October evening stroll on South Congress Avenue

I had dinner on Austin’s iconic South Congress Avenue on Wednesday evening and afterward took a leisurely stroll to people-watch and window-shop. Honky-tonk music from Guero’s Oak Garden filled the cool evening air, people were smiling, and the street had a festive yet laid-back vibe that made me fall in love with Austin all over again.

Tesoros had closed for the day…

…but Dia de los Muertos skeletons were having a party in the shop window. A bony fellow played the guitar while a skinny gal in a red dress danced and a skeleton cherub hovered overhead.

Colorfully painted skulls with flower eyes and leafy adornment illustrate the celebratory nature of Dia de los Muertos, so unlike Halloween’s horror of death.

Speaking of Halloween, costume shop Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds was doing a brisk business.

In a nearby clothing shop, I spotted this hilarious t-shirt…

…and crayon-bright dino planters filled with succulents — fun!

Outside, super-sized succulents — agaves and yuccas — grow in street planters.

Live oaks offer shade to strolling tourists and locals, as always a mix of hipsters, cowboys, students, hippies, and techies. Look all the way down the street and squint, and you’ll see the buildings of downtown and the Texas Capitol building.

Guero’s Oak Garden was pulling people in with cold beer, tacos, and live music by Ted Roddy.

Listeners sit on wooden benches beneath live oaks, with string lights glowing overhead. Notice the Austin City Lemons parking sign. Yes, that is a lemon-shaped food truck at the left.

This guy on a horse — a regular on South Congress — was parked nearby, checking it all out.

Speaking of cowboys, Allens Boots is the place to get your boots. As I walked by the closed-up shop, I wondered about the pair of boots sitting out on the sidewalk.

From old Austin to new Austin — the South Congress Hotel, a hip new boutique hotel, is open for business where the food-trailer park used to be.

Its landscaping caught my eye, like this horizontal rebar trellis and Corten planter at the entrance. The friendly valets invited me to have a look at the hotel lobby and bar, which I did. It was the definition of Austin cool, and I plan to go back and get pictures of its courtyard garden sometime.

Along the street frontage, white-trunked Texas persimmons grow amid concrete strips, which remind me somewhat of a High Line detail. Christine Ten Eyck, Austin’s premiere landscape architect of sustainable gardens, did the design.

And check out this shaggy vertical planting of Texas-tough groundcovers like Mexican feathergrass, firecracker fern, and purple heart! Sorry for the poor quality of the photo; I only had my cell phone, and it was dark.

I’ll have to go back and see this in the daytime. I’m also curious to see how it holds up long-term, especially during the summer.

Although displaced by South Congress Hotel’s construction, Hey Cupcake! has set up a sweet little trailer park of its own just down the street.

And that’s my snapshot of SoCo, on the eve of Halloween 2015. Old and new, it still has plenty of charm. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the 6-minute documentary about neon sign artist Evan Voyles, who makes all these iconic signs, you’ll enjoy this little slice of Austin charm.

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

Falling for the Folly Bowl, a garden amphitheater

Twelve years ago, Los Angeles garden designer Susanna Dadd and her husband, artist James Griffith, built a back-yard amphitheater in a ravine alongside their Altadena home. Dubbing it The Folly Bowl, they’ve been hosting free, or nearly free, public concerts each summer, choosing unique performers that will draw a crowd — but not too big of a crowd. I visited with a small group of friends prior to the Garden Writers conference a couple of weeks ago, just before an evening performance.

Using fill dirt, rock, and urbanite (broken pieces of concrete), Susanna and James constructed tiered seating all the way up the steep hillside. Susanna filled the gaps among the stones with dry-loving succulents and other tough plants.

Twinkle lights weave through some of the plants, and hanging lanterns add glowing ambience on summer evenings.

Colorful pillows soften the benches, and low tables are positioned in front of some of them. Concertgoers are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner to enjoy during the show.

The stage is beautifully framed by carved wooden posts and a curved, painted backdrop, and string lights provide soft illumination.

Here’s Susanna, the owner, along with Dustin Gimbel, another L.A. designer whose garden we toured earlier that day. It’s amazing to consider how generous Susanna and James are with their garden, inviting the public in on a regular basis for pure enjoyment.

Bill Thomas of Chanticleer taking in the view

I love the eclectic assortment of lamps and lanterns placed throughout the space.

In the background you can see a wing of Susanna and James’s L-shaped house, which sits atop the hill and enjoys a nice view of the neighborhood.

Small details abound for those who look, like this Buddha head placed amid river stones and succulents.

And another

A verdigris lantern, burro’s tail sedum, and nearly black aeonium make a pleasing combo.

Susanna boldly planted carrion plant (Stapelia) near the benches, and its odorous blooms were open and attracting flies.

The Bowl is very steep, so you must be pretty spry to get to the top. Susanna climbed up and down her steps with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat! I followed at a slower pace, careful of each step.

Looking down from about halfway up. That’s my friend and fellow blogger Diana Kirby talking with Susanna.

And now we’re at the top, at the level of the house, overlooking the Bowl.

A baby head is part of a whimsical handrail along the steps.

To the right of the amphitheater, a long stair of red brick leads up to the house. This garden offers lots of exercise.

After showing us the Bowl, Susanna led us down to the street, where I stopped to admire an agave in bloom on the hillside. Susanna had pruned off the dying leaves, leaving the tree-sized bloom stalk up until it was finished.

A few yards along the street, Susanna turned onto a shady, mulched path that led around the other side of her home. Enormous agaves, yuccas, and prickly pear greeted us with their fantastical forms.

These plants are full of personality.

With their yellow-edged leaves, variegated agaves glow in the late-afternoon light.

A sword-leaved, variegated yucca has been pruned up for safety.

A small sitting area is dwarfed by another large agave.

A fountain-turned-birdbath makes a classic focal point within a circular bed.

In a sunny clearing, columnar cacti add vertical accents amid agaves and aloes.

It’s quite a plant collection.

And the size of those agaves!

Railroad ties make a rustic, winding stair back up to the house.

As Susanna stood there telling us about her garden, I found myself staring at an assortment of faces gazing up around her feet.

Although their expression is placid in repose, the effect is a little eerie. And doesn’t the face look remarkably like…

…Hillary Clinton? No?

They’d found the mold, Susanna said, on their travels and cast multiple faces from it.

Another stapelia was in bloom here.

As was a lithops

Climbing all the way up, I reached the top behind Susanna and ventured a look back down. Steep!

A handsome gate and arbor at the top of the stairs marks the path.

This wing of the house has an upper porch and lower patio…

…both overlooking an oval swimming pool, which was covered to reduce water loss during California’s epic drought.

A fish pot on a pedestal seems to spray a fountain of branches instead of water.

I love this gigantic variegated American agave against a purple wall.

Nearby, a plum-colored pomegranate — ‘Eight Ball’ maybe? — echoes the purple hue.

As the sun set over the palm-studded hills, the Folly Bowl concert was just getting started. Diana and I had hoped to stay for it, but after a full day of garden touring in triple-digit heat, we decided to call it an early night. Even so, seeing the Folly Bowl twinkling with lights and filled with happy people sipping wine and munching on picnic spreads was delightful. My thanks to Susanna for welcoming us into her lovely and imaginative garden and sharing the magic with us!

Up next: A visit to garden shop Big Red Sun in Venice, CA. For a look back at the terraced hillside garden of Joy and Roland Feuer, click here.

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

Hillside oasis: the magical garden of Joy and Roland Feuer

While in Los Angeles recently for Garden Writers Association, I spent a day off-conference touring private gardens that Annette Gutierrez of Potted arranged for a small group of us. One of these was the garden of Joy and Roland Feuer, a welcoming and artistic couple who constructed their magical garden themselves by terracing a steep, eroded hillside and turning it into a series of livable garden rooms. Their A-frame ranch sits on a mesa-like hilltop amid a rugged landscape of ridges and canyons, anchored by a massive fir planted by the original owners, a long-ago Christmas tree that lives on.

Joy and Roland wisely didn’t over-fuss the level terrace area surrounding their home. Keeping it simple, in sync with their home, whose front wall of glass doors opens up to the outdoors, they spread wood mulch for a cushioning, water-absorbing floor and furnished it with overscaled wooden tables and benches.

An ivy-covered wall runs along one side of the terrace, providing shelter and privacy. The space is casually welcoming, and Joy and Roland set out platters of fruit, crackers, and cheese for us, along with bottles of wine — welcome refreshment on an unusually hot September afternoon.

Joy is the founder of ART from the Ashes and is an artist herself. Art fills her home, like this striking, painted-book sculpture by Mike Stilkey in the living room.

Wowed by this piece, I asked Joy if I could share it with you, and she readily agreed. Mike customized it for their home, running it over the doorway and under a ceiling beam. A surrealist trio plays for a woman in whose head seem to float cave-art horses. How unique — I love it!

Some of the couple’s art has a carnivalesque theme, like this print in their wine cellar.

A playful sense of magic and mystery pervades much of their garden, which I ascribe to Roland’s influence. Roland, you see, builds amusement park rides. When I asked him what that meant — does he make roller coasters? — he explained that his company, R&S Production Services Inc, creates the whole ride experience, from the mechanical to the surrounding sets to the shows that take place. Cool, right? How did he get into such a career, I asked? “I grew up at Disney,” he replied. His father worked there, and so Roland spent much of his childhood at the “most magical place on earth.”

Roland and Joy’s garden felt like the most magical place on earth on the afternoon we visited. Views are savored from numerous seating areas tucked into the hillside garden.

The garden appears to get a lot of use after dark, judging from the number of lanterns and chandeliers along paths and hanging over tables. This one is suspended from an arching steel arm.

This Asian-style wooden lantern lights the path near the house.

The path drops beyond the house down a steep hillside, past terraces filled with drought-tolerant plants, like this Agave gypsophila

…and this pretty potted succulent.

Roland and Joy did all the terracing themselves, and I think they said they built this wine cellar themselves too. It sits under one of the higher terraces, tucked into the hillside. I was unprepared for the elegance within.

A carved wooden door — distressed to look old, Roland told me — sits within an arched recess.

To the right of the door, a niche holds a few meaningful objects.

And then you open the door and see this: a smooth, domed ceiling bathed in the light of a glass lantern, which hangs over a rustic wooden table with seats for sitting and tasting wine. Roland told us that two air conditioners keep the cellar chilled to the right temperature for wine storage. I’m sure being underground helps too.

The bar sink

And a dartboard for fun. Notice the wine-cork surround.

Opposite the entrance, old wooden doors from Mexico open to reveal a hallway, beautifully lit and lined with racks of wine.

At the end of the hall hangs more carnival-theme art.

Back outside, I stopped to admire an Esther pot. That’s Roland sipping from his glass of wine in the background.

Below the wine cellar, the terraced garden continues down the hill, with succulents favored for good looks, drought tolerance, and low maintenance.

To the left, an arched doorway beckons. And are those Circle Pots from Potted?

Why, yes, they are! And there’s designer Susan Morrison (and my first mentor as an author) as well.

I really love the inventive way Joy and Roland have hung their Circle Pots, with connecting wires keeping them in a grid formation. The colorful circles echo…

…the colored glass circles on the steel-and-glass door.

A stucco wall with filigree iron windows…

…curves around a hot tub constructed to look like a natural pool, complete with pillowy boulders.

A hot tub with a view

Here are Roland and Joy, the architects of this wonderful garden, along with designer Dustin Gimbel, whose garden we visited earlier in the day.

Continuing down the hillside, more terraced patios amid the trees…

…and looking up, more hanging lanterns…

…which glowed with jewel-like color in the afternoon light.

In the lowest part of the garden, mischievous creatures…

…and spooky inhabitants appear.

Gargoyles overlook the lower garden…

…and so does Domino, Joy and Roland’s adorable dog.

Heading back up the other side of the garden, I admired this green-clad terrace.

Fig ivy covers the retaining wall, and lime-green, flower-like aeoniums lean over the top. Above, Agave attenuata adds its starry form.

A garden spirit

Almost back up to the top, with Domino leading the way

A pretty pot, and nice stonework too

These colored glass lanterns, suffused with afternoon light, need no electricity to illuminate the garden.

At the top, a small greenhouse is tucked under the lantern tree.

Back at the house, Domino gets comfy on her blanket.

My thanks to Joy and Roland for their hospitality and for sharing their delightful garden. What a marvelous place they’ve created in one of the most challenging sites I’ve seen. Hillside gardeners, here’s your inspiration!

Up next: The Folly Bowl, the personal garden of Susanna Dadd and James Griffith, which contains a back-yard amphitheater where public concerts are held. For a look back at Dustin Gimbel’s creative Long Beach garden, click here.

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