January 24, 2024
Jennie Ostertag broke a few shovels turning her blank yard into an enchanting hangout for family, friends, and wildlife. But as she struck rock, sheet mulched grass, and reimagined salvaged materials on a budget, she met a community of equally-challenged gardeners happy to share plants and advice.
We dropped by in November 2023 to learn how she transformed a stark fence and Bermuda grass yard. It all started in 2012 when she returned to Texas with husband Chris. With a demanding career and eventual motherhood, she snagged random moments to rid the grass for vibrant curving beds buzzing with pollinators.
When working the soil became solace after stressful work days, Jennie changed her life’s path, too. She enrolled in UT’s School of Landscape Architecture, but when the pandemic hit, she found her niche as an eco-centered designer, founding BOLT Landscape Design.
“The way this has all developed has been very organic and experimental, meaning there wasn’t some master plan. It’s a constant state of evolution,” Jennie told us. And, for her, that means slamming on the brakes when she drives by an irresistible curbside giveaway.
At various times, she picked up loads of discarded bricks from five neighbors to lay the patio. (I still have bricks sourced the same way; repurposed many times in my garden!)
Neighbors passed along flagstones and field stones, too, though many of them came from Jennie’s own excavations. “I’ve joked that the I’m farming Texas potatoes, which really are just hunks of limestone. I’ve broken three shovels digging,” she laughed. “And that’s when I was told that there are rock bars. So, I now have two rock bars.” (For me, clay soil turned digging forks into garden art.) Director Ed Fuentes and grip Steve Maedl take in the view atop the deck that Jennie built.
It can be hard for gardeners to visualize how a pint-sized plant will fill a spot as it grows up. But Jennie’s got it. For one thing, small plants are easier on the wallet. Plus, it’s much easier to dig a hole in rock or clay. This Cassia corymbosa, along with its companion salvias, grasses, mistflower and rosemary, will camouflage the deck gap by next year.
She started at the back fence, where she’s got the most light, and worked her way to the patio.
Jennie grew her plant inventory by propagating favorites and swapping plants with neighbors. Her friend, garden designer Lori Daul, shared divisions of eye-catching ‘Princess Caroline’ fountain grass. During the pandemic, her friend Rebecca started a free plant stand that continues to grow community. “So a lot of it has come to feel like more of a designed composition over time as we do that sharing,” she said.
Along the way, she created landing spots for different viewpoints.
Shade under the live oaks called for family time picnics where its dappled light also makes it the perfect nursery for cuttings and divisions. She screened the fence with deciduous and evergreen shrubs and small trees, including wax myrtle, American beautyberry, almond verbena, Texas persimmon, and ‘Sky Pencil’ holly, an upright narrow variety. In just a few years, they’ll totally frame that view.
She focuses our attention with vignettes, pairing fun salvages with plants.
If your eye skipped past glorious Salvia ‘Amistad’, this spinner would bring it right back.
To water container plants and her divisions, she positioned a stock tank under the patio door gutter to catch rainwater. It’s no surprise that plants, via water gardening friends, soon showed up.
When a neighbor was giving away a tub or trough of some sort, she installed it at ground level for birds, insects, and lizards.
She created a vignette with another stock tank—visible from the kitchen window—as a memory garden for a friend.
It’s hard to believe that we’re inching up on the anniversary of the famous February 2023 freeze. Jennie’s mountain cedar (ashe juniper) still bears the scars, though she used its sawed up branches as edging and garden art. Ed wanted a treetop wide shot, but I think he really just wanted to be a in treehouse!
The upside is that Jennie’s got more light for flowering plants, including Gregg’s mistflower, a fall-blooming butterfly favorite.
The real hit was in front where they lost a heritage live oak. In spring 2023, she planted a Mexican white oak and encircled the lawn with layers of seasonally blooming perennials. In this partial view, she’s got datura, catmint, soft leaf yucca, aster, sedges and snake herb.
She avoids “marching” foundation plants by mixing things up in layers of height, texture and color. Asters, sedges, and tradescantia cluster under a young yaupon holly. Newcomer artichoke agave marks its spot for planting.
Thanks for stopping by! See you next time! Linda