A yard built for all seasons

The Richards’ home on San Antonio Street incorporates runoff defenses, like a French drain, an elevated entry and gravel beds that direct water away from the house and yard. PHOTOS COURTESY OF SHARON LOCKETT

Spring Lake Garden Club Yard of the Month

Spring Lake Garden Club’s Yard of the Month for January is tended by San Marcos gardeners Michael and Yvonne Richards at 1029 W. San Antonio Street.

The Richards moved to San Marcos’ historic district from Austin in 2016, downsizing both home and landscape responsibilities, yet successfully updating an established front yard threatened by rainwater flooding.

Viewing a landscape in winter shows the “bones” of the yard: the hardscape as well as mature plants and evergreens that provide background for seasonal shrubs and blooming plants. Part of the Richards’ inheritance in their new home were two large American beech trees centered on either side of the front yard, now showing bare branches instead of oval green leaves, although their yellowing leaves made a lovely fall display. An old elm at the edge of the yard is also covered with yellow leaves in fall. When our yard-of-the-month committee visited the house, both Mike and Yvonne were out raking to clear the ground, which is a mix of grass and horse herb, still green after recent rains. The beech trees, like many “twin” plantings, have grown independently, with one much larger than the other, probably because of differences in sun exposure and water access.

A French-drain-turned-walkway frames a variety of foundation plants providing interest in all seasons. 

First on the docket for the Richards’ new home landscape was management of rainwater runoff into the front yard. Johnson is a cross street that carries downhill drainage directly toward their corner lot on San Antonio Street before Johnson shifts slightly and continues downhill. The previous owners had attempted to direct runoff around the corner, but a few railroad ties were not enough to keep water from overflowing into the front yard. Richard and Yvonne upgraded the water barrier with stones edging the sidewalk and set slightly higher than the walk to direct water toward the corner. They also constructed an elevated entry step to keep water from coursing down the front walk to the house. Any water that breaches this barrier flows into a bed of large gravel that parallels the street, slowing the water and guiding it toward the corner of the yard. The bed holds a line of crape myrtles that provide winter color with their red leaves and some privacy the rest of the year. This bed also includes small agaves and Mexican feather grass which are year-around landscape favorites

A front sidewalk bordered by a raised stone edge and gravel provides a planting area for crape myrtles, agaves and Mexican feather grass.

Mike and Yvonne installed a backup runoff defense with a French drain along the front of the house, covered with large gravel and again edged with large rectangular stones held in place with metal edging. Circular paving stones, previously scattered across the yard, are now set in this gravel drain walkway for stability. The stone path separates a generous space for foundation plantings from the lawn. To the left of the front entrance are sago palm, firecracker bush and mountain laurel; to the right and continuing around the corner of the house are yellow bells, more palms, a beauty berry with its clusters of deep purple fruits, and a clump of fan palms in a protected corner. Past the side driveway is a tall loquat tree and a Rose of Sharon (althea) near the street.

An elevated entry step, framed with agaves and foxtail ferns, limits runoff onto front walk to house.

Perhaps the most impressive planting bed is on the corner of San Antonio and Johnson streets, featuring a large gray-green century plant, lime colored bamboo muhly, small agaves and yucca, and a mass of succulents which Yvonne identifies as Alligator sedum. A second century plant in this area bloomed and died after the Richards moved into their new home, but the surviving one is thriving. This corner bed also plays a part in directing runoff around the corner and downhill from the yard. Fortunately the Richards’ backyard has no flooding issues, so Mike and Yvonne have created a patio seating area next to a small deck where they can enjoy the outdoors and contemplate their next gardening project.

A corner planting bed features a century plant, bamboo muhly and alligator sedum.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666