October 20th, 2010
Open Days 2010: Part 1

Open Days 2010

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.

by M Sinclair Stevens

8 Responses to post “Open Days 2010: Part 1”

  1. From Linda Lehmusvirta Austin Texas:

    Outstanding pictures and beautiful writing! Can’t wait to see Part 2.

  2. From Diana:

    Nice comparison tour since I couldn’t make it on the tour. I really missed having another chance to see the David-Peese Garden.

  3. From Annie in Austin:

    Your analytical mind makes for lovely thoughtful posts, MSS…thanks for the look at the Jones Garden and I’m glad we made it to the David-Peese garden on other tours. But the curlyque box hedges don’t remind me of dancing – they seem more like a topiary signature.

    Good for the Ceiba tree!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Thanks for the ID of the thorny-trunked tree! The last time I was there I asked James David what it was but I was too lazy to look for where I wrote it down. My first impression of the box hedge were of squiggles or doodles, too. Looking at the photo, I realized how static and boring it would be if both sides of the walk had been lined by straight box hedges. The swirls imply movement and the asymmetry adds to that sensation. — mss

  4. From Vertie:

    So glad you decided to post on the tour. Lovely photos and great analysis. Also nice to both gardens in morning light and with fresher eyes than mine.

  5. From Barbarapc from Oakville Ontario:

    They are both splendid gardens. The second reminds me of our new concert centre – the patrons in their finery make it come alive – without them it is just a beautiful shell. The first garden is lovely with or without visitors – a little like the old opera halls with their paintings, wood carvings and glass chandeliers. You feel like you’re part of something special even before the music starts.

  6. From Jenny Austin:

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m a secret garden girl too and love nothing more than to wonder what is on the other side of wall or through an open gate or as the David/Pease garden at the bottom of a flight of steps or down a pathway arched with trees and shrubs. You took some very nice photos.

  7. From Steve Mudge:

    I had no idea Ceiba Trees (they’re called Silk Floss Trees out west (Chorisia/Ceiba speciosa) were cold hardy enough to live in Austin…magnificent trees.

    James David has it next to the greenhouse in a patio area where I suspect he can cover it or in someway provide extra protection for it. — mss

  8. From angelina:

    I like the David-Peese garden the best of the two but I’m not even sure why. Your pictures are amazing- especially of the Ceiba!