Saturday: Other Gardens

Fitting in even a few diversions on this Austin trip was challenging. So, I chose to skip the Saturday Blogger’s Fling tour and missed 1/3 of it, in hopes others captured it.

Austin’s balmy May weather returned, and I was off to go my own way.

First, East Austin where I was staying, as I rounded up some good coffee before breakfast and my main gardens for that day.

Make sure to click each photo, to sharpen and enlarge it.


My first trip to Austin was in 2004, and I was enthralled with Big Red Sun’s original nursery while starting to plan my own. I wrote a business plan for it and also the horticulture business to fuel it.

But no dice, as things happened.

Years ago, I walked in when they had a small plant sales area outside and designers inside. I had a good conversation with a colleague.

Always agaves on everything in the ATX…


A coincidence this resembles Big Red Sun? I think not.


Those modest houses are getting thought and care, down to hardscape and house color. That’s often ignored or the need mocked in the desert southwest. (scratching my head)

A horticultural culture and people turned onto their place, or not so much?


Off to ponder such things, fully equipped, as I plot how I’d get back to evening Fling activities. Shoulda’ gotten just one.



Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum was a peaceful diversion on a trip years ago, somewhere between mountain biking up the trail along Barton Creek, croissants, swimming in Barton Springs Pool, and a friend taking me to a great art museum downtown.

While my test rides and the above didn’t move me to Austin, Umlauf seemed it would be good again.



Now, the drive out of Austin’s Cinco de Mayo traffic, into serenity, and a large-scale series of garden spaces at a private home. West towards Fitzhugh Road and the edges of exurban Dripping Springs.

Charles of CIEL met me 40 minutes of driving later. 2/3 of that setting the stage of what was to come.

After a series of driveway gates along a pleasant, unassuming drive on gravel far into the property, we parked.

Oddly after just visiting Umlauf, there’s much sculpture in areas of the owners’ property. All handmade: some flora, others fauna yet frozen in time.


“Treat everyone the same.”


CL likes how this piece, carefully set into the limestone slab, is on a slight downward tilt. I can see that now.


After the owners’ daughter met us, CL walked us into the courtyard, designed so the owners would have one place where the space and planting character would remain static all year.

That’s an excellent idea in Austin’s bipolar climate or most anywhere not tropical, even in the mellower deserts of southern and central New Mexico.

One of the CIEL crew was carefully maintaining the waves of different plant forms and textures. The different viewing angles were great!


“Think long, think wrong.”


Brahea armata, a native Echeveria spp., Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’, Yucca linearifolia (?), and Maleophora crocea, all used to great advantage.


There are various ways to frame views and to capture light; oculus, doorway, and window. Here using stone. These activate what would otherwise be a dark, lifeless space.


I can’t tell where the owners, the garden spaces, and the architecture begin or end.

Outside the courtyard there’s much more, in the live oak savannah of an ecoregion called “Southern Prairie Parkland”. More accurately, this is the upland part of it often called the Texas Hill Country; to me the more humid part of the sprawling Edwards Plateau.

Quercus fusiformis and a slope of Nolina texana


I always enjoy the occasional column or obelisk with other elements.


CIEL and the owners clearly see the importance of  their ecoregion and their discrete spot on Barton Creek’s rim.


“A place to sit, and something great to look at.” – many before me.

That something here is the small valley along Barton Creek, which feeds the places I mentioned earlier in this post.



Heading back to the pool, and then my car to the city…


Charles’ use of raised, tilted rock planting highlights is new to me, and much different and more skillful than something smaller-scale using brick or mortared rock in El Paso. More to ponder.




Looking back up to the house, slabs anchor the cut stone wall and become steps. Serenoa repens from the coastal southeast thrives under the live oak, intermingled with other understory plants.



Now, it’s different types of cut stone – Leuders limestone – with ledge stone and trailing jasmine. The angles are so well-carried out.


A garden wall splits adjacent spaces, and more contrast of well-shaped shrubs and wilder plant forms all around.


Thanks to owners Bill and Mary for sharing their amazing property with me that day, not to mention the occasional water breaks. And to CL for showing me his ongoing work.

He answered my parting question that he doesn’t get burned out.

I even made it back to my place to clean up, then join my old and new garden nerd friends in downtown Austin, on-time for the night’s events.


Ponder this quote for this post. I use it for some business email signatures, from a famous aviator, author, and student of architecture and engineering:

”A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Do we reach perfection, ever? No. But do we reach for it, anyway?


Friday: Garden Bloggers Fling ’18

Forgetting the token umbrella in my car, safe inside the parking garage, the 90 percent rain chance was destiny! But that’s okay.

On to the first day of the garden tour.


The Wildflower Center is where the weather hit the proverbial fan. So many spots there are magical, especially with their sub-humid climate version of juniper savannah, adding in oaks and completed with a heavier atmosphere.


Spikes of native Yucca treculeana, prairie wildflowers such as Echinacea purpurea and Coreopsis spp., and ponchos for the ensuing rain.


Wedelia texana, as the lightning and thunder suddenly began to crash.



Diana’s Garden was very comfortable to enjoy inside her living room, and so gracious. A nice break from the kind of decor I’m around. Though you can’t hold me back from going outside… Her rustic pool pavilion was so appealing, implying Robert Earl Keen playing Gringo Honeymoon as I swim off a BBQ dinner. But my photo looked more like a water-induced blur. So, use your imagination on that area.


Looks like one of my favorite palms, Butia capitata / Jelly Palm.



I skipped photos at The Natural Gardener, instead struggling to be comfortable post-cold front wearing shorts and forgetting my long sleeve tees (a packing faux-pas). Over lunch we enjoyed another of John Dromgoole’s inspirational talks, as I have before in other venues.

So laid back and matter-of-fact, he spoke of how things can and did happen, but in a different place and time than I know.


Rock Rose was more floriferous than ever, and the rain slowed to light but persistent showers.  It hit me that owners Jenny and David might be as Loree as Loree is, at least in some of their multiple spaces with so many potted plants and details pulled together in unity!


Agave and succulents in the rocky ground or in hanging planters…


This planter box and bench provide yet another location to pause in all their garden spaces – I forget Jenny’s name for it.


Here I almost feel like I’m in sub-tropical Asia with variegated Pittosporum and a Trachycarpus palm.


And now I’m somewhere in Mexico, drying out in my mind!


Everyone peering at Jenny’s find – an emerging insect!


On my previous trip to Rock Rose in 2011, I took numerous photos and even did a post or two of it on my former blog, so I didn’t feel too pressured to capture more this visit. I could have taught a college semester course on Rock Rose, alone. I’ll need to re-visit those photos, and possibly post on this blog.


The Mirador Residence was our bus’ last stop on the Friday tour. The rain lightened to a Seattle-type dripping, which allowed more pics. Like each garden seen that day, it was of a different style


Ordinary (in Austin) cor-ten and spiky plants here were given an extraordinary treatment. Higher Yucca rostrata low and lower Hesperaloe funifera high.



Beargrass or Sacahuista / Nolina texana – the real Nolina texana – softening the oxidized edges.


Plant massing and plant punctuation are used well, whether Yucca and Agave, or Taxodium / Bald Cypress and Muhlenbergia capillaris / Gulf Muhly grasses.


Green on green. Cream on cream.


The contrast of wilder plant forms with manicured, clipped Boxwood always gives me enjoyment.  I’ll let you ponder why it works. Hint: search garden design principles, and you’ll see and probably come up with even more principles.

This is the kind of garden that blows out the repressive perceptions of “native plants aren’t tough to the urban environment like invasives”, “there are no lines in nature”, “I don’t like lists”, “nature doesn’t fit into neat categories”, “formality is so passe”, “you need more flowers”, “I don’t like roses, hedges and lawn”, “oh, you’re into ‘design’ “, or the other silliness.

I’ve actually heard that and more from the untrained or unpracticed. We do better.

Having met this garden’s landscape architect, and now the owner, this landscape is one rare, harmonious connection between both parties and to the land.


Details, details. Forget the devil, there’s greatness in the details!


Comfortable, minimal, yet warm and peaceful.


Yes, more rain spots on my camera lens prove I could improve my wet weather photog skill set. Then in moments, the chairs and patio filled in with tour bus companions, so no more pictures for me in that magic spot.


There’s so much movement and energy in this scene, even under the parting weather front’s moisture blanket.


Now, imagine this under my desert southwest conditions. Flowers optional, form required for success.

This does that well in Austin, so probably as well where I live, given our .75″ of rain since October. There are only the occasional flowers in my nearby wild areas.


Almost dried out and feeling more normal, we arrived at the conference hotel downtown, where I quickly found the way to my car.

It was time to visit a colleague working late that Friday with a few coworkers at her office (no surprise), a drink and freshen-up at my lodging while reviewing photos, and then a long-time friend over tapas and [dry] red wine.


** Disclaimer: differing quantities of photos of each garden are mostly a case of weather and comfort. In no way does that represent more or less favor. As a designer who appreciates most styles, each garden had numerous merits! **

Thursday: Pre-Garden Bloggers Fling ’18

On Wednesday I did the 10 hour drive from Las Cruces to Austin, plus my usual scenic diversions. For months, I knew the importance of arriving a day early for the Garden Blogger’s Fling.


12 miles west of Harper, the sky and this oak savannah and woodland vegetation it nourishes tell much, and it ain’t “semi-arid.” Yet my skin took a couple days for it to soak in!


The plan to kick off my first ATX trip in 3 years: great BBQ for dinner, then a favorite Wednesday night pastime of live music at the Continental Club. The first show starting at 10 pm and the last at midnight.

By 10 I was relaxing back at my home for the next several days; make that Shannon’s home. I caught up on design emails and looking at trip pics. As I got ready for bed, it hit me I was supposed to be taking in one of Austin’s institutions, Jon Dee Graham. And a Shiner Bock or two surrounded by college kids making memories or people my age reliving theirs’. Then the wicked songwriting wit of James McMurtry, and the band’s tireless playing.



Since I would miss all but the last song or two of the first show if I dressed up again and zipped back to South Congress, it wouldn’t be right. One must see both shows, the first opening with his iconic “Tamale House Number 1.”

Sleep was just too tempting. Next time, Austin, “I promise.”


After breakfast tacos at Valentina’s per multiple recommendations, I was off to see a garden with its landscape architect and owner of Ciel, C. L. Williams. “You will arrive at your destination in 37 minutes,” said my phone’s navigator in his English accent.

More driving to Ciel’s Villa del Lago, a hillside home with an outdoor pavilion and grounds that double as an event space.


As a designer, people assume I’m only into one style (naturalistic), while I appreciate good design of many styles.

This is a purposeful garden that requires a bond between an in-the-field LA and their crew of implementers. To simplify, it’s detail in rock work, classical training, integrated maintenance, and a keen eye.



This surprise to me was the small pond encircled by pollarded Platanus mexicana, so leafy, with a few views into it very much purposed. Much purposing and pollarding here!



And the spacious pavilion, towards it and away from it.


This view is only so by Ciel’s planting of Quercus fusiformis x virginiana to hide the boat docks on the lake, below. Shaped, of course.



Screening using Podocarpus gracilor from below…


…and what’s being screened, which would otherwise be visible from the important space below.



Classical design details I learned as a new LA student at OU, a whole 19 years old.

A fellow UGA alum to C.L., I’m picturing Tara Dillard walking with us and echoing all we’re discussing.

And careful spatial definition with the architecture and even mimicking the rounded Juniperus ashei on the hills.



3 varieties of white-flowering roses here, from miniature to large.



More whimsical rock work, sandwiched between natural bedrock strata and stacked rock work. All native limestone to my eyes. Even better with each gaze at my photos.



Back to the entry motor court, with Ciel’s drain grate-cooling fountain combo. Paved in tumbled concrete pavers. Usual used well = excellence.



More manicured shrubs that reflect nearby, juniper-clothed hillsides. This time, Eleagnus pungens, which thrives in my area with drip irrigation. And tough native Ilex vomitoria, and so on.



Then a late lunch of more brisket than even an 18 year old male should consume, plus a good Real Axis IPA, and back to freshen up for the Garden Bloggers Fling kick-off event.



Following a long walk through bustling Austin as too much brisket and humidity weighed me down, our huge group made it to the buffet and meet/greet at Austin’s new central library.

I ate like a rabbit, mostly the salad. Then hearing, “hey Dave, what’s that plant over there?” Which I usually like, even that night.

It was enjoyable getting to know some new people, as well as re-connecting with others from the past or who we only knew online until now. As I like to say, “I needed that!”


Sometimes I was stumped, such as the rooftop Dasylirion with larger leaves and less prominent leaf margin spines than I know. Texting a colleague revealed it was D. wheeleri, though she didn’t design that space.

Which gave us an excuse to meet the following evening.


Some views of booming Austin. Just remember, boom – bust – boom….. Nowhere is immune, even if it takes a while. Even with such a vibrant economy as much of Texas has.

My guess is Austin is as vibrant of a place to a visitor as it is to those who long-ago made it there. Their growing skyline is far more filled in now than my last visit in the summer of 2015.

Don’t forget the heavy sky that so-often sustains what one blogger said, “1 foot in the south or southeast and 1 foot in the southwest.”



Returning home for the night, these signs taunted my paying $24 flat rate to park at nearby garages. The $10 flat rate with a card was not to be with my time window.



Stay tuned for the next day, the first of three day-long Fling garden tours. Oh yeah!