One Cool Backyard Oasis

By David ArkinAugust 21, 2023September 20th, 2023No Comments

One Cool Backyard Oasis

By Scott Nishimura
Photos by Olaf Growald

A Fort Worth landscape designer and her husband wanted privacy, a neighborhood hangout for their son and his friends and a place for entertaining when they transformed their backyard

Christine Figley and her husband were house hunting and looking for a prime location when they bought their home in Fort Worth’s Colonial neighborhood 10 years ago.

The backyard was nothing much to look at, she says. It sported an aging one-car garage and guesthouse and an adjacent concrete pad. And there was no privacy from the neighbors.

“The house never really was listed,” she says. “The owner died and his children were having an estate sale. I walked up and basically begged them to sell me this house.”

Christine Figley gutted an old one-car garage and converted it into a party house, with pool and pingpong tables, television sets, living and dining areas and an outdoor kitchen. The open-air building fronts the yard’s pool and spa. The house and backyard are the centerpiece of get-togethers with family and friends, from Mardi Gras through the fall, when the TV sets are likely to be tuned to football. Figley’s son, Sutton (left), and his friend Connor McCurdy play pingpong.

It took a lot of work, but Figley, owner of West Fork Landscaping in Fort Worth, transformed the backyard into a private oasis. She and her husband gutted the garage and guesthouse and converted it into a covered open-air party house, with pool and pingpong tables, three TV sets, living and dining spaces, outdoor kitchen and two shaded, hidden spots where Figley likes to escape and work.

A pool and spa sit where the concrete pad used to be, at the top of the backyard and just a few feet off the entry into the home. The couple added a second-floor master suite that connects the house to the party house over a covered breezeway. To provide privacy around the yard, Figley planted full screens of Arizona cypress and ‘Little Gem’ magnolia.

Christine Figley planted a robust green wall that provides privacy from the neighbor’s yard at the bottom of the lot. For contrasting heights, Figley planted (left to right) 10- to 12-foot ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple; 15- to 20-foot ‘Little Gem’ magnolia; 25- to 30-foot Arizona cypress; and 15- to 20-foot vitex. Just off the left side of the green, she planted 5- to 6-foot bridal wreath spirea. The golf green is made of artificial turf. The Figleys originally planted a live grass green, but gave up on that. “The artificial turf is a game changer,” Figley says. “The base of decomposed granite is easy to maintain. Just the upkeep on the putting green became too much.” The green has four holes. Off its right side is a sand trap to practice wedge shots.

The Figleys’ backyard includes a 50-yard golf hole. The tee box (left) is next to the house, with the green at the bottom of the dramatically sloped lot.

There’s such a drop-off — 88 inches from tee box to sand trap — that only the tops of the flags are visible from the tee box. The Figleys’ son, Sutton, attempts a chip from the tee box across the pool and spa to the green below

Sutton hits a wedge out of the sand trap.

“My original goal was privacy,” Figley says. “There was nothing here; everybody could see into my pool.”

The Figleys are a golf family, so the yard even features a 50-yard golf hole. The tee box is next to the house, with the green, four cups and a sand trap at the bottom of the dramatically sloped lot. Using foam balls, the family can attempt a low chip beneath the 20- to 30-foot trees that guard the right side of the “fairway,” with the pool and spa coming into play. Only the tops of the flags on the green are visible from the tee box. Overshoot the green and you could be in the sand trap, 88 inches below the tee box.

“We have chipping contests all the time,” Figley says.

Not surprisingly, the backyard is the hangout for their son and his friends, which was by design. It also serves as the center of family entertainment, from Mardi Gras through fall football, when pigskin takes over the flat panels in the party house. “We entertain a lot,” she says.

Christine Figley opened the West Fork Garden Market in September 2022 in west Fort Worth as a new growth vehicle for her landscaping business. The market sells merchandise ranging from dishware to tabletop accessories, wreaths and garden vessels. This summer, Figley expanded the Garden Market to sell plastic streamers (above) for decorative use at parties and events.

Christine Figley added a couple of shaded spots outside the party house that serve as private areas for escape and work. One, with a table and chairs, is perfect for setting up her laptop and reviewing clients’ plans. The second, with a hanging swing, has a landscape screen that shields it from the rest of the backyard.

When the family is alone, Figley’s husband and son, who plays high school football, soak in the hot tub.

Figley showed off her landscaping talents during this spring’s 2023 Hidden Gardens Tour of Fort Worth, put on annually by the Historic Fort Worth nonprofit. Figley’s home was on display, and she also designed the Colonial-area backyards for the other four homes on the tour.

Growing up on a Polled Hereford farm in Forest Hill, Louisiana, gave her inspiration for her designs. The fertile, wooded area is now home to more than 100 nurseries, Figley says.

“It gave me a love for the nursery and landscaping from a young age,” she says. “I had gardens outside. My mother would plant gardens, and I would smell them growing up.”

West Fork buys several 18-wheeler loads annually from Forest Hill nurseries, she says. “It’s fun for me to go back home and shop. If you’re in retail, you go to market in Dallas. If you’re in landscape, you go to Forest Hill. It’s just better. And they have a lot more knowledge.”

Figley likes to plant robust landscapes, similar to the one that frames her backyard. “I tend to plant things close together and full,” she says.

Her yard is full of blues, yellows and greens. “I’m planting things that bloom, but not a lot of annual color,” she says. Something is always flowering in her landscapes. Only the white spider lilies around the pool “die back” in the winter. And her hardy choices survived the catastrophic winter freeze of a few years ago. “I didn’t lose a thing.”

Her yard is a showroom of sorts, Figley says. “I bring clients here to show them different trees and what different plants will look like.”

The lilies are the only plants that die during the winter. The green, yellow and blue-gray colors of the different plants provide contrast. Figley went with a dark color in the pool, giving it the appearance of a little watering hole. “It feels like a pond,” she says.