, aided by a rustic cedar post railing.

A gnarled live oak arches over the stony path and shades a naturalistic planting of Texas dwarf palmetto and inland sea oats, two native plants that actually like a little extra water when available but can tolerate dry shade.

A tall wire-panel fence allows air and light to pass through, and a ranch-style arbor frames the (open) gate.

The sloping limestone-and-river-rock path is a bit rough to walk on but seems designed to help slow runoff during rainstorms.

After the dense planting in the front and side yards, the backyard feels much more open thanks to a native buffalograss lawn. A mix of trees surrounds it, providing privacy and wildlife habitat.

I ran into designers Patrick Kirwin and Scott Ogden here, and both said they’d helped with the garden. I was also curious about the name and learned on Wikipedia that Nuevo Santander “was a region of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, covering the modern Mexican state of Tamaulipas and extending into modern-day southern Texas in the United States” — i.e., the drier, hotter region from which many of the garden’s plants were selected. Clever!

Up next: The hilltop pollinator garden of Ruthie Burrus. For a look back at the hideaway garden of Davern Oaks, click here.

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