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Rollingwood City Hall lawn to garden |Central Texas Gardener

January 3, 2020

Unlike most city halls against stride and
pavement, Rollingwood city hall is nestled into a neighborhood, blending
into nearby homes. The difference these days is that
there’s not a blade of grass except for billowing clumps of fall blooming Muhly
grasses. In spring annual steal the show as the cutback grasses clump out new growth.
The ever-changing scenery against structural evergreens is why neighbors
make it part of their daily strolls. Robert Patterson, a member of the Rollingwood park commision, champion the new look to remove lawn and conserve water. We
thought well wouldn’t it be cool to do something educational and beautiful and water wise
we have all these different environments we have the shade we have hillside we
have full sun and so we thought it was a great
opportunity to create right here in the central city the opportunity to show people what
they can do in their yard. Former mayor Barry Bone supported the water wise
initiative. The Rollingwood Women’s Club and neighbors raised additional funds
and selected the design team. Lauren and Scott Ogden along with Patrick Kerwin
collaborated to change dimensions philosophical and botanical. The city hall
building is actually an older property that’s been here a long time and had the
old style kind of line em’ up and shoot’em landscape with a foundation planting and we
very much wanted to get away from that. Since work began in fall 2013 plants are
still young but filling in rapidly. In less than a year the curb strip reversed
the static promenade. Yeah health strip is something that you know Lauren has
been a champion of for a long time it’s a common problem people have in a property
you have that little narrow strip between the sidewalk and the street. It’s
really difficult to water that’s a place where we do have a lot of desert shrubs and some yuccas and agaves. Many grasses many of the dry land grasses along with a lot of the nice
perennial and annual wildflower. In the sunnier sections Patrick of Kerwin
horticultural services chose quarter-inch fairland pink gravel to underscore plants that
like good drainage and rocky mulch. Decomposed granite packs flat on wide
birth pathways edged with limestone. They had a parking lot up the hill and a
sidewalk that ran right along the foot of the building to get you straight to the
front door as fast as you can go and you know that works fine for just
getting to city hall but we felt like if we were gonna try to make this into a
display garden to show things off we actually needed people to walk through
the garden not walk by it. Deer mosey through too, so the Ogden’s chose the least
tasty menu. We wanted to make it pretty so that people would be excited about
what they could grow in a dry land garden but we also wanted to have lots
and lots of different kinds of plants we wanted to make it diverse so we could
show off as many different things as people you know might want. And we didn’t want to over-style it so we pretty much for a naturalistic style and
that allows us to combine things kind of loosely in groupings that you know fled
back in and out and it allows for us to do some of the stuff we like to do
anyway which is to have kind of a sense of spontaneity so we have lots of
annuals. And you know one of the groups of plants that people forget
about in doing gardens in Austin a lot is the fact that this is a great place for
winter annuals. We have a huge natural flora of wildflowers that typically will
germinate in the fall, grow through the winter when they have moisture, bloom in
the spring and then they go away and so one of the things we wanted to do with
this garden was show people how to use that and we combine them in many
instances with succulents or what we call power plants,
plants that have a fairly strong architectural character so even though
we’re not doing architectural design we have plants that you know have that kind of
feature and so when the wildflowers come and go we still have something to
hold the garden together with that way. Reliably perennial bulbs contribute to
ongoing surprise and wildlife attraction. The lawn’s kind of boring in that
respect. It’s swell looking if it’s all green and
looking okay everything but it doesn’t really do anything. There’s no real life in it. There’s no bugs really, no butterflies, no bees and we got all of that out
here I mean sometimes you know you can see three or four different kinds of
butterflies and you know one of these bushes will come in and bees are all
over it you know and you can hear them buzzing as you go by. All you gotta do
here really is just stand still and just look around you know if you’ll just take a second to
stop and look there’s a lot of stuff here even in the winter. We have drip
irrigation throughout this property it’s subsoil so you don’t see it and
that is what keeps things alive for the heat of summer. We do irrigate here, but we irrigate minimally. Two rainwater tanks assist. And we also
plumbed one of the downspouts off the roof into a big depression we created a
rain garden. The plants in the rain garden are mostly plants that naturally grow in
that kind of environment where they’re periodically flooded and then they dry
out between flooding and we’ve got some native things. There’s a little creeping
clover fern that’s in there and we’ve also got some native salvias, some
of the native grasses like the Gulf Muhly that’s one of the plants
that there and the hybrid of it with the Lindheimer Muhly called pink flamingos, we
have those in there. Those are plants that naturally grow in seasonally wet areas
like that. Opposite the front door sidewalk, the
garden heads into shade. Lauren designed the conversation area with a spiral that
echoes ammonite fossils. A round table as you will without the table. Scott’s gradually tucking native rocks into the
joints where little lizards can reside. We did come up with pallets of things that
are drought-tolerant and shade-tolerant and so that’s what we have underneath the Oaks.
We have some of the native sedges and some of the cycads that are very tough
and drought-tolerant. And even you know some plants like the the box woods that are
common in old landscapes here actually tried and true tough plants naturally
grow in the wild on limestone soils kind of like we have an Austin and are very tough. So we had a very Catholic open-minded palette here. We have lots
and lots of native plants we also have lots of plants that are adapted plants
from all over the world. Coonties are also cycads. They’re a little
low-growing cycad that actually has its bulb, it’s tuber located underground. They
don’t need any kind of irrigation really and as as dry shade plant you couldn’t do
better. We have then the Dioons which are the cycads native to North America
in Mexico relatively nearby and we have those on the hillside. One of the things
we like to do with this garden is to have some plants that echo forms all the
way through it so if you stand at one and look at the other you do get some
kind of sense of continuity and so we have grasses that repeat we have
architectural plants like the cycads that repeat all the way through it and
then things like the succulents like the agaves and yuccas. Again if you stand and view the
whole thing there is some continuity that way. But let’s make it clear, this is
not a no maintenance mow and blow yard that’s one of the fallacies of landscape
architecture makes a lot of people think that an initial vision and any installation
and you’re done, and a garden isn’t that way at all. It’s
actually an evolutionary process and most of the good decisions come
about responding to what you see evolving rather than whatever
preconceived notions you may have had at the beginning of it. I think it has
an ongoing impact I think when people first saw it you know it when it was just a few
little bitty plants and nothing was flowering and there was some cactus and
sitting down in the middle some rocks people just kind of went. There were some skeptics. Plant nerds like me you know dug it from the
get go but now that it’s coming along it is becoming more mature and people can
see like wow look at that thing I never realized it was gonna be that like this bush here once you see you know what the
potential is and you see how it matures over time in their cycles, you know
there’s the spring cycle the fall cycle all of that, people were starting to get interested. I talked to somebody a couple days ago and said what do you think about the garden And they’re like wow you know we had no idea it was going to be like this.


  • Reply ItNeverHurtToThink June 18, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I love your idea of "all you have to do is look." I think to encourage that, you should put a bench just off the path. Gorgeous yard already.

  • Reply warp9p65 February 6, 2018 at 11:28 pm

    What a fantastic project. Love it!

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