Hill Country style and a downtown view in the garden of Ruthie Burrus


I see a lot of gardens on public tours, which I enjoy tremendously. But being invited for a private tour of a new-to-me garden is a special treat, especially if the garden happens to belong to an avid gardener making the most of a beautiful, hilltop site overlooking downtown Austin. Such is the garden of Ruthie Burrus, a reader of Digging who recently dangled a fall garden visit in front of my nose, which I snapped up like a trout.


Ruthie’s home sits at the top of a long, sloping driveway, and you approach through a rustic, Hill Country-style garden. Large limestone stepping stones lead past a deep foundation bed filled with salvia and roses and accented by powder-blue ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agaves (A. ovatifolia).


A large trough filled with water sits at the curve of the path, aligned with the front door.


Water dribbles down one corner of the trough onto a holey piece of limestone, making a hollow trickling sound, and then disappears into an underground basin to be recirculated. Maidenhair and other ferns grow at the base of the trough, enjoying the moist environment.


The view across the entry garden. Pink roses add romance to the front walk.


A pair of ‘Little Ollie’ dwarf olives planted in — what else? — olive jars dresses up the front porch.


The entry garden is partially enclosed by a wing made to look like a Fredericksburg-style Sunday house. I didn’t know what a Sunday house was, so Ruthie explained that the German farmers who settled the Hill Country built small houses in town, which they stayed in when they came to town to attend church.


Stepping through the house and out onto the back porch, the skyline of Austin seems almost close enough to touch. Framed by live oaks and a lawn that leads to the edge of steep drop-off, the view is stunning — and what most people notice instead of the garden, Ruthie told me. It would be hard for any garden to compete with that view…


…and wisely Ruthie keeps the garden clean and simple here. A sleek swimming pool accessed by geometric pavers of Lueders limestone lets the view take center stage.


But off to the side, Ruthie cuts loose with a naturalistic, fall-blooming garden of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), and Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Concrete orbs with scooped-out seats make a charming contrast to the squares and rectangles of the paving and pool.


Ruthie likes snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis), which blooms purple in spring, as a groundcover amid the salvias and asters.


The long view across the pool reveals string lights, which I believe Ruthie told me were temporary for a party they were preparing for.


The view back toward the house — such an inviting space.


The modern arrangement of the limestone paving is interesting. The pavers at right seem to float off from the main patio.


The covered porch with a fireplace offers a cozy spot for a chilly day, although it was the opposite of chilly on the day I visited.


A second, open-sided porch offers an outdoor dining spot. Notice the rain chains coming off the corners of the roof?


They channel rainwater into underground pipes that feed two large cisterns on the property. Runoff is collected from various points along the roof of the house, allowing for a lot of rainwater storage.


Beautiful dining table and succulent planter


From the dining porch my favorite feature of the garden comes into view: Ruthie’s gardening haus.


Ruthie told me that it’s constructed from stones collected on the property during the house’s construction. She searched high and low to find the weathered metal roofing.


A ‘Peggy Martin’ rose, also known as the Katrina rose (please click to read its moving story if you don’t know it), arches over the doors. Lavender and santolina fill raised stone beds the line the walk.


The arched doors inspired the whole thing, Ruthie told me. She found the weathered blue doors in a local French antique shop and had the shed constructed around them.


It’s an utterly charming garden shed from every angle. Behind it sits the smaller of the two cisterns.


Looking back you see the dining porch and, at right, a pizza oven.


White ‘Ducher’ roses must glow during evening cookouts.


In front, planted in a large iron cauldron, is a Mr. Ripple agave surrounded by purple-blooming ice plant, a lovely combo.


A wooly opuntia in a textural container on a low wall just begs to be stroked. Did I? Yes, I did.


Ruthie has a flair for creating interesting containers.


Walking back around to the driveway you see the bigger cistern, which holds 10,000 gallons. A pump allows Ruthie to irrigate with it for as long as the water lasts.


Just over its shoulder is a sliver of a view of Lake Austin.


More salvias line the driveway, and an island bed’s dry soil is filled with agaves, giant hesperaloe, blackfoot daisy, Mexican feathergrass, and artemisia on one side…


…and with blue mistflower and what looks like ‘Green Goblet’ agave on the other.


Mexican bush sage was in full flower.


Native rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) was blooming too.


In a shady area I noticed this unusual combo: a red billbergia and grassy Texas nolina (Nolina texana).


As I made my way down the driveway and through the gate I had to take a parting photo of Ruthie’s colorful streetside garden, filled with lantana, native daisies, agave, and even cholla. It’s a wonderful welcome that tells any visitor that a Texas gardener lives here.

Thank you, Ruthie, for sharing your beautiful garden with me!

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Sylvan silver: Paul Sorey tree sculpture shines in downtown Austin


One day a silver tree sprouted on a street corner in downtown Austin where nothing had grown for a year but piles of construction debris from the new Cirrus Logic building at West Avenue and W. 6th Street. I’d crawl past with one eye glued to the tree, craning my neck to see it, risking impatient horn honking from those behind me. Last week I finally managed to snap a couple of photos while hanging my head out the window at a stoplight.


When I Googled it I was surprised and delighted to see that it’s by Paul Sorey, the Washington artist who created Salmon Waves, a dynamic sculpture I admired at Seattle’s Ballard Locks a few years ago.

The 25-foot, stainless-steel tree is titled Fractal Tree, and it’s a “mathematically generated fractal: each part of the tree is an identical copy of the other parts, scaled and rotated in space,” according to the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places Program (click for construction details). It was commissioned by Cirrus Logic as a gift to the City of Austin. How cool is that?

I’ve spoken about the tree to a few people who work in the area and was surprised to hear they’d never noticed it. It makes you wonder how much we all miss as we go about our busy days.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Melody’s romantic garden of passalong plants in San Antonio


Last year Shirley of Rock-Oak-Deer blogged about the garden of her neighbor Melody. I had met Melody at talks I gave in San Antonio and Brenham, so I read about her garden with particular interest. And I was thrilled when Shirley and Melody arranged for me and a small group of friends to make a fall visit.


Melody and a welcome party consisting of her adult daughter and several friends greeted us as we drove up to her north San Antonio home. Ushering us inside she treated us to a spread of tasty muffins, ginger cookies, and fruit-flavored vinegars you mix with water. Happily munching we enjoyed a window-wall view of her beautiful swimming pool and garden.


Melody then gave us a tour of her garden, which was like an introduction to her friends and family who’d passed along many of her plants over the years. Isn’t that one of the joys of gardening, how plants given to us by friends have a special place in our hearts?


Planted under live oaks, with patches of sunlight that support a number of roses and flowering perennials, Melody’s garden feels much more rural than it really is. It’s actually in a suburban neighborhood, but her large lot and surrounding belts of trees, and even a barn that used to house her daughter’s horse, create a country-garden vibe.


A pair of rustic cedar arbors reinforces the illusion. Melody told us that she modeled the design on cedar arbors at the San Antonio location of Antique Rose Emporium, now closed. They reminded me of how much I miss that nursery and its gorgeous display gardens.


Decomposed-granite paths lead under the arbors into a large shade garden. Blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) climbs one of the arbors.


Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil, my fellow roadtripper, adorned her hat with one of the blossoms.


A woodsy cedar bench and table in the shade garden is a perfect match for the cedar arbors. But what really caught my eye was a log planter.


Melody was growing a delicate fern in a hollow space in the log — so cool! She told me the name of the fern — not one I was familiar with — and then I promptly forgot. Update: It’s artillery fern (Pilea microphylla), a tropical, fern-like plant. Thanks for the ID, Ragna.


A lovely limestone barn now functions as a neat-as-a-pin, glowing toolshed.


Pumpkins on the wood-framed windowsill, overhung with vines — just another part of the romance of Melody’s vine-draped garden.


Speaking of vines, an entire fence was abloom with the beautiful pink flowers of coral vine, also known as queen’s wreath (Antigonon leptopus).


This Mexican native blooms in the fall with spring-like color before going dormant for winter.


It was the perfect backdrop for our hostess and queen of the garden. Thank you, Melody, for sharing your lovely garden with us! For more and better pictures of Melody’s garden, see Shirley’s two posts about it: a 2013 visit and a 2014 visit.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my San Antonio garden visits. For a look back at my tour of Heather’s xeric-style garden, click here. And for Shirley’s deer-resistant gravel garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.