Remember the Alamo for Christmas lights in San Antonio

We rolled down I-35 to San Antonio on Monday afternoon to see the famous Christmas lights along the River Walk. Naturally, we remembered the Alamo and made that our first stop.

A grand tree alight with clusters of colored bulbs and cascading ribbons, bedecked with oversized San Antonio Spurs ornaments, stood in the plaza in front of the Alamo. Surrounding live oaks, like ladies-in-waiting, glowed with long, draping strings of white lights.

A closer looks shows the basketballs and Spurs ornaments on the tree.

The Alamo itself, as befitting an historical shrine, was washed with light and adorned simply, with only a festive wreath on its door.

A quick stroll across the street and down a flight of stairs took us to the city’s famous River Walk: a magical underworld of bald cypress-lined sidewalks packed with cafe seating for the many restaurants, hotels, and shops built along the San Antonio River, which flows through downtown. For the holidays, colored strands of lights hang like beaded curtains from the majestic trees, and tourist boats motor slowly beneath them.

The lights were beautiful, but the sidewalks were very crowded, and I confess I got a bit Grinchy before we’d walked very far — in single-file, unable to talk to each other because it was so packed.

The thing to do, I imagine, would be to come early and grab a cafe table along the river, and just people-watch over a Tex-Mex dinner. Or come late for a romantic stroll with your honey. I’ll know next time. It really is quite beautiful.

I leave you with this final image of holiday lights, and I wish you all the peace and joy of the season, dear reader. See you again after Christmas!

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

Christmas in Mexico at Lucinda Hutson’s home and garden

Lucinda Hutson‘s purple cottage in the Rosedale neighborhood of central Austin is a wonderland of Mexican folk art, colorful furnishings, and brightly painted walls. I had the pleasure of re-visiting last Friday, and brought along new friend Paula Panich, a Los Angeles writer and teacher of garden writing.

Lucinda’s Day of the Dead parties and decor are legendary, but her Christmas decorating is equally charming and rooted in Mexican culture.

Atop her dining table, a carved and painted Joseph leads a haloed (but surprisingly flat-stomached) Mary on a donkey, alongside a small, curlicued tree adorned with colorful glass ornaments…

…like this sombrero-wearing señora and pinata donkey…

…and sash-draped señor.

Even Lucinda’s lampshade is decorated with a cheeky assortment of ornaments: a golden tequila bottle, an angel-winged man clutching a bottle, a smiling red devil, the Virgin Mary, and, in back, a margarita glass.

On a sideboard stands a glazed-clay Our Lady of Guadalupe, surrounded by cherubs — one of Lucinda’s prize pieces.

A closer look reveals agave-painted glasses arrayed at her feet, along with evergreen branches and candles. Garden, tequila, and Mexican folk art — three of Lucinda’s interests in one lovely arrangement.

Our Lady appears in Lucinda’s garden as well. Here she’s a tile mosaic in an altar made from a blue-painted bathtub.

Echoes of Gustav Klimt?

Here, a carven Our Lady adorns a rustic writing cottage behind the house, seeming to bless all who enter.

In the tradition of Mexican folk gardens, other religious figures are given homemade altars as well, like this St. Anthony framed by an old wheelbarrow tray.

A tiled picture of St. Francis and his birds brightens the fence behind a raised bed of vegetables and edible flowers. A fork flower and half-buried dishes continue the edible theme.

In her Grotto Garden, instead of saints and madonnas Lucinda favors mermaids and sea creatures. A cast-iron mermaid poses against a turquoise-painted fence under an arbor draped with shells. Strands of blue and white capiz shells and strings of tiny mirrors add sea-like sparkle.

Here is Lucinda’s writing cottage, accessed via a large back deck that always looks party-ready.

A frilly, blue-painted chair and blue and orange glass lanterns add color and an invitation to linger.

Two art tiles — a dancing woman…

…and a hand with a heart — stand out against the dark wood siding.

Turning around you take in the full force of Lucinda’s fearless love of color. Rich purple paint turns what might have been the boring wall of a detached garage into a focal-point display space. A homemade buffet/altar of stacked benches covered in floral oilcloth gives Lucinda room to stage food, drinks, or her Day of the Dead decorations.

A wider view shows how Lucinda has adorned the eave of her house with a slatted awning of wood, giving it tropical flair.

Because our first hard freeze is running late this year, blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) still blooms with abandon on a peaked arbor. That’s Lucinda in black, talking with Paula.

Colorful peppers soak up the sunshine in the front garden.

Lucinda’s purple cottage reminds me of the house in American Gothic, but all loosened up and ready to party! Gold-flowering cosmos towers over the entry walk.

A visit to Lucinda’s wouldn’t be complete without stopping by her La Lucinda Cantina, a tequila bar under a cedar arbor at the very back of the garden.

Inside is where she keeps the good stuff, though, on an altar devoted to tequila, from its origins in the agave harvest to tequila-sipping cups.

Lucinda’s fascination with Mexico and its national liquor led her to write ¡Viva Tequila!: Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures. Published in 2013, it’s a gorgeous ode to tequila, filled with personal photos and stories from Lucinda’s 40 years of travel through Mexico, cooking and drink recipes, and tequila party-hosting ideas. Through her story-telling and photos, Lucinda opens a window onto Mexican culture, and she’ll have you thirsting to try her recipes. I think the book would make a great gift for the mixologist or tequila enthusiast on your list and anyone who loves the color and spice of Mexico. Lucinda mentioned that it also makes a fun and unique groomsman gift, especially if accompanied by a nice bottle of tequila and a couple of glasses. (I like how she thinks outside the box to market her book!) Spring wedding-planning, anyone?

Thanks, Lucinda, for sharing your colorful home and garden with me again! Readers, if you’d like to see more of Lucinda’s garden, here are my other posts about it:

Lucinda Hutson’s purple cottage, cantina garden, and Viva Tequila!, April 2013
Lucinda Hutson’s Easter-egg colorful garden, April 2012
Enchanted evening in Lucinda Hutson’s cantina garden, April 2011
El Jardin Encantador: Lucinda Hutson’s garden, October 2009
Lucinda Hutson’s enchanting garden, April 2008

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

Decked and swinging at the Wildflower Center

The weather has been so beautiful lately — Austin’s payoff for making it through another summer. Last Sunday, the whole family joined me for an afternoon stroll at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, one of my very favorite places. Right now it’s a mix of fall color and Christmas decorations, one of those quirks of Austin’s cooler season, which compresses fall, winter, and spring between October and April.

The garden is decked out for Luminations this Saturday and Sunday, a holiday tradition I highly recommend. (Here are my pics from last year.) This year the staff has upped their game, with red and green Christmas balls adorning the spiny arms of agaves in the Family Garden.

Arizona cypresses, which last year glowed with simple white lights, this year sport colorful Christmas balls too, for daytime and nighttime enjoyment.

Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) makes a perfect outdoor Christmas tree, complete with fir-like fragrance.

Nearby, a gray-trunked Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) seems to shelter a handsome buck, one of the many bronze animal sculptures placed throughout the Family Garden.

A spiral wall for kids to play on, tiled with numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, always catches my eye.

The flowers depicted in this section are Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), one of several plants with spiraling features planted nearby.

Here’s some of that fall color I mentioned: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) turning orangey red on the aqueduct along the entry walk.

It harmonizes nicely with the warm stone of the pillars.

We walked all the way out along the Texas Arboretum trail, a relatively new section of the gardens. My son goes tree-hugger with a live oak, as David, my husband, looks on.

Daughter was perched in the low branches like a bird. In case you’re wondering, we don’t normally climb trees (or any other plant) at public gardens. But it seems to be encouraged with this particular tree, which at some point fell over while remaining rooted and alive. A well-kept mulched path leads to it and encircles it, inviting you to sit on its horizontal trunk and clamber up.

Nearby, my favorite part of the arboretum is even more tree-interactive. A picturesque glade of mighty live oaks is hung with an assortment of swings: swinging armchairs, swinging benches, board swings, spinning disc swings, and even a few child swings with safety bars.

We tried them all out (except the baby swings), gliding and spinning and pushing for nearly an hour.

It was so much fun!

And even a little zen.

We climbed the big viewing tower before we left, and I stopped to admire this possumhaw (Ilex decidua) in full berry. When the leaves drop it’ll be even more stunning.

Here’s one more picture of the festive agaves to remind you of Luminations this weekend. It’s a fun holiday activity for the whole family. Go early to see the gardens before it gets completely dark, or go later to avoid the kiddie crowd. Either way, it’ll give you a warm glow!

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