Drive-By Gardens: Front-yard style in Tarrytown neighborhood


Cruising through tony Tarrytown neighborhood in West Austin last week, I slowed to a crawl to admire several houses with appealing front-yard style. For understated Christmas pizzazz, I like the way these homeowners hung a big, green wreath over their moss-green front door flanked by dramatic pots of — what is that? — black Colocasia? Another wreath hangs on a nearly black, horizontal-board gate on the fenced front yard, with mounding pittosporum shrubs on either side. Classic with a modern twist.


This sapphire-colored ranch gets contemporary style from Corten-edged porch stair risers and planters that stretch the width of the house, gracefully connecting home and lawn. Large white planters draw the eye to the steps, and an elevated steel dish planter by the door adds a focal point.


This stucco house with a contemporary-farmhouse vibe has a shaggy, eco-lawn of some kind — maybe Habiturf. A half-dozen steely blue agaves congregate under the live oaks in the lawn — an arrangement that wouldn’t be practical if you had to mow frequently. Happily, Habiturf requires minimal mowing. The bigger question, to my mind, is how do they keep deer from antlering these beauties to smithereens in the fall? The poor, battered agaves and hesperaloes in my own front garden would love to know.


This mushroom-colored ranch welcomes visitors with an updated front walk: a wide, zigzagging path of poured-in-place concrete. Masses of groundcovers and low-growing perennials alternate with curvy swaths of river rock (along the curb) and decomposed granite (for a cross path).

It’s always fun to see what people are doing with their yards, and these four are eye-catching in different ways. Have they given you any ideas?

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Need a holiday gift for the gardener, new homeowner, or environmentalist on your list?
Please consider giving one (or both!) of my books. They’re packed with plenty of how-to info for newbies as well as lots of inspirational photos and design ideas for more experienced gardeners! Order today from Amazon (Water-Saving Garden / Lawn Gone!) or other online booksellers (Water-Saving Garden / Lawn Gone!), or find them anywhere books are sold.

“In an era of drought and unpredictable weather patterns, The Water-Saving Garden could not come at a better time. With striking photographs and a designer’s eye, Penick shows us just how gorgeous a water-wise garden can be. This is the must-have garden book of the year!”
Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist and Wicked Plants

“This thoughtful, inviting, and thoroughly useful book should be required for every new homeowner at closing. It has the power to transform residential landscapes from coast to coast and change the world we all share.”
Lauren Springer Ogden, author of The Undaunted Garden and coauthor of Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Drive-By Gardens: Front yard gardens strong on foliage


I can’t believe I forgot about Foliage Follow-Up yesterday, and I’m the host! To make up for it, I’m combining my Foliage Follow-Up post with Drive-By Gardens, always a reader favorite. I have two Austin gardens to share with you for this Drive-By, and both are largely foliage gardens, with little attention paid to flowers. Instead the focus is on strong foliage forms and easy-care evergreen groundcovers.


The first drive-by is really a walk-by. This xeric, deer-resistant, front-yard garden belongs to a neighbor just down the street. I’ve been watching its progress on dog walks, and it’s looking great after a year of growth. Here’s the first post I wrote about it last November. Comparing the images, you can see how much the woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) groundcover has filled in, like a silver-gray carpet in the main part of the yard.


In the hell strip between the sidewalk and the street, red yucca, Mexican feathergrass, and blackfoot daisy — Texas natives all — are tough as nails given plenty of sun and good drainage.


On the shadier side of the yard, under a large tree, sedges are filling in nicely (additional plugs were added this spring to fill it out), and bamboo muhly along the side yard glows in the afternoon light. Grasses and sedges are wonderfully resistant to deer, who neither nibble nor antler them.


The second drive-by is one I passed in the Highland Park West Balcones Area neighborhood while looking at houses on the AIA Austin Homes Tour on Saturday. I was struck by the color-block architecture and the charming mosaic flowers on the stucco retaining wall and along the entry walk.


Panning right you see a wavy strip of turf grass, curvy rock paving, sculptural and xeric foliage plants like agave, yucca, and dasylirion, a steel bridge (crossing a dry stream, maybe?), a gently undulating stucco retaining wall with colorful mosaic agaves (or yuccas?), and a life-size mosaic sculpture of a woman. An artist either lives here or did a lot of work for this garden!


I love to see people enjoying their front yards with alternative plantings and art!

This is my (belated) October post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is happening in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

I’ll be speaking at the Antique Rose Emporium Fall Festival 2016 in Brenham, Texas, on Saturday, November 5th, 1:30-2:30 pm. Come on out to the Antique Rose Emporium’s beautiful gardens for a day of speakers and fun! My talk, with plenty of eye-candy photos, is called “Hold the Hose! How to Design a Water-Saving Garden that Wows.” Meet me afterward at the book-signing table!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Drive-By Gardens: Contemporary curb appeal in Shoalwood


Last week, while cruising around north-central Austin’s Shoalwood and south Allandale neighborhoods, I noticed a trend: contemporary curb appeal with gravel and concrete-paver paths, low walls and fences to separate public and private areas, and turf reduction in favor of lower-water plants.

Take this 1950s ranch, for example. Located in my old neighborhood, this house has had a landscaping facelift since I last saw it. Check out the “before” picture in this Trulia link. The wildscaped “before” garden has been transformed into this clean-lined, geometric space that I think better suits the style of the home. The low, board-formed concrete wall subtly separates the home’s “personal space” from the public sidewalk and street — a modern equivalent of the picket fence. Notice the cool detailing where the house numbers appear on separated sections of the wall.


A pillowy swath of sedge replaces traditional turf to the left of the poured-paver walk. More sedge softens the front of the wall. Lawn grass, neatly defined by steel edging, makes a green carpet to the right of the walk. The hell strip between the sidewalk and the street is paved, simply and effectively, with water-permeable decomposed granite, which makes a welcoming landing pad for visitors exiting their cars.


Similar elements are at work in this front garden: a low fence defining public and private spaces, gravel paving in the hell strip, and a reduced geometric lawn defined by steel edging. Regular readers may remember that I’ve featured this garden before — in 2012, to be exact — and it’s been well maintained since then. If it were mine, I’d continue the poured-concrete paver path through the lawn to the front steps, but that’s me.


More poured-concrete pavers lead the way to this home’s front porch, where a semi-translucent wall screens a small sitting area from the street. The burgundy tree at left nicely echoes the color of the home’s siding.


This new-construction home in a contemporary-farmhouse style has gone casual-modern with its landscaping: a field of dark-gray gravel in lieu of lawn, a poured-paver walk, and steel risers leading to the front porch. Planting is minimal, just a solitary yucca and agave in front, with bamboo closer to the house.

The layout has an appealing geometric simplicity, and the permeable paving allows rainwater to soak in. Unfortunately, the larger tan gravel in the hell strip distracts the eye; I’d use the dark-gray gravel for both sections, with one more poured paver connecting with the street — or, since it’s in the city easement, perhaps a row of off-the-shelf square concrete pavers aligned with the poured pavers. A few more plants — perhaps a cluster of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas and blackfoot daisies? — would soften the gravel too.


A plant lover clearly lives here, with a naturalistic garden with a few contemporary touches. A curving flagstone-and-gravel path is bordered by a xeriscape garden with grasses, santolina, agave, and other low-water plants. Modern L-shaped path lights add a contemporary note, as does what looks like geometric steel edging in the garden bed. It’s a welcoming garden walk that invites people and wildlife.


This last garden isn’t contemporary, but it has some similarities to the others: a decomposed-granite landing pad along the street, reduced lawn, and steel-edged definition. But I confess what really caught my eye are the colorful birdcages hanging from a graceful old live oak. What a playful, whimsical touch! I enjoy seeing people having fun in their front yards.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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