Upgrade your outdoor space and become one with nature this summer with these local options.
By: Rita Zenzen Heck
“Outdoor Living” as a residential style has come to mean fancy barbeque equipment, elaborate outdoor kitchens, exotic swimming pools and a lavish relax/entertainment oasis. All good, but not enough.
“Living outdoors” adds another dimension to the scheme: sharing the outdoor living experience with nature and including unconventional aspects such as an edible landscape; bird, bee and butterfly attractions; respecting nature with a low water landscape, rain water catchment units and/or permeable groundcover. Children’s play-space is also an important consideration for living outdoors.
To accomplish these goals, you need to begin with a flexible outdoor plan, preferably from a professional landscaper, to guide you through the process. Size doesn’t really matter. Any outdoor space, from a compact apartment balcony to a sprawling back (or front) yard can be transformed into a relaxing outdoor retreat for personal reflection or friendly entertaining.
Translating outdoor living dreams into realities has been Randy Rodgers’ specialty since 1976 as owner and operator of Blue Heron Designs/Specialty Concrete. Experienced in both landscape and concrete design, his work is showcased at many San Antonio locations; for example–Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, where he created lush landscapes and attractive retaining walls. Recently, he and his staff took on an almost impossible project involving a deep-sloped lot in a hilly region of Huebner and Bitters Road with limited front access. Not only did the steep slopes and drainage issues need to be addressed, but an outdoor living area needed to be created with privacy from neighboring residences located on a much higher elevation overlooking the property.
Other challenges were “very limited and difficult access, existing limestone boulders which we reutilized with dry stacked stone at the back to redirect drainage and provide planting areas,” explained Gerald Wilson, who co-designed the project with Rodgers.
“An underground spring causing continuous moisture issues also had to be considered and we had to move drainage lines to control the continuous water flow to the front of the house,” Wilson continues.
On the green side, Blue Heron included xeriscape plants that could be switched or integrated with colorful vegetables and herbs for an edible landscape. Bird and butterfly plant favorites could also be interspersed with existing plants. And a one-stop bird feeder station could be added to the existing birdbath area.
All combined, the scene invites relaxation and keeps residents in touch with nature and provides fresh produce as a bonus.
“We planted creeping rosemary to cover the back retaining wall and bush rosemary around the house. Colorful vegetable and herbs can be integrated into the initial landscape as well as bird, bee and butterfly attracting plants to add to the enjoyment of the space,” Wilson added.
In addition to Rodgers and Wilson, landscape manager Darren Ebersole, oversees installation of their creative outdoor designs at Blue Heron Designs/Specialty Concrete.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org call (210) 646-0555
For the Birds
According to Bill Svelan, fondly known as ‘Wild Bill’ and owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, “birds are looking for food, feeders, water, habitat locations and safety. If you provide these, you’ll be rewarded with [anywhere from] 15 to 50 wild bird visitors that are in the area including lesser gold finches, hummingbirds, cardinals, blue jays, bluebirds, titmice, house finches and mockingbirds.“
Most wild birds prefer black sunflower seeds, but will eat a wild birdseed mix which includes millet, a pigeon favorite. “So if you don’t want pigeons, avoid millet,” Svelan advises.
“Most squirrels will eat any seed, but can be deterred with a variety of safe squirrel repellants,” Svelan noted. “Placing seed and water on a balcony will bring the wildlife to you, even in a small area,” he added.
Bees & Butterflies
In a recent Express-News column, longtime agricultural specialist and consultant Calvin Finch presented a twelve-month nectar plant program that attracts butterflies year round (A Butterfly Garden for the Year, March 5, 2016). He pointed out that these plants also offer some key caterpillar reproduction activities to observe and reward with more individual butterflies coming to the area. Finch suggests planting one or more variety of milkweed for Monarch and Queen butterflies to nest. Giant Swallowtails lay their eggs on citrus plants and Black Swallowtails prefer dill and parsley for egg laying. Passion vine attracts Gulf Fritillary butterflies to feed and reproduce.
For a list of colorful vegetable plants and herbs for the edible landscape with pertinent planning/planting information: www.gardeningknnowhow.com (Edible Landscaping: Mixing Vegetables And Herbs with Flowers)
Photo courtesy of Rita Zenzen Heck