A historic West Texas ranch, beautifully nestled in the foothills of the Chinati Mountains, had suffered significant degradation throughout its years as a working ranch and presented the challenge of both ecological remediation and aesthetic transformation. Locally sourced materials, re-vegetation with native plants, and the contrast of exposed and enclosed outdoor spaces form a landscape that resonates with both the traditional and the contemporary, the intimate and the vast, thereby heightening a sense of place.
An existing ranch house, bunk house, and 8,000 acres of arid, south sloping grassland were once all that composed this West Texas Ranch. Ranch roads and grazing from its years as a working ranch had compacted soils and degraded the landscape. The client wished to restore these degraded areas and integrate a low-maintenance outdoor gathering space, pool, lawn, shade, fruit trees, and flowering gardens into the ranch landscape. Through the careful design of 2.5 acres, West Texas Ranch is now at once a thriving desert grassland and place-appropriate residential garden.
The design honors the cultural heritage of the landscape while repairing its ecological integrity. Old ranch roads have been ‘chiseled’ and are re-vegetated with native grasses. The edges of new roads and parking are softened by native plantings that include grasses, yucca, agave, prickly pear, candelillia, apache plume, mesquite and desert willow. Stabilized decomposed granite walkways with steel step risers pass through woven mesh entry gates. Desert masonry (native stone imbedded in cast concrete) retaining walls enclose outdoor living spaces on a level plinth adjacent to the house. Pecan and redbud trees planted by a former long-time ranch owner were left in place as a homage to the land's cultural history. Inspired by existing pecan trees on site and pecan orchards characteristic of the area, a new orchard of pecan trees was designed to create shade in the garden for an outdoor dining area. The stone retaining wall, pool, and buffalo grass lawn are seamlessly integrated and, through this horizontal emphasis, connect the client with an uncluttered view of the expansive southern horizon. Steel gates and arbors, local stone, and native planting create a cohesive design language that withstands the stark West Texas climate.
Every effort was made to integrate locally-sourced materials and bolster the health of native wildlife. Bare and eroding roads produced by years of unrestrained vehicular destruction were remediated with an assortment of native grass plantings, including side oats grama and blue grama. Xeric native plants bring life to the interior walled gardens, attracting local birds and butterflies. Native mesquite trees grown from seed in nearby Fort Stockton were used as the main desert tree beyond the plinth walls, along with desert willows and other drought tolerant plants. Walls were made from local sand and stone from the ranch, calling attention to the inherent beauty of the land itself. With the exception of one bed of iceberg roses and the pecan and fruit trees, all of the new plantings will survive intense droughts.These efforts create a sleek, yet rugged landscape that balances human and environmental wellbeing.
The design of the West Texas Ranch is a model of collaboration between the client, architect, landscape architect and contractor that established a cohesive material language and sustainable landscape system in keeping with the character of the ranch. The client had a romantic vision of rose gardens with a medley of verdant plants, which the landscape architect helped transform into one of simple, native gardens through discussions that highlighted the beauty of tough, indigenous plants and hardscape materials. The project is inspired by place and designed with restraint to highlight the harsh beauty of the region, which inspires a feeling of serenity in the client. West Texas Ranch is featured in a new book, Private Paradise, which explores gardens that "demonstrate the intersection of traditional elements of garden design and current concerns such as sustainability, drought tolerance, and use of native plants." Recognized as such, West Texas Ranch may become a model for ranch restoration and residential design for other residents living in regions of harsh sun and drought.