Elegant, contemporary Westlake garden by Sitio Design


When you follow your same route day after day, it’s easy to miss out on some cool gardens in your hometown. Garden tours will introduce you to some. Taking photos for a friend’s design portfolio will introduce you to some very nice ones too.

I had the pleasure of visiting this striking garden in Austin’s upscale Westlake neighborhood last week with the designer, landscape architect Curt Arnette of Sitio Design. You may remember that I’ve blogged about Curt’s personal garden as well as the Bonnell Drive Garden that he designed.

This house, he told me, was originally hedged off from the street by a line of shrubs close to the house. The owner wanted to open it up and make it more inviting without sacrificing privacy. So Curt designed a cascading, meandering series of steps of creamy Lueders limestone that leads halfway down the front yard toward the street.


Corten steel-edged beds, mulched with Texas Black gravel and filled with agaves, aloes, silver ponyfoot, and flowering perennials, soften the paving and make the white path glow in contrast. Here is ‘Mr. Ripple’ agave, silver ponyfoot, firecracker fern, and something I’d never seen before — spicy jatropha (Jatropha integerrima ‘Compacta’), which is likely an annual for Austin but perennial in South Texas.


Looking left you see bronze canna paired with Mexican feathergrass, with firecracker fern and spicy jatropha adding more red.


There’s a palm in there too.


How do you like that Corten retaining wall? Like the prow of an ocean liner cutting through the sea. I love it.


Heading up the steps…


…you see a ‘Sharkskin’ agave anchoring another tiered bed, with what looks like blue mistflower and ‘Blue Elf’ aloe behind it.


Powder-blue ‘Blue Elf’ aloe and red-hot spicy jatropha — yum! Ahead on the right, a raised planter of Corten steel holds…


…the shiny, round leaves of ligularia. A matched set of squid agave grows at the planter’s base.


Near the top, a short flight of stairs leads…


…to a Lueders limestone-paved “courtyard” — essentially a widening of the walk that creates an open, inviting place to pause at house level.


It’s a bit more formal here, with a clipped line of boxwood along the foundation and a long, mirror-like water feature made of Corten.


Lights illuminate this striking focal point. I believe Curt said the palm tree — the pale trunk to the right of the raised pond — is the only plant that survived the redo. Well, and the live oaks, of course.


The view from the front porch


A side path of Lueders pavers cuts through a shady space under a cluster of live oaks and leads to the driveway. You get a glimpse of the raised pond and courtyard garden from here. That’s variegated flax lily mingling with Berkeley sedge in the foreground.


Another angle


I love this — diagonal pavers through a shade garden planted simply with Berkeley sedge and variegated flax lily.


I don’t know if this is part of Curt’s design or not — the owner is a gardener who also has extensive beds in the back yard — but I like the drama of it. A thicket of spineless prickly pear, sotols, and Yucca rostrata line the top of a retaining wall along the driveway, giving privacy from the house next door but requiring little care and probably no supplemental water.


A yellow-flowering retama adds height and light shade at the base of the wall, with Mexican feathergrass and Yucca rostrata at its feet.


Near the street, an L-shaped bed edged in Corten is showy with tall yuccas, Mexican oregano, gopher plant, and other xeric perennials.


What a beautiful garden, with expertly crafted hardscaping set off perfectly with water-thrifty and architectural succulents accented with tough, flowering perennials.

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

21 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    Beautiful design. Sharp and crisp with perfect contrast. I hope the planting stays neat and tidy because it has a perfect look right now, to my eye. As you say the black gravel with unfussy planting has wonderful eye appeal.

    Sharp and crisp hardscaping for sure. That’s what really stole the show for me, but the plants were wonderful too. —Pam

  2. WOW!

    Glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, Linda. —Pam

  3. cheryl says:

    So.. there must be a varied drip system woven throughout? I’m looking at the thirsty Ligularia and the not so thirsty Agave below. It is truly a lovely yard!

    I didn’t ask about irrigation, Cheryl, but I noticed that thirsty ligularia in there too. I’m sure there is a drip system in there that’s separate from what the agaves get. —Pam

  4. Alison says:

    Oh, what a wonderful mix of stone and steel! Those bronze Cannas massed like that are very striking. And the black gravel — love that too.

    The cannas, palm, and jatropha add a tropical vibe to the otherwise Southwestern planting scheme in the lower garden, don’t you think? —Pam

  5. Jenny says:

    Wow! I love all of the stone accents. They set off the plants beautifully.

    I agree, Jenny. It’s nicely constructed. —Pam

  6. Kris P says:

    The orderliness of this garden appeals to me. Somehow, even though I really like disciplined, semi-formal garden layouts, I always end up creating something quite different in my own gardens.

    I’m with you, Kris. I’m really drawn to this style of garden too. I think the underlying geometry appeals to the eye. But smart plant choices and placement soften the hard lines and make it even more inviting. Still, my plant lust gets in the way of such restraint in my own gardens. —Pam

  7. louis says:

    I love this design! Of course the palm helps create a sense of natural affinity between myself and this place, but I really do love what they have done! Everything seems perfectly placed. I want to walk around and explore! Definitely a favourite!

    I knew you’d like that palm, Louis. Glad you enjoyed the tour. —Pam

  8. ricki says:

    One word: Elegant!

  9. Astra says:

    Somehow, even though I really like disciplined, semi-formal garden layouts, I always end up creating something quite different in my own gardens.

    Ditto. I think it’s because as someone who wants a garden (as opposed to a landscape), I can’t help trying out new plants, adding bulbs, and generally sacrificing order for experimentation.

  10. Deb Wilson says:

    So very elegant and yet so inviting. They don’t have any issues with deer perhaps? I’ve tried a few of the plants featured here only to have them either pulled up or browsed all the way to the dirt. (fist to sky) I’m talking to you, Bambi!!

    I’ll third the notion that even though I love the look of these spaces I typically end up with something much more casual in appearance. I hadn’t thought of it as wanting a garden versus a landscape but I think that pretty much hits the nail on the head. (thanks, Astra!)

    I would think Westlake would have deer, but of course deer in different neighborhoods may favor different plants. —Pam

  11. Jean says:

    I love it. As Jenny says, the plants look perfect now. I do worry a bit for the eventual size of some of them. But the whole design is so crisp, so low maintenance (if plants stayed the same size), and inviting.

  12. So very modern yet it is lively. I really like it.

  13. Ragna says:

    Absolutely magnificent! Glorious in fact. One can putter around in their back yard, but keep elegant restraint in the front … not that I have … LOL.

    Yes, I think the back is where the owner putters more freely. Elegant restraint, much as I admire it, is not a hallmark of my personal garden either, but then I like to putter. —Pam

  14. To have you take pics for my portfolio…yowza…at least as good as Scott Calhoun and Eric Swanson (Santa Fe)! Something about Curt’s designs…crisp, lush and southern, yet xeric and modern. And something about his clientele…good for him! Nice share.

    Yes, Curt has that rare combo of great design skill with the layout and hardscaping but also a lush-xeric planting sense. It’s a very appealing look for Austin. —Pam

  15. Iva says:

    Amazing garden! Thanks for the inspiration…

    My pleasure, Iva. —Pam

  16. Greggo says:

    Yes , I would imagine the tropicals and ligularia are arranged in separate irrigation zones as they are so far apart in irrigation needs from the desert plants.
    Such strong contrasts.

    I am becoming a fan of Berkeley sedge and I have found a source.

    That’s great, Greggo. It can be a little hard to find, but I think that’s changing. —Pam

  17. Randy Hyden says:

    That is so beautiful, makes one feel a bit inadequate. LOL

    Don’t feel that way, Randy. It’s all about gleaning ideas that can work for you. Or simply admiring the beauty and knowing you didn’t have to pay for it. ;-) —Pam

  18. Love this design! The different textures and colors are fantastic! The terracing allows your eye to focus on different plants throughout the landscape. The ligularia is a show stopper. Wonder how much water it needs in the summer? Thank you for the tour!

    Good question, Steph. It’s funny, but after the discussion of the water needs of the ligularia here in the comments, I saw an email from an area nursery (can’t remember which one) offering the ligularia and saying it’s good for dry shade. So who knows? —Pam

  19. I think I might be speechless! nope…. AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Wow! Thanks for the virtual tour. These gardens are absolutely amazing!

  21. That entire garden is yummy–particularly the Ligularia and Squid Agave. And I love the lights in the raised pond–great idea! By the way, thanks for sharing your previous article about the ethics and liabilities of photographing people and people’s landscapes. That was very helpful. I really appreciate it!

    I’m glad you found it useful, PP! —Pam

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