The happily-ever-after Berger Street Garden: Austin Open Day Tour

November 07, 2019

It’s time to kick off my coverage of last weekend’s Open Day tour in Austin, sponsored by The Garden Conservancy. Six private gardens were open to the public, and I started at the Berger Street Garden, where a homey blue shotgun cottage extends its front porch with wide steps and a brick patio that visually doubles the space. No green-mustache foundation hedge here! You enter from the driveway…

…or, more formally, through an old-fashioned metal arbor and fence softened with a golden-green vine. Traditional turf was scrapped for low-maintenance Berkeley sedge (on the left) and liriope (right).

Sedge continues as a groundcover in the shady side yard, where native Turk’s cap and inland sea oats add color, texture, and food/nectar sources for birds.

I like this simple seating area tucked into a widening of the side-yard path, providing a focal point and a place to sit and enjoy the garden.

In back it’s pure Austin: a pea-gravel patio with colorful motel chairs under an oil-pipe and rolled-wire arbor, sheltered between a shipping container (the owner’s office and storage space) and an Airstream travel trailer remodeled into a guest house.

As design collaborators Shaney Clemmons of Shademaker Studio and Billy Spencer of Spencer Landscape Company explain on a recent episode of Central Texas Gardener, the garden was built on a strict budget. The homeowners, who were planning to get married, wanted to spruce up their yard, attract birds, and create a space for their upcoming wedding ceremony. What they might easily have spent on a wedding-venue rental went toward creating a garden they could use on their special day and every day after.

Two wide steps of chopped limestone and gravel lead down from a small lawn onto the patio. The patio is spacious yet enjoys a sense of enclosure thanks to the shipping-container office and Airstream, plus a low wall in back and the retaining wall in front. When the vines cover the arbor it’ll be shady in summer. In winter, the red tabletop can be removed, revealing a fire pit base.

A hammock stretches between a tree and a sturdy post, offering a relaxing place to lounge. Notice that the tree, right on the fence line, was saved by fitting the fence around it. As the tree grows, the fence boards will need to be re-cut to avoid damage to both tree and fence, but it shows the lengths we Austinites will go to to save our trees.

I like how the arbor spans not just the patio but the Airstream’s porch and the shipping container too. That’ll help cool both structures once the vine fills in.

Peeking inside the Airstream, I found a charming, cozy space with camping-fabric curtains, a blue-and-white-check linoleum floor, and a portable record player with Willie Nelson albums (what else?) ready to spin.

You don’t need anything more than this for back-yard enjoyment: chairs, a table, shade, mud-free paving, and surrounding greenery. The details make it memorable: the recycled pipe arbor, the carefully composed stone-and-timber wall…

…the South Austin-style Airstream, with a child-size motel chair waiting in the wings for younger visitors.

The stacked-limestone and timber wall along the back of the patio is perfection. A wide opening leads to a rear fence-line garden of flowering perennials and native ornamental trees.

That planting belt along the fence is about 10-feet wide, allowing plenty of room for plants to fill out over time and create a green buffer. The path continues in back to a sheltered potting bench behind the shipping container.

This garden is a great example of how to reduce your turf grass by adding low-water groundcovers like sedge and no-water patios, while still growing plenty of wildlife-attracting native and adapted plants and making the garden a place for easy outdoor living — all on a budget.

Up next: The Green House on Greenway Garden, a naturalistic woodland garden that’s all about holding onto rainwater and making a peaceful retreat.

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