Drive-By Gardens: Formal, whimsical, and wildflower gardens in central Austin

Central Austin’s front-yard gardens, free of any homeowners’ association rules, vary wildly depending on the owners’ tastes, energy level, and budget. Here are three that caught my eye over the past week, starting with Deborah Hornickel’s subversive formal garden in the Bryker Woods neighborhood. Why subversive? It starts out all classical, very orderly with formal lines, matching pots on plinths, and clipped boxwood. (And how about that stunning, tree-pruned loropetalum at left?)

And then it breaks free of tradition on either side of the topiary-edged front walk with overscaled, dramatic plants mixed with sprinklings of seedy wildflowers. It’s a surprising dynamic.

Anyone know this pretty-in-pink flower next to the potted dyckia?

If you’d like to see more, I’ve posted about Deborah’s garden twice before, when it was on the Open Days tour in fall 2010 and Open Days fall 2006. Her back garden is formal-meets-contemporary.

In the tony Tarrytown neighborhood, I spotted this modern home with a surprisingly whimsical garden. Check out that undulating wooden fence. Somehow it reminds me of Hobbiton. There’s also a concrete spiral near the driveway. I’m not sure what the purpose is — maybe just for fun? And wow, look at that acacia in golden bloom.

Near the driveway, in a circular, mortared-stone planter that looks a bit homemade — not at all modern — sits a gorgeous variegated American agave. How I wish I had room for one of these.

My variegated agave lust was also tempted here, at a traditional Enfield home with a surprisingly wild gravel garden of California poppy, agave, bulbine, Mexican feathergrass, and blackfoot daisy.

Ka-pow! No way could I drive by that without stopping. What a beautiful, low-water garden for a hot, sun-blasted corner.

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

Debuting the painted stucco walls

Damn the live oak pollen, full speed ahead…with the reveal of the painted stucco walls. (Really, though, the live oak pollen is out of control. I took this picture about 4 hours after completely blowing clean the patios.) After weeks of construction last fall, sampling a fiery red paint for months, and waiting out the winter wet and cold to finally finish painting, there’s progress. The walls are painted, Mexican beach pebbles now fill the drainage gap between the curved walls and adjoining patios, and behind it all lies a cleared planting bed edged with a new stacked-stone retaining wall. Woot!

If you’ll remember, this is how the space looked last summer. Quite nice — the previous owners installed a lovely pool and retaining walls to tame the steep slope off the back of the house (out of view on the right). But the back edge of the pool always felt unfinished. The circular patios at each end had a drop-off of about 18 inches, with nothing to stop an unwary guest from scooting a chair backward and over the edge. Plus all the terracing on the right begged for something substantial to catch the eye on the left. The new stucco walls are intended to provide visual balance, safety, additional seating, and year-round structure.

Here’s the view from the back, with the new stacked-stone retaining wall neatly enclosing a narrow bed that I’ll fill with ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama in sun and Mexican feathergrass in dappled shade. It’ll be largely non-irrigated once established.

Panning left. The wall colors, if you’re interested, are Jazz Age Blues and Celluloid by Dunn Edwards. The massive slabs of limestone that make up the rugged path behind the pool are natural. At the far end…

…is another stacked-stone retaining wall, which replaces a hodgepodge of small boulders. Blue nolina (Nolina nelsonii), spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis), and Mexican honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) grow in the dappled shade of live oaks.

The view along the back fence, including the beautiful Yucca rostrata I just bought and a ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) in full bloom.

The view from the upper patio shows how the blue and gray walls echo the patio furniture and planters. Moby the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) is looking especially perky this spring. I hope he’s not thinking of blooming. Oh, and check out that crossvine along the fence: it’s climbing straight up a cedar in the greenbelt. With orange trumpets festooning branches at least 20 feet high, the hummingbirds must be going bonkers and sleeping well at night.

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

An Easter wildflower safari

The fields and roadsides of Texas are as brightly colored as a basket of Easter eggs. On Friday my mom, daughter, and I went on a wildflower safari southwest of San Antonio, cruising the country roads around Somerset. While the bluebonnets that far south had already peaked, we did see a few fields of blue, not to mention red, white, and yellow. Come along with me for a virtual Sunday drive, and enjoy the show.

What’s a safari without animals?

We stopped to admire this picturesque scene of a horse and pony grazing in a pasture spangled with wildflowers, mainly Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).

Along one road we spotted Texas vervain (Verbena halei), a lovely wildflower I hadn’t encountered before.

Fields of Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), our state flower, are the holy grail of wildflower sightings, and this was the best one we saw, complete with an oil pump and tin-roofed farm buildings — a very Texas scene. The white flowers dotting the field like drifts of snow are…

…white prickly poppy (Argemone albiflora), my mom’s favorite.

They reminded her of fields of cotton.

My favorite combo is the red and blue of Indian paintbrush and bluebonnets.

Barbed wire fences add to the Texas scene, and it’s important not to cross them when viewing wildflowers, as the fields are generally located on private property.

But you can get nice views by shooting between the wire strands, especially if you use a telephoto lens.

The Indian paintbrush was simply spectacular everywhere we went.

Texas dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus), against a field of red paintbrush

Along one dirt road, we found majestically spreading live oaks, with patchwork quilts of wildflowers spread around them.

More white prickly poppy, with Indian paintbrush and a few bluebonnets

Ah, my favorite combo

Bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush

Paintbrush mingling with Texas dandelion


And more!

This paintbrush field (pictured above as well) surpassed any I’ve ever seen. Paintbrush as far as the eye could see.

Along with horses and cows, goats are a common sight in Texas fields. This one was curious and willing to pose for a picture.

What a floppy-eared cutie!

Happy Easter, kids!

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