Even though they don't know me, the owners of seven gardens in Austin let me into their gardens yesterday.
Today we still don't know each other, but there have been introductions and conversations and parts of their gardens are burned into my memory.
Thank you very much for letting me come to see your gardens!
The stress of planning her move to a new house didn't prevent Pam/Digging from also planning the route we'd use for the 2008 Austin Garden Conservancy Tour. As she drove I acted as her Dr Watson - right down to the bumbling. It was wonderful to catch up on news and talk gardens as we traveled around Austin, making it to all seven locations.
We discovered that we'd both zeroed in on Stone Palms as a must-see - and so did everyone else! Just a few minutes after opening the garden was humming with visitors. Before we reached the ticket table Pam met two people she knew and I'd reconnected with Mary, whose lovely pond and ingenious stock tank filter were among the images I used for the post and video of "The Pond Song". We took this as a sign the day would be a special one and entered garden #1.
This intensely personal garden was all I'd hoped for and more, from the entrance palms created from Edwards Plateau karst, (those cool holey rocks we all love) to the enchanting dining area surrounded by wisteria vines, its shady space brightened with shimmering green reflecting balls. The garden owners are a landscape designer who works with stone (he told us that the table is also one of his creations) and his wife, an artist who works in shells (the sideboard was her design).
Incredible containers graced every corner and a large umbrella filtered the light without the heaviness of a permanent roof.
We noticed many places to sit and talk. One thing I loved was the way these conversation areas let the sitters look outward while still feeling enclosed by the garden. This structure does double duty as a greenhouse in winter, protecting tender plants with the addition of transparent sides and if necessary, warmth from a fireplace that is tucked around the corner.
Not too far away was the second garden, Fatal Flowers, where I was charmed by seeing our beloved Oxblood lilies used in a raised bed with other colorful and tough plants.
Other bloggers will give you the big picture - I was caught by details - like the way the entrance was put together with a little roof running lengthwise over the top of the fence and a low bench right next to the gate. Another gate had a similar roof, flanked by a stacked stone wall with space inside for the roots of a Whale's Tongue Agave.
I forgot the right word for the kind of open meditation porch in the photo below and also don't know the name of the interesting large leaved plant with yellow daisy shaped flowers. Could it be Ligularia dentata? Other plants I found fascinating were a finely divided form of Nandina and a real yew - not the Podocarpus called "Japanese yew". The garden owner said that this Taxus chinensis will survive in Austin. Also exploring Fatal Flowers were Diana of Sharing Nature's Garden and her friend Maria - it was fun to see them!
I hope the charming owners of Fatal Flowers won't mind if I show the cleverly designed area behind the house. It is beautifully fitted out with potting surfaces and space for growing on potted plants, a compost area, a clothesline and built-in brackets for hanging plants, all neat and all accessible.
The next house, Modern: Inside and Out was just as described, "simple and serene". The large carport had a ping-pong table set up and a new-looking area for growing vegetables. These neat kitchen gardens with brick paths really appeal to me but I'd want that chainlink fence to disappear if it were my potager. At the modern garden we met up with fellow blogger and budding entomologist Vertie and her friend Sheryl (guessing on spelling). What fun to find out Sheryl and some friends formed their own version of the Divas of the Dirt after reading about us in the newspaper. Hanging out with Pam and Vertie meant another introduction - they both know Linda Lemusvirta, the producer for Central Texas Gardener who also writes her own fantastic gardenblog.
What a thrill to meet these women!
With so much lawn and few flowers this spare design seems more about landscaping than gardening, but when you stand near the house looking out at the angled areas, it seems like a fabulous place for a party - too bad I'm not on any 'A' lists!
If you've seen other posts about this tour you already know the garden bloggers were surprised to discover that there were a few locations where the visitors were allowed to tour the gardens but were not allowed to photograph what they saw.
The G. Hughes and Betsy Abell Garden was designed by Scott Ogden and when we arrived in the courtyard -
there was Scott himself, with a preview copy of his newest book, Plant Driven Design, written with his wife, Lauren Springer Ogden. Since this was one of the no-photos gardens, I snuck a tiny book cover from this most intriguing book off the Amazon pre-order site.
A wonderful wordsmith could tell you about gardens without using photos.
I can only say that the entire house and its grounds felt like falling into another place and time - Mexican-Spanish-California-Colonial? From the time we passed the ballustrades into the garden, I was sunk. We saw Agaves sprouting from the tile roof, areas that were sheltered under the main body of the house but were still outside, balconies and paths and Lake Austin river in the distance, palms and bamboo. It felt as if it had been there for generations, so it was a revelation to hear that house and garden were less than a dozen years old. I don't know why I liked the whole thing so much, but if it were mine, that basketball court would be an outdoor dance floor with musicians floating hot notes from the balcony above.
There are also no photographs from the Granger Garden, with large expanses of lawn and views of Lake Austin. The owner greeted guests and told us about some interesting plants including a very cool Mexican Olive, planted against a stone wall and a very cool grass...some kind of fancy zoyzia... that alternated with pavement on the sloping entrance to a secluded courtyard. (More people knew Pam at this garden, too.)
Yet another garden also has no photographs - the Ofman Garden, also on Lake Austin. This garden had roses in bloom and views of the river. The service area at the back of the house had been made into a plant-filled shady tunnel with a water feature that could be seen through a window from an area inside - something I found quite charming.
Even if you haven't seen the other bloggers' Conservancy Tour posts, the photo above could have clued you in on which garden Pam saved for Dessert! In addition to Pam's photo-essay about the garden of James David and Gary Peese at the 2006 Conservancy tour, visiting this garden was a highlight of Spring Fling in April, and the Flingers set loose a flurry of wonderful posts with great photos. So many bloggers took their own version of the scene in the photo above that MSS even wrote a post about it!
Yesterday's visit was my third stroll on the stones and paths of the David~Peese garden - high time for me to snap a picture of the formal lawn and share more glimpses of this extraordinary place. As you might guess from the shadows in my photo, it was late afternoon when Pam and I arrived. The owners greeted the visitors near the entrance table and even after all the hours of answering questions they were still gamely identifying plants and talking chlorophyll with enthusiasm.
Although I'd been here before, this visit was different. A faint scent of something like Tea Olive could be discerned in the entry garden,and for the first time my response to the garden was not just respect and awe and amazement, but affection - something that surprised me!
While the hardscape is astounding and imposing, the plants are approachable and irresistible - there's a blue Skyvine (Thunbergia grandiflora?) scrambling up other plants like scaffolding and there are unusual evergreens (maybe the one near the entrance is a Kashmir Cypress?) and the succulents alone are too numerous to identify - there are hundreds and hundreds of kinds of unusual plants.
We walked out on a new path to a part of the garden that's in progress, then turned and looked back toward the house. How can a wire box of rocks, a plain metal spout pouring water into a large basin, some sloping decomposed granite and assorted succulents combine to make such a pleasing scene? Is it the perfection involved in choosing each individual element?
I liked the way this small pool looked in that late afternoon light with the semi-circle of ripples, but wish I'd remembered to take a photo of the fig ivy 'Eyebrows' set over two semi-circular windows on the house...something I loved at first sight. The eyebrows are under strict control, but shortly before the tour ended at 5 PM we noticed that another plant was allowed to roam. Some type of gourd or squash vine climbed over structures and shrubs, up and into a tall evergreen, hanging one large fruit way over our heads like a green lantern waiting to be lit - time to go home!
But before we headed to the car, Pam ran into another friend. It was a delight to meet Roxane Smith, the Open Days regional rep and her husband - a volunteer we enjoyed chatting with at an earlier garden. Knowing other gardeners has expanded my world in so many ways!
Thank you for the wonderful day, Pam!
Austin Garden Bloggers who have already posted on the Conservancy Tour are Lancashire Jenny, Diana, and Julie/Human Flower project.
Edited Oct 7- Pam/Digging took a break from unpacking and posted the first entry in her Open Day Tour series: Stone Palms.
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