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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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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Design Workshop - Decks, Porches and Patios

Annie in Austin wrote this post about her patio as part of Gardening Gone Wild's Garden Bloggers Design Workshop- Decks, Porches and Patios.

Each month the designers at Gardening Gone Wild ask bloggers to post about a different element in their gardens' design. I've enjoyed reading those linked posts and would like to join in this one. We like the long narrow veranda across the front of our house - but the space we use the most is the patio.

A realtor took this photo of the back of the house before we moved here in late summer 2004. We were glad to have that slab of level concrete - it would give us somewhere to put the metal table and chairs and the grill. But would anyone want to sit out there? It took a couple of years to change that barren rectangle into a place we want to be.
In October 2006 I wrote about the evolution of our patio, describing how we'd dug out grass and used packed decomposed granite to extend the usable area of our patio. We didn't want to add more concrete, but we wanted more space... the granite worked for us, and it's also permeable rather than a hard surface to encourage water runoff.
We added an arch with a Lady Banks rose, a coral honeysuckle and a clematis taking turns at bloom. We used flowers, shrubs and trees in large containers around the perimeter and made an herb garden in hypertufa troughs at the sunny end. Now the patio feels more like an outdoor room.Earlier this year I wrote about adding a disappearing fountain to the granite area right outside our breakfast room window. So far this seems like one of the best projects we've ever done. The fountain is not only beautiful, but it's been life-giving for insects, birds and animals in this hot, dry year.

Instead of a hard line between inside and outside, we now have someplace that blurs the line and connects the spaces where we live. The back of the house faces southeast, so from October to April, this is a good place to sit and have coffee, watch the birds, read, snack, converse, relax.
But in summer, when daytime temperatures are in the normal nineties, or when we get a scorcher of a year like this one, when the high temperature approaches 100°F/37ºC each day, the chairs are used more by birds waiting for a turn at the fountain than by us.

In the afternoon the sun swings around the end of the house, and pecan trees shadow the patio, giving the plants a break. The table is handy as a work bench or to set things down as I go in and out for short stretches of time - to look at what's blooming, to water the containers, to watch the birds or to do a little gardening. The sound of the fountain is pleasant as I putter around. I use the long axis to travel from one end of the yard to the other within the shadow of the house.
The grill is in shade by afternoon - we seldom eat outdoors in summer but cooking out here keeps heat out of the kitchen. If we want to sit outside we use citronella cones, oil lamps and torches to discourage mosquitoes on these hot and humid evenings.

Sometimes the mornings aren't too humid, and it's pleasant enough for coffee and a newspaper. But midsummer is not Austin's finest season. We're more likely to stay in the air conditioning and wait - remembering how wonderful it felt last winter to sit at this table, in a space open to the south and protected by the bulk of the house. That's when we'll really appreciate the patio, as we eat lunch and bask in the sun under the bare pecan tree, with a nearby sweet olive wafting its scent on the pleasantly cool air.

Here's a link to Nan's wrap-up of gardeners who wrote about Decks, Porches and Patios.

Annie in Austin wrote this post about her patio as part of Gardening Gone Wild's Garden Bloggers Design Workshop- Decks, Porches and Patios.


  1. It is quite a change. And I do love that disappearing fountain. Did you make the hypertufa troughs?They are so big and awesome. Never having been to Austin or even Texas, is it humid there? Or just hot like in Las Vegas? In Las Vegas they use misters and I was wondering if this was something that would work in Austin? Not here, too humid and wet already. The misters really cooled everyone down. They were so cool when the temp was like 115 in Vegas in June.

  2. You have done a great job in transforming that barren patio into a lovely retreat. Our patio looked very much as yours did when we moved into our home. Soon,I did surround it with a defined planting bed. I just wish I had extended it as you did with yours.

    Always Growing

  3. Great job of transforming your patio. Such a welcoming spot. Love that fountain, and I'm sure the birds appreciate it during your hot days. You may be sweltering now, but this Illinois girl envies your being able to sit out and enjoy your retreat on a January or February morning!

  4. Annie,

    You have painted a wonderful picture in my mind of you sitting in the winter sunshine, puttering in the garden and of you and Philo having wonderful times across from each other at your table on your delightful patio.


  5. That looks like a very comfortable and pleasant place to hang out.

  6. I love the fountain. It really was a wonderful addition to your already beautiful space.

  7. What a great visit to your garden...I love seeing the before and after! As always I love the feel here...I'd really like to wander around here...listen to the fountain...check out the herbs...watch the birds. The humidity, though, I could skip!

  8. It was very step-by-step, Tina, and each step has made it seem more 'ours'.
    One of those troughs has been around since the mid-1990's - hauled from Illinois. Philo and my daughter made a few back then. Once we came up with the herb garden idea in 2005, he started making them again. The size means lots of wire reinforcing.
    People in Houston scoff at our humidity, but sometimes it's pretty awful - even when the ground is dry. I've seen misters used for rooftop restaurant patios but would they work in a treed landscape?

    Thank you, Jan - I'd become fond of container gardening during our 5 years with decks at the last house - that was a big reason to go with the gravel and I'm glad we did.

    We liked the patio before, but adding water was amazing!
    Some days will still be too cold, Prairie Rose, and on other days it will be noon before it's warm enough to sit outside in winter. But there are lots of lovely days tucked in - it was in the sixties when I posted for January 2008 Blooming Day.

    Philo is a very creative cook, Gail - a weekend lunch on the patio can be an adventure! Thank you.

    Thanks, Bill of Prairie Point - hope your summer is going well.

    We can see the fountain from both tables - one inside and one outside. I'm so glad we did it, Robin of Nesting Place!

    It seemed like our experience could be a post for the design workshop - I think a lot of people get a plain concrete slab when they buy a house!
    Humidity and pollen can be a bad combination, Leslie,, but knowing the air-conditioned house is a few steps away lets me work outside for a half-hour or an hour. Those short blocks of time still make a difference.

    Thanks for the comments!


  9. Annie, I am going to get ambitious like Frances and make a wooden frame for a hypertufa trough. I will add wire reinforcing-the hardware cloth to it. I hope it works as nice as yours.

    I had no idea Austin was humid. I would not think misters would work well. Part of the cooling of them comes from when the water evaporates (quickly) but it would not evaporate all that fast in humidity so it would not work as well. Just wondering. We used swamp coolers in Iraq for cooling and they were so cool! Not something someone from a humid area or the east coast has ever heard of. Best you stick with fans or the inside air conditioning:)

  10. Annie, i love the work you have done and the disappearing fountain-also the link to gardening gone wild. I can't wait for a spare moment to really look at the posts. There are some fabulous landscape ideas.

  11. Your patio transformation is a great success. It looks inviting, even though it may not feel like it now. It is open, yet provides a sense of enclosure at the same time. Truly wonderful.

  12. I love your fountain. It looks much more natural than many I've seen. No wonder the birds love it. Your climate in Austin seems similar to ours in northwest Florida. The winter mornings are rather cool, but it usually warms up by late morning if the sun is out. Do you get a good crop of nuts from your pecan tree? They are one of my favorites.

  13. Hi Annie, your patio is a very inviting place, any season, but more so for humans in cooler times. Your granite and troughs are excellent additions, rounding off the hard edges of the concrete. Your fountain is the best. Working with the moving shade is brilliant, are those beds the best kept?

  14. I like how you made changes over several years, versus trying to have "instant wonderful patio garden". It's a better way, and you are right, it makes it more "yours".

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  15. Your patio looks so inviting Annie. I love the way you have it surrounded by lovely planted pots.

  16. It all looks so inviting, Annie, and I'll bet it's a pleasure to gaze upon the patio from inside and dream of cooler days!

  17. Your garden is such an oasis--such a pleasure to be in even in this horrible summer. I like how you blur the lines between indoors and outdoors. Sitting at your kitchen table watching the birds line up to take a bath in the disappearing fountain is a great way to spend an afternoon.

  18. There is such a huge difference between the photo realtor took and
    the reality now; plants have made the place come alive. You have turned that piece of geometry into a beautiful Patio very tastefully!

  19. Hi Annie, nice to hear from you with your nice comment on my blog. Yes, I know about Austin and the bats that fly from under the Congress St. bridge, which is interesting and spectacular to watch. To me Austin, Texas is a lovely city with many interesting sights. I was sick to read about the fire at the Governor's Mansion there. Can they restore it?

    Speaking of bridges in Austin, the iconic Pennybacker Bridge, a.k.a. the "the 360 bridge" at Lake Austin which connects the north and south loop 360 highway "Capital of Texas Highway" is named in honor of our family cousin, Percy Pennybacker. He was a famous civil engineer with the Texas Highway Dept. for years and later the City of Austin and was a pioneer in welded structures. I suppose you are familiar with this bridge.

    It is interesting to me that another family cousin, also a civil engineer, helped design and build the old bridge across the Mississippi River here at Vicksburg, Miss. back in the 1920's and 1930's.

    Best regards, Jon on 7-2-08....have a Happy 4th of July!

    Check out my blog Mississippi Garden by clicking the link below:

  20. The patio look so inviting and I love the fountain. Well done! Sit back and enjoy from the window if you have to during the heat of the summer.

  21. The before and after pictures are amazing! It's neat how a little creativity can make such a welcoming and relaxing place to be. I really like the disappearing fountain; I have never seen one like that. Does it make much sound? The sound of trickling water adds something special.

  22. The before and after pictures are quite dramatic. NO non gardener could look at these pictures and not think about taking up gardening. The transformation was a step by step on building your own little oasis from the bustle of modern life. You have done well. Draco

  23. Hi Annie, you sure have done wonders with what you originally had! Our so called "patio" (a slab of concrete in the back) is usually filled with potted plants and a couple of chairs, very spartan at this point, but we would eventually like to get a pergola in. We spend most tolerable summer evenings on our screened in front porch that looks out on the front boulder beds. Almost as good! :-)

    Ya did great on your projects!

  24. Hi Annie - thanks for your visit and lovely comment about my patio. I love how yours has evolved 'organically' over time - each element bringing so much more to the space. You made a very important point about using the granite because it allows drainage - that's becoming a hot topic over here as more people are concreting their gardens over and not thinking about the consequences for our watercourses. Top post!

  25. Annie, I'm always amazed at how similar our weather is. You're just warmer in the winter, I think, and this year, we're about eight degrees cooler so far. Some years, it's the same. I love the arbor and the disappearing fountain. Your wildlife is so lucky.~~Dee

  26. What a transformation! Your patio looks lovely and inviting Annie. The disappearing fountain is lovely, and what a great place to watch your backyard wildlife get cooling bath or a thirst-quenching drink.

  27. Good idea, Tina, these troughs were also made on a wooden frame.
    Austin weather is all over the place - we have something for everyone!

    Thanks, Lancashire Jenny - and I'm glad you found Nan Ondra!

    Thank you very much, Mr McGregor's Daughter - it's funny, but even when it's too hot to sit there, it's an interesting place to look at from inside.

    Hello Walk2Write - we've been happy with the fountain! The pecan trees had enough rain last year to make edible pecans and we snatched what we could from the squirrels. Usually it's so dry in late summer the squirrels pull down the husks and we get none. There are commercial groves to the East of Austin.

    Thanks Frances - granite seemed to well with 30-year old concrete - anything new would stick out! The shade moves around to almost every area at some time of day...but I don't know if 'kept' is the right word ;-]

    Hi Carol - thank you - it's the way we've always worked, both outside and in the house.

    Lisa at Greenbow, we had so many pots from the previous house, this was a logical progression!

    Does everyone in Texas dream of cooler days, Cindy? It's amazing how quickly people appear on the sidewalks when the temperature drops to 85°F!

    The back feels different this year, MSS, even with heat and drought. I think one reason is that the 'Acoma' crepe myrtles and the 'Little Gem' magnolia are finally over 7-feet tall, and some of the shrubs have some bulk to them. The other reason is the fountain. I'm glad you saw the bird parade!

    Thank you, GreenThumb - I'm glad I hung on to the before photo - it's fun to look back.

    It's good to see you, Jon! And how fascinating that you have Austin connections.
    The Pennybacker was featured in my Geography Project post - loved it since I first saw it in May 1999.
    I think that some preliminary work on the mansion is in progress.
    Hope your 4th is a good one!

    I'm too fidgety to stay inside all day, Layanee - one benefit of buying an older house was getting trees. The fountain is visible from the main kitchen counter so I can watch birds while cooking.

    Hi CountryGirl - the fountain makes a gurgling sound like a brook and is probably audible to birds. There's a little video in the post about installing the fountain - turn up your volume and you can hear it!

    Thank you for visiting, Draco - it's taken a while but moving at a measured pace also allows for changes and adjustments - and I need that part!

    Hello Iowa Victory Gardener - pergolas are lovely - I hope you get around to making yours, but with a screened porch, that would just be extra - you already have a good place to be in summer.

    Welcome VegPlotting - with its changes in grade your patio is a lot more dramatic!
    It may be dry now, but we tend to get sudden heavy downpours rather than slow soakers... trying to slow down runoff has been on our minds since we moved in. Thank you for the compliment!

    There's enough difference so that you can grow peonies, Dee of Red Dirt! But our summer weather and flowers sure do seem similar.
    I love the bird show!

    Thank you Garden Girl -we put out birdbaths as soon as we moved here and they're still used, but the fountain took everything u to another level.

    Thanks for the comments - have a great 4th of July weekend!


  28. Repeat after me: patio's can never be large enough. Mine is humongous (14 by 3.3 meter) and is getting crowded now too after 3 years of use. ;-)

    Love your patio area Annie, well thought out, very practical and pretty too. With temperatures like that you need a fountain to cool down a bit and the birds love it too I see.

    BTW too bad about those trees being pruned smack in the middle of a heat wave.

  29. I love your use of the hypertufa pots to grow herbs. The patio looks so inviting ... today I had a glimpse of what your weather is like. Wilt, wilt and wilt.

  30. Annie - you've transformed that simple slab into a lush garden paradise. I can only imagine how delightful it is to sit out there with the water babbling (when it isn't close to 100!). Thanks for sharing your before and after pictures with us - we so quickly forget how much we've done in bits and pieces over the years, don't we?

  31. What an amazing amount of changes you've wrought in a relatively short period of time. I can't imagine living in such heat--I'd be like the birds in the disappearing fountain, always in the water. And it's fun to see how you're really in high summer while we're just getting started.

  32. It's so wonderful to see this progression, Annie... and you have to be happy seeing how well it turned out so far. What a welcoming spot you and Philo have created.

  33. Annie,
    What a nice journey you've taken me on through the changes to your back patio. You have really created a tranquil and serene place for outdoor living. I know how hot it is now and yet, like you I still squeeze in every possible moment on my back porch. Early mostly or like now (late)- sitting out here with my laptop and listening to the crickets.

    I try to think of it positively that at least we get to enjoy it more months out of the year than not. Admittedly, it's kind of hard to remember winter/spring during these extra hot months.

    I remember when you purchased the fountain. So glad you truly have gotten even more enjoyment from it than you dreamed. It is a lovely addition.
    Meems @Hoe&Shovel

  34. You've made an amazing transformation. It is really too hot here too to enjoy the patio but I love to enjoy it in the fall.


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