Monday, April 03, 2006

Landscaping on the Island

I got excited last week when I saw that the Island Breeze - which is a very fine publication IMHO - had published a story on landscaping on SPI. I love working in my backyard and am always interested in tips on what and how to grow stuff here. I know it is a challenge and so was not put off by the title: "Growing Pains - It's not easy being a green thumb on the Island." True enough - so tell me something I don't know...

I hoped to read on to find out some useful tips but alas! the article is comprised mostly of interviews with a couple of professional landscapers whose best advice would appear to be "don't try this at home without professional supervision." The writer also interviews a non-professional former resident whose best advice is -- "get advice from professionals."

And four out of five professional sandcastle builders suggest you leave your next sandcastling beach excursion in the capable hands of the people who do it for a living - US!!!

I have never consulted with a professional landscaper -- even so, I think I have a pretty wonderful backyard and would like to take the writer of that article on a tour if she were so inclined.

We would start the tour on the patio - the one with all the healthy, blooming potted things - and turn left at the sandbox, noting the tall border (12 ' plus?) of flowering purple and orange honeysuckle. Along the east fence is a big fringe of vincas and prickly pear, bougainvillea and a lantana that just appeared one day. Throw in a big patch of purple shower petunias and note the lovely shade - and privacy - being provided by the strand of very tall pine trees that extends along the back fence. The birds love those trees. We would head west to get a closer look at the 3 palm trees (one is Chinese, one is Mexican, the third is a garden-variety washingtonian or something like that) - one magnificently huge yucca and the gladiola bulbs are about a foot tall these days. There is a lovely magenta bougainvillea offering partial shade to the outdoor living room (chair, sofa and table all made from driftwood), framed by a Texas sage that puts out delicate purple flowers. And this is where things start getting a bit jungly - but in a really colorful, tropical way.

More vincas. The coolest and possibly tallest prickly pear tree you have ever seen. The west side of the sandbox is bordered with oleander, hibiscus (hell, it's not hard finding things that grow here - just look for plants that have the same names as South Padre Island streets!) and what Nancy Marsden has called the "Most Fuschia Backyard of the Month," all intertwined with more of the orange honeysuckle stuff. Along the fence you will note the "Fred and Feets Memorial Rose Bed" which at the moment is boasting no less than 8 blooms. Get a whiff of the jasmine as you make the corner and yes, that is one very large bamboo tree arching gracefully over the hot tub and its brick and tile staircase/platform.

Some of these plants were given to me. Most were either dug up from other places on the island (with the owner's permission, of course!) or purchased from the town during an arbor day sale (do we still have those? If we do, when is arbor day this year? and if we don't, why not??!) .... or from Wallyworld. Plain old Walmart - and the pre-super duper one, at that!

“The Island is definitely not the tropical paradise it’s promoted to be.” That's what a professional landscaper is quoted as saying.
Dogshit, say I. And that is the best tip I can give potential landscapers -- professional and non.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“The Island is definitely not the tropical paradise it’s promoted to be.” Is one of the most honest things I have ever seen in the Island Breeze!!! It COULD be, but its not. Sure their are a couple of great homes here on the island. However, the vast majority of homes have litle or no flowers and only a half-hearted attempt at landscaping at best!! I suspect it is because far too much of the island is just weekenders-condo kings, and other sorts who can't be bothered because they don't really live here...they only spend some time here a few days a year. For all of you living in condos , townhomes, and duplexes, a single basket of hanging plants and the same sad palm tree everyone has is NOT gardening. The Island could be a place where most homes had flowers and even the town property was well maintained and flowering. ( Note, their are some huge flower pots on some of the city areas such as near where the " Wave" stop is by city hall...these pots seem to be mainly empty).
I do agree that the articles " don't try this at home without a professional" tone was poorly done. I am sure that with some really good tips as to what types of they have to be potted or can they grow in this sandy-salty soil, etc. more people would try growing more plants. However, I also think it is a large challenge in part because the true commnunity is VERY small compared to the number of people who only stay here for a short time ( and the owners of those rental homes mostly don't care to put much money into plants).

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

plus the fact there are lots of drought tolerant natives; some sand and salt tolerant natives and a bunch of not- quite-native but grow well anyway plants. A lot of my yard is xeriscape (mostly outside) and inside is very tolerant of our climate. Try it out!!

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought the article was very informative and helpful. It's good to understand what one is up against before spending time, money and effort on landscaping. It seems that salt and wind are the landscaping challenge on SPI (I could have guessed that.)

The article provides a list of plants that do well on SPI - along with remedies for the conditions that aren't friendly to other plants: (Dig planting holes twice as wide/deep, put down a layer of topsoil before putting in a lawn, don't plant during summer months, gypsum and epsom salts improve SPI's soil, and refer to for more info about native plants.)

If you see a tourist concerning herself about grooming hibiscus' that surround various rental facilities and restaurants, that will be me. I've even been known to water badly neglected houseplants in restaurants. (Shrug)(But with a smile).

And if you see a lady stopping to stare, in bewildered awe, at the magnificant size of the rubber tree in a backyard on Gulf Blvd - that, too, will be me!

4:03 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I've been striking out on all counts except the plumeria, which are now starting to put out flower starts (inflorences). Lord knows the soil down here has zilch for nutrients but then again, I don't think Sandy Feet or Miz Bear put down much except some mulch now and then.

I have much to learn, as I used to live west of Austin where limestone and gypsum alkali was a problem - and now they're saying I should Sheetrock my yard? Oh well, go figure.

Having a very old, wild yard helps a little - except in the burr grass department. Wild lantana and milkweed coming up ...

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Arbor Day is officially the last Friday in April. Most of the Valley tries to celebrate in February since April is a little late for planting trees around here. Actually, end of April is a fine time to plant palm trees.

I think an Arbor Day celebration on the island would be a great idea. Let me know how I can help.

Why would gypsum help SPI soil? gypsum is calcium sulfate, the calcium raises pH and sulfur lowers pH so it has no effect on pH. But if either of those nutrients are defficient in the 'soil' on the island then yes they could help.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Hey Paul, that's a very cool offer and no doubt "if we build it they will come." Please come on down and we'll make a "do" out of it.

One might note that is you have a chance to obtain native, rooted, 5-gallon buckets of Huisache or Ebony or some of the local shrubs you sort of have to get them.

So, plant survival is a big issue during what I think is a record drought of epic proportions - we are over 14 inches behind on rainfall if you count last year.

You can click on my name in the header or to the webwiz on the previous page and we'll get the ball rolling. Thanks again,

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My office is in Weslaco so we can put something together fairly easily.

I sent an email to Sandyfeet.
Sam, I didn't see a contact for you in your blog.


9:37 AM  
Blogger nancy said...

I finally found my user name so I don't have to blog anonymously! Paul I think it would be great to have an arbor day but why not a "Plant Exchange" as well. People could bring plants from their yards to trade for plants from other yards as well as getting trees. I would love to help organize this and see it happening. SPI Gardens. Let me konw what we need to do.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Lucinda said...

Lots of good ideas flying around here! Thanks to all who are participating. Seeing this much interest, the two Nancies and I have started up a new blog at which we hope will develop into a fertile spot for exchanging ideas and tips for landscaping on the Island. Anyone who would like to participate as a regular contributor would be most welcomed - drop me a line and I will send you an official blogger invitation with easy instructions for getting started. Let's all do our part to make the island a more attractive place for birds, butterflys and people too!

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As a nonresident of SPI, the only digging I do is on the beach to make sandcastles - so I know zilch about your soil conditions. My guess is that they recommend gypsum becaquse SPI's soil tends to contain heavy clay?

Here in Dallas we have heavy clay soil. I can speak from experience that gypsum will help break up the heavy clay and greatly improve planting and watering conditions.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Shale will also help with heavy clay soils. But, after spending much time removing rock from our soil, I don't want to add more of them! - No matter how tiny! So, I prefer gypsum.

2:43 PM  

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