The Crown Jewel
Not sure if this should have been named the “Crown Jewel” or the “Flag Ship” but I believe they both apply here. This quite frankly is a post to completely show off with no regard for the typical “Central Texas gardening” posts you will find on this blog. You will also read about a girl who was lost in her own world, lost deep in the woods of a life without a North Star to follow, who somehow managed to find it in the garden where she had been all along. What will be familiar though is the same premise as all of my writings in that it does touch on the facts that water conservation and proper plant selection are key. That being said…allow me to indulge.
This garden has a really remarkable story, (well, maybe just for me) as this property and opportunity came along at a really pivotal time in my life when I was questioning who I was. Anyone who has read my page might already know that I am a happily (most times 🙂 ) married woman for over 23 years, and have two amazing boys ages 21 and 14 who are both on the Autistic spectrum. My eldest is classic Aspergers, brilliant, focused in his craft and not much memory for anything else, and the youngest is somewhere on the spectrum and he is my little Dragon Fly, all over the place and magnificent when he makes himself known. I was a stay at home Mom who had given up a successful career in a field I wasn’t particularly crazy about to devote all of my time to my children and I have never regretted a moment, but sometimes in the back of my mind I knew I was losing “myself” in the process. When my son was diagnosed at the age of two I began taking side jobs doing small landscape installations and designs for extra money. I had been a gardener and artist all my life and it came naturally to me. Then I started doing small HOA’s and “make readies” for Real Estate Agents who needed to get a house on the market fast. I made ok money, employed students eager to get in the field, but it was work, not a passion.
Finally, after a few years of this I became disenchanted. Was this all I would do? Small jobs with limited creatively and low budgets? (If you have 7 more minutes of your life to give up you can learn a lot more about me and my journey to here, but I will try to stay on topic for now.) My husband sat me down and asked me, “What do YOU want to do?”, I sarcastically answered, “I want to find someone who will not nickel and dime me for every plant and second guess every decision I make so I can see what I am really capable of, and then I just want them to hand me the check”! My husbands who has supported me selflessly in my pursuits had a one sentence response, “the only one stopping you is you”, Oh-No-You-Di-n’t. Now I am more determined than ever, I didn’t think it was going to happen the way I whined about it, but I knew it was time for a change. Three weeks later I get a call from my husband, by a strange turn of events, a conversation, unrelated, stuck in the ear of an acquaintance who found themselves in a meeting with a very well known individual (whose name I will not divulge, but you would be impressed) who was ready to fire their gardener. This person suggested me and mentioned that I was the wife of one of their employees (my husband) . That person contacted my husband and asked for a meeting. Now I am not going to suggest that there was not some nepotism involved as this person was very fond of my husband and rightfully so, but I had to meet with her to let her see if I was a fit.
I got all dressed up, got to the property early and knocked on the door of an empty house…Now my husband made it very clear that this is NOT the type of woman you keep waiting, so now I am panicking, is this the right day?, Is this the right time? Is this the right place? OMG, IS THIS THE RIGHT PLACE?? No… no it was not and now she was waiting on me…I call my husband terror stricken, WHAT DO I DO? He of course says, “get your butt over there”! I do, apologize profusely knowing I just blew it and she graciously , as she does everything, takes me around the property anyway. Now, I happen to have my oldest with me which is not the most professional move, but because of some transportation logistics and the time of the meeting, it was unavoidable. He is such an awesome young man I decide to introduce them instead of leaving him in the car and she seemed fine with the distraction and started our walk about. I am making my own observations and while I am not saying it out loud, I am thinking, the last gardener must have been a crazy person, mismatched plants in odd shapes and sizes and textural tragedies in an ocean of green as far as the eye could see. I am telling myself, don’t say anything, don’t say anything, but when she asks me “What do you think?” I immediately blurt out, “I think its awful”! A second of silence that seemed like forever, and she says “Good, what would you do”? One of the rare times that my blurting was an asset, not that it has stopped me… She asks for my thoughts and I respond by saying that I would like to rip the whole yard out and start over, she is cool with that, but I have 3 weeks, not 3 months, 3 weeks. My mind is racing, I know that it is practically impossible to pull this off and in my desperate panic I hear my son say without skipping a beat, “Well if anyone can do it, my mom can”. Yes I can son, yes I can. I presented the design a few days later, she approved it and made me her official gardener and called her assistant to let her know that Lisa LaPaso was her full-time Gardener now. I still get choked up writing that much less saying it out loud. I was elated and honored as this person could have had anyone she wanted but she chose me,
I was there every single day without fail for 3 solid weeks after I dropped off the kids, until I picked up the kids, all by myself with meager additional muscle on occasion. I was covered with dirt from head to toe, covered in mosquitoes and who knows what else, my boots had more dirt inside them then the flower beds did but I put my heart and soul into it. I had to remove all the plants, amend all the soil, re-plant, water, clean-up this huge space and the work load was daunting, but I pulled it off and adored every moment of it. Turns out those were the most influential 3 weeks of my career, far greater than any of my formal education and my life changed exponentially after that. I had seen first hand what I was really capable of and when I was given a chance to shine, that is exactly what I did. From that point forward the jobs have not stopped coming, I have never had to advertise, I have been able to recreate that space using all the techniques I have learned over the past 20 years as a Texas gardener and professional. My energy changed and so did my outlook, input and outcome. I found my passion… I have been able to own a successful small business for all of these years, be a completely involved wife and mother to my children by creating my own schedule, I make a worthwhile contribution to the planet by teaching 100% organic practices and water conservation and implement them in all that I do. I have hired and trained amazing talent to keep the good mojo going, and I have made a positive impact on my client’s life by giving her a space she can enjoy and be proud of. Win-Win!
Clearly this is the “Crown Jewel” because it was the beginning of things to come, not because it was the pinnacle of my work, but to me it holds the most special place in my body of work (aside from my own space) because of its sentimental significance. This is a garden built with a full to part-time gardener in mind (or someone with the time to do it themselves) and this space is an exception, not the rule, it is meant to be a work of art. This is not for the financially challenged unless you are willing to do it all yourself and I have seen far more elaborate gardens maintained by the home owners who have the free time and passion to do so, but this is my artistic interpretation of a full shade garden using low water perennials and “conformed ” annuals to create drama…
Now if you are familiar with this family of plants you know that they can be very delicate and must be protected in the Winter, but you may not know that they actually do not need a lot of water if planted in mass and heavily composted with coconut coir and deep mulch.
A popular planting strategy in sloped or hilly beds is to use what is called a “swell”, or “berm” at the lowest end of each plant. So the idea is that you are planting the plant in a hole slightly deeper than the ground directly above it, creating a “pocket”. Then just below each plant you build a berm, or swell to collect and hold water before the spill over creeps over to the next plant. By planting your grid diagonally, you create a system of swells or berms that collect and disperse water to the adjacent plants below which slows the water down the hill giving the plants time to absorb the water, instead of just running off. In periods of moderate to heavy rainfall, this garden can go weeks without residual watering.
If you are looking for a low to no maintenance garden, this is not for you, the green you see is ALL perennial low water, the color for the most part, is not. This is a specimen garden that is a custom piece, maintained by me and my assistant to look this way. The reason I am sharing this space is because one, it’s awesome, and two, I like to show how working with different colors and textures of green can make a huge impact all on its own. If you omit the 7 Crotons I have here, it would still be pretty fabulous, perennial and drought tolerant for the most part if planted with the proper strategies.
It is tough to tell but this sidewalk is about 2.5′ wide not including the bed areas. This requires a bit of strategy as not only is this deep shade, but the plants have to be really narrow and offer lots of bang for your buck.
Creek beds are your friend, whether dry or functional for drainage, they are beautiful, elegant and a great way to use up space in the landscape.
Another great example of working with textures to create depth and interest. Note how the Esperanza and the Blue Plumbago are determined to bloom in such low light.
The Purple Ruellia (left) is a great ground cover, but is also an excellent border plant to add definition and formality without the maintenance. The Chinese Fringe flowers (far right) were turned into trees instead of a traditional blobby shrub to add softness to an otherwise manicured space.
This property is special to me for all of these reasons and more and I hope you have found a little inspiration of your own. I have always found it interesting how such a small turn of events, an open heart and open mind, and the willingness to work your butt off can so greatly impact your life for the better. I am blessed to do what I love and love what I do and I thank you for sharing this small part of my journey with me.
Now go get your dream on…
- Posted in: central texas gardens ♦ chemical free ♦ compost ♦ eco friendly ♦ gardening ♦ Landscape Design ♦ natural habitat ♦ organic gardening ♦ water wise ♦ Xeriscape
- Tagged: landscape & Design, landscape design austin, landscape installation austin, Shade Garden, Shade garden design Austin, Shade plants for Austin