by germinatrix | August 16th, 2009
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!!!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!