Sneak peek: Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2014, coming May 3rd


Garden-tour season in Austin is here, despite late freezes that set all our gardens back a few weeks. The Inside Austin Gardens Tour, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners, kicks things off on Saturday, May 3, from 9 am to 4 pm.

The Austin garden bloggers were invited to preview the gardens yesterday and give you a sneak peek. The theme of this year’s tour is “Gardens Eclectic,” but one thing they all have in common is a personal, home-grown appeal. These are relatable gardens created and maintained by the homeowners themselves, and you’ll find many creative details and plenty of inspiration in each one. You’ll also find talks, kids’ activities, and book sales offered at the various gardens throughout the day.

Here’s a preview.

Garden of Dugie and David Graham


Dugie and David have worked hard to transform “our builder’s yard into the garden of our dreams,” adding a large pond with a waterfall ledge that takes advantage of their steep back yard. A covered terrace along the back of their home leads down to a generously proportioned arbor overlooking the pond.


View from the arbor


The Grahams take pride in having created a Certified Wildlife Habitat for the creatures that share their West Austin garden. The herons are faux, but they looked charming amid billowing Mexican feathergrass — like extravagant tail feathers, as a fellow blogger pointed out.


I was smitten by their polished cedar-plank table and benches. This is a work of art. Dugie said they bought it at a shop near Dripping Springs. If I find out the name I’ll let you know.


Coral honeysuckle brightens a trellis at the base of the terrace and attracts hummingbirds.


“G” for Graham becomes a fun succulent and cactus planter topped with chips of blue glass.


Out front I noticed this wooden rain barrel — a sign of water conservation that’s so important for every Austin gardener these days.

At the Grahams’, there will be informal discussions all day on vegetable gardening in a small space.

Garden of Jerry Naiser


Your first glimpse of Jerry Naiser‘s back garden is dramatic: these fiery, dripping fountains made of plow discs. They sit on top of a water-collection cistern buried underground, which connects to Jerry’s extensive, 32-zone, drip-irrigation system, which he can control via his computer.


His garden is made for parties, with an outdoor kitchen and TV under a covered porch and a swimming pool as the focal point of the back yard.


My favorite area was this intimate but comfortably proportioned patio tucked into the back corner of the yard. As you can see, a large condo building looms over Jerry’s property, which could have made his garden feel over-exposed. But by placing the patio against the brick wall, he created a feeling of privacy and shelter.


A cluster of live oaks provides shade all day for two hanging, egg-shaped chairs and a hammock. Palms, caladiums, and ferns create a lush, tropical ambiance — tempered with Western flair provided by the bronze longhorn sculpture.


The paving winds delightfully around small planting beds, creating a division of space between the fire pit area and the hammock.


Jerry didn’t let a utility pole get in the way of his design. He hung plant baskets from it, parked two comfy chairs in front of it, and made it disappear into the background.

At Jerry’s garden there will be informal discussions all day on drip irrigation systems.

Garden of Robin Howard Moore


Longtime Austin gardeners will fondly remember Howard Nursery on Koenig Lane. Robin Howard Moore is one of those Howards, and she worked at the nursery for many years until it closed. At her home in west-central Austin she has created lush, tumbling perennial borders to frame her home and the swimming pool that’s the focal point of the back yard.


Containers of colorful annuals…


…and cool succulents decorate her back patio.


In the borders, blue bottle trees sprout like saplings under a tall canopy of stately shade trees.

At Robin’s garden there will be informal discussions all day on how to create a perennial border.

Garden of Austin Neal


Eastside gardener Austin Neal is a talented and creative recycler. An eye-catching patchwork fence of old cedar pickets and raw steel surrounds this garden, which sits just across the street from the elevated CapMetro urban rail line. Agaves in decomposed granite add toothy structure to the minimalist beds between the street and the fence.


Sections of the fence are open for views, with hog wire fencing keeping it secure. Bi-fold “shutters” on the inside of the fence allow the open panels to be closed off for privacy, if desired.


Passionflower was already in bloom on the fence.


As was ice plant in the gravel garden inside the fence.


A red front stoop houses a collection of potted plants and an interesting mobile…


…made of old paper wasp nests. Fascinating but a little creepy too.


I love this agave. I had one of these last year, but I left it outside during a hard freeze last winter and lost it. I may have to try again.


Austin repurposed old clay tiles into hanging wall planters for succulents and cactus.


Agaves line part of the inside of the fence too.

At Austin’s garden there will be informal discussions all day on — get this — keeping Austin weird (I love it!).

Garden of Lori Daul


I wasn’t able to follow the preview tour to the end, and so I missed seeing the garden of fellow blogger Lori Daul (The Gardener of Good and Evil). Lucky for me, I saw Lori’s beautiful garden last spring (click through for a full tour).


She’s added some cool, new features since I was last there, including a cluster of stock tanks filled with agaves and yuccas, so I may have to pop over on tour day to see it. This is definitely the garden you won’t want to miss!

At Lori’s garden there will be informal discussions all day on principles of landscape design.

Tour Info

Inside Austin Gardens Tour: Saturday, May 3, 9 am to 4 pm
Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at any of the gardens, or in advance online. Cash, check, and credit cards are accepted at the gardens. Individual garden passes are also available on-site for $5 per garden. The extension demonstration garden is free. Children 16 and under are free.


Here’s the fun group of bloggers I toured with. From left to right: Jenny of Rock Rose, Katina of Gardening in Austin, Caroline of The Shovel-Ready Garden, Robin of Getting Grounded, Cat of The Whimsical Gardener, Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil, Renee of Renee’s New Blog, Vicki of Playin’ Outside, Ally of Garden Ally, yours truly, Linda of Patchwork Garden, Bonnie of Kiss of Sun, Suzie of Viva Verde, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, and Laura of Wills Family Acres. Check out their blogs for more posts about the upcoming tour. Jenny and Ally already have posts up as of this writing.

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

Nursery Visit: Civano Nursery in Tucson, Arizona


After my drive-by of Civano’s candy-colored homes and front-yard gardens while in Tucson earlier this month, I popped into Civano Nursery for a look around. Yep, that’s right. The lucky residents of Civano have a full-service nursery in their neighborhood, within wagon-pulling distance of many of the homes.


The nursery is located at the entrance to the neighborhood, with views of rugged mountains over a wall that shields the grounds from highway road noise.


Colored walls are the perfect backdrop for desert plants like cactus and succulents.


Civano has such plants in abundance.


Agaves and cactus


More beautiful agaves


Palo verde, the ubiquitous native tree that was blooming all over Phoenix and Tucson while I was there.


Mexican fence post cactus


I’d have to grow this if I lived there.


Drought-tolerant perennials like guara are also offered.


Lots of reasons to plant them


Pocket gardens throughout the grounds are planted with desert-loving plants, like this ‘Sharkskin’ agave and ‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia.


I love when nurseries plant display gardens. They give you such great ideas for what might work in your own garden.


Red yucca, a Texas native


Here’s something you don’t see in central Texas: bundled ocotillo branches for sale


You can make them into fences that might even take root and grow.


Here’s one that screens a row of electrical panels.


Purple prickly pear against a pistachio-colored wall — such great color and texture


Colorful accessories seem to be vital in the desert, and Civano offers a nice selection of pottery.


Or maybe you’d prefer muted pottery if your wall is painted. I love this!


They also sell pre-planted containers…


…as well as southwestern-style garden art.


A large, covered patio offers space for garden speakers and their audiences.


A tree-size saguaro grows in a streetside display garden — symbol of the Arizona landscape.


If you garden in the desert, you’ve gotta create some shade. This expansive arbor is something to aspire to.


Or maybe you’d be lucky enough to have a shade tree. The nursery is family-friendly, with a play area and also several animal pens, shown here, which house goats, chickens, and even a tortoise.


Civano is a wonderful neighborhood nursery that shows how beautifully you can garden in the desert. I ran into the owner, Chris Shipley, whom I’d met at the Garden Writers Association conference two years ago. He was the one who gave me the Indian mallow (Abutilon palmeri) that I packed home in my suitcase. How about that? I already have a Civano plant at home! (That is, if it survived our freezing winter; it’s still too soon to say.) Chris is a friendly, knowledgeable guy, and I enjoyed visiting his family-run nursery.

Up next: A series of posts about Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, where the Chihuly exhibit was on display

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

Desert retreat in Steve Martino-designed Quartz Mountain Garden


The second garden I visited with Phoenix landscape architect Steve Martino was familiar to me from a magazine or garden book I’d read. Peer recognition, including an ASLA design award in 2006, has also been bestowed on Steve’s design for this Paradise Valley, Arizona, home. It’s a high-end design, but it offers plenty of inspiration for any gardener.


Let’s start with sculptural native plants — ocotillo and prickly pear — against a fiery red wall. Color and form — simple but effective.


Steve worked with the homeowners to open their house to the outdoors, bringing in light and views but shielding the interior from harsh desert sunlight through the use of shade structures, arbors, and screening. This is the outer edge of a wall that helps enclose a dining terrace. A shelf fountain set into the wall masks road noise and adds the cooling sight of water to the dry garden.


Canary-yellow palo verde trees in full bloom over the red wall


A wider view reveals the pleasing visual heft of the patio roof, which surprisingly “floats” above the back wall, letting air and light pass through. A cut-out window in the wall frames a view of…


…columnar cactus. I love how the woven texture of the chairs repeats the ribbed texture of the cactus.


And, oh, that window! From the other side of the wall, along the driveway, it frames a mountain vista.


The covered dining terrace steps down to a large gravel patio casually furnished with Adirondacks…


…and an umbrella for shade.


But the fireplace wall and chairs clustered around it suggest that this space is mainly used in the evening, when the dry desert air can get chilly and a fire provides a cozy focal point.


The gravel patio gives way to a play lawn for the children. Reducing the lawn to the size needed for play is a good way to save water in a dry climate. And when the kids grow up, the lawn can be replaced by low-water plants or a larger patio.


Opuntia in flower


Panels of shade screening are covered by what I first thought was crossvine or some other orange-flowering vine. But a closer inspection revealed that it’s lantana — lantana climbing up to the roof! I asked Steve how he’d done it; I’ve never known lantana to climb like this. He said he didn’t know — it had just done it. I love garden surprises like this.


Looking across the play lawn toward the mountain view. This view was obscured by non-native trees before Steve transformed the garden. A taupe wall at the end of the play lawn…


…forms the back of a huge, L-shaped, blue-cushioned banquette banco near the swimming pool. A gas fire pit is set into the patio for evening warmth. But the stunner is of course that mountain view.


I’ve never been a fan of bougainvillea, which seems to shout with its insistent, lipstick-bright color. But, as with many tropical plants, it works well alongside a pool. Still, if it was mine (hey, I can fantasize!), I’d plant upright aloes or ‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia here.


A side view shows a negative-edge water feature just beyond the banquette banco.


The banco patio leads to a swimming pool framed by a cobalt-blue wall. A convex steel plate supports another shelf fountain, which spills into the pool. Aloes elevated on pedestals send up yellow bloom spikes.


The blue-tinged aloes echo the blue of the wall.


Patio dining. Blue cushions in the chairs continue the color theme of the pool garden.


Aloe vera blooming against the taupe wall of the house


This place is made for entertaining. Another seating area extends behind the pool, with cushy chairs overlooking a sport court below. Yellow-flowering palo verde colors the background.


Steps lead down to a sunken garden, a private space with a single banquette banco and geometric paving set in a small, emerald lawn. Another fire pit is ready for cool evenings. Sculpture and a sheltering palo verde tree add to the contemplative, restful atmosphere of this garden room.


The owner has placed a number of sculptural pieces throughout the garden, including this ballerina perched on a steel wall. She seems to be walking a balance beam.


On the other side of the house, the afternoon light illuminated this scene: palo verde, aloes, agave, and desert shrubs backed by a purple wall and a series of vertical steel plates that screen a side patio from view of the parking area.


A closer look


The side patio is humbler than the contemporary, newer spaces on the other side of the house. I like that the owners didn’t feel they had to tear out all the older parts of their home when they remodeled. Instead this cozy courtyard patio provides a garden entry to the home from the driveway.


I love this steel-pipe “picket fence.”


Aloe in bloom


Cool garden art


Another shelf fountain, set in a purple wall, is the focal point of the courtyard. Unfortunately it was not working during my visit.


In the adjacent parking area, a narrow planting bed is squeezed into the wall along the driveway, elevating a row of white-spined cactus that incandesce in the afternoon light.


Out by the street, a wall fountain splashing into a steel-edged rectangular pool announces the garden entry.


Shadows animate a translucent mesh panel at the end of the wall.


Along one side of the driveway, a low, red, serpentine wall wriggles toward the gate, with agaves and prickly pear providing a green counterpoint to that line of rich color.


The palo verdes were doing their best to outshine everything else on this early April visit.

My thanks to Steve and the homeowners for sharing this beautiful garden with me. For a look at the 1st garden I visited with Steve, click here.

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