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.

Gorgeous weeds and walls at the Wildflower Center

With a hat tip to Phoenix landscape architect Steve Martino, who coined the phrase “weeds and walls” to describe his design style — planting native plants for toughness and building walls for structure — here are some of the beautiful weeds and walls at Austin’s own native-plant showcase, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I visited yesterday to see the early spring show, like gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana).

Native trees are at peak bloom all over town, and the Wildflower Center was colorful with Texas redbuds (Cercis canadensis var. texensis)…

…grape Kool-Aid-scented Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora)…

…and Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana).

The entry gardens are framed with fabulous stone walls that reference the architecture of Texas’s Spanish missions and German settler homesteads. This one contains a zigzagging sluice for recirculating water to spill into a pond.

Two red-eared slider turtles, including a baby turtle resting its head on the back of another’s shell, were basking on a rock, enjoying the warm spring sunshine.

Arched and linteled walls frame a long view to a window.

In the central plaza, a spiraling cistern tower (yes, it collects and stores rainwater) is the signature building of the Center. The cafe’s rooftop seating offers a place to enjoy the view, but you can also climb all the way to the top of the tower for sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

This wall extends from the cafe and used to contain a dripping water feature in the stone window, which supplied a narrow trough of water below. I just noticed yesterday that the water feature is gone, and the trough is now filled with plants. I wonder what instigated the change?

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata) grows at the base of the tower — and was in bloom throughout the gardens.

In the children’s Little House garden, Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) swathed a coyote fence in fragrant yellow blossoms.

Inhale…and ahhhh

Limestone walls mark the entrance to the demonstration gardens, where a flowering Texas redbud arches toward the light.

Blazing orange California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) add hot color to a gray-green cactus bed.

At another pond near the butterfly garden, I stopped to admire this Roger Foster “ocular” sculpture, carved from native limestone. Foster’s sculptures are currently on display throughout the garden, but you may remember seeing one in Lee/The Grackle‘s garden too (click for my tour of Lee’s East Austin garden).

It’s been almost a year since the new family garden opened to the public, and I enjoyed seeing how the plants have grown. This silver-blue bed contains ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress (Cuppressus arizonica var. glabra) and Wheeler’s sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri). Nice, but wouldn’t it be fun to see a smattering of California poppies in here to liven things up in spring? Or ground-covering winecup?

Walls of massive limestone blocks build up raised beds of sky-reaching yuccas and create “pictograph”-adorned tunnels and caves for children to explore.

Spanish bayonet (Yucca faxoniana), I think

Caves beckon youngsters to explore behind a waterfall.

Bronze sculptures of animals are placed throughout the family garden, including this one I hadn’t noticed before.

Water collection is an important feature at the Wildflower Center. I love these galvanized-steel cisterns — so handsome. A rain garden around it collects the overflow.

If you haven’t been to the Wildflower Center lately, or ever, it’s well worth a visit. In another few weeks, wildflowers will be at peak bloom, including bluebonnets, but the WC has a lot more going on than just wildflowers. It’ll teach you to love our native Texas “weeds.” And the walls aren’t bad either.

I’d love to have your vote in the Better Homes and Gardens 2015 Blogger Awards. Skip through to the Gardening category, select Digging, and then skip to the last page for your vote to be counted. You can vote as much as you like. Thanks for your support!

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

Visit to Wave Hill, a Hudson River estate garden in New York City

I traveled to New York City with my daughter on October 10 to see public gardens. On Saturday, our first full day in New York, a chilly rain didn’t keep us from visiting Wave Hill, a 28-acre estate garden in the Bronx with a million-dollar view of the Hudson River and the Palisades, sheer cliffs of exposed, vertically striated stone on the opposite shore.

Wave Hill had a succession of owners and a few famous tenants between its construction in 1843 and 1960, when it was deeded to the City of New York. Mark Twain leased the place from 1901 to 1903, and as a boy Theodore Roosevelt summered here with his family. Two houses and a conservatory remain today, along with gardens acclaimed for their horticultural artistry.

We took the train for the 30-minute ride from midtown out to the Bronx, and from there a Wave Hill shuttle took us to the garden. Away from the bustle of the streets of Manhattan, we found ourselves in a serene oasis, with the soft dripping of rain and birdsong in our ears instead of honking horns and whooshing subways. You enter to views of a sweeping lawn leading to a long, vine-draped pergola. The river and Palisades view just beyond was partly obscured by mist.

Let’s save the pergola garden and turn right toward the simply named Flower Garden, a formally arranged garden of exuberant, colorful plant combos, surrounded by a Chippendale-style cedar fence and arbors.

Tall grasses partly screen the view as you enter.

Blackberry lily, tall verbena, and blanketflower add to the fall scene.

Pink cosmos threads through the grasses.

A wide brick walk runs through the center of the garden, with rustic cedar arbors and benches bookending the space. An impressive conservatory overlooks the garden.

Turning around, you can see the river and Palisades through a window in the arbor.

Paralleling the brick walk is a narrow stone path along the perimeter. Chartreuse plants glow even on this misty morning.

Glancing over the fence you see the lawn, with pairs of the famous Wave Hill chairs inviting you to sit and enjoy the view — on drier days, anyway.

Looking across the center of the garden, you see the conservatory framed by four fastigiate trees in pots. The bronze mound in the center is oxalis.

Yes, oxalis! I tried to part the foliage in order to discover how the mound was created: tiered containers, or mounded soil, or just a monstrous single plant? (Couldn’t be!) But it was raining pretty steadily by now, and I couldn’t juggle camera, camera bag, and umbrella well enough to look. It remains a mystery.

Looking to the far end of the garden you see the other arbor. Evergreen shrubs add year-round structure.

Turning around, here’s the opposite view.

I enjoyed this rich, purple foliage accented by orange and peach sunset hues.

Bold dahlias stole the show.

Red berries on a yellowing, potted tree make a pretty fall scene too.

Peach dahlias complement the bronze oxalis mound.

It’s such a textural garden, invitingly touchable, with sophisticated color combos.

We took a quick peek inside the conservatory, but aside from a few tables of succulents it wasn’t that interesting. So let’s go back to the pergola overlooking the Hudson.

Packed with potted plants and hung with vines, the pergola is essentially a container garden on steroids.

My daughter, investigating a plant or a fallen leaf from the shelter of her umbrella

Tearing my eyes away from the pergola garden, I paused to admire the mist-shrouded view from a handsome stone balustrade.

A double stair leads to the lawn below…

…and to the Elliptical Garden, formerly the site of a swimming pool.

Twin golden pots mark the entry to this small garden.

Concrete benches offer contemplative places to rest.

I love the melancholy, going-to-seed splendor of the autumn garden.

There are wooded trails to explore below the Elliptical Garden, but they were muddy and overhung with dripping foliage, so we headed back to the balustrade stairs and the pergola.

Summer’s zinnias were still hanging on.

Ivy was hanging too.

Back in the main gardens I admired the fall color in this scene: burgundy foliage and purple beautyberries.

We liked this cheerful vegetable garden too, planted along a vine-swagged, golden-yellow fence in the Paisley Bed, so named for its comma shape. The Paisley Bed is redone every year to new effect, so you won’t see the same design twice.

The Flower Garden and pergola views were gorgeous, but the best was yet to come. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Wave Hill visit, which includes the dramatic Monocot Garden and pond, Mediterranean-style Dry Garden, and windswept Wild Garden.

For a look back at my 2-part tour of the High Line, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.