Friendswood couple finds common ground redesigning property
In 2013, David Stein and Tina Mortellaro decided to completely redesign both front, back and side yards of their Friendswood property. And they haven’t stopped.
“It’s an accidental garden,” Mortellaro said. “We didn’t plan a thing. We knew that we wanted something for all the pollinators to enjoy, so we basically just started planting, focusing on what did well in Zone 9.” Zone 9 refers to places where there are long growing seasons with hot summers.
Stein actually put the entire plan in motion when he decided to fill in the backyard swimming pool, he said.
“I’ve lived here for 31 years, and the pool needed work,” he said. “So, after meeting Tina, we just decided how cool it would be to make a haven for the butterflies, bees, frogs, lizards and birds.”
Mortellaro was mortified that so many bees were drowning in the swimming pool, she said.
“There were citrus trees right next to the pool, which attracted the bees, but they would ultimately fall into the water,” she said.
After the pool was filled in, the couple got busy removing six palm trees in the backyard, three tall pines on the side yard, while leaving a large oak and pine tree in the front yard.
Stein used water hoses to map out landscaping designs and it took off from there, until every inch of space was accounted for, leaving just one strip of grass out by the curb.
The front and side yards — akin to an English garden and wildscape — are picturesque and colorful. Pathways are defined with stepping stones and cypress mulch, birdbaths and butterfly and hummingbird bushes. Pollinators aren’t the only ones attracted to the bucolic setting. Neighbors and passersby can’t help but stop and stare with admiration.
“I’ll usually walk out and tell them it’s OK if they want to stroll through,” Mortellaro said.
The blue and white spiky blooms of the agapanthus; purple, yellow, orange and fuchsia echinacea; crimson and gold lantana; and a painted blanket of other colorful flowers all make it hard to resist taking a closer look. Two tall columns holding planters full of purple verbena and vinca are a recent addition.
The backyard has more of a whimsical, relaxing and entertaining vibe featuring yard art, fence signage, wind chimes and a pond full of water lilies, horsetail reed, shubunkin fish and rosy-red minnows. A multitude of flower beds, three separate lounging areas, two pergolas, a bonsai and vegetable garden are under the watchful eye of a most unusual security guard sitting in a corner — a skeleton decked out with helmet, swim trunks and flip-flops, with his hand gently resting on an empty bottle of tequila.
“I go out there and talk to him, when I’m in the dog house,” Stein said.
Of note are the many toy trucks being used as planters.
“I used to have a booth at an antique mall,” said Mortellaro, who saved most of the trucks, including several Tonkas. “I’ve made good use of them and I’m always surprised how much everyone loves the idea.”
The pond and waterfall, with two bogs, keep the water clean and provide a happy environment for the fish that all have names. Various statues surrounding the pond include angels and plaques — all gifts from friends and various family members.
Dragons, frogs, mermaids, rabbits and gnomes are just a few of the many collectibles that have a special place among the plants, shrubs and six tall crepe myrtles.
A hanging sign embossed with the words “Lazy Lizard Lounge” plays off the name of the couples’ Certified Wildlife Habitat garden, appropriately registered as the Lazy Lizard Wildlife Sanctuary.
Tomatoes, green beans, peppers and snow peas are growing in the vegetable garden. Citrus trees — oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and limes — and a potted blueberry tree provide fresh fruit. An avocado tree in the side yard is finally showing signs of producing.
The couple uses six rain barrels, able to hold a total of 500 gallons of rainwater, for watering potted plants, veggies and the bonsai plants. Drip hoses are spread among the beds, and a compost bin takes care of nutrients. Four birdbaths in the front yard and two in the backyard beckon the birds to enjoy a refreshing splash and a cool drink of water.
Stein and Mortellaro, who met and fell in love via the eHarmony website, agree the environment they’ve created is a true stress-buster. They both have full-time jobs. Plus, Stein’s commute to Sugar Land and back each day can be grueling, he said. With retirement on the horizon, they soon will be able to spend more time in their secluded refuge, but one detail remains.
“We are planning on getting married soon, and thinking of honeymooning in Hawaii,” Stein said.