Water-saving, no-lawn garden of Cyndi Kohfield

When Cyndi Kohfield and her husband bought their northwest Austin home in late 2010, they inherited a tidy front yard of lawn accented by swaths of Asian jasmine and a couple of large sago palms. As she noted in a before-and-after post on her garden blog, Growing Optimism, it was a “thirsty and tired” landscape, and she longed for something more interesting as well as drought tolerant. She also wanted to update an ’80s turned-post stair railing and open up the awkwardly narrow front porch.

Although a novice gardener, she jumped into the redesign with both feet, ripping out the entire lawn and jasmine, outlining a new, curving boardwalk pathway through the center of the yard, and replanting with a drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, evergreen palette of Berkeley sedge, red yucca, Mexican feathergrass, skullcap, variegated dianella, bamboo muhly, and ‘Featherleaf’ bamboo, accented with agave and flowering lantana and salvia. Cyndi avoided the newbie mistake (or plant collector’s choice) of planting one of this and one of that, opting instead for generous swaths of each species, giving her new garden a sense of cohesion and flow.

I had the pleasure of visiting Cyndi’s garden recently and want to share her cool design and waterwise choices with you.

A beachy boardwalk path, stained a grayish brown along with a new horizontal-board fence, screen, and porch deck, winds through the garden from street to back fence.

It’s an unusual choice for a path, seeming to float through the grasses and adding pattern and strong lines to the garden.

Here’s the new porch deck, which leads to the front door. Click to see how the entry looked when Cyndi moved in. Cyndi removed the confining porch railing and had decking constructed to “float” over the concrete porch flooring and flow out into the garden via two shallow, deep steps. Now it provides a comfortable spot to sit or welcome guests, plus space for a few potted plants. Evergreen variegated dianella brightens the base of the steps.

A metal dish on the front porch holds a collection of succulents and an agave, with a clam shell accent.

To the left of the porch, Cyndi had a horizontal board screen constructed in front of a blank wall to hide gardening equipment.

A triangular cone planter holds a questing, tentacle-like cactus.

Looking back across the garden from the front porch, you can see what a narrow space this is. The diagonal boardwalk, however, visually widens it, as does the flagstone path, also laid on the diagonal, running to the front porch. To the left is another boardwalk and a stair that leads around the corner of the house and up to the driveway. The curving, pebbled-concrete line just in front of the porch is the edging from the original landscaping. Cyndi left it in place to use as access for weeding and pruning.

A closer look at the shiny, tufty Berkeley sedge. Cyndi found that different species are labeled as Berkeley sedge when she went shopping for it at local nurseries. After two separate purchases resulted in clearly different sedges, she did a bit of research online and learned that Carex tumulicola and Carex divulsa are often both labeled as Berkeley sedge, but she prefers the larger, tighter clumps of the C. divulsa. Looking at the entire swath, the difference between the two is not very noticeable, luckily, but Cyndi wishes it were all the divulsa.

Looking at the garden from the front again, you see a screen of boulders and taller plants along the property line: cenizo, aka Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens), spineless prickly pear (Opuntia), and sago palm (Cycas revoluta).

By the driveway, three culvert-pipe planters hold an assortment of evergreen, drought-tolerant specimens: butterfly agave (A. potatorum), gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), and Mexican boulder (Calibanus hookeri), a plant I’d never encountered. Cyndi told me she found it at The Great Outdoors. A contemporary-style, horizontal stair rail, doubling as a backdrop for the planters, replaced the original, dated railing (click for a picture). For all the woodwork in her new garden, including the boardwalk, fencing, and decking, Cyndi hired Corey Ferguson of Blue Hammer.

When I admired the chunky, icy-blue glass mulch around the plants in the culvert pipes, Cyndi told me how she got it. Outside a shop one day, someone carrying a glass-top table dropped it, and the tempered glass shattered into chunks. She scooped them up (with permission), brought them home, and topped her planters with them.

Another particularly nice feature of Cyndi’s garden is the serene screen of Bambusa multiplex ‘Featherleaf’ along the left side, bright green against the dark fence.

I like the way Cyndi has pruned it up and held it back with bamboo stakes and poles. That’s a ‘Purple Pixie’ loropetalum charmingly color-matched with the red pot.

Cyndi recently posted about constructing her bamboo hold-back, with before-and-after pics. She hammered 4-foot metal sign stakes into the ground and disguised them with bamboo poles attached in front. Then she lashed long bamboo poles horizontally to the stakes using plastic zip ties, and spray painted everything dark gray.

This gives the illusion that the plastic zip ties are actually made of leather or some other natural material, plus it helps the metal stakes disappear. Cyndi said her design was inspired by a bamboo hold-back I posted about last year, which is kind of funny because I intend to copy her design to hold back some bamboo muhly grass in my garden.

That’s the great thing about reading garden blogs: good ideas are plentiful. I sure picked up some from Cyndi’s garden, and I hope it inspires you too. Thanks, Cyndi, for sharing it with me!

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

15 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    An absolutely wonderful garden. Her skinny front porch is an inspiration for here.

    That front porch transformation — opening it up and expanding the steps — made a huge difference. My husband and I did something similar with the back porch of our old house, and how I wish I was blogging when we did it. Hmm, maybe I have print photos I could scan for a post… —Pam

  2. sandy lawrence says:

    Oh.My. What a gorgeous EVERYTHING! And your photos, Pam, exquisite as always. Such a serene place.

    Of course, a few of us plant collectors are feeling a little shamed right now. I plead powerlessness over my plant addiction. Maybe there’s a support group. But what a breath of fresh air to view something one-eighty from my wild-child abandon cottage garden, climbing roses, and clematis vines. I guess that’s what makes gardening and gardeners fun – the diversity?

    Thanks for this lovely tour.

    Sandy, uh-uh! Never feel ashamed of preferring a different style of garden for yourself, one that accommodates a plant collector’s obsession. There are a million right ways to garden (and very few wrong ways), and the key is doing what makes your heart sing. I love a wild-child cottage garden too! Cyndi’s shows admirable restraint and is mostly evergreen, and that’s also wonderful. Isn’t it great that we can enjoy each others’ differing styles thanks to blogs and garden tours? :-) —Pam

  3. Very nice, and I like the curvy, sinuous forms and floating walkway. My first glimpse, before reading the text, had me ask, “one of Pam’s neighbors?” She did a good job, and thanks for the link. Except that I now have another Austin garden blog to read…

    With all them-there agaves, skinny jeans would come in handy to avoid snags!

    She’s not in my ‘hood, David, but pretty close — just across Capital of Texas Blvd. from me. That’s not really a skinny-jean part of town, but you never know. —Pam

  4. Alison says:

    What a wonderful garden, I enjoyed this tour of it very much. Those bamboo hold-backs are very clever. She did a great job!

    She really did. She has a creative touch. —Pam

  5. Kate S. says:

    Wow! Stunning change. Huge inspiration for me as I’m currently fighting a thirsty lawn-and-asian-jasmine front yard in south Austin. I love the deck extension and the very clever bamboo hold-backs.

    I’m glad that you’re finding inspiration in Cyndi’s garden, Kate! That’s exactly why I wanted to post about it. She has so many good ideas for shaking up a tired front yard. —Pam

  6. Shirley says:

    She did a beautiful job on the update. The massing and repetition of plants is so important, I use it to disguise my plant collecting habit.

    It’s much nicer to see a yard like this in our region than patchy, thirsty lawns.

    “I use it to disguise my plant collecting habit.” Me too, Shirley! It’s a good trick for those of us who love a lot of plants. —Pam

  7. ricki says:

    Hard to believe that this is the work of a novice gardener. She obviously has a natural design sense, plus I can see signs of your influence (culvert pipe planters, etc). She must have been following your blog. Wonderful bit of serendipity that you are now picking up ideas from her.

    She definitely does have a natural design sense, Ricki, and she made careful plant selections as well. I think I may indeed have influenced her on the culvert-pipe planters, and yes, now she’s influencing me. Gotta love blogging for the ease of sharing ideas! —Pam

  8. commonweeder says:

    That is one fabulous garden. What a design sense she has – and your photographs really give a good sense of the whole.

    Thanks, Commonweeder. —Pam

  9. Cyndi / GrowingOptimism.com says:

    Thank you, Pam, and thanks to your readers for their supportive comments! I’ve absolutely been inspired and informed by Pam/Digging from the beginning: I remember doing a Google search for locating culvert pipe which led me to Pam’s post for where they could be found in Austin via Craigslist. It’s embarrassing how giddy I was to learn that info.! I purchased pipes that day- then returned for more. Digging has been very very good to me. : ))

    Aha, the culvert-pipe connection explained! I’m so glad they helped us get to know one another, Cyndi. I love your garden and your blog and have gotten great ideas from both. —Pam

  10. Indie says:

    What a beautiful garden! I love the paths and stepping stones, as well. It all goes together so well – she definitely has an eye for design. The spray-painted bamboo fence is such a great idea!

    She did a beautiful job overall, and I enjoy her creative touches, like that bamboo fence. —Pam

  11. This garden is so modern and clean – I love how she put everything together! It is so easy to look at…sooooooooooooo coooooool!

    “Easy to look at” is the perfect way to describe it, Heather. —Pam

  12. Jenny says:

    A perfect combination of structure and planting.

    Yes, and a lovely, low-maintenance plant palette. —Pam

  13. Alex says:

    One of the best gardens I ever saw, completely uncluttered, devoid of water guzzling lawn, neat, nice spaces between plants and those little forests of grass, they all make it extremely beautiful and a sight to behold.

    I love those “little forests of grass” too, Alex. Great description. —Pam

  14. cheryl says:

    You probably won’t have time but this fellow’s SF blog might be of interest to you. http://www.back40feet.blogspot.com He has a bazillion photos of various parts of Sf and of some of the gardens you will be visiting.

    Hi, Cheryl. I’ve been following Chuck’s blog for years! He does such wonderful walking tours of the neighborhoods in S.F., and his posts have stoked my interest in a trip to the city. I only wish he were going to be attending the Fling as well! —Pam

  15. Megan says:

    First off, you have a beautiful garden! I love the triangular cone planter! Do you know where I can find those to purchase? Along with other great metal work planters? Thank you! :-)

    Megan, if you read the post you’d know that this isn’t my garden but the garden of a friend. So I’m sorry, but I don’t have any sources for you. —Pam