Wildflower Center aglow with the spirit of the season


Luminarias glowed and tree lights twinkled throughout the native-plant gardens at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center during last weekend’s annual Luminations event. I’ve been several times over the years, but this time the lights extended all the way to the new Family Garden.


We got there at opening and enjoyed the lights as evening fell.


My young nephew was with us, so we headed straight for the Family Garden, passing this golden bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum) along the way. That’s a russet bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) at the turn in the path.


In the fading light I was wowed by a mass planting of Lindheimer muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), whose bleached inflorescences stood tall enough to partially hide a bench. I wish the border of Lindheimer muhly in my own garden looked this fabulous, but it doesn’t get full sun and the grasses remain much smaller and floppier.


Wrapped in lights, a row of Arizona cypresses (Cuppressus arizonica) in the Family Garden made living Christmas trees.


Musical performances were scheduled throughout the garden’s pavilions, including this one, adding a holiday soundtrack to the festivities.


Luminarias lit the way back to the main gardens.


It struck me as kind of strange to be walking through dark gardens by candlelight, where all you could see was glowing paper bags. But it was nice too.


Back in the main courtyard, it was a party, with a steel band playing, people smiling and talking, and hot chocolate being handed out.


We popped into the gift shop. Of course.


I found a glass armadillo ornament, which I immediately realized we needed for our tree. I also perused the shop’s extensive garden-book selection.


Oh, looky here — autographed copies of Lawn Gone! are on display right up front!


At last it was time to go, and at the exit we stopped to ooh and ahh over this enormous live oak, seemingly lit with fairy lights all the way up into the evergreen branches. I was even more impressed to realize that the lights were not physical lights but projected images from four upward-pointing projectors at ground level. How clever, and no ladders required!

Merry Christmas, y’all!

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

Join me at Wildflower Center shopping event December 7th


Want to do a little garden-themed holiday shopping this weekend? Come to the 24th annual Wild Ideas Shopping Event at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. I’ll be there on Sunday, from 1 to 3 p.m., signing copies of my book, Lawn Gone!, and I’d love to meet you! Please come say hi even if you don’t need a book because otherwise I’ll just be standing around twiddling my thumbs for two hours, m’kay? I hope to see you there! Still need convincing? Admission to the gardens is free Dec. 5-7, and the new Family Garden is fun for all ages, so you can make an afternoon of it and still get your holiday shopping done too.


This is me at the Wildflower Center’s gift shop last year, all excited to see my book offered for sale there. The Wildflower Center was my earliest inspiration to create a sustainable garden in tune with our difficult climate. I hope my book offers some inspiration and can-do encouragement as well.


If you’re considering Lawn Gone! for a Christmas or Hanukkah gift, here’s a 1-minute video about it. By the way, if your intended recipient lives outside of Texas, I’m happy to tell you that Lawn Gone! is for gardeners and would-be gardeners everywhere, with pictures and plant recommendations for all parts of the U.S.

Here are full details about this weekend’s Wild Ideas Shopping Event:
December 5, 6 & 7 at the Wildflower Center in southwest Austin
Free admission!
20% discount on all store merchandise
Members receive their standard 10% discount in addition to all special discounts!

Friday, December 5 – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Joy Fisher Hein offers her porcelain-based wildflower jewelry for sale – Noon to 4 p.m.
Bill Albert provides vases and bowls made from native woods – Noon to 2 p.m.
Sarah St. Laurent encaustic art demo – 1 to 4 p.m.

Saturday, December 6 – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Artist Mary Gregory – 1 to 4 p.m.
Jack Gilmore signs Jack Allen’s Kitchen recipe book and brings food samples – 1 to 4 p.m.

Sunday, December 7 – noon to 5 p.m.
One-hour apparel sale: 25% off all apparel! – Noon to 1 p.m.
PAM PENICK signs LAWN GONE! – 1 to 3 p.m.
Taste Yaupon Tea – 1 to 4 p.m.

Vendors Saturday and Sunday in Visitors Gallery
Wildflower Days 2015 Artist: Denise Counley
Wild Soap Bar
Flat Flower Designs
Joan Edelstein – Arts & Passions Scarves
Mae Mae Stiles – M-Squared Jewelry
Mary Fulton – Agaritaville Pottery
Curtis Laudermilk – Handcrafted Mesquite
Ralph Yznaga Photography
Lisa Camomile – Decorated Glassware
Barbara Attwell – Felted Creations
Mollie Williams – Bottle Garden
Sherri Jones – Watercolor Paintings

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

Read This: 3 garden design books for your holiday giving (or getting)

I read a lot of gardening books, especially those about design. Three books stand out for me this year as particularly worthy of being on your favorite gardener’s wish list — or your own. Aside from their focus on garden design, they couldn’t be more different, covering topics as diverse as modern designs from around the world, how other arts can influence a garden’s design, and the symbolism of Zen temple gardens in Japan. Two were published this year, the other appeared in 2011, and all are available in hardback for that hefty, impressive presentation when the wrapping paper is ripped off.

Gardens in Detail

Gardens in Detail: 100 Contemporary Designs (2014) by Emma Reuss. At more than 400 pages and 3.5 pounds, this tome gives you your money’s worth and then some. Despite its size, however, it never bogs down in technical language or esoteric discussion as it dissects the design elements of 100 contemporary gardens. Mainly from the U.K. and the U.S. but also, refreshingly, countries as disparate as Iran, Australia, Japan, Brazil, India, France, and China, each garden is showcased across four pages and a half-dozen photographs. An insightful overview covering the designer’s approach and site challenges is followed by concise descriptions of 4 or 5 design techniques used in each garden. The gardens are organized in 10 chapters with broad headings like Art, Composition, Lifestyle, Colour, and Atmosphere. The 4-page-per-garden format makes it an easy book to pick up and put down, especially as you’ll want to digest what you’ve learned about each garden before turning the page to read about the next.

Author and garden designer Emma Reuss lives in London, and her book has a definite English slant. But I love that she includes gardens from all over the world and writes about them with confidence and an accessibility that makes design less of a mystery. Gardens in Detail is smart without being dense, with just enough detail to give you a sense of each garden and help you understand what makes it captivating.

The Artful Garden

The Artful Garden: Creative Inspiration for Landscape Design (2011) by James van Sweden, with Tom Christopher. A pioneer of the New American Garden style, which popularized mass plantings of grasses and perennials in naturalistic, meadow-inspired designs and rejected the stiff regularity of lawns and foundation shrubs, landscape architect James van Sweden, who died last year at age 78, was a proselytizer who often spoke publicly and authored several books about design.

Published in 2011, The Artful Garden, co-authored with Tom Christopher, is his final book. Just as his design style embraced plants and ecology over mere architecture, so too does his book speak to gardeners, to fellow plant lovers. Here, in his cheerful, accessible prose, he urges gardeners to explore and embrace other art forms — music, dance, painting — as sources of inspiration for garden design. “Few of us,” he writes, “whether professional or amateur, would, if asked, deny that garden design is a fine art. Yet, with rare exceptions, we do not treat it as such. We take our inspiration from nursery catalogs or gardens that we have visited. Maybe we think it would be pretentious to compare what we do to what we might find on the wall of a gallery or on a pedestal in the Louvre. The truth is, though, by failing to make this connection, we rob ourselves of what should be the designer’s most powerful tool and guide.”

For gardeners interested in design, this book will broaden your ideas of what a garden can be. Using examples of gardens designed by his firm, Van Sweden urges us to both expand our sources of inspiration and use what touches us to make deeply personal and artistic gardens.

Japanese Zen Gardens

Japanese Zen Gardens (2014) by Yoko Kawaguchi. For a long time, Japanese gardens puzzled me. The tranquility of koi-filled ponds, expanses of moss, and artfully pruned Japanese maples were often overshadowed, to my eye, by a certain rigidity of style, expressed in tightly shorn shrubs, extreme restraint in plant choices, and, most perplexing of all, courtyards of raked gravel and boulders with no plants at all. Were these rock-and-gravel spaces even gardens, I wondered? I knew I was missing something crucial, but what?

Japanese Zen Gardens, a new book by Yoko Kawaguchi, explains the symbolism and philosophy behind the Japanese dry garden, what Westerners call a Zen garden, giving me a better appreciation of this enigmatic style. Each carefully placed stone represents a larger natural feature — an island, mountain, or waterfall — as well as, perhaps, an allegorical figure from the Buddhist tradition. In the first half of the book, Kawaguchi features a dozen or so Zen temple gardens, delving deeply into the founding of each garden and the political climate at the time — timelines that, for many of these ancient gardens, span hundreds of years, with the result that the text sometimes bogs down in historical minutiae. In the second half, she helpfully explores the motifs and symbols incorporated into the design. Throughout this oversized volume, you’re treated to breathtaking photographs of the gardens in every season, by photographer Alex Ramsay. This is a gorgeous coffee table book, perfect for the garden-loving traveler or anyone who wants to understand these spiritual, highly symbolic gardens a little better.

Disclosure: The Monacelli Press sent me a copy of Gardens in Detail and Aurum Publishing Group sent me Japanese Zen Gardens for review. I purchased The Artful Garden myself. I reviewed all three at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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

posted in Books, Design