Drive-By Gardens: Xeriscapes taking off at Mueller neighborhood


On New Year’s Day, we took a stroll through Mueller neighborhood, a New Urban community in east-central Austin. Built on the site of the old airport, where acres of runways and parking lots once sprawled, attractive homes and row houses in a mix of different styles (no cookie-cutter uniformity here) occupy tiny lots on walkable, tree-lined streets. The Lilliputian yards are offset by generous communal green spaces like the Southwest Greenway, and may be seen by many busy residents, like my in-laws, who’ve just moved in, as an asset.

A small garden must make the most of each square inch, and I was pleased to see that residents aren’t shying away from planting up the front yard. Many have embraced water-saving xeriscapes with a mix of native and adapted plants. Here are a few of my favorites, starting with this corner-lot contemporary. Wonderful steel planter boxes wrap around the L-shaped front porch. Nicely constructed at different heights, with a gap on the left to allow porch access, the boxes elevate plants to porch level and provide a sense of enclosure.


I love these foxtail ferns (Asparagus meyeri) but feel like something is missing along the front edge of the box. Or maybe they plant annual wildflowers there in warmer seasons?


On this side, silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) carpets the DG in shimmering foliage and cascades over the steel edge. It’s kept neatly trimmed at ground level. A hedge of softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia) has architectural presence.


Another contemporary home has a traditional-style foundation planting, but it’s composed of tough, drought-tolerant plants like grayleaf cotoneaster (Cotoneaster glaucophyllus), sotol (Dasylirion texanum), and rosemary. At the far end, near the door…


…hulks a many-armed spineless prickly pear in a stone planter — beautiful!


I found this brick house very handsome. Its landscaping has some nice plants, although I think the line of bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) along the foundation would be stronger without the insertion of the purple pennisetum, and the yews by the steps overpower the entry. I love that trunking yucca on the right, though.


Nearby, a minimalist side yard comes into view, with a row of clumping bamboo and a Texas sotol in dark-gray gravel. Very tidy.


In front, symmetrical ‘Color Guard’ yuccas in trough-style containers add a burst of yellow to the minimalist green and gray garden.


Before we left, we checked out the big spider sculpture at the Southwest Greenway. What do you think: creepy or fun? I say fun, but thank goodness they’re small in real life.

I really enjoyed seeing what people are doing with their front yards at Mueller, and I look forward to a return visit in the growing season. Does anyone have a particular street to recommend for its gardens?

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Evening photo shoot at The Huntington Gardens: GWA Pasadena


The Huntington gardens near Los Angeles have, for years, been on my wish list of botanical gardens to visit. So I was thrilled to see an afternoon visit and after-hours photoshoot offered on the itinerary of the Garden Writers Association symposium on September 20.

Unfortunately, it was surface-of-the-sun hot that day, 103 F (39.4 C). By my mid-afternoon arrival, I realized, to my dismay, that I was completely uninterested in touring the much-anticipated Huntington under the glare of an unforgiving Death Star. Chagrined, I hid out in the gift shop for an hour. Lest you think this a travesty, I assure you that the Huntington’s is the most incredible garden gift shop I’ve ever been in. How I wish I’d taken photos to show you. But I simply browsed in A/C-contented bliss.

As the sun dipped toward the horizon, however, I realized that I needed to suck it up and get out there. I mean, this was the Huntington! And so as the early-bird GWAers were straggling back, sweat-stained and flushed, to the gift shop and an after-hours bar (courtesy of the good folks at the Huntington), I finally ventured forth, prepared to melt for the beauty of the gardens.


And beautiful they are. As described by GWA, the Huntington was “[o]riginally the private estate of railroad magnate Henry Huntington (1850-1927), with a grand Beaux Arts mansion as its centerpiece….[T]he research and cultural institution houses world-class collections, including Gainsborough’s famous portrait of The Blue Boy, a Gutenberg Bible, and a 15th-century illuminated manuscript of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Surrounding the estate are 120 acres of breathtaking grounds that showcase more than 15,000 different kinds of plants in a dozen specialized gardens.”

I did not see any of the indoor masterpieces. The garden was my sole focus. As it closed to regular visitors at 4:30 pm, those of us with GWA badges were allowed to stay on until 7 pm, giving the photographers among us a chance to shoot the garden in the kinder light of late afternoon and early evening.

Palm and Desert Gardens


I headed straight for the famous Desert Garden, figuring the afternoon light would be good filtering through spiny plants, and passing through the dramatic Palm Garden along the way.


The sun was still intense when I reached the Desert Garden, but as I’d hoped, it was incandescing the cactus.


As with the Lotusland cactus garden, it was like visiting a strange planet. At 10 acres and with 2,000 species of succulents and cactus, the Desert Garden is worthy of hours of poking around (pun intended). But amid the rocky beds and asphalt paving, the heat was like standing next to an open oven, and I ended up spending only about 45 minutes here.


Still, I saw many beautiful plants, like these blue echeverias creeping among black lava rock.


And aeoniums so black they looked scorched by the heat.


Otherworldly tree aloe


And barrel cactus in brilliant flower


High in this floss silk tree’s branches, a flock of green parrots chattered amiably.


Nearby, golden barrel cactus clustered in extravagant masses.


I’d never seen so many barrels, not even at Desert Botanical Garden.


I didn’t even know they grew this way, clustered one upon another in great, spiny mounds.


They littered the path edges like beach balls after a pool party, and each wore a golden halo in the afternoon light.

Lily Ponds


Seeking shade, I happened next upon the Lily Ponds garden. I could hardly imagine a more different experience from the radiating heat and dynamic plant arrangements in the Desert Garden.


Here, the mood was serene, green, and cool, thanks to a tranquil pond and stands of rustling bamboo.


I rested there a while before heading into the sun again, crossing a large lawn with a temple-like folly. What a mood shift, from one garden to the next!

Subtropical and Australian Gardens


Glancing at the map I decided to see the Australian Garden next, and I passed the Subtropical Garden along a path facing directly into the ferocious setting sun. This made for great lighting effects on plants like white-flowering sea squill (Drimia maritima) growing under live oaks…


…and bottlebrush, as I neared the Australian Garden.


But by the time I got there, I was cooked, and the garden didn’t look particularly shady, so I just kept trudging toward a towering wall of bamboo that promised coolness and relief.

Japanese Garden


Ahh, a leafy green wall tall enough to block the sun! The narrow entry from this direction might be easy to miss, were it not for the foo dogs (stone lions) guarding the path.


Roar!


I entered the Japanese Garden through a mysterious bamboo forest of swaying culms and rustling leaves.


Climbing steadily uphill, I came to a paved courtyard with a collection of bonsai displayed on wooden stands.


Montezuma cypress in miniature


And olive


Next I strolled through a meditative Zen courtyard, with raked white gravel, boulder islands, and cloud-pruned trees.


A grand stair, zigzagging along one side, exits the Zen garden, and from here I entered the main garden.


Completed in 1912, the tranquil Japanese Garden includes a tall, arching moon bridge and reflecting pond. It was growing lovelier by the minute as the hateful sun sank behind the trees.


Intimate vignettes, like this tsukubai fountain…


…and carved figure near a tumbling stream, made for delightful discoveries along the winding hillside path.

Chinese Garden


As the terrain leveled out, I came upon the Chinese Garden, enclosed along one side by an undulating, tile-roofed white wall.


Known as Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, the Chinese Garden opened to the public in 2008 — a century after the Japanese Garden.


Having twice visited the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, I knew to expect covered walkways leading to a series of paved courtyards with intricate details.


What I didn’t anticipate was being completely alone with the garden. It was all mine.


The light was soft as dusk came on.


A beautiful detail


Pebble mosaic courtyard — and banana trees by the moon gate?


The teahouse was closed for the day, but I admired the woodwork…


…and rested on its terrace, which overlooks a picturesque lake. The building that resembles a boat, at center, is part of a phase two addition to the garden, currently under construction.


Along the opposite side of the lake, a pavilion known as Terrace of the Jade Mirror shelters amid weeping willows.


Moon gates invite you through it.


Another pebble mosaic path and a carved stone bridge lead on. Note the limestone rocks arrayed along the edges — similar to the holey limestone we have here in central Texas.


Pavilion of the Three Friends comes into view here, with a fine view of the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.


And the three friends? According to Chinese tradition, bamboo, pine, and plum are considered the three friends of winter for the pine and bamboo’s evergreen foliage and the plum’s early spring flowers. Together, explains the Huntington’s website, they symbolize fortitude, integrity, and resilience.


One last look. The Chinese Garden surprised me by turning out to be my favorite part of the Huntington gardens, in part, no doubt, due to the perfect golden hour during which I visited.

North Vista and Camellia Garden


The light was still sweet as I made my way through the Camellia Garden via the North Vista, a vast lawn anchored at one end by this baroque fountain adorned with carved fish and shells. The website explains, “The Italian fountain had been brought to England in the early 18th century and remained there until it was purchased by Henry Huntington in 1915. It was shipped from New York in 48 boxes that filled an entire railway car. Oddly enough, the fountain arrived without assembly instructions and with a few extra pieces. It eventually was installed five years after the completion of the main house (ca. 1916).”


The lawn is lined with 18th-century sculpted figures, camellias, and palms, and at the opposite end sits the former home of Henry and Arabella Huntington, which today houses part of their art collection.


I’m sure this garden sees most of its traffic in winter, when the camellias bloom, but it’s lovely in its summer greens too — although that lawn no doubt requires a lot of water to remain so green. The tall, skinny palms lend a distinctly California vibe to all the classicism.

California and Celebration Gardens


As the sun set and the staff prepared to close up, I straggled back, blissed out, toward the entrance, passing through the Mediterranean-style Celebration Garden, which is part of the water-wise California Garden. A shallow rill descends along a series of terraces formally planted with lavender, grasses, kangaroo paws, and other dry-adapted plants.


Red kangaroo paws looks especially pretty against cool-blue yuccas.


I would imitate this in a heartbeat if kangaroo paws tolerated Austin’s humid summer climate.


The grasses looked great too.


I love this combo, although I recognize only the yellow-flowering yarrow. Anyone know what the purple flowers are (update: looks like Scaevola aemula; thanks, Lara!), and is that a euphorbia at lower right?


Closer to the entrance, the garden loses its formality with casually inviting seating areas tucked amid billowing grasses.

The Huntington truly is an amazing collection of plants beautifully designed. I’m so glad I had a chance to explore it after-hours, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this very long recap.

Gift Shop


Part of my hideout time in the gift shop was spent autographing copies of my book Lawn Gone!, which I spotted prominently displayed as soon as I walked in the door.


How exciting! My thanks to the Huntington for carrying it and for treating us at GWA to a very special after-hours visit.

That wraps up my series of Los Angeles-area garden tours. Click through for a look back at the beautiful Volk Garden, which has a borrowed view of the Huntington. You’ll find links back to my other L.A. garden posts at the end of each post you follow.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Colorful LA garden of Potted maven Annette Gutierrez


I was in Los Angeles/Pasadena last weekend for the annual Garden Writers Association symposium, and boy oh boy, do I have some cool gardens to show you! Not all were on the GWA tours, which were limited to 3 private gardens and one public garden (the fabulous Huntington). My friend and traveling companion Diana Kirby and I spent two days prior to GWA visiting blogging friends and seeing their gardens as well.


One of these was the home garden of Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of the lust-inducing garden shop Potted and all-around fun and wildly creative person. We’d been online friends before I met her at the Garden Bloggers Fling a few years ago, and she generously arranged a day of private garden visits for us, starting with her own stylishly livable garden on a palm-lined street of 100-year-old bungalows in the Hollywood Hills.


Our mid-morning arrival during a heat wave of sunny, 100-degree days made photography a challenge, but we were eager to see it all. Here’s the streetside view of Annette’s charming home. A pair of giant pittosporums shelters and shades the front porch. The pinky-purple cordylines towering over the entry steps announce that a playful gardener lives here.


A small lawn bordered by xeric beds fronts Annette’s house, and I was swooning over this corner screen of Mexican weeping bamboo (Otatea acuminata aztecorum). Be still, my heart! This is how it’s supposed to look, instead of the straggly canes in my own garden, which have endured multiple winter die-backs.


And then there’s the front porch, which is essentially Potted style distilled to its colorful, playful, plant-displaying essence. How could you ever enter this door and not feel cheerful?


A rust-colored City Planter with an orange address plaque and tillandsias sets the stage. Below, on a small table, a potted bromeliad and dracaena (?) add strappy lime and pink accents.


A wider view shows a lime-green bench picking up the window trim color. Also, notice how Annette has mulched the green potted plant with Mexican beach pebbles set on edge — lovely!


To the left, orange Fermob chairs and a vintage green glider invite lounging behind the pittosporum hedge.


Chartreuse and sky blue Circle Pots hang from the porch ceiling, adding another pop of color as they display cascading succulents.


Avert your eyes if the f-bomb offends you. Annette gave us a tour of her home’s beautiful, mod-meets-midcentury interior, and I couldn’t resist snapping this laugh-inducing terrarium in the guest room. She said a friend made it for her because she’s always losing her keys.


Next we went out a side door to explore a shady patio where Annette said the idea for Potted was hatched. She and her partner, Mary, spent a summer figuring out how to make these tile-inset pavers, and by the time they perfected it, they’d decided to open a garden shop together. The pups are Marley (cautiously approaching the stranger with the camera) and Phlea (standing on the side porch).


The side porch: I love this quiet, artful vignette. Phlea is pretty cute too.


Every space has something to look at, even the steps. Annette also likes to put seating throughout her garden, as do I. Chairs make great decor, even if you rarely sit in them.


The eggplant-colored siding makes a nice backdrop for her plants and accessories.


A fig shades the small patio, which is paved with Annette’s and Mary’s pavers.


Big-leaved plants, like philodendron and tree fern, give this space a lush, rain-forest appeal.


Upstairs, a covered porch off the master bedroom invites afternoon naps on a red-cushioned daybed. It overlooks the backyard swimming pool.


Turning around and looking lengthwise across the porch, you see iconic Los Angeles palm trees and…


…yes, it’s the Hollywood sign. What a view!


Staghorn fern enjoys the bright shade of the porch.


The back garden is, I suspect, where Annette and her family spend most of their time. The back wall of the house is a series of glass doors, which fold open to allow for that much-envied indoor-outdoor California lifestyle. The curvy, brick-edged pool looked very inviting on this hot day. A tiled wall at the back of the pool is a colorful focal point and gives privacy. At the right is a guest house, plenty of seating, and lots of potted plants.


Annette’s third dog, Amos, made himself comfortable on a sofa and didn’t mind posing for pictures. Look at that gigantic euphorbia (?) behind him.


I also love the golden succulent in the yellow dish planter on the coffee table.


A tiled outdoor shower gives swimmers a beautiful place to clean off.


Looking back toward the house


On the back patio, just off the kitchen, a pretty tiled table of Potted design offers space for outdoor dining. Freestanding umbrellas provide shade.


A rustic wooden buffet holds a collection of potted succulents, with more crammed in on the back steps.


Esther pots are a favorite of mine. In fact, I bought an Esther bowl while at Potted later that day. (Click for my 2013 post about Potted.)


Annette said cheerfully that she’d taken over the outdoor sink her husband wanted for backyard cookouts. It does make a terrific display space for more plants.


Really, every place in Annette’s home and garden is a perfect space for a potted plant.


I admired this faux grass pillow, which Potted used to carry. Talk about downsizing the lawn!


A small brick patio holds a Cazo fire pit (wish I had one!) and a few chairs, for chilly evenings. Annette’s daughter, years ago, decorated the little playhouse visible at right. The fun, Annette told us, was all in the decorating, and after it was done, her daughter never used it. That’s OK. I agree that most of the fun is in the decorating too.


The garden transitions into shade along the side of the house. Beyond the fence is the side garden with the fig tree that I showed you earlier.


While the pool grabs your eye as you step outside, here’s where I’d spend all my time relaxing: a comfortably furnished seating area right off the kitchen. Three white Orbit Planters hang at eye level above the wooden coffee table, displaying pale green succulents. Acapulco chairs offer comfy seating but don’t take up much space visually.


A peek into Annette’s delightfully styled kitchen. With the glass doors folded out of the way, it’s fully open to the back yard.


Looking across the dining patio


Every nook, cranny, and shelf is used to display Annette’s potted creations.


Nail-head alliums?


Another City Planter filled with succulents


The side yard, which contains Annette’s potting supplies and a work bench, is anything but utilitarian with this eye-catching path of poured concrete and Mexican beach pebbles. A trimmed hedge of bamboo provides privacy and a green view from interior windows. The driveway lies beyond the gate.


Another pretty vignette

Huge thanks to Annette for the delightful and inspiring home and garden visit, and for arranging for us to visit several of her friends’ gardens as well. More on those coming soon!

Up next: The ocean-view garden of Kris Peterson, an L.A. blogging friend at Late to the Garden Party.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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