Leaf peeping and Living a Great Story at Lady Bird Lake


After sightseeing and shopping on vibrant South Congress Avenue on Sunday, yesterday my dad and stepmother joined me for a post-lunch, 3-mile walk around Lady Bird Lake. Rusty orange bald cypress, golden cedar elm, and fiery red crepe myrtles have set the shore ablaze. This is as good as it gets in Austin, folks, so if you can spare an hour or two, go! — don’t miss it.


Washed clean by a cold front that had slipped in overnight, the sky was a blue dome and the perfect backdrop to the hundreds of majestic bald cypresses lining the shore.


Barton Creek, where it flows into Lady Bird Lake, was looking a bit muddy — and very full — following the heavy rain on Saturday.


Turtles were sunbathing on fallen logs, as turtles do.


Native cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) is one of my favorite shade trees, partly for its beautiful and reliable fall color.


This year, right now, they are just spectacular.


Crepe myrtles, so ubiquitous in Austin that I almost don’t notice them in riotous bloom in the summer, are now on fire with red foliage, renewing my admiration.


Crossing the lake on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, we enjoyed views of the trees and new condos popping up like mushrooms north of the river. I realize I’ve called this body of water both a lake and a river, but that’s what it is and how Austinites talk about it. The Colorado River was dammed decades ago for flood control, and the resulting constant-level lake, which still looks like a river and has a current, was called Town Lake until 2007, when it was renamed in honor of Lady Bird Johnson. We use it as a point of reference — is something north or south of the river? — and longtime residents often still call it Town Lake. Lady Bird Lake (and nearby Barton Springs, which feeds into the lake) is the heart of Austin.


A flock of the state bird of Texas is visible downtown (the crane — haha). Graffiti artists have been busy on the railroad trestle.


Exiting the Pfluger Bridge via the spiral ramp, you see a native-plant garden designed by Christine Ten Eyck (click for a tour of Ten Eyck’s personal garden). I like how she expanded the concrete sidewalk with a circle of decomposed granite surrounded by limestone-block benches. On a smaller scale, this would be a great treatment for a residential front walk.


Heading back now on the north side of the lake…


…I spotted the historic Lamar Boulevard Bridge through the trees.


More beautiful leaves


Arbor-shaded views beckoned us to stop and just look.


To our right, a duck was preparing for a swim. That water’s got to be getting chilly!


In a berry-laden possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), a mockingbird — our true state bird — was feasting on them as if they were popcorn at the movies.


I hope all these healthy runners were appreciating the foliage and the views as much as we were on our leisurely stroll.


Native bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) lines the banks like cathedral columns.


Inspired by natural bald cypress allees, Austinite Tom Spencer planted a double line of bald cypress in his former garden. It was lovely.


Novice scullers were being coached on how to row. Look at that dog at the front of the coach’s boat — he appears very attentive, doesn’t he?


Other visitors were keeping the benches warm.


What a lovely spot for a chat.


Bald cypress and dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor). Though called dwarf, these native palmettos can still reach 10 feet tall. They are very slow growing, however.


Crossing the lake one last time under MoPac Expressway, I stopped to admire a gold, orange, and green tapestry — very 1970s, now I think about it.


Downtown buildings peek up behind the trees.


A swan and egret were enjoying this spot too.


Turning to face west, away from the city, I watched a paddleboarder work his way upstream. This is where I photographed slackliners balancing high above the water on another beautiful autumn day.


Days like this make you happy to be alive, living your own great story.

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

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 that 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.

Monarchs flutter into Dallas Arboretum on fall migration


We weren’t the only visitors to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden last Sunday. Aside from all the human visitors, hundreds of monarch butterflies arrived on the north wind blowing into Texas and settled into the garden for a rest stop.


I understand their fall migration is stalled out at the moment because southerly winds have returned. But not to worry: north winds will return soon and speed them on their way to Austin and on to Mexico.


After all that flying, they sure were hungry.


They flapped past in their eagerness to hit the snack bar of salvia, red yucca, and lantana. It warmed our hearts to see them, knowing their numbers are in decline, and having just watched a film about their life cycle, Flight of the Butterflies, at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.


I showed you the fall extravaganza of Pumpkin Village in my last post, but there’s much more to see at the Arboretum. Fall bedding annuals like these marigolds make a cheerful show, although they were not attracting the butterflies.


What else was showy? Blazing red gomphrena, for one.


Add variegated tapioca and you have a sunglasses-worthy combo.


Interesting water features appear throughout the gardens, like this negative-edge pool overlooking White Rock Lake in the Woman’s Garden.


And this tumbling stream in the Red Maple Rill garden.


How about supersized, water-spouting toads? The Arboretum has those too.


Kids are always drawn to these “frog fountains” and play in the spouting water in the summertime.


On this day it was comfortably cool — no toad spray needed.


This squirrel appreciated a drink of puddled water though.


Several charming sculptures hint at the presence of water, like the playful Chico y Chica de la Playa (Boy and Girl on the Beach).


The Playdays young woman tentatively dips her toes into an imaginary pool filled with frogs. White Rock Lake in the distance adds a real water view.


As always, lots of pro photographers were in the garden (too many, in my opinion), including at least a half-dozen doing photo shoots with girls in candy-colored, frothy, Scarlett O’Hara-worthy quinceanera dresses. Something about this girl posing in the Fern Dell put me in mind of a fairy tale, maybe Thumbelina?


Speaking of ferns, I spy a leafy frond through the stone lantern’s window.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Arboretum visit. For a look back at the light-hearted, colorful Pumpkin Village and autumn displays, click here.

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

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