Drought garden design| Christy Ten Eyck |Central Texas Gardener


(Narrator) Landscape architect Christy Ten
Eyck’s garden respects the value of recourses. After working in Arizona for 22 years, water
management is just as important to her as a design that suits the site and promotes
its wildlife. When this native Texan returned in 2006 her first project with husband Gary
Deaver was to renovate their 1950s house and its garden. Now with offices in two states,
Christy translates the concepts that share fundamental concerns. (Christy) In phoenix
we only get 7 inches of rain a year if we’re lucky. Here with 33 inches which is the typical,
I thought oh my gosh. I’m going to have it so easy there, and we do have it easier here
for sure, but what I wasn’t thinking about especially in the areas that are limestone
underlayment of all of this, it’s like Swiss cheese limestone. What I didn’t realize was
how hard it is to hold that rain when it does come. And so I’ve taken some of the lessons
from Arizona. (Narrator) Design and renovation started at the front door. She gave its prominent
Oak tree more credence by reframing it. A half inch of pea gravel permeates water to
its roots yet is firm enough to support a front yard hangout. (Christy) There is certainly
more to view now that she banished the homes circular driveway. It’s one of my big pet
peeves: circular driveways because you’ve always got cars parked in front of the house,
and this is a little 50s house with these big casement windows and I didn’t want to
sit in my living room and always look at cars. The other thing I noticed too was in rain
event the water just would go rushing down the property to the street and I wanted to
somehow slow it down before it got to the curb. Our house is about 8 feet higher than
the street. (Narrator) To harness the water she designed layers of terraces to let it
gradually infiltrate. She furthered its retention with native plants. (Christy) I love to create
these native green, I call them almost bio-sponges, so there are these green sponges that soak
it all up. They are the native plants. I had to work very carefully with all of the grades
around these trees to be careful not to disturb them, but it was the best thing ever to take
all of that asphalt off their roots and let it breathe again. Pecan shell mulch along
with forest mulch and fallen acorns retain moisture. Check damns formed form rocks excavated
in back also captivate rushing water and let it soak in to raised beds. (Christy) I think
those things can really make a huge difference in Austin and Central Texas. (Narrator) Austin’s
large trees are a big change from Arizona’s intensity. I’ve never had shade before with
all of these big trees. I wanted a test garden for native shade plants. To promote cohesive
serenity she went for masses resisting her erg to scatter plant. (Christy) Originally
I was just going to put one plant in each terrace. Well you can see I’ve strayed from
that a little bit, but I have tried to really keep it simple. Plus I just don’t have time
to take care of 40 gazillion things. (Narrator) On the former sloping lawn Christy’s terraces,
pathways, and hideaways retain swooping water, but they are also more conducive to participation
than start grass. Also there is a great big tall wall out front too. I mean one of the
things I like about our street is it’s like driving through a park because everybody has
these big front yards. Well ours was weird because there was just a big wall out front
and I’m kind of a social person. You know, I don’t want it to look unfriendly. I still
want privacy, but I wanted to do it with green verses a wall. I like the idea too of creating
a progression for people that come here to visit. I really just wanted them to feel like
they are walking on this trail up to the front door through a forest. (Narrator) The progression
leads to a private garden in back. Once again to address drainage she lowered the grade
using excavated limestone for the front yard’s check downs. She reduced the lawn that formerly
carpeted the entire space. (Christy) I still wanted a little tiny bit of lawn because I
have all of these nieces and nephews that come over and visit and plus I have Daisy.
I just tailored it up. I gave it an edge. I gave it a frame, which really made this
little patch of lawn even more important. You know? It enframed it, and then it allows
me to just have wild Turks Cap on the side and it still looks tidy; because, it has that
frame and that edge. (Narrator) A dripping basin adds it’s gentle touch to the cool serenity:
a favorite with birds too. (Christy) We can hear traffic from Mo Pac here sometimes and
I just wanted a little drip of water here and so Bertold Hosk, he’s an artist with stone,
and I told him I wanted a quarry block fountain. (Narrator) The fireplace was already there
but diminished by its skirting. (Christy) And I don’t personally like vertical hardscape
next to horizontal hardscape. I like for there to be breathing room. And two, I just felt
like there is so much stone that I didn’t want it on the horizontal surface. (Narrator)
For contrast she use pea gravel. She renovated the fireplace with a steel surround and gravel
hearth. (Christy) I love pea gravel. I love the sound. I love the sensory experience of
walking on the gravel and hearing that crunch at night when it’s quiet. It’s just something
about little smooth stones that’s really beautiful. (Narrator) Terraces dignify the studio added
by the former owner. Christy’s design merges the lawn with the patio which he renovated
between the main house and the studio guest house. (Christy) I use approximately three
inches of road base to get it real firm under it, which is crushed limestone. And then I
just use a half inch of pea gravel. I don’t want to sink in the pea gravel. I don’t want
to feel like I’m wading through a riverbed. (Narrator) A brimming water trough compliments
the rectangular lines. The overflow recirculates though an underground basin. (Christy) I just
think that those living in harsh climates need to have that connection with water. It’s
like this ever-changing mirror. (Narrator) Running water and nurturing plants ensure
an urban wildlife habitat that’s important to Christy. She encourages drought-tolerant
diversity and water retention over tiny monocultures whether lawn or extensive impervious hardscape.
(Christy) I think we have get used to something that doesn’t look so perfect all of the time.
That there is a harsh beauty that all of us need to appreciate about our native landscapes
and to rush out and rip everything out and rock it just increases the urban heat island.
There is less precocity and permeability. I’m worried for our big trees. Creating some
kind of native floor to people’s gardens helps keep those big trees alive, it helps keep
it cooler. I just want people to use every square foot of their yards for places to hang
out and inspiration. Our lives are so chaotic and hectic, everyone should have a little
special garden that connects them back with nature, and sort of just reconnects them with
all of the wonderful things about life and living in Central Texas.

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