The Back Porch: Texas' Five-Star Butterfly and Hummingbird Retreat

December 31, 2015
January/February 2016
A version of this article appears in the January/February 2016 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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When we built our new home 50 miles from Austin on 21+ acres we made the decision to have all of our indoor water come from harvested rainwater and to make our flower gardens bigger than they were at our first country home.

I keep telling people about the scope of our organic, deer-resistant, drought-tolerant, native-Texas perennial flower garden. Here are a few factoids for your consideration. While planting the several thousand plants that now comprise our five-star butterfly and hummingbird resort, we unearthed a few hundred boulders and a lot of just plain big rocks. Yesterday we had a landscape firm haul off our waste heap of boulders.

Doug Garrett
is president of Building Performance & Comfort, Incorporated.

They used an 18-ton-capacity dump truck and a front loader to do the work. The total haul at the end of the day, according to the truck scale tickets, was 194 tons of rock! Those were only the smaller boulders we didn’t feel had enough character (as my wife, Ann, calls it) to deserve a place bordering one of the 56 flower beds. Yep, using nothing but hand tools, we dug up and moved into place over 400 tons of rock, filled all of the holes they left in the beds, and then planted thousands of perennials. Filling the holes the boulders left took a lot of dirt, too, but I can’t say how much, because I stopped counting a few years ago at around 250 tons. We get our mulch—rough-chipped wood from road or subdivision clearing—delivered in bulk, too. We usually get about 50 tons of mulch delivered every spring. Yes, we spread that using simple hay forks.

What has all of this gardening gotten us? You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. Our yard sounds like an aviary, and there are areas where the butterflies literally bounce off of you by the dozen when you walk through! We enjoy seeing songbirds, deer, butterflies, raptors, coyotes, and raccoons out every window. I have had the opportunity to sit at my home office desk and watch a red-tailed hawk swoop in to try and take a cardinal at the bird feeder 50 feet away. A few weeks ago I watched a bobcat slink across the gardens and pounce on a jackrabbit (which he somehow missed). It was so cool. How that rabbit got away I’ll never know. The bobcat appeared to have him dead to rights, as we say in Texas.

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Gregg’s Blue Mist Flower. (Doug Garrett)

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Desert willow tree. (Doug Garrett)

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Red Salvia greggii. (Doug Garrett)

Are Texas native plants tough? We’ve only had 0.9 inches of rain over the last four months, and it’s been between 95°F and 106°F (24 days were over 100°F) the whole time.

We have the outside hose bibs plumbed to the well, so watering the yard is all that they and the well are used for. Because of the prolonged drought, our 850-foot well has been going out after 10–15 minutes of hand watering a day, so we’ve done almost no supplemental watering. Yet the gardens are all still green; we still have blooms, butterflies, and hummingbirds; and nothing has died yet!

Remember, all of our indoor water is harvested rainwater, and after hearing about the problems with our well, I’ll bet you are going to ask how is that cistern doing? We haven’t had a bit of trouble with that, thank you very much for asking! We moved in back in July of 2010, and over the last five years we’ve experienced the worst drought and highest temperatures ever recorded in Texas. Our cistern holds 16,500 gallons of rainwater. It overflows many times each year, and after four months without rain, it still has 10,500 gallons in reserve!

We started off being very conservative in how we used potable water. After five years of experience with this system, we now take long baths daily and don’t scrimp on the hot water! Since the water is as free as rain, and the heat is recovered waste heat from our geothermal heat pump, I say: Don’t worry, be happy!

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