Area Real Estate News & Market Trends

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July 28, 2013

When the Railway Came to Town

Choo choo ch'boogie

by Celia Hayes

From the earliest days, San Antonio was strategically located at the meeting of two major roads – the Camino Real, the roughly east-west road between Monclova and Mexico City and Natchitoches in Louisiana, and the Camino Del Norte, roughly a north/south route with many variations, but generally running between San Antonio and Laredo and points south. Strategic indeed, in the days of mule trains, ox-drawn freight wagons, horse-drawn stages and messengers on horseback, with goods and settlers arriving by sail and steam in coastal ports in Mexico, along the Texas and Louisiana gulf coast.

It took more than a decade after the end of the Civil War for San Antonio to be connected by steel rails to the rest of the country. The railway arrived in early 1877, much longed-for and received with much civic rejoicing. San Antonio was the very last major American city left un-served by a railway. The upper mid-west, east of the Mississippi-Missouri rivers had been thickly interconnected, even before the Civil War, the south less well so. Within four years after the war, the steel rails connected east and west, with the driving of the last spike at Promontory Point, Utah. From that year to the end of the century the railways ruled. Travel to far places in the west was made easier, faster, safer and cheaper. Goods and people flowed west – and the change which the railway brought to San Antonio is made clear to me in comparing a pair of city views of San Antonio in a style very popular at that time birds-eye views, half panorama and half city map. The Amon Carter museum has a good collection of such views of Texas cities. Artist and map-maker Agustus Koch made the first map of San Antonio in 1873; I have a copy of it hanging over my desk at this moment. In that year, the River City was what it had been for the previous two decades or so: a tight-packed cluster of Monopoly-shaped houses around Military and Main Plaza, lining a few blocks of Soledad and Flores, much of the length of Commerce street down to Alamo Plaza, where the Long Barracks and the old Alamo chapel are clearly identifiable. All the rest of town is a scattering of more small houses along straight-ruled avenues and open squares, rectangular and triangular plazas, all of them surrounded with gardens, orchards and open meadows. King William is marked out, to the south and east, and the first glimmerings of Southtown are clear; but the town unravels into rural within six or eight blocks in any direction from Commerce.

After the railroad arrived, Agustus Koch returned in 1886 to create an updated map. Those spaces which were gardens and relatively open fields were filled in; the streets presented an aspect of side-by side urban businesses and residences, taller and more imposing than the old single-story or two story structures that once had lined the city streets. A mule-drawn streetcar system connected the railway station on one side of town to the pleasure-grounds around the original San Pedro Springs on the other, shifted the business district north to Houston Street, and allowed residential neighborhoods to spread in every direction. The Army, finding that what remained of the historic presidio and the plaza before it was just too small for their needs, had decamped to a new establishment, Fort Sam Houston, on the low hills north of the city. The 1886 map shows the Quadrangle, and the parade grounds – and most clearly of all, the rail lines which had made all the difference between being a small and rather remote town, and a city of local and national significance.

Posted in Other
July 22, 2013

Texas Tea

South Texas Oil

I can't say that I was very surprised to find out from various online sources last week that Texas is pumping so much oil from the Eagle Ford Shale formation in South Texas (among other oil-rich shale formations, some of which are not quite as well-along as far as drilling goes) that if it were an independent country, it would be one of the top fifteen oil producers. I am not one who follows this kind of thing, religiously – although where I grew up in Southern California, I remember seeing many a small rocking-horse pumpjacks scattered here and there, nodding busily away in the bean-fields and citrus orchards in Camarillo, or along the highways and back roads. It was just one of those things in the background. I don't know if there are many pumpjacks left in So-Cal now. Probably not, although they are at least as unlovely as wind turbines and probably don't kill nearly as many birds. I lament the loss of the place where I grew up, by the way; a place of citrus groves, and lonely hills, a rural, blue-collar and working-class kind of place, where you could drive in a single afternoon from a palm-tree desert to a pine tree covered mountain-top frosted in snow. Alas, it seems that the wealthy coastal enclaves drive California now, to the ruination of the places which I remember so fondly.

But I like to think of Texas as a massive producer of oil and gasoline, especially when the stuff gets to be north of $3.00 a gallon. And I should have so known that the boom was big, and doing good for South Texas, just by simple observation over the time that I have lived here, especially since I began to write historical fiction and taking long road trips – towards Beeville and Goliad and Port Lavaca and all – especially to Goliad, which we have done for a good few years now. It once was, going down 181, through Poth and Karnes City and Kenedy, or by other routes through Smiley or Stockdale and Nixon to other destinations. Four or five years ago, many of the little towns along the way appeared as if they were dying on the vine. There were so many crumbling storefronts – and the ones open for some kind of business presented a more forlorn aspect than the ones which had given up the ghost and boarded up entirely. Weekday or weekend – such towns were deserted by mid-afternoon. Even the parking lot of the Walmart in Kenedy was all but deserted the first couple of times we drove past.

We first began noticing the changes along about Christmas 2010, driving down to Goliad to take part in Christmas on the Square. Suddenly – there were oilfield developments, truck parks and wells, dotted here and there among the pastures and brushlands; newly paved and graveled, lit up boldly at night. There was a little more traffic on the roads and the small towns didn't look nearly so forlorn. The crumbling motel suddenly was rehabbed, and a number of new cabin-style units added to the row of existing roomettes. There were lights in the café, new vehicles parked out front, and on the edge of town there were several new RV parks – which, since there were no golf-courses, lakes or riverfront amusements – were obviously for workers rather than vacationers. New housing developments were going in, outside of Karnes City and Poth – and the Walmart parking lot was full. We remarked on this, to some old friends in Goliad – long-time residents, who confirmed our observations. There were neighbors and residents who owned country acreage who had been scraping by on a shoestring for decades – and now they had regular and generous checks for leasing their land.

On the whole, this is a good thing – and a good thing to know that this new oil boom has bought some prosperity to places that hadn't seen much of it lately. I'd much rather that some of what I pay at the pump for unleaded is going right back here to Texas.

Posted in Other
July 10, 2013

A Vegetable Medley



by Celia Hayes

Alack and alas, the squashes which I planted in the spring, which came up, leafed out and flowered bountifully never actually produced any squash plants before they gracefully sank to the ground, withered and gave up the ghost. This has been to my complete mystification – they were provided plenty of sun, water and fertilizer, and I did not see that any of the plants were afflicted with vine borers. Well, next spring is another chance for a San Antonio home backyard garden; meanwhile I have pulled up the dead plants and harvested the small crop of red potatoes ... which did thrive, although most of the resulting potatoes were the size of marbles and radishes. We have already eaten the largest of them – and tasty indeed they were, although I mourn they are not zucchini and patty-pan squash ... I would have made ratatouille from the zucchini, the eggplant and the garden tomatoes. And no – ratatouille does not normally involve rats. This is a recipe that my mother loved, from Sunset's French Cookbook 1976 edition. Just think of it as a vegetable medley – sometimes I have made it with fresh tomatoes, too.

Combine in an 3-quart ovenproof casserole:

3 TBsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 1-lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 1-lb can whole tomatoes and their juice, chopping tomatoes roughly with a spoon
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt

Cover and bake in a 400 deg. oven for about two hours, or cover and simmer gently on the stove-top, until vegetables are very soft, uncovering and stirring once or twice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

The tomatoes didn't do well this year, either. Again, I am not certain why – except that perhaps my personal tomato curse has returned, or that it was, like previous years, just too darned hot for them by mid-spring.

However, and on the bright side – we had beans, lots of lovely green beans, and now that the first planting has given up the ghost, I have planted another round. Eggplants we have – not very many, but it's not one of my absolute faves as a vegetable, either. But as for peppers ... cayenne and bell peppers and jalapenos – all of those plants are thriving, many of them on their second or third year. Very likely I can grind up my own chili powder or cayenne pepper from that I have.

Another vegetable delight that I hope someday to make from home-grown vegetables is vegetable chili – this from Nava Atlas's Vegeteriana

Sautee in 2 Tbsp olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper until the onion is limp. Then add 1 zucchini, sliced, 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, 1 6-oz tomato paste, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp chili powder (more or less to taste), 1 teasp ground cumin, ½ teasp each ground coriander and oregano, ¼ teasp dried thyme, dash cayenne pepper, and 2 ½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled green chilis and warm tortillas on the side; food of the gods, vegetarian division.


Posted in Other
July 8, 2013

Boerne Sculpture Garden

Boerne's Sculpture Garden


by Celia Hayes

So we had noted some ... well, some outdoor works of art, arranged in a landscaped space on River Road next to the Ewe and Eye yarns and handicrafts establishment, and last week we stopped for a few minutes to check it out up close. It's the Texas Treasures Fine Art Sculpture Garden– they have a post on the Boerne Chamber of Commerce's Facebook page. While Texas Treasures Fine Art Gallery does have an indoor and roofed over fine art gallery on Main Street, it looks as if some of the larger and more weighty pieces of sculpture have been put on display out in the open air ... which is about the only place that one can visualize some of them, notably a huge west Texas landscape called ... well, Landscape.

So many yards of metal squares, set together ... and yep, that's just what it looks like from the air; mostly flat, a little rolling, with depressions that collect rainwater in season, moving up into a range of peaks on the far horizon, neatly crossed by a regular grid of roads and fences. It's a modern piece, which I usually don't care for at all, but it is strangely appealing, and outdoors is just the place for it. Presumably the whole place is under camera surveillance, 24-7, and since shoplifting any of the pieces would involve a heavy-duty winch, welding gear, a reinforced vehicle and a couple of hours work – they're probably pretty secure.

I also liked the enormous panted metal cacti – with red flower buds the size of D-cell batteries, and yellow blossoms like enormous bright bridal bouquets. That particular artist, Joe Barrington, apparently loves to sculpt outsized pieces and to use interesting and useful metal junk as the raw material. One of his famous pieces is a full-sized pickup truck, with a gargantuan metal catfish filling the back and draped over the cab. That one is not here in the sculpture garden – but an enormous brooding metal raven on a tall perch is back in one corner, and I could imagine it solemnly croaking, "Nevermore, y'all!" I like that kind of playful sculpture, like the raven, and the blooming cactus. My dad, who adored messing around with a blow torch and assorted bits of scrap metal would have loved it too, and likely would have had a go himself at astonishing the neighbors with a gigantic metal fish in the back of a rusty pickup. Whatever amuses people to look at, and keep it out of the landfill is certainly a commendable and refreshing attitude for a modern artist. I've just seen to darned much of the incomprehensible and ugly sort – both the privately purchased kind, and the kind that is left to adorn public squares in the last half of the 20th century. Look, I didn't mind the concrete, metal and glass Bauhaus cubes so much ... but why did they have to leave a fountain in the plaza in front of it with an enormous concrete t*rd in it?

So, no – Mrs. Hayes' little girl Celia is not, or ever has been a fan of the usual run of modern art, nor of strictly kitsch like Thomas Kinkade, either. But the bits and bobs in the Texas Treasures sculpture garden is fun and funny, and some of it is old-style (19th century style) meaningful, without clubbing yourself over the head, or having to have a masters' degree in 20th century art and cultural appreciation to really like and/or understand. Check it out, next time you're in Boerne. And by the way – the Riverside Market – in the Shell Station on the corner of River Road and Main Street? They have just finished redoing the inside of the seating area, and added a covered outside deck for your dining pleasure. The BBQ chicken and the brisket are the food of the gods, people, the food of the gods.

July 2, 2013

Making the Art Scene in San Antonio

The Art Scene

by Celia Hayes

So, contra the belief that the wild and crazy art scene is all in Austin, and there is nothing much in San Antonio save the military bases, medical centers and the Alamo ... there is an art scene, and I have pictorial proof, now that my daughter is becoming interested in it. And more than just interested – it's a matter of professional involvement.

To backtrack a little; my daughter and Edith, her best friend from high school (St. Francis Academy, Class of 1998) having despaired of ever finding full-time, well-paid and remunerative employment doing something rewarding – or at least, something they do not hate – have decided to go into business together. Edith is an artist in pastels, and quite gifted. My daughter is madly creative with origami, the art of folding paper into astonishing and ornamental shapes – including tiny crane and tulip earrings – and all sorts of other charming ephemera. As I told Edith, when she was worrying about being seen as a sell-out by trying to make a living from her painting, there is a word for someone with a gift who just plays around with it and never tries to get back expenses. That word is 'hobbyist.' And someone who creates art, shares it with the world at a fair market value – whatever that value might be – the word for that person is 'professional.' I wouldn't want to see her go as far into monetizing and mass-producing her paintings like Thomas Kinkade The Painter of Light ™ did – but the guy did manage to make a very good living from it, and I wouldn't mind seeing my daughter and Edith meeting a market demand.

So, I have urged them both to try and start making a living doing what they love to do; starting small, of course – working the website (Pastel Junque) and various local art shows and events. Edith does have a following already; she was much more deeply involved in the local art scene ... but I think her involvement was more like wading knee-deep in it. Now their joint venture is making a concerted effort to plunge into the deep end; to make more appearances at craft shows and art events with an eye to being where the customers are. They had their first roll-out a couple of Saturdays ago at Renewable Republic on St. Mary's Street, downtown. Besides being a provider of solar panels, insulation and general green services to homeowners, they also have a garden and party venue out in back ... along with a yurt. It was boiling hot, and threatening thunderstorms later on, and they didn't actually sell all that much in the way of trinkets, prints and paintings – but it's just the first step.

They hope to be included in the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's Hecho A Mano/Made by Hand this fall, and to have a vendor table at couple of local Christmas markets in November and December. In the mean time, they'll be at various First Friday events in Southtown, and Second Friday at Tobin Hill ... and who knows? They just might be as popular as Thomas Kinkade.

June 26, 2013

The Steves Homestead

The Steves Homestead

by Celia Hayes

Well, strictly speaking, the Steves Homestead isn't what you'd really think of on hearing it called a homestead. It's more of a splendidly ornate, Second Empire French mansion, with a slightly in-curved mansard roof topped with a spiky crown of iron lace. It's one of the jewels of the historic King William district ... which was San Antonio's very first luxury suburban neighborhood. The tallest and most identifiable building in King William is the very industrial Pioneer Flour Mills – which in turn had been founded by one the mid-19th century mercantile kings of San Antonio, C.H. Guenther. Guenther was one of those German immigrants who established so much of San Antonio's industry and business – and Edward Steves, the original builder of the homestead was another. He founded and ran a profitable lumber business, as well as being extremely active in the social affairs of the German community. Whatever there was in the way of arts, cultural affairs and community betterment in San Antonio in the mid-19th century was usually the doing of the prosperous Germans. The extended Steves family had originally settled in Comfort, but when Texas began to recover from the Civil War, Edward Steves moved to San Antonio with his wife, Joanna. When the railroads reached San Antonio in the mid-1870s, the town expanded almost geometrically.

Oddly enough, although the house looks huge from the street – it is actually rather manageable on the inside; the main floor is a block of four rooms and a stair hall down the middle, with a little conservatory built out on one side, and a range housing the kitchen and servant's quarters out at the back. The rooms are comfortable and airy, with high ceilings and tall windows shaded by mature trees; just so rooms had to be in the days before air conditioning. Many of the furnishings were bought new for the house by Joanna Steves; she kept only a very ornate hall tree made in New Braunfels from the previous house. Some of the art and furnishings came from Europe – one of the most spectacular is a circular table in the formal parlor with a micro-mosaic inlaid top featuring views of Ancient Rome which look like incredibly detailed paintings. The various roundels have large magnifying glasses laid out on them so that visitors can look and marvel at what was made with mosaic tiles hardly the size of the head of a pin.

Mr. Steves had a home office – with a separate entrance at the side of the house, and in back of the formal parlor. On the other side of the hallway was the informal parlor, with the dining room in back of that. The kitchen was around a short dog-leg corridor – to baffle the heat of the stove and the smells of food preparation – and everything is furnished with bits and pieces, just as it would have been ... or if not as it would have been, as close as it is possible to get. At least a hundred years separate the Steves mansion from the Spanish Governors' Palace – and the difference between them is most noted in the kitchen; a huge iron stove served the Steves' cook, while the old Spanish establishment made do with something that looks rather more like a wood-fired pizza oven.

Out in the back, and on the riverbank behind the house is another curiosity – an indoor swimming pool. This is supposed to have been the first ever in San Antonio; Joanna Steves went swimming in it every day on the dot of 2 PM. This recalled to me the observation of urban garden planner and writer Frederick Law Ohmstead, who had visited San Antonio in 1855 – and noted that all the very best houses had gardens which ran down to the river, and the residents spent many happy hours in the hot summertime bathing and swimming in the cool water. Well, that was the only way they had to beat the summer heat then, wasn't it? The Steves homestead, and the neighboring streets in King William and Southtown are well worth a visit.

June 17, 2013

Texas Sales Tax Holiday

Texas Tax Free Weekend

Sales Tax Holiday
Aug. 9 - 11, 2013

The recent passage of Senate Bill 485 (83rd Regular Legislative Session, 2013) changes the dates of the this year’s annual Sales Tax Holiday to Aug. 9-11, a week earlier than previously scheduled. The change in law became effective immediately. As in previous years, the law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100 from sales and use taxes, which could save shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend.

Subject to the criteria explained below, all sales of qualifying items made during the holiday period qualify for the exemption, including items sold online, or by telephone or mail. Lay-away plans can be used again this year to take advantage of the sales tax holiday.

The dates for the sales tax holiday are set by the Legislature.

The “Fine Print” – important information you should know about this tax-saving event


Clothing and Footwear


School Supplies

Layaways and Rainchecks

Prohibited Advertising

Reporting Requirements for Sellers

Posted in San Antonio News
June 17, 2013

Downtown San Antonio Spanish Governors Palace

The Spanish Governor's Palace

by Celia Hayes

The single-story adobe ramble on the corner of Military Plaza (or that which is left, with Town Hall plunked down in the middle of it) is the oldest existing domestic structure in San Antonio, It dates from the 1700s; that period when Texas was a far-flung outpost of Spain, and the entire town was a huddle of similar houses around the margins of Military and Main Plazas. So – the Spanish part of the description is justified. It definitely wasn't a palace by any stretch of the imagination. But it was a vast improvement, living-situation-wise over a windowless, dirt-floored jacale-hut made by planting upright timbers in a trench and plastering them inside and out with mud, so on that basis it certainly looked enough like a palace to warrant a touch of exaggeration. Finally, it was a governor's residence only by extending the term to gossamer-thinness; it was originally built as the residence and place of business for whomever was captain of the local garrison.

That captain of the garrison was the highest authority-figure around, year in and year out ... and long after Mexico won independence from Spain, and Texas won independence from Mexico, the sturdy adobe building survived, as the home of the family of the last garrison captain. When it was no longer a residence – as the area around became a lively commercial district – the rooms housed various enterprises; a pawn shop, a grocery store, a couple of saloons and a haberdashers. Little by little, similar colonial-era structures crumbled, or were demolished and replaced by newer and bigger shops and houses. The nearby Veramendi mansion on Soledad, from the same era and general plan, but built of stone, also followed the same arc. Once the home of the aristocratic family whose daughter married James Bowie, it descending from a grand residence to a variety of shabby businesses before being demolished in the first decade of the 20th century in order to facilitate the widening of Soledad Street.

The Governor's Palace was luckier – in that it didn't stand in the way of any plans to widen streets, and that the conservation bug had settled in, well and truly. The city bought the place entire, and commissioned architect Harvey Partridge Smith to restore it to what it would have been like in its glory days. Smith used his knowledge of other similar buildings across the length and breadth of the Hispanic settlements in the Southwest, and so arrived at a romantic approximation rather than a strict interpretation. But it is a charming building even so, with thick walls and tall ceilings (as a sort of heat sink), long narrow windows opening into a Spanish-style courtyard and garden. In the old days, the garden and outbuildings would have reached to San Pedro Creek. The floors are of tile, which would have been cool to walk on, and there are numerous niches cut into the walls and set with shelves for various ornamental items. Before the invention of air conditioning, this kind of building would have been about as comfortable as you could get, in the heat of a Texas summer. The Spanish Governor's Palace is open to the public various hours on every day but Monday, and is well worth a visit to gain an idea of how the upper elite would have lived in early San Antonio.


June 13, 2013

Beanz-Garden Update

Beanz! A Garden Update

for all your San Antonio Home Buying needs!

by Celia Hayes

I have to say that the occasional rain shower over the last week or so has been very, very, very welcome, and so have the cool fronts. Anything which delays the full frontal blast of wicked summer heat by a week or so is a good thing in my book. But it has been a good month in the garden; what a difference a mere four or five weeks have made.

This year, I bit the bullet – the only plant starts that I bought were tomatoes. They went into a pair of Earth Boxes, and six home-made hanging planters. So far, lots of big green tomatoes, but nothing edible yet. For just about all the other plants this year, I began with packets of seeds from Lowe's; three or four kinds of beans, sugar peas, three kinds of squash, and five seed potatoes from Rainbow Gardens. The bell, jalapeno and cayenne pepper plants are left over from previous years, as are the eggplants. I had never really thought of them all as perennials, but they all came back very nicely from winter.

The pepper plants are thriving, and the eggplants all have fresh new foliage and are hung with star-shaped purple blossoms which herald fat little eggplants, or so I hope. The okra plants began from seeds from last years' okra plants. I didn't know that you have to pick the okra pods as soon as they are about four or five inches long; any bigger than that, and they are totally inedible. So, I had a boat-load of okra seeds. Until now I had never had much luck growing vegetables from seeds. Very likely, I was doing it all wrong in trying to cultivate the terrible, horrible, awful clay soil that my yard is made of. Even digging in sand and compost didn't help much. Last year we used Scott's Moisture Control Potting mix in the pots and Earth Boxes, and things generally did very well. This year we filled the two raised beds with it, planted squash and potatoes in one, and beans in the other, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

The squash have begun putting out blossoms; it looks like the little green patty-pan squash are going first, with the yellow squash and the zucchini lagging slightly behind. The beans – the Kentucky Wonder variety began going up the string net which I had run from the edge of the raised bed to the top of the fence as if there had been some green bean drill instructor screaming at them to climb. As of this week they are covered in little white and purple flowers. These things are supposed to bear copious quantities of beans – and harvesting them regularly encourages even more. I still have packets of other varieties of beans, and hope to start another couple of small raised beds. It seems that I have inadvertently hit on the right place in my garden to grow pole beans; partly shaded for much of the day, but growing up against a south-facing fence.

I also had a packet of lettuce seeds, and another of mixed salad greens, which just this week had enough leaves to harvest and use in salads. Oh, the taste of fresh greens is indescribably good. When the squash plants are exhausted, and I dig up the potatoes in the fall, I am planning to put up a plastic tent over the large raised bed and sow more salad greens and lettuce inside. I'd like to be able to eat out of my own garden for the rest of this year, and even have enough excess to freeze.

And that's my week in the garden – what about yours?

Posted in Gardening
June 13, 2013

Suburban Garden

The Many-Splendored Suburban Garden

by Celia Hayes

Given a nice big lot, spectacular situation, mature trees, an architect-designed mansion, and massive infusions of money, it's practically a no-brainer that there will be a beautiful garden, or even a merely adequate or maybe just a functional one adorning it all. What is really a challenge for a hard-core gardener is to create a lovely garden on a tiny lot, in a fairly ordinary suburb of small and relatively plain houses ... and on a budget. Sounds impossible, but it has been done by at least three homeowners in my very own neighborhood of Spring Creek Forrest. One of the very loveliest gardens, alas, has since declined since the original owner sold the house. At it's best it looked like the pictures of a classical English cottage garden in one of the glossy home-and-garden magazines. Admittedly it was high-maintenance, with stone and gravel pathways, a patch of lawn and flower borders to die for; that first owner had no social life at all, outside of work. She spent all her time on the garden, and it showed.

But the second spectacular garden that I know of has been established on an even tinier lot – and the best of it isn't even visible from the street. You'd never know, just by looking – although the fact that the front lawn and the single well-manicured flower bed in it would likely give a clue. The house is one of those very like mine; a narrow rectangular cottage built close to the property line on one side, with the garage at the front. There is a gate into the long and skinny side yard, which leads to the front door – which isn't actually at the front, being that it is in the middle of the long side. A lot of the smaller houses in Spring Creek Forest were built like that, which means that at worst, the windows along that side offer a splendid view of the long blank wall of your next-door neighbor's house, at a distance of about fifteen feet or so.

Not this house, though – a number of small ornamental trees planted by the original owner masked that unenticing prospect. The original owner also had a screened back porch installed at the back of the house – which was one of the main reasons that Bess and James bought the place as their retirement home about two years ago. They loved the screened porch, and the tiny yard that it overlooked. The house had one more advantage; some very tall trees in neighboring yards provide shade in the afternoon; a good thing, especially at the height of summer. And because of the slight grade present, none of the neighboring houses windows overlook that patch of pocket paradise.

One of the first things that Bess and James did was to tear out a wooden deck and gazebo along the side, and replace it with a walkway of flagstones set into decomposed granite gravel. There are several benches and chairs along that skinny side garden; it feels larger than it really is. The screened porch looks out on the back yard, and another paved area, shaded with a fig tree. Bess has many flowering plants in pots lining the walkway. They do have hopes of a small patch of healthy lawn – but near-constant shade makes it iffy. And almost the best part is that nothing planted in it is particularly exotic or high-maintenance; in fact, Beth laughs, because just about all of it came from Lowe's.

Posted in Gardening