Hippos, bottle art sculpture, and a free-spirited garden journey with Donna and Mike Fowler

Could the official mascot of Hutto, Texas, possibly be anything other than a hippo? The Hutto Hippos. Nope, it’s perfect.

Located 30 miles northeast of Austin, the formerly sleepy hamlet of Hutto is growing as quickly as a hippopotamus in a lake full of duckweed. But the town still has a friendly, everyone-knows-everyone vibe, and its most congenial hosts have to be former mayor and found-object sculptor Mike Fowler and his wife and chief gardener, Donna Fowler. They own a beautiful, hundred-year-old home on three large lots that they’ve turned into an art-filled garden. Last Tuesday, Mike and Donna welcomed a group of Austin bloggers, shown posing here with the Fowlers’ parade-worthy hippomobile.

The tour begins under the shade of a large catalpa tree, which provides the roof of a garden room where Mike reads the newspaper.

In its shade, an iron birdbath elevates blue-green sedum against a glossy-leaved star jasmine screen, heavily scented in springtime.

Peeking out from under the low-hanging fringe of catalpa leaves, you see a sunny, xeric border along a wooden fence, with striking plants like yucca, hesperaloe, allium, purple heart, and ornamental grasses.

One of Mike’s glass sculptures, a pregnant woman with arms outstretched and face tipped to the sky, welcomes visitors. She was built in honor of Mike’s niece when she was expecting twins.

A Texas-themed garden and patio for entertaining features a massing of red yucca and accents of limestone boulders.

“The stars at night are big and bright” — bump bump bump BUMP — deep in the heart of Texas!

Open gates invite you to explore ahead, but other doorways beckon as well, and we turned the other way…

…and entered the vegetable and tepee garden. A “garden club” of glass-bottle ladies stand in rows alongside a magnificent, Chihuly-esque bottle tree — all Mike’s creations.

A wide view

The smiling garden club ladies are actually hose guards made of rebar and salvaged bottles and dishes. Mike made them at Donna’s behest in order to keep her hose from tearing up her plants as she watered.

With hats tied with ribbon and beaded necklaces, they are dressed for a tea party.

A mockingbird was enjoying a colorful perch atop the bottle tree.

Their son Luke erected the tepee at the far end of the garden.

Trellis poles make mini-tepees to echo the real deal.

Mike’s “Fork in the Road” piece stands along a path to the tepee.

Donna asked if we wanted to be smudged and invited us into the tepee. We huddled in a circle around a central pit filled with candles, which she lit and used to singe a handful of fragrant herbs.

As smoke wafted up from the singed herbs, she waved them before each of us in turn, chanting a blessing for our eyes to be open to the beauty of the world, our hearts to be filled, and more. I was charmed.

Just outside the tepee, hollyhocks and cornflower were in bloom in a bed thickly mulched with decomposed granite.

Allium seedheads

Another of Mike’s glass sculptures

A former mayor and longtime public servant, Mike nurtures a streak of black political humor in his artwork, including in this piece titled “Blockhead and Council: Poor Decisions and Wasteful Spending.” The blockhead is devouring money while ants representing council members crawl through his body.

In the crown atop its head, a mockingbird built a nest last season.

Exiting the vegetable garden, you see another of Mike’s pieces, the punny “Fish Sticks” swimming through a bed of iris.

There’s a whole school of them.

A meditation garden anchored by an altar-like central bed is the next garden room you pass through.

Trellises shaped like gothic church windows edge a small lawn next to the “altar.”

A stacked-stone sculpture sits atop a river of sparkling, recycled glass, which actually conceals a French drain.

A white garden fronts the large studio/office structure behind the main house. Mike’s dad, a fine-art sculptor, created several pieces that now reside here, including the mother-and-child piece at left.

I enjoyed the shadows of the palms against the house.

It was fun to look up through palm branches too.

More of Mike’s humorous, glass-bottle art

In a hot, sunny border, Donna combined Mexican feathergrass and red salvia with charming but aggressive (like mint, she said) butter-and-eggs, also known as yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris).

I loved it with the yellow-hued feathergrass.

Around back of the house, on either side of the driveway, two hippos stand at attention, one painted like the U.S. flag…

…the other as the Texas flag.

The Fowlers have christened the narrow garden along the side of their house as Hippo Valley, and it is chock full of hippos. This is one of a trio peeking out of a bed of blanketflower.

Here’s another swimming through a pool of recycled glass. There were many more to be discovered among exuberant plantings.

A fence is given eye-level interest with grandfather’s pipe (Callisia fragrans) cuttings in old bottles wired to metal trellises.

Is this where Donna roots cuttings, I wonder?

Blue and green bottles are put into service as path edging.

White yarrow offers country charm against a wooden fence.

Another of Mike’s father’s sculptures

Looking back at the path winding through Hippo Valley, you see a large cistern that collects rainwater off the roof.

A turquoise assortment of bottles adorns another of Mike’s bottle sculptures.

And an empty fence corner is dressed up with sedums and other easy-care plants in a tiered arrangement of terracotta planters.

One more look at the hilarious hippomobile, whose right eye can be made to wink via a lever inside.

The backside — lifelike down to the brushy tail

Mike and Donna are generous and gracious hosts, sharing stories, blessings, and the beauty and humor of their garden with us. My thanks to both of them for a wonderful visit! If you’d like to see more of their garden, watch their recent interview on Central Texas Gardener.

And here’s our group enjoying the garden. From left to right: honorary blogger Tom Ellison (whose garden I recently toured), Ally of Garden Ally, Bob of Central Texas Gardening, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, me, Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil, and Cat of The Whimsical Gardener.

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

Screech owlet and blanketflower meadow

One of the screech owlets — we think there are two — boldly hangs out on his front stoop each afternoon, getting an eyeful of this great big world.

We keep a pair of binoculars on the kitchen table so we can watch him more closely whenever he appears. I shot these pictures through the French doors so as not to disturb him by walking out on the deck.

I wonder how much longer he’ll stay in the box?

Also spotted yesterday was this meadow of blanketflowers (Gaillardia pulchella), practically thrumming with color under the noonday sun.

Coming back from Round Rock, north of Austin, I’d stopped by Green ‘n Growing nursery to look for concrete pavers (didn’t find any) and was delighted to see they’d seeded a long strip of their property along the parking lot with native wildflowers.

I wonder if these have succeeded a swath of bluebonnets?

A few purple verbena were in there too, although overwhelmed by the blanketflower.

Some native monarda as well

The brought a smile to my face, and to yours too, I hope. Have a great weekend!

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

Gardens on Tour 2014: Tait Moring’s garden on Bee Caves Road

Here’s a garden I’ve shown you twice before, but I never get tired of touring it. Beautifully designed, inviting, with whimsical and personal vignettes, landscape architect Tait Moring‘s personal garden on Bee Caves Road has been previously featured on the Wildflower Center-sponsored Gardens on Tour. (So were all the gardens on tour this year, its 10th anniversary.) Tait kindly invited me and blogger friends to come early, before the crowds arrived. I was keen to see how it had changed since my previous visits in May 2011 and October 2012.

Is this gravel ‘gator new? I don’t know, but I enjoyed the surprise of seeing it “swimming” through the gravel path below the back deck. A goth-looking aeonium and feathery larkspur in pots add color to the vignette.

Tait used leftover stone, pavers, and bricks to build this patchwork path from the deck to the outdoor shower. The cedar screen around the shower has been taken down temporarily; I forget why. I like Tait’s clean-lined bench, which holds a few potted cactus.

Just past the shower, this fanciful iron gate leads to the driveway. Turning the other way, it leads to…

…a raised-bed vegetable garden built on the edge of the canyon that Tait’s home overlooks. Check out the gorgeous stonework on the central square.

Annuals like larkspur take up some of the space in the raised beds. The blue pot echoes the deep blue of the larkspur.


Out by the driveway I noticed this artistic stack of old roofing tiles, which Tait transformed into a cylindrical container and filled with glossy tumbled stones.

Tait uses potted succulents on porches and decks to great effect, including this little echeveria in a matching, blue-green pot atop a tile with a swirling design.

It sits on the steps of a clean-lined concrete porch at the front door. Petite boxwood hedges embrace the porch, softening its lines, and a limestone-capped, contemporary-style fountain and raised pond act as the focal point for the entry garden.

Fig ivy cloaks the fountain’s wall structure. Boxwood clipped into a “peaked-roof” hedge adds more structure.

Atop the outer fountain wall, this white pot, which held an aloe on a previous visit, now contains a ‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia. An arrangement of white seashells adds a collector’s touch.

I love this line of tall, bronze pots along a low retaining wall by the driveway. A few years ago they all contained giant hesperaloe. This time, three of the pots contain yellow Hesperaloe parviflora — the yellow version of the more commonly grown red yucca.

The pale yellow wands look fantastic against the gray-green of the painted brick. Waves of Mexican feathergrass echo the pale yellow blooms.

Directly across the driveway, large boulders and a limestone retaining wall help level a large, decomposed-granite parking area. The white pot in the background…

…leads you to a small circular lawn whose entrance is marked by a patchwork path and old wooden doors.

A glimpse of a sculpted figure set in a bamboo grove leads the eye.

From the lawn, a stepping-stone path curves through the bamboo screen, leading to busy Bee Caves Road just beyond the cedar fence that filters the light so beautifully.

The parking area, which supports Tait’s design business. Large pots on stone plinths accent the space.

Potted agave

The stock tank visible two photos above is seen here as the focal point through the gate leading to the back garden. A curved cedar branch arches over the gate. The limestone wall to the left is a work of art…

…made up of personal mementos from Tait’s childhood and more recent collections. More white pots in front hold drought-tolerant succulents.

A neatly edged, rectangular lawn opens up behind the house, leading to a swimming pool backed by a stone wall. A pair of ancient-looking stone columns on each side of the lawn are topped with potted agaves.

The wooded garden alongside the lawn is green with shade-loving plants and a couple of water features, like this slender birdbath.

The pool garden has tropical ambiance with lush foliage and bromeliads tucked into the limestone wall. The gleeful photobomber is my friend Cat.

Tait’s garden includes acres of woodland along the canyon’s rim and down into the valley below. Along mulched paths carved through the woods, he’s tucked small seating areas like this.

Flowering prickly pear cascades over a rock ledge.

A large gate that matches the fanciful iron gate in the vegetable garden stretches across the end of the driveway, separating his garden from his work storage area.

Gate detail

I had so much fun touring with blogging buddies. The Austin contingent: Diana (Sharing Nature’s Garden), Cat (The Whimsical Gardener), and Lori (The Gardener of Good and Evil).

And a San Antonio contingent! Shirley (Rock-Oak-Deer), her designer friend Linda (future blogger?), and Heather (Xericstyle). I’m so glad to see these fun San Antonio bloggers coming to Austin for garden tours.

Up next: I’ll be posting about one more garden on this year’s tour, the Stratford Lane garden. Stay tuned!

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