Garden Break on the Sultry Side

Either I forgot four summers living in Alabama as a kid, it’s worse in central Texas, or I’m spoiled living around the high desert for 23 years.

My camera fogged up once I stepped outside the “Imperial Mansion” that was lodging in east Austin. Their sultry air is intense, especially in the morning. So bad, Austinites like to invoke “Houston” in comparisons.

Photos from about 8/1/2015 –


A business park on the SW fringes of Austin:

not bad desert willows
not-bad-desert willows, so far from the desert
the client and designer had fun with this great design
not desert skies, but that green has a price

Plus, I get to go back to the desert when done with my visit; the 70-110 people every day who move to Austin don’t. They park on I-35 to and from work.

I get to park on I-10, spending 2 hours to run a couple errands 5 miles away, and 3000’+ closer to the sun’s surface. When I should just stay in my office, and use mail-order. Yipee ki yay, vaquero!


The Bevo Belo Center landscape at UT:

3 years, it’s even better…mesquite bosque filling in, plants not cupcakes

I was visiting the first year this landscape was installed, in late August for this interview. (I’m not even that mellow, the excellent host did it :-)

Buttonbush (had to look it up), reeds, and a water feature

Modern, yet soft. Do visit if you’re nearby. I might post more on what I saw that day…I feel better that even C. Ten Eyck / Co. deal with the same jive as mortals like this LA. Yet mostly good.

and 13 million years ago …
I often use both Yucca pallida and Anisacanthus quadrifidus, but together they’re even better

On to a truly world-class garden like some I know – design and thought meet realism and potential. With few exceptions, but that’s another post.

You’ll notice the murky skies cleared, as the front that sagged in the day before, died and vanished.


The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:

WFCtr-SummerDormant Parth
summer dormancy I’m used to…Woodbine turning in August not so much
WFCtr-Chairs Parth
even the furnishings are primo, and pair well in the setting

People living in Austin must be really tough: outdoor seating everywhere and most was being used. Not at the Wildflower Center, though.

To this LA, that beats the opposite attitude of agoraphobia – vacant dining patios unless a trendy spot, or if not between 78 and 82F, humidity and wind just so.

Evident were a number of outdoor misting systems in ATX, quite effective in the dry west but do little to nothing for their patios, but some places attempt them anyway.

mistflowers, mariposas
the hardscape and planting design are almost perfect
also good and simple…common used uncommonly…and real prairie
imagine working out here, but in a better climate?
or imagine a great climate with this, instead of horticultural hording
work that texture, work it! (said like Isaac Mizrahi)
this was good in the spring, better now

Combine a wet year-to-date where the average is already moist at 30″+ / year, I can see why plants look so happy here, the same more lean where I live. After dark, the afternoon’s fade of humidity returns, and a woodsy scent appears – the quality is like mesquite and oak, both common native genera in the area.

Like a distant BBQ, or maybe it is?

Blackfoot Daisy, but industrial – ni-iii-ce

When the Chihuahuan Desert gets our worst heat, it’s June. The spring winds go away, and there’s no smell. None. Like taking a fresh loaf of bread out of the oven, dry and clean but without the smell.

WFCtr-SummerDormant Flwrs
embracing dormancy is more graceful than fighting it
WFCtr-SummerDormant Nasella
grace, class…bones…soft / sharp

Never mind June, this year it’s August. While not obscenely hot, every place from ABQ south to El Paso had 100-ish all week, setting records, plus 50-60F+ dewpoints. I have a swamp cooler, so at 45 it starts working poorly and by 55 it barely does much. It’s not even last August, when I was gloating. Glad my office has real AC.

Anyway, Indio was 115F for a high and 93 for a low; Yuma was 110F and a 69 dewpoint…a 118 heat index. The low desert and Austin are our Houstons :-)

Have you been to a great garden where you live? Even in the “worst” time of the year?

I recommend it…that shows how solid a garden’s design is.


3 Replies to “Garden Break on the Sultry Side”

  1. So many ideas in those photos. Browsed your post early today on my way out and stopped by the nursery for Blackfoot Daisy on my way home. It’s going in the stock tank garden, along the rim. The Wooly Stemodia didn’t make it there.

    Yuccas are going in among the Aniscanthus this fall. Too much heat and drought took out everything else in that section of the garden. Except the Rosemary of course.

    Thanks for the inspiration as always.

    My pleasure, S. Fox. I’m not sure I’ve seen so many good planting design ideas as I see in your region, doing great things out of necessity…it could make a huge book…maybe it will, but the other 2 books first… The last drought took out some rosemary plants out this way, even native cacti and whole areas of sotol. Always learning!


  2. Great post…I always enjoy a few days in another climate it helps me get perspective on my own. Being from San Diego the humidity here in Houston is a huge difference. I have made peace with it for the most part. It is the mosquitoes that still bother me. I now have the advantage of being able to have a sauna and a walk at the same time : ) I do miss the desert climate with ocean breezes and dry heat but less and less over time. My own garden is suffering from this “flash drought” we are having and the 100+ temps. That is a term I heard at a talk given at the TNLA Expo last week.

    Thanks, was a fun tour, and I’m glad I didn’t reduce to 3-4 pics! That perspective is important…I notice SD has been hot and humid off and on this summer. Sauna and walking in one shot is a good use of time for the self-employed! Was that a good expo? (I couldn’t go – again)


  3. Today the temps were back to the 70s as a starting point and our afternoon highs are easing back down into the mid 90s, which is most definitely heading in the correct direction. We’ll take our soft mornings in Austin with pleasure, so long as the heat’s not already out to play.

    I’ll say this for Austin. People go outside, actively outside, biking, jogging, playing golf, tennis, doing crossfit in the parks, all year long. For the majority, so long as it stays below 95, the heat is something we simply accommodate. And yes, that humidity will get your camera lens coming out from the A/C every doggone time. On humid days, folks take a characteristic two steps out the door, stop, wipe the fog off their glasses, then continue exiting the building.

    Maybe that insistence on being outside all summer is what fuels at least some of the best landscaping gestures here. Austin doesn’t empty out in the heat, it drips and carries on. People are outside interacting and enjoying their surroundings no matter what the weather dishes out. There’s a reason to garden and landscape for year ’round enjoyment because there’s an audience to appreciate it (whether it makes sense to be outside or not!).

    I like that way, sort-of like how people in Seattle flood parks on any sunny day, and keep grilling in their winter dripping season…just use an umbrella. Part of why I keep on is to design outdoor living for where it’s so amazingly nice, but few think to eat and hang out in the garden. I was actually looked at as a freak by the majority I endured in the last town I lived in for that, even some ex-clients…sick…twisted! That makes sense on having a great garden and landscape, speaking of which…

    Glasses fogging up after two steps – wipe – continue walking…priceless.

    Yes, it’s heading the right direction here, too. I left the office at 7:30 to make dinner and blog over a beer, and it was not hot…83F, the humidity coiming in from some desert storm not just scenting us with creosote, but it cooled the air. 79F by 10 pm. Just 1 more month, and the monsoon is over…hopefully more rain, not just at the end.


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