A Garden in Focus
A Garden in Focus -- A Visit to the Garden Designed by the Owner of Windswept Prairie Plant Truck
One of my greatest pleasures is to visit other gardeners gardens. It’s a delight to see their on-growing creations. Some are works in progress, as I always think mine is. Others, though still evolving, have a much more polished and cohesive design, largely due to their focus – knowing what they like and how to go about it. A gardener who knows her mind.
I visited one such garden this year, the garden of Julie Fullington, owner of Windswept Prairie Plant Truck, Amarillo’s only mobile plant store that features succulent arrangements and plants for indoor enjoyment. Having grown up in Colorado, and owning and operating a nursery in Dalhart, upon moving to Amarillo, Julie had the opportunity to begin with a blank slate and form her garden from ideas formulated over many years.
Julie’s garden, like most of ours, is framed around her and her husband’s middle class house in South Amarillo. Impressive in the garden design is its adherence to three main areas of focus: her love of succulents and evergreens, a love of pots, and a love and need of a greenhouse. These elements provide structure, spacial form, texture, winter color and seasonal interest and the memory of the landscape she grew up with in Colorado.
“When I first started the landscape, I wanted to use as many different evergreens as I could. I love them as much as succulents. I also wanted to incorporate the greenhouse to make it look like it was part of the plan and I wanted a dry river bed because it reminds me of the river by our house growing up in Colorado,” Julie related to me. From her business in Dalhart, she was able to choose from a wide range of pots she now uses throughout the landscape.
On another visit to her garden, this time with my local garden club, Julie outlined her guide to landscape design for us. She advised planting the ‘bones of the garden” first – trees and shrubs, and especially to incorporate evergreens for winter interest. A trio of Austrian pines stands guard at the corner of their landscape. At the front of the house are two weeping blue atlas cedars (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca Pendula’) as accents close to the entrance, and evergreens at the corners.
Within the front beds, mature groupings of hens and chicks (Sempervivens) and groundcover sedums provide a medley of color and textural interest. Julie uses red ‘Voodoo’ sedum, lime green and golden ‘Angelina’, and blue ‘Turquoise Tails’ sedums, with a yellow blooming iceplant – letting them intermingle as they may. Flowering echinaceas and salvias enjoy full sun most of the day. Julie described her thinking on the entrance beds. “I have always struggled with the front bed until this year. I always thought it needed flowers in it . . . so when I planted the sedum, and it gave such good color year around without the hassle of deadheading, I decided to add the rocks and the little evergreens. Now I feel it all ties together.”
A selection of pots, a tall grouping on the porch and in the bed, a broken pot on its side with plants spilling from its top, compliment the design. These pots are just a few compared to the collection in the back yard. Tall containers and tall plants raise the eye from ground level throughout the garden.
On the back patio, groupings of artfully arranged containers are reminiscent to me of one of the patios at Chanticleer, one of our nations premier pleasure gardens near Philadelphia. It's not just the composition, but the quality of the plants that impress, combined with the immaculate nature of her garden. Fullington’s patio itself is bordered by xeriscape plantings, mulched with gravel, manicured to perfection. More sedums, agaves, long blooming pink skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens), Salvia ‘Blue Note’, ‘Silver Mound’ artemisia and pink muhly grass reside here. Lavender is in flower, buzzing with bees and lazily falls onto the short path that leads to the greenhouse. This upper half of the garden would be a showcase garden at any major botanical garden.
The container compositions provide studies in color, texture and form. Her love of succulents and evergreens are illustrated in their care and shaping, much as a bonsai artist labors. The textural mix between organic plants, containers and hardscape is perfected season upon season, taking in stride all that our climate offers. How a mature Jade has escaped hail, a scourge my plants experience yearly, if not multiple times, is a question we all asked. Maybe Fullington’s positive aura throws a protective shield over the landscape.
Working at a local nursery in Amarillo the past few years aided her in acquiring the evergreen selections. Buying local often narrows our choices. But that can be overcome with patience and careful plant selection and diligence in checking in frequently with your local retail nursery. We don't have to settle with whatever gets bumped off the truck at big box stores, although good "finds" can be had there as well.
Specimens of interest include a sizable potted weeping juniper (Juniperus procumbens nana), a dwarf Japanese cedar, blue point junipers (Juniperus chinensis 'Blue Point') and a dwarf mugo pine. Three large Euphorbia firesticks (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) are are on display, two at the front of the back garden and another in the back. Not to leave out a water feature, a tall slim pot contains a bubbler fountain. Potted cacti dot the xeriscape.
Our city lots are small, often making it difficult to diminish the presence of the gardener’s work zone. Though the greenhouse is central to the landscape, it doesn’t dominate. The greenhouse is flanked on both sides by rows of compact Tanyosho Japanese red pines (Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera Compacta'), an allée on the right hand side, with a single row to the left. Walking along this path feels magical in the early morning light. Groundcover sedums and sempervivums occupy the spaces between shrubs, perennials and garden ornaments in the borders. A large clump of butterfly weed anchors a back corner. At the back of the garden Piñon pines stand near the dry riverbed, flowing with memories. There is even space towards the back for a small vegetable bed.
The greenhouse, otherwise known as the gardener’s playroom, but in this case, is the inspiring workroom for Windswept Prairie Plant Truck, where the succulent collections are put together. One glance inside is all one needs to confirm “an artist works here.” More neatly arranged that I thought possible are rows of succulents from top to bottom from around the world – a succulent museum.
Our club was fortunate to learn some of Julie’s tips she uses in her landscape. Her guide to landscape design includes principles similar to the seven principles of xeriscape gardening: have a plan and a focus, amend the soil by adding organic matter; create the garden structure with hardscape, trees and shrubs you love; stick to your preferred color pallet whatever it may be; pay attention to sun and shade locations, planting accordingly; water for the plant, not on a schedule. Combining all these elements, the Fullington garden is a relatively low maintenance garden. But most of all, Fullington urges us to "have fun with what we’ve created!" Her sage advice has helped her landscape to weather the worst of our windswept prairie in fine fashion.
Angie Hanna, July 19, 2020