Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Three out of the four days I was in San Francisco last week I managed to visit the Strybing Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. The first day I got there about 3PM, after my visit to the Conservatory of Flowers and window-shopping in the Haight. I’ve visited the Strybing several times before and was tired out from walking around, so I went to rest in one of my favorite spots, the coastal redwood glen. I lay there for a very long time, looking up at the redwoods, the illusion of being deep in the wood disturbed only by traffic sounds (well, that and the fact that I was lying on a park bench).

Strybing Arboretum
Coastal redwoods at the Strybing Arboretum. Can you see my bench, almost in the middle and a little to the right?

Shortly after 5, I felt rested and ready to takes some photos. First I had to find the facilities. When I did, they were locked. I dashed to the other side of the gardens. Those were locked, too. Turns out that the Strybing closes at 4:30. If I left now to find a restroom, I wouldn’t be able to get back inside. I was disappointed but I had no choice.

I decided that I was going to feel cheated if I didn’t go back to take some photos. I’ve done my sight-seeing on previous trips and shopping does not entice me. So the next morning I got to the Strybing first thing after breakfast. It was a rare sunny morning. Morning is definitely the best time to visit (if it’s a sunny day) because the garden is better lit than even mid-afternoon when the tall trees put all the understory plants in shade.

The only problem is that the rainbirds are going. So you have to be careful to dodge them or risk getting drenched.

Strybing Arboretum
Dodging the rainbirds during morning watering.

Given how very dry the climate is, I was surprised that the Strybing used rainbirds instead of drip irrigation to water. San Francisco is a gardeners’ paradise. The temperatures are cool but there is plenty of sun. The only problem is water.

The Strybing is huge, 55 acres, and it seems larger because the beds are laid out in a very, naturalistic way with small paths that seem to wind every which way and lead you in circles. Even with a map in hand, I always get turned around. Collections are grouped by place of origin so that the climatic conditions can be mimicked. Rather than create geometric garden rooms, hills, berms, and trees isolate each area and obscure most views.

Strybing ArboretumLooking toward Friend Gate over Wildfowl pond.

There are only a couple of open places in the garden. On entering the Strying the first thing you see is the Great Meadow, which is just a lawn with a small fountain at the far end. This is the least interesting space to a gardener. It is the people place, where people to go and lie on the grass and read or watch their kids run free among but away from the valuable plants and trees. The paths lead you to the right, to the other open space of the Wildfowl pond.

Strybing ArboretumLooking toward the Zellerback Garden of Perennials.

Perversely (given the design of the garden) my favorite view is a long unbroken one looking either toward (or from) the Zellerback Garden of Perennials. I like to sit under the arbor (which was drenched with white wisteria, this trip) and write. When I consult the map, I discover that the entire garden is built on an axis that goes from the entry to the arbor in the Garden of Perennials. One would never guess that being in the garden.

As natural as it seems, the Strybing Arboretum (and the entire Golden Gate Park) is a made place, built on wind-swept sand dunes. The designer, John McLaren, spent 56 years acquiring plants from all over the world and arranging them in natural-looking landscapes. According to a sign in the park, “When he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1916, pressure from voters resulted in a city statute giving him life-tenure. He died on the job at the age of 96.”

The Strybing is a plant collector’s dream. Want to know what you might stumble across? The pdf listing the 7,000 species currently at the Strybing is 115 pages long! Here’s just a few that caught my eye.

Aeonium tabuliformeWhen I walked into the Strybing, the first thing I saw was this dinner plate aeonium and thought, my goodness, it’s like all the plants are on steroids. Related to sempervivum, the common name suggests that dinner plate aeonium just grows big. But I don’t know…all the plants I saw in San Francisco seemed huge.

Strybing Arboretum
The Australian bottlebrush is apparently well-adapted to San Francisco. I saw huge tree-sized specimens blooming everywhere, even some interesting weeping forms. However, I’m a little tired of red flowers in my own garden because I have so many of them and they all clash with each other. So imagine my delight when I saw this lemon bottlebrush, Callistemon pallidus. The pale yellow inflorescences seemed to glow in the twilight. Several cultivars have been introduced in Australia. One is called, appropriately, ‘Austraflora Candle Glow’. I hope they will become available in Texas soon.

Gingko biloba
I grow a gingko, too, but mine is only about six feet tall with a trunk so thin I can wrap my thumb and finger around it. I was astonished to see that someday it might become a very large tree.

Psoralea pinnate
The flowers of Psoralea pinnata, blue broom, had almost the same color and grape soda scent as Texas mountain laurel. But instead of dark round glossy leaves, it had soft, needle-like leaves (which is probably why one of its common names is Dally pine). A native in South Africa it has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand where it is considered an invasive weed.

I’m amazed that two plants on either side of the world, could have flowers so similiar in shape, color and scent, and yet completely different leaves. Don’t things like that just make you want to be a taxonomist, to study the similarities and difference among plants and figure out a way to classify and group them? When I visit a place like the Strybing, it kills any desire to grow only native plants. I want to embrace a world of plants. Life on earth is more fascinating than our wildest imaginings.
Strybing Arboretum

Austin Pond Society Tour 2008, 1

Just a preview post to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Day 1 of the Austin Pond Society’s 2008 pond tour. Central Texans, if you didn’t have a chance to check out ponds today, don’t despair. Wristbands are only $15 and there are 15 more ponds on the tour tomorrow, Sunday July 20th.

If possible, download the map before going because guide booklets were scarce today. The map comes in “groovy” and “uncool” versions. Sunday’s ponds are in north Austin, Cedar Park, Pflugerville, and Round Rock.

I didn’t get a chance to take a lot of photos today. I spent the afternoon under a huge shade tree at Frank’s garden in Sunset Valley, ticking off visitors as they came in and chatting with C., the daughter of the pond owners next door who were also on the tour. In addition to running into Annie and Philo from The Transplantable Rose, Bob from Gardening at Draco stopped by and introduced himself.

One of my favorite gardens contained “his and her” ponds. Thenell explained that his wife, Deborah, is a plant person. He’s a fish person. Their first pond got so crowded with plants he complained that he couldn’t see the fish. He suggested she remove some plants. She suggested he get his own pond. And that’s how they ended up with two stunning ponds in their back yard. This is “his”–it’s above ground and had many lovely fish. Lots, of plants, too, though, I see.
APS Tour 2008

Austin Pond Society Tour 2008: 2

Annie and Philo were gracious enough to let me carpool with them for Day 2 of the Austin Pond Society 2008 tour: the north country ponds. Annie and I talked non-stop, often forgetting to provide directions to a very patient Philo. Amazingly we managed to see all fifteen ponds with time to spare. Early on, we both agreed we weren’t interested in giving a blow-by-blow account of the tour. I didn’t even take photos at every location. And then, as if to reinforce our resolve, technology failed us. First Annie’s camera stopped working and then I had problems posting photos to Twitter via Twitpic.

The theme of this year’s ponds tour was owner-made ponds. Some were tiny. Some were huge. And all were very, very personal. There was something for every taste and sensibility from trim suburban ponds in a lawn of grass so green that I bent down to touch it see if it were real to ponds that seemed to have evolved in situ. There were ponds built by koi fanciers and ponds that were an excuse for a plant person to explore bog and water plants. Many ponds were inhabited by fairies.

Austin Pond TourFred and Mary’s two ponds took up half their back yard which was covered with plants. They have lots of garden ornamentation but I liked these fairies cavorting in the waterfall best because they seemed like they might disappear if I blinked my eyes.

Even if you couldn’t be with us, you were in our thoughts. Throughout the day, Annie and I kept noticing little details that reminded us of y’all. On a window ledge we saw tiny flower pots and a child’s tea set which made us think of Carol’s fairies at May Dreams Gardens. And when we saw the decorated outbuildings, the grouping of plants, and garden ornaments around seating at Jody and David’s pond, we turned to each other and said, “Pam/Digging would like this garden!”

Austin Pond Tour

Jody’s mermaid collection called to mind Lucinda Hutson. Not only does Jody have the knack for arranging the pots and furniture in her garden, look at how beautifully she’s grouped the different shapes and textures of pond plants.

Austin Pond Tour

Austin Pond Tour

Kathy and Rick’s garden (which was featured on the Central Texas Gardener) is an oasis in the dry scrub and 100-degree heat. The size, of course, is astonishing. I especially liked their unusual sculptures. We sat to rest on their porch, looking down on the ponds and across the valley. I didn’t want to leave.

Austin Pond Tour

Can a Prickly Garden Be Inviting?

I grew up in two extreme climates: the desert of the American southwest and the tropics of the Philippines (and semi-tropics of Okinawa). On the various Air Force bases on which I lived, we had no gardens. The aesthetic (quite similar to modern American suburban) was what I call “parade ground aesthetics”; it consisted of large expanses of short mown grass (for parades) ringed by white painted rocks.

My idea of a garden came solely from books. I’m a woodland sprite at heart and in my mind a garden is enclosed by tall mossy stone walls, draped in green ivy and ferns, filled with white heavily-scented flowers, with some small water feature and a place to read or write or meet one’s lover by moonlight.

The reality of my garden in Austin is none of those things. We must garden where we are. Still I’ve always pushed the limits (and paid the price) in my plant choices. I’m too much a lover of the exotic to ever be a dedicated locavore. I grow plants because I find them interesting and not because I’m sensible. Austin has a split-personality climate-wise. If we plant bananas, cannas, and elephant ears in a wet year like 2007, they’ll sear in a dry hot year like 2008. If we plant Mediterranean-style plants, like rosemary and lavender, they get mildewy or rot in really wet years. On a really hot, dry year, desert plants look more and more like an interesting alternative.

Too bad I’ve never been fond of cactus and succulents. Looking out at my prickly pear cactus just depresses me. I detest my yuccas and am fond of only a few agaves. And yet, I’ve visited two gardens this year that have made me look at cactus and succulents with a more forgiving eye. The first was my visit to the Spring Preserve, which I wrote about here and here.

cactus and succulent garden

The second was on the 2008 Austin Pond Society Pond Tour. The garden of Jeff and Ray was my favorite on the tour and not because of the pond. Jeff is the current president of the Austin Cactus and Succulent Society. Not only does he have an amazing collection of plants but he has that ability to arrange them in pleasing ways (a knack I lack and covet).

Look at that top photo again. I love the curves, the balance of forms, shapes, textures and colors of the plants. I think that the problem with most cactus and succulent gardens is that the plant materials require a really strong underlying design. The plants themselves are so architectural and spare. They need an expert designer to arrange the pieces in a pleasing way. I have absolutely zero design sense but with my floppy, cottage garden I get away with a lot because the exuberance of the plants hide the lack of design (when they’re in bloom, anyway).

I’m actually drawn more to the geometry of this garden than I am to the careless approach of my own. I would like to live in this garden but I can’t imagine making it.

cactus and succulent garden

The terrace with disappearing fountain is a very pleasant spot to read a book over morning coffee.

cactus and succulent garden

The entire garden is below street level. It is surprising shady for a cactus garden. I’m guessing that the huge terraces provide the appropriate drainage. Descending the driveway is one of pleasantest approaches to an Austin house I’ve ever seen. To answer my own question, some prickly gardens are inviting indeed.

cactus and succulent garden

Powis Castle Garden

After the wedding, we stayed a second night in Welshpool because Margaret knew I would want to spend an afternoon visiting the gardens at Powis Castle. After lunch, AJM and I drove over. We did not have far to go. Powis Castle is just across the valley, visible as one exits the track up to the house.

Imagine looking up to see this whenever one dashed out to run errands.

Powis Castle Gardens

The main borders are laid in a series of four terraces on a steep hillside. The castle is at the top and at the bottom a great lawn provides a flat, green foundation–a restful counterpoint–for the Welsh equivalent of the hanging gardens of Babylon. At one time in the Powis Garden’s 300 year-old history, the great lawn was a water garden in the style of St Germain-en-Laye but the waterworks were demolished in 1809.

Powis Castle Gardens

I’m cheating a little, showing you the whole from the bottom, which is not how we experienced the garden. We entered at the Top Terrace. One of the famous features at Powis is the yew topiary…which is purposely “lumpy”. If you are wondering how long it takes to grow something like this, these yew (and the 30-foot hedge and the east end of the terrace) were planted around 1720.

In the Top Terrace a brick wall partially obscures the castle above, giving an illusion of a more intimate space. The niches once contained busts but now are showcase for arrangements by the head gardener. Below, the wall is edged with Powis Castle artemisia. This wormwood hybrid was first introduced at Powis Castle in 1972. Note to self: start with tall, old brick wall. Hire head gardener.

Powis Castle Gardens

The hillside is so steep that one cannot take in the garden all at once, or even see the level below without leaning over the rather scary edges. Most of the terraces have no guardrails; you are expected to be careful.

Here, we’re on the Top Terrace, looking to the right over the Aviary Terrace, across the wild lawn (where naturalized daffodils bloom in the spring) to the large wood (The Wilderness) which acts as a buffer against winds blowing up the valley.

Powis Castle Gardens

Then we descend a level and look left over the broad Orangery Terrace and the electric green of the Great Lawn. Powis Castle Garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of a 17th century formal British garden. In the 18th century, many formal gardens were made over in the naturalistic English landscape style of Capability Brown. Luckily for Powis Castle Garden, its steep terrain did not lend itself to the new “gardenless” style of landscape architecture.

Powis Castle Gardens

The Orangery Terrace is flanked on either side by two long double borders. Playing off against the rigid formality of the layout, the planting is exuberant. The “hot” border shown below can be seen in the upper left-hand corner of the photo above.

Powis Castle Gardens

The terraces are the most dramatic part of the garden, but there’s a lot more to be seen. Here we look past the lumpy yew hedge, down to the Formal Garden, Croquet Lawn, and Fountain Garden. AJM’s sister lives on that hazy hillside in the distance.

Powis Castle Gardens

Before 1912, the Formal Garden was the kitchen garden. But the sight of all those lowly veggies viewed from the castle or the terraces repulsed Violet, the wife of the 4th Earl, the person most responsible for saving Powis Castle Garden from deterioration and making it what it is today. I wish she had like vegetable gardens more. However, the trees in the Formal Garden are fruit trees (covered in moss!) and it includes a long grape arbor.

This is the companion shot from the bottom, looking up toward the castle and the terraces. Although the flower borders were all very nice, I found myself most impressed with the tapestry effect of the trees and shrubs. They varied in size, shape, color, and texture…and yet, the contrasts were woven together in a very pleasing way that never looked like an ill-planned patchwork.

Powis Castle Gardens

Just before we left, the sun came out and lit up the garden, giving some hint of what the fall color must be like. (The weather was perfectly comfortable the entire afternoon we were there–neither too hot or too cold for walking around and just enough but not too much sun for taking photographs.) If I’m lucky, I’ll have the opportunity to see Powis Castle Garden in many different seasons.

Powis Castle Gardens

I have about 100 more photos…but I think you get the gist of the experience. The only way I could tear myself away was to keep reminding myself, “Winters are cold, wet, dark, and miserable.”

Peckerwood Garden

Visiting Peckerwood Garden leaves me examining, once again, what a garden is. The first thought that springs to mind, and what I find most around the garden blogosphere, is the ornamental garden. For many of us gardening is about growing pretty flowers. Some are talented enough that they also design with plants, arranging flowers and foliage in complementary ways, considering not only spatial relationships among plants but changes over the seasons and over years.

Peckerwood Gardens

People who design ornamental gardens often complement the plantscapes with hardscapes, with garden ornamention and furnishing to create outdoor living spaces. All that can be found at Peckerwood but it was not the essence of the garden.

Peckerwood Gardens

Others turn to gardening to grow their own food. I do a little of both but neither is the primary reason I garden. I am among the group that finds gardening restorative. I’m not a garden maker; I’m a garden putterer. I like to be in the garden because I need to touch the dirt, to crumble it in my hands, to ground myself in silence and the physical world after hours spent at the computer.

As we move across the gardening spectrum from those who design with plants to those who collect them, there is one category that I don’t come across often either in gardens blogs or in my other garden reading: the experimental garden. And that, I think is what Peckerwood Garden is—an experimental garden.

Peckerwood Gardens

Which is not to say that Peckerwood is not ornamental. It is. Not only are the beds laid out in pleasing ways but there are sculptures, a fountain and reflecting pond, a wisteria trellis, and great tree-lined walk bordered one side by a spring-fed creek and punctuated on the far end by the only live oak on the property.

As natural as the scene below may look, it is a made garden. All these trees were planted by John G. Fairey who began the garden in 1971. In 1983, a tornado swept through Peckerwood Garden destroying all the old trees.

Peckerwood Gardens

There is even a formal, yew-hedge encircled space, a memorial to an old friend. Despite all this, it did not seem like a “designed” garden in the same sense as Powis Castle, Arley Hall, or Tatton Park. I think the main reason for that is that, except quite near the house, it is relatively free of hardscaping. As our wonderful guide, Chris, said, the shapes and sizes of the beds change as the trees grow and the shade alters the understory plantings. The design is extremely fluid and curvaceous.

Peckerwood Gardens

Peckerwood is also obviously a collector’s garden, filled with rare plants collected from all over the world, many plants and trees propagated from seed. Yet it is not a garden of rarities for the sake of possessing what others do not have. Quite the opposite. The beating heart of this garden is its quest for biodiversity and conservation of the world’s treasures in the face of habitat destruction and the American suburban predilection for monoculture.

Peckerwood is a garden laboratory devoted to collecting, propagating, experimenting, and sharing. John G. Fairey brings the spirit of Thomas Jefferson to the garden.

Peckerwood Gardens

I learned at the garden that Mexico has a tremendous biodiversity and that plants from Mexico are extremely adaptable to extremes. Plants that have been gathered from 6000 feet adapt to the almost sea-level altitude of east Texas. Plants that we think of as desert-born thrive on the extra water as long as they are planted in well-drained soil.

The tree above and the tree below are both oaks from Mexico. The dense, shrubby one above looks almost like a weeping yaupon holly and the one below has an open willowy look. Chris not only encouraged us to examine some acorns but to take them home; then he told us how to sprout them. When I looked at my acorns closely, I notice they were all beautifully mottled, quite different than the chocolaty dark acorns of my red oaks.

Peckerwood Gardens

At Peckerwood Garden, they propagate plants, grow them on in the nursery for a year or two, set them out with shade cloth and irrigate them for another year, and then they are on their own. (Only 3 of the 21 acres are under irrigation.) Can they stand the alternating drought and flood, heat and cold that makes gardening in Texas such a challenge? The search is on for plants that can. And it is not limited to Mexico or the Americas. Complementary trees of the same species are sought out from China, Japan, or South Africa for comparison. Although careful not to introduce invasive species, Mr. Fairey does not feel constrained to stick just to local species either. Like the plant explorers of earlier centuries (including Thomas Jefferson), he is most interested in experimenting, making scientific comparisons, and finding out what works than promoting either local or exotics for philosophical reasons.

Peckerwood Gardens

Peckerwood is having open days this weekend. They had begun setting out plants to sell. None of us could resist, of course.

Peckerwood Gardens

Diana at Sharing Nature’s Garden organized a group of us Austin garden bloggers for this private guided tour. I’ll update this post with a link to the others as they become available.

  1. Conscious Gardener @ Conscious Gardening
  2. Libby @ Aurora Primavera
  3. Lori @ Gardener of Good and Evil
  4. Pam/Digging
  5. Vertie @ Vert

Thanks, again, Diana! And to John Fairey who came out to greet us, and to our wonderfully informative, friendly, knowledgable and tireless guide, Chris.

Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2009

My favorite Austin garden tour each year is sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association. Not only are the gardens lovingly handmade (as opposed to contractor-installed) but gardeners and all the volunteers are full of plant knowledge. The plants are well-labeled and every site on the tour includes an extensive plant list. It’s a day-long field trip into what you can accomplish in a Central Texas garden.

I’m sure all the gardeners participating breathed a huge sigh of relief when the weather cooperated. Austin had a good rain on Thursday, it was clear Friday to dry out the gardens a bit and to allow for last minute straightening after the storm, and today we had the most perfect weather any garden tour could wish for: cool, dry, with beautiful blue skies.

Even more fun for me, I carpooled with Diana @ Sharing Nature’s Garden and Robin @ Getting Grounded. At lunch, we met up with Pam @ Digging. So, you can imagine it was six hours of non-stop garden talk. I’m sorry that we didn’t have time to see all of the gardens–but we really enjoyed the ones we did. Thank you, everyone of you who shared your garden with us.

Garden of Cheryl Goveia

I met Cheryl Goveia last year when a couple of carloads of Austin garden bloggers trekked to Peckerwood Gardens. Her blog is named Conscious Gardening and it’s obvious from the moment you step into her garden that she applies herself to everything with passionate and rapt attention.

Cheryl Goveia

The yard is an ordinary city lot but it feel huge for two reasons. It is partitioned into a series of small, garden rooms and every space is crammed with plants and ornaments. It doesn’t feel stifling or claustrophobic though. It feels like a garden layered in secrets. Everywhere I looked were little witty jokes (like the “snakes” made of strings of bottle caps in the beer garden). Or the metal rooster next to the bottle of tequila and a sake cup on a table made from a painted stump overseeing the henhouse (not in the photo).

Cheryl Goveia

Notice the painted hub caps on the fence. Mirrors, paint cans, and bowling balls were some of the other repurposed objects woven into the tapestry of the garden. Cheryl said that she didn’t follow any master plan for the garden as she transformed what had once been an empty St. Augustine lawn. The spaces grew naturally from how they were used–including the need to fence off areas from her dog.

Garden of Eleanor Pratt

Eleanor’s garden (in the same neighborhood and with the same sized lot as Cheryl’s) has a more conventional layout, a pecan-tree shaded lawn surrounded by borders. She had many plants that left us asking the volunteer Master Gardeners, “What’s that?” All three of us were particularly taken with the Chinese ground orchid. And where did she find this exotic beauty? On sale at Home Depot. Despite all the negative things I’ve read about shopping at the big box stores, one of the surprising things I learned on this tour is that there are some real plant bargains to be had there–not just in price but in unusual plants.

I especially liked the pigeonberrry and when Eleanor said that it reseeded easily and filled in any space, I bought one for myself. Unfortunately the light wasn’t very good for photographs when we were there, so I only snapped one picture…of the pigeonberry, of course.

Eleanor Pratt

Eleanor blogs at Garden of E.

Detour: Backyard Salvage and Gardens

As we drove east on Koenig headed for our next garden, we saw
Backyard Salvage and Gardens which Renee Studebaker had recently written about in her Statesman gardening column. It didn’t take a 1/10th of a second for the three of us to agree on a little detour. I immediately fell in love with the pallets of old brick and many types of stone. In addition to the architectural salvage materials, there were also piles of composts and gravels. And plants. After seeing the variety and number of plants at the first two gardens on the tour, I was feeling pretty plant-deficient–so I bought a pretty little succulent.

Garden of Randy Case

Randy Case

The first thing I fell in love with at Randy’s garden was the low stone wall in the front. Not only did it have plants tumbling over it it actually had little planters built into it. Next to the driveway, Randy had built three large wooden planters, sort of like inverted ziggurats. (He said he was inspired by the Guggenheim Museum although we all agreed that building an inverted spiral would have been a bit more complicated.)

Randy Case

Randy also makes good use of mirrors to provide the illusion of the garden beyond the fence. After seeing all the bamboo muhly, I finally succumbed to the plant that everyone in Austin has been gaga over and bought three.

Randy had a beautiful, ginormous ‘Double Purple’ Datura metel and was kind enough to share seeds with us when we asked for some. You can see some more of his many flowers at his blog Horselip’s Horse Sense. Scroll down to see the transformation of his garden from plain suburban lawn and the “Guggenheim planters”.

Garden of Gail Sapp

In the tour brochure, Gail Sapp writes, “I like my plans bright, bold and big.” She is not kidding. In comparison, my garden looks like a big space with a few Lilliputian plants scattered here and there. Gail’s yard is typical suburban lot. Her plants are huge and dramatic.

Gail Sapp
The bamboo which screened the garden was not your ubiquitous fishing rod type bamboo. It was the clumping Giant Timber bamboo. It was the most beautiful bamboo I’ve seen in Austin. The stems (trunks?) were thick and the bamboo towered over the two-story house. When the wind blew through them, the trunks struck each other musically sounding like a set of bamboo wind chimes.

In the front yard, Gail had a brugmansia twice as large as any we’d seen on tour and it was covered in yellow flowers. Behind it was a huge palm. The garden felt rich and full but the forms of the plant were distinct. To offset some of the lush wildness, several box shrubs were clipped into perfect globes. I liked the contrast between the constraint and the lush jungle-like wildness.

Gail Sapp

The real stop-dead-in-your-tracks plant was this pale silvery palm, a blue fan palm. None of us had recalled ever seeing anything quite like it. Where could she have gotten it? Home Depot, was the answer. Apparently it is highly adapted to desert-like conditions. In sharp contrast, was a diminutive dark-leaved ornamental pepper ‘Black Pearl’ with globular fruit which start out bright red and ripen to black.

Garden of Lindy McGinnis

Lindy McGinnis

When we were at the salvage store, Diana told Robin that she drew the line at having a bathtub in the garden. When she saw Lindy’s tub transformed into a pond covered with fig ivy, she stepped bravely over the line.

Lindy McGinnis

I was particularly drawn to the patch of chrysanthemum because they didn’t have any of the stiff formality of the potted mums you see everywhere this time of year. They were shorter, looser, freer–I didn’t even recognize them as mums at first.

Lindy McGinnis

Lindy’s was another garden just packed full a variety of plants. In the front were agaves, aloe, cactus, and other succulents mixed in with grasses and sages and a hundred things I’ve forgotten. In the back were more shade-loving plants. Diana pointed out a night-blooming jasmine, and I wanted one immediately.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to take more photos or do more justice to the myriad of confused impressions and inspiration I felt. You can see a video clip of Lindy McGinnis’s garden which aired on Central Texas Gardener.

The bottom line of the tour for me this year was to make me feel that I want more. I want more plants, more different kinds of plants, more garden ornaments, and sitting areas, and little secret spaces, and fountains. I want more mulch and more stone and more defined spaces.

I came straight home and got to work.

Related Posts

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Now on my fourth year of touring Austin ponds, I see that my eye has begun to wander. I snapped very few photographs of ponds. So, if this post leaves you wanting, head over to The Transplantable Rose where @Annieinaustin provides a more complete tour.

Jim’s Garden

The 10 x 25 foot pond fills the gap between the addition to the house and the fence. The room overlooking the pond is walled in glass so that you can sit in the comfort of the indoors and see nothing but waterfalls and plants. Now that’s designing for our Austin environment!

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

What I was particularly attracted to were these metal and concrete risers. I’ve been wanting to do metal enclosed terraces between our house and pond. I love these sinuous curves.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

The pond creator, Kevin Wood, was there showing before and process photos on his iPad. Unfortunately, he didn’t do the stairs.

Danette’s Garden

Kevin Wood also did Danette’s garden which I found quite peaceful.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

The waterfall muted the noise from the bustle of nearby South Congress. But the sense of peace came from something more than silence. Although filled with many interesting plants, the garden had a feeling of openness and space. One could breathe deeply in it.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

The plant that really caught my eye was a white, single Rose of Sharon. Most modern Rose of Sharon flowers are double and I didn’t even recognize it as the same flower. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it. I think I like Rose of Sharon even more than Austin’s ubiquitous crape myrtles (which do look fantastic this year). And they’re just as easy to keep alive in Austin.

Leeann’s Garden

Leeann’s garden was designed to be a delightful environment for children to play in. Even though the back yard was tiny, it was filled with places to explore and hide in. The garden was a natural playscape, both fun and beautiful. This tiny, imaginative space made me feel sorry for children doomed to grow up in the bland lawn infested suburbs.

golden lace Polish hen

The garden was filled with trees, water, and (of course) critters. A bunny. And four chickens. How could anyone resist the charms of a a golden lace Polish hen?

Mark and Debi’s Garden

We visited Mark and Debi’s garden on previous pond tour in July after two years of drought. Even then the pond and landscape were in good condition because they are watered from an artesian spring which provides 10,000-20,000 gallons of water a day. (Compare that to my usage in the worst heat of summer–10,000 gallons of water a month.)

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

All that water plus all the water from our wet winter produced one of the lushest gardens I’ve ever seen in Austin. I probably took more photos here than at any other garden.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

I overheard Mark say that before he became a doctor he was an engineer–which is why he likes to build things. I also appreciate that he labeled his huge collection of water lilies. Now I know the one I want to buy is called ‘Star of Siam’. I love its mottled leaves. However, I doubt that it will fit in my small pond.

Bud’s Garden

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

I had seen Bud’s garden before and, again, it was interesting to see it earlier in the season and after a rainy spell rather than in the drought. The plants had really filled in and I preferred the choices to the zinnias that were there when I last saw it.

Susan’s Garden

Susan’s garden is one of the best shade gardens I’ve ever seen in Austin. The backyard is just a typical-sized suburban yard but the entire space is filled with plants. To make it seem even larger, the path through the garden is a circle. You can’t see the entire garden at glance and you’re drawn along the circular path to find out what’s just out of sight.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Plant choices for dry, hot shade always seem so limited. But this was a very inventive garden. It had lots of whimsical garden objects and a really gorgeous wooden bench, too. If this garden hasn’t been on Central Texas Gardener yet, it should be.

Bill and Kharon’s Garden

The pond was small but deep and filled with fish. “Too many fish,” Kharon said. What I really liked about it was how the water plants were arranged. I wish I could have gotten a better photo but people were clustered around the edge looking at the fish.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

I really like the bald cypress in the pond–although I wonder what will happen to it when it gets too big for the pond.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Lisa and Donald’s Garden

This garden was such a surprise. From the street, I would never have guessed that such a wonderful place was hidden in the back. I loved all the woodwork in the fences, porches, and outbuildings–both the style and the colors really appealed to me.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

The Transplantable Rose has a photo of the deep green lawn with two tomato red chairs on a tiny patio. Perfect!

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Here’s an excellent solution to the fence height restrictions.

Austin Pond Society Tour 2010

Tatton Park: Beech Walk

There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence, depressed…
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired;
— William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book Twelfth

I have been holding the memory of this walk through Tatton Park in reserve, waiting for a miserable summer day in Austin to pull it out and use it like a charm against the heat.

I began at the Knutsford entrance and walked through the beech wood to Tatton Park garden. Almost as I begin my walk, a misty rain starts to fall. The trees are so dense that very little rain falls on me.

In Austin we are suffering drought but Cheshire has had a rainy summer. I enjoy the novelty of picking my way down the muddy track. Sometimes there are huge mucky puddles and I have to backtrack to get around them. The walk is so dark and wet that even though it is just two rows of trees lining a path, I can imagine that I’m lost deep in a forest.

Tatton Park

My only company is the sheep.

Tatton Park

I visit the gardens and have lunch the Stables Restaurant. They are promoting locally grown (Cheshire) food including vegetables grown at Tatton. This is the best meal I’ve ever had at an RHS garden. At other garden shops, it’s usually just a supermarket scone and teabag in hot water for “tea”.

I thought I’d be energized by lunch enough to tour the gardens more. I’ve been here so many times that after I visit my favorite spots I decide it’s better to begin the walk home.

Tatton Park
Of all the trees, I loved this one the best.

I linger. I loll. I meander. I soak up the impressions, stopping often to take photographs or to write. It takes almost three hours to get home: one hour down beech walk, and two hours from Knutsford to Mobberley.

Tatton Park
Melchett Mere

While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
— William Wordsworth, Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey


Tatton Park: The Italian Garden
Tatton Park: The Japanese Garden

Open Days 2010: Part 1

On October 16, 2010, we visited the six gardens on The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program in Austin, Texas.

The two gardens on the 2010 tour which, based on their descriptions, one could assume were the most alike ended up being the most different, visually and emotionally. Both are built on steep hillsides west of Austin. Both are gardens of means, obviously expensive to build and maintain. Both are filled with unique collections of garden ornaments. Both contain extensive hardscaping and terraces. Both have swimmng pools. Both have outdoor living spaces where one can imagine serving cocktails to elegantly dressed guests. Yet, to me, the David-Peese garden feels personal and intimate. The Jones garden feels impersonal and public. Why is that? I studied my photos to see if I could figure out the differences.

The David-Peese Garden

This was my third visit to the David-Peese garden. AJM and I arrived a little early and were ushered in and given the opportunity to speak to James David a few moments before the tour opened. He said that, like many Austinites, they had lost trees to the drought and that he was replanting with more water-wise plants.

Open Days 2010

Although the largest garden on the tour, the David-Peese garden is intimate; it draws your gaze inward and pulls you into it. The garden is filled with hidden delights.

Open Days 2010
Open Days 2010

Even the most formal plantings have a wonderful sense of rhythm and motion to them. These curvy box hedges look like whimsical doodles. I love the tension between the straight formal line and the curves. It reminds me of dancers lining up for the Virginia reel.

Open Days 2010

All this stone and gray concrete could have felt heavy and lifeless. The narrow limestone steps flow down the hillside like a mountain rivulet.

Open Days 2010

For the most part, the David-Peese garden completely ignores conventional garden wisdom about building wide paths where people can walk two abreast. I think a great deal of the intimacy comes that the paths are narrow and winding. A fresh discovery is waiting around every bend in the path.

Open Days 2010

The hardscaping forms an impressive foundation. The forms and the weight are so beautifully proportioned that they support but never distract from the planting.

Open Days 2010

Most gardeners self-identify either as plant collectors or spatial designers. The David-Peese garden is one of those rare gardens which excels in both. The spaces from every angle are so balanced and harmonic and alive. However, the plants are never treated as just living filler, the “green element”, of the design. The garden shelters so many cool, wonderful, unique plants that it would take days to see and learn about each one of them. I’m glad one of my favorite trees survived the drought.

Open Days 2010

The Jones Garden

The Jones Garden is situated on a hill which overlooks Austin and the Colorado River. With the a view like that, it’s little wonder that the garden is used to frame the view, to draw the eye out and beyond.

Open Days 2010

What a place to party! However, as a rather introverted, inward-looking person, I’m much more attracted to the promise of secret gardens.

Open Days 2010

I love the idea of something hidden around just out of sight.

Open Days 2010

AJM was drawn to this soapstone urn and the way it caught the morning light. My eye travelled immediately to the planting and I was disappointed. It would have been better with no flowers at all than half-wilted mums from a big box store. (They looked worse in real life than in this photo.)

Open Days 2010

We continued down the bend in the path, past the greenhouse and into the swimming pool area. I felt that the promise of my secret path had fizzled. We exited around the back of the house, and then….

Open Days 2010

…a walled garden. I gasped with delight at that curve of green. Unfortunately the sun was just coming over the house and the contrast between light and shadows meant I couldn’t get a good photograph. This little garden was circles and curves punctuated with a beautiful round pond in the center. The room that overlooks the garden must see nothing but cool, green relief in Austin’s horrible summers. Oh! How I dream of a 20 foot wall of green!

However, I just can’t connect to this garden emotionally. The spaces are attractive but they seem impersonal. They remind me of an expensive spa resort.