All-American blue and red in my garden


I threw a little soiree in honor of an out-of-town friend last week and got my garden all spruced up for the occasion. The last of the live oak leaves — or as close to last as I’m going to get — were finally banished, chairs and patios were scrubbed, plants were pruned, and pots were tidied. With flush spring growth, a shined up garden, and an overcast, lightly drizzling day, I took my camera out and made the rounds. As I did, I noticed anew how much I love a blue and red combo.


Typically I go for cobalt or royal blue, but more and more turquoise has been creeping into my garden. Witness my new door color, for example.


In fact it’s pretty ocean-hued on the upper patio thanks to a turquoise table, a greenish blue succulent dish, and a turquoise-striped rug.


More cobalt and red courtesy of a ‘Brakelights’ red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Brakelights’) in a blue pot, mulched with chunks of blue and turquoise slag glass.


‘Blue Boy’ Yucca desmetiana in a red pot


And a red Circle Pot from Potted with a royal-blue table in front. Moonshine-yellow motel chairs add a soft accent color. It’s not blooming yet, but cobalt-flowered Salvia guaranitica grows under the red hanging pot.


In case I forget where I live. That’s my new ‘Bubba’ desert willow in front. I’m excited to see its first blooms.


All shades of blue are welcome in the bottle-tree garden. Moby, my ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia), sets the tone with steel blue, but cobalt and turquoise pots and bottles add richer color to the scene.


A few red-leaved or -flowering plants under the bottle tree are putting on new growth: ‘Tropicanna’ canna, firecracker fern, red Salvia greggii.


Turquoise agave and pot — a painted pipe remnant, actually — and powder-blue leaves of ‘Bath’s Pink’ dianthus


A cobalt pot-style fountain and turquoise shed doors echo the color of the swimming pool.


A closer look. I like how the yellows of ‘Color Guard’ yucca and Mexican feathergrass and the forest-green of the clipped boxwood balls reduces blue to an accent color in this area, giving it a different feel.


A closer look at the semicircle of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas, backed by chartreuse bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa).


The ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate behind the arch is blooming, as are purple coneflowers and Jerusalem sage.


More purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). I love having these cheery butterfly attractors in the garden.


Ah, there’s my favorite red again. I’ve planted a cypress vine on my metal arch this year and am loving the delicate twining of the vine and those lipstick-red flowers against the ‘Sapphire Skies’ Yucca rostrata.


A closer look


Out front, green is more dominant, with pops of red from a tractor-rim planter and a red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). Toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) in the tall pipe and ‘Jaws’ agave in the rusty tractor rim keep the greens going, as does ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo leaning in from the left.


Green, green, green, starting with ‘Green Goblet’ agave, which will eventually reach 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. But notice I snuck in a few coral-red salvias behind it, whose minty scent will, I hope, deter deer from antlering the poor agave next winter.


A wider view shows more lush greens — and my neighbor’s red-white-and-blue in honor of Memorial Day. I hope my fellow American readers enjoy today’s holiday. And to my dear husband on our wedding anniversary, you make life colorful for me. Thanks for 24 wonderful years and counting!

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

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.

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