I would like to see a number of wonderful plants make a grand comeback in Houston-area landscapes. Many of them are native plants that were lost to this area in big numbers thanks to Hurricane Ike and the intense freezes of January 2010, February 2011, and March 2014.
But they don't have to return in ordinary landscape beds. Chose some of these stalwarts that used to thrive in Houston, many of them decades ago, and use some creativity with them — go with planter boxes, large containers ... maybe even livestock troughs. Re-imagine these old standards in decorative containers or bordered beds, and I think you'll like how old-look plants can bring new looks to patios and outdoor living spaces.
And here's a basic bit of advice when chosing your planting media: rose soil! I've written previously in these weekly tips, on my Facebook page, and in all my books about building perfect beds using rose soil, and there are a myriad of perfectly blended ones out there. Go to any nursery, garden center or hardware store and ask what kind of rose soil they have. If they look at you like you're speaking gibberish, try another place.
My suggestions below are not the only ones, of course, but let's focus on bringing some of these old standards back to life.
Natal Plum - Prior to Hurricane Ike, Natal plums were found all over the Galveston area. Around 30 years ago, you could find them all over Houston, too. Unfortunately they were not properly cared for and only planted in boring hedgerows. I would like to see natal plums start appearing again in all kinds of oversized pottery. They look like an Indian hawthorn, so they don't get too big. But their beautiful, star-shaped white flowers smell great, and they produce an amazing edible fruit. They normally need full sun.
Silver Cassia - This plant is not a Texas native, but it comes from Australia so it should handle our weather. It looks a lot like a Dusty Miller with smaller leaves, however this is an evergreen. It has silver-green leaves, covered with a sort of grey hair. It can work in both filtered light and shade. And while it can be damaged by frosts, they would have to be killers like the kind we had in February 2011.
Dwarf Majesty Palm - This is normally considered an indoor palm, but if cared for properly and not forced to withstand temperatures below 32 for more than an hour or two, it can be the ultimate palm for outdoor living spaces. Just remember to give it mostly filtered light or shade. It won't grow very tall — I think at maturity it reaches no more than 6-8 feet.
Tri-Colored Stromanthe - Think of this as ginger with flair — because of the cream, pink, red and green striations in the leaves. It won't grow as tall as a regular ginger, but it will give you much better color. It can work in filtered light to mostly shade, and really sets off anything green or yellow-green in the same planter.
Mexican Mint Marigold - This is a Texas native that can seemingly handle cold and heat, and it's usually covered with awesome yellow flowers from summer through fall. It's also by far one of the most drought-tolerant plants you can incorporate in any landscape or container garden. You can also cook with it, and it has one of the best aromas around: it smells like licorice.
Artemisia - Speaking of wonderful yellow-flowering plants, there may be nothing like an artemisia. Even without blooms the artemisia looks similar to Texas sage with its unique silver-grey leaves. You may also know it as wormwood, and it was once on Galveston Island in mass plantings. So, let's try bringing it back. And if you're looking for something other than aloe vera to plant in containers and use medicinally, this could be the next best thing. It contains thujone, which has been known for centuries to treat poor circulation and rheumatism.
Texas Lantana - This is one of the best Texas natives, and it can handle extreme heat and bounce back from any winter. Texas lantana has three colors, yellow, orange and red. Some have a sort of peach, pink and yellow combo. Just avoid the all-yellow ones for outdoor living areas.
Others to consider:
Peach Blossom Oleander
PHOTOS: Natal plum by Forest & Kim Starr; Silver cassia by Stan Shebs; Dwarf majesty palm by Paul Smith; Tri-colored stromanthe by University of Florida.