Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

How Do I Begin a New Landscape?

The first thing you want to do is decide how you plan to use your land and be sure to create as many living and seating places throughout the space as possible. You can hire a designer, consultant or even go online for inspiration to design and create your own space to enjoy. Whether it is a lot of green you prefer or a riot of color like mine, there is a solution to every problem and a plant for almost every job.IMG_0040

 If you are one of thousands of newbies in Central Texas or Austin and surrounding area, or if you have lived here forever, you are probably a little horrified by the gardening conditions. I am originally from up north and moved here as a teen and I was horrified because all I saw was Live Oaks, cactus and hedge rows. Elaborate landscapes weren’t really a thing here in the late 80’s like I’d grown up with so I figured I’d just find all the pretty flowers here and take note of them. Before you knew it, it was my business and 20+ years later I am still in LOVE with native and adapted Central Texas plants. But the dirt here sucks!


I want to share our latest garden pics with you because this is some of the worst dirt I have seen next to a yard full of rock (which we also have). My last yard was limestone and hard black clay; the dirt here is back fill from the huge retainer pond behind us which was under water at one point in recent history (the last 100 years) so it holds water like clay and it’s topped off with “red death” aka, sandy loam. We knew we needed to amend the soil but first we needed to define the space.

To begin with, we needed to add a place/s to gather and our favorite spot was taking in the view of the water and migratory birds, so we built a patio high and wide and this is where we spent the bulk of our budget. We hired local labor for hauling and did work ourselves. We also installed all the beds ourselves.


Unfortunately, this added to the complete devastation of the soil and remaining sod as a patio and pond addition require tons of stone, concrete and water. The moving of building and landscape materials completely compacted the entire yard and the dirt was horrible to begin with. This is about as down to basics as you get. We had a dead compacted lawn, newly planted native baby trees and bushes in a terribly unusual rainy season, poor soil and a lots of beds to fill.


This photo was taken in early 2016

The first thing we did was to bring in over 200, 40 lb bags of organic top soil and compost. We used bags instead of bulk to avoid more wheelbarrow damage. By walking we could take a new path each time and spread the compost over the entire property. Compost, compost, compost! It is honestly the most important thing you can do in a new space where you want to chelate any potential chemical damage and start the mycorrhizal process to amend the soil you do have. Many clients ask if they should remove their poor soil, but unless you know there is a chemical issue I don’t believe that is a good practice. Your plants are going to reach that crappy soil eventually so why not  give it a boost?


The first point of designing this space was to be careful not to obstruct the view for us or our neighbors. However…as nice as neighbors can be, we want to hide them. This requires careful thought and planning and the right kind of shrubs and trees. We need them fast, we need them to be low water, low maintenance, preferably give food or dramatic color and accentuate the positive attributes of the space.


On this side of the yard I want to hide the neighbor from our view so I planted columnar trees and  plants that will grow tall but not wide and flanked each corner with a short wide tree.

On the other side, I layered trees to create an entire canopy that will block these houses in about 3 – 5 years. It will block out line of sight not not impede on our neighbors next door who also sees the water.


Our side yard is function and feature in that it needs to serve as a space to chill in the shade as well as a garden entrance, and storage space for compost and tools.


I’ve incorporated my tools and compost bins right into the garden by using my unsightly A/C as a buffer between work and garden space.

Below you can see that the garden space is not affected by the work station in a negative way as long as it is organized and intentional. This would not work in a formal space or landscape, but I like mine funky so it works just fine.


It is also obvious to see that the lawn is still really sad. It was trampled by months of wheelbarrows filled with tons of compost, top soil, stone, concrete and man hours of walking back and forth during construction. This spring it suffered from a heinous case of Poa weed and nearly wiped it out completely, but after an organic protocol of plucking, aeration and composting we are confident the Bermuda will return by next year with lots of TLC and Medina hasta grow for lawns. I would have preferred Zoysia sod, but this is what we have (builder) so we’re making the best of it considering where we started (below)


Here is what we started with in late February of 2016. Shrubs and very small trees were in place and all were unhappy about it. Too much rain, not enough sun and lots of construction site problems.

Here (below) is a view from the opposite end of this space which is where you enter the back yard through the gate. The right side will stay low and I am using the beautiful brick wall to serve as a back drop to our living area. I plan to train the Pineapple Guava shrubs to the left into small trees that will hide the neighbor adjacent. This space serves as a path from the front to the back as well as a shady spot from the afternoon sun.


The two trees below define the space between the flower garden and the edible garden where food will be rotated each year and each season. Seating areas are placed everywhere so people will migrate and sit at different vantage points in the garden.


Here, I am working on recreating the tree line outside of our fence, inside our fence. I want the water and woods on the far end to feel as though they are en extension of our landscape.


We have hidden our rain barrels in plain sight here on the patio where they are readily accessible. We use them to fill the pond and for food.


So far, so good for a garden that is only a little over one year old and at a major soil disadvantage. I have fertilized every two to three weeks with liquid seaweed and made sure I chose the right plant for the right spot.


Meandering paths are essential to a good design. You are paying for the land, why aren’t you using it? Create opportunities for you and your guests to wander.


Create movement with sculptures grasses or water features. Invite movement with paths and seating.


This view of plants is at least 90% edible…


Or has edible or medicinal parts.

Obviously, the pond plants and Crepe Myrtle would be exceptions. The food grown here Loves the heat, is low water and little maintenance as possible. I got heat stroke 10 years ago and can’t do it anymore. My last garden was my experiment on what plants really need you and those who do not. I chose “do not” as much as possible.

I have also used the same amendments, native and adapted plants and trees in the front beds and here is a sample of that so far. All of these beds are heavily composted with organic compost in the spring then mulched in the fall with shredded hardwood mulch.


This space was designed to be very linear and elegant. It will be visually appealing from both neighboring sides as well so they aren’t looking at the “back” of my landscape. This garden is one year old and will be mature In another year or so. I have planted over 80% of my front and back yard and kept the remaining required HOA lawn. All this food and all of theses flowers will take far less water to be successful that the sorry sod ever would have been. Thankfully the sod in front did not get Poa annual grass weed but it is sparse and weed prone as a result of the compaction and poor soil quality. We have composted heavily the last two springs, we pull weeds by hand and applying corn gluten each spring and fall for weed control.


Above is the flip side of the front in its infancy and I cannot wait to share next summer so you can see how quickly a landscape can evolve from 1 to 5 gallon plants, and no larger than 15 gallon trees in a very short time with a completely organic protocol and lots of compost!


A little hard work and the right plants go a long way…


After all of our hard work it is time to sit and enjoy the view… Thank you for taking a tour of what we have created so far. I will share each year as I have in my past gardens and feature my favorite plants and trees to share with you. I hope I’ve given you some inspiration in your own space.

Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape & Design

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”


  1. Your garden looks great. I love the peek-through iron on the wood fence. Thanks for all of the great tips!

    • Thank you Laura, it is a work in progress for sure as it is hard to see any distinction between the canopy and understory plants but once the trees catch up it will be amazing!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: