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Home, Family, and Wildlife | Leah & Jon Gillum |Central Texas Gardener


– We moved out to Dripping Springs in 2013. We had lived in Southwest Austin and we had
a couple of reasons for moving out here. But one of them is that we had a very tiny
yard with a huge oak canopy. It was beautiful but just didn’t have enough
light. We were fortunate enough to find this 10-acre
tract here and we thought, gosh, we’ve just got endless possibilities. And so then we planted everything that wouldn’t
grow in our old house and watched the deer eat it all up. – [Leah] While it’s what, 10 miles from our
old house, it’s a different microclimate than where we were. – I don’t think a lot of people know that
Dripping Springs sits at an elevation of around 1,100 feet. So in Austin, I think is just under 500. Combine that with the fact that we have almost
1,000 feet of footage along the Jackson branch of Onion Creek. And so cold nights get much colder here. And so we found that a lot of the plants that
will work, even in the Austin area, won’t even work here. Like bulbines and a lot of agaves and even
barrel cactuses, which are generally pretty safe for, one night you gotta worry about
covering them up, they won’t work here. We are big fans of Central Texas Gardener
and I know one of the people that you had focused on or featured on the show one time
said that, “You’ve got to figure out what you can grow “and grow a lot of it.” And that’s basically what we’ve done. – The previous owners, Jim and Peggy Budd,
had built this in the late 90s or mid-90s, and really did a great job of siting the house. – [Jon] He was an architect and she was in
charge of the volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center And so, they clearly
had native plants and native terrain in mind when they designed this house. – [Leah] They put some berms and a beautiful
dry creek bed in the front to control flooding. We’re kind of on a slope of a hill. Jon planted some silver ponyfoot in there
that looks like flowing water in the summer when we have no water. – [Jon] There’s actually not that many plants
left from when they were here. There’s a few specimen trees. Some of the backbone is here, and frankly
I’m not sure that we would have had the vision to plant some of those larger plants that
they did. But most of the other things we have added. – [Leah] I do know that she did plant some
wildflowers and started that and we’ve continued to seed. – Peggy Budd left us a letter when she left. And one of the things that she mentioned,
and this is one of the other plants that we definitely take care of, is that she had some
Shasta daisies in the courtyard. And those were actually a gift from Lady Bird
Johnson’s garden out of the Johnson ranch in the Hill Country. – [Leah] We’re on a well, we try to conserve
water. And we’ve done a lot of drip irrigation. We have a little lawn for the kids to play
on, but it’s not particularly any species of grass. It’s what grows and gets mowed and it looks
like grass. – [Narrator] Architect Jim Budd completed
his Texas farmhouse persona with a vintage Aeromotor windmill. – And that one came from a farm outside of
Mason. It’s somewhere between 60 and 90 years old. I think one of the things that we learned
very quickly out here is that, when you’re not in a house that has a nice defined frame,
that that presents a gardening challenge. Because you can’t have large manicured areas
out here. One, it looks kind of silly. And two, you can spend an hour weeding and
you turn your back around and there’s thousands of the same plant you just weeded that are
just waiting to throw their seeds back into the area that you just did. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to build
gardens that blend in with the wildscape that’s just beyond. And I think one of the ways that we’ve done
that is that we use a lot of rocks. That’s what, that’s the thing we grow the
best. We can talk about plants that we think we
know how to grow, but we grow rocks really well. – [Narrator] They don’t fence against deer
except in two areas. One is their organic vegetable garden where
hog panel and rustic cedar posts blend right in. To feed hummingbirds and other pollinators,
native coral honeysuckle clambers up. – I built the raised beds. And several tons of dirt and shoveling later,
we filled it up. – [Jon] There’s very large paths there that
we can get the cart through with the compost and the mulch. And that’s one of the reasons that the beds
are up along the sides is that really makes use of that space. But it’s not one of those where it just looks
pretty, it’s pretty functional as well. – And the kids get involved in it. They are professional onion planters and potato
planters. It’s been a great learning experience for
our family to raise food. I grew up in East Texas and my dad had hundreds
of tomatoes. And now I have 20, but that’s plenty for our
family. – [Narrator] Another fence protects the courtyard
garden, visible from several rooms indoors. – [Jon] And that’s great because you can see
your garden from your house, but it also makes it like a fish bowl. And so you can’t plant things there like you
would on the outside. You can’t just put the tall things in the
back, and the middle things in the middle, and small things in the front, because if
you did that, you wouldn’t be able to see them from the windows. And so varying the heights in there has been
one of the main challenges. The other thing is that because of the walls,
the lighting situation can be a real challenge in there. You have parts of it that are almost constant
shade and then parts of it that can get almost full sun. – When we moved in, there was just sort of
a net fence. I’m not sure if it had been there the whole
time, but very clearly we needed to improvise that. But we didn’t want to gate. We didn’t really want to see a gate that you
had to open and close. My father and I talked about different ways
we could do this. And we came up with a hog panel fence. Put in some posts and then have a sliding
gate that comes out at the top. And so it doesn’t look like there’s a gate,
doesn’t look like there’s any way to get there, but there’s a secret entrance. – [Narrator] Leah also had help building a
bench to view it all. – [Leah] Our son Grant was five or six. Our daughter was a little bit younger, or
she would have helped. It’s probably not the best constructed piece
of furniture but it has a lot of memories because we sat there and built it together. We built the stock tank fountain and plugged
that in and it’s been a great addition. And we have toads, and birds, and everything
that lives in it. – [Jon] And I think our favorite visitor that
we’ve had, and he’s only come once, was a Texas tortoise that came up from the dry creek
bed. That’s the kind of thing that makes you want
to be outside when you live out in the Hill Country. And so we’ve tried to find areas where we
can just sit and watch that happen. – [Narrator] From the farmhouse-style veranda
in back, they watch their own reality show of birds, deer, coyotes, foxes, possums, and
skunks. Benevolent native plants document the calendar
through ever-changing patterns. Confident hummingbirds, after feeding on native
plants, are happy to grab a bonus drink with the family. Since deer aren’t so eager to join them, the
Gillums include tasty temptations in their step-side container garden. – [Jon] It gives you a chance to grow some
things that don’t do well out in the garden beds themselves. We’ve learned over time to plant based on
foliage and texture. And there’s a few flowers out there, but primarily
they’re texture plants. – [Narrator] The front yard’s the family playground
where their games include watching the wildlife. – [Jon] And so, we’ve made the conscious decision
like under our oak trees in the front, not to clear them out and to make them look manicured. That we, we leave the brush under there. That’s where the deer put their fawns in the
spring. – We have two young children right now. They’re seven and 11 and they’re active. And they play video games all day like most
kids if we let them. But they also like to be outside. And so we, we’re always outside gardening. We have plenty to do out here. And so we wanted places that we could enjoy
as a family together. It’s the basketball court viewing area. The side effect of that is, we have a lot
of agaves. And we have popped a lot of basketballs. – [Narrator] As lawyers, Leah and Jon log
a lot of hours behind keyboards, so they make family time outdoors a priority. Problem-solvers both, they bring two dimensions
to home and garden collaboration. – Jon has a vision and he really loves, loves
plants. I mean, it’s his hobby and you can tell the
love that goes into this. And I’m a laborer. I do what needs to be done. I’ll weed beds and I’ll shovel mulch. And I’ve probably shoveled 10,000 tons of
mulch in the past. Or compost, or dirt, or crushed granite. And I’ll do the irrigation and those types
of stuff. I’m the engineer and he’s the designer and
the planter. – The refreshing thing about gardening is
that it really is all about optimism. And if you believe you can grow it, then you
probably will. It might take you six or seven years to figure
it out, but it’ll happen.

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