If you’ve been thinking about updating your garden, or you recently moved into a new home and want a yard that pops, have we got a suggestion for you! Now more than ever, Americans are working from home, vacationing at home, and hanging out at home during their time off. Ellen Byron wrote for the Wall Street Journal this July, “Your Backyard is the Hot Destination This Summer.” Since we’re all stuck at home, Byron suggests, it’s a perfect opportunity to finally conquer some of those ambitious projects, like redesigning the garden. If that’s something you thought about, you definitely need to check out this Q&A with Bill Gorham, owner of Blue Agave Landscape Design in Austin, Texas. Bill reveals which plants you should avoid if you don’t have a green thumb, why you should finally clear out those Holly bushes, and so much more.
1- What is Blue Agave and what services do you offer?
Blue Agave Landscape Design specializes in creating detailed and attractive graphic landscape design for residential and retail properties in Austin, Texas and surrounding areas. We complete work on the initial installation of plants and hardscapes and also design and install drainage fixes and irrigation systems.
As for landscape design services, we’re experts in native, drought-tolerant designs, including xeriscape (or near xeriscape), which is a landscape design style that requires little or no irrigation. It’s a popular design for arid regions like Central Texas. Because it’s very low maintenance, it’s one of the most popular requests we get.
2- Xeriscape design sounds pretty convenient. Especially for anyone who doesn’t care for mowing the lawn or garden upkeep. What type of plants or trees should Central Texas homeowners consider getting if they’re looking for a very low-maintenance yard?
The way I like to define xeriscape for customers is when you remove all the grass and mulch from the foundation and you use crushed granite or river rock for the base instead. Then add low-maintenance plants.
Personally, I’m a fan of mixing grass or mulch with the hardscapes. So not a 100-percent xeriscape. It’s one of the more popular designs with Blue Agave clients, too.
The assortment of native plants you can install in a xeriscape design is pretty expansive. On the smaller side you have salvia and sage plants in a variety of colors. On the taller side, there are the towering, yellow-flowered palo verde trees and fast-growing Mexican fan palms. If the plant has “Mexican” in the name, then you know it’s native.
3- Can customers request any kind of plants in their landscape design?
Yes…but there are a lot of factors to keep in mind. First, we take into account the client’s preferences, of course. But we also think it’s important to consider the look and feel of the surrounding neighborhood—specifically, the block the house is located on. And we also evaluate how much shade or sun is available on various spots on the client’s property.
4- What are some things a client should know before contacting you for the first time?
A lot of times new customers call us and are excited about the types of plants, trees and flowers they want to see. This is great, but a bit further down on the list of information we need. Unless a customer has exotic tastes in gardens, it’s a given that they’ll get the foliage they want. But here is the checklist we typically work through during our first consultation:
- What is the purpose of your project? For example, is this a new home and you want to update the existing landscape? Or maybe simplify it? Or are you a house flipper renovating the interior exterior of the home?
- What are the goals of the project? Do you want more color in your garden or do you want to reduce the amount of maintenance your current landscaping requires?
- Do you have time sensitivities for the project? Is there a deadline?
After these basic foundational questions, we can discuss systems. Such as whether you need a retaining wall, patio area, custom steel fabrication, or even an irrigation system.
5- Is there a service you offer that customers may not know is an option?
Yes! We do remote designs. It’s actually a part of the business we’re growing (garden humor) right now. If you have a property that’s out of state, for example, I would have a strategy call with you, ask for pictures and approximate measurements. Not all jobs require an onsite property walk.
6- Describe Blue Agave’s project philosophy.
It’s easy for people to feel displaced when they’re surrounded by construction. At Blue Agave, we typically have plants and hardscapes delivered the day before the start of installation. This means that landscape materials are on the property for a very limited time. Customers never feel like they’re living on a construction site.
Installations last from 2 or 3 days, or for large projects, no more than 5 days. As a company owner, I oversee Blue Agave crews and am onsite 75 percent of the time. And there’s a work foreman onsite 100 percent of the time.
7- Does Blue Agave provide all landscape and hardscape supplies and materials?
We do. We secure a majority of landscape design supplies from a few different commercial and wholesale partners. Daniel Stone & Landscaping, a family-owned and operated business in Austin, is our preferred source of hardscapes, mulch, pavers and river rock. And we purchase plants, trees, and other materials from Newton Nursery in North Austin and Copper Rock Nursery in Southwest Austin. We also purchase materials from Whittlesey Landscape Supplies, a full-service lawn and landscape maintenance business in Central Texas. Dripping Springs Ollas offers a unique, 2,000-year-old garden-watering technology.
At Blue Agave, we’re big advocates for using bamboo in residential and business landscaping. Especially if you want instant privacy. What clients need to know about bamboo, though, is that it has a bad reputation here in Central Texas. That’s because a lot of the bamboo in our area are invasive, hard-to-maintain species. People plant that type of bamboo without knowing what they’re getting. So that’s why we love Bamboo Your Privacy. They’re an environmentally-friendly nursery that specializes in distributing varieties of non-clumping bamboo. Meaning, unlike commonly available varieties, it won’t take over your yard. It’s a non-invasive grass.
8- Generally speaking, what type of plants and trees grow well in Central Texas, whether they’re native or not?
That’s a great question! I’ve learned so much about plants over the course of our 8 years in business. And at Blue Agave, we encourage all of our clients to learn as much as they can too. A lot of what we know comes from being customers, ourselves. Especially at Austin businesses like The Great Outdoors garden center and The Natural Gardener, and in Leander, Red Barn Garden Center. Whenever I’m in a nursery, I always have a few questions for the experts about my own plants.
Here are some types of plants that do well in this area:
- Texas Sage
- Dwarf palmetto
- Rose shrubs (various types)
- Black-eyed Susan
- Pride of Barbados
- Mexican butterfly weed
- Muhly grasses
- Star of jasmine
- Carolina jasmine
- Trumpet vine
- Agaves (various types)
Rosemary, basil, Italian oregano and dozens of other types of herbs are fun to grow about 10 out of 12 months a year.
Fortunately, people don’t have to memorize this list. There’s a booklet I couldn’t recommend enough titled “Native & Adapted Landscape Plants.” It’s a plant and tree guide written specifically for Central Texas. Anyone can download it for free at the City of Austin website.
9- What are some types of plants and trees that your “green thumb” customers ask for?
Japanese maple trees are absolutely striking. They can grow 20 to 30 feet and they flower red, blue, white or purple petals. But they can be sensitive and need a lot of care and attention.
Citruses do well for about nine months of the year in full sun. But they won’t survive a hard freeze, which we can get in Austin a handful of times each winter. For clients who really love citrus, I suggest getting potted lime, lemon, or clementina trees and then bring them inside from about January to March.
But here’s a suggestion that surprisingly few customers ask me about. I’ve grown a few coffee plants that I mostly keep and maintain indoors. They can grow up to about six feet. And they’re easier to care for than citrus trees. The best part is that you can harvest, roast and grind the beans and then drink your personal coffee blend!
10- Anything in particular clients should know before greenlighting a project?
Like other service-type businesses, we require a deposit so we can order the materials and schedule your crew.
As far as maintenance is concerned, the first two weeks after plants are introduced into a new environment, they need more watering than normal. Even those that are drought tolerant. And when it hits 106 degrees here in July and August, you have to be even more diligent about watering.
11- What is your suggestion for customers who want a zero-maintenance yard?
Hardscapes! Crushed granite or river rock are extremely hardy and almost totally hands off. You can leave them unchanged for 15 years. And depending on the foot traffic, hardscapes only need an occasional replenishment.
12- Do you offer maintenance plans?
At Blue Agave we specialize in creating attractive and thoughtful landscape design. It’s a completely separate skill set from landscape maintenance. Upon request, we’ll refer customers to Blue Moon Gardens for a maintenance consultation and proposal.
13- What are some of the more popular landscape design features that you’re seeing right now?
I personally see a lot of large, rectangular Lueders limestones, bound on four sides by Texas black gravel, and paired with one or two native plants, such as bicolor Irises. While it’s a really easy, contemporary look, if done by an installer who isn’t careful, they can place plants too close together, plant them in a location that gets too little sun, or plant them too deeply into the soil. All of these missteps will doom your brand new garden.
If you’re in a new house, you might have what I call “truck dump” landscape design. It’s when a builder doesn’t want to pay for a professional landscape designer. So he just dumps a sea of river rock onto the property and calls it “landscape design.” It’s definitely one of my pet peeves because it’s a bad look and shows a lack of care and creativity. And then homeowners like you have to call me, even though you’re in a new house. But I’m happy to help transform your property into the yard of your dreams!
One look I’m particularly fond of is when there’s a complimentary design aesthetic throughout the indoor and outdoor areas of the house.
14- Do you install living walls?
At Blue Agave, we’ve worked on several living walls. We have a contractor install the structure and our crew personally arranges the plants and irrigation.
15- Describe one of your favorite days on the job.
Almost anytime we remove 1970s-era holly bushes, de-bunker a house, and swap in colorful new plants and modern or contemporary hardscapes, it’s a satisfying day’s work.
16- Here’s a practical question: What suggestions do you have for someone whose property gets muddy after it rains?
This is an easy one! First, look for leaks in your sprinkler system or city sewer pipes. A leak from either of these sources could ruin your lawn.
I suggest considering putting in gutters. For customers in low-lying areas, we’ll install large rock limestone swales or French drains, which can alleviate a lot of common drainage issues. And they can be tastefully concealed with a layer of river rock.
If anyone is interested in xeriscaping or landscape design in Austin, check out this amazing deal we have on a custom landscape package from Blue Agave Landscape, starting at just $525, which includes a walk-through and original graphic design concepts.