Glass art and cacti galore at Living Desert Ranch


The weird and wonderful, from plants to garden art, can be found at Living Desert Ranch in Spicewood, Texas, about 30 miles northwest of Austin. Part cactus and succulent nursery and part art gallery, Living Desert is the creation of Darrell Dunten, who ran the business for 30 years out of a shop in Bee Caves (see my 2009 post about it). About five years ago, as development in Bee Caves exploded, Darrell moved his plants and art out to rural Spicewood, where his tin ornaments spin in the breeze under tree limbs and chunks of colorful slag glass (not as easy to get as it used to be, he says) sparkle in the parking lot.


Darrell has expanded the business since moving to Spicewood. He and his wife DeAnna also run a B&B and offer brunch (an entirely plant-based menu) every Thursday through Sunday.


The slag-glass art is what I remember best about the original Living Desert, and lots of Darrell’s pieces are displayed in his greenhouse, alongside his plants.


These garden stakes topped with glass chunks look like wizard staffs.


Beautiful cacti are neatly arrayed on nursery tables.


Many were in bloom during my visit a couple of weeks ago, when I stopped on the way to my Hill Country wildflower photo safari.


Hello there!


Even cylindrical snake plant (Sansevieria cylindrica) was blooming, which I’d never seen.


Glazed ceramic cones stamped with floral patterns make pretty wall planters for cactus and succulents.


There were rectangular hanging pots too.


Molded faces dangle eerily here and there.


I liked this metal heart with a glass heart glowing inside it.


Donkey ears kalanchoe (I think) in towering bloom


Frankenstein’s monster? This is a grafted creation, with two different species turned into one plant.


Personally, I prefer them the way they naturally grow.


In Darrell’s hands, anything makes a good planter.


But some of his treasures are not for sale, like this beauty. I’ve no idea what it is, but wow, isn’t it gorgeous?


Living Desert Ranch is definitely worth a visit if you enjoy cactus and succulents and unique yard art. And unique Texas characters too.

Note: Living Desert Ranch is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. And according to its website, it will be closed every day next week until Easter brunch.

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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.

Chasing Georgia O’Keefe’s ghost at Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch


The day after gazing at Georgia O’Keefe’s landscapes and monumental flower paintings at the museum in Santa Fe, we drove north through the monsoon-greened high desert of northern New Mexico, the landscape the artist adopted as her own.


As soon as I saw it, that was my country, Georgia O’Keefe said of New Mexico. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly. –from a video at the O’Keefe Museum


I’d admired this painting, The Road to Pedernal, at the O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. O’Keefe’s home at Ghost Ranch enjoyed a view of the Pedernal, which she painted again and again.

It’s the most wonderful place you can imagine….And I have this mountain, the Pedernal. God told me that if I painted it often enough, he would give it to me. –O’Keefe in a letter to a friend

The next day, as we neared the tiny village of Abiquiu, where she also had a studio (not far from Ghost Ranch), I wondered if we’d be able to see “her mountain” from the highway.


Sure enough, the flat-topped peak unmistakably appeared in the distance, and I turned onto a side road to chase a better view.


O’Keefe country

On the main highway, we saw a sign for tours of O’Keefe’s Abiquiu studio. I inquired about tickets, but they were sold out weeks in advance, I was told. Instead we simply drove the backroads of Abiquiu and saw the landscape for ourselves, where O’Keefe’s spirit still lingers.


Not far up the highway, a sign for Ghost Ranch appeared, with O’Keefe’s distinctive cow skull imagery, so we turned in, even though I’d heard that her Ghost Ranch home is not open to public tour.


What majestic views along the road, and that sky!


I bet there’s an O’Keefe painting of this view.


As it turns out, Ghost Ranch is a Presbyterian-owned education and retreat center, and O’Keefe’s former home is located off the main road, out of view and not open for tours.


But you can stroll the grounds by the main hall…


…which includes a smattering of rustic cabins — one of which O’Keefe once stayed in, or so a docent told us — and admire the rugged beauty of the landscape.


On the porch of one cabin, sun-bleached animal bones were arranged on a table, evoking O’Keefe’s bone-and-sky paintings.


Sky and rock and bone…


…and flowers — the inspiration for her art is everywhere at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu.

If you go, reserve in advance for tours of O’Keefe’s Abiquiu studio, and be sure to pop into the lovely gift shop at the Abiquiu Inn for a look around and maybe a souvenir.

Up next: Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings, and a coyote! For a look back at hidden gardens, art, and architecture in Santa Fe, click here.

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

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Wildflower drive through the Texas Hill Country


Yesterday, under drizzly skies, my mother and I hit the road on a wildflower safari through the Hill Country west of Austin. I try to see the wildflowers at peak every year if we have a decent show (winter rains are the key), and this year it’s about two weeks earlier than usual, thanks to an unusually warm winter.


Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) and Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) have stained the roadsides blue and red along U.S. Highways 183 and 29, between Bertram and Llano.


Where I could pull over safely, I stopped to take pictures, crouching low to shoot across the flowers and capture the rugged hills in the distance.


Texas is the land of pickup trucks, and it’s easy to get a shot of one zooming past the flowers.


Cedar-post and barbed-wire fencing makes an iconic backdrop as well.


Live oaks clothed in spring greens and spiny prickly pear add rugged architecture to a wildflower meadow.


The paintbrush is as bright as the construction signs in the distance.


Pretty!


The paintbrush is definitely having a banner year.


But we saw good patches of bluebonnets too.


Along one roadside, I spotted a few white-and-pale-blue bluebonnets.


More Indian paintbrush


A wider view


From Llano we headed south down Highway 16 and detoured a few miles west so Mom could see Enchanted Rock, an exposed pink-granite dome. For scale, note the car near the bottom of the photo.


As Enchanted Rock’s website explains:

One billion years ago, this granite was part of a large pool of magma, or hot liquid rock, perhaps seven miles below the earth’s surface. It pushed up into the rock above in places, then cooled and hardened very slowly, turning into granite. Over time, the surface rock and soil wore away. Those pushed-up areas are the domes you see in the park: Enchanted Rock, Little Dome, Turkey Peak and others.


See the people at the very top? According to the website, “Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level, and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- or 40-story building.”

I’ve been to the top a few times over the years, although it’s been a while.


Heading back down Highway 16, we soon turned off again on the Willow City Loop, a public road through ruggedly scenic private land, and a popular bike route and wildflower-peeping drive. Plentiful signs warn visitors not to trespass or even park along the road. But on a drizzly Tuesday, traffic was light, and I was able to park the car a few times and stand in the road to take photos.


The loop is a winding, 2-lane paved road — i.e., bikeable — but dirt roads like this one lead off to ranch homes hidden in the hills.


Newly leafed-out mesquites stand among bluebonnets and white prickly poppies.


Along much of the loop, you’re driving through unfenced private land where cattle graze freely. Cattle guards keep them from escaping, but you do have to watch the road for cows.


This one gave us a long look.


We saw a few fields of yellow daisies and majestic live oaks.


I don’t have an ID for this one. Maybe golden groundsel?


This yellow farmhouse enjoys a front yard of bluebonnets, paintbrush, and prickly pear.


One of the most charming scenes is along a ranch property whose fence posts are topped with upside-down cowboy boots.


Boots of every size and color adorn the posts for a quarter-mile.


KE is, I believe, the name of the ranch.


Looks like a place to kick up your heels, doesn’t it?


If you get close to a large patch of bluebonnets, you discover they have a honey-sweet fragrance. I got as close as I could without stepping in them — a Texas etiquette no-no. Plus you might find fire ants or a rattlesnake in there.


The rugged beauty of a Hill Country view is always a treat, but especially in wildflower season. If you’re thinking of going, I’d say you have another week to catch the bluebonnets.

Update: For more wildflower pics — lots and lots of poppies — from a visit to Wildseed Farms on our way home, click here.

For my past wildflower safaris, click these links:
An Easter wildflower safari, April 2015
Wildflower safari in the Hill Country, April 2010
Texas wildflower Bloom Day, April 2010

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come meet me at Zilker Garden Festival, Austin, TX, April 2 & 3
Get your gardening mojo on at Zilker Garden Festival! I’ll be at the brand-new Author Booth both days this weekend between 10 am and 2 pm (near the main building entrance), and I’ll be selling signed copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! ($20 each). Zilker Garden Festival is the garden’s only fundraiser (and it needs our support) and offers all-day entertainment, vendor shopping, plant sales, demonstrations, live music, a beer garden and food vendors, children’s activities, a garden train, a flower show, and a docent-led tour of lovely Zilker Botanical Garden. Don’t miss it!

Join me for lunch downtown at Holy Grounds coffee shop and cafe on Wednesday, April 6, at noon. As part of their Coffee with the Author series, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me and host a Q&A with the audience — i.e., y’all — and afterward I’ll sign copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!. I hope to see you there for this intimate, lunchtime event. Holy Grounds is located in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street in downtown Austin. You can park in the surface lot in front of St. David’s main doors.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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