Geometric design creates modern garden for entertaining

I’ve been lucky to visit a number of new-to-me gardens this spring, and I have one more to show you: Jennifer Lingvai’s contemporary, designed-for-entertaining garden in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. The talented B. Jane of B. Jane Gardens designed and installed it for Jennifer, who requested a low-maintenance, mostly green garden with plenty of room to entertain friends and family.

In front, a mosaic-style paver path set in Texas black gravel leads to the front porch through a no-lawn garden of low-water plants.

Block-style planting gives the garden a contemporary look.

Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), softleaf yucca (Y. recurvifolia), and ‘Belinda’s Dream’ roses are each planted in two evenly spaced rows and underplanted with spreading silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea). A Hollywood driveway (visible at right), consisting of two concrete strips set in gravel, is a green solution that reduces impervious cover and helps the property absorb rainwater.

‘Belinda’s Dream’ roses look fussy but are tough and easy-care.

An apron of gravel doubles the perceived size of the front porch and creates openness at the entry. No claustrophobia-inducing, overgrown shrubs here. An airy Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) adds height to a bed of irises at right.

As you enter the back yard via the driveway, you see a beautifully designed contemporary carport that draws your eye across a neat, rectangular lawn to the back of the garden. Additional concrete strips appear in the gravel driveway here, creating a sort of patio that aligns with a small patio with built-in seating directly across the lawn. Immediately to your left is a low, open deck — a holding space, Jennifer told me, for a future house expansion.

A closer look at the built-in seating area reveals two L-shaped seat walls with two blocky planters in the middle. A grid of concrete pavers floors the space and melds with a paver path that runs along the lawn between the deck and the carport.

The strikingly modern carport, which was designed by architect Eva Schone, doubles as a covered party space that protects guests from sun or rain. Misters built into the exposed rafters emit a light, cooling spray in summer, and a fan keeps the air moving. The enclosed section, which is clad in horizontal steel planks, with a ribbon of semi-translucent glass or plastic running along the top, contains a bathroom and storage.

An upward-swooping roof protects front-porch seating. The blue poufs were being kept dry on the chairs during my late-April visit but would normally function as ottomans or extra seating.

I love the plank-like steel siding.

Along the carport, a metal-mesh screen with built-in planters and a bench (extra seating) offers a sense of enclosure and also distracts the eye from the neighbor’s garage.

Fig ivy (Ficus pumila) climbs the metal screen and will soon create the effect of a green wall. Foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri) adds soft texture below.

At back of the carport, a generously proportioned potting bench with a built-in sink is a delightful surprise. It doubles, Jennifer told me, as a catering station during parties.

Ivy on the back fence creates a wall of greenery.

As you come around the other side of the carport, a paver path leads you toward the deck. At right, an old clothesline was preserved for outdoor drying, with gravel neatly paving the space. Just beyond, steel planter boxes contain citrus trees.

This summer (the garden was installed last fall) Jennifer plans to hang a screen on the front wall of the carport and host outdoor-movie nights for her friends. The lawn offers space to spread out a blanket and settle in with a bowl of popcorn.

The deck provides space for additional seating and dining, at least until Jennifer decides to bump out an extension on the house. Currently the garden is accessed via a back door along the driveway side of the house, but no doubt Jennifer plans to add direct access when she remodels.

Contemporary planters on the deck hold an agave, variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), and a rose.

Additional metal-mesh screening and built-in steel planters give privacy to the deck seating. Easy-care, low-water foxtail fern is massed for effect.

There are so many great ideas here. My thanks to Jennifer for allowing me to share her lovely and highly functional garden with you, and to B. Jane for the introduction!

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

Farewell visit to James David’s Austin garden, part 1

James and Gary’s entry garden, a gravel garden featuring agaves, aloes, succulents, and other dry-adapted plants from around the world

After 36 years devoted to creating an extravagantly plant-rich, terraced, one-of-a-kind garden on two acres in Austin’s Rollingwood neighborhood, landscape architect James David and his partner Gary Peese are leaving it all behind. Their home — an elegant, contemporary hideaway with a detached, modern concrete studio — is on the market, and they’ve already begun work on a new home and garden in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Entry garden, with a fringe of Cupressus funebris, aka Chinese weeping cypress (I think), framing the scene

I was invited to visit in late March, when the live oaks were alight with new chartreuse leaves and the Texas mountain laurels were dripping with fragrant blossoms. James gave me a tour of the garden, rattling off botanical names so fast I caught only a few of them, and then invited me into his studio for a brief interview about leaving the garden.

Arbor made of crisscrossing steel pipes with concrete posts, to the left of the entry garden

He told me he is 71 and ready for a new adventure, cooler weather, and a smaller garden. He and Gary have already spent two summers in Santa Fe, remodeling two houses and making plans to build a house on a vacant lot they purchased. Their future garden is, for now, mainly wildflowers, said James.

Shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana) blooms around the patio, but the largely evergreen garden screens the nearby road from view

I imagine Santa Fe, which recently opened a new botanical garden, will be very happy to have them. Their departure will be Austin’s loss. James and Gary’s influence on the gardening scene in Austin is huge. For nearly three decades they owned and operated the iconic garden shop and boutique nursery Gardens (now closed) and David/Peese Design, a garden design studio that’s given many well regarded designers in Austin and beyond their early training.

James has also served for many years as chairman of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program and has opened his own garden to the public many times. I’ve posted about my Open Days visits twice, in October 2006 and October 2010. Thanks to James and Gary’s generosity, attendees of the inaugural Garden Bloggers Fling enjoyed a private tour in 2008.

White irises mark the final resting place of four of James and Gary’s pet cats

Since I’ve never gardened anywhere longer than 7 years, I can hardly fathom the depth of garden making that goes into a 36-year-old garden. James is the primary designer and gardener. (Gary told me he is more of a vegetable gardener, tending the kitchen gardens near the house.) James’s avidity for new and different plants — “if you love the plant you’ll find a place for it,” he declared in a Martha Stewart video about his garden — is reined in by a classic approach to design.

Boxwood pruned into an embroidery of loops and curves

Evergreen hedges, strong hardscape structure, formal axes that lead the eye and focal points that arrest it — these elements create compelling views from inside the home, lead one on a journey of discovery along numerous tempting paths, and provide multiple places to stop and enjoy the garden.

Let’s follow a few of the paths together, starting here at street level and working our way around the house, down to the lowest level of the back garden, and back up. This formal parterre garden along the street…

…is accessed on one end via a curving, shallow stair. At its foot, an olive jar and round stones attract the eye amid evergreen shrubs.

An especially dark purple Texas mountain laurel (Sephora secundiflora) caught my eye here.

In the shade, tall stems of blue flowers reminded me of English bluebells. Could these be Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica)?

A very narrow path leads from the olive jar through a plane of clipped boxwood (a substitute for a lawn’s negative space, James told me) toward a side patio on the house. I find this path a bit narrow for comfort, but James said he enjoys the feeling of moving through the plants. Maybe if you have a man’s narrow hips? I sidled through.

Stopping at the patio and looking back toward the olive jar, the view is entrancing. Those leading lines…

…they work to pull you in multiple directions.

Let’s head back to the entry garden…

…to admire those gorgeous agaves again. Aloes were blooming too.

Visitors are immersed in the garden before they even reach the front door.

The front door is sheltered under a narrow porch and set modestly to one side.

A patchwork of paving materials imposes a linear design on the intimate entry court, softened by planting pockets.

At the front steps, a dozen rectangular pots and troughs cluster for impact. A collection of spherical stones adds a contrasting shape.

Chinese ground orchid (Bletilla striata) in spring bloom

Some sort of protea? Scadoxus puniceus var. natalensis (thanks, Astra and John)

Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa) sending up towering bloom spikes, backed by native ranunculus

While the street side of the property is relatively flat, in back a steep natural ravine has been tamed with a series of elegant stone and gravel terraces, including this narrow one along the foundation. A semicircular stone console table under a window displays a pot of succulents.

Along one axis parallel to the house, a double line of squat, pyramidal boxwoods leads to a pyramid-shaped shed with a dogtrot-style doorway running through the middle.

Sheathed in galvanized metal siding and roofing, it’s a striking focal point from several paths, including this one that runs below it.

Pass through the open doorway and you come to a stone walk that leads to the detached studio (which I’ll show in part 2). This is the view looking back through the pyramid shed. A Texas mountain laurel in full, fragrant bloom leans on the path.

Another view, with Gary and their dog Alice

Taking the lower path back around the pyramid shed…

…you come to this vignette. Under a flowering Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa), a weather-aged pot sits empty atop a limestone plinth.

Texas mountain laurel and Mexican buckeye are native, spring-flowering trees that make a pretty pair.

Another view

Ahead, the path straightens and enters a pyramid-shaped, trellis-walled gazebo. Triangular benches in each corner offer a place to rest and enjoy a lovely view back to the empty pot on the plinth — centered, you’ll notice, in the doorway of the gazebo.

Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) climbs the gazebo, its clusters of burgundy flowers dangling like parachutes. I’d love to see the sausage-shaped fruit that follows in the fall.

A wider view of the trellis gazebo shows a Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense) pruned up tree-form, its burgundy leaves offering a color echo of the chocolate vine’s flowers.

Turning the opposite direction, the axis continues parallel to the house, leading to a secluded dining table hemmed in by low retaining walls. A double line of string lights tracks above the space to the dovecote structure that terminates the sight line. On the right, behind the lower wall…

…is a built-in BBQ for entertaining. An oversized stone finial echoes the pyramid shapes that appear throughout the garden.

On the wooden table, a beautiful potted amaryllis echoes the burnt orange of the metal chairs.

Beyond the table a gravel courtyard with a steel fire pit offers another gathering place. It’s also the center of a perpendicular, downward-leading axis from the back of the house through the lower garden, which I’ll show in part 2. The shallow steps at left lead up to the house and the street-side garden. Turning to the right you’d see the most dramatic view of the whole garden: a grand staircase with a rill running down the center that leads to a large pond. Coming up next!

I’ll end part 1 with a framed view of spring-green trees, as seen through the limestone dovecote window…

…and a sweet pink-and-cream rose.

Up next: Part 2 of my farewell visit to James David’s garden

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

A blooming good time at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Spring is the Wildflower Center‘s showiest season, and last Saturday I shared the gardens with many other flower-peepers. (Click for part 1 of my Wildflower Center visit.) In this post we’ll revisit the nearly 1-year-old Luci and Ian Family Garden, where Gulf Coast penstemon (Penstemon tenuis) was in full bloom.

Gulf Coast penstemon is one of my favorite spring-blooming perennials for part shade in my garden, and it’s beautiful in a full-sun rain garden here.

An extended gutter carries rainwater off the roof of a shade pavilion and into a large cistern. Excess water overflows into a surrounding rain garden.

Hill Country penstemon (Penstemon triflorus), I think

And more penstemon

I really like this screen of Arizona cypress ‘Blue Ice’, fronted with masses of Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), autumn sage (Salvia greggii), and Wheeler’s sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri). Wouldn’t this be pretty to screen neighboring houses in your sunny, dry back yard? That is, if you have no power lines to watch out for; those cypresses get tall.

Rivers of autumn sage and feathergrass

A stream runs through the family garden, and irises were in bloom along the margins. A tile “pictograph” in one of the play caves makes a fun backdrop.

One little girl was fascinated by the waterfall…

…and the stream. I wish this garden had been here when my kids were little. They’d have loved being allowed to muck around and do some hands-on exploration. Luckily for them, their parents knew where to find streams in the greenbelts around Austin, so they had plenty of mucking time anyway.

I never see many kids playing on the walls or walking the Nature’s Spiral, but I guess it’s hard to compete with running water.

Gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana) was in full bloom here, as in my garden.

Although the Wildflower Center’s gardens contain only plants native to Texas, the staff horticulturists are not averse to using new cultivars of old favorites, like ‘Brakelights’ red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), a smaller, red-flowering version.

I’m a sucker for red and blue and enjoyed this combo of Arizona cypress, ‘Brakelights’ red yucca, and Wheeler’s sotol. It looks like ground-covering purple verbena is starting to fill in nicely too.

Looking back at the shade pavilion, and the cistern shown at the top of this post

Bluebonnets mingling with the fresh green leaves of an emerging plant — standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) maybe? liatris (thanks, Agnes!).

Throughout the family garden, bronze animal sculptures await discovery. Here we have an inquisitive raccoon…

…a jackrabbit about to bolt…

…a pair of coyotes howling at the moon…

…a roadrunner with a freshly caught anole in its beak…

…and a covey of quail under a mesquite.

A large play lawn is seeded with Habiturf, a low-water, native lawn mix suitable for the hot, sunny Southwest. It looks beautiful, doesn’t it?

Lady Bird’s vision for increasing environmental awareness and appreciation of native plants lives on, especially here in Austin.

Up next: Swinging in the Wildflower Center’s native arboretum. For a look back at the Wildflower Center’s birds and blooms, click here.

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