My Great Outdoors: Lee & John's Natural Modern Patio

My Great Outdoors: Lee & John's Natural Modern Patio

Gregory Han
Jun 16, 2009

Name: Lee & John

Location: Austin, Texas

Type of space: Backyard patio garden

Tell us about your outdoor project and how you enjoy it: This backyard patio is our home away from home. We live a lot outdoors in Austin, and this is where we enjoy listening to the birds in the mornings, hosting parties, watching summer outdoor movies, and huddling around the fire pit in the winter. The patio is surrounded and scented by culinary herbs, like oregano, rosemary and sage, that smell wonderful in the breeze and sun.

We designed the patio in a "natural modern" style. So, there are lots of hard lines that define the space, but the plantings are largely naturalistic and a bit wild. Many of the plants are native, such as inland sea oats, turk's cap, feather grass and desert willow. Southern wax myrtle and bay trees line the edge, and as they grow and fill in, are beginning to create a nice green enclosing wall for the patio.

How did you create it? When we moved to this house three years ago there was already a well established garden, but it didn't quite suit our outdoor entertainment needs because the patio was too small. The previous owners had installed a really cool brick inlay that they had used as their patio. There was also an old cement foundation from a room that needed to be removed.

We decided to keep the circular brick inlay, but to expand the patio outward into a more modern square shape to fit more people. The patio is edged with steel and filled with pea gravel.

The walkway brings people into the space, doglegs around the garage and connects the house to the patio with the vegetable garden out back. It's made of local sawn limestone, and the pattern is based on Japanese path design. In Japanese garden design, I believe the style would be called "shin," which is highly controlled and clean. We were sure to design the limestone walk so as not to ever have four corners come together. A meeting of three is more aesthetically pleasing.

The low waddle fence surrounding the herb and perennial garden closest to the house (and kitchen) is made of local juniper branches (Texans call it cedar) that we harvested from a friend's country property. Largely, this is meant to be a sensory barrier for our blind dog. And, largely, it works, though sometimes she finds herself tromping through the middle of the garden anyway...

One of our neighbors made some great cement containers, and we are lucky enough to have scored a few. We used one of the round ones in combination with a rain chain. The other was turned into a fountain. There's a larger rectangular one that holds a few agaves.

By the walkway and underneath a growing desert willow is a bench that we made from wood picked up at Habitat Restore and from laying around the garage. It's beginning to warp and crack over time, which gives it a great organic, wabi-sabi feel. Like the waddle fence and naturalistic plantings, the bench seems like a nice counterpoint to the very linear limestone.

Pots surrounding the patio help to define the space as well. The two large ones are filled with a Mexican lime tree and a Meyer lemon tree.

And just on the other side of the patio is a directional sign that points to places and people that we love. On the same post grows a grape vine and hangs a native bee house, made from scraps of wood. Beyond all that is the veggie garden and the rest of the immense (and sometimes daunting) backyard.

Recommended store, site, product or resource? We hired a local firm called Dig It Gardens to pull out the cement foundation and install the steel edging and limestone pavers. Plants came from Barton Springs Nursery and the Natural Gardener. We found the fire pit at Breed & Co.


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