While Central Texas summers can be hard on our gardens, there are big, bold, blooming shrubs that take it all in stride. We are lucky to enjoy a vast array of sun-loving plants to provide focus, color and definition in our landscapes.
The most beautiful beds include a combination of textures, shapes and sizes. Successful layering of these elements creates the depth and contrast that will draw your eye and make your garden inviting. Large shrubs and perennials create a backdrop layer for smaller plants and can help anchor your garden design by embracing the bed and providing visual weight to establish balance.
Designing with layers requires beds that are deep enough to accommodate small, medium and large plants. Depending on your style preference, plants can be nestled close together to create a cottage style or spread out, allowing space for the eye to rest and creating a more contemporary or formal feel.
If you plan for small border plants at 1 to 2 feet in diameter, medium-size middle plants at 2 to 4 feet in diameter and allow for a 4 to 6 feet diameter for the largest plants, it’s easy to do the math. To figure out how much space you need, calculate using the mature size of the plant on the plant tag. Don’t space them based the nursery pot size when you bring them home. Allow the amount of spacing consistent with the style you prefer.
These are some of my favorite bold shrubs for summer color.
Lion’s tail — Covered in beautiful bright orange bloom tufts from late spring to fall, this semi-evergreen upright shrub grows in full sun to light shade. With a mature height and width of 4 to 6 feet, it has low to average water needs. A dwarf variety is also available, with a growth habit of 2 to 4 feet.
Plumbago — With pretty pale blue or white flowers, this South African native shrub can get big, so give it room in the garden. In Central Texas, it can reach 4 to 6 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Its graceful, arching branches cascade in the garden, and it tolerates a variety of soil conditions.
Globe mallow — Add a dreamy dusty gray to your garden to provide a color and texture contrast to shiny, grass-green plants. Native to the Southwest, this drought-tolerant plant is available in a variety of colors from pink to apricot. In full sun, expect a mature size of 3 by 3 feet.
Butterfly bush — Stunning spires cap this prolific bloomer and pollinator magnet from spring through fall. It can require a little supplemental water at times and can reach 3 to 8 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. My personal preference is to prune them up like small trees to add sculptural interest with their sinewy trunks. While some can be invasive in certain areas, sterile varieties are also available, so check with your nursery.
Skeleton-leaf goldeneye — Native to rocky areas, this tough, water-wise perennial needs good drainage. Full of perky yellow blooms, at mature size it is typically 2 to 4 feet tall and wide. Its feathery foliage provides a welcome contrast to traditional shrubs. Plant in full sun or part shade.
Rock rose — Not an actual rose, this perennial shrub sports bright pink hibiscuslike blooms from mid-spring until frost. With low water needs and high drought tolerance, it's a great plant for a xeric garden and grows to about 4 by 4 feet.
Now that we’re seeing temperatures in the 90s, new plants will require regular watering until they are well-established, even if they are drought-tolerant. Spring winds also dry out plants, so take that into consideration as well.
A good layer of mulch in your beds will help protect the plants from extreme heat and help retain moisture when you water.
Landscape designer Diana Kirby provides gardening tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs and writes a gardening blog at dianasdesignsaustin.com, where she is available for social distance consulting via photos and video calls.