June 2, 2022
Destination Beauty: First Yard Makeover
Passionate about plants since childhood, Jared Goza and Andrew Ong plotted new paths of discovery when they turned their first home’s concrete slab yard into sensory destinations.
With eclectic style and tireless curiosity, they elevated dimension with trees, raised beds and privacy trellises.
“Some people focus on a specific thing in their garden, and I think ours is a little eclectic, but that’s how we like it,” Jared says. In 2019, they launched Gays Who Garden on Instagram to share their journey and help new gardeners.
“Great potential” is how the sales listing could have described the yard that came with their house. When they bought the bungalow in 2017, both front and backyards were mostly covered in concrete slabs. After handing over a chunk of change to demolish and haul them away, they plotted a decomposed granite path around a central island anchored by a Shumard oak.
When they started planting, they focused on trees and large shrubs first. They admit they made a few errors, but don’t we all when it comes to trees? Fortunately, they spotted the problems early on and simply moved things around.
In a shady nook near the house, they planted an elderberry tree and oakleaf hydrangea where it’s easy to give them extra water when needed. Rusty blackhaw viburnum, wood fern, and other part shade-lovers layer foliar texture and seasonal color.
“Any time we were putting out the paths and planning out where things were going to be, we wanted there to be a reason for those things. It doesn’t just have to be like because it’s pretty. It could be because this area gets more shade so this can be kind of a woodland area,” Jared explains.
“It’s a place where I can escape, to be quite honest. It’s a place where I come home to where I know I’m not being judged. I’m not. I know I’m not being watched. I know that I can come here and let my creative juices flow,” Andrew says.
They don’t use herbicides, not even when ridding the remnants of weedy yard back in the beginning. Hunkering down and pulling out unwanted seedlings aligns better with their philosophy to give back, not take away from natural resources. Andrew relies on a stirrup hoe to clear unwanted seedlings from the path.
Although Andrew and Jared each favor particular plants, they share unquenchable curiosity about them all. Native plants like black-eyed Susan cozy up to bearded iris and bluebonnets.
Native perennial Mexican hat.
On an Excel spreadsheet, Andrew laid out his seeding schedule. He starts most of them in pots, including cool weather annual foxgloves.
One side of the island bed clusters native perennials for successional flowering. Coneflower and low-growing snake herb feed pollinators late spring and in early fall. Feathery liatris claims the purplish-lavender show in late fall.
In this pollinator oasis, where a Red Admiral butterfly stopped by delphinium—a cool weather annual—you won’t find any pesticides among the garden supplies.
But to protect their yummy peaches from one-bite squirrels, they do net their tree. Since they’re out in the garden every day, they can keep an eye out for any birds or snakes that get trapped in the netting—which hasn’t been a problem for them.
Andrew loves roses, including fragrant David Austin English varieties, for cut flower arrangements. When crowds of Kern’s flower scarabs threatened to destroy the blossoms, he slipped fruit bags over each one.
They love British gardens and gardening shows, and in fact, spent their honeymoon in the UK. A common theme (as in Central Texas gardens) is a water feature. Jared wanted their pond to evoke an old country well, so he chose pond liner rather than a preformed shape. He built up the sides with broken up flagstone left over from the paths.
Like all the water plants, ‘Black Princess’ water lily resides in a black plastic pot, disguised by bits of stone on top.
When Andrew first built their raised beds, the idea was to grow vegetables. Eventually, they decided to devote the space to roses and other floral companions while adding vertical dimension to the garden. Shade cloth softens late spring’s harsh light, especially welcome as summer ramps up the heat.
Trellises elevate the view, too. Andrew and Jared weave cotton twine onto frames that Andrew builds from scrap lumber.
In a narrow side yard, they considered options for its use, settling on another raised bed. In this one, twine will support young cosmos flowers as they grow up. They use the string technique around other tall flowering plants to keep them upright.
At the end, they installed a chicken coop. When we visited in mid-May, the chicks were still in the house, but they’ve now graduated to their big hen abode and adjoining chicken run.
They turned the awkward narrow space between the house and garage into a cozy deck where they can nurture container plants that like bright shade.
Since the driveway takes up a lot of real estate, they put it to use. They adorn the fence with Belinda’s Dream and Old Blush roses while native coral honeysuckle rambles over a trellis.
Another trellis supports purple hyacinth bean vine, a lovely summer-to-fall favorite for bees and butterflies.
They added a little more screening with a trellis supporting thunbergia, black-eyed Susan vine. Andrew built raised beds to illustrate that anyone can garden, even if they don’t have a yard.
“I am happiest when I am productive, so why not marry that with something I love, which is gardening,” Andrew says.
Jared adds, “I want to bring the beauty that I see in nature into our own property. I want it to be a destination and a place that I can actually enjoy.”
When the garden prospers, Andrew notes, “It makes me feel like it’s kind of like Mother Nature smiling. Thank you for caring.”
Watch their story now!
Thanks for stopping by! Next week, we visit Este Garden for tips on tomatoes, peppers, and okra.