Cheryl Goveia
Cheryl Goveia’s garden

October 24th, 2009
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

Stocker Garden
The strong underlying geometry of Jenny’s garden balances the exuberant plantings and keeps the garden from chaos.

April 20th, 2008
Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2008

I’m becoming more and more fascinated by people who make gardens–that is, in contrast to people like me, who merely grow flowers (and the occasional vegetable where sunlight permits).

I just realized that most of the gardens I’ve visited are private English estate gardens turned public, Hidcote Manor, Arley Hall, Tatton Park or civic gardens such as the instructive Springs Preserve in Las Vegas or the Japanese garden in San Francisco.

Japanese Garden San Francisco
Japanese Garden, San Francisco

These are gardens of extraordinary effort: to design, finance, construct, and maintain. As much as I love visiting these gardens, I don’t find lessons I can immediately apply to my garden. (The basic lessons in design are there, of course, but the scale of the gardens is such that it inhibits rather than inspires my creative urges.) I look at grand gardens the same way I do houses in Architectural Digest, admiringly yet outside my purview, beyond the range of possibility. I could never do something like that.

Yesterday I had the chance to visit the gardens of ordinary people. And when I say ordinary I do not mean it as a slight but as a compliment. Tremendous personal effort and vision went into each of the gardens I visited. My point is that these are personal not civic efforts. These private gardens were made by individuals, not teams of hired gardeners, by “plain folks” who transformed their typical city or suburban lots into extraordinary places. And just as encouraging, these gardens were built right here in Central Texas, gardens that suffer the same challenges of climate, drought, flood and scorching summers punctuated by thunderstorms, high winds, and hail as my own.

In short, these gardens excited and inspired me because they teemed with possibility. Maybe I could do something like that.

The tour was sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association and focused on sustainable gardening. The point we were supposed to take away, I think, is that sustainable gardening does not mean sacrificing pleasing design, beauty, or creativity.

Link’s Garden

Link’s garden is the closest to my own geographically in laid back south Austin. I’m guessing that most people will remember it as the “found objects” garden–an amazing collection of the mundane and the discarded reclaimed as garden art.
Davidson Garden
What’s a south Austin garden without painted tire planters? The unique touch is the cymbals on rebar sculpture.

What impressed me most was the creative use of space, the amount of garden packed into a tiny lot on a steep hillside. At the top of this narrow winding path, there is a deck with two chairs that look over the garden. The fence to keep you from stumbling over the edge is made from old seatless wooden chairs painted bright colors.
Davidson Garden
Rusting lawnmower as artistic statement in a garden where all the lawn has been torn out. And if you can’t grow barrel cactus in your climate, what about turbine fans?

Mary and Clark’s Garden

Mary and Clark’s garden astonishes on many levels. First it’s plopped right in the middle of bland suburbia…
Bakatsa Garden
…and stands out from its neighbors with an aggressively planted front yard herb and butterfly garden.
Bakatsa Garden

Mary and Clark have a completely lawn free yard. The house is topped with solar panels, they harvest rainwater, and have a huge compost pile. Way to go suburbia!

The length of back fence, a short fence providing little privacy with large bushes on the neighbor’s side seems like an impossible place to grow anything interesting. And yet roses bloom in what seems like too much shade and fruit trees line the path.

Bakatsa Garden

The garden celebrates edibles, providing food for the family with excess shared with neighbors and donated to charity. In addition to the all-season vegetable garden, Mary grows olive and apple trees and has harvested grapefruit from a tree grown from a seed. None of these trees are typically grown in Austin, which demonstrates that sometimes I need to break the rules and take more chances in my garden.

Bakatsa Garden

Walt’s Garden

Krueger Garden
Inviting entry. The garden is enclosed in the back away from the ravages of deer.

Walt’s garden, Serenity, is a collector’s garden. His plant list numbers over 300 and most of them are shade plants…just the kind of inspiration I need. Although he has lived in the house for over 20 years, building the stonework retaining walls and pathways really began when he retired in 2001. He terraced the entire hillside by hand, mixing concrete in a wheel barrow. He said that he was strongly influenced by Japanese gardens and it shows. Rather than relying on the flashy color of annual flowers for interest, Walt focuses on the textures and shades of green. The variety in Walt’s garden comes from the sheer number of different plants in his vast collection.

Lesson learned: I should stop complaining about my shade and do something with it.
Krueger Garden
Serene green refuge from an Austin summer.

Jenny and David’s Garden

Taken as a whole, Jenny and David’s garden borders outside the range of my potential. I can’t imagine a huge walled garden on my lot no matter how much I’d love to have one. However, if I could have any garden in the world, this is probably the garden I would want. It is the perfect blend of my mother’s New Mexican adobe house dreams and AJM’s mother’s English cottage garden. And it feels familiar because I love and I grow many of the same plants.

Stocker Garden

Because Jenny and David’s garden is divided into smaller rooms, it never overwhelms or seems inaccessible. Each room has such a friendly atmosphere that I can imagine just sitting and being almost anywhere here.

I took AJM to see the paving stone courtyard…David poured the concrete pavers himself. “See. We could do something like that.” I nudge AJM, encouragingly. “Couldn’t we?”

Stocker Garden