Drive-By Gardens: Cottage updated with modern, no-lawn garden


Cruising through north-central Austin’s Brentwood neighborhood last week, I rubbernecked at this newly installed lawnless garden, whose contemporary styling really stands out against the cottagey charm of the home. There are a lot of things to admire about the design: the very drought-tolerant plant palette, which includes softleaf yucca, some type of ornamental grass, cactus, and agave, with ground-covering silver ponyfoot poised to fill in the bare spots over time. A new concrete parking strip and front walk are generously proportioned, and care was taken to reduce impervious cover by switching over to a gravel paving along the rest of the curb. Also, the driveway is made more pervious with the use of concrete strips set in gravel.


And check out that low concrete wall, creating a sense of garden rooms, providing enclosure, and retaining a slight slope to the right. I also like the placement of the house numbers on the wall that faces the street.


Smart plant choices and creative, contemporary design—a treat to see. One quibble, however. Those softleaf yuccas, so cute now as 1- or 3-gallon sizes, and massed for structural appeal along the rear of the main bed, are going to get really big, really fast. Mine have topped out after only a couple of years at about 4-5 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide. It looks great now, but soon that line of yuccas is going to outgrow its space. A better choice might be twistleaf yucca or even ‘Brakelights’ red yucca, both of which top out around 2 feet.

At any rate, this is a great-looking example of what you can do in lieu of a boring lawn, bringing in structure, personality, and style. My thanks to Mamaholt at Wabi-Sabi Home and Garden for letting me know about it.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

11 Responses

  1. That looks like it will be wonderful when it matures. Great to see the design.

    Congratulations on your book! :-) I’m revising and resubmitting my novel as requested by a literary agent. So much work, but I love it!

    Good luck with your book, Freda! I’m so impressed by fiction writers—all that creativity spinning out of your imagination. I look forward to reading your novel one day. —Pam

  2. cheryl says:

    Your book came in the mail yesterday! yay! I’m all fired up to actually read it and put some of your ideas to use.

    Yay! Thanks for your support, Cheryl! I hope you get lots of good ideas out of the book. —Pam

  3. This does look good. Neat and tidy…now.
    But, seems to be a lot of things that will be quite large, when mature.
    Will it look like a jungle, instead of the neat and tidy? Hmmm…

    I think most of it will be great, but the tight row of softleaf yuccas is only going to get tighter, and a lot taller. Still, what a nice design overall. I’m sure they love their front yard much more now. —Pam

  4. OH WOW! I would have slammed on the brakes too. You know I love this modern design…the mass planting….drooling! Thanks for sharing this eye candy!

    My pleasure, Heather. Isn’t it lovely, especially those clean, space-defining concrete walls? —Pam

  5. Great.

    Agreed. —Pam

  6. Amy Nelson says:

    Hi Pam, purchased your book at the La Frontera B&N last night. I’ve been gradually replacing my lawn ever since the front end of the current drought killed off the St. Augustine that invaded from my neighbor’s lawn and killed off my buffalo grass. I still have a small patch around a large oak, but it’s very patchy and the trees roots are coming up through the thin soil. I’d love to get rid of it entirely, but can’t dig down because of the roots. How much compost can I put on top of the tree’s roots? Love the pictures in your book! I’ll take a photo of your book in my front bed and post on my blog tonight. Thanks!

    Two inches should be fine, Amy. Just keep it pulled back from the trunk itself, and always allow the trunk flare to be exposed (where the trunk naturally flares out as it meets the soil). Thanks for buying my book! I look forward to seeing your picture of it! —Pam

  7. Jenn says:

    Small quibble – I believe the ‘Brakelights’ you are referring to is an hesperaloe?

    Oh, I see. It’s being marketed as a yucca. Carry on.

    http://www.highcountrygardens.com/index/page/product/product_id/4542

    Yes, exactly. ‘Brakelights’ is a cultivar of Hesperaloe parviflora, commonly known around here as red yucca, though it’s neither a yucca nor red-flowering (the species flower is a salmon-pink). ‘Brakelights’ is the first red-blooming red yucca—thought it’s still not really a yucca. —Pam

  8. Greggo says:

    Simple but effective.

    And so much more interesting and low-maintenance than lawn. —Pam

  9. ricki says:

    I’m kind of with them on the instant gratification of the row of yuccas, but then I am constantly editing where plants are outgrowing their prescribed boundaries. My copy of your book has not arrived yet, but I hear it’s on its way. Yay!

    I do a lot of editing too, Ricki. I think most gardeners enjoy that process. The question is, are these homeowners gardeners, or were they wanting a low-maintenance landscape? Re: the book, I hope it gets there soon. Thanks so much for ordering! —Pam

  10. Rob Thuener says:

    Hi Pam – Perhaps they want the yuccas to grow larger, as a screening hedge? Just a thought…. Really nice design on their yard – well done! And good eye for catching it, Pam.

    Perhaps so, Rob. And maybe there’s more room back there than I could see from the road. At any rate, yes, it is a lovely design. —Pam

  11. Tim says:

    I’ve got to say my first thought with those Yuccas was “holy cow those are going to get big”. My second thought is “I wanna drive by when those suckers get huge and see what it looks like”.

    Me too, Tim. I’ll have to return in a year or so to see how it evolves. That’s half the fun of a garden anyway. —Pam