A retired farm wagon parked under a shade tree in the Thornton’s front yard is filled with a rotating display of decorative pot plants, surrounded by irises, dwarf yaupon holly, salvia, red yucca and soft gray cenizo.
Bare trunks of crape myrtle provide sculptural interest to landscapes in winter, echoed by a neighbor’s cactus in the background next to a stone walkway downhill.
Holly pruned as a small tree marks the beginning of walkway to the Thornton’s backyard, with bare crape myrtles in background.
February’s ‘Yard of the Month’
Yard ornaments are often popular additions to landscapes, particularly if an area is small and heavily shaded. Bobby and Gerald Thornton have managed to integrate into their front yard an entire antique wagon which is a family heirloom. Their home at 103 Sierra Vista is Spring Lake Garden Club’s February Yard of the Month and is an example of a landscape that is attractive even in winter.
The wagon, now used to showcase seasonal displays of potted plants, was used by Gerald Thornton’s parents when they started a family farm in Stovall County, Texas in the early 1930s. He remembers picking cotton and loading it into the wagon (then with higher sides on the wagon bed) to take to the gin in nearby Aspermont, one of several small Texas towns that still features six-man football in high school.
He brought the wagon in pieces to San Marcos in 1980 and rebuilt it, replacing rotted oak axles and adding a metal liner to the wagon bed. The Thorntons have lived in San Marcos since the mid-1960s and 10 years ago brought the wagon to their retirement home on Sierra Vista after running an RV park near the San Marcos river. Another yard ornament by the front door, a mesquite wood figure of a squirrel crafted by an artist friend, is another reminder of family history, since their business mascot was a squirrel.
The Thornton’s front yard in winter showcases contrasting plant forms around the wagon and large shade tree: red yucca, salvia, and irises along with gray cenizo and the potted plants in the wagon bed. This area is separated from the house and side yards by a circular concrete driveway, which also helps direct rainwater runoff toward the sides of the house and downhill via stone walkways towards the backyard. Compactly pruned green shrubs lining the front foundation are dwarf yaupon holly rather than more common boxwoods. Another holly (possibly a male possumhaw), pruned as a small tree at the right side of the house, contrasts in size with the towering shade tree in the circle area and in color with a large pale gray cenizo growing nearby.
Bare sculptural trunks of crape myrtle draw the eye to plantings and walkways on each side of the house. Additional plantings on the left side of the yard include lantana, pride of Barbados and variegated yucca, which Bobby Thornton notes is nibbled by deer, who also favor deeply colored lantana blossoms. She’s philosophical about challenges from wildlife, however, claiming that gardening requires not only patience but “trial and error.”
The Thornton home is at the low end of a cul-de-sac, so drainage is crucial. Side yard walkways were originally terraced with railroad ties, filled in with gravel, but were not as durable as the replacement stone in a concrete base. Rainwater runoff previously gouged out soil from shallow planting beds near the street, but Gerald notes that removing soil down to bedrock and filling the beds with new soil has stabilized the beds. He advises that this is the perfect time of year to replant bluebonnets, which sprout in sunnier beds near the street, and make room for colorful pansies.
The Thornton’s back yard, accessed from the lower level of the house, includes a small turf lawn held in place with a concrete retaining wall capped with stone. Gerald Thornton notes that a local Armadillo takes care of “aerating” the grass. But the backyard also provides a warmer microclimate for plants more sensitive to cold, as evidenced by a stunning red camellia which his wife picked to enjoy indoors. Having grown up in Florida and the southern states, she tries to incorporate flowering plants she remembers fondly in the landscape in all seasons.
• Submitted by the Spring Lake Garden Club