Bald cypress creek, beer patios, & other comforts in Comfort, Texas


For our 27th wedding anniversary last weekend, my husband and I enjoyed a weekend away in Comfort, Texas, a tiny Hill Country town two hours southwest of Austin. After reading about the stylishly rustic charms of Camp Comfort in seemingly every regional magazine (Tribeza, Southern Living, Texas Monthly), I’d booked us a room for two nights over Memorial Day weekend.


Camp Comfort is an utterly charming B&B, built motel-style in what was formerly a 2-lane bowling alley and social hall dating to 1860, plus several freestanding cabins.


A row of 4 rooms occupies what used to be the bowling alley, and the cabins cluster at the far end…


…overlooking a scenic view of Cypress Creek.


The restored social hall contains a servery for help-yourself breakfast, free cookies all day, and plentiful seating…


…each table adorned with a bouquet of fluffy cotton stems.


A couch and chairs at one end is flanked by a triangular shelf stacked with board games for old-school entertainment.


The owners constructed the shelves, and for that matter the guest rooms’ floors, walls, and doors, from wood salvaged from the bowling alley.


The place seems tailor-made to be rented out in full by wedding parties, and one such newlywed couple had written their thanks to the owners on a roll of paper towels by the door.


The rooms and cabins surround a spacious gravel courtyard outfitted for lounging and parties with a fire pit, orange Loll chairs, a grilling and dining area under a vine-shaded arbor…


…and a band stage.


We stayed in room #3.


Inside, a photo of the social hall pre-transformation hung over the bed. Cushy, teal swivel chairs in front of a TV, a small kitchen, a desk, and a spacious bathroom with a soaker tub made up the lovely retreat.


The view from our room


The Texas flag painted on the back of a neighbor’s shed


We spent a lovely evening around the fire our first night, sipping champagne and talking with another couple from San Antonio who were celebrating a birthday.


We met Phil, who owns the place with his wife, and who did all the restoration and construction work himself, with his wife as the designer. He encouraged us to go for a swim in the creek behind the camp, and on the second day we did.


Cypress Creek is beautiful.


Towering bald cypresses line the creek like columns in a cathedral made by Mother Nature.


In the clear, green water we could see fish guarding their nests, cleared-out circles on the creekbed.


Aside from the fish, we had it all to ourselves, no one else around.


We waded into the chilly water alongside cypress toes, careful not to disturb the fish nests…


…and paddled among the trees to the swimming hole, which Phil had told us was 10 feet deep. It was magical.


The first night we enjoyed an excellent pizza at Comfort Pizza, where you have to call in advance to reserve your pizza dough. They only make so much each day, and if they run out you’re out of luck. One pizza is plenty for two, especially with a Greek side salad, which was also tasty. We washed it all down with Shiner Bock, a local beer. (I also highly recommend High’s Cafe for lunch, particularly the Veggie-licious with hummus instead of cream cheese, and 814 A Texas Bistro for dinner; be sure to make reservations.)


After dinner we strolled along High Street, Comfort’s quiet main street lined with well-preserved historic buildings occupied by a boutique hotel, antique stores, an art gallery, a yarn shop, and a refreshingly different elephant shop. Not a single T-shirt/postcard/fudge shop did I see.


Charming old homes and guest houses line the street as well, including one whose front fence was awash with garlands of hot-pink queen’s wreath vine, also known as coral vine (Antigonon leptopus).


I’d thought queen’s wreath bloomed only in late summer/early fall, so I was surprised to see it in full bloom in early summer.


A few tendrils had entwined into a green heart at the front gate, and we pretended it was just for our anniversary.


At Miss Giddy’s gift shop and nursery across the street from the pizza place, a garden of container-planted, colorful zinnias…


…was guarded by a friendly, sunflower-faced scarecrow.


A towering, dried agave bloom stalk stood in another part of the garden, its branches holding a collection of white birdhouses.


The road back to Camp Comfort took us by a pasture with grazing longhorns.


Back at our B&B, we enjoyed one more sunset along Cypress Creek.


What a beautiful place!

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Calling all pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Life is beautiful at Moroccan-inspired Tanglewild Gardens


As we roll toward summer here in Austin, this gardener begins to fantasize about decamping for cooler climes, like the Pacific Northwest, a gardener’s paradise. So it was surprising and enlightening to hear Skottie O’Mahony and Jeff Breitenstein, longtime Seattle residents who are now cultivating an exotic, ambitious garden in North Austin, explain why they moved to Central Texas three years ago:

“We needed to move to a warmer and less rainy climate,” they said, and Austin’s long, hot summer (combined with regular watering) jump-starts their tropical-esque garden each spring, encouraging early, lush growth. The couple also hybridizes daylilies — they’re currently growing more than 1,000 cultivars — and they can establish new plants from seed much faster here than in Seattle. So there you go — sometimes the Death Star can be your friend!


When I visited Tanglewild Gardens last weekend with a couple of friends, Skottie and Jeff hospitably invited us into their home, a 1971 split-level that they’ve transformed inside and out with Moroccan-influenced furnishings and decor, and out through the back door onto an expansive, comfortably furnished porch.


White stucco walls and black trim, a tiled roof, and oversized Moroccan lanterns create an exotic mood, even under cloudy skies threatening rain. The porch roof is clad in old cedar boards that Jeff and Skottie repurposed when they tore out an existing fence to build their garden walls. They used the fence boards on their living room ceiling as well, to wonderful effect — and as Skottie pointed out, less waste went into the landfill.


The swimming pool and back porch came with the house, but the white stuccoed walls are their addition, for Moroccan-style enclosure and privacy and to create distinct garden rooms.


String lights traverse the courtyard for evening enjoyment of the garden. Windows in the walls that extend outward from the house are inset with Moroccan-inspired, laser-cut metal panels, allowing air flow and a hint of the gardens beyond.


Antique doors in the walls create beautiful focal points and invite you to explore the rest of the garden. A mirror at the far end of the pool cleverly creates the illusion of another doorway.


Vernonia flower. Skottie says that in Seattle, when you drop something on the ground it grows, but in Texas you’re lucky if half of what you plant survives. Gardening here has been a learning curve, he admits.


Two enormous Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora), native trees with wisteria-like flowers in spring, were here when they bought the house. Not realizing what they were, they almost cut them down until an arborist convinced them otherwise. The ghost lanterns are Halloween decorations that Jeff liked so much he decided to leave them out year-round.


A tiki bar in the pool courtyard is adorned with a flowering desert rose (Adenium obesum) and, in the smaller pot, a Texas touch — ball moss, our native tillandsia.


More desert roses adorn a tray table next to an intricately carved teak doorway.


Let’s step through…


…into the Moon Garden, which is filled with pale-leaved and fragrant, white-flowering plants for evening enjoyment.


A tall, black-painted fence lets the pale plants shine. Tall, shaggy-trunked palms add height and structure, and a tiered fountain anchors a sitting area with benches.


A white-flowering vitex and moonshine-yellow cannas glow in low light.


Three carved figures — Thai rice goddesses — adorn the rear fence.


Beautiful artwork


Another Moroccan doorway beckons here. They had the walls constructed to fit the wooden doorways they’d collected from antique dealers.


Looking back toward the rice goddess figures


Moving on, this part of the garden, just below the pool courtyard, is densely shaded by live oaks, and tropical-looking rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) grows abundantly.


Looking back up toward the pool courtyard


Heading away from the house, you come to their daylily breeding beds, all carefully labeled in raised wooden planters. A garage and shed, which the couple transformed with Thai-style accents like carved wooden panels, tiled roofs, and cedar-board skirting, enclose the space.


More daylily beds plus a cedar-skirted greenhouse


Inside the greenhouse grow flats of coleus cuttings, which they plan to plant once the daylilies are done, to fill the gaps with foliage color.


Walking to the back of their lot, an area they planted just last year, you get the feeling that the garden is even larger than its 1.7 acres. Water is abundant. They have a well, a spring, and a stretch of Tar Branch Creek (visible at lower-right), which sold them on the property. Eager for more gardening space, they left behind a tiny garden in Seattle, a plot the size of their current swimming pool area.


Another porch is visible off the back of the garage.


An upside-down tree, seeming to scuttle like Thing in the Addams Family, makes a sculptural focal point for the far end of the garden. Jeff explained that the tiny iron star affixed to it denotes a special tree in their garden and is one of five they’ve given a badge of honor. When I pointed out that they’ve adopted the Texas state symbol like natives, he laughingly said they were glad to have Texas stars now, to keep up with their Vancouver friends who adorn their gardens with Canadian maple leaves.


Here’s a surprising sight in their garden, one that they inherited with the property: a sword poking right through an old tree! Texcalibur, they’ve dubbed it. It looks as if it was placed years ago in a crotch of the tree or hacked into its trunk, and the tree grew around it, sealing it inside its widening trunk. Or is it a trick, I wondered, with two halves of a sword stuck on either side of a limb to look like it goes through?

Curious to know more, I searched online later to see if anyone had written about a sword in a tree in North Austin and found an article by Mike Cox, complete with a legend about Spanish explorers and hidden gold. In the 2011 article, an unidentified Austinite in his 70s is quoted as saying he saw what looked like an old Spanish sword in a tree near Walnut Creek in the late 1940s, when he was in the 7th or 8th grade. There’s also a Reddit thread that mentions rumors of a sword in a tree, although no one seemed to know exactly where it was.

And now Skottie and Jeff have lucked onto it. Putting aside the improbability that it’s actually a Spanish sword from the 1700s, it’s still got to be pretty old if it was already embedded in the tree back in the 1940s. When I shared the legend with Skottie, he said, “That is wild about the sword tale. Don’t I wish there was gold back there. Mostly what we find while digging is burnt foil and glass. I think the sword points to the former owner’s garbage burning area.” So much for legends, but still, what an interesting thing to find on your property. And imagine the tall tales you could spin yourself!


The real treasure to be found here, of course, is the garden that Jeff and Skottie are making, an exotic eden that evokes Morocco and Thailand with a Texas twist.


Vita pulchra est, Latin for Life is beautiful, is spelled out on their garden shed, and indeed it is. Thanks for the tour, Skottie and Jeff!


Local readers, if you’d like to see their garden yourself, you can this weekend. Tanglewild Gardens is one of four gardens on the Austin Daylily Society’s free tour this Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. You might also like to follow the Facebook page for Tanglewild Gardens.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Daylily Society will host a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tanglewild Gardens and Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Calling all pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Playful, found-object art garden of Shari Bauer: Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2017


Last weekend I was invited to visit (along with other garden bloggers) the 5 private gardens that’ll be on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour this Saturday, May 6. Hosted by the Travis County Master Gardeners, the tour typically features homeowner-designed and -maintained gardens rather than fancy designer gardens, so you know you’ll see uniquely personal spaces.

The most unique garden on this year’s tour has to be Shari Bauer’s garden in Spicewood. (With two Spicewood gardens on the tour, maybe it should have been renamed Inside and Outside Austin Gardens.)


Shari has adorned her hillside garden perched above the Pedernales River with whimsical sculpture, shrines, and structures she’s whipped up from found objects and thrift-store finds. Even the front grille of an old Willys Jeep is putty in her hands. She turned this one into a one-of-a-kind fountain spilling into a cascading pool. Encircled by lush foliage like philodendron, the vignette reminds me of the scene in Jurassic Park when Dennis crashes his Jeep, right before the dinosaur eats him!


The tropical look continues as you climb uphill, where you find bromeliads growing on tree trunks and tropical houseplants summering outdoors.


Turquoise is Shari’s favorite color, she told us, and she uses it liberally throughout her garden.


After the Jeep fountain I didn’t think anything would surprise me, but this piano did. Draped and stuffed with succulents and cacti, the piano is playing to Shari’s tune.


A closer look reveals fun potted arrangements inside the lid.


Shari creates rooms with furniture, chandeliers hanging from trees, and doorways that invite you in.


Her sense of humor is on full display at every turn. Next to an old sewing machine stands this dress form clad in succulents and “bling.”


Notice the “nipple” piercings.


The head is an agave adorned with dozens of earrings and brooches.


Along another path, a painted shrine with Madonna figurines and an old telephone urges visitors to call their mothers.


In a sunny clearing, a doorway appears. Open it…


…and the path leads to a yellow bench sheltered by a boat standing on end — with a hanging light that actually works. Seated are Cat of The Whimsical Gardener and Linda of Patchwork Garden.


Shari recycles a lot of silver serving pieces, like these teapots turned into a chandelier…


…and a compote turned into a cactus planter. The white spines and hairs of the cacti look quite nice against the tarnished silver.


A turquoise-painted deck offers a stunning view of the Pedernales River, wonderfully full again after previous years of drought.


Here’s Shari, who appeared to be as joyful as her garden.


That’s quite a nice view.


“This is where we count the stars,” reads a sign on the deck’s fire-pit table. Sounds like a nice way to spend an evening.

Up next: The east Austin garden of Daphne Jeffers, a colorful cottage garden out front and a serene Zen garden in back.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

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