When Houses Had Yards

If you’re like me, you’re kicking yourself for not having had the time last weekend to attend the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour in Austin. And if you’re not kicking yourself yet, take a gander at garden designer Pam Penick’s photographs and summary of the tour. Austin gardens of all styles and sizes were open to the public.

* Stone House Vineyard. Vineyard and gardens of the Stonehouse Vineyard in Spicewood.

* Poth-Gill Garden. A playful little garden filled with native plants and flowers and a clever fountain. I especially like how the back stucco wall accommodates the tree and creates a spot for a collection of potted plants. If you’ve bought a cottage in one of Austin’s central neighborhoods, this garden provides a perfect inspiration for what is possible in a small place.

* Hornickel Garden. Another smaller garden but one with a more formal design and planting. Definitely a garden to entertain in.

* Arth Garden. A streamlined garden, small but with strong architectural lines. This garden has a very 1950s modern feel to it. It’s definitely a garden to relax in and not fuss over.

* David-Peese Garden. You’d expect the founders of Austin’s Gardens nursery to have something special and their garden doesn’t disappoint. It is spectacular in its choice of plants, its design of stairs and ponds and fountains and outdoor living spaces.

* Reed-Badger Estate. This Pemberton Heights garden was designed by Penelope Hobhouse and looks the part of an English estate transplanted into Central Austin. Definitely a fantasy garden. Fortunately for the current owners’ pocket-book, they have well water to supply the garden.

One thing makes me very sad is the current trend in Austin to build houses without yards. Here we are blessed with a climate where, save the worst days of summer, we can spend a great deal of our lives outdoors. Earlier residents of Austin capitalized on this asset by building small houses with large yards that had plenty of outdoor living spaces. I grew up in a family of ten and our various 3 bedroom houses never seemed crowded because we kids were outside playing.

Take the tour and take a whiff of what can be done if we bring back the yard.

4 Comments so far

  1. M1EK (unregistered) on October 29th, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

    “Current trend”? Houses were being built with what we’d today consider small yards through Austin’s entire history, save the period from about 1950 (suburban sprawl begins being subsidized) to 1990 (land cost finally becomes a factor even despite the subsidies).

  2. mss (unregistered) on October 29th, 2006 @ 6:58 pm

    It’s the proportion of house to yard that’s changed. All I have to do is look around the corner to see a block of houses from the 1940s that average about 1000 square feet. But the two new houses being constructed in that block are each between 3000 and 4000 square feet–on the same-sized lots (as they tore down the old cottages to build them). No matter what the size of the yard, when you build a house four times larger than the house it replaces, you’re diminishing yard space.

    If you want to live yardless, buy a downtown condo. A 4000 square foot house is still sold to a single family and does nothing to reduce suburban sprawl. However, it does contribute to runoff and consume more energy than a smaller house and reduce the number of plants and trees that help keep the city cool.

    Of course, some of these problems could be mitigated if these building had green roofs or rooftop gardens.

  3. M1EK (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 8:26 am


    So if I add a second floor to my house and garage on existing footprint, the size of my yard diminishes?

    I can’t disagree more with the rest of your argument. Real cities have more than just (downtown skyscrapers) and (single-family zoning). And when the family of 5 next door to me moves out (due to being unable to expand their home to even 1800 square feet, thanks to that McMansion ordinance), sprawl will, in fact, increase. (another family of 5 is unlikely to replace them – if I’m lucky, it’ll be a childless couple; otherwise, 3 students would be my guess).

  4. M1EK (unregistered) on October 30th, 2006 @ 8:29 am

    Oh, and don’t forget the dominant form of family housing in England, home of those gardens we all try to imitate: the rowhouse.

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