Drive-By Gardens: Contemporary curb appeal in Shoalwood

Last week, while cruising around north-central Austin’s Shoalwood and south Allandale neighborhoods, I noticed a trend: contemporary curb appeal with gravel and concrete-paver paths, low walls and fences to separate public and private areas, and turf reduction in favor of lower-water plants.

Take this 1950s ranch, for example. Located in my old neighborhood, this house has had a landscaping facelift since I last saw it. Check out the “before” picture in this Trulia link. The wildscaped “before” garden has been transformed into this clean-lined, geometric space that I think better suits the style of the home. The low, board-formed concrete wall subtly separates the home’s “personal space” from the public sidewalk and street — a modern equivalent of the picket fence. Notice the cool detailing where the house numbers appear on separated sections of the wall.

A pillowy swath of sedge replaces traditional turf to the left of the poured-paver walk. More sedge softens the front of the wall. Lawn grass, neatly defined by steel edging, makes a green carpet to the right of the walk. The hell strip between the sidewalk and the street is paved, simply and effectively, with water-permeable decomposed granite, which makes a welcoming landing pad for visitors exiting their cars.

Similar elements are at work in this front garden: a low fence defining public and private spaces, gravel paving in the hell strip, and a reduced geometric lawn defined by steel edging. Regular readers may remember that I’ve featured this garden before — in 2012, to be exact — and it’s been well maintained since then. If it were mine, I’d continue the poured-concrete paver path through the lawn to the front steps, but that’s me.

More poured-concrete pavers lead the way to this home’s front porch, where a semi-translucent wall screens a small sitting area from the street. The burgundy tree at left nicely echoes the color of the home’s siding.

This new-construction home in a contemporary-farmhouse style has gone casual-modern with its landscaping: a field of dark-gray gravel in lieu of lawn, a poured-paver walk, and steel risers leading to the front porch. Planting is minimal, just a solitary yucca and agave in front, with bamboo closer to the house.

The layout has an appealing geometric simplicity, and the permeable paving allows rainwater to soak in. Unfortunately, the larger tan gravel in the hell strip distracts the eye; I’d use the dark-gray gravel for both sections, with one more poured paver connecting with the street — or, since it’s in the city easement, perhaps a row of off-the-shelf square concrete pavers aligned with the poured pavers. A few more plants — perhaps a cluster of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas and blackfoot daisies? — would soften the gravel too.

A plant lover clearly lives here, with a naturalistic garden with a few contemporary touches. A curving flagstone-and-gravel path is bordered by a xeriscape garden with grasses, santolina, agave, and other low-water plants. Modern L-shaped path lights add a contemporary note, as does what looks like geometric steel edging in the garden bed. It’s a welcoming garden walk that invites people and wildlife.

This last garden isn’t contemporary, but it has some similarities to the others: a decomposed-granite landing pad along the street, reduced lawn, and steel-edged definition. But I confess what really caught my eye are the colorful birdcages hanging from a graceful old live oak. What a playful, whimsical touch! I enjoy seeing people having fun in their front yards.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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10 Responses

  1. Interesting landscapes. Simple, low maintenance spaces are very appealing. Were those all concrete pavers? I thought some of them looked like leuders — that’s what we used in the mid-century modern we did last year. I’d be interested to see the cost difference of pouring & staining versus the natural stone – I’m gonna check that out.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Now that you mention it, the pavers at the 2nd house do look like lueders limestone with that tell-tale mottling. Not sure about the others. Do you not find the lueders gets super-slick during rainy seasons when algae builds up on it? I remember Vicki had that problem with hers, and so did my mom. In both cases, the lueders stone was removed for safety reasons. I always wonder about it — is regular cleaning necessary? — since I see it used so often. —Pam

  2. Very neat looks. I like the use of a few plants that make the contemporary spaces not to look so cold.

  3. Mark and Gaz says:

    Interesting lot, all have an open plan look and feel in their front gardens and elegant too.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The open look is typical of suburban American gardens, Mark and Gaz. These are actually much more landscaped than most, as American yards tend to be predominantly lawn and foundation shrubs with a shade tree or two. But here in the Southwest, where water shortages are becoming a bigger and bigger deal, we’re moving (slowly) away from a lawn-dominant aesthetic, as these gardens represent. —Pam

  4. Wendy Moore says:

    This is such a fun and different post; thanks for mixing it up, Pam! I never thought I’d say this (and I’m not sure when it happened), but I love contemporary landscapes, at least the way they’re done in Austin. Maybe with time I’m just learning to appreciate negative space.

    My limestone pavers (installed mid-March?) are already showing signs of staining. A friend said you have to seal them, which makes sense. I like it though – it makes things look established and lived in (or at least on). I don’t know what my installer paid, but the place that supplied them charged something like $40 per (2’x4’x2″) retail. I have to think concrete would have been cheaper?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks, Wendy! A number of readers have told me that the Drive-By posts are their favorites, so I was glad for an opportunity to do another one.

      It’s interesting to know the details about your Lueders pavers. I wonder if the sealing keeps them from getting slippery. Keep me updated! —Pam

  5. Jenny says:

    I’m certainly enjoying the more modern style of landscaping we are seeing around town. It just makes more sense with our climate’s ups and downs. You may think that strange from this cottage garden girl but inside me there is a girl who really should have that kind of landscape.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I admit that it’s hard for me to see you going all minimalist, Jenny. But I know what you mean about being drawn to that style. I am too, even though I’m not a minimalist at heart either. —Pam