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No-Fuss, Low Water Plants for Focal Points

Downsizing with Delight

I adore Colleen Jamison’s former garden – its inviting patios, winding paths, charming decor, and custom gates and arbors built by her husband, Bruce. I blogged about that garden 11 years ago, as well as the median of her street that Colleen transformed into a community park. You can even view her garden on Central Texas Gardener.

A few years ago, Colleen and Bruce sold their home and garden and bought a 1930s bungalow with a backyard rental unit in the Brentwood neighborhood. Colleen mourned her old garden for a while, but then she realized that she didn’t mind having a smaller yard – it was, in fact, exactly what she wanted.

Creating a No-Fuss Garden

Colleen set about making a new no-fuss garden with tough, low-maintenance plants. This time around, her goal is a garden she can walk away from whenever she and Bruce travel, without worrying whether it’ll be okay without her. She’s resisting the temptation to garden up every inch the way she did at her old place.

Colleen has kept some lawn in front and back, and she’s focusing on adding splashes of perennial color like black-eyed Susans and planting trees to screen a busy street along their corner lot. To hide the street, Colleen carved out a deep corner bed in the front yard. Trees fill the back layer nearest the street, and heat-tolerant flowering plants like sunflower, lantana, bulbine, and coneflower step down toward the lawn.

Focal Points and Textures

An arched arbor set within the trees offers access from the sidewalk, and a potted palm makes a textural accent. Sunflowers provide golden color and feed birds, while a flower plate elevated on a stand makes a picture-like focal point beside the round pads of a prickly pear.

A side path leads to a small patio tucked between the main house and the rental unit. Colleen turned this dead zone into a tiny courtyard with chairs, iron decor, and a Monterrey oak, which she plans to prune up to shade the space. Inland sea oats, a shade-tolerant native grass, fill the foreground, and their dangling oats move in the breeze and catch the light – they’re pretty in a vase too.

A Low-Maintenance Backyard

In the rental unit’s small backyard, Colleen opted for a no-lawn patio garden with trees around the perimeter for a green backdrop. A gravel path arcs around a central mini-meadow, where early spring wildflowers were recently replaced by summer flowers just getting started, like sandpaper verbena.

Under the trees, a disappearing fountain gently burbles, enticing birds to come drink. Colleen has planted around 40 trees on her small lot, focusing on making a green screen around the perimeter. One of her favorite trees is the arroyo sweetwood (Myrospernum sousanum), an underutilized and graceful tree with fragrant white flowers and pea-like seedpods.

Screening and Fragrance

Their house overlooks a small lawn edged by a dense border of native trees, including Lacey oak, Monterrey oak, arroyo sweetwood, and anacua. Colleen is training star jasmine up four trellises attached to the ADU, and a long bench in front offers a spot to soak up the vines’ sweet fragrance.

The fence is Bruce’s design, with louvered horizontal boards to admit light and breezes. In one corner stands a handsome and shaggy beaked yucca, and in the middle of the border, a turquoise fountain makes a ribbed focal point.

Enjoy the Garden, Not the Chores

Easy to maintain, the garden offers green texture and screening, seasonal flowers for color and fragrance, and bird-attracting water features. Best of all, says Colleen, she can enjoy it without being a slave to it.

After all, the life of a gardener has seasons too. For years, you may be all-in on your garden, planting it up creatively, sculpting an overall vision for your space, and enjoying the immersive experience as it comes together. Eventually, however, there may come a time when you want or need to scale back – perhaps in retirement, when you want to travel or pursue other passions, or when your body isn’t up to the physical work of intensive gardening anymore.

And that’s fine. It never has to be all or nothing. I’m grateful to Colleen and other gardeners for showing how to downsize gracefully without sacrificing their gardening joy.

If you’re looking for inspiration to create a no-fuss, low-maintenance garden with focal points and year-round interest, look no further than Colleen’s delightful new garden. Her focus on tough, drought-tolerant plants, strategic use of trees and shrubs for screening, and thoughtful design elements like fountains and trellises offer a masterclass in low-care, high-impact landscaping.

Colleen’s journey from her former lush, immersive garden to her current, more pared-down oasis reminds us that gardening should be a source of joy, not endless toil. By incorporating Today’s Gardens’ tips for choosing the right low-water plants and design strategies, you too can create a stunning garden that requires minimal effort to maintain.

Low-Water, No-Fuss Plants for Focal Points

Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)

Sunflowers are a classic choice for adding vibrant color and height to a garden. They thrive in full sun and well-drained soil, and their large blooms attract pollinators and provide food for birds. Colleen has used them to great effect in her front garden, where their golden hues complement the prickly pear and other drought-tolerant perennials.

Lantana (Lantana camara)

A tough, heat-loving shrub, lantana offers a long season of brightly colored flower clusters in shades of yellow, orange, red, and pink. It’s a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds, and its cascading growth habit makes it perfect for spilling over walls or containers. Lantana is an excellent choice for focal points in Colleen’s low-maintenance garden.

Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens)

This succulent perennial from South Africa features yellow or orange flowers that bloom for months on end. Bulbine is incredibly drought-tolerant and thrives in full sun, making it a reliable choice for hot, dry gardens like Colleen’s. Its interesting succulent foliage and long-lasting blooms make it a standout focal point.

Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.)

The bold, daisy-like blooms of coneflowers provide vibrant color and structure in a garden. These native perennials come in a range of hues, from classic purple to sunny yellow and orange. Coneflowers are tough, drought-tolerant, and low-maintenance – perfect for Colleen’s no-fuss plantings.

Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.)

The rounded, paddle-shaped leaves and stunning flowers of prickly pear cacti make them a natural choice for focal points in a xeriscape garden. Colleen has used them to great effect, allowing their sculptural silhouettes to contrast with the more delicate flowers surrounding them. Prickly pear is an incredibly tough, low-water plant that thrives in full sun.

Yucca (Yucca spp.)

With their dramatic, sword-like leaves and towering flower spikes, yuccas are a striking addition to any drought-tolerant garden. Colleen has incorporated a beaked yucca into her backyard border, where its shaggy, architectural form provides visual interest year-round. Yuccas are extremely low-maintenance and require little water once established.

By incorporating a mix of these resilient, low-water plants into your garden design, you can create stunning focal points that require minimal effort to maintain. Whether it’s the vibrant blooms of sunflowers, the cascading growth of lantana, or the sculptural silhouettes of prickly pear and yucca, these no-fuss plants will allow you to enjoy your garden without being a slave to it.

Take a cue from Colleen’s thoughtful approach and downsize your garden without sacrificing its beauty and joy. With the right low-water, low-maintenance plants, you can create a stunning oasis that suits your changing needs and lifestyle. Happy gardening!

Today’s Garden is Garden and Landscape Company, provides all you need about Garden and Landscape Design to get better garden decorations.

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