When the Carlson family bought the house on South Lopez Street in 2009, the front yard was so naked that Lizzy Carlson says it annoyed her every time she drove up to the house.
“There were beds outside of the fence, but they had nothing in them. Inside the fence, there was a lawn and one hibiscus; that was it,” she said.
From the looks of the front yard today, no one would ever guess its ho-hum past.
“I’m not a gardener,” Carlson claims. “The only plant I knew the name of when we bought this house was a geranium. But I planted things, and they grew, and now I can’t control them.”
The front garden is one of three surrounding the Carlsons’ home. The trio includes the cottage garden in front, wetland garden in the rear and vegetable garden on the side.
In front, two shades of butterfly ginger — white and coral — provide fragrance. Three different varieties of shrimp plant — including the traditional copper and one in a pale lime color — add chromatic diversity. Both white and dark purple duranta bloom alongside blue plumbago. A lavender-spiked vitex tree and red bottlebrush tree also contribute to the variety in the front garden.
“The vine climbing on the trellis and onto the porch is Rose of Montana, which will bloom vivid pink later in the summer,” Carlson said. “When it does, you can’t hear anything on the front porch because of the loud buzzing of the honey bees.”
Although the front garden and its jasmine draped pergola command attention, it isn’t the most recent garden project the family has undertaken.
“We just finished the mini-wetland in our back yard,” Carlson said. “Before we hired landscape architects to devise a plan for water management around our house, the backyard was nothing more than a mud pit. And whenever we got a hard rain, the whole parking area and our shed would flood.”
The solution that Evans + Lighter landscape architects devised relies on swales (picture shallow gullies) to collect rainwater and funnel it out of the yard to the storm drain on the side street. Lined with rock and sparsely planted (one with ferns, another with palmettos), the swales manage the runoff so that none of it collects in a single spot. A pond serves as the centerpiece of the design, its level rising and falling based on the volume of rain it receives. Water in the pond recirculates via two “waterfalls” that mimic the appearance of water seeping out from between layers of rocks. A deck raised about a foot above grade provides a seating area for enjoying the new habitat, complete with bald cypress trees and strung with party lights.
“We like to entertain friends, so we inaugurated the new wetland at a party we threw for Emma when she graduated from Lusher in the spring,” Carlson explained.
While Joe Evans and Barney Lighter were at it, they built the Carlsons’ third garden: an herb and vegetable plot on the Jena Street side of the house. Brimming over with white eggplant, corn, a volunteer watermelon vine and cherry tomatoes, the edible garden also features five different kinds of basil.
“We told the guys we liked basil, but we never dreamed they would plant five kinds,” Carlson said.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @rstephaniebruno.