Backyards That Don’t Take a Backseat
Outdoor home spaces that rival the indoors
By Laura Gutschke
Photography by Gary Rhodes
A calm oasis from the stress of the day.
A park-like play area for the children.
A colorful venue for entertaining.
Abilene Scene opens the gates to some splendid backyard spaces around town. Learn what is possible when imagination, aesthetics, whimsy and hard work come together. Be inspired to create your own backyard beauty.
AMBER AND FRANK PECK
Vision: The Pecks bought the lot adjacent to their house to create a park-like backyard including an entertaining area and a play area with a large fort for their sons, ages 8 and 4. The backyard is awash in splashes of colorful plants and flowers.
Key elements: She wanted a pergola and he wanted an outdoor kitchen, “so we compromised and did both,” Amber said. Strategic lighting allows for nighttime fun.
Design and installation: The Pecks worked with God’s Care Landscapes for several months to design the space before installation began. The lighting is by Nite Time Décor at Lone Star Electric.
Maintenance: MasterScapes handles the weekly care of the yard, which includes mowing, planting and checking the irrigation systems.
Favorite features: Frank, who grew up in a coastal area, likes the rock fountain in an elevated flowerbed. Amber enjoys sitting in a lounge chair under the pergola to watch the children play. The children love the large green space, which they use as a football and soccer field.
COLETTE AND TIM McCLOSKEY
Vision: When the couple married 16 years ago, he began transforming the backyard from bare dirt to an inviting florid space “where everything blooms except two trees,” Tim said. The retired florist and caterer describes it as an English country garden.
Design elements: The unifying element throughout the yard is about 8,000 Abilene brick that Tim laid to make pathways through flowerbeds and flooring under the pergola and in the cedar greenhouse. Perennials and other flowers provide a kaleidoscope of color. A red oak that was the size of a thumb when he started redoing the backyard is now 10 inches in diameter. There also is an iron fence along the backyard.
Maintenance: Tim maintains the flowerbeds and the other areas of the yard, except the grass, which is mowed and fertilized by a yardman.
Favorite feature: The couple relishes sitting under the pergola – large enough to comfortably seat and entertain 18 – overlooking the blooming beauty of the backyard.
DIANE AND BILL KEEBLE
Vision: Since the Keebles moved into their house in 1983, they have worked to create an inviting backyard because of their love of the outdoors. Through the years the space has developed an English country cottage vibe, making it an ideal location for relaxing as well as cooking for guests.
Design elements: The dominant features are a pool with rock waterfall, huge American elms, deck, limestone rock patio and herb garden with limestone fountain. Color pops everywhere with roses, yellow buttercups, passion vines, hawthorns, geraniums and many other flowers. “I try to use a bunch of flowers that are drought resistant and that attract butterflies,” Diane said.
Design and Maintenance: The Keebles created the backyard themselves, except for installing the pool. Now that they are retired, they spend about 30 hours a week on the care and upkeep of the plants, shrubs, trees, grass and pool.
Favorite feature: They love sharing meals with others on the deck.
SHARON AND GERRY LAWLER
Vision: The Lawlers desired a backyard that is inviting, green, shady, low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. “A couple of years ago when my water bill was more than my electric bill, I knew I needed to do something,” Sharon said.
Challenges: Growing grass under the red oak and pecan trees is difficult, especially when two rambunctious dogs love to dig it up.
Design and installation: About five years ago, the Lawlers started working with Mankin and Sons Gardens on updating the backyard. Changes have included decorative rock, four hardy palm trees and replacing a pond with a water fountain. Last year, Mankin installed artificial turf, which is dog-proof, alongside rocks and other landscaping. “At a glance, you don’t know it’s artificial,” Sharon Lawler said.
Maintenance: Ron Ballard visits weekly to clean and maintain the yard.
Favorite features: The backyard faces east and includes a tree-shaded patio and covered patio, where Sharon enjoys sitting in a rocker listening to the water fountain and nearby wind chime.
GARNET AND TERRY ESSEX
Vision: The Essexes desired a cool, relaxing year-round outdoor living space with views of the golf course and nearby lake.
Major features: A figure-eight pool has a beach entry on one end and a rock grotto with a hot tub on the other. A rock bridge with waterfall traverses the middle to a vine-covered service area for the swim-up bar. In addition, along the house is a covered patio that includes a kitchen, dining area and living area with enough seating for 20 to 25 people. A fire-and-water feature recently was added.
Design and installation: The concept and build is by Extreme Exteriors.
Maintenance: The grass is minimal and the pool is self-cleaning. “It’s not a lot of maintenance or I wouldn’t do it,” Terry Essex said.
Favorite feature: Terry enjoys swimming in the pool daily in warm weather, and Garnet savors the outdoor living area. “We like being outside, and this is the perfect place to do it,” Terry said.