Pumpkin extravaganza at the Dallas Arboretum

The Dallas Arboretum goes pumpkin crazy each fall.

Last Sunday we visited to see their over-the-top Pumpkin Village, in which a whopping 65,000 pumpkins, gourds, and squash are used to create play houses, line paths, and fill a pumpkin patch that would make Linus proud.

The pumpkin houses are fun for kids and adults alike.

Metal rings on the walls hold an assortment of pumpkins and squash.

More are piled around the doorways in artful displays.

Interiors are decorated with strings of tiny pumpkins along thatched ceilings and printed children’s stories on the walls.

As in in any proper village, the houses have unique designs. This one is all orange pumpkins.

Spray-painted jack ‘o lantern faces on some add a little spooky fun.

But not too spooky

This is a smart way to decorate pumpkins in the South, where those carved too soon collapse in on themselves in the heat.

This house is truly child-sized. Potato vine spills across the roof like a fairy tale beanstalk.

A fenced pumpkin patch guarded by friendly scarecrows contains pumpkins grouped by type — and there are so many varieties! Hand-lettered signs tell you what each type is called.


Cinderella’s carriage, pulled by horses made of cornhusks and other natural materials (sorry, my pics didn’t come out), sits near a pumpkin patch filled with blue-painted and white pumpkins. I like how the sprawling sweet potato vines stand in for pumpkin vines.

Pumpkins also transform into sunflowers!

I think these are adorable.

Indian corn and tiny pumpkins are festively strung between trees.

How do they do it? Copper wire wraps the pumpkins and corn and secures them to a steel cable.

Stacked pumpkins, like Halloween totem poles, add structure to beds of colorful marigolds.

Orange marigolds echo the pumpkins’ shape and color.

A statuary cornucopia is surrounded by a real-life one.

Orange pumpkins beyond count line the paths.

White pumpkins take over by the Alex Camp House to match the white brick.

The front porch display features white pots filled with fall annuals and more pumpkins.

This is an unexpected and fun combination: golden shrimp plant and Persian shield, with more pumpkins along the walk.

I also love this vignette, though I don’t know what the plants are.

Just look at the size of those pumpkins!

Piles of pumpkins, squash, and gooseneck gourds adorn the entry garden.

The gift shop is getting in on the action too.

If you want to bask in the pumpkin glory, the Pumpkin Village will be on display until November 26. (I hated to see it so early, but they’re also already putting up the Christmas display, which opens November 16.) The Arboretum is offering early admission hours on weekends through the end of October: 8 a.m. for visitors and 7 a.m. for members. And if you’re a member of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, you’ll enjoy reciprocal free membership at the Dallas Arboretum!

Up next: Monarchs flutter into Dallas Arboretum on their fall migration

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

Fall blooms in front, construction in back

Kicking summer to the curb always feels satisfying in central Texas, especially when fall’s arrival is not just a date on the calendar but marked by cooler, drier air and rain. Between Wednesday night and Friday morning of last week, my garden received at least 8 inches of rain, maybe more. My rain gauge overflowed one torrential night, and our closest weather station reported 10 inches. To put it in perspective, that’s almost one-third of our annual rainfall in less than 48 hours.

I’d like to report that it was a drought-buster, but unfortunately little of that rain fell over our Highland Lakes, which supply Austin and other cities with water.

Still, it was a blessing for Austin’s green canopy and gardens, despite some washouts and flooding. My own garden saw a little of that, but once the rains stopped, having flowed straight to the construction I’m having done in the back yard, it was mostly a matter of mud and mosquitoes. Despite that, any rain is cause for celebration, and the garden immediately lifted its head to say Ahhhh!

This is actually my next-door neighbor’s garden, which I planted for her as a continuation of my own. Hers gets more sun and is therefore more flowery, with a color-explosion of Autumn sage (Salvia greggii), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), and lantana along the driveway.

Here’s my side, with the same Autumn sage and Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), but with the addition of catmint (Nepeta racemosa), possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), ‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly, bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa), and purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’). Everything must be very deer resistant.

The view from my own driveway, with a decomposed-granite path running between the curbside garden and the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn. My daughter’s old tree swing, made by my husband, still hangs over one side of the path and occasionally tempts one of us to sit for a moment or kick into the air.

A trio of ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas grow amid the sedges, an idea I got from Scott and Lauren Springer Ogden’s garden. The yuccas offer a tempting target each fall for bucks with itchy antlers. I really should get out there and cage or net them for protection through the winter. I just hate the look of it.

We have a big, honking circular driveway that I confess I quite like, despite the fact that it’s a lot of nonpermeable concrete. But the water flows off it into our garden, not into the street, it’s a great play surface for kids (especially when you don’t have a lawn), and I enjoy the large, bermed island bed it encircles, which gives us some street screening.

Softleaf yucca (Yucca recurvifolia) is blooming again. This sucker is getting BIG.

In back, the wall work stalled out for two days last week because of all the rain. But they’re back in force today, and the wall is already taller than when I took this picture.

Not much happening over here yet, although the footing is poured and materials are in place.

Philip of East Side Patch calls this the Normandy phase — the destruction that precedes construction. You must keep the vision of garden-beauty-to-come in your mind at all times or you could never go through with it. The guys are actually doing a terrific job of not tearing up my plants, but it’s still nerve-wracking. I just keep telling myself that it’ll all be worth it.

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

Slow evolution of a side garden

Here’s why, years ago, I started taking pictures of my yard, despite the likelihood of looking cuckoo to the neighbors while snapping away at stretches of lawn or barely there, newly planted beds: it’s fun to go back later and see how things have changed. Changes need not include high-dollar hardscaping or significant replanting in order to be appreciated either. Just seeing how much your trees have grown can be eye-opening. Through regular photo-taking you can study a moment frozen in time, and then skip ahead to the next year — so different from the day-to-day experience of a garden’s infinitesimal growth or even the slow creep of seasonal change.

I dug up old pictures of my front side yard this morning, the last area of my garden that’s been converted from lawn. Here’s how it started: a big swath of St. Augustine grass from the back yard all the way up to the street. At this point I’d already added the curbside garden along the street; this is a winter view after its first season, I think. Not too much going on.

In January 2012 I hired a landscaper to lay a decomposed-granite path that runs from the back gate (our vantage point) uphill toward the street, where it makes a Y. To the right it runs to the street between my yard and my neighbor’s; to the left it follows the curve of the curbside garden and leads to the driveway. This stretch is 4 feet wide. I’d have preferred 5 feet of width, but I was trying to minimize any damage to live oak roots in this narrow space between my yard and my neighbor’s. (The path widens to a generous 5 feet behind the curbside bed.)

I used economical steel landscape edging to keep the gravel in place and grass out. Stone would been preferable, but my budget ruled that out. Two shallow limestone steps help tame the slope and slow water runoff during our Texas thunderstorms. I’ve never had any wash-out of gravel on this path.

A year later, in March 2013, I was ready to dig out the remaining grass and plant. In the skinny strip along the right side of the path, I initially hoped to establish a spaced out hedge of ‘Will Fleming’ yaupons to screen the neighbor’s driveway and provide a sense of enclosure. To save money, I filled the remaining space with divisions from existing plants, mostly dappled-shade-tolerant grasses for low maintenance and good deer resistance: inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), variegated miscanthus (that straw-colored lump to the right of the live oak in the foreground), and bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa).

And here it is as of this morning. The grasses are filling in vigorously, and I’ve recently added Aztec grass to brighten the narrow strip at right. But the biggest change is, obviously, the lattice fence, which I had constructed in May. The ‘Will Fleming’ yaupons, much as I love them, just weren’t going to provide the enclosure and screening I wanted for a few years, and I continually worried that the deer would antler them to pieces in autumn.

So I sprung for the fence and am so glad I did. It instantly created an intimate garden space in an otherwise throwaway part of the yard, and yet it’s friendly, not standoffish, with breeze- and light-admitting, 5-inch-square lattice openings. Live oaks arch over this space — as they do all of my garden — and create a leafy ceiling. At the Y in the path ahead, a possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) is slowly growing and will one day be a graceful, red-berried focal point as you walk up the path.

Turning around, here’s the Heart Gate to the back garden, offering a peek-a-boo view of a Yucca rostrata, with a higher view of ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress visible through the arbor. I think I may paint the water-stained fence boards on this side of the gate. What color, do you think? Could I get away with not painting the lattice above, half of which is buried under a butterfly vine? I think I also need to elevate the silver pot of Nolina lindheimeri with a couple of concrete squares, and maybe add another pot.

All in good time. This side garden has been evolving at a Darwinian pace for 5 years. Still, one day I’m sure I’ll look back at these pictures and think, Now why didn’t I get around to [pick a project] sooner?

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