About Me
My Photo
Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
View my complete profile

Sunday, October 05, 2008

2008 Austin Garden Conservancy Tour

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.


  1. Annie-I'm sorry I didn't bump into you on the tour I think we did it in the reverse direction. It is good to read another gardener's perspective, it can be quite different from ones own. I was interested in what you had to say about the Ogden house because we were not impressed at all. We actually found peering in through the windows on the terrace to be more interesting. D said he thought the house had been there for ever so we were surprised too to learn its age. We never met any of the homeowners except at the houses I wrote about.We did see Ben Crenshaw leaving his home! Several architects but no one was there to really introduce the gardens. which was a disappointment.

  2. Annie, I was wondering when you would post about the garden tour. It is fun to see what catches the eye of several people that see the same gardens.

    I too would love the first garden with all the stone and cozy seating areas. I have read that there should always be something behind the seat or no one would sit in the seat. It creates that protected cozy feeling. These seating areas are great.

    When touring the Charleston,SC annual tour they also wouldn't let you take pictures. Something about stealing designer ideas. Duh, they opened it to the public. Just doesn't make sense to me. It was such a shame. I was very disappointed after driving several hundred miles to see them that I couldn't take pictures. They had books to sell of course, but books written by others just don't capture the areas that I particularly liked.

    Anyway, great to read and see your thoughts about the tour.

  3. Like Lancashire Rose, AJM and I did the tour in reverse direction. I wanted him to see the David-Peese garden with no one in it. And we were the first at the top of the stairs that descend to the lily pond.

    You highlighted our favorites, Stone Palms (which AJM really liked, especially after the "lawn" at an earlier stop, and Fatal Flowers, which I liked--not just for the Japanese tearoom but because the size was comfortable--and the person obviously a plant fanatic, in the best way.

  4. Sounds like a great day touring gardens AND meeting other like minded folks. I like that wire box with stone too.

  5. Hi Annie. So sorry I missed this tour, I didn't go because I didn't know! We went to the Texas Wildlife and Fisheries Expo in south Austin and had a great time, but would have liked to have seen some of the beautiful gardens you describe as well.
    I enjoyed the Pond Tour so much I know I would have liked this one too. Thank you for sharing your photos and thoughts though, it's almost like being there...
    Best regards,
    Mike Z

  6. I love garden tours! Too bad some would not let you take photos--they wouldn't have to worry about me being able to copy all their ideas:)

    Judging by the first garden, which you are able to show, these were grand gardens indeed. Sounds like you had a wonderful day,Annie, getting new ideas and sharing them with good friends.

  7. Annie, It was so fun to see you and Pam, even if I did have to tax my brain not to call you Annie!

    I made it to the Granger and Abell garden, and the picked up a friend for the Fatal Flower, which I loved. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to Stone Palms, but your pictures and description make me feel as if I was.

    Cheryl of the Galloping Gardeners also has a stock pond sunk in the ground like the Fatal Flower one.

  8. Thanks so much for the virtual tour and links to other bloggers' tours, too!

  9. Annie, it sounds like you and Pam had a wonderful time. If we have any garden tours around here I never hear anything about them. I'm glad you had so much fun.

  10. Wow, Annie! What lovely photos - clearly taken by a gardener. Isn't it fun to see how other people create? Your focus is clearly on the intimate corners and serene views - revealing your own personal gardening preferences.
    Thanks for taking me along on the virtual garden tour.

  11. It sounds like a lovely way to spend a beautiful fall day, Annie! Thanks for sharing your views of the gardens. Maybe next year I can make a trip over to Austin for the weekend and see them for myself!

    The large-leafed plant is Ligularia, as you thought. I haven't planted any here at Wit's End but that picture has me thinking about doing so.

  12. Hi Lancashire Jenny - it seemed more likely that we'd all end up in one place instead of missing each other, didn't it? I'm enjoying all the other posts, including yours.
    Wow - you're braver than I am...now wish I'd peeked inside.

    I'm a pokey blogger, Lisa at Greenbow - that's one reason I joined Twitter, in case there was something that needed to be said immediately. Isn't it fun to find out what different things each blogger was attracted to?

    So you began where we ended, MSS from Zanthan - pretty funny. I liked both Stone Palms and Fatal Flowers so much and was glad we had conversations with the owners of both gardens.

    Hi Tina - the wire boxes as retaining walls have appeared all over Austin but never done this artistically!

    I'm sorry you missed the Open Day, Michael Ziegler -it's been marked on my calendar for many months, since it doesn't happen every year. I check the Statesman gardening calendars and the Central Texas Gardener/KLRU website for cool garden events.

    I don't have the resources to copy much either, Prairie Rose- but love seeing the gardens as special places.

    That first garden was actually on a not huge, in-town lot, with ingenious use of all the space. But when two artists live in that space it's electric! Several of the unphotographed stops were quite expansive.

    It's fun to run into you Vertie and my overfilled brain never even thought of any other name but Vertie. I've been Annie so long it works just fine ;-]
    Whatever vitamins you take must be good ones - what a whirl of volunteering, touring, partying and gardening you had over the weekend.
    Hi to Cheryl, too - and now I know how to spell it.

    You're welcome Iris - reading all the posts was fun - and links let everyone share in the fun.

    We did have a wonderful time, Jamie and Randy - I try to go on as many garden tours as possible...made the Pond Tour but missed this year's Master Gardener Tour. We in Austin are pretty lucky when it comes to events showcasing local gardens.

    Hi WeepingSore - thank you very much. Maybe that emphasis results from living on a small lot and being nearsighted!

    It takes a Texan to call it a beautiful fall day when the temperature is around 90°F, Cindy from Katy! Maybe you should try the Pond Tour which is held in mid-July?

    Thanks for the verification on that Ligularia - I think it was at the David~Peese Garden, too - even more reason to invite it to Wit's End!

    Thanks for commenting and touring with me -


  13. Annie, your interpretation of the gardens makes them much more interesting. I especially liked your pic of the behind-the-scenes potting area, complete with clothesline. It makes it seem like real people live in those places. I'm wondering if the chain-link fence at the one place might be considered essential--to keep out neighborhood dogs, kids, hungry wildlife, etc. It might be ugly, but it's open enough to let the light in. A high stone or wooden fence just wouldn't do in that case.

  14. Annie - I clearly didn't tax my brain when I introduced you, that's just how I think of you! It was so nice to get to visit with you and Pam. I loved the two small gardens the best as well, and wish I could have seen more.

  15. Annie,

    You and Pam had a full day and it sounds like everyone had a wonderful time. Garden tours are often inspiring, but more often just plan enjoyable, a real treat for the senses. I would love to see the David-Peese Garden again....maybe another time.


  16. I'm enjoying all the posts about the garden tour, too. It sounds like a fun day and if you see one or two ideas that you can incorporate into your own garden, it's well worth it! Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  17. That is a crazy amount of garden to visit. I love garden tours. They are a great way to get inspired. Why were there some places that wouldn't let you take photos?
    What were they afraid of? I''m glad that you had a good time and got to see lots of gardening friends also.

  18. Very enticing! Some of the aloe and agave specimens are intensely groovy.

    The wire box of rocks is real popular out here, too. We have many variations.

  19. Hi Annie, what a wonderful day you had. Pam, what a woman, to be able to leave the moving boxes to go on the tour, and lead the charge too! Wish I was along as well. The stone palms looks so well thought out, but really every garden is lovely. Do you think the no pix places might be concerned about security along with designer secrets? Photos snapped of accessibility into the house maybe? Just a thought.

  20. Oh, and I forgot to mention, after you left, I found out that the chainlink fence behind the Modern House belongs to Casis Elementary. I don't know if the owners had the choice of replacing it. They did add a gate so that their younger daughter could play on some of the equipment just behind the house.

    (Oh, and I don't know about my vitamins. I did have to take a nap Sunday and Monday afternoon to catch up!)

  21. Dear Annie,

    Thanks for filling me in so well on the gardens I missed. So, I'm counting two ping-pong tables, one at Modern, one at "the Italian villa." My dream garden would definitely include ping pong table!

  22. It never fails to amaze me how professionally one can enjoy his/her hobby, the way you are doing it in Austin.
    All the gardens are so different with a unique personality of their own. Nature is a master craftsman, but the gardeners of Austin sure know how to polish these floral gifts of God.

  23. Sigh. What I wouldn't give to go on a garden tour of Austin, though I think after three gardens in one day my head would 'plode' with floral/foliar overload. Now that I have a passport, though....
    Glad you and Pam had so much fun, Annie, and shared your adventures with us.

  24. You two should get the award for being the most perservering (sp?) There's no way I could have made it to all seven. I get tired after three or four. Five is my max. Thanks for bringing us the small details which make up the whole.~~Dee

  25. Hi Walk2Write. I really took the pictures for myself - wasn't sure if I'd even make a post. I hoped this could inspire me to fix up my potting area ;-]
    Vertie's comment above explains the fence.

    "Annie" is fine with me,Diana- we who use pen names deserve the resultant confusion.
    It was fun to see all the gardens - maybe next time you will, too!

    Hello Gail - some of the fun is watching another visitor's reaction to some element you've experienced a few minutes earlier...sharing the experience!
    I hope you have many gardens to tour in your future, and that some of them are in Austin.

    There weren't too many affordable ideas on this tour, MayDreams Carol! I did point out those wooden gates at Fatal Flowers to Philo ;-]

    We were able to spend a good amount of time at each one, Chigiy - much more leisurely than seeing 30 gardens in 2 days on the Austin Pond Tours each July!

    Pam was crooning over some of those Agaves, Chuck!
    Most of the wire boxes of rocks that I'd seen before were very industrial/commercial looking, used for stream banks and along new roads for erosion control. The David/Peese version brought it into the garden.

    Pam's family wanted her to have the day off, Frances - that was so cool of them!
    When Philo & I were talking about the no-photo thing the issue of security seemed a possibility to us, too. I don't take that many photos so it was no big deal for me.

    Thanks, Vertie - maybe keeping it see-through is necessary for the children's safety, so the perimeters are visible. Guess in that case I'd want some kind of vegetable towers or beans on obelisks in those squares to carry the eye up.
    Hey - too much fun is better than being bored!

    Julie, I think there was one more ping-pong table but can't remember where... Pam said it was theme - and she has one so of course is on the leading edge of garden fashion!
    Repeated plant themes included agaves, bamboo, that Chinese yew and Mistflower/Agaratina.

    Hi GreenThumb - there does seem to be real garden electricity here - with some people making gardens on their own and other people hiring designers.
    Maybe once someone compels this soil and climate to produce a beautiful space, they feel so triumphant that they have to pass the feeling on to others.

    You'll have to practice up before you use the passport to come see us, Jodi - we don't want to see any 'sploding' heads;-]
    And Dee of Red Dirt says the same thing?
    I've been going on house/garden/architecture tours here for nearly 9 years and think the smallest one had 5 or 6 stops.
    A factor that helped was that these locations were relatively close compared to the Pond Tour, which is part garden tour and part road rally.

    Thanks for all the comments!


  26. I love cozy little outdoor rooms. I have many such seating areas in my gardens. You follow the red-bricked paths and they wind around special little areas I've created to sit and enjoy your surroundings. Thank you for showing us all this!

  27. Hi Annie, it was so neat meeting you and Pam at the Modern garden on Saturday. Vertie sent me your link. (Thanks Vertie!) It was very cool meeting the original "Diva of the Dirt"! :o) The Galloping Gardeners are forever indebted to you!


  28. Annie, these gardens are soooo elaborate! I can see you had a grand time, absorbing the atmospheres to the max.

    You're in the midst of very hospitable gardeners - and friends.


  29. I'd like to see that Stone Palms garden for real as it looks suspiciously enchanted. ;-)

    That chainlink fence in Modern: Inside and Out really has to go as it detracts from an otherwise very lovely kitchen garden.

    A pity you weren't allowed to take pics in every garden as a picture can often say so much more than a mere 10,000 words.

    It's great that you were able to meet up with so many fellow gardeners and gardenbloggers even. And it's clear that you all had a wonderful time.

  30. Oh, Annie, those photos are so wonderful, I could just step right into them. I loved seeing the lily pond. My mother had two lily ponds in our garden, and there were carp living in them. We would dangle live bugs or worms over the water, and the carp would jump out and grab them from our hands. I miss those lily ponds.

    You do indeed live in a lovely part of the world. Our growing season is so short!

  31. Annie, you do a very fine job of painting pictures with words yourself... but it IS a little vexing to hear about these lovely gardens and not get to see pics of them! I understand that people want to keep some privacy, but... darn. :)

  32. Well, I thought I'd commented here already, but I see I haven't. I just wanted to tell you again what a wonderful day I had in your company, just looking at gardens, talking about whatever popped into our heads, and relaxing over that delicious Mexican food lunch (thank you!).

  33. It looks like an amazing tour. There are certainly a lot of gardeners in the Austin area. Kind of like Buffalo!

  34. I finally made it by to take a look - what an interesting day! I need to look more carefully at a few things here. (I love that small pool too).


A comment from you is like chocolate - maybe I could live without it, but life is more fun with it. I'll try to answer. If someone else's comment piques your interest, please feel free to talk among yourselves.