At Richard Hartman’s and Ben Cortez’s home in Lakeside, guests often arrive for a Friday evening visit and wind up staying until Sunday afternoon. The 2-acre property’s serene ambiance appears to have a lot to do with this.
From the moment a car pulls into the home’s U-shaped drive and parks among the native oaks, the sense of escape begins.
An enthusiastic gardener, Hartman favors many uncommon plant species and concedes that he “goes out of the box on some plants.” For those who know him, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Armed with a degree in horticulture and years of experience from the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, he also has gleaned considerable knowledge while running his own landscape business, The Plant People — and it shows.
In beds along the driveway entrance, armchair-sized Sotol yuccas, spineless prickly pear, and varieties of silver-gray and green agaves command attention. Hartman softens their sculptural angles with clumps of maiden grass, white Knock Out roses, and the tall layered foliage of donkey’s tail.
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A Blue Vase juniper, Texas buckeye, and loblolly pines add height. Scattered among the plants, water-pocked limestone rocks dot the compost-rich, sandy soil.
“You can have a great garden and not have a lot of color [from flowering plants], just from [using] texture and contrast of greens,” Hartman says.
Some of these plants do involve extra effort though. Agaves and donkey’s tail must be covered with blankets in the winter. And those amazing loblolly pines — native to the moist, acidic soils of the southeastern U.S.— require considerable coaxing.
“They’re not supposed to be growing here, but I love pine trees,” Hartman says. “I try to trick them, give them a lot of iron. I love the way they look against the blue sky.”
Frequently, guests ramble on foot over a leveled path where well-placed boulders lead toward a welcoming front courtyard. Given Hartman’s appreciation of color and form, the gently sloping hillside is adorned with a windmill palm, swaths of soft leaf yuccas, several varieties of deep green leopard plant, and healthy clumps of silvery artemisia and lime green asparagus fern.
Here, a single, blooming cardoon catches the eye. This stout plant sends up tall spines topped with artichoke forms spouting bristly lavender flower heads. At the nearby courtyard, Hartman repeats the lavender color with a bushy althea, now in full bloom.
A fringe benefit of developing a garden in the front of the house, the gardener notes, is chat time with passers-by. “We are friends with everybody in this neighborhood. You see everybody walking by and you visit with them. It’s a neat way to be involved in your neighborhood.”
But, the reason many of Hartman’s and Cortez’s guests end up staying all weekend has to do with what’s out back. A large multilevel pavilion of colored flagstone features a complete outdoor kitchen and a tantalizing rectangular pool and hot tub edged with colored glass tile.
The iridescent tile is repeated in the risers on the stairs and in artwork sourced in Santa Fe.
Similar to the plantings, the kitchen boasts attractive contrasts — this time, in concrete, stucco and stone. Towering above, arbors made of rebar tell the sad story of a loss from harsh temperatures last winter: Normally it would be covered by now with thunbergia, a flowering vine that did not survive the cold.
A raised bed edged with thick Corten steel hosts lemon-lime-colored yucca and Silver Falls dichondra, which by the end of summer will be spilling down the sides of the rusty, burnt umber wall. To prevent rust from the steel from staining the flagstones, Hartman smartly left an inch of bare soil at the base.
Along one side of the pool, the stacked-stone knee wall offers seating; nearby, a concrete banquette shaded by a well-established Old Blush rose does the same. Orange cushions add more color when visitors arrive, although on quiet days Hartman keeps them indoors and out of harm’s way from comfort-loving squirrels who scavenge the batting for their nests.
At night, mercury vapor lights fixed high in the trees create permanent moonlight, because lighting is a priority for Hartman.
“Just imagine when we’re having a dinner party for eight people and it’s dark out there. Nothing happens. Your eye stops at the dark. But when it’s lit up, you see all the different textures, contrasts, and shadows. It’s a totally different look.
Reviewing the many changes he has made to this home’s outdoor spaces over the course of eight years, he adds: “When you have a nice garden and pool, you have a lot of friends. ... We love entertaining. It’s why we built this.”