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When we moved into our house in 1986, there was little growing in the yard. No grass had been planted, but there were 3 established trees and 8 new shrubs in the front (which were a requirement of the loan terms). The first thing we did was purchase enough St. Augustine grass to cover a good portion of the bare earth that threatened to erode away with every strong rain.
The above photo was taken sometime between 1988 and 1990. By this time the grass was well established and our yard looked as boring as all the others in the neighborhood. We had started to plant a few more trees, such as the young sumac growing to the left of the medium-sized live oak in the middle of our yard. The shade on the far left side of the yard was provided by a large live oak just on the other side of the property line. The large sunny grass areas required horrendous amounts of water to keep them alive through the summer.
We gradually added various kinds of plants and created gardens and borders. By around 1996, our yard was starting to look a bit more interesting. The above photo was taken just after a light snowfall, which is all Austin usually gets in the winter.
Spring arrives around the end of February and by March everything is looking green and lush. This is the best time for plants and they produce a spurt of growth that will just about halt with the coming of the summer heat. The yellow-flowered trees are retama and the round shrubs below them are silverleaf. The plants that can be seen between the road and sidewalk are yuccas and spineless prickly pear cactus. The large amount of afternoon shade in the right of the photo was produced by a silver maple, one of the first plants we added to the yard.
Due to the difficulty in watering along the sidewalk, it seemed appropriate to put in more drought-resistant plants. I created the border gardens using natural stone that was taken both from our lawn and from nearby construction sites where the rocks were frequently left in large piles. Taken around 1993 or 1994, the above picture shows the brand new border gardens before I had even put in rocks between the beds and the adjacent grass. The near corner contains a young arbor vitae and the shrubs visible on either side of the driveway are silverleaf. In between are Chinese holly plants. The retama trees that would dominate the front yard in a few years were only a couple feet tall.
The holly plants grew slowly, but eventually formed a rather thick, low hedge, as shown in the photo above, taken in 2003. The light green plants to the far right are flame acanthus. The large spiny plant visible in the upper right corner is the single survivor of four mescal agaves that were originally planted. It is matched on the other side of the driveway by an American agave.
In a close view of the recently finished border garden, the small rock divider between the bed and the grass is evident. This proved to be a totally inadequate barrier so I eventually replaced the small rocks with much larger ones that are capable of containing the invasive St. Augustine grass as well as the numerous plants now crammed into the garden. To the left of the silverleaf are Chinese holly and to the right are very tiny lechuguilla and mescal agave. The baby retama tree is so spindly that it is all but invisible. The white things in the foreground rocks are mushrooms.
This photo also illustrates the state of the rest of the east front yard back in 1994. The live oak trunk is just visible in the far right, while a newly planted silver maple with rock boarder is on the left. The small conifer did not survive long after this photo was taken and had to be removed. The east side garden along the fence and the island garden had not even been imagined at this time.
In a photo conveniently labeled 1999, the enormous growth of the front plantings is evident. The size of the xeriscape gardens on either side of the driveway proved woefully inadequate for the mescal agaves and lechuguilla. There is also a sizeable cholla growing just behind the silverleaf. By this date, the silver maple provided ample shade in the afternoons which has helped to slow the growth of the desert plants on that side. Our west side garden can be seen in the background.
Taken about 1988, the above picture shows the west lawn area, with our house on the far right. The 3 parasol trees that would grow to shade the air conditioner were still saplings, but had grown considerably from the 5-inch seedlings we had planted. The tree in the distant corner of the yard is the first silver maple we planted. The closest tree shown is a healthy sycamore that unfortunately grew too large too quickly and was cut down a few years later when there was no longer enough room for it. This photo also predates the side and front border gardens as well as the privacy fence that would separate this part of the yard from the back.
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