Hill Country style and a downtown view in the garden of Ruthie Burrus


I see a lot of gardens on public tours, which I enjoy tremendously. But being invited for a private tour of a new-to-me garden is a special treat, especially if the garden happens to belong to an avid gardener making the most of a beautiful, hilltop site overlooking downtown Austin. Such is the garden of Ruthie Burrus, a reader of Digging who recently dangled a fall garden visit in front of my nose, which I snapped up like a trout.


Ruthie’s home sits at the top of a long, sloping driveway, and you approach through a rustic, Hill Country-style garden. Large limestone stepping stones lead past a deep foundation bed filled with salvia and roses and accented by powder-blue ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agaves (A. ovatifolia).


A large trough filled with water sits at the curve of the path, aligned with the front door.


Water dribbles down one corner of the trough onto a holey piece of limestone, making a hollow trickling sound, and then disappears into an underground basin to be recirculated. Maidenhair and other ferns grow at the base of the trough, enjoying the moist environment.


The view across the entry garden. Pink roses add romance to the front walk.


A pair of ‘Little Ollie’ dwarf olives planted in — what else? — olive jars dresses up the front porch.


The entry garden is partially enclosed by a wing made to look like a Fredericksburg-style Sunday house. I didn’t know what a Sunday house was, so Ruthie explained that the German farmers who settled the Hill Country built small houses in town, which they stayed in when they came to town to attend church.


Stepping through the house and out onto the back porch, the skyline of Austin seems almost close enough to touch. Framed by live oaks and a lawn that leads to the edge of steep drop-off, the view is stunning — and what most people notice instead of the garden, Ruthie told me. It would be hard for any garden to compete with that view…


…and wisely Ruthie keeps the garden clean and simple here. A sleek swimming pool accessed by geometric pavers of Lueders limestone lets the view take center stage.


But off to the side, Ruthie cuts loose with a naturalistic, fall-blooming garden of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), and Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Concrete orbs with scooped-out seats make a charming contrast to the squares and rectangles of the paving and pool.


Ruthie likes snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis), which blooms purple in spring, as a groundcover amid the salvias and asters.


The long view across the pool reveals string lights, which I believe Ruthie told me were temporary for a party they were preparing for.


The view back toward the house — such an inviting space.


The modern arrangement of the limestone paving is interesting. The pavers at right seem to float off from the main patio.


The covered porch with a fireplace offers a cozy spot for a chilly day, although it was the opposite of chilly on the day I visited.


A second, open-sided porch offers an outdoor dining spot. Notice the rain chains coming off the corners of the roof?


They channel rainwater into underground pipes that feed two large cisterns on the property. Runoff is collected from various points along the roof of the house, allowing for a lot of rainwater storage.


Beautiful dining table and succulent planter


From the dining porch my favorite feature of the garden comes into view: Ruthie’s gardening haus.


Ruthie told me that it’s constructed from stones collected on the property during the house’s construction. She searched high and low to find the weathered metal roofing.


A ‘Peggy Martin’ rose, also known as the Katrina rose (please click to read its moving story if you don’t know it), arches over the doors. Lavender and santolina fill raised stone beds that line the walk.


The arched doors inspired the whole thing, Ruthie told me. She found the weathered blue doors in a local French antique shop and had the shed constructed around them.


It’s an utterly charming garden shed from every angle. Behind it sits the smaller of the two cisterns.


Looking back you see the dining porch and, at right, a pizza oven.


White ‘Ducher’ roses must glow during evening cookouts.


In front, planted in a large iron cauldron, is a Mr. Ripple agave surrounded by purple-blooming ice plant, a lovely combo.


A wooly opuntia in a textural container on a low wall just begs to be stroked. Did I? Yes, I did.


Ruthie has a flair for creating interesting containers.


Walking back around to the driveway you see the bigger cistern, which holds 10,000 gallons. A pump allows Ruthie to irrigate with it for as long as the water lasts.


Just over its shoulder is a sliver of a view of Lake Austin.


More salvias line the driveway, and an island bed’s dry soil is filled with agaves, giant hesperaloe, blackfoot daisy, Mexican feathergrass, and artemisia on one side…


…and with blue mistflower and what looks like ‘Green Goblet’ agave on the other.


Mexican bush sage was in full flower.


Native rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) was blooming too.


In a shady area I noticed this unusual combo: a red billbergia and grassy Texas nolina (Nolina texana).


As I made my way down the driveway and through the gate I had to take a parting photo of Ruthie’s colorful streetside garden, filled with lantana, native daisies, agave, and even cholla. It’s a wonderful welcome that tells any visitor that a Texas gardener lives here.

Thank you, Ruthie, for sharing your beautiful garden with me!

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

Nonirrigated native plant garden of Lee Clippard is a foliage lover’s dream


Earlier this month I visited the East Austin garden of Lee Clippard, blogger at The Grackle, and his partner, John. The first fall rains had just arrived, following a relatively mild summer, so their foliage-centric garden of native plants was looking lush and green. I’d never have guessed, if Lee hadn’t told me, that he didn’t once irrigate his garden all summer, aside from a one-time spot watering of a wilting American beautyberry just off the front porch.


Smart plant choices make the no-water garden possible, although of course even these drought-tolerant natives must have water to get established. Once established though, the plants are on their own. Lee chucks the ones that don’t thrive and adds more of those that do.


You might recognize Lee’s garden from my book, Lawn Gone!; I profiled his garden in an early chapter. Lee screened the front garden with shade-tolerant foliage plants like palms, loquat, and Turk’s cap to give privacy and a sense of enclosure to a small gravel patio and to create green views from their windows.


Streetside, all that textural foliage makes for a secret-garden effect. What’s on the other side?


Entering the front garden you see a rectangular gravel patio edged with chopped limestone. A patio set used to sit here, but now there’s just a simple, wooden bench, very Zen.


A triangular stone sculpture sits in a soft patch of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) along one corner of the patio, framed by loquat and paleleaf yucca (Yucca pallida).


It’s a serene, inviting space framed by sedge and yuccas, with leafy shrubs along the perimeter screening the street from view. The stone path at right makes a friendly path for the mailman to cut through from the neighbor’s yard.


Lee gardens with a goal of attracting wildlife, with flowering prairie plants like coneflower where he has more sun along the driveway, and plenty of roosting and nesting places for birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife.


He lets plants stand after they go to seed in order to provide food for birds. A large spineless prickly pear adds structure to this “wilder” section of the garden.


Around back, a wood-slat arbor and gate invite you into the back garden. Spanning the gap between house and detached garage, the arbor offers shade from the Death Star and enclosure for their dog. A lovely cut-stone path set in gravel draws the eye and foot into the space.


To the right, on the wall of the garage, a trough fountain with a small copper spout pours a thin stream of water that seems to cool the sizzle of a hot day.


Ahead, a grilling station is set up near the back door, which leads to the kitchen. Hanging from a corner of the eave, a rain chain directs rainwater, when it comes, to a bowl filled with colorful, egg-shaped river rocks.


Native horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), considered a weed by some, provides a low-maintenance, no-water groundcover.


I think Lee made these concrete bowls, which he uses as succulent planters and to hold pretty river rocks.


The stone path makes a right-angle turn behind the garage, leading to a gravel patio and, farther along, to an herb garden. Here at the corner, terracotta pots of cactus and succulents attract the eye…


…and soften the base of four cedar posts that support a “ceiling” of string lights around the gravel patio.


Lee and John inherited the mortared-brick Celtic knot with the house, but they enlarged the patio space around it to make more room for entertaining. It’s a beautiful focal point for their patio.


They made the 8-foot-long wooden bench themselves. It’s backed by a fringe of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).


Red, recycled-plastic Adirondacks add hot color.


The purple berries of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) add plenty of rich color too.


Enjoy them while you can, before the mockingbirds find them!


The back of the garage is a place for Lee to showcase his potted-plant collection. He and John also use the wall (hung with a sheet, I assume) for showing outdoor movies with friends.


An insect hotel hangs from the corner of the house, part of Lee’s effort to attract bees and other beneficial bugs.


Behind the garage, Lee and John made a small, raised-bed herb garden. Anchoring the space is a signpost pointing to places that have special meaning to them. Wooden chaise lounges offer a place to catch a little sun, and a wooden-slat screen hides a view of the neighbor’s yard. In front of the screen, a tufted lawnette of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) makes an emerald groundcover.


We live in a big country, don’t we? A thousand miles, at least, whether you head for the East Coast or the West.


Pomegranates are ripening.


And lantana is blooming — more fall color that attracts butterflies.


And here’s another look at the Texas sedge lawnette.


I love that quilted look.


A metal grackle is a reminder that this is the home of The Grackle blog. If you haven’t ever read it, do. Lee’s posts are always thoughtful and beautifully photographed, with good information about wildlife and native-plant gardening and Tex-Zen design.

My thanks to Lee and John for sharing their inspiring waterwise garden with me again. Readers, if this has whetted your appetite for more, click for my spring 2012 visit to Lee’s garden. Also, see Lee and John discuss the design of their garden on Central Texas Gardener.

This is my October post for Foliage Follow-Up. I’d love to know what lovely leaves are making you happy in your October garden (or one you’ve visited). Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage plants their due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

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

Garden magic and whimsy at Floramagoria: Portland Garden Bloggers Fling


As we entered the intriguingly named Floramagoria garden on the recent Portland Garden Bloggers Fling, thunder rumbled and raindrops pelted our group of 40 or so bloggers. The reasonable — and hungry — among us ran for the two covered pavilions with box lunches in hand. The die-hard photographers, however, saw the brief shower as an opportunity to get softly lit images with few people in them. You know which group I was in. Oh boy, did this garden deliver on wow moments, perfectly framed views, bold foliage, flower-power color, whimsy and naughty humor. Let me give you a rainy-day tour.


I’ll start with the most mouth-dropping view: the axis from the owners’ back door to the orange back wall. Poured concrete laid in geometric blocks widens and narrows, creating distinct spaces and slowing the foot and eye with inset beds like this grassy parterre…


…and a mosaic floral “rug.” Its colors reappear in the pumpkin-colored wall, turquoise pots and chairs, cobalt-glass fire pit, and golden and green flora.


The mosaic “rug” is a tapestry of flowers, leaves, and insects and an absolute work of art.


The enormous, mossy gunnera leaf is a Little and Lewis piece. (We saw another of these in the Lane Garden at the Seattle Fling.) In concert with bold-leaf, tropical plants like brugmansia, castor bean, and banana, not to mention a bamboo dining pavilion to the right, this area feels like an exotic garden carved out of jungle rain forest.


Temps were cool on this day, and one of the owners lit the fire pit when we arrived.


Like exotic gateposts flanking the entry to the fire pit patio, stone shrines on pedestals contain…baby heads! (What is it with baby heads these days? I saw a whole day care’s worth at Digs Inside & Out.) A mix of golden bog plants surrounds this shrine, including cattails and pitcher plants.


Carnivorous flora with questing mouths


The cross-axis running through the grassy parterre (shown in the top photo) creates a different effect, less tropical and more English-style perennial border. A covered deck, just visible at left, adjoins the house and provides a place to enjoy the garden even during the rainy months (or on summer days like this).


Gosh, which way to turn? Let’s take a closer look at the contemporary covered deck. Steel posts support a triangular metal roof, and a blue plexiglass wall provides shelter, privacy, and mood lighting.


A quick peek at the back: translucent, blue plexi panels admit light and reflect drooping conifers.


Wait — is that our Fling host, Scott of Rhone Street, manhandling a mannequin? Hmm, I guess what happens at the Fling doesn’t always stay at the Fling. But I am opting not to show the seating area of the covered deck, which was jam-packed with bloggers eating their lunches. Nope, no one wants to be photographed while chewing. Just over Scott’s shoulder…


…is a beautiful porch light — a bug with 3-D wings and antennae.


Another one. Aren’t these marvelous? Bugs are a decorative motif at Floramagoria.


As are gnomes. This one is a bit naughty.


Oh look — tentacles! I’m definitely detecting a Digs/JJ De Sousa influence here.


The view from the deck. Hefty bamboo poles, painted orange, add spiky structure and year-round color. Rudbeckia makes a cheery color echo.


Panning right, purples take over.


And here’s a wider view across the garden. That’s the tropical cabana at upper-left, which I’ll show you soon. Believe it or not, this garden is only 3 years old. The owners tore out their former, 10-year-old back garden in order to rework it with the help of designer Laura Crockett of Garden Diva Designs. That takes guts. I’d love to have seen before-and-after pics.


A metal-grate bench runs along the perimeter of the deck.


The deck overlooks a patio accessed via large glass doors in the living room.


A clean-lined metal arbor frames the view, and string lights create a party atmosphere, as does music piped through the garden. Can you imagine looking out at this view from your living room?


Looking slightly right


Painted-stucco seat walls define the patio and provide plenty of display space. More babies! More pitcher plants too.


Fiery coleus, in pots to match


In this longer view, you can really appreciate the magnitude of their potted-plant display.


Succulents and cacti in soft-blue pots are lined up along much of the wall, where the garden segues into a dry garden.


In the corner, terracotta pots add complementary orange, while chunks of slag glass continue the blue theme.


This is one way a collector can cut loose in a garden with a strong design: unify a collection with similar pots and display them en masse.


The dry garden starts on one side of the patio…


…and runs along the foundation.


An aloe in a pot to match


Spiky agave next to an olla


Turning to the left and looking down the path toward the side fence, I stopped to admire a tall Yucca rostrata. But what really grabbed me was another Little and Lewis piece (I think) by the fence.


Like an egg out of Alien, the “petals” of this floral-style container open to reveal pitcher plants tucked inside. The surrounding plants make up a stunning vignette.


More pitchers are planted in a spherical container.


And more yet


A Little and Lewis bench offers a spot to enjoy the scene.


But the star of this area is a Little and Lewis column-fountain centered in a terracotta raised pond, framed by a cobalt-blue wall. Shazam!


Vying for fabulousness is this focal-point pot in the center of the gravel garden. I have no idea what the plants are — but I LOVE them. Update: The plants are Melianthus underplanted with Begonia boliviensis. Thanks, Vanessa!


Notice the little pots of succulents and sea-green slag glass alternating around the base of the container.


In all its wide-view glory


Big moments like the focal-point pots, fountain, and cabanas may elicit the most oohs and aahs, but numerous, smaller details are what really add personality to Floramagoria, from pots tucked here and there…


…to fun tiles set in the paths…


…to plastic dinosaurs rampaging among the beetles and ants. Even with a collection of high-brow art like the Little and Lewis pieces, the gnomes and dinos indicate that the owners don’t take themselves or their garden too seriously.


It’s a place of discovery and delight.


A greenhouse gives the owners a place to overwinter their tender plants. But is there room for them all, I wonder?


During the warm, dry summer months, it’s a place to display a few treasures with the doors wide open. A working chandelier is dressed up with tillandsias tucked among the crystals.


I like this glass pyramid paired with steely blue eryngium.


Astrantia and Japanese forest grass, two Pacific NW plants I lust for


The back side of the cobalt wall is painted mossy green and hung with staghorn ferns.


An enormous Douglas fir or redwood (not sure which) puts this garden in deep shade. Hostas, ferns, and other shade plants complete the woodland look. Quirky art like a hanging UFO and Marcia Donahue “necklace” add personality.


Is this a birdhouse?


Colorful bug paver


You can enter the tropical pavilion, at left, from the shade garden.


A spacious seating and dining area is sheltered by a bamboo-framed roof. Over the table hangs a striking metal light fixture.


The hosts generously provided us with cookies and lemonade here.


Fun, fused-glass bugs crawl over chunky wooden spheres in one corner of the cabana.


Heading out through the tropical, colorful garden, I catch Barbara of bwisegardening snapping some shots too.


Behind the deck in the side garden is one of the funnier displays at Floramagoria: a wooden duck “diving” into a succulent-planted birdbath.


In the window of a rustic garden shed, a curious chicken peers out.


Inside, a tidy display


Bouquets in glass jars add a cheery note.


This is a happier phrase in Portland than in Austin, I think.


The rest of the side yard is devoted to beekeeping and edibles in stock tanks.


Glass bees on stakes surround a yellow beehive.


Out front, it’s another world entirely: naturalistic rather than formally designed, serene rather than quirky, green rather than colorful.


It’s very beautiful too, of course, but you’d never know what awaits you in back.


Every space is gardened up, including this side strip along the driveway.


A modest but patriotic front entry and grilling station


I adored the metal art found throughout the garden.


This metal ribbon reminds me of Scott’s metal pieces at Rhone Street Gardens.


One last glimpse of a colorful vignette from the back garden, and it’s time to end this lengthy virtual tour. Floramagoria was one of my very favorite gardens on the Portland Fling, full of personality, color, wit, and strong design of both plants and hardscape.

Up next: The surprisingly xeric, experimental, and contemporary garden of John Kuzma. For a look back at the inviting, art-filled Dancing Ladies Garden of Linda Ernst, click here.

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