Lively formality in the garden of Deborah Hornickel


If you admired the beautiful details of James David’s grand Rollingwood garden, which I had the privilege of visiting last spring, you may have wondered what a smaller, more economically built garden of his might look like. And I’m here to show you, thanks to James’s longtime friend, Deborah Hornickel, who kindly let me photograph her Bryker Woods garden last week.

Deborah’s garden is 24 years old, and she attributes to James “all of the credit for the design of my garden starting back in 1991.” I first visited her garden in 2006 and again in 2010 during the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour, on which her garden will again be included this October.

From the street to the front porch, a double line of round and teardrop-shaped boxwood topiaries marches along a narrow limestone walk, giving formal structure and a strong leading line for the eye to follow. But the formal symmetry is subverted to the right and left thanks to towering sunflowers, layers of small trees (desert willow and pruned-up loropetalum), and a large, strappy yucca or nolina.


Halfway down the walk, a side path leads left through clipped boxwood to a bench hidden near the shrub-screened property line.


By the porch, pink crinums are finishing up while a dark-leaved canna offers a rich color echo.


Looking back along the front walk, the widely spaced topiaries lead your eye firmly but playfully to the street — and a neighbor’s perfectly positioned tree. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they put in a complementary garden at the base of that tree? (Sometimes one can only dream of gardening neighbors.)


Deborah’s porch is enticing, with a pair of narrow pots overflowing with silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) and a stainless steel bench displaying a collection of potted cacti and succulents. A green-black door contrasts with the pale celery green of the house.


Terracotta pots unify the collection.


More pots sit along the walk by the porch.


On the shady, east-facing porch, a mantel-like limestone table holds hurricane candles and a striking begonia.


A concrete walk runs along the front porch from the driveway, and Deborah has made a focal point at the end to terminate the view: a tall, terracotta pot filled with Jewels of Opar.


The driveway doubles as a path to the rear garden and offers a view of the porch across a plane of clipped boxwood.


Specimen plants are tucked in here and there, like this Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and variegated American agave.


It’s not often I get to say this, but I love the view between the side of the house and the pea-graveled driveway. A russet-and-green-leaved Japanese maple is color-echoed by oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) with faded blossoms. The detached garage, which functions as an open carport, looks to be painted the same charcoal-green as the front door.


Let’s stop to admire the Japanese maple and oakleaf hydrangea combo. The maple is underplanted with prostrate yew, also known as Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’), whose shiny, deep-green needles offer a pleasing contrast. I really need to plant this slow-growing, shade-loving, deer-resistant evergreen in my own garden.


Looking back toward the front garden


The long view down the driveway reveals a row of pruned-up ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress trees. Click through to my 2006 visit to Deborah’s garden for a view of these trees before they were pruned up. They are lovely trees, and although the lower limbs had to be pruned up to allow passage, the scaly trunks and blue-green needles overhead create a woodsy Colorado vibe. I like the mix of loose and clipped shrubs beneath them too.


To access the back garden, you pass through the carport/garage, which is also Deborah’s potting shed, and enter a comfortably furnished covered porch.


Deborah is very selective with regard to garden adornment. Each piece counts and is never crowded by another.


She likes a few quirky touches as well, like this skull planter.


The porch commands a view of the entire back garden: fire-pit patio, buffet table, and pond on the left; Bradford pear allee in the middle; and rectangular lawn on the right.


The patchwork-paver patio is Deborah’s latest addition. Jackson Broussard of Sprout and James David worked together on the patio design, Deborah told me.


It reminds me of Tait Moring’s patchwork path.


Four chairs cluster around a circular steel table. When the lid comes off, it doubles as a fire pit. The fire pit is Jackson’s design, and you can see more of his work in my post about a Rollingwood garden he designed.


A circular boxwood hedge once enclosed a stock-tank pond. But when it eventually corroded Deborah replaced it with a simple bird bath. Notice the strong line of clipped boxwood along the edge of the gravel patio. It “holds back” a shrub bed approximately 10 feet wide along the property line, which makes a buffering green wall around the garden’s living spaces.


A wider view


A limestone-slab table by the umbrella holds a couple of potted plants and a bowl of shells. Perhaps it gets put to use during parties.


Seashells and slag glass make a pretty combo.


Deborah’s back porch. I love her house colors. The window in the dark wall looks into the garage/potting shed.


A gravelly planting bed sits just off the porch, containing a crepe myrtle and an assortment of potted plants.


Echeverias in an oval pot resemble water lilies floating in a pond. The metal dachshund is a boot scraper.


The main hallway of the garden is an allee of Bradford pears espaliered on a rebar framework into a long tunnel. This axis is aligned with the back door of the house, creating a strong indoor-outdoor connection.


But before we walk down it, let’s look right to another seating area behind the garage. Wire panels atop steel poles make a sheltering trellis over the space. A frameless mirror mimics a window and reflects candlelight at night. A grill occupies the outer edge.


Candelabras hang over the table for nighttime enjoyment.


There are also lights — cafe-style string lights — running the length of the pear allee. A potted cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea) on a stone plinth terminates the view.


Deborah says this beautiful plant (not actually a palm) requires protection from winter freezes. The grassy plants on either side, which have speckled, narrow leaves, may be Aspidistra minutiflora ‘Leopard’.


The right side of the garden is devoted to a cool, green lawn, anchored by a simple, chalky urn atop a cylindrical pedestal. Clipped boxwood lines this side as well, with a deep shrub border along the property line.


Looking left, you see a glimpse of the rebar structure that helped train the pears when they were young and supple. A blue bench is positioned in the shade for a view of a pond.


Looking back toward the house


This contemporary, poured-concrete pond was built as a replacement for the original stock-tank pond. The tall plant is Thalia dealbata.


I believe that’s ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) behind it. A long steel pipe extends from the boxwood hedge to pour a recirculating stream of water into the pond…


…where water lilies bloom and colorful fish swim.


From the back you see how the pipe is supported.


I am smitten with this pond and the surrounding plants. There’s a sense of openness, but subtropical lushness too.


Deborah has been generous in sharing her garden with Austin over the years, putting it on tour many times. Of James David, her friend who’s helped her with the design for a quarter-century, Deborah says simply, “He is the most talented and creative mind I have ever known, and I am beyond fortunate to have had his assistance.”

My thanks to Deborah for sharing her gorgeous garden with me once again! If you’d like to see it too, it’ll be on tour through Garden Conservancy Open Days on October 17. But I do hope you’ll also save room on your tour schedule that day to see my own garden (very different from Deborah’s) and the other gardeners’ gardens on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour — yep, on the same day.

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

Island hopping, Toronto-style: Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling


Seventy garden bloggers boarded a ferry earlier this month and were transported from bustling downtown Toronto (pictured above) to the idyllic lanes of the Toronto Islands (below), a mere 15 minutes across Lake Ontario but seemingly a world away.


This was the last tour on our first day of the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling, and we were treated to a preview visit of the islanders’ private gardens, which would be open for a public tour the following weekend (June 6-7).


First we were herded together for our official Fling portrait, with the spectacular Toronto skyline in the distance. Then, with maps in hand, we were set loose, free to wander at will between Ward’s and Algonquin Islands, which are connected by a footbridge.


The islands are said to be the largest urban car-free community in North America. Traffic-free lanes lead to densely built cottages, where bikes are parked beside every door.


Bicycles with trailers are the transport of choice for residents and visitors alike. I saw these on the ferry as well.


Of course one could always sail over from Toronto.


Ownership of one of the 262 homes on the islands is coveted and strictly limited. Due to a government settlement over a land dispute, homeownership on the islands really amounts to a 99-year lease on the property and ownership of the structure only, not the land. Those wanting to buy in must sign up on a waiting list of 500 names and be prepared to wait approximately 35 years for a spot to open.


Happily, anyone can visit the islands and stroll or bike around to see the charming cottages. Everything, even construction and landscaping materials, must be brought in on bike or non-motorized cart, we were told, and trash goes out the same way, so islanders tend to be creative recyclers in their garden decor.


Gardens that were open to us were marked on our map, but many others could be enjoyed from the lanes.


As we strolled around, friendly islanders working in their gardens sometimes invited us in, even if they weren’t officially on the preview tour. This rear garden was in full spring glory (even though it was June!) with golden chain tree and alliums.


More alliums — the official flower of the Toronto Fling, by the reckoning of head planner Helen Battersby. I’d have to agree. They were everywhere.


Dark purple tulips, nearly black, harmonized nicely.


Tulip and allium combo


This house was nearly swallowed up by vines.


But its twin, nearby, was stunning, with double orange poppies echoing the color of the front door.


This one looked like a fairy tale cottage in the woods.


Small lots mean creative gardening — and a lot of container gardening.


This one pulled off a secret garden vibe.


Variegated lilac blossom


I tried to guess what this arbor was made of. It looked like metal mesh baskets wired together.


Next to the harbor, yellow sail covers on the sailboats serendipitously matched yellow iris blooming around a massive old tree stump.


Lilacs and iris beckoned me into this garden.


It was lovely.


I admired these glass dragonflies buzzing around a chartreuse-leaved hosta.


Porch pots


Bucking the island’s cottage-garden trend, this back garden was formally designed and centered around a circular pool.


Rhododendrons and spirea were showy that week, appearing in many Toronto gardens we visited.


But only the islanders get to enjoy this view — and we lucky visitors.

Coming up next: A tour of But-a-Dream, the garden of Jeannie Parker on Algonquin Island. For a look back at Sarah Nixon’s urban farm and floral demonstration, click here.

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

Farewell visit to James David’s Austin garden, part 1


James and Gary’s entry garden, a gravel garden featuring agaves, aloes, succulents, and other dry-adapted plants from around the world

After 36 years devoted to creating an extravagantly plant-rich, terraced, one-of-a-kind garden on two acres in Austin’s Rollingwood neighborhood, landscape architect James David and his partner Gary Peese are leaving it all behind. Their home — an elegant, contemporary hideaway with a detached, modern concrete studio — is on the market, and they’ve already begun work on a new home and garden in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Entry garden, with a fringe of Cupressus funebris, aka Chinese weeping cypress (I think), framing the scene

I was invited to visit in late March, when the live oaks were alight with new chartreuse leaves and the Texas mountain laurels were dripping with fragrant blossoms. James gave me a tour of the garden, rattling off botanical names so fast I caught only a few of them, and then invited me into his studio for a brief interview about leaving the garden.


Arbor made of crisscrossing steel pipes with concrete posts, to the left of the entry garden

He told me he is 71 and ready for a new adventure, cooler weather, and a smaller garden. He and Gary have already spent two summers in Santa Fe, remodeling two houses and making plans to build a house on a vacant lot they purchased. Their future garden is, for now, mainly wildflowers, said James.


Shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana) blooms around the patio, but the largely evergreen garden screens the nearby road from view

I imagine Santa Fe, which recently opened a new botanical garden, will be very happy to have them. Their departure will be Austin’s loss. James and Gary’s influence on the gardening scene in Austin is huge. For nearly three decades they owned and operated the iconic garden shop and boutique nursery Gardens (now closed) and David/Peese Design, a garden design studio that’s given many well regarded designers in Austin and beyond their early training.


James has also served for many years as chairman of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program and has opened his own garden to the public many times. I’ve posted about my Open Days visits twice, in October 2006 and October 2010. Thanks to James and Gary’s generosity, attendees of the inaugural Garden Bloggers Fling enjoyed a private tour in 2008.


White irises mark the final resting place of four of James and Gary’s pet cats

Since I’ve never gardened anywhere longer than 7 years, I can hardly fathom the depth of garden making that goes into a 36-year-old garden. James is the primary designer and gardener. (Gary told me he is more of a vegetable gardener, tending the kitchen gardens near the house.) James’s avidity for new and different plants — “if you love the plant you’ll find a place for it,” he declared in a Martha Stewart video about his garden — is reined in by a classic approach to design.


Boxwood pruned into an embroidery of loops and curves

Evergreen hedges, strong hardscape structure, formal axes that lead the eye and focal points that arrest it — these elements create compelling views from inside the home, lead one on a journey of discovery along numerous tempting paths, and provide multiple places to stop and enjoy the garden.


Let’s follow a few of the paths together, starting here at street level and working our way around the house, down to the lowest level of the back garden, and back up. This formal parterre garden along the street…


…is accessed on one end via a curving, shallow stair. At its foot, an olive jar and round stones attract the eye amid evergreen shrubs.


An especially dark purple Texas mountain laurel (Sephora secundiflora) caught my eye here.


In the shade, tall stems of blue flowers reminded me of English bluebells. Could these be Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica)?


A very narrow path leads from the olive jar through a plane of clipped boxwood (a substitute for a lawn’s negative space, James told me) toward a side patio on the house. I find this path a bit narrow for comfort, but James said he enjoys the feeling of moving through the plants. Maybe if you have a man’s narrow hips? I sidled through.


Stopping at the patio and looking back toward the olive jar, the view is entrancing. Those leading lines…


…they work to pull you in multiple directions.


Let’s head back to the entry garden…


…to admire those gorgeous agaves again. Aloes were blooming too.


Visitors are immersed in the garden before they even reach the front door.


The front door is sheltered under a narrow porch and set modestly to one side.


A patchwork of paving materials imposes a linear design on the intimate entry court, softened by planting pockets.


At the front steps, a dozen rectangular pots and troughs cluster for impact. A collection of spherical stones adds a contrasting shape.


Chinese ground orchid (Bletilla striata) in spring bloom


Some sort of protea? Scadoxus puniceus var. natalensis (thanks, Astra and John)


Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa) sending up towering bloom spikes, backed by native ranunculus


While the street side of the property is relatively flat, in back a steep natural ravine has been tamed with a series of elegant stone and gravel terraces, including this narrow one along the foundation. A semicircular stone console table under a window displays a pot of succulents.


Along one axis parallel to the house, a double line of squat, pyramidal boxwoods leads to a pyramid-shaped shed with a dogtrot-style doorway running through the middle.


Sheathed in galvanized metal siding and roofing, it’s a striking focal point from several paths, including this one that runs below it.


Pass through the open doorway and you come to a stone walk that leads to the detached studio (which I’ll show in part 2). This is the view looking back through the pyramid shed. A Texas mountain laurel in full, fragrant bloom leans on the path.


Another view, with Gary and their dog Alice


Taking the lower path back around the pyramid shed…


…you come to this vignette. Under a flowering Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa), a weather-aged pot sits empty atop a limestone plinth.


Texas mountain laurel and Mexican buckeye are native, spring-flowering trees that make a pretty pair.


Another view


Ahead, the path straightens and enters a pyramid-shaped, trellis-walled gazebo. Triangular benches in each corner offer a place to rest and enjoy a lovely view back to the empty pot on the plinth — centered, you’ll notice, in the doorway of the gazebo.


Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) climbs the gazebo, its clusters of burgundy flowers dangling like parachutes. I’d love to see the sausage-shaped fruit that follows in the fall.


A wider view of the trellis gazebo shows a Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense) pruned up tree-form, its burgundy leaves offering a color echo of the chocolate vine’s flowers.


Turning the opposite direction, the axis continues parallel to the house, leading to a secluded dining table hemmed in by low retaining walls. A double line of string lights tracks above the space to the dovecote structure that terminates the sight line. On the right, behind the lower wall…


…is a built-in BBQ for entertaining. An oversized stone finial echoes the pyramid shapes that appear throughout the garden.


On the wooden table, a beautiful potted amaryllis echoes the burnt orange of the metal chairs.


Beyond the table a gravel courtyard with a steel fire pit offers another gathering place. It’s also the center of a perpendicular, downward-leading axis from the back of the house through the lower garden, which I’ll show in part 2. The shallow steps at left lead up to the house and the street-side garden. Turning to the right you’d see the most dramatic view of the whole garden: a grand staircase with a rill running down the center that leads to a large pond. Coming up next!


I’ll end part 1 with a framed view of spring-green trees, as seen through the limestone dovecote window…


…and a sweet pink-and-cream rose.

Up next: Part 2 of my farewell visit to James David’s garden

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