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Pride of Place

by germinatrix | August 16th, 2009

check out the front yard beauty!check out the front yard beauty!

Every hardcore gardener I talk to, email, or ‘tweet’ with is on the same page as I am as far as front yards are concerned: Lawn, NO – Gardens YES!!! And front yard gardens that include vegetables? HELL YES!!!

Recently, I was in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas, and I was extremely lucky, because my awesome cousin Paul arranged for me to visit with his friend Curt. Curt is somewhat of a legend around San Antonio, being a fixture in the local art scene and an all-around great, eclectic man. AND … he has a crazy awesome garden. In his front yard. LOVE!!!

 

stuart, who makes garden magic in ole san antone...curt, who makes garden magic in ole san antone…

First off, props to ANYONE who dares to tinker with living, growing things in the intense heat of a South Texas summer. This year saw some of the hottest temperatures on record –  in fact, July (when I was there) was the the hottest month EVER for San Antonio and Austin. When Paul and I pulled up to Curt’s house, I was amazed … everything looked so beautiful – perky, even! All around San Antonio, where water restrictions are serious business, lawns are drying up and front yards are looking fairly desperate, but here in Curt’s island of horticultural wonder, things are just lovely. Exactly as it should be! 

 

vegetables and drought tolerants mix it up with stylevegetables and drought tolerants mix it up with style

He does what I advocate – uses a tough palette of drought tolerants and succulents and plays with them fearlessly. Other than reading about what survives in this rigorous climate, he works purely on instinct – he proudly says he knows nothing about plants – Ha! I beg to differ! DOING is the best learning in the garden – you can read, study, and intellectually understand everything there is to know about a plant, but until you actually plant it yourself and grow it firsthand – everything you know is just a rumor.

 

you don't know it 'til you grow ityou don’t know it ’til you grow it

But what REALLY gets me is his raised vegetable beds! I mean, front yard vegetable gardening makes so much sense. Usually, your front yard gets the best sun – because front yards are always planned around the ubiquitous lawn, which doesn’t grow it’s best in shade. By removing a front lawn and replacing it with a mix of drought tolerants and vegetables, you are transitioning from a space that gives you very little and takes alot (water, chemicals) to a space that gives alot (food, fragrance, flowers) and takes less in terms of water and no chemicals at all (we only advocate organics here at The Germinatrix!). Most of the early season veggies have already been harvested – the extreme heat has forced a mid-summer lull, but the structure Curt has built into the garden keeps it looking great.

I love the use of corrugated aluminum for the raised beds … it’s so Texas! Very chic – it gives the potentially rustic vegetable garden an industrial edge. Curt has a flawless eye for plant combinations, also – Euphorbia ‘Stix on Fire’ plays with Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed), the pinky/orange on the ‘stix’ talking to the orange and gold flowers of the asclepias; all that colorful heat is then cooled off by a white cosmos waving in the air nearby. 

 

herbs are the tough, beautiful, and edible - perfection!herbs are the tough, beautiful, and edible – perfection!

Planting herbs in this challenging climate is smart – they can be a great low water alternative to traditional groundcovers. I love using thymes, the culinary sages ( S. ‘Berggarten’ and S. purpurescens are my favorites), sweet marjoram, golden oregano, and then throwing in medicinal aloe, just like Curt has done. He as been right on target with his choices, as far as I am concerned. 

 

talk about curb appeal!talk about curb appeal!

 

a cool, lush corner  a cool, lush corner

 This place was a real treat to experience. I have to admit having a bit of a prejudice … I love an owner-designed garden! I adore idiosyncrasy, but orchestrating that for someone else and having it look authentic is really hard. There is something elusive – call it ‘heart’, maybe – that all of us as garden designers strive for as an antidote to strident, over-determined, corporate-style plantings. Spending time in a garden like Curt’s allowed me to bathe in a landscape with heart, and it was FAB! Thank you, Curt, for the generous peek into your wonderful garden!

18 Responses to “Pride of Place”

  1. Curt seems like a kindred spirit in his technique. Yes, instinct and experience make the best gardeners. You have to play and experiment; letting the plants communicate their wants and needs. Our gardens, our laboratories.

    Well done, Curt. Gorgeous tour, Ivette, thank you.

  2. What a cool front yard! I’m doing my happy ‘lose the lawn’ dance for the second time today! (I’m sure you were doing it too, or would have if you weren’t sweating so much while you took these pics!) Those raised beds are so cool, and you’re right, his choices of plants were brilliant. Thanks so much for sharing what you found!

  3. That’s a playful, eclectic front-yard garden. Very cool! I like the corrugated steel structure and zig-zagging paths. Is that ‘Sticks on Fire’ actually in the dirt? I didn’t know it was that cold-hardy, though I suppose S.A. is a bit warmer than Austin in winter.

    The Austin garden bloggers are thinking of making a group trip to S.A. in the fall. I wonder if we might wrangle an invitation to see Curt’s garden in person…

  4. I love the corrugated sheet metal raised beds…but are the edges sharp?…I would love to know how he built them….

  5. Hi dear Keith! I loved how Curt embraced instinct – often, people can get a little shy with me when I tour their gardens (which is so funny to me, because I am not a formally trained garden designer! I’m a total autodidact! I’m just like them!) but Curt was very secure with his process … and with those results, well, who wouldn’t be?
    And I’ve always considered my home garden my ‘lab’! It is where I can play and experiment … and the more I grow as I designer, the more I want ALL my work to reflect that spirit, you know what I mean? That is why visiting gardens where interesting design has come from the love of plants and a sense of play is inspirational to me.
    I’m so glad you enjoyed this garden! Me, too! XOXO!

    Laura! The ‘Lose the Lawn’ dance happens no matter HOW much I sweat! (by the way, remember when I was tweeting about the neighbor who had the audacity to rip out his lawn and replace it with more lawn? You should se it now. I’ll post an image on twitpic -you’ll do another dance!)
    Curt gardens from the heart, and it shows, doesn’t it? I love that his most exuberant planting isn’t private – it’s public! I want the front yard garden movement to catch on like wildfire! And I KNOW you are with me on this, Sister!
    MWAH!

    Hi Pam! I am going to email Curt right away to and give him your contact info – y’all would love being in his garden! The only problem might be that -GASP- he’s selling the house! It’s going on the market in a couple of months… he wants to raise chickens on a farm in the Texas countryside. I immediately wanted to put a bid on the house – of course, I couldn’t (if I could afford it, I would have already bought YOUR house!) but the thought of living in that garden was VERY tempting!
    Yes, the ‘Sticks on Fire’ is in the ground – and growing beautifully. SA does freeze – I don’t know how he does it. Maybe he just takes cuttings and has them waiting on-deck – ‘Stix’ is super easy to propagate. Since cutting the euphorbia is the secret to keeping it’s vibrant color, all you need is one to start your own raging ‘Sticks on Fire’ inferno!

    Hello Rochelle! Very cool beds, right? All of the larger, square beds have wooden frames that keep the corrugated edges from being a hazard – but there is a smaller, round bed where many of the herbs live that is naked. I touched the edge, and it wasn’t sharp – I think it may have been filed smooth. I’ll see if I can get some info from Curt on the construction of these super cool raised beds – I want some, too!

  6. WOW, I wish Curt lived in my neighborhood! Beautiful design and execution, as well as maintenance. I also really appreciate what you said about owner designed gardens and trying to get the “heart” into the gardens you design. You are so right about that emotion often being left out of “corporate-style” plantings, it amazes me when the designer manages to find it. YOU seem to be spot in at doing that! Thanks to you, and Curt, for sharing!

  7. Jean Prescott says:

    What a glorious place! I can’t stop scrolling through the pictures. I fear I am far too lazy to make such a grand display work, but thank goodness there are people like Curt — and your own smart self — who have the gift to grow. And thank you, Germi, for the photos. Two thumbs up, as always.

  8. And thank you, Germi! for presenting this tour of a to-die-for gardenscape: How inspiring to see the inventive implementation of corrugated aluminum; rich plant palette of edibles and ornamentals; and obviously a boundless verve coupled with the intelligence of the gardener – one who knows enough to beautify a front garden space to the fullest. Curt is deserving of all the praise we can heap upon him. And you, as well, Germi, for a great post.
    And what of this new bit of information – you’re from San Antonio originally? Do you drawl a bit… or it that not a San Antonio trait? xoxo Alice aka tendril

  9. Dude. Seriously amazing garden. I was enthralled from photo one. Thanks for sharing! I absolutely HEART front yard veggie gardens. You go, Curt.

  10. Amazing! What an inspiring garden. Love the corrugated aluminum – it sets off that lovely palette of plants just perfectly. Wish Stuart was my neighbour – I’d love to photograph his garden for my book!

  11. A wonder tour of a fabulous garden.
    I am particularly taken with the good bones of the garden.
    By virtue of its natural nature a vegetable garden is an annual garden that will always be in a state of transition.
    Having good sound structure will permanently provide interest and an aesthetic foundation that the ephemeral part of the garden can always rely on.

    Thanks for the tour.

    Michelle

  12. Those corrugated metal beds are fantastic. What a great garden…and while he clearly puts a lot of time into it (I’m with Jean; too lazy), it is a look that would be achievable for an average suburban yard on a normal scale.

    Love that banana in the last photo.

  13. Loree! My partner in all plants sharp! Yes, wouldn’t be cool if we could walk around our neighborhoods and see gardens like Curts all over? Where everyone plants what they love, foods that sustains them, and embraces individuality? One day!
    I’m learning about designing gardens with personal soul – thanks so much for the vote of confidence, you sweetheart!

    Dear Expat! It’s a great garden, isn’t it? I applaud Curt for being so bold … but we can all do this – maybe not on such a scale, but I think maybe even one corrugated feature can do something cool for a garden. It is nice to look at, though even if such a garden isn’t in the cards for everyone, right?
    XOXO!

    Hi Tendril! What a glorious comment! I’m putting it on my new business cards! It’s funny, because talking to Curt, he doesn’t seem like a ball of energy (even though we KNOW what it takes to keep a garden like that) – maybe it’s because the healing nature of gardening has smoothed out the rough edges and left lovely mellowness behind!
    Yes y’all! Ahm a Texan threw and threw! Mwah!

    Hi Blake! I have to take this second to pat myself on the back for the first photo. When I saw what the light was doing as I looked at the screen, I was amazed I didn’t fumble and ruin the picture! I am famous (in my own mind) for flubbing the BEST pics because I get nervous! So thank you for mentioning that first pic – it’s special to me, too! I also love me a front yard veggie garden – we want more, don’t we?!!

    Darling PETAL!!! I knew you’d love this garden. He’s selling the house – isn’t that a shame? Well, not for whoever ends up buying it! But a garden like this would be PERFECT for you and your upcoming book (big big cheer for the FABULOUS Andrea Bellamy, everybody!). It says ‘Heavy Petal’ all aver it.

    Hi Michele D. – you know how excited I get when you comment! Isn’t it funny, that even though Curt is a self-proclaimed naif, he made all the right moves? Everywhere there needs to be a hard edge, there it is – a soft shape; likewise. The paths are perfectly wide while not taking up too much space. The beds are functioning, and have panache. You are so right about the ephemeral nature of a veg garden – if one is going to be front and center, those bones better be in place, and they really are in evidence here. I’m so glad you enjoyed Curt’s garden!

    SUSA! Hi 5, friend! I’d be intimidated to keep my front veg garden looking good all the time, but here, using the techniques Curt employs, it seems effortless. I took these pics in the hottest, driest time – and it was kind of between seasons, but look how awesome!
    You are right, though – in a place like yours … THAT would be some work!

  14. Hi Ivette.

    What an inspiring post!

    I love what you said about the owner-inspired-executed garden verses designing one for someone-so true! This post gave me a new perspective as to what can be achieved in the dreaded “hell-strip”! Wow!

    What a great job Curt has done, it just goes to show what can be achieved in the heat-baked area we all tend to ignore, and shy away creatively from. I will be reading this again, and again, and probably again.
    The corrugated aluminum for the raised beds was a really nice “Texas” look, very classy.
    Oh and great pictures of this magical place Ivette
    ESP.

  15. What a luscious, glorious garden! Is that a fig tree in the bottom photo?

  16. Hi Ivette & everyone. Thanks for all your kind comments. It means a lot to me to read how much ya’ll enjoyed viewing my gardens. And Ivette I wasn’t expecting such a wonderful blog posting …. wow you know how to do it right! I work in advertising everyday and your posting is great!!!
    You sure have the art form down … keep going. And if anyone is moving to San Antonio anytime soon my home will be on the market “it’s a turn of the century home about 100 years of age double lot. My new home is a 1955 ranch style house and has no gardens so I have a clean slate to work with. Thanks again for your wonderful words … and as I always say “go gardening®”

    Curt Slangal

  17. Melissa Thornell says:

    Hi Curt! I just happened upon this website – your gardens are FABULOUS!!! If I were moving back to SA, I’d certainly consider buying your house. Hope all’s well with you.

  18. Loralyn Bailey McMeans says:

    Curt Slangal:
    WOW! Gardening is so perfect for you – obviously – to express your artistic talent! So happy to see you using that medium SO well. Thanks to Jack Dennis for posting this article so all of us McCollum alums can feast on the AMAZING photos of your gorgeous gardening handiwork! Keep up the great work! For those of us no longer in San Antonio, it’s a treat for the soul to at least get to see such loveliness online . . . . . . Loralyn Bailey McMeans (Class of ’74)

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