Steel walls and soft grasses in travel-influenced Mirador Garden


A week ago I enjoyed the opportunity to photograph another of landscape architect Curt Arnette‘s gardens. Frothy, rose-colored clouds of Gulf muhly, tawny spikes of Lindheimer muhly, and a chartreuse Habiturf lawn wrap the large front garden in a cozy quilt of softness that counterbalances the flat planes and sharp angles of this contemporary Southwest Austin home.


Even at curbside, you know this garden is going to be big on ornamental grasses. No stiffly pruned topiary shrubs here, and definitely no overused, faux-Tuscan spires of Italian cypress.


Instead, native grasses grouped in contemporary blocks of color and texture keep the garden organized, even as it blends into the surrounding landscape.


But the big surprise in the front garden is a tiered arrangement of rusty steel walls that comes into view as you enter the driveway. Inspired by the adventurous homeowner, who had admired a similarly terraced garden on her world travels, Curt’s design replaced an existing stone retaining wall with slim panels of steel that trace the contours of the sloping lot.


Native and adapted dryland plants fill the terraces and broad ramps that provide gardening access.


At one end, bristling heads of Yucca rostrata shimmer atop a wedding-cake tier of steel curves.


From the house, it’s a dramatic amphitheater filled with an audience of native and adopted Texans.


The Habiturf lawn, which carpets the slope from the steel walls down to the driveway, is the first residential use I’ve seen in person. I like its tufted, shaggy texture. An ecological lawn developed by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Habiturf is a low-mow, low-water alternative for the U.S. Southwest and Southern Plains.


The Habiturf lawn is allowed to spread naturalistically under and around yuccas, ornamental grasses, and other plants rather than being kept separate, which must make mowing a challenge. But then again, Habiturf rarely needs mowing. Curt told me that native wildflowers are seeded in the lawn for a meadowy spring display.


A line of native Lindheimer muhly grasses edges the driveway and glows against the red steel.


Gulf muhly and blue grama grasses catch the light atop a retaining wall next to the house.


Every view of the front of the house is softened by grasses, including this scrim of Lindheimer muhly.


At the front gate, a raised bed of agave and prostrate rosemary greets you. I didn’t enter here, however…


…but walked down the driveway to another gate set between head-high steel planter boxes.


These are filled with gopher plant, red yucca, and other highly drought-tolerant plants. The blocky walls create privacy for the courtyard garden within.


Fencing panels between the boxes admit light and frame views.


Another fence panel, this one in a stone wall along the driveway, offers a view of a see-through outdoor fireplace.


Entering the courtyard garden, you see a guest house or studio overlooking a board-formed concrete trough.


This rectangular, negative-edge pool is the focal point of a raised-bed vegetable and cutting garden.


It’s a spectacular water feature that reminds me of a similar one in Christine Ten Eyck’s courtyard garden (click and scroll for pics).


At the corner of the guest house/studio, rainwater is collected and stored in a silo-like cistern, which must be handy for watering the raised beds.


Roses, iris, and zinnias give this space a cheery, casual vibe, but it steers clear of cottage style with an open layout and the precise lines of the steel-edged beds.


Monarchs were nectaring on zinnias this morning, making a temporary, red-orange color echo.


A wider courtyard view


It’s not all edibles and cutting flowers in the courtyard. This planter contains succulents and spiny dyckias.


An inside view of one of the steel planter walls that enclose this garden


There are a lot of elevation changes here, bridged by a white, stone path that appears to float over wooden decking and an L-shaped dry stream that cuts through the courtyard.


The path leads like a conveyor belt to the sheltered front door. Large windows admit views of the garden to those inside.


Looking back from the entry, you enjoy this view of the courtyard garden, which, like the garden out front, is terraced with steel retaining walls. Frothy blue Russian sage fills one terrace; dwarf pomegranates underplanted with silver ponyfoot fill another.


I’m not sure how you’d reach the pomegranates to harvest the fruit, but they make for a pretty view from above, especially against the icy-blue ponyfoot groundcover.


Along one side of the house, where runoff from the neighbor’s uphill lot once eroded the slope and threatened the foundation of the house, a naturalistic terraced dry stream safely moves water downhill and serves as a rugged path when the weather is dry.


The water flows out to a grassy meadow behind the house. You can see a hint of their nice view of the hills.


Midway along the narrow side yard, a garden porch offers pretty views from inside and a quiet place to sit. As in the courtyard, steel planters display color-blocks of plants, including variegated flax lily, ‘Blue Elf’ aloe, and canna.


Heading around back of the house, you climb back up from a meadowy lawn. Rusty steel retaining walls again set the tone and contrast with the creamy whites of the house and paths.


Here’s a wide view of the sunny rear terrace. The lawn here is drought-tolerant zoysia, which has been allowed to grow long.


At the edge of the terrace a steel-edged swimming pool reflects the sky, and a rain chain hanging from the eave adds a vertical punctuation mark. Walls of windows must make the garden and pool seem part of the interior.


The terrace offers views of a pergola-shaded dining area and surrounding garden that Curt designed.


Koosh-ball Yucca rostratas cluster near the entrance to the space, and creamy flowering lantana attracts butterflies.


As does blue mistflower, seen in the background.


The homeowner is training figs up the steel posts of the pergola to recreate a garden arbor she admired on her travels. It’ll be a leafy bower hung with figs in a few years.


Spotted manfreda and a blue-green ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave add evergreen color and structure amid billowing white roses and blue mistflower.


Back up on the terrace, here’s a parting view of the framing hills, rounded yucca heads, meadow-lawn, and sky-reflecting pool.


My thanks to the homeowner for allowing me to share her lovely garden here, and to Curt for introducing me to another of his plant-centric garden designs. I hope you enjoyed the tour!

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

Heather’s Xericstyle garden in San Antonio


Last week I roadtripped south with a few friends to see the gardens of our San Antonio blogger friends, Heather Ginsburg of Xericstyle and Shirley Fox of Rock-Oak-Deer, plus Shirley’s neighbor and gardening friend Melody. I posted about Shirley’s garden here. Today I’ll show you Heather’s garden.


Heather boldly ripped out her entire front lawn when she moved into her suburban ranch house a few years ago. A Canadian transplant, she had a lot to learn about gardening in hot, dry, south-central Texas, but she’s a quick study and soon filled her garden with native grasses; agaves, yuccas, and prickly pear for structure; and flowering perennials for color and to attract wildlife.


As she experimented with lawn alternatives that can survive with only enough supplemental water to get them established, she started a blog called Xericstyle and won over lots of followers with her enthusiasm and her fresh, modern take on the xeriscape garden.


Along with the garden overhaul, Heather and her husband did a lot of work on their house to modernize it, including giving their front porch a facelift with fresh colors and accessories like these mod chairs and zigzag-patterned, orange-and-white pillows. That frothy, silver-green groundcover is ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia.


Terracotta pots filled with sotol, prickly pear, and golden barrel cactus add to the orange color scheme.


The side view


Heather orange-creamsicled her front door, and an orange Circle Pot trailing a Rapunzel-like succulent adds more bold color. And how about this for a fun surprise: Heather hung a string of glass votive holders on the front door…


…and planted them with succulents too!


Butternut squash-colored paint on the brick siding combines well with a grayish orange pumpkin.


A detail on the fence to her back garden


While many of Heather’s potted plants are one-plant-per-pot, like this yellow firecracker fern…


…she’s not afraid of creating combos like this cactus, feathergrass, and silver ponyfoot mash-up.


Heather ripped out all the lawn in back as well, replacing it with a large decomposed-granite patio by the back door that flows into the side yard, creating a sense of openness and room for several seating areas. She broke up the expanse with an island of perennials and potted herbs, accented with a orange-painted bamboo tuteur.

To the left, just out of frame, is an area Heather has been experimenting with, trying to find a lawn alternative that will stand up to kids’ play plus not require regular watering. Frogfruit was a partial success, but a large section suffered this summer in full sun without supplemental water. Heather continues to experiment, and one of the things I love about her blog is how she candidly details these plant trials.


A Mexican Fiesta flag string adds fun color across the back porch. That’s Cat of The Whimsical Gardener snapping me snapping her. I think we have a series of pictures like this. Just beyond Cat you can see a red bench and chairs around a fire pit.


Around the corner of the house are two picnic tables for gatherings of family and friends. A Day of the Dead skull is the centerpiece on one table.


A closer look shows that it’s also a succulent planter.


Hanging on the fence are repurposed exhaust pipes that Heather and her husband turned into succulent and cactus planters.


Heather always has a big, beautiful smile on her face, and she only looks serious here because I caught her explaining something (probably something about worms!). I adore her sense of style, especially that skirt. Thank you, Heather, for taking time off work to give us a tour of your lovely, xeric-style garden! For more, you really don’t want to miss Heather’s star turn on Central Texas Gardener. Her enthusiasm for tough native and adapted plants (and worms!) is contagious; you’ll love it.


Heather and Shirley, plus Rambling Wren, are the only San Antonio garden bloggers I know of, despite the fact that San Antonio is considerably larger than Austin. I wonder why that is? San Antonio is a beautiful city, with more colonial history and old-Mexico influence than you see in Austin. It’s also a particularly adept city at conserving water. In fact, the City of Austin has modeled some of its conservation efforts after San Antonio’s successes. I think Alamo City gardeners have a lot to teach about gardening in drought and heat, and I’d love to see more gardeners there start blogging to share their successes and experiments, and to give interested readers an intimate picture of gardening in central-south Texas.

Up next: Melody’s lushly planted San Antonio oasis of passalong plants framed by rustic cedar arbors and stucco-and-stone structures. For a look back at Shirley Fox’s Hill Country-style garden, also in San Antonio, click here.

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

Visiting a San Antonio garden with rocks, oaks, and deer


Ahh, I’m back and enjoying our mellow Texas fall after a garden-visiting weekend in New York City, and guess what I’ve been doing since I got back? Yep! Visiting more gardens.

Last Friday a few friends and I headed south to San Antonio to visit the gardens of two Alamo City bloggers and a gardening friend. I’ll give you our visits in reverse order, starting with Shirley Fox’s garden, known on her blog by its challenging features: Rock-Oak-Deer.


Shirley organized our visit and still made time to show us her garden as well. This was my second visit; I first saw Shirley’s garden in summer 2013 (click for my post). This iron bedstead, planted as a garden bed (wink), is new since then, and I think it fits perfectly with the rustic Hill Country style Shirley has cultivated. Plus it’s just fun.


In a pot, Shirley has corralled a clump of variegated St. Augustine. Yes, just like the popular lawn grass, only with stripes!


Her Circle Garden was in full, meadowy bloom thanks to a collection of grasses mixed with flowering annuals and perennials.


And there’s Shirley in the orange blouse, her own camera at the ready.


I collect metal spheres in my own garden, so it was fun to spot a few in Shirley’s as well. I like how she’s given this one some prominence by displaying it atop a pot.


Looking at the Circle Garden from the other direction, you get a better sense of all the grasses. That’s pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia) in the left corner, one of my new favorites since Michael at Plano Prairie Garden introduced me to it.


The tall wire fence along the side of her garden keeps deer out, giving Shirley space to grow particularly deer-tasty plants. She and her husband built the cedar-arbor gate.


Here’s another new, dynamic feature since I was last here: a crevice garden planted with yuccas, agaves, and cactus.


In the dappled light under live oaks, Shirley grows shade-tolerant plants and succulents in pots.


The fireplace wall along her back deck is a nice spot to display potted plants and garden decor.


I was intrigued by this fuzzy-leaved tradescantia.


A new screened porch is the biggest addition since I was last here. Shirley and her husband constructed it themselves at one end of their shady deck so they can enjoy being outdoors even during our buggy summer spring, summer, and fall.


It’s spacious inside, with an accent wall made of painted corrugated-metal roofing asphalt roofing panels. (Thanks for the correction, Shirley!)


The front-yard gravel garden — notice not one shred of thirsty lawn — was looking good with a mix of cool blues, golden yellows, and emerald greens, all foliage-based color.


Small boulders and Mexican-style terracotta pots add to the south-central Texas look.


A purple prickly pear looks especially lovely next to a pockmarked limestone boulder.


And I had to stop and admire Shirley’s large ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia), a little sunburned by the Death Star but still looking very content with room to spread its flukes.

Thanks, Shirley, for opening your garden to us and for organizing a fun day of garden-visiting in San Antonio!

Up next: Xericstyle Heather’s lawn-gone, family-friendly garden.

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