If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that we’ve been pouring our creative energy into a major backyard project during quarantine. It’s been challenging, incredibly fun, and hands-down the most physical landscaping work that I’ve ever done. Adam’s always been passionate about gardening and has singlehandedly designed and maintained all of our outdoor spaces in the past, but this new project has made me realize how much I love getting my hands dirty planting, watering, and weeding… I’ve officially been bit by the bug.

For this latest project, we worked with our dear friend and talented landscape designer, Cameron Campbell, to turn the undeveloped land behind our house into an area for cooking, eating, gathering, and soaking up the sun… and although we still have several mini projects we want to tackle back there, I’m excited to share the first round of “After” shots. Phase 1, complete!

The backstory.

First, a little context on this area of our property. For those of y’all who have seen photos I’ve posted of my backyard, you probably remember a big stone terrace with an infiniti edge pool and a vine-covered grill area. That’s the space that runs along the back side of our house just outside the steel doors in our living room. On the other side of the railing, there’s a 20-foot retaining wall, and the area on the other side of the house has been an overgrown area that runs into a heavily wooded area. We’ve always talked about doing more with the space, but knew it would be a big project and wanted to wait until we were ready to tackle something so major.

When we bought the property, there was crumbling stone terracing that had been built by the original owner of the property back in the 50’s. It was covered by overgrown vines, but it always reminded us of old European estates and imagined restoring it to its glory. Over the years, Adam has slowly worked to clear out the brush and repair and extend the old terracing. As the terraces started to take shape and we flattened out previously unusable parts of the land, our big picture ideas started to take shape. We called Cameron and talked to him about our vision, and he created the architectural plans that served as our guide to start the next big part of the project…

Here’s a look at our initial concept drawing — it’s fun to see the elements we stuck with, and those that evolved during the process.

Scroll on for more details on how it came to life…

The fire pit.

We’ve always dreamed of being able to do big open-fire cooking feasts when we had friends over, and little did we know that idea would become the focal point to our design. Inspired by our trip to Mallorca two summers ago, we decided to create it all out of the same stone used on the terracing, and Cameron designed a curved staircase that organically flows into the circular seating area. The end result feels like it’s built right into the hillside, like the old Spanish houses that we fell in love with.

This is the view from the lowest terrace where the fire pit is, looking back up at the back of the house and our cantilevered bedroom window on the right. Adam planted fig ivy at the base of the retaining wall when we first built our house, and 10 years later, the wall is totally covered.

I didn’t know I could fall in love with a staircase — until I met this one. It’s made from solid slabs of lueders limestone (each one weighs over 300 pounds!) and the organic curvature feels really special.

What’s next

We’re calling this the end of “Phase 1,” because the major hardscaping and planting is done. But we still have some smaller projects to conquer before the space will feel totally finished to us. Beyond the lowest retaining wall, there’s still a field of rocky dirt that we want to cover in meadow grass, and I want to plant vegetable gardens and lemon trees. And of course, all those new plants need time to mature and fill in before the design will feel really lived in.

The plants

Okay, let’s talk plants! This is the part of the project that felt most exciting – driving to the nursery to choose our olive trees, and then some of y’all might remember the day that Adam, my father-in-law Gary, and I spent hauling hundreds of plants from our driveway down a flight of stairs and rigged up an innovative “slide” from the heavy stuff (it’s worth a watch on my #casacamille Instagram highlight if you missed it.)

Anyway, I’ve gotten lots of questions on IG about what plant varieties we used, so I wanted to list most of them here. Adam and I really wanted to create a Mediterranean vibe, and luckily Austin shares a similar climate, so a lot of the plants that thrive in Spain and Italy also do well here. We chose about 8 varieties that we loved, and then stuck to those throughout the entire project. These are the main plants we used:

I’ve realized that if I had to pick one FAVORITE plant on the entire planet, it would be the olive tree. The varied shades of grey and silvery greens throughout the foliage, the knotted, winding trunks… to me, they’re perfect. We bought three 100-gallon olive trees from Austin Plant Supply to use as the statement pieces in the backyard, and they’ll grow to be much bigger beauties through the years. (We also sourced lots of the plants from Leaf Landscape Supply.)

We have a big agave americana in our front yard that shoots off little “pups” every year or so. Instead of pruning and discarding them, Adam always transplants them to the backyard, and now years later we’ve got 10 beauties that we ended up spreading throughout the space. It’s amazing to think that one plant that we planted 10 years ago provided all of these agave that we used in this project.

We used tons of boxwood around borders that will eventually get pruned into cleaner hedges, and then lots of trailing rosemary will soften up the edges and give a more organic look (and an incredible herby scent.)

For that quintessential Mediterranean feel, we planted a few bougainvillea in terra cotta pots that we’re hoping will flourish and climb (they can be finicky.) We also planted this White Guara which is a perennial that Cameron turned us onto — I love how it adds a delicate balance to the heartier evergreens around it. And lots of Little Ollies, which is a dwarf olive that can grow into a large shrub that can be pruned and made more formal, or left more wild and Mediterranean.

We are loving our new space, and can’t wait until we’re not quarantining so we can surround this fire pit with friends and family. In the meantime, I just bought Francis Mallmann’s cookbook so we can work on our open fire cooking game.

***

Let me know what questions you guys have in the comments or on Instagram, and I’ll try to answer all of them — plants, design process, how we’ve accessorized the space so far… Now on to the next phase!

26 comments
  1. 1
    Nancy Deisinger | June 28, 2020 at 8:56 pm

    Hi, your new landscaping is beautiful! I also love the terra-cotta pots that have a
    Nice antique look. Could you please share your source for the pots?
    Thank you and good luck on the rest of your projects!

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | June 29, 2020 at 7:27 am

      thank you so much! We got most of ours from Miguel’s here in Austin. 🙂

      Reply
  2. 2
    Abby | June 28, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    Amazing, Camille!! I’ve loved following along! Can’t wait for more..

    http://www.everydayfroma.com

    Reply
  3. 3
    Terrie | June 29, 2020 at 1:29 am

    Beautiful!!!!
    What type of gravel did you use?

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | June 29, 2020 at 7:28 am

      Thanks! We just used simple, inexpensive pea gravel 🙂

      Reply
  4. 4
    Emily | June 29, 2020 at 6:06 am

    This is seriously beautiful! Congratulations!

    Reply
  5. 5
    Tess | June 29, 2020 at 8:31 am

    Such a beautiful and welcoming setting you have created — looks as though it could be somewhere in Italy! Those olive trees are epic. Hope you will post pictures in the future letting us see how everything is growing.

    Reply
  6. 6
    Anne | June 29, 2020 at 9:27 am

    Absolutely beautiful – can’t wait to toast to you out there under the olives! x

    Reply
  7. 7
    Ginger | June 29, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    This is gorgeous and blends so well with the rest of your property! I know at one point you were discussing remodeling your house, as well. Have you decided to hold on that until Covid calms down?

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | June 29, 2020 at 7:36 pm

      Hi Ginger, thank you so much! Yep, we are putting things on pause right now,,, this is definitely the year of being flexible, am I right? 😛 Waiting until after quarantine to make any big moves on the interior.

      Reply
  8. 8
    Kimberly | June 30, 2020 at 2:56 am

    I just fell in love. ? Are your grill grates in the fire pit custom made? How did you go about planning and installing the fire pit?

    Reply
  9. 9
    Cece | June 30, 2020 at 3:20 am

    Beautiful! We are building a rock fire pit in our backyard too. What rock did you use?

    Thanks!
    -Cece

    Reply
  10. 10
    Christina Fessmann | July 1, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful????

    Reply
  11. 11
    Bita Hiller | July 1, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Looks amazing! Backyard goals!! I especially love the ivy wall and all the little ollies!

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | July 1, 2020 at 3:41 pm

      Aww, thank you Bita! My husband will be so thrilled that you like his ivy wall he’s been working on for so many years! 😉

      Reply
  12. 12
    Sandra Snell | July 1, 2020 at 10:54 am

    I love the European feel. Olive trees have always been a favorite of mine, also. Do yours produce fruit, or are they sterile? Curious about the mess.

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | July 1, 2020 at 3:40 pm

      Thank you Sandra! These aren’t fruiting *yet*, but we have 3 more mature trees by our pool that produce a lot of fruit. They actually aren’t that messy though!

      Reply
  13. 13
    Kris | July 1, 2020 at 11:29 am

    Looks great! Congrats on creating a beautiful space. What was your budget for this project?

    Reply
  14. 14
    Georgie Martin | July 1, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Absolutely stunning! You’re a lucky girl to have such a beautiful tranquil space. Wishing you many years enjoying it ?

    Reply
  15. 15
    Lilly | July 2, 2020 at 12:47 am

    Mediterranean is not only Spain and Italy, you know 🙁
    Seeing all those olive trees and plants and not a single reference to Greece, where the most sought-after olives in the world grow, made me sad…

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | July 2, 2020 at 7:47 am

      Hi Lilly! Oh my goodness, Greece is amazing and it is so Mediterranean! I was just speaking from a place of my own inspiration… sadly I haven’t yet spent enough time in Greece to gather inspiration there yet (I went to Santorini for a few days in my twenties) but I am dying to see more of the country and have no doubt that I’ll come away with so many new ideas… Do you have any recommendations of where to go?

      Reply
  16. 16
    Aunt Lez | July 4, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    This looks magical C! Love the firepit so much. I just wanted to add that your Little Ollie plant is darling. Your Pop’s mom, your great grandmother, was named Ollie too ?…meant to be.

    Reply
    • Camille Styles | July 7, 2020 at 7:19 am

      That’s right, and now it’s one of my favorite plants!! 🙂 I love that. Thank you Aunt Lez, can’t wait til you can come spend time with us in the backyard!

      Reply
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