Drive-By Gardens: Front yard fence and garden screen corner-lot house

Two of my design clients in Austin’s Northwest Hills neighborhood have recently mentioned this front garden to me as one that inspires them, so I thought I’d feature it for a Drive-By post. Blessed (cursed?) with an enormous, corner-lot expanse of thirsty St. Augustine lawn and a location along a busy street, these homeowners clearly needed to cut down on the grass and give their home a sense of enclosure, privacy, and security.

Soon after they moved in, they put up new wooden fencing, which they stained an attractive butterscotch color, and planted a generous xeriscape garden on both sides of it. Strategically placed panels in the front yard create a sort of courtyard out of what used to be a very exposed front entry. Here’s the view from the driveway. The fence panels offer peek-a-boo glimpses of a semi-private space near the front door, and they make a neutral backdrop for the streetside garden. On this fall day, gold lantana and copper canyon daisy were in full bloom.

Panning right, you see a line of graceful bamboo muhly grasses in a raised bed along a stucco wall. Wouldn’t it be perfect to have a tiny courtyard garden behind the wall, with a spilling fountain of some sort, to create a view from inside the house?

Looking all the way to the right you see the back-yard fence and a garden bed of gold lantana, softleaf yucca, Mexican bush sage, and crepe myrtle that eliminates the need for mowing and adds beauty for passers-by.

But the real action is at the front corner, where the owners installed an L-shaped section of fence about halfway between the house and the street. Both sides are planted, creating pretty views for the owners and passers-by, and the bed width is appropriately scaled to the size of the lot and height of the fence — i.e., they avoided the common mistake of too-narrow beds that tightly hug a fence line.

At the hot, sunny, outer corner, lyme grass, also known as dune grass (probably Leymus arenarius) adds cool, blue color to a drought-tolerant planting of yucca, prickly pear, salvia, yellow bells, and ornamental grasses. A curving swath of St. Augustine lawn ties the design to that of neighboring homes and nicely frames the garden beds. Since this is a sunny location, if it were my garden I’d consider replacing the thirsty St. Augustine with Habiturf.

(A note on the lyme grass: Not being familiar with this plant, I asked my gardening and designing friends about their experiences with it in Austin. It got poor reviews: invasive, sprawly, not surviving tough drought and heat conditions. Still, it does look quite nice in this garden. Anyone else in central Texas growing it and wanting to share an opinion, please let me know in the comments.)

Looking left, the home’s front walk is located on the cross street, just past the crepe myrtle. You can see the roofline behind the L fence, but the owners have privacy while still enjoying some openness and a connection with the neighborhood.

I can see why this garden is inspiring neighbors to pull up unnecessary lawn and add flowering perennials mixed with spiky yuccas and soft grasses. It saves water and creates an attractive habitat for butterflies, bees, and birds. Plus it looks fantastic.

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

16 Responses

  1. Rachelle says:

    Even in far northern WI, blue lyme grass is on the invasives/prohibited list by the DNR. It does have a design element which nothing else that survives here has and an excellent color I find hard to be without. I have curtailed it to use in pots.

  2. sandy lawrence says:

    Because of it’s bad boy rep, I added only 3 clumps of the blue lyme grass to other native grasses and wildflowers in the large meadow area of my yard that is mostly in full sun and gets no supplemental water. I hand-watered it only until established. I couldn’t resist that lovely blue color … So far, so good, but this is only its second year. We shall see!

  3. Jean says:

    Funny you should mention the lyme grass. When I saw the first photo with it, I said to myself, “I didn’t know that did well in Austin!” So maybe it really doesn’t. Still, a very nice yard. I’ve lived on two corner lots now. They can be frustrating but that one is really nice.

  4. Kris P says:

    I really enjoy your drive-by posts! I can’t add anything to the discussion of lyme grass but this post convinced me that I need to add some Tagetes lemmonii along our own frontage with the street – that bright gold color is a perfect accompaniment to the season. Happy Thanksgiving Pam!

  5. Heather Watson says:

    Blue Oat Grass would work instead of lyme grass – a little more graceful of a form

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Blue oat grass would be an excellent choice in some parts of the country. Here one might try ruby crystal grass for a similar color and size to the blue oat grass. I also really like our native Yucca pallida, which has a blue hue and a low profile. —Pam

  6. Emmy/ says:

    Beautiful !!!

  7. Ragna says:

    I appreciate your drive-by posts and I love the design of this garden! Their lyme grass is looking good. I’ve grown it for a couple of years and like it for its shape and color Yes, it spreads somewhat by stolons that come up a short distance away from the main clump but they are easy to pull up. Mine gets very little supplemental water. So far — so good.

  8. This looks amazing! I can think of so many corner lots that would look lovely with these screens…how clever!

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