Jenny Stocker’s English Texas gravel garden

My friend Jenny Stocker, who blogs at Rock Rose, has shared her garden with me many times over the years. Each time I am struck anew by the beauty of her English-style xeric Texas garden, which shows many native plants to advantage in gravel-mulched, walled courtyards surrounding her contemporary stucco home in southwest Austin. On Tuesday a friend and I were treated to another visit, and I can’t resist posting about her garden again.

Pictured at top is my favorite space in Jenny’s garden, a sunny, open, sunken garden paved with stone and gravel and self-seeding little plants, surrounded by coffee-table-sized boulders, yucca, and taller flowering perennials. A comfortably furnished covered porch overlooks the sunken garden, a sapphire-blue swimming pool, and the greenbelt behind. On this early November morning, the garden was abloom with color and drenched in sunlight.

But let’s start at the beginning, outside the front walled garden, where Jenny likes to begin her visitor’s tour. This is the approach from the driveway, a rugged limestone path set in gravel. There are no formally delineated beds, just tough, native plants following the pathway’s edges. This area is not on irrigation, although Jenny mentioned she has hand-watered the plants a few times over the summer.

Cenizo in bloom

Along the wall that hides the front garden from view, a foundation planting of dwarf yaupon holly loosely echoes a line of boulders. Square mirrors on the wall masquerade as peek-a-boo windows.

Fall color, Texas style. We had difficulty identifying this volunteer. We thought it might be skeleton-leaf goldeneye daisy, but the leaves don’t look feathery enough. Update: Thanks to Tina for a possible ID as goldeneye (Viguiera dentata), a relative of the skeleton-leaf.

Walk through the gate in the monumental arbor that shelters it, and you enter the front courtyard, which I expect is sunny at midday and beyond. This is a beautiful gravel garden with tidy, mounding plants and ruby grass ‘Pink Crystals’ (Melinus nerviglumis).

Jenny’s front door is embraced by star jasmine, which must be incredible in spring bloom.

Jenny loves flowers, but she’s not at all afraid of spiky succulents, which add structure and interest throughout her garden.

Manfreda sileri

Golden barrel cactus

Passing through an intimate walled garden along the side of the house, you step into another large courtyard with a tall stucco wall dividing it from the next space—but tantalizing doors and windows offer glimpses of what’s to come.

A window in the wall offers a peek at an inviting seating area and more garden beyond.

But before we move on, let me rhapsodize about Jenny’s Philippine violet (Barleria cristata), which is simply gorgeous in full, bushy bloom.

Why am I not growing this plant?!

With those largish leaves and lush habit, it doesn’t look like a plant that would survive a summer like we just endured, much less look so good doing it.

Moving on…you pass through the open doorway in the stucco wall and enter the sunken garden and pool courtyard.

‘Fireworks’ gomphrena blazes away in the sun. I’ve seen this tall gomphrena all over central Texas this year.

It’s easy to see why this annual is so popular all of a sudden. Great color and height, wonderful in masses, heat and drought tolerant. Lovely!

The focal point of Jenny’s sunken garden is a birdbath and rabbit ornament, with the flagstones and boulders softened by flowering perennials, self-seeding annuals, and small grasses.

Great contrast between unyielding limestone and soft-textured flowers and grasses.

‘Radsunny’, a buttery yellow Knock Out rose

The garden style may be English (as are the owners), but Jenny plays up the Western theme on the covered porch with cowboy art and pillows and Mexican-pottery lizards. She’s corralled much of her succulent collection on the hearth, but these go in the greenhouse when a freeze threatens.

View from the porch

Yuccas, roses, salvias and more, plus rocks and walls, in a symphony of color and structure.

Narrowleaf zinnia and lamb’s ear make a cool combo.

Orange tithonia attracts butterflies in the sunken garden.

Everywhere you look, there’s texture and color.

Gomphrena, salvia, and ruby grass

A little New Mexico comes into play with a chile ristra spicing up a stuccoed wall.

A pedestal planter with Mexican feathergrass and narrowleaf zinnia anchors a circle of thyme.

The final walled garden contains Jenny’s potager. Screened frames keep hungry critters out of fall vegetables, while annual celosia pops up each year amid the pavers.

Jenny has been picking pomegranates and straining the seeds to top her breakfast cereal, but I saw a few more dangling from the branches.

I love that rosy color against the sandy-hued walls.

‘Bloodspot’ mangave and pyracantha in fall berry

Thank you again, Jenny, for sharing your garden with me. It’s beautiful as always, even after a very difficult central Texas summer.

For anyone interested in more of Jenny’s garden, especially in spring, read my other posts:
Jenny’s flower-licious walled garden
Feeding the soul in Jenny’s garden
Meeting Carol & a tour of Jenny Stocker’s garden

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Plano Prairie Garden alight with fall color

Sometimes you just luck into a great garden visit. Last weekend my family and I drove up to Dallas for the state fair, staying overnight at my father-in-law’s house in Richardson, a northern suburb. The day we left Austin I realized that we would be staying very close to Plano, another Dallas suburb, so I contacted Michael McDowell of Plano Prairie Garden, a blog I’ve been following for a couple of years, and asked if I could pop by. Oh, and could it be at 8 a.m. on Sunday (before my family got going for the day)? A good sport, Michael agreed, and so I found myself driving up to his suburban home, an island in a sea of traditional lawns, where his gorgeous garden was in full fall bloom in the magical light of early morning. How lucky can you get?

Michael’s prairie garden is an anomaly in his neighborhood, which is ironic considering the neighborhood’s name, Prairie Creek. He began digging out his St. Augustine/Bermuda lawn when he moved in, about 7 years ago, gradually expanding from the foundation to the curb. Today his front and back yards are lawn-free, with decomposed-granite paths running through prairie-style gardens. Only a narrow carpet of lawn grass remains, in a skinny side yard and along the alley where he parks, and I have a feeling its days are numbered.

The largest part of his garden is 3 years old, the “leaping” year according to gardening lore. Even after this summer’s terrible heat and ongoing drought, with a watering regimen of once every 7-10 days, his xeric garden was full and flowery. Recent cooler weather and 4 inches of rain prompted it to burst into bloom, just in time for my visit! Lucky, right?

The purple spires of gayfeather (Liatris mucronata or punctata) may have been the star of the show, although they had serious competition from the salvias, not to mention the ornamental grasses.

The coppery, upright foliage of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) threads its way through the front garden, adding continuity, texture, and fall color. Michael said it’s half the height it normally would be because of the drought, but I liked the small size. Hot-pink Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) looks especially pretty next to it.

In a wider view, you can see liatris in front and a glowing pink agastache behind.

A close-up of the agastache

Rich purple wands of liatris add vertical spikiness.

Michael uses succulents like this pale-leaf yucca (Yucca pallida) and spineless prickly pear (Opuntia) to add evergreen structure, which anchors all his billowing, fine-leaved perennials.

Opuntia, little bluestem, Salvia coccinea, and pale-leaf yucca

Close to the house, Michael recently added an Austin-style feature: a stock-tank bog planter filled with horsetail (Equisetum hyemale). Michael said one of his neighbors remarked skeptically that maybe it should have stayed in Austin. Naturally, I loved it.

I also love this picture because it captures the prairie gardener himself reflected in a window. He was standing beside me as I snapped away, thinking to stay out of the frame—ha! The beautiful grass in front is pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia), a native grass from west Texas.

Salvia coccinea and Yucca pallida

Magical morning light

A tighter view

And looking down you see mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea) with pink skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens) behind it.

Cheerful, petite, nearly ever-blooming hymenoxys (Tetraneuris scaposa) catches the sunlight.

More liatris, with Salvia greggii behind and Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) in front

Monarchs love Gregg’s mistflower at this time of year.

Michael’s small back garden blazed with fiery Salvia coccinea, a sight sure to delight any straggler hummingbirds on their way south.

We spotted this queen butterfly on a shoulder-high frostweed (Verbesina virginica).

On first glance I thought this was a kidneywood tree (Eysenhardtia texana) in full bloom, but Michael informed me that it’s beebrush (Aloysia gratissima). Both are honeybee-attractors, and they have a similar airy habit and tiny, white flowers.

Fall aster (Aster oblongifolius) will bring in the bees too.

Other beneficial insects are also welcome in Michael’s garden, like this wasp on goldenrod (Solidago).

Faded chocolate daisies (Berlandiera lyrata) are as beautiful as fresh ones, to my eyes.

Fragrant mistflower (Eupatorium havanense), also known as shrubby white boneset, was covered with buds. This is a Halloween bloomer in my garden, and its ghostly white flower clusters attract butterflies by the dozens.

Hercules’ club tree (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) was new to me. I like its glossy, notched leaves, but watch out for those thorns that give this plant its name.

Michael transplanted aggressively spreading snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis) from another part of his garden into his hell strip in early summer, and it quickly colonized this difficult area. It dies back in winter, he told me, and he whacks it back before spring to neaten it up.

Michael generously shared several plants with me, including a good-sized pine muhly, with which I’m not as familiar as Lindheimer’s and Gulf muhly. Pine muhly was one of his best-performing grasses during this challenging summer, he told me, along with bushy bluestem, little bluestem, and seep muhly. (I didn’t notice any Mexican feathergrass in Michael’s garden.) Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) suffered badly from the drought, and he said he’ll be pulling it out.

Thanks to Michael, I learned about several native Texas plants I’d not encountered, and saw firsthand the beauty of a prairie garden and just how much life it attracts compared to the lawn deserts that surround it. His design sense (repetition of plants, use of structural plants, well-designed and generous paths) impressed me too. He mentioned that he doesn’t always get it right the first time, but he’s not afraid to move plants around until it looks right. I asked if he ever just sat in his garden to admire it, especially at this time of year, but like most gardeners he just laughed and asked, “Sit?”

I also admired his fearlessness in trying something new. Before moving to his current home, Michael had a garden where he grew a lot of antique roses. But he wanted to try a prairie garden here, with mostly native plants that would attract wildlife (a quality roses lack), and he threw himself into it, doing all the work himself a little at a time. He didn’t let a lawn-loving neighborhood aesthetic stop him either, although he does strive to keep things neater out front than in back for the sake of the neighbors. Now he reaps the rewards, with a low-water garden that is beneficial to wildlife and delightful to visitors as well. Thanks, Michael, for sharing your garden with me!

If you’d like to know more about Michael’s garden, visit his blog, Plano Prairie Garden, and click to read a Dallas Morning News article about his garden from last summer.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Seattle Japanese Garden, a tranquil oasis in the city

In late July, after the Seattle Garden Bloggers Fling ended, my family joined me for sightseeing in the Emerald City and beyond. I convinced them to see one more garden with me, the Seattle Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum.

At 3-1/2 acres, the garden is just the right size to while away a pleasant hour or two, strolling the paths around the pond, resting on benches to gaze upon carefully arranged views, and admiring or perhaps feeding the enormous koi that follow you around the pond’s edge like dogs begging for table scraps. Designed and constructed by Japanese garden designer Juki Iida in 1960 and renovated in 2002, at 50 years old the garden is serenely beautiful, well-kept, and surely a jewel in the Seattle parks system.

Restful shades of green, some loose, others clipped, are accented with traditional stone lanterns.

A stream tumbles down a naturalistic, boulder-strewn hillside…

…and spills down little waterfalls into small pools.

A large pond is the focal point of the garden and offers beautiful vistas from all sides. The reddish orange foliage of several Japanese maples and the cool weather made me feel as if I’d somehow leapt past summer into fall (I wish!).

A small stone lantern perches at the pond’s edge.

Cloud-pruned pines lead the eye to tall evergreens surrounding and entirely screening the garden from city views. You can almost forget that you’re in an urban setting.

Lantern detail

More beautiful Japanese maple foliage frames a tea house on the far side of the pond.

Lovely views

And hungry koi

Bridges lead across the pond in various spots.

I liked the zig-zag bridge.

I was surprised to see azaleas in bloom at this time of year, and to see them clipped into topiary. It works in this setting.

More relaxed, a mossy weeping willow leans languidly over the pond.

A wider view with the willow

Another reddish maple, and another beautiful bridge, this one a low, wooden arch.

We were captivated by open vistas like these…

…and intimate vignettes alike. I’m so glad we made time for a visit to Seattle’s timeless Japanese Garden.

Up next: A visit to majestic Mt. Rainier National Park. Local readers, I hope these posts offer a visual cool-down from our ongoing heat wave!

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.