Low, curving walls set the front garden apart, with a spiraling design that draws you in.
Colorful perennials and informal designs had been scarce on the Open Days Austin tour up until this point. Green, formal gardens ruled the day with clipped boxwoods, allees, precise runnels, and straight-edged stonework. At last, this north Bryker Woods garden designed by homeowners Tom Poth and Duana Gill bucked the trend.
Approaching from the side, you can see more of the rock work that defines this garden. Between the low wall and the curb, a generous apron of decomposed granite provides dry footing for people getting out of their cars and protects plants from car doors and careless feet, a common problem when you plant along the curb.
Out front, orange narrowleaf zinnia, rusty lion’s tail, and sunrise-yellow coneflowers sprawl riotously in the sunny side of the garden, tempered by white blackfoot daisy and several varieties of silver plants. Compared to other gardens I’d seen on the tour, native plants play more of a starring role here. Unfortunately, many of the summer bloomers look a bit sparse right now, after our hot, dry summer.
However, the design of the front garden is interesting and fun. Native limestone is put to use in a low retaining wall. Rather than follow formal straight lines, the wall spirals loosely across half of the front yard, creating a visual vortex that pulls visitors in.
A decomposed-granite path leads you into the spiral, through a low, mounding garden of sun-lovers punctuated with a few tall plants like acacia. This is the view from inside part of the spiral, looking back toward the street and the shady side of the garden.
A beautiful acacia.
Does anyone know what variety this is? This is knife-leaf acacia (A. cultriformis ).
Near the house, a zig-zagging line of metal trays filled with blue-gray gravel—an unusual take on traditional stepping stones—slows you down and leads you past an attractive agave whose color is complemented by the gravel.
As you enter the back garden, you pass through this intriguing iron-and-galvanized-metal gate, just one of many different fencing materials used creatively by Poth and Gill.
The back garden—a courtyard really—is tiny, but there’s a lot going on, not least of which, on this day, was the number of garden tourists. I found few places to stand for a wide shot (without getting just a shot of the crowd), so my photos do not convey the feel of this garden very well.
That’s too bad because it was quite interesting. Again, it’s a mostly green landscape, but several vertical elements and a central planting bed break up the space and keep your eye from traveling too quickly from one side to the other. As you walk in, you notice a tall wood-and-rebar trellis in the middle of the garden, a vertical fountain constructed from a trio of limestone blocks, and a high stuccoed wall built around a tree trunk. Your eye is led up, up, up.
Detail of the wall built around the tree. Built-in shelves are a practical and fun addition.
My favorite feature of this garden—the fountain. I met Tom Poth leaning against the wall of his garage and complimented him on his fountain. When I asked, he said he’d designed it himself, simply drilling the limestone blocks for tubing and stacking them. I like the geometric simplicity and height of this fountain, as well as the mossy, weathered look of the stone in the water. I’d love to have it in my garden.
Here’s another lawnette (they’re everywhere). It’s Zoysia, like mine—’Emerald’, not ‘Palisades.’ Poth lets it grow long, like buffalo grass, after mid-summer. This square lawn is the only grass in the back garden.
Another example of unusual fencing: antique doors from Mexico, set in a metal frame, shield the carport from view.
Here’s the crowd, plus Poth and a few friends chatting on steps that double as a miniature deck. Another “stepping stone” made of concrete, gravel, and steel edging is visible in the foreground. The man-made changes in elevation coupled with the vertical elements create interest in a flat, very small courtyard garden. Different fencing materials throughout the garden also catch your eye. Aside from the stucco wall, Mexican doors, and metal gate, I also noticed a bamboo fence and a staggered wood-slat fence, all very well-designed. It sure beats a boring wooden privacy fence like mine.
A parting look at the front garden. On the left, near the house, a fence made of galvanized metal and staggered wood slats screens the neighbors and adds a decorative element of its own.
Poth told me he’d consulted with designer Tom Spencer for a few hours when he was creating his garden, but most of the design is his own. I am impressed. It’s a fun, dramatic, casual garden that makes the most of a small, in-town lot.
Some of these front-view photos were taken yesterday, not on the day of the tour, hence the blue recycling tub out by the curb.
All material © 2006-2008 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.