Makeover Buddies Up Outdoor Living and Pollinator Pizazz

In a rainfall gap last weekend, I ventured out to the Austin Outdoor Living Tour 2021. Invariably, I got so chatty with everyone that I only made it to a few homes. One that had my curiosity in high gear was this Open Envelope Studio design and build that illustrated a makeover with a typical yard like mine.
Screened in porch Texas basalt path pecan tree Sweetwood arroyo native shrub and lantana Open Envelope Studio design
The screened in porch replaced a cobbled-together uncovered patio and scraggly grass under the pecan tree, while extending mosquito-free dining and living rooms filled with bird calls.
screened in porch to backyard pecan tree Texas basalt path concrete path and wide bench and wall native plants Open Envelope Studio
In the crush with everyone’s questions, I couldn’t absorb all the intricate design details from Open Envelope Studio co-owner and creative director Matt Norton, but you can read more about it.
screened in porch custom wood table cedar ceiling Matt Norton Open Envelope Studio
In 2018, OES landscape designers Angelica Norton and Matt responded to a young, busy family’s quest for a low-maintenance, water-saving garden that invited wildlife into their lives. Native inland sea oats lines one side. The Texas basalt gravel path and native river rock let rainwater infiltrate while fending off mud patches. In fact, despite all the recent rain, no puddles barred the paths or huddled against the foundation.
screened in porch native inland sea oats native river rock and Texas basalt path around pecan tree Open Envelope Studio
In the utility cove, salt and pepper river rock grounds feathery, wall-embracing native Arroyo sweetwood and lantana—both big pollinator buddies—to guarantee closeup butterfly and bee “oh wows” even from indoors.
screened in porch pecan tree native river rock Sweet arroyo tree with lantana Texas basalt path Open Envelope Studio
This plan also infiltrates rainwater while making access easy for those inevitable utility service calls! The Arroyo sweetwood breaks up the view to those essential boxes.
Arroyo sweetwood native tree lantana river rock in house utility cove Open Envelope Studio
To hang out with friends and family outdoors, a poured-in-place concrete patio foots an L-shaped Ipe bench with ample room for entertaining. A board-form concrete wall makes both a handy backrest and an architectural clue to a new dimension beyond. Plus, it’s wide enough to set a plate or glass or even yourself!
board form concrete wall ipe bench concrete patio Graceful bamboo red yucca family outdoor living Open Envelope Studio
For childhood tumbles and barefooted wanderings, easy-care ‘Palisades’ zoysia softly carpets, while ‘Graceful’ clumping bamboo promises a non-invasive privacy and busy street noise screen.
ipe bench board form concrete wall Palisades zoysia Graceful bamboo Open Envelope Studio design Central Texas Gardener
ipe bench board form concrete wall patio Graceful clumping bamboo Open Envelope Studio design
Low-maintenance, uncluttered plants absolutely don’t mean a lack of pollinator love! Native and adapted choices—succulents, perennials, annuals like native Salvia coccinea, native bunch grasses, shrubs and small trees—go hand-in-hand to engage the family with wildlife explorations every season.
ipe bench Texas basalt path native river rock native plants for pollinators Open Envelope Studio tour Central Texas Gardener
I guess the cloudy days prompted a native kidneywood to bloom ahead of its fall schedule, energetically welcomed by ebony, solitary spider wasps, beneficial predators that rarely sting.
Black wasp with orange antenna on native Texas plant kidneywood Open Envelope Studio garden design
What I like so much, too, is the tranquility. I could have sat here with OES draftsman Ben Davis and chatted with the owners all day—procrastinating from returning to my out-of-control jungle!
board form concrete wall seating native Salvia coccinea Ben Davis Open Envelope Studio and owner Central Texas Gardener
I met the whole enthusiastic family, including a vivacious daughter who showed me a Japanese eggplant she’d just picked, its color a perfect match to her cute kitty ears headband (I want!). Her mom was busy answering lots of questions, but later she took me on a tour of her vegetable garden.
board form concrete wall bench native Salvia coccinea Open Envelope Studio design tour with host and guest Central Texas Gardener
Even in this standard-sized backyard, they created and defined destinations, like this one into the vegetable garden. They framed its entrance with a ‘Red Baron’ peach on the left and native Mexican buckeye to the right. A raised bed contributes dimensional intrigue and good drainage for hummingbird-beloved succulents like red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora).
Texas basalt path peach tree native Mexican buckeye board form concrete wall Palisades zoysia Open Envelope Studio design
Texas basalt path raised steel bed red yucca plants Red Baron peach tree native Mexican buckeye Open Envelope Studio design
Texas basalt path Palisades zoysia red yucca Graceful clumping bamboo board form concrete wall Open Envelope Studio
Vegetable garden backyard jungle gym to more formal backyard Open Envelope Studio design
Robust tomatoes and summertime squash take the stage as cool-weather lettuces and onions await final harvest. A fake owl (and fake snake below) may fend off eager birds. Perhaps the cute red heart ornaments fooled them, or simply charmed them, as they did me. Whatever works is my motto! Just to be safe, the gardeners did enclose almost-ripe tomatoes in net bags. Always good to have Plan C, too!
Vegetable garden tomatoes red heart Christmas ornaments and fake owl to scare away birds Central Texas Gardener
The owner plucked a leaf from shisho for me to taste. Called Japanese mint, it’s really a Perilla, a member of the mint family. She grows both the green and red varieties to use for sushi and other dishes.
Japanese mint shiso in Austin garden Central Texas Gardener
edamame Austin garden Central Texas Gardener
Japanese eggplant, a slender fruit. She orders seeds for these edibles since transplants may not be commonly found in nurseries.
Japanese eggplant Austin garden Central Texas Gardener
Then there’s Japanese squash.
Japanese squash Austin garden Central Texas Gardener
When she found wire mesh panels on the neighborhood’s Buy Nothing group, she put them to use to support tomatoes and squash. That’s my favorite part of meeting gardeners: picking up their clever invents from salvages.
wire mesh panel to support tomatoes and squash Austin garden Central Texas Gardener
And indeed, gardeners are resourceful, too. She picked up spent mushroom blocks from local mushroom farmers to grow her own yellow oyster mushrooms.
Yellow oyster mushroom from mushroom block Austin vegetable garden
About mushrooms (since we’re seeing lots right now), Angel Schatz from Central Texas Mycological Society and the Austin Organic Gardeners joined us earlier this year to explain what mushrooms do and how to get mushroom blocks and grow your own. Watch here!

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Read more about their design of this garden.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week, Linda