Going waterwise at Rollingwood City Hall


Putting their money where their mouth is, more and more cities that urge citizens to reduce their water usage are replacing thirsty lawns around courthouses and city halls with xeric landscaping. Rollingwood, a tiny city of around 500 homes just three miles from downtown and surrounded by greater Austin, is setting a fine example with its new City Hall Waterwise Garden at 403 Nixon Drive, installed in autumn 2013.


Not every city has the wherewithal to get the famous Ogdens — part-time Austin residents Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden of Plant-Driven Design — to design it, however. Hired by the city, which received $16,000 in donations from residents (about half of the total design and installation cost, according to the Statesman), the Ogdens collaborated with local designer Patrick Kirwin to create a low-water, no-lawn, deer-resistant garden that offers a beautiful example to neighbors trying to cut back on their own water use.


In this era of native-plant appreciation and, sometimes, rigidity, it’s worth noting that the garden is not strictly a native-plant garden. The Ogdens use many natives in their designs, but they are first and foremost plant lovers who use plants from all over the world. The key to using non-natives successfully, as Scott has explained, is to choose plants from climates that are similar to our own. Well-adapted plants add diversity, which is especially welcome in gardens overrun with deer (which often results in a severely restricted plant palette) and to those who crave a little variety in plant choice.


TexasDeb, a Rollingwood resident and blogger at Austin Agrodolce, alerted me to the new garden about a year ago and suggested I visit. Last week, when the bluebonnets were in full bloom, I stopped by and enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the spring-blooming garden. While still quite young, the garden is filling in quickly and should be showy this fall with ‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly and other grasses, salvias, lantana, mistflower, and beautyberry.


The garden harvests rainwater not just with cisterns connected to gutters but with earth-sculpting. A wide, shallow basin in front of the galvanized cistern collects excess water and holds it, giving it time to soak into the soil. Plants that appreciate a little extra water and can handle seasonal flooding are planted in the basin, like grasses, crinum lily, and Mexican summersweet (Clethra pringlei). Dry-loving plants are kept outside of the basin or on the fast-draining rim.


The entire garden is mulched with angular gravel, which wildflowers like poppy love as much as agaves.


Chopped limestone edging sets off the main gravel path, but for secondary paths the gravel flows sans edging from beds to paths, for a unified look. Plant density, subtle berming, and extra-wide paths help people see where they should be walking and keeps them out of the plants.


This seating spiral — a unique take on a council ring — is a cool feature.


Equal parts seating, garden architecture, and art, it’s constructed simply of large limestone blocks, with corners filled with cairns of stacked, flat stones. Five ‘Green Gem’ boxwood balls add evergreen rhythm around the perimeter.


A “lawn” of ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge (Carex retroflexa), which you can find at Barton Springs Nursery, is filling in under the shade of a large live oak.


The sunny side was abloom, during my visit, with native and adapted wildflowers, which add fast-growing color amid slower but ultimately architectural plants like agave, sotol, yucca, prickly pear, and barrel cactus.


I think this is Agave salmiana, with gray globemallow and Texas bluebonnets.


‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) and bluebonnets — a pretty combo


Wildflower, cactus, and succulent tapestry


Blues, purples, and silvers keep the spring color scheme on the cool side.


Datura and…what is this purple-flowering perennial? Update: It’s Newe Ya’ar sage (Salvia officinalis x S. fruticosa). Thanks for the ID, Linda Lehmusvirta!


A close-up


The bees liked it.


Byzantine gladiolus


Cute cacti


A pink-flowering bauhinia blooms by one of the two large cisterns.


On a rocky hillside, Dioon angustifolium adds a prehistoric vibe.


Pink oxalis — perhaps not planted; it grows wild in my garden — flowers at the dioons’ feet.


Feathery leaves of dioon


From the top of the steps up the hillside, you get a nice view of the sunny side of the garden. Yes, that’s the city hall building — a former residential house, from the looks of it. Update: A local resident tells me it was built to serve as city hall.


Anacacho orchid tree, supported (or protected from deer antlering) by a tepee of cedar posts


Congratulations to the residents of Rollingwood for funding and otherwise supporting the creation of this beautiful water-saving garden. What a great example for other cities to follow.

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

Classical beauty with a modern edge in Sprout’s Rollingwood Garden


I’ve been fortunate this spring to visit a number of new-to-me gardens. One of my favorites is this one, the creation of talented landscape architect Jackson Broussard of Sprout. Located in the Rollingwood neighborhood, the garden is a refresh of an existing garden that, according to Jackson, had plenty of cottage color but not much structure or interest once the flowers faded.


To provide structure and year-round appeal, Jackson carved out space for a dining patio in the heart of the garden. Low limestone walls define the space and offer extra seating as well as a place to display potted plants (see top picture). In the center, a farmhouse table and chairs invite relaxation and al fresco dining. The space is roofed with an arbor of four Bradford pears espaliered to a metal frame — reminiscent of Deborah Hornickel’s Bradford pear arbor. Jackson explained that the ornamental pear’s flexible limbs and fast growth make it well suited to espalier.

The double line of trees, walls, and long table lead the eye straight to an overscaled terracotta urn elevated on a circular plinth and framed by a striking cluster of powder-blue Yucca rostrata. It’s a stunning composition.


The structure and openness of the dining patio — amid a lushly planted garden — draws the eye wherever you stand. Here’s the view from the back gate, looking across a tapestry-style shade garden.


And a little closer, with roses in the foreground


Those yuccas, though! They’re like blue fireworks exploding above blooming aloes and poppies. The brick wall at the end of the path separates the garden from the pool patio behind the house. The seclusion creates a secret-garden mood.


Entering the garden from the gate by the house, the urn is the focal point.


Throughout the flowering perennials and annuals, evergreens like blue nolina (Nolina nelsonii) add structure and beauty that doesn’t fade away in winter.


More blue nolinas mingling with poppies, roses, and iris. Italian cypresses add vertical punctuation.


Poppies along the path


And looking the other direction


A metal raven holds a colored stone in its beak atop a round pedestal, with blue nolina leaves in the foreground.


Flowering roses add romance and spring color.


Curving along the back of the garden, the path is edged with pink phlox and false foxglove penstemon (I think) Chinese foxglove (Rehmannia elata). A clipped boxwood in a terracotta pot makes a classical accent.


A close-up of the false foxglove penstemon Chinese foxglove


The main path bisects the garden, with the shade tapestry and pear-arbor patio on the left and the sunny flower garden on the right.


The shade garden is spectacular, with a lushness usually reserved for more-temperate climates. Red amaryllis blazes in the foreground.


Shades of green, with a pop of red, and a killer focal point


Dwarf Japanese maple, persicaria, and leopard plant make up the tapestry of foliage in the shade garden, with amaryllis sprinkled throughout, some in bud and some in flower.


The back gate offers a sneak peek of the garden inside.

My thanks to the owners and to Jackson Broussard of Sprout for allowing me to visit and share this beautiful garden with you!

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

Meadows abloom and a swingin’ arboretum at the Wildflower Center


For my third and final post about last Saturday’s visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, I’ll lead with the state flower and inducer of innumerable spring photo ops: the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), pictured here with a smattering of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).


Flower peeping is what visitors were there for (if they weren’t at the plant sale), and there was plenty of it.


Prairie penstemon (Penstemon cobaea), I think


People atop the cistern tower were enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the wildflower meadow. An aqueduct funnels runoff from a nearby rooftop into the center of the tower, which contains a water storage tank.


The upper part of the spiraling stair is on the outside of the tower, pictured here. The lower stair is inside the tower. A landing halfway up offers a view down into the water cistern. It’s pretty cool!


Administrative buildings and surrounding garden


Atop one of the walls is a planting niche containing a sweet combo of bluebonnets and four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa).


Moving on to the relatively new Arboretum, I stopped to admire a silvery-trunked Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) underplanted with wiry Texas nolina (Nolina texana) in bloom.


More bluebonnets!


On the longer loop trail, you eventually come to a grove of live oaks, from whose branches hang a dozen or more swings, all kinds, from classic board seats (I had a swing here)…


…to seats with safety straps for those who need a little extra help…


…to single and love-seat swinging chairs (I swung here too). There are even a few disk-style rope swings. Now tell me, who could resist stopping for a swing under the oaks?


When they aren’t supplying fun, the Arboretum’s trees offer writhing, spiraling drama…


…or simply a shady resting spot.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this 3-part spring visit to the Wildflower Center. For a look back at the blossoming Family Garden, click here.

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