“Soil” at the Wherehousebarn. Photo by Monika Maeckle
The “soil” was the biggest challenge. Heavy equipment and construction activity had compacted the earth with nails, glass, gravel, stone, asphalt and wood filling in the limestone base. Bartlett and del Rio removed the detritus with rakes and shovels, depositing the debris into a dumpster. Such compromised growing conditions require super durable plant selection for best chances of survival, Bartlett remarked.
The competing demands of drainage and a level sitting area further complicated the plan. “We needed a sloping site to assist with water drainage,” said Bartlett. Choosing plants tolerant of periodic ‘wet feet’ as well as the brutal Texas heat also posed a challenge.
Then, COVID-19’s impact on spring plant sales and nursery inventory made plant selection difficult. Typically, Bartlett and Del Rio would attend the native plant sales that take place in Central and South Texas each spring. But not this year. “All the native plant sales were cancelled due to the pandemic, so private individuals became the primary source for plant materials,” said Bartlett.
The resulting plant list, more than 45 species and 130+ specimens, includes native favorites like Gregg’s mistflower, Cowpen Daisy, Wedelia harvested from the San Antonio River, and Goldenrod and Frostweed transplanted from a Hill Country Ranch. It also includes nonnatives like Tropical milkweed and Star Jasmine. Later in the spring, okra, cucumber and watermelon plugs were introduced.
It didn’t take long for the butterflies to show up. Gulf fritillaries had already set up shop on wild passionflower vine that had managed to eke out a life in the unwelcoming soil. Several monarch butterfly caterpillars hatched from spring migrants heading north in March. Chrysalises resulted in the most unlikely places. Bees also found their way to the Wherehousebarn yard, as cucumber seedlings (pollinated by bumblebees and other bees) installed in late April bore their first fruit in mid June. First okra pods were harvested about a week later. Watermelon coming soon.
Bartlett said many of the plants chosen for the site will mature quickly and should be impressive by the end of the summer. The vines will require more time to develop, but should cover the trellises in about 18 months. With no sprinkler system, hand watering will be part of the office routine when summer heat sets in and rains stop flooding the swale. Johnson grass and other uninvited plants will be pulled or sprayed with 20% vinegar.
Like every garden, the Wherehousebarn is a process, not a project. We’ll be providing updates right here.