“It is what was right here”: A prairie backyard grows close to downtown Austin

Might 01, 2024

You wouldn’t look forward to finding an enormous prairie backyard right here — the yard of a personal residence so near downtown Austin that blue-glass skyscrapers peek over the treetops. Proprietor Colin Corgan purchased a historic Eighteen Eighties home within the Travis Heights neighborhood a number of years in the past and launched into a metamorphosis of each the home and the property, a metamorphosis that respects the historical past of every.

He restored the outdated Victorian residence, retaining its reference to the previous, whereas including onto the again a recent, glass-walled annex that embraces mild and out of doors views. Even earlier than building was completed, Colin turned his consideration to the 1.3-acre lot, which occupies a whole metropolis block. Rather than a jungle of weeds and invasive timber that had colonized the property over the many years, he envisioned a local prairie backyard flowing round current stay oaks.

Colin introduced in prairie-restoration professional John Hart Asher of Blackland Collaborative to organize the soil and set up a local prairie backyard and a green-roof meadow atop the pool home. (Different elements of the backyard have been designed by Shaney Clemmons of Shademaker Studio.) John Hart gave me a tour of the backyard final week.

As John Hart yanked up an invasive bromegrass (Bromus catharticus), he advised me that the prairie is changing into properly established in its second 12 months. Upkeep consists of slicing it again arduous every year in February, earlier than it breaks winter dormancy. In any other case, he prefers to fluctuate the upkeep schedule of a prairie to maintain from unintentionally creating circumstances for only a few species to dominate. “Upkeep is a time for analysis,” he says. “The energy of a prairie is the interactivity of it.”

As with all backyard, weeding is vital. Woody crops particularly threaten a prairie backyard, John Hart warns, as a result of they shade out sun-loving annuals and perennials. To tug woody crops with deep taproots, he recommends utilizing a weed wrench.

Later I requested Colin, who spoke with me by cellphone, why he needed a local prairie backyard. “As a result of that is what was right here,” he replied. “For me, it’s not simply the crops. It’s the ecosystem. Since planting this, there are extra birds and lizards. They comprehend it’s right here. It takes time for that to occur. And it’s stunning. I derive pleasure once I’m on the market. It’s acceptable for this atmosphere.”

Black-eyed Susan and standing winecup

A local Texan initially from Dallas, Colin appreciates that his half-acre prairie, when absolutely established, would require a lot much less water than a conventional, lawn-dominated panorama. Once I requested him what occurs with the prairie in summer season, he was matter-of-fact: “It goes dormant, proper? It turns brown. And that’s OK. It doesn’t trouble me. I imply, it’s 109 levels. What’s it presupposed to do? I’m going dormant additionally.”

Engelmann’s daisy

In fact, a prairie doesn’t go utterly dormant in summer season, even a blistering one. “You continue to have exercise in summer season,” Colin added. “It’s simply that the colours aren’t there. However that’s additionally a part of Texas. It’s a tradeoff.”

Chunky slabs of limestone minimize a rugged path via the backyard, curving beneath a shady belt of stay oaks and junipers.

Blue curls, a captivating annual or biennial wildflower, attracts bees.

Blue curls seedheads

Blue curls and pink night primrose

Colin doesn’t have conventional turfgrass, and he has zero regrets about opting out. “What I inform my buddies, and I firmly consider this – individuals have an idealized picture of what their yard goes to appear to be: close-clipped inexperienced grass year-round, and it’s going to be stunning. I perceive that’s what you need. However that’s not going to occur. It’s not the top outcome. So many buddies with ‘regular’ yards — they don’t look the best way they thought it could look, they usually require plenty of repairs.”

Engelmann’s daisy

He sees the prairie backyard as requiring much less work total. “I moved in in late October and didn’t do something till March, or one thing like that,” he mentioned. “It’s simply fantastic. Typically talking, I like the low upkeep with durations of excessive upkeep, versus somebody coming by each week to edge and mow.”

In a again nook, out of the primary view of home and terrace, Colin put in a faux-turf {golfing} inexperienced for leisure enjoyment.

The limestone path takes you there, via prairie crops abuzz with bees, butterflies, and birds.

Standing cypress simply coming into bloom

Texas grama and standing winecup

Standing winecup


Large coneflower

Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida)

Coreopsis and painted woman butterfly

Sipping from a flower

Yellows dominate now, after the blues and pinks of early spring

View from the swimming pool terrace, with a lap pool beneath. Downtown’s skyscrapers might be glimpsed via the timber.

By the home, a sunken patio with a swooping, modern arbor makes a shady vacation spot for stress-free outside.

Shademaker Studio collaborated on the design with Ken Johnson at Michael Hsu Workplace Of Structure, which designed the house’s modern addition.

Vast view of the prairie

Grackle taking a stroll

Large coneflower with standing winecup and pink night primrose


Engelmann’s daisy and standing cypress

Feathery foliage of standing cypress

John Hart is like each gardener I’ve ever recognized — he can’t not pull a weed if he spots one.

In the course of the prairie, a big berm conceals a sunken patio edged with dark-gray stone — a hearth bunker, Shaney calls it. Her agency, Shademaker Studio, constructed it.

A Cowboy Cauldron stands within the middle, encircled by a council-ring bench, able to heat up cool nights with a hearth. “I needed a spot away from the home,” Colin advised me. “I like the truth that should you’re sitting in it, you may’t actually see the home. You’re feeling such as you’re type of tenting out. On the home aspect, the south aspect, we planted a bigtooth maple. It turns pink within the fall — it’s actually fairly — after which loses its leaves within the winter, so the solar will are available in there to heat you. I assumed that was a pleasant contact.”

One other good contact is a backyard mural on a wall by a again gate.

My due to Colin for sharing his stunning backyard with me, and to John Hart for the tour and sharing the wonders of the prairie. For those who’d prefer to study extra about this prairie backyard, watch John Hart’s video at Central Texas Gardener (Season 28, Episode 3).

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Digging Deeper

Might 4: Discover “good backyards, excellent swimming pools and pergolas, and out of doors rooms and gardens” on the ATX Out of doors Dwelling Tour on 5/4, 10 am to three pm. Panorama architects, designers, and builders will probably be readily available to reply questions. Tickets are $33.85 for adults, $17.85 for youths age 10-17.

Might 11: Tour 4 Austin gardens on 5/11, from 9 am to three pm, on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour. Every backyard “is created and cared for by a Travis County Grasp Gardener and demonstrates lifelike gardening practices that inform and encourage.” Tickets are $25, or free for kids 12 and beneath.

Might 18: On Austin Residence’s Nice Outside Tour, held 5/18 from 10 am to three pm, discover “Pinterest-worthy swimming pools and out of doors kitchens to considerate plantings and trendy city density options.” Tickets are $30.

Might 18: Pop as much as Dallas for the 2024 DCMGA Backyard Tour on 5/18 from 10 am to five pm. Tickets are $18 if bought on-line prior to six pm on 5/17, or $22 after 6 pm on 5/17 or on the occasion. For a sneak peek, click on right here.

June 1-2: Take a self-guided, 2-day tour of ponds and gardens in and round Austin on the annual Austin Pond and Backyard Tour, held 6/1 and 6/2, 9 am to five pm. Tickets are $20 to $25.

Come study gardening and design at Backyard Spark! I arrange in-person talks by inspiring designers, panorama architects, authors, and gardeners a number of occasions a 12 months in Austin. These are limited-attendance occasions that promote out rapidly, so be part of the Backyard Spark e mail checklist to be notified prematurely; merely click on this hyperlink and ask to be added. Season 8 kicks off in fall 2024. Keep tuned for more information!

All materials © 2024 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized copy prohibited.

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