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Garden Makeover Grows New Friends and Career

smiling woman in colorful backyard
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.
tall tree with treehouse overlooking wide mulch path bordered by flower-filled beds and a wood deck
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.
flagstone path on mulch to vine-covered shed bordered by purple fountain grass
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.
brick patio, metal mesh table, colorful plants, small in-ground watering hole for wildlife
“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.
used bricks in diagonal pattern for patio
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!)
stone bordered flower bed against backyard deck; camera operator and assistant standing on it to record garden footage
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.
long golden yellow seed pod on leafy small tree
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.
flagstones on mulch bordered by colorful flowers and grasses
She started at the back fence, where she’s got the most light, and worked her way to the patio.
flagstone path on mulch to shed and stone-bordered bed of colorful perennials and grasses
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.
adirondack chairs on wood deck overlooking colorful flowers and grasses
Along the way, she created landing spots for different viewpoints.
live oak tree shading brick patio with picnic table and many container plants
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.
rusty metal spinner whilagig next to mirror on wooden fence reflecting shrimp plant
She focuses our attention with vignettes, pairing fun salvages with plants.
metal spinner (whirlagig) next to purple-flowering plant
If your eye skipped past glorious Salvia ‘Amistad’, this spinner would bring it right back.
small oblong galvanized stock tank with heron sculpture, leafy cannas and other plants
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.
small in-ground pond bordered by flagstones; water fountain stream from concrete frog
When a neighbor was giving away a tub or trough of some sort, she installed it at ground level for birds, insects, and lizards.
small galvanized stock tank pond with plants set under wood arbor and ornamented with swimming fish mobile
She created a vignette with another stock tank—visible from the kitchen window—as a memory garden for a friend.
man with camera waving from treehouse
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!
monarch butterfly on fuzzy lavender flowers
The upside is that Jennie’s got more light for flowering plants, including Gregg’s mistflower, a fall-blooming butterfly favorite.
narrow garden encircling lawn with textural plants, grassy plants, and lavender-blooming aster
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.
spiky yucca and silvery agave against lavender-flowering aster, purple tradescantia and green sedges
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.

In 2022, Jennie started a super fun and informative TikTok channel, Texas Gardening. I’m already hooked on her authentic, “come along with me” style and how-to expertise! You will love it!

Watch now!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time! Linda