Nestled in the Medina River valley of the Central Texas Hill Country, this ranch derives its beauty from its peninsular setting at the convergence of a natural spring and hill country creek. The open-air layout of the new ranch buildings—combined with terraced gardens, water and fire features, trails, and restoration of the site—allow the residents and their guests to be fully, yet comfortably, immersed in the beauty of the Texas Hill Country. A cascading storm water and creek purification feature in the courtyard activates multiple senses and pays homage to the spring, while another feature circulates a rill of spring water to help oxygenate the adjacent creek. Native grass lawns provide spaces for entertaining and children’s athletic activities. Old ranch roads and footprints of former barns now give rise to native grasses and forbs that cleanse rainwater prior to entering the creek and spring.
This historic 1800-acre ranch site is located within a canyon where the headwaters of Mill Creek and Mill Spring converge in the Central Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio. A quintessential Hill Country creek, Mill Creek has sustained the livelihoods of ranchers and cooled swimmers in the heat of summer for generations, meandering first through this ranch landscape characterized steep limestone terrain and dense groves of Escarpment Live Oak, Texas Red Oak, Lacey Oak, Cedar Elm and Mountain Laurel. However, as with many Hill Country landscapes, the ranch was degraded through time by overgrazing and rampant vehicular circulation, with negative impacts to the habitat and water quality of the spring, creek, and waters further downstream at the Gulf of Mexico.
Our clients wished to restore degraded portions of their ranch in concert with developing a new ranch complex, which included a new ranch house compound, ranch manager’s compound and barn area. The landscape architect was brought in soon after the project’s inception to design adjacent garden spaces and develop restoration strategies for the larger ranch. The architect, landscape architect, and contractor worked in collaboration with the owners to develop a seamless indoor-outdoor vacation hideaway.
The new ranch house compound, situated near a spectacular bald cypress-lined spring and a creek, features outdoor living spaces carefully crafted to highlight existing features and designed to accommodate the client’s desire for play lawns, volleyball areas, a meditation area, a boat launch, hiking trails, and engaging water and fire elements. The various spaces are defined by native vegetation and durable hardscape materials—such as limestone, Oklahoma sugarloaf sandstone, natural steel, and board-formed concrete—selected to maintain coherency with the architecture.
The architects sited the four building complexes at different elevations and angles, which were resolved by the landscape architect through terraced gardens and creatively routed stone plank paths. Original drawings by the civil engineer showed a catch basin in the middle of the courtyard to manage stormwater runoff; alternatively, the landscape architect developed a cleansing riparian courtyard garden and check dams that cleanse and accentuate the path of rainwater prior to it entering the spring and creek. Water features near the spring intercept small amounts of spring water to enhance the sensory experience of sound in addition to helping aerate the stagnant-prone waters of the creek, here upstream from an existing dam. Consistent forms and material selections respond to variations in site conditions and program to create a dynamic, yet unified aesthetic for the ranch house and ranch manager’s compounds and barn, which features an organic orchard and vegetable garden.
Nearly six acres of old roads and barren barn footprints on the west side of the house were erased by seeding native grasses and forbs in their place with special emphasis on pollinator-attracting natives. The ranch road, once situated within a sensitive riparian area, was re-routed and its former footprint re-vegetated to create a more site-responsive entry experience, while new trails lead from the house and connect to the larger ranch area.
The project’s success is the product of special collaboration with the general contractor. The general contractor was a valued member of the team and worked closely with local artisans to make several specialty elements and a talented stone mason whom helped place all stones with care and precision.
Site sensitive design and restoration strategies developed in collaboration with the owner and contractor have given new life to a critical Central Texas landscape while providing the client with new opportunities to connect with nature. Distinguished by the use of native materials, simple lines, and graceful transitions from house and garden to the wild, this project has been recognized in several publications for both the elegance of its design and the success of its restoration. It has become a model for the countless overgrazed and abused ranches in the American West, and simultaneously highlights the hidden beauty of the rugged Texas landscape.
Christine E. Ten Eyck, FASLA, Lead Designer
Lisa Lennon, Associate ASLA
Architect: Lake | Flato
Contractor: Duecker Construction
Lighting Design: Brown Design Consultants
Masonry: Dean Mitchell Masonry
Landscape Contractor: Milberger
Consultant: Jill Nokes
Contractor for Seep: David Mahler
Stabilizer Solutions stabilizer for decomposed granite
Steel bridge tread planks by McNichols
'Artweld' gabion wall wire baskets by Hilfiker
Irrigation products by Rain Bird