My friend Curt Arnette, the talented landscape architect at Sitio Design and plant lover whose personal garden I visited in May, designed this contemporary gravel garden for a Westlake client, and I recently got to take a peek.
The lot is wooded and steeply sloped and the house is large, so the front garden is really just a narrow, sunny strip that runs alongside the front of the house, visually sharing space with a driveway running uphill to a parking area on the left side of the house. Curt broke up a potential mass of concrete by using multiple, smaller slabs separated by dark-gray gravel.
A lawn would have been a waste in such a narrow area, especially one that must incorporate walkways to the front door, the parking area to the left, and a gate to the side yard on the right side of the house. So Curt planted desert plants and dry-loving grasses—plus a few thirstier bamboo for verticality and lush, evergreen foliage—directly in the gravel.
Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) and Agave parryi var. truncata
A trio of three different-height Yucca rostrata
Agave salmiana (I think)
A multi-slab poured-concrete path at the far right leads to a horizontal-slat fence and gate.
Pass through the gate and you enter a small, partly shady side garden with palms, bamboo muhly, asparagus fern, and inland sea oats. Here we are looking back at the gate to the front garden.
Moving forward, you see a narrow, sloped side yard, which is terraced to make room for a pool and a small patio at the far end.
A narrow raised bed, set off with steel edging, hugs the foundation and softens the paving.
Burgundy dyckia and a frosty blue aloe
Some sort of bromeliad? I wish I’d asked about this one.
Heading back to the front of the house you see a stair of steel risers and gravel treads leading up to the parking area on the left. A Corten steel box planter steps down the slope and helps define the separation between the garden and the driveway.
Small grasses, agaves, and a giant heseraloe (Hesperaloe funifera) are planted directly into the gravel steps! I wish I’d asked Curt what the shrub is on the left.
A closer examination of the Corten planter reveals a nice assortment of soap aloe (Aloe maculata), dyckia, and silver ponyfoot. Behind the soap aloe is a young ‘Sharkskin’ agave.
Lovely combo of wine-colored dyckia and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea). Not all dyckias are winter-hardy in Austin, so if you try to replicate this look, choose one that is. ‘Burgundy Ice’ is reputed to be hardy for us.
Spiky! ‘Sharkskin’ agave and soap aloes
A wider view of the gravel-and-steel steps. Isn’t this lovely? A study in gray-green. I’m not sure why the steel risers are gray while the planter boxes are the trademark rust color of Corten. Just a design choice, I suppose.
Burgundy dyckias and what looks like a young ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) grow on the right side of the steps. The homeowner will eventually need to transplant certain plants, like this agave, when they begin to outgrow their location. But that’s the nature of a garden.
At the top of the rise, by the garage, a bamboo and potted dioon (I think) add elegant evergreen texture.
Looking back down the stair, you see a giant hesperaloe parked on the top step. Why am I not growing one of these?
A wider view from the top of the drive shows how the house is tucked into the sloping, live oak-shaded lot. Bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) cascades over the wall on the left, softening the concrete with its feathery texture.
While the garden is quite small, it packs a big punch for those who admire contemporary, clean-lined design and a surprising wealth of fascinating plants packed into it.
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