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!

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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.

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.

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

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.

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