The whimsical woodland garden of Ellen Ash: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


Although the tree-shaded entrance to this Great Falls, Virginia, garden was elegant and restrained, I knew the owner would be a gardener with a sense of humor. How? Because at the driveway’s end I spotted, atop a pilaster, a statue wearing actual sunglasses. It was the first sign of a playfulness with garden art on display throughout Ellen Ash’s 2-acre garden.


The bus I was on, during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling, was running a little late, and other bloggers were already exploring the back garden’s extensive paths. I had the serene front garden nearly to myself. It must be a riot of color in spring, when the now-quiet azaleas, rhododendrons, and flowering trees are in bloom. Following this intriguing stone-and-moss path…


…I entered the enormous back garden, which, near the house, slopes gently down to a swimming pool and a swooping, mod pool house and patio.


A closer look at that fabulous pool house and large swimming pool. You could throw some big pool parties here!


In the garden between the house and pool, a small pond shaded by a parasol-like Japanese maple is home to a school of flashy goldfish…


…protected from raccoons and herons, I imagine, by a panel of crisscrossed wire laid on the water’s surface.


At one corner of the house I spotted this aluminum chaise in the shape of a lounging, space-age woman — a futuristic odalisque? A crossroads-style sign points toward cities that perhaps have special significance to the owner.


But to my mind, here’s where the garden really starts: with a sweeping, curvy lawn bordered by a stone strolling path and wood’s-edge garden beds.


From the lawn path, mossy woodland trails wind under the trees in all directions, offering a boggling number of choices to the visiting blogger with limited time to see everything.


At every turn, Ellen’s whimsical garden art coaxes a smile or a laugh.


She has a special affinity for cats, which appeared in all guises throughout the garden.


One-of-a-kind found-art pieces…


…or kitschy flamingos — Ellen doesn’t discriminate with her garden art and clearly is having fun with all of it.


One of the most stunning pieces of art in her garden is this stone moon gate, which welcomes visitors from along a back stretch of the driveway. It perfectly frames a focal-point statue, which draws the eye across a mossy glade as you enter.


Looking through from the other side


I was fascinated by all the beautiful mossy paths, and wondered about their fragility while walking along them.


Most, however, were laid with large stepping stones…


…or a combination of cut stones and brick…


…or even footprint-shaped steppers!


One path led to a stone monolith fountain in a small clearing…


…with benches placed around a circular cut-stone patio around the fountain. Flat, gray beach pebbles neatly skirt the fountain and “flow” along the edge of the patio like seeping water.


I heard that Ellen does almost all of the gardening herself, which is impressive considering the size of the place. I really enjoyed wandering the paths and discovering the surprises, like this cloud of blue hydrangeas, and fun garden art along the way.

Up next: The harmonious garden retreat of designer Barbara Katz. For a look back at the natural log and twig art of designer Debbie Friedman’s garden, 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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Book Giveaway! I’m giving away a copy of a fun new book, Potted, that’ll inspire you to DIY your own uniquely cool garden planters for porch, patio, or deck. Just leave a comment on my giveaway blog post to enter (click the link and comment there), and good luck! The giveaway ends Friday, July 14, 2017.

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.

Lucinda’s Dia de los Muertos garden


My friend Lucinda Hutson celebrates Dia de los Muertos like no one else I know. Her colorful, Mexican-inspired home and garden in the Rosedale neighborhood of central Austin grows even more vibrant for Day of the Dead, and inside she stages elaborate table displays and beautiful altars around mementos and photos of her departed loved ones.


Lucinda invited me over for a visit on Saturday morning, as she was finishing up her decorating. She’s adorned her purple casita, as she calls it, with Day of the Dead grocery bags from HEB — clever!


In a ginkgo tree, colorful papel picado banners with skull imagery flutter in the breeze.


Fluttering throughout her garden, monarchs are fueling up for the last leg of their winter migration to Mexico.


They love the orange and yellow cosmos standing tall on leggy stems. To keep it from flopping, Lucinda has tied bunches of stems together and staked them upright.


A bed of yellow chrysanthemums makes a good lounging spot for four skeletons.


Purple mums fill round pots on her new brick patio, which replaced a small front lawn that was struggling.


Along the gravel driveway, potted vegetables on limestone blocks make a pretty border.


Chard and other edibles are easy to harvest here.


A long raised bed contains more vegetables. In the background, a butterfly skeleton hangs under an arbor of sky vine, with scattered blossoms arrayed by Mother Nature at her feet.


Lucinda found the dress, wings, and other costume elements in thrift shops and put it all together with the help of her longtime garden assistant Ernesto.


The wings catch the morning light.


On the old driveway in the back garden, a raised vegetable bed is edged with colorful salad plates.


Our Lady of the Bathtub is a permanent fixture in the garden.


As is the handmade gate that reads El Jardin Encantador: the enchanting garden.


Peeking in the back door…


…you see what Lucinda calls her “stairway to heaven” — a mosaic tiled back stair.


Along the purple wall of her detached garage, she stacks low tables dressed with Mexican oilcloth for a pretty succulent display space.


Her tiny front porch is all decked out too.


A Day of the Dead skeleton head greets visitors at the door.


Inside, the first thing you see is Lucinda’s Dia de los Muertos altar in her sherbet-colored living room, adorned with decades’-old (but amazingly fresh looking) sugar skulls, candles, family photos, and little mementos of things her loved ones enjoyed.


Lucinda lost her mom recently, and she pointed out old photos and items that remind her of her mother: queens on playing cards, a bottle of Dewar’s.


On her dining table, which she was setting up for a small party later on that evening, Lucinda had arranged a Day of the Dead display of skull plates and bowls, candles, wine bottles, sugar skulls, and skeletons.


Sugar skull and sugar caskets


So many fun details wherever you look!


A quick peek in Lucinda’s kitchen reveals strings of chili lights and and Dia de los Muertos cards with lights.


Another altar is set up on the dining room buffet.


More photos of her beautiful mom along with sugar skulls and lustrous silver containers and spoons.


Tiny skeleton musicians with spring necks, legs, and arms dangle from the chandelier.


Lucinda’s festive home and garden — and her own festive spirit — could brighten any dull day. My thanks to her for sharing her beautiful garden with me again!

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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I’ll be speaking at the Antique Rose Emporium Fall Festival 2016 in Brenham, Texas, on Saturday, November 5th, 1:30-2:30 pm. Come on out to the Antique Rose Emporium’s beautiful gardens for a day of speakers and fun! My talk, with plenty of eye-candy photos, is called “Hold the Hose! How to Design a Water-Saving Garden that Wows.” Meet me afterward at the book-signing table!

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.

Festive spring at Lucinda Hutson’s purple cottage


Many times over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Lucinda Hutson‘s purple cottage in the Rosedale neighborhood of central Austin. It’s always a riot of flowers and festive decor. On Tuesday I stopped by to visit again and am so glad I did. Butter-yellow blossoms of Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) were mingling with tall snapdragons in a rainbow of colors in her cottage-style front garden.


Snappy snapdragons


Here’s the street view of her gothic-style purple “casita,” as she calls it, and the tall, shapely ginkgo tree she planted 30 years ago — a rarity in Austin.


Red bloom spikes of red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) are coming up.


A large prickly pear (Opuntia ‘Old Mexico’) is showing its love with a heart-shaped pad.


More Jerusalem sage


Datura (D. wrightii) blossoms were furled, waiting to open until dusk.


Here’s one that had bloomed last night, looking a bit like a deflated balloon — or, from this angle, a pinwheel.


Lucinda even has datura on a pretty mosaic-tile paver.


Pastel snapdragons stand tall in a purple pot by the front porch.


Her colorful porch is decorated with imagery from Mexico and the Desert Southwest, a tribute to her El Paso upbringing.


We were both pleased to spot a monarch caterpillar munching on milkweed, but it was nearly out of plant to nosh on. I hope it’s ready to pupate.


Heading toward her back gate, I stopped to admire her rambling nasturtiums. This is an annual that always tempts me, but I never get around to growing it.


It makes a perfect combo with red-stemmed chard growing in a pot.


Now let’s head into the back garden, under the arbor abloom with ‘Don Juan’ roses. Lucinda’s yard is pretty small, and she’s turned the rear half of her driveway into a patio garden, with the arbor marking its entrance.


A carved stone fish sits atop a 6-foot stone wall that shields her back garden from view. It hints at what’s to come.


A mermaid grotto on the other side! Mermaids and shells adorn a tiny pond, where fig ivy and ferns green up the limestone wall and trickling water mutes the noise of passing cars.


To the right, against a wooden fence painted turquoise, another mermaid holds court under an arbor decorated with seashells and strands of colored capiz shells. In a planter at her feet grow “under-the-sea” plants like aloes, echeveria, sedum, and snake plant.


It creates a delightful seaside mood in the front half of her former driveway, along with patio seating for two.


A greenhouse and vine-covered arbor occupy the middle of the old driveway, where Lucinda has hung an old door panel decorated with tin milagros (Mexican folk charms). This used to be Lucinda’s back door, but the lower half rotted. When she installed a new door, she cut the bottom off this one and turned it into garden art.


As you pass through the middle arbor, this comes into view: an old garage painted purple, with a colorful tile mosaic along the eaves. A raised bed filled with vegetables and annual flowers occupies the sunny middle.


Potted marigolds, pelargoniums, and other annuals add even more punch to the scene.


Lucinda always takes the time to add pretty touches, like this basket stuffed with potted annuals.


There are several Virgins of Guadalupe in this section.


I believe Lucinda calls this folk-art version Our Lady of the Bathtub.


And another, paired with ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’ rose, which smells so sweet.


Another view of the raised vegetable-and-flower bed, with the greenhouse behind it.


Colorful pillows dress up a cedar-branch bench.


And St. Francis presides over a pot of red begonias.


This adorable cat plate reminds Lucinda of a beloved former pet, Tita.


Chard pairs with red pelargoniums here.


Red poppies pop against the purple garage.


The seedheads look pretty too.


Lucinda’s back deck is party central, with two tables covered in Mexican oilcloth set up as a buffet against the purple wall of her garage.


Comfortable patio seating under a purple umbrella says, “Make yourself at home.”


A colorful carved-wood fish planter


Lucinda told me she’d just planted up this cactus-themed strawberry pot — with succulents, of course. Perfect!


In a decorative cabinet on the wall, a wren had built a nest and sat tight as Lucinda pointed her out to me. Sweet little bird.


The back of the purple garage is painted turquoise, and Lucinda’s Tequila Cantina is always set up and ready for a party.


Metal mariachis never tire of playing, and a tequila bottle tree mulched with corks playfully illustrates Lucinda’s fascination with the agave liquor.


Drinking companions


A sun porch at the back of her house has mosaic-tiled stairs that lead up to the kitchen. Lucinda calls it her “stairway to heaven,” and considering the goodies she whips up in her kitchen, it really is. Here’s Sancho, her cat, coming to greet us.


A closer look at the tilework, with little milagros, fishes, and faces mixed in.


Back out front, bees were busy among the purple blossoms of ‘Amistad’ salvia.


Thanks, Lucinda, for sharing your colorful home and garden with me again! Readers, if you’d like to see more of Lucinda’s garden, here are my other posts about it:

Christmas in Mexico at Lucinda Hutson’s home and garden, December 2015
Lucinda Hutson’s purple cottage, cantina garden, and Viva Tequila!, April 2013
Lucinda Hutson’s Easter-egg colorful garden, April 2012
Enchanted evening in Lucinda Hutson’s cantina garden, April 2011
El Jardin Encantador: Lucinda Hutson’s garden, October 2009
Lucinda Hutson’s enchanting garden, April 2008

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Central Texans, don’t forget the San Antonio Watersaver Landscape Tour is this Saturday, April 9, from 9 am to 3 pm. Reserve your shuttle time for this FREE walking tour of 6 water-saving gardens in the Inverness neighborhood.

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!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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