by ESP on July 30, 2011 · 18 comments

The sun…the heat index…the humidity, the drought, the dryness, the incessant moaning. It is tough in Texas this time of the year and we are only now entering our hottest month.

This Barbados beanstalk created a welcome brief eclipse.

Even this sun flower seems to have given up, dropping its head in the wake of yet another three-digit day.

And what do I do when the air feels like a blow torch and the heat becomes intolerable?

Hmm, not quite.

I start working up plans for this back garden.

The home owners were tired of the bare patches of turf that turned into mud whenever it rained but wanted to retain a good portion of grass for their dogs. They wanted to make the space more inviting and usable for entertaining and hanging out in.

This most certainly had to go!

  Being a standard rectilinear lot I immediately wanted to soften up the boundary fence and introduce a focal entertainment feature that would be large enough in scale to “eat in” to the overall proportions of the area, splitting up the space.

After agreeing on the design a plan of action was put forth, especially as it related to site access.

A chunk of the rear fence had to be removed for deliveries…

…of which there were many.  I always tell clients that it has to look worse before it gets better, as it can be quite shocking.

Roughing out the shapes and the first pallet of three paver bricks, (a slight miscalculation on my part). Note to self…apparently, like dirt, bricks also have their own individual laws of physics in that it always takes three times as many as what you initially calculate.

Bricks are laid,

planting beds are deconstructed and reconstructed. Can you tell it is a little bit on the toasty side?

Oh yes, the difference from the shade to venturing into the midday Texas sun to work can be a life threatening adventure.

Two weeks, gallons of sweat and a few boxes of Epsom salts later,

it was completed. It was amazing how much dirt had to be excavated to flatten the grade for the circular brick paved area.  The curved retainer wall works great as an informal seating area.

What was once bare dirt. The Tejas black gravel and silvermist flag are one of my favorite combinations and it works well to visually reflect the shadows and forms of tree limbs.

  The corner beds are grounded with large moss boulders and planted with grasses and other drought tolerant plants. (As a rule I do not usually plant at this time of year, but this garden has an extensive sprinkler system and coverage).

Whenever possible I look for for boulders with overhangs like the one in the left picture for added dramatic affect. The sculptural desert willow will eventually soften up this whole left corner. The two large corner miscanthus will take care of the other.

This moss boulder even came with its own cactus growing in a small pocket of dirt.

Back in the Patch:
and under some rare but very welcome cloud cover.

My eldest decided to clean off our bench today, and I didn’t even ask her!

That is her fairy house on the right (under the arch) that over the course of the year has become more and more ramshackle to the point that the nice fairies moved out and the redneck ones adorning tattooed wings moved in. I started to notice tiny beer bottles and toy car-casses dotted around the front of the tiny property as well as some architectural improvisation of their own:

Unlucky for them today was the day of their eviction, the house was also apparently on today’s cleaning list.

She was not the only one on a mission today.

As soon as I suggested a lick of paint for her fairy house her eyes sparkled, work began immediately.

Accompanied by a traditional Naboo tribal dance (with obvious Maori influences).

The modernistic house was reopened with some glittery pomp and circumstance (and a welcoming lily).

Now to see who will move in.


Inland sea oats are just starting to take on their brown fall coloration.

My pinecone cacti have started to grow hair, and my 

Mexican weeping bamboo seems to just keep getting larger. I may have to take out the inner bricks at this rate.

I will leave you with this moment of zen:


Stay Tuned for:

“All that Glitters is not Gold”


All material © 2011 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and
punishable by late (and extremely unpleasant)
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1 Greggo July 30, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I was in San Antonio for a week visiting my son. They should call the state Toastas. Everything is burnt to brown. Pretty sad, never seen so bad. But you know a flood follows a drought, usually after 7 years.
Wish I could ship some DG with me to Kansas, working on my own Texas Garden. You know metal, Texas star, rusty tin, stipa, limestone, old cedar wood, Non Prickly pear, and rusty forks. Ohh and a stock pond. Slick Willie for sure..

Hi Greg.

Hope you had fun in San Antone. We went for a trip to Sea World in the middle of August a couple of years back, by the time we had walked through the baking parking lot and into the park (carrying my daughter) I looked like I had been swimming with Shamu…crazy heat, a very Levwold moment!

Yes I fear that by the end of August Austin will be looking like a burnt barbacoa taco itself.

So you cannot get DG in kansas?


2 Bob Pool July 30, 2011 at 8:36 pm

That back yard design is just awesome Philip. Sorry I couldn’t find a manhole cover. I still have detectives out looking and if I find one I’m still going to get it for you. You will just have to use it some where else. That was great getting a claret cup cactus with the rock. They will really be surprized when it blooms, just beautiful.

It looks like you had a little spillage on the paint there. Did it have something to do with the whirling dervish of a Naboo dance in the back ground?

Thanks Bob.

No problem on the manhole cover – I knew I should have stockpiled them when I found them at a scrap yard some years back, and yes, if your detectives get a lead let me know as I will still go back and fit it into the center of the circle…(the beauty of setting the bricks straight into DG).

The rock with the claret cup was a great find, very unusual. I was really happy it survived the journey and positioning.

Oh yes the paint made quite a mess. The halflings still have it all over their feet, kumo also naturally ran through it so there are now small footprints on my back patio, still, it was worth it to get the redneck fairies evicted.


3 Toni - Signature Gardens July 30, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Yes, awesome backyard design! I’m coveting that large tree in their backyard! Wow, gorgeous! Is that the evil Bermuda being pulled out near the cactus? That’s one scary combination for sure!! Just moved into the #2 spot for 100-degree streak record in DFW area. That’s my only consolation when I look at my suffering garden is that this is a record-breaking year, and hopefully next year will be better. Greggo is right, the rains will come again, albeit probably in torrents, but they will come.

Thank you Toni.

That tree is a real beauty and the flagstone really does help to draw attention to it.

Yes that is…it is hard to say…Bermuda grass (grimaces). Over the course of the years I have documented my struggles with this tiny bit of hell tucked in tight to the base of my barrel cactus, hence it is not a moment of zen at all. In fact my blood pressure spikes every time I have to try and extract it with my pliers. It is just typical that I have eradicated all of the Bermuda from the Patch and yet there it thrives, in the most inaccessible place imaginable, just to remind me…

“Resistance is Futile”.

I am afraid I have to disagree with you both – it is never going to rain again, ever.


4 Ms. S July 30, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Great job on that garden! Nice that they have that dappled light to work with. Your stone and gravel is perfect for it.
BTW your pinecone cactus looks ready to start a shimmy dance in the heat. Reminds me of the very hungry caterpillar. :)

Hi Ms.S.

Thanks and glad you like it.

The dappled light made laying all those bricks tolerable. I could not imagine doing that activity in the full Texas sun, iced turban or no iced turban.

The pine cone cactus are really funky with their contemporary body patterns, interesting that this year a couple of them have developed a few Homer Simpson strands of hair.


5 Iris July 31, 2011 at 10:08 am

I love the new backyard garden! It’s now so soft, friendly, and cool. Love the fairy house’s new paint, too! My zinnias are as droopy as your sunflowers. Sigh.

Thanks Iris.

I think there is more paint on my patio then on the fairy house but a good time was had by all. My rosemary is also looking a little more yellow then usual, you know it is dry when rosemary starts to stress.


6 Diana July 31, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Love the shot of the sky from under the Pride. What I like most about your landscape design project is how cool those rocks and gravel look in this heat. I’ll take anything that even makes me think it might be a degree cooler! Instead we have to move every single item from the back patio/kitchen/cabana area cuz we are getting the deck repaired and restained. Every little plant pot has to find a new temporary home. Who on earth bought all those pots anyway?!

Hi Diana.

It took quite a few shots to finally get some interesting angles on the Prides, but worth the effort.

I never really thought about the visual cooling aspect of the materials, but yes you are right. The Tejas black and silvermist flag also looks amazing when it gets wet, should we ever get any rain ever again, it takes on a great shiny appearance.

Sorry to hear you are plant pot shuffling in the heat, it happens to us all at some point and yes it is amazing how many pots get accumulated over time, plant pots also apparently have their own unique set of physics. I have a couple of hundred terracotta pots (left over from my agave pup planting farce) that I have shuffled from one place to another numerous times, so I feel your pain.


7 David C. July 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Nice patio / fire pit design, including how the repetition of Bamboo Muhley works with the scene. And of course, the live oak…

You are getting one heck of a historically hot summer – hopefully, some of your relief will be gentle soaking rains. And hopefully you don’t turn around and set any record lows this winter – was surprised to see ATX has been below 0F! I do not envy you where high humidity and high heat mix with drought!

But your plant choices are perfect for that…and again, those live oaks!

Thanks David.

The fire pit was dropped to optimize the space for a round table and overhead tarp cover. I am going to take some more photography with the space being lived in soon.

Yes, Mars it is, and most likely to be the hottest summer ever, I do not see it getting cooler in August after all. Between two harsh winters, drought and searing temperatures it is amazing anything lives – true homage and testament to the hardiness of the Texas natives, they have been through it all before, well, almost.

I thought you would like those live oaks, the one to the side of the house really was a great specimen.


8 Casa Mariposa July 31, 2011 at 5:51 pm

The back yard redo is quite impressive!! That property had some pretty cool trees. We’ve been enjoying our own Texas-style weather here the past couple of weeks and you can have it back!!! I’d love that barometer plant but I don’t think it would make it through our winters. Too bad!

Thanks and yes it did.
I am sorry to hear you have been having your own little slice of Mars of late, and unfortunately we cannot have it back because it never left :-) I hope your garden pulled through okay. The Texas sage does not seem to care what the weather does, I think you should give it a go! I dare you.

9 katina July 31, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Sorry you couldn’t make it to the Go-Go – and I was so looking forward to getting my very own Philip black and grey picture. Ah well…c’est la vie.

I love the black and blue look – I may have to incorporate that into my yard…though I have a feeling that the red and orange/buff color scheme would fit better.

I, too, will be on the lookout for old manhole covers for you.

Hi Katina.

Sorry to have missed it too…I hope you had a fun and productive day. I promise I will get a black and grey sketch to you as soon as work calms down a little :-)

The black and blue look is my favorite combination at the moment, and it really came out nice on this scheme.

Thanks for keeping a lookout for the manhole cover agent #2.

Over and out.

10 Linda Phillips August 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

That is a great make-over. Really like the circular patio.
How you work out in this horrible heat, I don’t know. Be careful out there.
Hope you get better tenants in the fairy house. You have the cutest “halflings”.

Hi Linda.

Lets just say this install was a particularly character building experience for all involved in it…tough it was, but also very rewarding upon completion and survival.

I have my fingers crossed for a better class of occupants for the fairy house, none could be worse then the last transient tenants!:-)

Thank you Linda.

11 Casa Mariposa August 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm

What’s the latin on Texas sage? When I googled it I came up with several different types. I’m in zone 7a. It would need to withstand snow, clay soil, and humidity.

Hi Casa Mariposa.

The Latin name is: Leucophyllum frutescens and I believe it is the “thunder cloud” cultivar, but I am not 100% sure. All Texas sages love well draining soil so some decomposed granite / sharp soil thrown under, in and around the planting hole would be beneficial for this shrub…snow and humidity I know it can handle.

I am in 8b and it thrives with absolutely no attention (apart form my occasional aggressive pruning) or additional water. This small shrub is tough…very tough.



12 Les August 1, 2011 at 2:10 pm

If ever a yard needed to be transformed (maybe more aptly “formed”), this one does. I really like what you have accomplished, particularly the circular seating wall. I have been thinking about my on-line Texas gardening friends. Your plight is national news. This past week we just climbed out of our rainfall deficit and are now in the black for the year, so I will send the extra your way.

Hi Les.

I was so happy to get involved and solve the problems that were associated with this particular back garden. It really was a blank slate that already had some great foundations; the dappled shade and the mature live oaks. The space just required a little definition to better highlight the good parts. The circular retainer wall was quite challenging and it took a lot more effort then I initially calculated, but the end result was well worth the effort!

We are hitting 103-106 degrees on a daily basis now, all I can say is that I am happy that a) I have no lawn and b) all my natives are well established. Apart from newly planted plants (crazy I know, but I always have them no-matter what time of the year it is) most of the Patch plants remain okay with the minimal of care…a good overhead sprinkler soaking once a week at dawn…but yes, please send some of the real stuff this way asap.

We need it!

Spitting feathers…


13 Daphne August 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Awesome design! Thanks for sharing the process. I’ve got a lot of work to do in my own backyard and am constantly on the look-out for great ideas. I understand the fascination with manhole covers. I have a fabulous one, from New Orleans. It’s currently serving as a plant stand for my indoor ficus tree. I’ll tweet a picture of it later, so you can see it. I’m sure I’ll find a much better way to show it off in the landscape one of these days. Stay cool and hydrated out there, my friend!

Thanks Daphne.

Those old Lone-Star manhole covers are hard to come by these days it seems! Hang onto your New Orleans one, it may be worth a fortune in a few thousand years when one of your progeny take it to the antiques roadshow on their personal hover-mobile to get it evaluated :-)
I think the heat is getting to me…
I have also noticed that I have developed a rather irritating mad laugh and facial twitch whenever the weather forecast comes on the TV at the moment:

14 jenny August 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Simply smashing design, old boy!

15 Anonymous August 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Thanks old chap!

16 ESP August 9, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Glad you like it old chap!

17 Chris M September 11, 2011 at 3:29 pm

And here I sit in said oasis, as I do every afternoon, evening and morning. You truly transformed, not only our yard, but our lives! The patio is a dream. I love love love it!
Thank you, wizard.

18 ESP September 11, 2011 at 7:18 pm

So happy you like your new space and patio Chris and thanks for dropping into the Patch to comment about it.
Gandalf the green.

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