Agave and cactus splendor in the garden of Matt Shreves


For Foliage Follow-Up this month, I’m taking you on a tour of Matt Shreves’s garden near Lake Travis. A succulent and cactus lover (check out his spikealicious Instagram page), Matt has turned an ordinary yard into a tapestry of foliage texture, color, and bold form.


Let’s start out front, where he’s terraced a sloping entry garden to create multiple levels for planting. A spiky assortment of agaves, beaked yucca, and palms, softened with masses of Mexican feathergrass, salvias, skullcap, and blue oat grass blue fescue (which I’ve never seen in Austin), creates a colorful welcome.


A small patio with colorful Adirondacks sits at the top level, a perfect spot from which to admire the garden.


With those blue fescues, it reminds me of a California garden, although the whale’s tongue agaves, beaked yucca, pink skullcap, and feathergrass are all perfectly at home here in Austin.


At the end of the driveway, a massive golden barrel cactus and other potted succulents await their forever home.


Palms bookend the garden, accenting the Spanish-style house.


Climbing the steps to the front door, let’s pause to admire the little patio. Plants fill every available space, including the steps to a pair of French doors, where chartreuse-leaved annuals fill baskets hanging from the porch lights.


By the front door, purple-tinged ghost plant spills out of a turquoise pot, with a golden ‘Joe Hoak’ agave glowing in the background.


A closer look at that gorgeous ‘Joe Hoak’, with plumbago just starting to bloom alongside it.


Another pretty succulent pot by the door


Passing through Matt’s house, you enter the back yard to this focal-point scene: a mounded rock garden bristling with agaves, columnar cacti, and barrel cacti, with frothing silver ponyfoot spilling over the rocks. An Austin sign — the same one I have on my own blue wall — reminds you that you’re in Central Texas, not Palm Springs.


A side view


Neatly groomed agaves and cactus in silvery green, powder blue, and moonshine yellow


The long rock garden undulates along a stone wall, set off by a small lawn in front. At one end of the yard, a fire pit patio invites relaxation under a live oak draped with string lights.


A perfect spot to enjoy the garden in the evening


Another view from the back porch


Looking back at the porch, where a red wall contrasts with turquoise chairs


Old man cactus and beaked yucca are charismatic flora for a dry garden.


Beautiful blue-green agave leaves outlined by black teeth and spines. Notice the ghostly leaf imprints on the leaves, from when they were still furled.


A small porch at the other end of the garden is home to an assortment of small potted succulents.


Two rows of tiny potted succulents adorn a hanging metal shelf.


Heading back to the back porch…


…you see a rustic wooden buffet that Matt has styled with an eye-catching collection of potted plants, a Mexican mirror, and faux water buffalo horns.


Two lower shelves contain beautiful arrangements that are deceptively simple. A section of tree trunk seems planted with succulents, but actually the plants remain in their nursery pots, tilted to look as if they’re growing in the hollowed out trunk. On the bottom shelf, another branch (or driftwood) disguises the nursery pots of more succulents, and a narrow metal tray holds others.


I caught a hazy portrait of Matt in the mirror as I photographed the fascinating arrangement on top of the buffet.


A red toolbox and small wooden box, with their lids thrown open, make fun cachepots.


Earth-toned living stones (Lithops) cluster amid matching gravel in a terracotta pot — a striking display.


Matt has a great eye for arranging his collection of interesting and unusual plants, and for foliage form and texture, his garden really shines. Thanks for the garden tour, Matt!

This is my May post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is happening in your garden this month — or one you’ve visited? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

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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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Daylily Society will host a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers 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.

Playful, found-object art garden of Shari Bauer: Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2017


Last weekend I was invited to visit (along with other garden bloggers) the 5 private gardens that’ll be on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour this Saturday, May 6. Hosted by the Travis County Master Gardeners, the tour typically features homeowner-designed and -maintained gardens rather than fancy designer gardens, so you know you’ll see uniquely personal spaces.

The most unique garden on this year’s tour has to be Shari Bauer’s garden in Spicewood. (With two Spicewood gardens on the tour, maybe it should have been renamed Inside and Outside Austin Gardens.)


Shari has adorned her hillside garden perched above the Pedernales River with whimsical sculpture, shrines, and structures she’s whipped up from found objects and thrift-store finds. Even the front grille of an old Willys Jeep is putty in her hands. She turned this one into a one-of-a-kind fountain spilling into a cascading pool. Encircled by lush foliage like philodendron, the vignette reminds me of the scene in Jurassic Park when Dennis crashes his Jeep, right before the dinosaur eats him!


The tropical look continues as you climb uphill, where you find bromeliads growing on tree trunks and tropical houseplants summering outdoors.


Turquoise is Shari’s favorite color, she told us, and she uses it liberally throughout her garden.


After the Jeep fountain I didn’t think anything would surprise me, but this piano did. Draped and stuffed with succulents and cacti, the piano is playing to Shari’s tune.


A closer look reveals fun potted arrangements inside the lid.


Shari creates rooms with furniture, chandeliers hanging from trees, and doorways that invite you in.


Her sense of humor is on full display at every turn. Next to an old sewing machine stands this dress form clad in succulents and “bling.”


Notice the “nipple” piercings.


The head is an agave adorned with dozens of earrings and brooches.


Along another path, a painted shrine with Madonna figurines and an old telephone urges visitors to call their mothers.


In a sunny clearing, a doorway appears. Open it…


…and the path leads to a yellow bench sheltered by a boat standing on end — with a hanging light that actually works. Seated are Cat of The Whimsical Gardener and Linda of Patchwork Garden.


Shari recycles a lot of silver serving pieces, like these teapots turned into a chandelier…


…and a compote turned into a cactus planter. The white spines and hairs of the cacti look quite nice against the tarnished silver.


A turquoise-painted deck offers a stunning view of the Pedernales River, wonderfully full again after previous years of drought.


Here’s Shari, who appeared to be as joyful as her garden.


That’s quite a nice view.


“This is where we count the stars,” reads a sign on the deck’s fire-pit table. Sounds like a nice way to spend an evening.

Up next: The east Austin garden of Daphne Jeffers, a colorful cottage garden out front and a serene Zen garden in back.

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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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers 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.

Install low-voltage outdoor lighting and create a welcoming glow


It’s only taken us 8 years to install outdoor lighting along the foundation of our house, and now that it’s done I’m wondering why on earth we waited so long. I love the warm, welcoming glow that a few wall-washing low-voltage lights creates.


What a change from before, as seen here. Two boxy, contemporary sconces (our replacement for too-small, traditional porch lights that we inherited) on either side of the porch nicely illuminate the doorway. But without additional lighting, the porch appears to float in pitch darkness — not very welcoming.


When we lost a tree this winter and I tore out the last patch of turf where it had stood, I decided it was now or never.


We bought 4 LED low-voltage flood lights from Hampton Bay at a local Home Depot. I considered wall wash lights, but I’d used floods at our previous house and thought they had a little more flexibility. We like that the fixtures are metal, not plastic, and we wanted LEDs to save energy and avoid the regular bulb changing required for traditional incandescent fixtures. LED lights are more expensive, but we hope it’ll pay off in the long run.

We also bought low-voltage cable to hook up the lights. Confusingly, there were two sizes of cable for sale, and the Hampton Bay box didn’t specify which size I needed. So I asked a Home Depot employee for help, and they looked up the lighting specs online and told me which size I needed.


Lay out your lights to decide how you want to position them.


Our ranch home’s facade is asymmetrical, and we decided one light would be enough on the left side.


We opted to highlight a sotol in a steel planter for nighttime drama, but we soon found it needed to be lit from the side, not head-on. Otherwise we had a big, pipe-shaped shadow on the front of the house.


The right side of our house is longer, so we placed two lights over there, one washing across the Chinese mahonias in the center of the foundation bed (between the windows) and the other highlighting the Japanese maple at the corner of the house. We added another light along the side-yard fence to highlight a piece of garden art and brighten a side path.

Run the low-voltage cable from the outlet where you’ll plug in your transformer to each light, leaving a little slack at each light so you can move it around if needed.


We already owned a transformer from our previous home’s lighting, so we didn’t need to buy one. Your transformer must be able to handle the wattage of lights you’re installing, so add up the wattage for all your lights and buy a transformer that can handle at least that amount. You may end up adding more lights (that’s easy to do), so it doesn’t hurt to buy a bigger transformer than you currently need. Of course LEDs use less wattage, allowing you to use a smaller transformer than if you choose incandescent lights.

Hook up the cable to the transformer by using wire strippers to remove about a half-inch of insulation from the two strands of wire at one end of the cable. Follow the instructions that come with your transformer to hook up one wire to the “A” terminal and the other wire to the “B” terminal.

Plug the transformer into a nearby outdoor electrical outlet and mount the transformer box on the wall. To hang it, screw a couple of screws to the wall, aligning them with pre-drilled holes on the back plate of the transformer box. If you don’t have an outdoor electrical outlet in the right spot, hire an electrician to run a line from your house to the spot where you need it, and have an outdoor GFCI outlet box mounted on a post that’s tall enough to support the transformer too. Make sure it’s situated where it won’t be an eyesore in your landscaping, but convenient to your lights.

A transformer with a timer allows you to set it to come on at dark every day and turn off at dawn, or in the wee hours if you prefer.


The lights have pinch-clips that bite into the cable. Once you’re sure about where you want your lights to be, unplug the transformer and simply clip each light onto the cable. The low voltage means it’s easy and safe to work with. When all your lights are hooked up and you’ve tested that they work by plugging in the transformer and turning them on, finish up by burying the cable a few inches deep, preferably along the house foundation or line of edging where you won’t be likely to dig in the future. If you ever do accidentally cut the cable, you can repair it by stripping the wires of both cut pieces and reconnecting them with wire nuts and electrical tape.


Press each light into the soil, being careful not to apply pressure to the head of the fixture, as that could damage the rotating joint that allows you to adjust the upward angle of the light.


Adjust the angle of the light as necessary to “wash” the wall or highlight a structurally interesting plant.


Avoid “hot spot” glare — where you see the bulb — by pointing lights away from pathways, doors, and windows.


It’s better to have too little light than too much. A prison-yard ambience is not what you’re after but rather a soft glow pulling certain features into focus.


Try it along your foundation to create your own welcoming glow.

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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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get 24-hour advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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