Read This: Gardens of Awe and Folly


Have you ever dawdled over the pages of a book because you didn’t want it to end? Vivian Swift’s Gardens of Awe and Folly: A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening (Bloomsbury, 2016) is one of those books. I find that I’m poring over each page, often laughing aloud over a humorous observation of the author’s, lingering over her watercolor illustrations, and then setting it down, drawing out the pleasure of reading it. Perhaps when I reach the end, I’ll flip to the beginning and start again.


Equal parts travelogue, artist sketchpad, and musings on garden history and design, Gardens of Awe and Folly offers an intimate view of nine gardens (or the gardening culture of a particular place) that the author has visited on her travels. Each chapter is devoted to a garden in Paris, Key West, Marrakesh, New Orleans, Long Island (two gardens), Edinburgh, London, and Rio de Janeiro.

Swift’s conversational observations make you feel as if you’re there with her, and she’s a witty and sparkling companion. She zooms wide enough to set up the history of the place, and then zooms in with a perceptive eye on small but meaningful details: how a gate sets the mood, why a door in a wall entices the imagination, why a Hurricane Katrina survivor planted 12 roses as she rebuilt her home and garden.


It would be easy to mistake Gardens of Awe and Folly for a pretty picture book, and the hand-colored drawings of garden vignettes that fill each page are indeed beautifully rendered. But Swift’s thoughtful and joyful musings about each garden are what make this book such a jewel. Together, her words and watercolors magically transport you to each garden.


The gardens, under Swift’s observant eye and inquisitive musings, are not merely places to visit but exist to help us understand our own place in the world. For example, after sharing the history of an old public garden in Paris, she writes:

Big ideas in small places is what the garden of the Square du Vert-Galant is all about. Here’s what I think: if you ever start to feel as if yours is a measly 2/3 acre life, remember the Square du Vert-Galant. And then nothing about you, your ideas, or your garden will ever feel small again.

All images from the book are used with permission from Bloomsbury. My thanks to Dee of Red Dirt Ramblings for recommending this book, otherwise I might not have discovered it.

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

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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.

posted in Books, Design, Travel

Dry-garden lushness: Linda Peterson’s San Antonio garden


Rooftop view of the walled courtyard and front garden. Not a blade of lawn grass anywhere, nor is it missed.

Seeing one of my new favorite gardens requires an hour-and-a-half road trip to San Antonio, but it’s worth every trafficky mile. Linda Peterson, whose dreamy garden I visited last September, invited a few friends over for tea after the San Antonio Watersaver Tour, and I was delighted to be included. Seeing Linda and her beautiful garden again in a different season, plus sitting down to a delicious high tea served by her charming daughters? Yes, please!

Courtyard Garden


Linda’s gray-green stucco home wraps around a large courtyard garden thanks to walls painted the same color. Linda and her husband built their home toward the rear of the property in order to preserve several sprawling, magnificent live oaks. The walls provide back-yard-style enclosure and privacy, and a generous stone patio and curving paths create seating areas and lead you through the space.


Linda led us up to her home’s flat roof via a spiral staircase so we could take in a bird’s-eye view. The perspective allows full appreciation of Linda’s planting style: massed groundcovers and shrubs, carefully pruned to show off their architectural forms. For example, the soap aloes (Aloe maculata) blooming at lower left are kept tidy by pulling out pups (baby aloes) from around their spiny leaves, leaving star-shaped solitary plants massed in a winding “aloe river.”


Panning right, you see a table and chairs in front of a focal-point fireplace, with wood stacked in niches on each side.


Back at ground level by the front door, a pair of metal rhinos greets visitors. Against the green walls of the house, the coral flowers of the soap aloes stand out nicely. The chartreuse groundcover in front may be Mexican sedum.


Agave weberi and prickly pear add year-round structure around a pot-style fountain.


Turning around, here’s what you see as you enter the courtyard.


Real and faux cacti mingle in a bed along the wall.


Succulent wreath on the fireplace


The long view from the fireplace seating. Don’t you just want to lie in that hammock all day?


And now we’ve circled back around to the rhinos. The swoosh of gray river stones is a nice touch, don’t you think? It looks like a stream the animals are about to cross.


Another view of the soap aloes, plus a wavy-armed variegated American agave


Linda collects metal and stone animals to adorn her home and garden. I don’t remember seeing this little armadillo last time I visited.


Linda is disciplined with her color choices, sticking with soft gray-green, ivory, and lavender with occasional pops of yellow. This purplish pink bougainvillea was, perhaps, the brightest hue in her garden.


It grows atop the arbor, offering cheery welcome to visitors.

Front Garden, Right of Front Walk


Winding paths lead both left and right into the front garden from the main walk. Turning to the right, a flagstone path widens into a small patio with a simple wooden bench, perfect for stopping to take in the view. Feathery bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) hides the next-door driveway, and a low cluster of lantana blooms frothily.


Most lantanas have hot-colored flowers: orange, red, gold. These have white-and-pale-yellow flowers that fit nicely into Linda’s restrained color scheme.


Another view. Notice how the gray-green flagstone harmonizes with the house/wall color and the cool colors overall. Details like these give Linda’s garden cohesiveness.


A wider view from the end of the path reveals a mass planting of foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), whose foliage echoes the form of a nearby agave.


Three culvert-pipe planters along the foundation of the house elevate a collection of palms.

Front Garden, Left of Front Walk


Heading left from the front walk takes you past a large agave, flowering society garlic, and more foxtail fern.


Where the undulating arms of a live oak have been preserved via cut-outs in the stucco wall, a rustic picnic table provides a spot to pause and enjoy the scene.


Looking back toward the front walk and arbor, you see more soap aloes blooming. Linda has a lot of different plants, but she also repeats clusters of plants to great effect.


Continuing along the path, a silvery cassia (Senna phyllodinea) blooms in perhaps the sunniest part of Linda’s garden.


A closeup of the cassia flowers and flat, curled seedpods


And one more view of the silvery cassia, balanced with a large, architectural agave


Tucked among the plants, a stone crocodile planter filled with succulents grins like the cat who ate the canary.


A mystery plant with rich purple flowers. Anyone able to ID it? It’s cupflower, or Nierembergia scoparia ‘Purple Robe’. (Thanks, Gretchen, and Linda for confirming.)


One advantage of a gravel garden — Linda’s entire garden is mulched with tan pea gravel — is that it allows you to have open spaces, like the desert. Agaves and other dry-loving plants look very natural in a garden mulched with rock, and open space does too, allowing you to use fewer plants, if you wish. (In contrast, open spaces in a wood-mulched garden never look quite natural.)


Our native golden leadball (Leucaena retusa) displays its yellow pom-pom flowers alongside the driveway.


The flowers are eye-catching.


Another cluster of soap aloes, along with a nicely pruned prickly pear


Variegated American agaves catch shafts of light and seem to glow.

Rear & Side Garden


Alongside the driveway, a potted Arabian lilac (Vitex trifolia ‘Purpurea’) flashes leaves that are gray-green on top and lavender underneath. Potted drought-tolerant plants are a smart choice for a difficult spot with rocky or tree-rooty soil.


A back deck transitions between the house and the rear garden. I love Linda’s treatment of the deck skirting: sturdy wire (the same as on the trellis above) cloaked with fig ivy, which closely follows the wire’s grid pattern. At ground level, a swath of variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’) makes an easy-care groundcover that lights up the shade.


Here’s the view from the deck: a perforated metal lantern hanging from a tree, and a triangular faux-bois birdbath below. A Texas redbud effectively screens neighboring houses from view. Linda also strategically hangs pots of asparagus fern from the wire trellis to block undesirable views.


Back at ground level, a pruned-up hedge of variegated pittosporum turns these sometimes unwieldy shrubs into graceful small trees. Linda treats a number of her shrubs and woody perennials this way, including Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) and rosemary, to great effect. It allows for air movement and visual openness, she explains. Foxtail fern adds feathery texture below.


An umbrella-shaded pair of rockers offers a pleasant spot to sit. Clumping bamboo softens the wooden privacy fence and provides extra privacy from neighboring houses.


The screen of bamboo continues, planted atop a curving berm that softens the back corner. More foxtail fern adds evergreen, fringey texture.


Even a work area at the back of the house is brightened with special touches, like green bottles upended on bamboo poles stuck in pots of ferns and (I think) agapanthus Neomarica caerulea ‘Regina’ (see lcp’s comment below).


On a back terrace, succulents are displayed in pots glazed blue and brown.

Thank you, Linda — and daughters Demi and Sam — for a very special afternoon! Click here to read about my visit to Linda’s garden last September, and here for Rock Rose’s post about the garden and tea party.

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.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, time TBA. Learn more about water-saving gardening during my talk at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. Get a signed copy of my book after the talk. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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.

Watersaver Tour in San Antonio, plus Inverness extras


Last Saturday I joined Jenny of Rock Rose for a road trip to San Antonio. We rumbled down there in her pickup truck, making a quick detour to a San Marcos stoneyard, where she picked up a half-yard of gravel for her garden. Could there be a more Texas way to road-trip than in a big brown pickup truck with a load of gravel in the back? Jenny may be British-born, but she’s a real Texas gal now.

Jenny and I were in San Antonio for the 2016 Watersaver Landscape Tour, a free event sponsored by San Antonio Water System (SAWS), Gardening Volunteers of South Texas (GVST), and San Antonio River Authority. Our friend Heather of Xericstyle works for SAWS and was running the event with a big smile and plenty of can-do enthusiasm.


All the gardens were located in a single neighborhood: the luxury gated community of Inverness. The developer, we were told, preserves native plants in the green spaces and encourages homeowners to plant water-wise gardens.

We took a shuttle in and out of the neighborhood and walked a well-marked route to visit all 6 gardens. Along the way, we saw a number of pretty yards that weren’t on the tour, and I include a few pics of those at the end of this post.


But first, here are my favorite scenes from the various tour gardens. In this lawn-gone back yard, a red pergola makes an eye-catching focal point and shades a flagstone patio. A swag of succulents along the front beam is what really caught my eye.


I spotted another one snaking up a live oak’s trunk. The plants are growing in a black wire basket filled with soil and moss and attached to the trunk. Jenny vowed to make one of her own, which I look forward to reading about on her blog.


A little online sleuthing turned up the succulent designer in San Antonio who makes these beautiful creations, which she calls succulent vines: Abbey McKenna Succulent Designs.


San Antonio’s winter is a tiny bit warmer than Austin’s, so I’m guessing the owner leaves this outdoors and takes her chances, simply replanting any succulents that don’t make it through. That’s the same approach I have with my succulent wall.


We admired other succulent planters in the garden of Susan Bhatia, a modern xeric garden I visited last summer. This pot of Sticks on Fire euphorbia brightens the garage parking area.


Nearby, a scrim of horsetail adds a lush modern line to the garage wall. (Plant this only where it can be fully root-contained, as here, where it’s hemmed in by the house walls and the concrete driveway.)


‘Kissho Kan’ agave. I love those orange teeth and celery-edged leaves.


Here’s a great solution for a common garden eyesore — those utility bollards and boxes that are so hard to disguise. Susan surrounded hers with a gravel garden planted with bicolor iris and kangaroo paws and accented with contemporary gray pots of agave and other water-thrifty succulents.


Here’s a side view. You can still see the bollards, but the pots attract the eye instead and the irises help screen them. And yet access is preserved for the inevitable utility maintenance visits. I’m doubtful about whether those kangaroo paws will hold up once it gets hot and humid, but they sure look pretty right now.


All around the back yard, a Corten horizontal fence provides security and privacy while still allowing light and breezes. Corten isn’t inexpensive — not by a long shot — but it’ll last forever. To my mind, this is a fence of dreams.


As a complete change of place, how about a formal, French-style side garden at a neighboring house down the street? Cool, shady, and green, this courtyard must make a pretty view for those looking out from inside.

Those were my favorite scenes from the tour gardens. Other interesting vignettes spotted as we walked through the neighborhood included…


…this water-thrifty container, which I may one day replicate at home: red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) and ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense).


Simply beautiful!


At another house, the homeowners planted tufts of society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) instead of a front lawn. The plants were all flowering, to magical effect.


The grid-style planting echoes the lines of the contemporary paver walk.


A side view reveals other plants arranged in rows: dwarf yaupon holly, variegated dianella, and skullcap. All are deer resistant, which seems to be an important issue for Inverness residents — that is, if the amount of electrical fencing around agaves is any indication.

Click here to read Jenny/Rock Rose’s blog post about the tour. Next up: A return visit to Linda Peterson’s stucco-walled garden in San Antonio.

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.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, time TBA. Learn more about water-saving gardening during my talk at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. Get a signed copy of my book after the talk. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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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