Lively formality in the garden of Deborah Hornickel

If you admired the beautiful details of James David’s grand Rollingwood garden, which I had the privilege of visiting last spring, you may have wondered what a smaller, more economically built garden of his might look like. And I’m here to show you, thanks to James’s longtime friend, Deborah Hornickel, who kindly let me photograph her Bryker Woods garden last week.

Deborah’s garden is 24 years old, and she attributes to James “all of the credit for the design of my garden starting back in 1991.” I first visited her garden in 2006 and again in 2010 during the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour, on which her garden will again be included this October.

From the street to the front porch, a double line of round and teardrop-shaped boxwood topiaries marches along a narrow limestone walk, giving formal structure and a strong leading line for the eye to follow. But the formal symmetry is subverted to the right and left thanks to towering sunflowers, layers of small trees (desert willow and pruned-up loropetalum), and a large, strappy yucca or nolina.

Halfway down the walk, a side path leads left through clipped boxwood to a bench hidden near the shrub-screened property line.

By the porch, pink crinums are finishing up while a dark-leaved canna offers a rich color echo.

Looking back along the front walk, the widely spaced topiaries lead your eye firmly but playfully to the street — and a neighbor’s perfectly positioned tree. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they put in a complementary garden at the base of that tree? (Sometimes one can only dream of gardening neighbors.)

Deborah’s porch is enticing, with a pair of narrow pots overflowing with silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) and a stainless steel bench displaying a collection of potted cacti and succulents. A green-black door contrasts with the pale celery green of the house.

Terracotta pots unify the collection.

More pots sit along the walk by the porch.

On the shady, east-facing porch, a mantel-like limestone table holds hurricane candles and a striking begonia.

A concrete walk runs along the front porch from the driveway, and Deborah has made a focal point at the end to terminate the view: a tall, terracotta pot filled with Jewels of Opar.

The driveway doubles as a path to the rear garden and offers a view of the porch across a plane of clipped boxwood.

Specimen plants are tucked in here and there, like this Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and variegated American agave.

It’s not often I get to say this, but I love the view between the side of the house and the pea-graveled driveway. A russet-and-green-leaved Japanese maple is color-echoed by oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) with faded blossoms. The detached garage, which functions as an open carport, looks to be painted the same charcoal-green as the front door.

Let’s stop to admire the Japanese maple and oakleaf hydrangea combo. The maple is underplanted with prostrate yew, also known as Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’), whose shiny, deep-green needles offer a pleasing contrast. I really need to plant this slow-growing, shade-loving, deer-resistant evergreen in my own garden.

Looking back toward the front garden

The long view down the driveway reveals a row of pruned-up ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress trees. Click through to my 2006 visit to Deborah’s garden for a view of these trees before they were pruned up. They are lovely trees, and although the lower limbs had to be pruned up to allow passage, the scaly trunks and blue-green needles overhead create a woodsy Colorado vibe. I like the mix of loose and clipped shrubs beneath them too.

To access the back garden, you pass through the carport/garage, which is also Deborah’s potting shed, and enter a comfortably furnished covered porch.

Deborah is very selective with regard to garden adornment. Each piece counts and is never crowded by another.

She likes a few quirky touches as well, like this skull planter.

The porch commands a view of the entire back garden: fire-pit patio, buffet table, and pond on the left; Bradford pear allee in the middle; and rectangular lawn on the right.

The patchwork-paver patio is Deborah’s latest addition. Jackson Broussard of Sprout and James David worked together on the patio design, Deborah told me.

It reminds me of Tait Moring’s patchwork path.

Four chairs cluster around a circular steel table. When the lid comes off, it doubles as a fire pit. The fire pit is Jackson’s design, and you can see more of his work in my post about a Rollingwood garden he designed.

A circular boxwood hedge once enclosed a stock-tank pond. But when it eventually corroded Deborah replaced it with a simple bird bath. Notice the strong line of clipped boxwood along the edge of the gravel patio. It “holds back” a shrub bed approximately 10 feet wide along the property line, which makes a buffering green wall around the garden’s living spaces.

A wider view

A limestone-slab table by the umbrella holds a couple of potted plants and a bowl of shells. Perhaps it gets put to use during parties.

Seashells and slag glass make a pretty combo.

Deborah’s back porch. I love her house colors. The window in the dark wall looks into the garage/potting shed.

A gravelly planting bed sits just off the porch, containing a crepe myrtle and an assortment of potted plants.

Echeverias in an oval pot resemble water lilies floating in a pond. The metal dachshund is a boot scraper.

The main hallway of the garden is an allee of Bradford pears espaliered on a rebar framework into a long tunnel. This axis is aligned with the back door of the house, creating a strong indoor-outdoor connection.

But before we walk down it, let’s look right to another seating area behind the garage. Wire panels atop steel poles make a sheltering trellis over the space. A frameless mirror mimics a window and reflects candlelight at night. A grill occupies the outer edge.

Candelabras hang over the table for nighttime enjoyment.

There are also lights — cafe-style string lights — running the length of the pear allee. A potted cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea) on a stone plinth terminates the view.

Deborah says this beautiful plant (not actually a palm) requires protection from winter freezes. The grassy plants on either side, which have speckled, narrow leaves, may be Aspidistra minutiflora ‘Leopard’.

The right side of the garden is devoted to a cool, green lawn, anchored by a simple, chalky urn atop a cylindrical pedestal. Clipped boxwood lines this side as well, with a deep shrub border along the property line.

Looking left, you see a glimpse of the rebar structure that helped train the pears when they were young and supple. A blue bench is positioned in the shade for a view of a pond.

Looking back toward the house

This contemporary, poured-concrete pond was built as a replacement for the original stock-tank pond. The tall plant is Thalia dealbata.

I believe that’s ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) behind it. A long steel pipe extends from the boxwood hedge to pour a recirculating stream of water into the pond…

…where water lilies bloom and colorful fish swim.

From the back you see how the pipe is supported.

I am smitten with this pond and the surrounding plants. There’s a sense of openness, but subtropical lushness too.

Deborah has been generous in sharing her garden with Austin over the years, putting it on tour many times. Of James David, her friend who’s helped her with the design for a quarter-century, Deborah says simply, “He is the most talented and creative mind I have ever known, and I am beyond fortunate to have had his assistance.”

My thanks to Deborah for sharing her gorgeous garden with me once again! If you’d like to see it too, it’ll be on tour through Garden Conservancy Open Days on October 17. But I do hope you’ll also save room on your tour schedule that day to see my own garden (very different from Deborah’s) and the other gardeners’ gardens on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour — yep, on the same day.

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

Garden is But-A-Dream on Algonquin Island: Toronto Garden Blogger Fling

While exploring the Toronto Islands (click for an overview tour) during Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling, I happened upon a cheery yellow cottage near the Algonquin Island harbor.

Adorned with a black unicorn and a sign proclaiming the garden’s name — But-a-Dream — it was irresistibly charming.

You enter via a tropical-looking palapa-roofed gate. Fellow bloggers Judy of In the Garden and Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden posed beneath it. (Notice: jackets and sweaters in JUNE.)

Entering, your attention is drawn immediately to a large rectangular pond edged on three sides by a boardwalk. The long section of boardwalk on the right leads the eye straight to a white-trunked birch tree with stump seating beneath. River rock of varying sizes lines the bottom and edges of the pond, creating a naturalistic look.

River rock is also laid just above the pond (upper right), like a dry creekbed, creating the impression of a stream-fed pond. Amid the stones, tall grasses and iris grow. Water lilies spread their leaves across the pond’s surface.

A mossy length of bamboo, supported by stones, pipes a steady stream of water into the pond.

Creeping groundcovers soften the hard edge where the pond adjoins a stone patio.

Bamboo poles, halved, line up to bridge the pond. The pond assumes a more formal look at this end, where the boardwalk creates a geometric edge.

Looking back toward the palapa gate, you see boats moored in the harbor, reminding you that you are on an island.

Tucked under a large birch, this delightfully rustic stump table and seating creates a fairy garden ambience.

In fact, yes, there is a fairy ornament on the table.

The side yard is patio-paved too, but geometric wooden raised beds create room to grow tulips, among other plants. A large woodpile under a palapa-roofed shelter is a testament to cold winters.


At the back of the lot, a vine rambles over a shed…

…and bikes are parked and ready for an outing.

Colorful potted begonias and sweet potato vine brighten a shelf along the back fence.

I really enjoyed this garden and struck up a conversation with the owner, Jeannie Parker. She told me that the style of the garden is Chinese, which surprised me a little, considering the tropicalesque palapas and northern Europe vibe of the birch and stump seating. But the pond, which is the garden’s centerpiece, does have bamboo, moss, and stone and the tranquil air of an Asian garden. I wish I’d had more time to ask Jeannie about the design, but I’m grateful for the visit. But-a-Dream is a dreamy garden indeed.

Coming up next: A foliage-rich garden at a storybook cottage on Algonquin Island. For a look back at a general tour of the Toronto Island cottage gardens, click here.

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

Before and after: 6 years making a garden

Bluesy garden: our upper patio, just off the living room and master bedroom

It’s always eye-opening to see how much a garden has evolved by comparing before and after images. We moved into our current home in October 2008, and I started tinkering with a few beds right away, planting old favorites dug up from my former garden, and simply observing other areas to see what I had. As anyone knows who’s made a garden, it’s a process that takes years, especially if you frequently revise plantings, as I do.

I didn’t draw out a plan for this garden, even though I recommend it and did one for my former garden. Instead I worked on one area at a time, tackling whatever demanded my immediate attention and saving up for bigger projects along the way. The garden is and always will be a work in progress, but 6-1/2 years is long enough to see changes taking shape and plants maturing.

Just a few days after moving in, I wrote an introductory post about our new home. I’m reposting those “before” pictures here, followed by “after” pics I took yesterday morning from the same perspective. I offer the contrast not to show “improvements” but simply to illustrate the process of making it my own. After all, taste is subjective, and the serene, green, easy-care “before” garden not only enticed us to buy this house but may be preferable to many people over my densely planted, spiky style. I’m grateful for the garden we inherited and am enjoying putting my own stamp on it for as long as we’re its caretakers.

Before: The front entry of our 1971 ranch right after we moved in 6-1/2 years ago

After: We added architectural interest to the facade and the low, steeply pitched roof with a gabled porch roof addition. Poured-concrete slabs in an offset pattern replaced the narrow, down-sloping, tiled front walk, eliminating a step in the process. The lawn and foundation shrubs at left are gone, switched out for a water-thrifty gravel garden. The old aluminum windows are refreshed with new, efficient double panes, and we took down the shutters for a more contemporary look. New paint and updated porch lights complete the refresh. The aging roof, which was patched when the porch roof was altered, is next on our list.

Before: Pretty but traditional-style landscaping and a lawn showing signs of drought stress

After: My containerized spikefest, with ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo replacing a redbud in the back corner

Before: A species Japanese maple, which I immediately fell in love with but worried would need too much water

After: Not to worry — the Japanese maple has thrived in the shade on the north side of the house, and all I’ve had to do is prune it for shape. A dry stream channeling water away from the foundation runs between the maple and the native river ferns in the foreground. I also had the back fence moved toward the front corner of the house.

Before: The island bed in the center of the circular drive was cloaked in creeping jasmine and purple lantana.

After: Today a xeric garden of yuccas, euphorbias, grasses, and other drought-tolerant plants grows there. A stepping-stone path runs across the berm (hidden by plants in this view) for access.

Before: In back, the swimming pool and private, tree-shaded lot was one of the selling points of the house for us, as our children were the perfect ages to enjoy it.

After: The large gum bumelia tree behind the pool died in the drought, opening up the area to more sun. I added painted stucco walls last fall for structure and color.

Before: Limestone retaining walls near the pool offered gardening space off the back of the house. I was eyeing this bed from day one for the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave I’d brought from my former garden.

After: Today Moby is happily growing in that spot and at least twice as big as he was when I moved him. I added terracing to the bed and removed the grass below it to expand the garden. The ocotillo bottle tree replaced a more stylized version last summer.

Before: A cluster of live oaks at the bottom of the garden was set off with edging of casually stacked limestone.

After: Today Mexican honeysuckle grows under the trees, and one of the new stucco walls adds structure in front.

Before: Looking up-slope along the west side of the property. A red-tip photinia hedge along a chain-link fence screened the neighbor’s pool from ours.

After: For more privacy, we had a fence constructed in front of the hedge. I removed the lawn on this side of the yard and replaced it with garden beds and a terraced, gravel path (like this path, which I laid on the other side of the yard).

Before: Behind the pool, slabs of exposed limestone make a natural floor. A shaggy bed of liriope and purple heart edged the back of the pool.

After: The limestone hasn’t changed a bit, although I have to beat back the purple heart, which wants to take over. (The standing water is from the previous night’s heavy rain.) The stucco walls and stacked-stone retaining wall behind the pool are new. I’ve planted ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama and Texas sedge in place of the liriope, which died away during the drought.

Before: I was pleased to discover a Mexican buckeye in the garden. Cast-iron plant was welcome too.

After: The buckeye has continued to mature, and my main job is pruning once a year for shape. The cast-iron plant is still there as well, behind a large, potted Texas nolina parked on one of the limestone slabs as a focal point along the lower-garden path. Dwarf Barbados cherries make a low hedge at right.

Before: Looking across the swimming pool toward the back of the house, where terraced limestone walls hold narrow garden beds. At first I worried that I’d have to remove the large Texas persimmon, which was encroaching on the house.

After: Regular pruning has allowed the persimmon to remain, and I enjoy its white-gray bark and graceful, leaning form. Aside from the persimmon and a crepe myrtle (at right), every single plant here has been replaced. From this angle it doesn’t seem like a significant bed. But it’s crucial to the experience of exploring the garden because the main path runs between this wall and the pool.

Before: A lengthwise view along the terraced bed shows a ‘Dortmund’ rose on a cedar-post support, which was nice.

After: But the rose bloomed only for a short time, and the rest of the year it was not very attractive. So I removed it and planted up the area with bold, variegated foliage plants, like ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, ‘Bright Edge’ yucca, and ‘Color Guard’ yucca. A stock-tank planter that was a small container pond in my former garden was turned into a planter for height here. Two blue pots bring extra height and color.

Before: I liked the large, fuchsia-flowering crepe myrtle near the back deck. The white-trunked Texas persimmon is just behind it.

After: I widened the bed around the crepe myrtle and installed a disappearing fountain with a shallow basin to entice birds.

Before: We inherited a nice deck off the back of the house, with lattice screening at the base.

After: I soon widened the planting bed at its base. At first it was a trial spot for various plants, but over time I simplified and massed the plants for impact. We also restained the deck and lattice screening dark gray.

Before: I loved the limestone slabs jutting from the lawn here and there, although I worried that it meant the garden would be rocky and hard to dig.

After: Happily, the soil is fairly deep except right around the boulders, so digging hasn’t been a problem. I made a garden around these boulders and incorporated the flatter stones on the left into a terraced timber-and-gravel path. We pushed back the fence, visible at top-left in the “before” photo, to the front of the house to get more privacy and gardening space in back.

Before: Another boulder, shaped like a turtle head, jutted out of the concrete pool patio. A stepping-stone path led from the pool to the deck steps.

After: Here’s a wider view of the same area. The turtle-head rock is in the foreground. I laid a flagstone path in place of the stepping stones. And at right, in one of the earliest parts of the garden, I installed an 8-foot diameter stock-tank pond and laid a sawn-stone path in a sunburst shape around it. This is one of my favorite parts of the garden, and the circular pond and surrounding sunburst path look especially nice from the elevated deck.

Before: I admired the coyote fence along the back property line. Shaggy cedar posts were wired to an old chain-link fence for privacy and a woodsy look that harmonized with the greenbelt beyond the fence.

After: A few of the cedar posts have rotted, but most are hanging in there. We’ll definitely replace them as needed to retain this look. Other noticeable changes include the stucco walls and the loss of the gum bumelia tree.

Before: I liked the wide, decomposed-granite path in the lower garden.

After: But under all those trees it quickly grew overgrown with oak sprouts and ligustrum seedlings and was buried in leaf litter. So I mulched over the path for a more natural look and ran a stepping-stone path instead. I also removed the pineapple guavas that were planted along the back fence. They suffered in the drought and also from lack of sunlight. Various plants have taken their place.

Before: Looking up toward the pool patio from the lower garden path. A rock-strewn, narrow, grassy slope provided trip-hazard access to the lower garden.

After: Initially I used found rocks in the garden to build steps between the lower garden and the pool. But last fall I was able to redo the steps with large boulders while having the stucco walls built.

Before: Another limestone expanse between the lawn and the lower garden

After: The limestone’s still there (at right), but the lawn is long gone.

There were other parts of the move-in garden I didn’t show in that introductory 2008 post because they weren’t particularly interesting — just large areas of lawn. But I worked on those too over the years and today enjoy gardens where there used to be just grass. Here’s a quick run-through.

This is one of the more recent parts of the garden: the east side path and garden. I started out with a decomposed-granite path and garden beds for grassy, deer-resistant plants. More recently I had the lattice fence built for a sense of enclosure.

Earlier this spring I made mirrored trellises to add depth to the long, blank wall of the garage, staining them to match the new-stained fence.

Looking lengthwise across the front yard, the dominant feature is a Berkeley sedge lawn. A giant hesperaloe anchors one end near a cluster of live oaks. A broad, curving path of decomposed granite leads through the front garden.

The same view in reverse, from the driveway looking toward the lattice fence. The meadowy sedge lawn at right needs much less water than a traditional lawn and mowing only once or twice a year.

Closer to the house, I had a limestone retaining wall built to tame a slippery slope on a natural berm alongside the driveway and foundation. It gave the house room to breathe and opened up space for additional pathways through the garden.

On the west side of the garden, I took out all but one small, semicircular patch of lawn and planted a deer-resistant garden of irises, grasses, dyckia, sotol, and yucca.

Finally, as you enter the back garden on the west side, you pass through a work/storage space and then come to the upper patio, along one edge of which I built this cinderblock wall planter filled with succulents.

I’m kind of tired now as I think back through all these garden projects, and my wallet feels a lot lighter. But it’s more rewarding than buying clothes, jewelry, or a car, so what can I say? I love to make gardens! I hope you’ve enjoyed the retrospective. As you busily make your own garden, remember to take photos and document the process so you can look back and see all you’ve accomplished.

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