Native plant gardens rev up Austin City Hall


Overlooking Lady Bird Lake and backing up to the tall codominiums of downtown, Austin City Hall delights me every time I drive by. With an angular, contemporary exterior clad in copper and limestone and a front facade that steps down toward the lake, the building has a warmth and openness and a playful vibe that’s so in tune with Austin’s style.

The landscaping too is appealing and very “Austin.” No boring lawn, no traditional shrubbery here. Instead, a bounty of native evergreens, perennials, grasses, and trees fills raised beds, rooftop gardens, and pocket gardens situated around the building.


A limestone plaza in front of the building provides a gathering space and sense of openness in lieu of lawn.


A roof garden adds greenery at the upper windows. At plaza-level, bald cypress and horsetail planted along a boulder-lined rill and pool evoke a Hill Country stream.


Sadly, the water feature is dry and dead, having been turned off for the last several years due to mandatory water-use restrictions. I feel the current ban on most outdoor water features in Austin is wrong, depriving our city of a source of beauty that’s particularly essential in a hot climate. I fully support water conservation efforts, but you can’t convince me that turning off all the fountains in town does much to save our lake water. I could go on, but I’ll save that rant for another post.


A huge swath of inland sea oats adorns this raised bed.


How many other cities care to make their City Hall landscapes as a Certified Wildlife Habitat? (Many, I hope!)


A pocket garden on the west side of the building contains a sun- and heat-loving mix of Texas mountain laurel, four-nerve daisy, prickly pear, yucca, and Mexican feathergrass.


The sign explains that water used in irrigation and the (dead) water feature is recycled from the air conditioning system.


A bloom spike from a Texas sotol pierced the shade arbor above and now leans like a tiki umbrella pole.


These agaves are massive — about 7 feet tall.


A tiered seating area to the right of the entrance is often the site of live musical performances. I cropped out a homeless person sleeping on the steps — sadly, a common sight in Austin. That’s ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine growing atop the wall.


The view from the top of the step seating. Shade structures like this are essential in our hot, sunny climate.


White mistflower spills over the edge of another rooftop garden.


A closer view — I wish I could share the spicy fragrance with you.


On the upper terrace, my daughter and I posed for a reflected self-portrait. There’s the state bird of Texas in the background — a crane. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that old joke.)


Cantilevered over 2nd Street on the back side of City Hall, “the stinger,” also called the armadillo tail, points north. Strolling beneath it on this weekend were visitors to Austin Fan Fest, part of the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix event.


We attended Fan Fest to hear a band my husband is into, Civil Twilight, which was playing a free live show just a block away. I’m not into F1 racing, but any excuse for live music in downtown Austin, right?

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Arbors, labyrinth & garden shops


On a perfect fall day last Saturday at the Antique Rose Emporium near Brenham, Texas, after I’d given my Lawn Gone! talk, I strolled around for an hour taking pictures in the golden light of late afternoon. Felder Rushing, the final speaker of the day, was entertaining a crowd in the speakers’ hall, so I had the display gardens largely to myself.


The gardens occupy several acres of former farmland — wide, open space that can dwarf a garden that lacks sufficient structure. A handful of old houses and other buildings have been rescued and revived as gift shops, speaking venues, and information booths, providing structure and quaint charm. Large-scale arbors also add structure — not to mention vertical space to grow roses and other climbers — as we’ll see below. The wall pictured here, however, is cloaked in tidy fig ivy, with a classic spitting fountain and circular basin. I love this.


The wall is part of an old stone house that contains garden decor, bulbs, and gift items. No employees ever seem to man the little shops scattered around the grounds, relying on the honor system for customers who want to buy. The trust is so refreshing.


Lattice screening stands tall along a side path…


…and helps to shelter a blue bistro set on a small patio.


‘Fireworks’ gomphrena blazing alongside a picket fence


The central part of the display gardens is quite open, given over to a winding, brick labyrinth. Enormous shrub roses and arching arbors give definition to the space.


A gravel walk curves beneath a series of arched arbors planted with roses.


Hot-pink roses like these


You exit the arbors into the labyrinth, whose narrow, brick path meanders around several treelike metal rose towers.


This is a big one.


There’s so much rural Texas charm in the old farm structures that adorn the property. I’ve never peeked in the windows to see if it’s an occupied or rentable structure. ARE does rent out the gardens and buildings for weddings.


Another look from a more open viewpoint


I have this same rooster sculpture, a gift from my sweet husband, in my own garden. Here it’s elevated to sculptural prominence on an overturned pot inside a larger, planted pot.


This spiraling, terracotta-pot archway greets visitors entering the nursery.


How many pots do you reckon make up this arch?


Just inside the arch, a statue of a young gardener kneels in a flowerbed, with an audience of meditating frogs for company.


The frogs are funny, but something else has caught her eye.


A tin-roofed gallery — another gift shop — enclosed by a picket fence and cottage garden, beckons visitors.


Flame-tipped celosia beckons the butterflies as well.


Porch chairs and rockers invite you to sit a spell.


On this day, white mistflower was attracting queen butterflies, skippers, and bees by the hundreds.


Leaning in for a photo I caught its spicy fragrance, a distinctive and pleasant autumn smell in central Texas.


The butterflies were frenzied for it.


Pillowy pink roses offered their own sweet scent as well.


Near the gallery, a log cabin contains bagged soils and other gardening supplies for sale.


And in back, red roses clamber across a picket fence…


…as a metal rooster stands sentry.


Yes, ARE does have nursery display tables. Here they are, filled with colorful perennials and cool-season annuals. I imagine this woman is thinking, “How can I ever choose?”


At one end of the nursery space, a wooden arbor is absolutely smothered in exotic-looking blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora).


I love these showy, purple flowers with deep, pale-yellow throats.


Aren’t they stunning?


And so were the roses, flowery and full thanks to recent rains and cooler weather.


ARE offers plenty of roses for sale, of course, though I neglected to photograph them (potted roses lined up in rows aren’t particularly scenic). After your shopping and garden touring is done you may wish to rest a while. It must be pleasantly shady here on hot days…


…cooled by a towering bald cypress and winding stream.


By this time it was getting late, and it was time to grab a bite to eat and then hit the road back to Austin. What a lovely day it was. Thanks again, ARE!

For more Rose Emporium goodness, check out my other two posts about the nursery this week:
Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Country Girl mums, grasses, and chapel garden
Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Beatrix Potter garden, bottle trees & cottage charm

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Beatrix Potter garden, bottle trees & cottage charm


After my talk at the Antique Rose Emporium near Brenham, Texas, last Saturday, I explored their display gardens again, enjoying the golden afternoon light and mild weather. The cottagey Beatrix Potter garden, enclosed by a purple picket fence, contains this charming seating area and whimsical features like the “gardener” made of terracotta pots visible at back-right.


Purple trellising laid flat on the ground frames a scattering of lavender-and-yellow violas — a fun way to add temporary color to an empty spot in the garden.


Meandering the shady paths, the sharp-eyed visitor will spot Peter Rabbit hiding among the ferns.


Nearby, a multicolored bottle tree glows like a stained-glass window in the afternoon light…


…and a humorous sign offers a few freebies. None for me, thanks!


I’ve visited the Emporium’s display gardens many times over the years, but there’s always something new to see, like this leggy, red hibiscus tucked next to the old, faded mailbox-sign.


What rich color


A softer light brightened the blushing faces of ‘Country Girl’ mums, seen here leaning on another bottle tree for support.


A wider view shows mostly gold and green bottles here.


Roses were basking in the soft sunlight too, offering sweet fragrance to passersby. I think I smelled every one my nose could reach.


Tightly furled pink rosebuds…


…velvety red roses…


…icy pink roses — all beckoned for a sniff test, and each one passed with flying colors.


Of course, plenty of flowers besides roses and mums were blooming. A stand of hot-orange cosmos set off this adorable purple greenhouse to perfection.


Even this wheel herb garden contained a smattering of flowering annuals.


But autumn is rose season at the Emporium, and they were beautiful.

Stay tuned for my final post about the Antique Rose Emporium’s display gardens: Fall Festival 2013 at Antique Rose Emporium: Arbors, labyrinth & garden shops. Click here for yesterday’s post about ARE’s ‘Country Girl’ mums, grasses, and chapel garden.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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