Michael’s Plano Prairie Garden in spring Leave a comment

June 03, 2024

I’ve visited Michael McDowell’s garden — aka the Plano Prairie Garden — several times over the past decade (see here and here; it’ll also be featured in my forthcoming book). My visits have always been in the fall, when purple spires of gayfeather turn Michael’s prairie garden into a Buc-ee’s rest stop for migrating monarchs. I’d never seen it in the spring until two weeks ago, during a mid-May trip up to Dallas.

Michael graciously said yes when I spontaneously asked to drop in with a friend. It was late afternoon on a hot spring day, and the front garden was dramatically backlit, illuminating the ballerina-skirt petals of purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) and feathery stems of standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra). Lime-green gayfeather foliage promises another spectacular fall show.

American basketflower’s woven flowerbuds…

…were opening into fringey purple flowers.

But the star of the spring garden was purple coneflower, its spiny orange cones punctuating the scene, its delicate pink skirts waving in the breeze.

Bees were enjoying them too.

A few black-eyed Susans added golden yellow to the mix.

Giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) too. That’s Michael in the background.

I love this stock-tank planter by the front door, where metal fish “swim” through an “underwater” scene consisting of ‘Brakelights’ hesperaloe and ‘Blue Spruce’ sedum. The illusion of water with tough, dry-loving plants!

A gray hairstreak butterfly was nectaring on Mexican hat.

Purple coneflowers along a nearly hidden path


One more

At last I tore myself away from the coneflower extravaganza and headed into the side yard, where I found cheery black-eyed Susans…

…and antelope-horns milkweed.

In the sunny back garden, salvia, nicotiana, and coneflowers make a buffet for pollinators.

Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and fleabane — a sparkling white combo.

A few more pale coneflowers

And the purple ones

Michael pointed out a new little bluestem cultivar he’s trying, ‘Twilight Zone’. I’m really liking the mauve streaks of color.

A wider view of the gravelly back garden, where a rebar bottle bush lifts the eye up as a tall focal point

Giant coneflower soaring skyward along the fence. I love its blue-green leaves.

The yellow flowers perch on impossibly tall stems.

A mockingbird came in for a drink at a birdbath in the purple coneflower.

A little closer

Gravelweed (Verbesina helianthoides)

A few gayfeathers were blooming (in spring!) alongside purple coneflower.

But it’s really purple coneflower’s time to shine.

Let’s admire them one more moment.

And another wide shot

Mexican hat

In a shadier spot along the house, pigeonberry makes a pretty groundcover under a bubbling fountain.

Heading out the gate to the alley-accessed driveway…

…I admired Michael’s driveway garden, fluffed out in mid-May with spires of standing cypress.

Standing cypress

And sunflowers

Bees were busy here.

Horsemint was drawing in fuzzy bumblebees.

Look at those wings going.

A delicate penstemon

And sturdy Mexican hat

One last bumble, with its nose buried in horsemint

Thanks, Michael, for sharing your garden with me again! I’m delighted to have finally seen it in a different season. By the way, readers, Michael will be giving a Garden Spark talk in Austin on November 14th, showing how he transformed a featureless lawn into his gorgeous prairie garden on a budget over the years. Mark your calendar to join us!

Up next from my Dallas trip: The serene, Asian-style garden of Cindy Bolz. For a look back at the colorful garden of Suzy Renz on the Dallas County Master Gardener Association Tour, click here.

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Digging Deeper

Come learn about gardening and design at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, authors, and gardeners a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. Season 8 kicks off in fall 2024. Stay tuned for more info!

All material © 2024 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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