It's For The Children

Last week we talked about our fun at Design Week and learning about how both the psychology and sociology of how a space will be used are taken into account when designing a pocket patio.  This got us thinking of how true this is for every project we take on as we don't just look at what is there and what could be there.  We take into account what the client will do there, what they want to do there, and everything else.  Nowhere is this more apparent than when we are asked to create a design for a project involving kids.

Modern landscaping can be viewed as rigid with it's heavy use of metal and rock, and even somewhat purposeless with the xeriscaping, but child-safe spaces and elements can be included in your design. 



5 Suggestions to add Kid Friendly Design Elements

  1. Rather than rocking your entire front yard, we suggest considering keeping a small area of grass bordered with a low fence to give the children an area devoted to their play.  By utilizing a low fence, you create an inviting area that offers the children safety and keeps them from hazards, such as a busy street.  While reintroducing grass into the design is a break from normal when it comes to xeriscaping, note that a large area of grass is not necessary.  Though the space could be small, the rewards are numerous when you give your children their own dedicated safe space at home.
  2. Tree spaces are another important consideration when you have children.  Not only do the trees offer a space for lounging, playing, and much needed shade, they offer a place to explore, to create, and can become their own living space.  Family memories can be made at all ages around a tree......tree houses, swings, games of tag and hide and go seek.......the list is only as long as your imagination can make it.
  3. Raised garden beds are another example of combining modern landscaping with children.  By raising the gardening beds, you are not only making an area easier to work with, but giving children a place to learn, explore, and play.  By allowing them the opportunity to grow and maintain a garden with you, you are teaching them life lessons and giving them memories to cherish as they grow.  
  4. Use native plants in your design.  By using the native plants, you offer your child a learning opportunity, and a way to instantly bond with nature.  As they grow and learn about what's natural to this area, their explorations out of their home will be more exciting as they learn to identify those plants.  They'll be able to tell others about it and have a natural and long lasting bond with nature.
  5. Include 'wild spaces' where boulders and other elements can be added that would allow your children places to run, jump, climb, and have fun for years to come.


So as you consider your next project, don't forget to take into account your child's needs now, as well as what those needs will be over the next decade. Contemplate a raised garden bed that not only is useful and educational, as well as a place to spend some of your child's energy daily, but can serve as a cave, a fort, or even a castle.  Thinking of adding some life to that walkway of yours......imagine how much fun the kids will have with the design we help you create.  Or, look at how that outdoor patio can serve as an outdoor playroom complete with drawers, hidden storage, and a sink for easy clean-up, or the years of S'more fun you can have with an addition of a custom fire pit.  Your backyard paradise should be as much for them as it is for you.  For more ideas on things to incorporate, we suggest looking here.

Tactical Urbanism: The Transformation of a Parking Spot into a Pocket Patio

First Pocket Patio installed outside of Royal Blue Grocery on South Congress in Austin, Texas   

First Pocket Patio installed outside of Royal Blue Grocery on South Congress in Austin, Texas


Last week, Terra Dura was lucky enough to attend Austin Design Week, the first ever week long event celebrating design and art in Austin through a series of workshops, classes, and tours.  One of the most intriguing was the session on Tactical Urbanism and the transformation of a parking space into a Pocket Patio.  DWG, the local design firm that has been leading these projects in Austin, was kind enough to lead this workshop and tour, and we felt it was the perfect to share with you.

The Pocket Patio concept isn't new, but it is new to Austin.  Born in San Francisco, the idea is simple......let's reclaim the land utilized for cars and make it into something that can be used by hundreds of people a day.  The execution though, is truly where all of the work comes in.  While DWG has successfully established themselves as the leader in designing and executing Pocket Patios in Austin, we believe the growth in the trend will certainly cause a number of other Landscaping companies to step forward and begin trying to establish themselves in the field as well.

So, what exactly is a Pocket Patio and what defines on?.  What are some of the rules for one in Austin, and can you have your own Pocket Patio at home?  Let's discuss.....

A Pocket Patio is essentially the reclaiming and re-purposing of a space in which the priority of that space becomes community and emphasizes interaction.  So where two parking spaces outside of Royal Blue on Congress were utilized by at most 50 people a day collectively, the space is now utilized by hundreds of people daily.  They gather outside to dine, enjoy their time with friends and a cup of coffee, or perhaps take a meeting outside, rather than in the office.  Yes, the hustle and bustle of Congress continues as you are there, but the joys of being outside in the beautiful weather with the sun far outweighs the office lights and desks that are confining and draining.  

In addition, Pocket Patio design is now effecting the designs of personal patios, as seen here in Houzz.  As you can see, utilizing the space is of utmost importance.  By addressing the needs of the owners and looking at how and why the space will be used, or the Psychology and Sociology of the space as DWG said, you look at not only what it can be, but the who and how as well.

This is great news for those living in Condos, Town homes, or just houses with smaller lots in Austin.  No longer are you limited to looking at your yard, patio, or balcony with sadness because, thanks to art and design inspired groups like Rebar, the design firm responsible for starting the Pocket Patio movement, and DWG, ideas and information are readily available that can be transferred to personal spaces.

Houzz had a great article that we found really brought to light how these large projects can be scaled down to a personal balcony / patio in some of the larger cities.  And because the patios can include permanent structures, and the permitting process for this is already established, the jobs are much easier and faster.  Here you can actually see the transformation of one patio from tired and dated to a modern oasis.  While this yard had permanent structures put in such as the cement wall for the garden, a true Pocket Patio, like those outside Royal Blue, must contain non-permanent structures.  

So how does this apply to Austin and it's growth?  As the population continues to grow, the amount of land becomes more and more limited.  Apartments and Condos grow taller daily, and for those that own or rent downtown, grass is hard to come by.  And while the majority of these come with great views from the patios and balconies, the space is limited, and that makes tapping into the possibilities of the space hard.  It truly takes a trained eye to look at a space and see what it could be, rather than what it is.  Could your balcony contain a garden, seating area, and a water feature to cut down on the noise?  Do you have the ability to include furniture in the design, but not give up the floral and fauna that you want?  What if you wanted to add a vertical garden?  And for those renting, what can be done that can be undone?  The possibilities are truly endless and we are excited to see the growth and expansion of Pocket Patios and to see where this Tactical Urbanism takes Austin over the next decade.  We hope you'll continue to travel with us on this journey as we not only watch, but take part in the Pocket Patio movement.

Pattern Language

How to Use the Power of Pattern Language in Your Design Project

You have an idea for your yard, garden, or patio. You’ve started to tinker and take a few steps toward bringing it together.

But something goes wrong—the walkway does not feel right, it all feels too sterile, or the material you picked wasn’t right.
It’s easy to get stuck. And it can feel really overwhelming sometimes, when you’re not quite sure just where to go next or how to solve your obstacle.
Enter Pattern Language: a structured design framework and philosophy that follows the natural flow of nature.

Pattern Language: The Timeless Way of Building

In 1977, architect Christopher Alexander and 5 of his colleagues at the Center for Environmental Structure at Berkeley, California published “A Pattern Language: 253 Patterns for Towns, Buildings, and Construction.”

The book introduced the idea of design patterns and problems as a complex, literal language—complete with grammar, syntax, and vocabulary—and as a function of a higher universal pattern, dictated by natural order.
When you can tap into that natural flow of things, and design with it instead of against it, you end up with a much more sustainable, reliable structure.


A couple years later, Alexander applied a more philosophical view to Pattern Language in his book “The Timeless Way of Building,” which explored the connection between nature and human endeavor, and the quality of “aliveness.”

Design that Feels Good

You’ve probably noticed that some of the outdoor spaces you’ve visited at friend’s homes or venues just feel better than others. They look great, yes, but they also seem to have a certain sort of atmospheric quality that makes them really enjoyable to be in.

Other outdoor spaces, even really nice-looking ones, can sometimes just feel awkward or slightly uncomfortable. While you can’t really put a finger on just what it is, something feels off. 

What is this subtle quality that makes some designed environments feel great, while others don’t? Alexander called it “aliveness,” a deeper wisdom that we can draw from in design to create a sense of peace, harmony, and cohesion.

Applying Pattern Language to Your Project

The best part about using Pattern Language in your design is that it’s so stinking simple. The 253 “patterns” created by Alexander each include a problem which occurs time and time again, discussion, illustration, and solution. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how you could use Pattern Language to get un-stuck:

  1. Start out by identifying 2-5 pattern(s) relevant to your project. These archetypal patterns can be found both in the book or online . They are broken out beginning from largest structures (like cities) to smallest (like homes), so most likely you’ll need to look toward the end.
  2. Read through the pattern(s) related to your project and determine their core value as applied to your own project, and how each of the patterns are connected.
  3. Make revisions and next-step decisions based on the patterns you found. Apply these changes to your building process.
  4. Last, assess how the pattern(s) influenced your space. Get a feel for what changed as a result, and where you’d like to go next. Revisit the list of patterns to decide if any others may help you with surrounding or related design elements.

It may not seem like much, but putting these patterns and their solutions into your work has a surprisingly efficient effect on getting un-stuck and putting a new plan into motion.

Conundrums of a Landscaper Series : Blackstar Gravel

I will preface this post with the statement that my wife thinks I am a total nerd. Landscape nerd. 

I was recently at my favorite rock yard, Whittlesey, buying a ton of Blackstar gravel (sometimes called Basalt) for the small commercial planting seen above. When I thought to myself, "where is Blackstar gravel from?"

The Unfortunate Question

I like to pride myself on the fact that I use native plants and source things as local as possible for my landscape business. I almost did not want to ask where it is from because Blackstar gravel is such a great product. The gravel is functionally one the best for paths and patios. Aesthetically, Blackstar offers a stark contrast to the green of grass or plants. In the right setting it can add a modern touch. If I knew the stone was coming from Arizona or some other far off state I would have a guilty conscious every time I sold it. As I thought about it more, all signs pointed to the fact that it must of come from a secluded beach on Hawaii or something. I have been the the farthest stretches of Texas and never seen a rock like this. The price is much higher compared to similar gravels. After these thoughts flooded my brain, I finally got the nerve to ask the rock yard manager.

The Origins of Blackstar Gravel

Uvalde County, Texas. Yes!

The yard manager let me know a bit of the back story, which I found interesting and thought you may too.

The manager said that the stone was actually Dolomite, not Basalt, like the other name it is frequently called (be sure to read to the end.) According to the manager, the stone is quarried close to Del Rio, Texas, but the reason the price is high is because the railroads use the same gravel to support the railroad ballast. The railroads use it because of its great strength and interlocking qualities. The railroads are driving the demand high for this product, not just the new fancy houses on the east side of Austin.

This new discovery about the Texas sourced Blackstar gravel, fascinated me for a few reasons.

1. Can it really be sourced in Texas? (Despite the good new, I still doubted the stone was from Texas.)

2. Why would a stone commonly be called Basalt when it is actually Dolomite?

First thing I did was call a Geologist buddy. When I mentioned that the stone may be Dolomite and not Basalt, it seemed to make sense to him based off his knowledge of Texas mineral deposits. There was one way to know for sure though.... Hydrochloric Acid of course.

He brought his family over the next day. As our children ran around and played, we ducked behind the garage with our rocks and diluted Hydrochloric acid. The idea was if we pour the acid on the Blackstar gravel and it fizzed it was Dolomite, if not, then it was something else. Dolomite is similar to limestone in composition, and both of carbonate minerals, which react to Hydrochloric acid.  

As both of our heads hunched over the stones with our ears close we poured the hydrochloric acid...... Nothing happened, I said, "those stones must have something wrong with them." We grabbed another handful, and poured some more acid on them, but this time we emptied the vile just to be sure. Nothing happened again. We walked back to our beer bottles as he told me, "I am not really the kind of geologist who is good at rock identification." I gave up on my research for the moment and enjoyed my beer.

Well, as any good researcher would do, I finally "googled" it. After some searching in obscure links, I found the clarifying document. As it goes, Blackstar is in fact Basalt. A very hard dark stone that forms from cooled magma. It is found in many places, but in Texas it can be found around the Chisos Mountains, Fort Davis, Guadalupe Peak, and down along the Rio Grande. The manager at the rock yard was misinformed.

Dolomite can also be found in Texas, but did not really match the description. It can be darker brown and grey, but not quite the black/grey of Blackstar. Dolomite is similar to Limestone in hardness and composition. Turns out when we did our Hydrochloric acid test we should have been able to know instantly that is was not Dolomite, which fizzes just like Limestone.

The Bottom Line

Blackstar is Basalt. Basalt is in Texas. Basalt is extremely durable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing in landscaping. See clarifying document below.

Thinking About Adding Trees to Your Landscape? NOW is the Time!


Fall special for all tree installations before December 15.

Most people assume spring is the only time to work on your landscape, but fall is actually much better, especially in our Texas heat.
Trees need time to set down roots in the fall and winter, so they can thrive in the spring, and actually require far less water to establish in fall and winter as opposed to planting in spring and summer.

So, the truth is, fall is THE time to plant trees!



What type of trees are best for my landscape?

We work with many different species of trees at Terra Dura, but by far our favorites and most recommended are large shade trees which require little water. Not only are they beneficial to the ecosystem and aesthetically beautiful, by installing trees like these to the southwest of your home or office, you can save quite a bit on your utility bills.


Tree spotlight: Mexican Sycamore

The Mexican Sycamore is a great choice for the Austin area. With smooth, white-to-beige peeling bark and large maple-like leaves, It looks very similar to the American Sycamore you may be familiar with, only a bit smaller and with slight differences to the leaf structure.

 While they can grow up to 80 feet in the wild, most of the Mexican Sycamores around here will get up to about 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide. They’re deciduous, meaning their leaves will fall off come winter and grow back in the spring.




Although Mexican Sycamore is not technically native to our area, some experts believe that all sycamore trees descended from an ancestral species which is most similar to the Mexican variety. As it exists today, Mexican Sycamore originates from Guatemala up through Mexico.


Benefits of planting Mexican Sycamore include:

  • They’re drought resistant, which means less worry and maintenance for you in the hot summers when water is scarce, plus a lower water bill.
  • It won’t be long until they fill in your landscape; these guys are really fast growers.
  • Unlike American Sycamores, Mexican Sycamores are immune to bacterial leaf scorch, a very common and damaging disease.
  • They are well adapted to most soil types, which means chances are you’ll have to do little to no soil adaptations to get them thriving.
  • Mexican Sycamores are also pretty hardy against many of the primary predators other trees suffer from, including most insects and diseases.
  • Although they originate from a more tropical climate, Mexican Sycamores have shown to do well in even the colder Austin winters, requiring little extra care.


Ready to plant? Save $$$ with our Fall Tree Special!

We want to help you take advantage of the perfect season for trees!
Terra Dura is offering a tree planting special until December 15.


Pick any of these three recommended low-water shade trees for one flat fee of $500 + sales tax for your 30-gallon* (approximately 8- to 20-foot tall) tree plus its installation.

1. Mexican Sycamore

2. Live Oak

3. Mexican White Oak

*other tree options and sizes are available.


Not sure which type of tree is best for you? No problem! Give us a call at 512-560-0148 today and we’ll help you make the best decision.  And if you know you’re ready to go, contact us now to set up your installation time. Your tree will have lots of time to set its roots and get cozy!


Get Money Back on Your Native Plant Landscaping!


Don’t miss your chance! Deadline September 30, 2015


Did you know that you could earn up to $1,750 in City rebates for replacing your turf grass with native plants?

The City of Austin WaterWise Landscape program encourages residents to cut down on water usage (and your water bill!) by switching to drought-resistant, hardy native plant beds that support our local ecosystems and require little to no irrigation or upkeep.

If you replace at least 500 square feet of your healthy grass lawn with native plantscapes, you may qualify to receive $35 per 100 square feet, up to $1750 total.

There are lots of benefits to replacing your turf grass with Central Texas natives:

  • Drastically cut down your residential water usage and water bill

  • Eliminate the need for sprinkler systems and frequent watering

  • Enjoy a colorful, thriving landscape instead of battling brown, dried up grass

  • Attract and support pollinator and butterfly populations

  • Protect our local plant life from harmful or invasive non-native grasses

  • Preserve the unique biodiversity of Central Texas for future generations

  • Help restore vitality, reverse damage, and give back to your land

Ready to get started? Click here for more information on how to apply for the City of Austin WaterWise Landscape program.

There are lots of special requirements you must fulfill in order to qualify for this helpful program, but please don’t let these overwhelm you.

This is our passion and specialty at Terra Dura landscapes, and we’ve taken the time to master everything you need to get the most City bucks and a landscape you love.

Plant material must be installed between September 15 and November 15. Contact us now to set up a proposal for your fall application before the September 30 deadline!

Lighten Up: Make Your Backyard Inviting


Summer heat been giving you the blues? We love Texas for all the outdoor fun we have, but sometimes it's just too hot to be outside.

 Now that the evenings are getting cooler, it is easy to start thinking about relaxing in your backyard a little more. Have you ever considered the way professional landscape lights can enhance your outdoor space?




There are many surprising reasons to install professional landscape lighting:

 1. Aesthetics

Great lighting just looks good. Lighting adds a dimension of beauty to your outdoor space by creating glows, casting shadows, and adding a softness to your environment that standard porch lights can’t provide.

 2. Security

It’s an old trick everyone knows—lighting up your space makes it much harder to hide, and greatly reduces the chances you’ll attract questionable characters or critters. Even keeping your space partially lit at night can make a big difference.

3. Safety

Nobody wants to stumble around or hurt themselves trying to navigate a dark porch or yard. Illuminate dark corners with low lighting to easily see where you’re going at night, and to keep your space safe for kids and family.

 4. Extended Outdoor Time

Most of the time, we find ourselves retreating to the well-lit indoors once the sun goes down. But with a few simple lighting additions, you’ll be able to enjoy evenings outside well into the starlit night, creating a new space to entertain your guests and friends.

 5. Quality

Not all lighting is created equal. You could go to a home improvement store and try to DIY your outdoor lighting, but the quality level and lifetime you’ll receive by going professional is well worth the investment.

Here at Terra Dura, we use Vistapro Landscape LED lights, which last up to 50,000 hours—roughly 50x longer compared to your regular incandescent lights, which last only 1,000 to 2,000. They’ll also use at least 75% less energy.


Here are just a few of the ways professional lighting can enhance your space:



 Pathways: No need to line the edge of your pathway with lights. Try mixing directional path lights with ambient lighting within your landscaped beds for a more natural look.

 Patio: Use diffused down-lighting from above to get a moonlit effect onto your patio.

 Trees: Trees are naturally incredibly beautiful forms to use for up-lighting or cross-lighting.

 Water Features: Underwater lights are both elegant & eye-catching.

 Architectural Elements: Pillars, terraces, and even your home itself can all be lit for dramatic effect.

 Driveway: Consider lighting up the landscaping around your driveway to bring more ambiance for those coming to your home, or for a soothing welcome on your way home from work.


Ready to lighten up? Give us a call at (512) 560-0148 and let Terra Dura Landscapes brighten up your yard to create a relaxing, beautiful, and secure environment for you to enjoy.


Dollars from the City of Austin for Your Compost & Mulch


Hurry! Rebate ends June 12, 2015

Austin Water has launched a pilot rebate program designed to keep your yard healthy while still saving water. By using a combination of mulch, compost, and aeration, your lawn will be prepared for the long, hot days of summer. These techniques will ensure that water stays on your yard, reducing the need for supplemental irrigation.


  • Compost – 2 cubic yards or 54 cubic feet--rebate $50
  • Mulch – 2 cubic yards or 54 cubic feet--rebate $40
  • Core Aeration Service for entire front and/or back lawn area (equipment rental is acceptable) --rebate $30


DilloDirt™ made by the City of Austin is an acceptable form of compost. Visit for a list of vendors.


For Progam Guidelines & The Application visit:
Drought Survival Tools Rebate- Guidelines and Application

Compost & Mulching helps soil absorb and retain nutrients and moisture, protects plants from diseases and pests and suppresses weeds. Better Moisture retention means less watering, allowing you to conserve water. Less weeding means that you are winning the great Battle of the WeedsTerra Dura will help fight the battle with you by offering our transforming powers to your yard. We look forward to hearing from you to set up a plan to keep your home native.  

Terra Dura Landscapes can help you accomplish your water saving goals for this special program through the City of Austin. Please contact us to set up a proposal for this program or any other of your landscaping needs.

Valentine's Day is for Lovers (and Pruning)

With all the love you havE, be sure to share with your overgrown plants.

February 14th, Valentine's day, is a day to remember. You most certainly need to remember to get some chocolates, get reservations for your favorite restaurant, and pick up some flowers for your love. Oh that reminds me, February 14th can also be remembered for the best time to prune all of your perennial flowers and shrubs. 

The plants will thrive come spring, if you are able to take the time now to prune. Each perennial flower or shrub has different pruning needs, so be sure to do your research or hire a professional (like Terra Dura).

Check out this great video from John Dromgoole on pruning for a starter lesson.
Central Texas Gardener

Spineless Prickly Pear in bloom.

Spineless Prickly Pear in bloom.

Queen Butterfly resting on some Greg's Mist Flower with Autumn Sage in the background

Queen Butterfly resting on some Greg's Mist Flower with Autumn Sage in the background

Fall is THE Time to Plant Trees

Fall is the perfect time to work on Landscaping-  Most people assume Spring is the only time to work on your landscape, but Fall is actually much better, especially in our Texas heat. Trees and perennial plants need time to set down roots in the Fall and Winter, so they can thrive in the Spring. Trees and native plants need far less water to establish in Fall and Winter as opposed to planting in Spring and Summer. 

We are running a tree planting special. Pick from any of the three recommended low water large shade trees below for one flat "tree and installation" fee of $500 plus sales tax. Tree will come in 30 gallon size (approx. 8-20 feet height depending on tree type*).

1. Mexican White Oak 
2. Live Oak 
3. Mexican Sycamore

Please contact us to set up installation time.

*other tree options and sizes are available.

Planting large shade trees, like this Mexican Sycamore, are a great way to cut down on your utility bills, by planting to the southwest of your house.

Planting large shade trees, like this Mexican Sycamore, are a great way to cut down on your utility bills, by planting to the southwest of your house.

Is it time to install a new patio? We have great options if you are going for a "rustic Hill Country feel" or a modern patio.

Is it time to install a new patio? We have great options if you are going for a "rustic Hill Country feel" or a modern patio.

While many folks use the words Low Maintenance and Xeriscape interchangeably, I always like to warn my clients that it does not mean NO maintenance. Xeriscapes are low maintenance compared to a well maintained turf lawn. Xeriscapes require less water, fertilizer, and grooming in the long haul, but be prepared for battle with the weeds. The two most insidious weeds to fight are nut sedge and bermuda grass. While there are many tools for battle (hoop hoe, herbicides, or propane torch), maintaining the weeds in your xeriscape will be challenging. Terra Dura will stand with you in the great Battle of the Weeds pouring out our very own blood, sweat, and tears. We look forward to hearing from you to set up a plan to keep your home native. We specialize in xeriscape installation, but we can do it all from native plant care to landscape installation.  Please contact us to set up a meeting.

Free Landscape Maintenance Service

One free lawn maintenance service- You can take advantage of this offer when you set up a 6 month maintenance contract with Terra Dura Landscapes.  We specialize in xeriscape maintenance and native plant care, but we can do it all from basic lawn care to landscape installation.

Please contact us  to set up a maintenance proposal meeting. Accepting maintenance contracts in the central Austin area.

Maintenance contracts will range in price depending on the type of work. A maintenance contract could include weeding xeriscape areas, basic lawn service, and/or trimming plants.

Dalea Frutescens- Black Dalea   Now is the time to plant wildflower seed for them to come up in the spring. Check out this great native plant for your yard.

Dalea Frutescens- Black Dalea 
Now is the time to plant wildflower seed for them to come up in the spring. Check out this great native plant for your yard.

Is it time to install a new patio? We have great options if you are going for a "rustic Hill Country feel" or a modern patio.

Is it time to install a new patio? We have great options if you are going for a "rustic Hill Country feel" or a modern patio.

While many folks use the words Low Maintenance and Xeriscape interchangeably, I always like to warn my clients that it does not mean NO maintenance. Xeriscapes are low maintenance compared to a well maintained turf lawn. Xeriscapes require less water, fertilizer, and grooming in the long haul, but be prepared for battle with the weeds. The two most insidious weeds to fight are nut sedge and bermuda grass. While there are many tools for battle (hoop hoe, herbicides, or propane torch), maintaining the weeds in your xeriscape will be challenging. Terra Dura will stand with you in the great Battle of the Weeds pouring out our very own blood, sweat, and tears. We look forward to hearing from you to set up a plan to keep your home native.