Thursday, December 1, 2011


So where did the lawn go?  Answer: we never had one.  So let's see how the front yard got to its current state over the years.

Our realtor wanted to keep driving when she saw the front yard, and did not want to even stop to show us inside the house.  After moving in, the new neighbors and friends dropped hints that we should do something about the yard.  The problem?  Just a sea of gravel under the live oaks with a few shrubs dotted around as shown in these scanned photos from 1995. 


Definitely more "zeroscape" than xeriscape.  It would be considered odd now, but back in the mid-1990s it was looked at as downright weird.

My husband saw it as a bonus -- no lawn mowing meant more time on the golf course and I was intrigued by the challenge.  The concept of xeriscape was just taking hold in San Antonio, so we began to research our approach.  After reading a few articles and checking out yards on the Watersaver Tour, we decided there was no point in planting a lawn, either front or back.  Driveways and sidewalk cover a significant part of the east side (front) and south side (garage side), creating hot spots while closely spaced trees near the front door would make maintaining a lawn difficult at best.

Busy with our respective careers, we planted a few additional shrubs in the two years we lived here before the Air Force moved us to Boston, Alabama, and Washington, DC.  Eleven years and four renters later we returned to a neglected yard that needed an overhaul.

The above photo was taken after we had started trimming for the city's brush pick up.  That's a lot of cleaning up and we were just getting going in early 2009.

We began at the street by removing the gravel, black plastic and metal border trim originally installed.  We live on a curve and discourage street parking so larger rocks from the back yard were used to fill in because the gravel often ended up in the street.  A small crushed granite path runs through the middle, and existing salvia greggii was divided and replanted.

Replacing the old composition shingle roof and powerwashing the house made a big difference by October of 2010, plus the new plants started to look more established


Next we tackled the island between the circle driveway and the sidewalk.  This time we reused the original gravel and added some gentle berms for dimension.

After,  with Spanish Lavender in bloom

Starting to reap the rewards of hard work

Then we took on the area near the front door, rearranging and planting this tree circle with iris, inland sea oats, and ruellia.  We'll continue working on this area through the winter

After, plants are beginning to fill in

The large rocks near the house in the above photo are part of a water feature currently in progress.  There are many more changes and additions planned for this area which is a somewhat private garden room behind the trees.

Across the way by the front walk we used limestone blocks to build a bed for shade plants in Spring 2010.

Next up was the gravel garden by the garage and I documented the changes in a previous post about the Hesperaloe parviflora.

Two views from October 2010 similar to the first two in this post to show all the changes over the years.

This year has brought a few changes and since it was a tough year for the garden things don't look quite as good as last year in this photo from November 2011.

Most of the tough work is now done and we can enjoy the yard as it fills in and grows.  It certainly is more fun to drive up to the house than three years ago.  And not a blade of grass....even better!


  1. It's amazing to me to realize how much our idea of what a yard should be has changed since 1995. True, few of us would want a yard that is strictly gravel (a zeroscape indeed, not a xeriscape). But to write off a house because of it, when it just needs some thoughtful xeric plantings to soften it--that would have been crazy! You were so smart not to bother with a lawn, which would probably have died while maintained by renters anyway. I think your changes are wonderful and in touch with the region you live in. It looks great!

  2. It does look great. You can tell, good thought went into the plantings. Even ater this hard last year, things look good.

  3. How gratifying to see the transformation. I'm inspired by your bed in the middle of the driveway. The dimensions look similar to the little strip of earth to the left of my driveway and I've been at a loss for how to work with such a thin space. You've given me some good ideas. Thanks!

  4. Good for you to think "outside the lawn" (to paraphrase)! What a lovely transformation and I'm sure you've enjoyed the challenge and the wonderful results. What you've done is The Way.

    You go, girl!

  5. Thanks to all for your positive comments, the man who did most of the work enjoyed them too!

    Pam - It does seem odd to pass up a nice house because of the gravel, but back then many people were quite upset about the xeriscape trend. Just a few years later our first renters were happy to have a no mow front yard too.

    Abbey - We are about to start on the strip along the driveway that borders our neighbor. You can probably get more in there than you think and I'll try to share steps as we go along.

    Thanks RW, Linda, Tina - This was a special post because many of the photos were taken before I started the blog. Taking time to review our progress and have positive feedback has been awesome.

  6. I like the changes you made. The thoughtful addition of plants and larger rocks makes the landscape much more interesting. So what do your neighbors and friends think now? Have you influenced any of them to change their landscapes?

  7. A realtor should be able to sell anything with *those* oaks in front!

    Nice to see the progression. What really grabs me is how in the zeroscape mode, gravel was the the Fox xeriscape mode, plant interest is now the star, gravel subordinate, like it should be. Gravel = flooring. Plants & hardscape = furnishings. Flowers = jewlery.

    Nice job, and thanks for showing more angles and describing the layout...really helps.

  8. Thanks, Bluestem.

    We have received more positive comments from the same neighbors recently. Those who are newer to the neighborhood really like it. Earlier in the fall contractors all up and down the street were ripping out lawn and building planting beds. Incentives from the city and the drought had a lot to do with it.

  9. DD - Most who looked at the house could only envision the work involved in removing the gravel. We had seen some great gardens with little or no lawn in our travels so it was not quite as daunting. Thanks for the positive comments, you break down the best elements of a gravel garden so well. "Decorating" the yard with various types of gravel was not part of the vision.

  10. I just ran across this post - WOWZERS Shirley, you have done so much...added so much to your home. Your xeriscape looks INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!!!!! I really love the transition of the bigger rocks to the little rocks in your hell strip - the curves or swirls of rocks look cool.

  11. Well, I like it! You must save oodles on the water bill. I do too.
    Your yard is very nice. You don't need grass. I like the blooms that bring in the color. I so wish I could get lavendar to grow. I've tried 3 times and failed. Everyone tells me don't water it. I don't but then it dies when I bring it home from the store or flower show I've bought it at.

    People think that because you have lots of plants we water alot. I water only 2x a week. Mainly because I haul lots of AC collected water and from the rain barrels.

    Glad we are part of the NO GRASS movement. Who wants to move anyway. :)

  12. I haven't seen this post before. It is always so interesting to see a true before, then to watch the vision unfolding step by step. Those trees make a great and glorious start!


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