23 June 2011

Flora Focus: Yellow Bells

Yellow bells are, for me at least, one of Austin's quintessential drought-tolerant flowering bushes. They get about 6-7' tall and nearly as wide, and when they really get going, they're packed with bright yellow bell-shaped flowers like this one:



They have among the largest flowers of the native drought-tolerant species, and the density of the flowers is also pretty extraordinary. Plus they're yellow. So I pretty much always knew that we'd have at least one of these plants. Our landscape designer didn't include any, but at our last meeting I asked about adding one behind our agave, and she sketched one in.

Then, when shopping for plants, I was looking for a one-gallon yellow bell but found 4" pots instead for just a few bucks each. On a whim, I decided to buy four. (Maybe they were four for ten dollars? I don't remember.) Anyway, I knew that starting smaller would mean they would take longer to reach a good size, but I'd been spending so much on plants (and so much time digging holes for plants) that I was happy to put in the time to save some cash (and digging effort).

The plan had called for a typical agave -- huge and green (or bluish-green) -- but when we decided on the variegated desmettiana, we landed on the happy accident of the yellow bells perfectly complementing the green and yellow of our special little agave.



(Imagine the yellow bells bigger and yellower. And swaying gently in the breeze. And while we're imagining things, imagine that it's a perfect 75 degrees out....)

But what to do with the other three plants? Our landscape designer had planned for a small planting bed at the back of the guest bedroom, containing another plumbago plant, a rose, and another tall grass (similar to the fountain grass we put in front of the garage). But that bed would pretty much only be visible from the vegetable garden area (the window is too high for it to even be visible from the guest room), so it didn't seem like a space where we needed to get all creative with different types of plants. Three yellow bells back there would do just fine. So I "edged" a curvy bed with river rock and planted the three yellow bells in a line.



By the way, it absolutely amazes me that flowers know how to grow themselves just right every time. Yellow bell flowers start out as these little green buds, then grow bigger and turn yellow, then keep growing, growing, growing until they finally pop open into perfect yellow, uh, bells.



I know they're pretty small and sparse right now, but they've actually grown a lot just since I planted them, and I'm optimistic that yellow bells will be just the thing for the agave corner and the bed behind the guest room.

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