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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Friday, October 20, 2006

The Continuing Evolution of the Patio

The Veranda, as described in a September post, was already there, and except for the steps, its evolution didn’t require hard labor. But more than vision was needed for the Patio at the back of the house – it’s taken two years of muscle and materials, and it’s still evolving. If we had a bigger landscaping budget, lived in a colder climate or owned a house from a different era, we might have chosen other methods or materials, but our plan suited this house, this town and two mature people with time and energy.

This is not a How-to-do-it post – more a What-we-did story.
The patio looked like this when our realtor showed us the house – it was the usual 20’ X 12’ poured concrete rectangle, possibly installed by the builder in the 1970’s. A sidewalk starts at the patio and passes in front of the breakfast room window on its way to the gate. A door from the house opens onto the patio. We were pleased to see that we could fit the table & chairs and the grill on the concrete, with room left for a few pots.
A few pots? We moved here with over 100 container plants in the summer of 2004, carried from the deck and porch of our previous home. Some of them were supposed to be patio plants but most of them belonged in borders and beds. Since we hadn’t yet made the borders and beds, the patio was wall-to-wall with furniture and terra cotta, genuine and faux, overflowing onto the grass.

We had perennials: clematis, heirloom daylilies, agaves, hibiscus, balloon flowers and Amarcrinums. We had tender plants that moved inside for the winter like the Plumeria. We needed a place near the kitchen for the burgeoning herb and hypertufa collection.
A forest of young trees and shrubs had started out as one-gallon starter plants but many were approaching landscape size: one Southern Wax Myrtle, a Camellia japonica, a 4-foot Osmanthus fragrans/Tea Olive, two ‘Celeste’ Figs, an heirloom Philadelphus/Mock orange, a couple of Boxwoods, a large double-yellow Nerium oleander, a Callicarpa Americana/Beautyberry, a Lady Banks Rose, yards of Carolina Jessamine/Gelsemium sempervirens, a little Vitex, two Lagerstroemia/’Acoma’ crepe myrtles and 6-feet of Loquat/Eriobotrya japonica. We also had a tall metal arch that could work for the long side of the patio.

The front panes of the breakfast room window looked across the lawn to an old metal shed, smothered in Hall’s honeysuckle. Seedling crepe myrtles grew against one side pane of the breakfast window, with the sidewalk and grass below. All this had to go - we wanted to see flowers, herbs, birds, bees and butterflies.

As the first winter approached, I planned my long border, dollying pots with selected plants to their future positions along the back fence. I crammed the remaining pots together right up to the edge of the patio, hung the plants with mini-lights and called it our Bistro.

While I puttered around, Philo measured and planned. He had figured out how to enlarge the patio, not by pouring concrete but by using a gravel-type product called decomposed granite, a technique we’d seen on tours of well-known Austin gardens.
His plan was to delineate an area adjoining the perimeter of the concrete, remove the grass and dig out 6 - 8 inches of soil. Philo would use edging to contain the area, we’d replace the soil with one layer of pea gravel, then top it with several layers of decomposed granite totaling 4” in depth, packing each layer in turn. In this way we could keep the furniture and foot traffic on the concrete surface, while using the gravel pads as transitional areas where container plants could meld the patio to lawn and garden.

The first gravel bed was a test. In spring 2005 we made an 8-foot quarter-circle on the sunny end, fitting it between patio and sidewalk, so that the rosemary and herb troughs could be seen from the breakfast table. We bought the gravel and granite from a nearby organic materials dealer, shoveling them into reusable 5-gallon bags, and loaded the car with 8 or 10 at a time. The herb bed worked well, drained perfectly and looked good all summer.

When fall arrived, we added a second quarter-circle on the opposite end, where it could function both as a walkway to the far end of the yard, and as a place for semi-shade plants. Earlier in 2005, we’d taken the Loquat out of its pot and planted this broadleaf evergreen tree near the far end. In time, it should add shade and privacy.
We started work on the next stage in March 2006, when Philo decided to add a two-foot band across the front edge of the patio. He set the edging and we began to dig, sure that this amount of space would be enough.

The metal arch was set into the decomposed granite, a large precast concrete square was set in front of the arch and large containers were placed on each side. I bought our Lady Banks Rose in 2000, bumping it up to a larger container every year. That’s Lady Banks in bloom on the left side of the arch. This spring I bought a native Coral Honeysuckle/Lonicera sempervirens for the pot on the right. The honeysuckle was very small, and I wanted some scent so I added a second small plant, labeled fragrant Corkscrew vine. I figured they’d be okay together.

Wrong! Although it looked good at first, the non-fragrant vine, now recognized as a Snail Vine, tried to murder the honeysuckle. Another Snail vine was thriving elsewhere, so this one was expendable. After I cut the Snail down to a clump & potted it for adoption, DivaAnnie, who liked its flowers, let it come to her garden. Philo added two more precast squares to make an entrance walk, the rose and honeysuckle did reasonably well, and an annual Cypress Vine was accepted by the main characters for the rest of the summer. But something looked wrong - the shapes of the pots and the arch resembled security barriers guarding an entrance.
Last week we added more gravel to make a curving sort of apron for the arch and took the honeysuckle and rose out of their containers, planting them directly into the ground. The whole area was mulched with the decomposed granite.
So far, it seems to work. The patio looks less blocky with the arch moved forward, no longer in line with the large containers along the front edge. I like the way the vine shapes join the trellis nearer to ground level rather than at the top of the containers. Both the Lady Banks rose and the Coral honeysuckle had minor damage from the move, but they’re recovering, and should do well.

Now I can rework the large patio containers, make better combinations, and transplant more of the plants into the beds and borders. Having a transitional area can be handy as plants grow and change! The Loquat is already making the far end shadier, but we’ll have options, because the gravel areas are mutable and the containers are moveable.

About the frequently used ‘we’ in these posts… it’s not an Editorial 'We' or a Royal 'We'. No other word seems to work for a couple with years of experience in working together on house & garden projects. In this case, it’s Philo who swings the mattock to break up rock layers, and does most of the heavy digging, the heavy thinking, and puts in the edges. I help to fill and haul the granite at the U-Dig place & do most of the plant wrangling and planting. I also do a pretty good imitation of Lucy stomping the grapes to compact the layers of gravel.


  1. Great post about the process of gardening. It isn't all done in one try, even one season. There are always adjustments, changes, do-overs. That's what I like about it.

    And your patio is looking very nice indeed!

  2. I agree with Carol. The change you made to metal arbor seems just right. I like the way you expanded the patio area with the decomposed granite. It seems like the perfect choice for potted plants -- good drainage and no stains on the concrete to clean up.

  3. Your extended, mutable patio idea is very nice. It softens the hard lines of the concrete and brings the patio into the garden, and vice versa. Thanks for showing us.

  4. Annie, those are great before-and-after photos. Gee, what a hundred pots will do for a plain old patio! Honestly though, you have a great eye, it looks wonderful. Love your Lady Banks rose too, she is looking very healthy and growing in a container, no less. I'm in awe!

  5. I've so enjoyed your posts about different spaces and their evolution. My yard is large now and I feel like I don't have the intimate spaces that I had in previous places. Your post reminded me of a similar place - a rectangular concrete area that I had out my backyard when I lived in Florida, and my struggles to make it my own space.

  6. Very nice example of what can be done in measures, as time and money allow, to great effect!

    The transition of the arch looks fantastic!

  7. Annie, what a great post. I love all of the pictures and thoughts that you've documented here--this is really the meaty kind of info that I have longed for as I've read gardening magazines throughout the years. I'm so happy that great gardeners like you are blogging to satisfy that. :)

  8. I first want to say I like the paragraph on "we"...Patios are fun to work on because they can become something individual for you. We've lived in 2 houses so far and have 'rearranged' the existing patio(s) to our liking. It does take time and living in the house a bit to make the patio decisions. Yours is looking fabulous--well thought out and interesting. Yes, the metal arch is a perfect transition.

  9. This is what I love about real gardening...you keep changing and arranging, doing what works and what seems right for now and going from there. This is such a good explanation of the way a garden comes from the vision of the gardener(s)!

  10. Hi Annie, you left me a cryptic message about the Rolling Stones on my Wild About Gardening post. I figure that either I'm totally clued out (not inconceivable!) or maybe it was meant for someone else?

    I haven't visited your blog in a while and I have a lot of catching up to do, but I'm with Judith in liking your paragraph on "we".

  11. I'm still laughing at how nutty we gardeners must seem to non-gardeners. I have refused to put my pots in the moving van for fear of freezing/boiling temperatures, cramming my precious pots into my economy-size car, the one that my boys shake their heads over for the ever-present evidence of potted plants having recently travelled in its trunk, floor or back seats. But I never quite travelled with...how many pots was it??omg!

  12. I agree with your idea to move the arch. It really does make a difference.

    I loved this post. There is so much to digest,though, that I will have to come back and reread it. Maybe more than once.

    By the way, I love decomposed granite, I have tried a bit of it in my garden, and I'm sure I will eventually use more of it.

  13. What a clever way to extend your patio without adding impervious ground cover. I like how the potted plants soften the edges while at the same time defining the space. Cool garden room, indeed!

    I remain in awe of your skill with potted plants. I've done better this year than most but it's a rare potted plant that made my acquaintance and lived to tell the tale.

    PS. I wish I had gone to the Stones, too--but I could hear them pretty well from my garden.

  14. Gorgeous Annie. Its good to know other gardeners are in the 'evolution' gardening stage. We're forever adding and subtracting garden beds, lawn, paving etc.

    It's so much fun.

  15. Thank you all for commenting - I wasn't sure if talking about the process would be too boring. I hoped you'd like it, but needed to write it for us, too.

    Many of those big pots were moved by my wonderful son and daughter, both marathoners, who flew in to help us move. We had a rented pick-up for the garden stuff and Diva-Annie also volunteered. I'm one lucky woman, and I know it.


  16. The patio looks very welcoming and comfortable. Large projects are overwhelming to me if I feel I have to do them all at once.

    I'll have to look into the cost of the decomposed granite here. I need to do something to create walkways but the budget this year is set aside for plants and a replacement screen room.


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