Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I like to watch what goes on with big, commercial landscape projects.  It affects, at least subliminally, what homeowners look for in the garden center.  And it's fun to see what can be accomplished when you really throw money at a project.

For the past several years, I've been observing the landscaping at Telfair, a master-planned community near Sugar Land.  Overall, I really like how they've combined the planting style of the Old South with plants that are more suitable for the coastal plains.  Most of the plants they've used are common enough:  I'm sure you've seen plenty of Knockout roses lately.  Here they are combined with bulbine, planted along the west side of a brick wall.  Both these plants are well-suited for such a hot location.

Knockout roses are repeated in various hedge formations throughout the development.  Here at the corner of University and New Territory, they've allowed the roses to get up closer to their natural height -- and it's a pretty impressive sight.  Most people don't seem to realize that these roses, if left to their own devices, will easily exceed 6 feet in height. Here, they're planted with magnolias -- more about them later.

Here and there you'll find plots of native and "sort of" native grasses, like Gulf Coast Muhly and Mexican Feather Grass.  I like these grasses massed together like this.  It has more impact, I think, than dotting them here and there in the home landscape.  There are also large plantings of giant liriope and Aztec grass.  The Aztec grass would probably be a bit happier if it were getting some afternoon shade.  I think it struggles here in the full sun.  Maybe when the trees are a little bigger, they'll perk up.

Speaking of trees, I was very worried when Telfair moved in a number of very large sycamore trees.  It always amazes me when landscape architects attempt this.  And frankly, it amazes me that they are so successful when they do it -- a tribute not only to the tree movers, but to someone who's planning the watering.  These sycamores put up with quite a severe drought last summer and then an unusually harsh winter, but only one looks thin and peaked.  Perhaps they'll all survive if we don't have another drought.

I like the red and yellow color scheme too.  They've been able to combine perennials like roses, daylilies, pentas, lantana, and bulbine with the vivid red annual coleus.  Here and there, the red and yellow color scheme is punctuated with a very dark blue agapanathus.  There are also pentas, which may or may not be perennial in our climate.  I imagine they are treating them as annuals.

In keeping with the Old South tradition, there are many different colors of crape myrtles planted at Telfair.  The white ones are possibly Natchez, notable for the beautiful exfoliating bark.  The watermelon-colored ones may be Tuscarora and there are some pretty little pink ones too.  I like this area -- planted more closely than usual, and underplanted with giant liriope.

My favorite thing about the Telfair landscape are these beautiful stands of magnolia trees.  I hear from people who should know that they are a new cultivar called "Miss Chloe."  They've been rapid growers at Telfair and are just lovely.  I'm so glad they are leaving them full to the ground, instead of limbing them up like "normal" trees.  It adds a very stately touch to the overall site plan.

In fact, the trees overall are outstanding.  Baldcypresses are planted near the lakes.  Several different varieties of oaks are planted throughout the development.  Even though the landscape is very young, it already has a lush, mature look.  That's what lots of money for big trees will get you!

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