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The Brucato's home was chosen for the Spring Lake Garden Club's March Yard of the Month for their attractive and formal landscaping that is engineered to handle central Texas' weather. Their front yard includes both lawn and rock ground cover and a motte of oak trees. Photos courtesy of the Spring Lake Garden Club

Low maintenance formal landscaping

March Yard of the Month
Sunday, March 1, 2020

Formal landscaping with sculptured shrubs and clearly defined borders often suggests rigorous maintenance, requiring time and effort. But when establishing their landscape in a new house in 2007, Mike and Diane Brucato decided to choose simplicity as their ally in achieving an attractive front yard which also handles rainwater runoff efficiently. The Brucato home at the intersection of Stagecoach Trail and Summit Ridge pairs neatly clipped shrubs and a small turf lawn edged with large boulders beside rock paving and gravel ground cover. A healthy motte of oak trees divides the lawn from plantings near the house and ensures privacy for residents.

Plants grow and change over time, but Mike Brucato has clear expectations of how to manage a developing landscape. The original boxwoods in an area near the entry may have started out as small separate shrubs, but now stand shoulder to shoulder yet still trimmed as individuals, offering reliable green even in winter months. Showy red berries on nandina shrubs in a raised planting area next to the house, are kept trimmed below window level and provide welcome bright color on gray days. Level ground next to the house is covered with small gravel, which contrasts with a larger rock mulch around the oak trees edged with larger stones.

Boulders line the edge of the street-side rock bed that's planted with hardy native plants. 

Between the oaks and the street, an uninterrupted lawn of zoysia grass is easily maintained, and Mike Brucato recommends a string trimmer for any edging or weeding around rocks. He claims responsibility for tending the landscape himself, because “No one does it the way I like it.”

Between the lawn and the front curb, a gravelled strip supported with large boulders next to the lawn is dotted with hardy Texas natives such as spiny cactus, red aloe, red sages and cenizo or Texas sage, covered in purplish blue blossoms after a rain. This area slows water runoff from the street to the lower lawn, which encourages water to percolate into the ground rather than pool in front of the house on a down-sloping lot.

The Brucatos initially engaged Diamondback Landscaping for planning rainwater control, and the sophisticated drainage system includes underground pipes not only in front of the house but also beneath the side driveway, following the natural flow of water downhill when the house was built. Similar planning in the backyard includes more gravel surrounding the pool and side yards. But flowers are not forgotten; they grow vinca, lantana and impatiens in large stone pots visible from a back deck, and a sago palm and fan palm in large planters by the pool stand out on top of gravel paving. A tall metal fence prevents deer from devastating flowering plants, and planted next to the fence is a handsome hedge of photinia, an evergreen with dark green mature leaves which leaf out as red — and as an additional bonus, enhances privacy for the backyard.

Raised planting beds in front of the house protect shrubs from rainwater overflow and contrast with formally trimmed shrubs and freeform nandinas that give the yard a bright pop of color.

Lessons learned from the Brucatos’ successful landscape are twofold: water runoff management is best done as a first step and formal style does not necessarily involve high maintenance. A third insight from this landscape is that using rocks involves more than just spreading a load of gravel in selected areas. The size of stone used — from paving stones or pea gravel to river stones to edging stones to boulders — is part of the “hardscape” when a landscape is established.

The Spring Lake Garden Club is a gardening club with the mission of sharing, learning, gardening and conserving. One of the ways the members fulfill this mission is through choosing an exemplary yard every month — excluding June, July and August — to honor and recognize citizen landscapers. For more information about the organization, go to the Spring Lake Garden Club's website.

San Marcos Record

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