European formality with relaxed Texas style in Ware Garden: San Antonio Open Days Tour


Last Saturday I road-tripped to San Antonio for the Open Days garden tour, sponsored by the Garden Conservancy. Shirley Fox of Rock-Oak-Deer was one of the organizers this year, and I was eager to see the gardens that she’d chosen for the tour.


The Ware Garden is the grandest, an estate-size property entered via a gate with stag sculptures on limestone pilasters. A long, curving drive leads past clipped yew and boxwood hedges, and you might think you’re only going to see lawn and live oaks.


Not so! Masses of tufty Mexican feathergrass add subtle golden color and texture beneath live oaks along the drive, where a dry stream channels runoff.


A circular pool and spouting fountain appear near the house, set in an emerald lawn amid the dark, gnarled trunks of dozens of live oaks.


And here it’s seen from the home’s front terrace. The live oaks make this scene magical, elevating it from something classically formal and rather ordinary — a fountain in a big, open lawn — and giving it a fairy-tale, dark-wood dimension. There’s a sense of mystery here.


Turning around, you see the front steps to the house — not at all ostentatious but rather a study in elegant simplicity: a pyramid of limestone steps, potted boxwood spheres, and a scrolled iron lantern alongside a handsome wooden door.


Side view


Walking around the house, you get a jolt of humor from a glass-mosaic cow wearing the Texas flag and gazing at a limestone-edged swimming pool, as if longing to take a dip.


In front, a fountain splashes in a raised rectangular pool, with a rill that leads the eye across the pool, where it stops at a perfectly manicured boxwood hedge, clipped to the same dimensions as a limestone retaining wall to the right.


Past the pool, a gentle slope is terraced with a low limestone wall. The house wraps around a rectangular lawn studded with more live oaks.


Clipped boxwood in various pots makes a simple and elegant accent throughout the garden.


Shallow limestone-and-gravel steps lead past a wing of the house with expansive windows, which I imagine provide a lovely view of the evergreen landscape. I believe that’s our native palmetto (Sabal mexicana) lifting its droopy-leaved fans to mingle with live oak limbs.


Palmetto and cast-iron plant add lush-leaved, subtropical San Antonio style (also common in Austin).


Details are simple and clean lined.


Rustic features like the rough cedar arbor are pure Central Texas.


The brochure says that the owners “envisioned a European garden reminiscent of a hotel where they had lived for three years. Architect Don McDonald…designed terraces around the house as a stage for beautifully sheared boxwood hedges and classic European pots planted with boxwood balls.”


A relaxing limestone-and-gravel terrace along the guest house…


…enjoys a view of the swimming pool and those wonderfully bent and twisted live oak trees and a gray-trunked Texas persimmon.


At the end of the lawn, a vine-draped cedar pergola with a faux bois bench offers a shady place to enjoy the view.


Looking back toward the main house


The beautifully pruned live oaks are the stars of this understated garden.


A lacy limb drapes around a narrow window in the guest house.


A small terrace off the main house features a built-in outdoor fireplace made of limestone.


A carved stone flower makes a pretty accent on the gravel paving.


A last look at the fountain, pool, and Cow Tex.


On the opposite side of the house, by a detached garage, a terraced boxwood parterre and center patio are framed by a monumental, grid-like trellis constructed of rough cedar posts and cloaked in fig ivy. The trellis runs from the garage to the house, connecting the two and creating a sort of window-walled garden room.


Clipped boxwood parterre, set off by limestone-and-brick paving.


In the central patio space, a faux bois table and chairs invite you to sit and enjoy the view. Under that long, snaking live oak limb, a handsome limestone trough and outdoor faucet make an outdoor sink.


The faux bois looks remarkably like real wood.


The elegant — and enormous — detached garage creates another sheltering wall for this outdoor space.


At a corner of the garage, in a space that might easily be overlooked, a wooden folding chair and white-garden urn create a pretty vignette.


There’s more to explore from here, as a limestone-paver path leads between boxwood spheres and olive and pine trees out to an olive grove.


Nearby, beneath the shady canopy of live oaks, classical planters and a wooden table and chairs beckon.


The classicism of this garden, tempered with rustic Central Texas features like limestone edging and shaggy cedar posts, is very appealing. European formal landscaping meets relaxing Texas style in the Ware Garden, and I loved it.

Up next: The Tupper Beinhorn Garden in San Antonio’s Monte Vista neighborhood.

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

Don’t miss the Austin Open Days garden tour sponsored by the Garden Conservancy on November 4.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors 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.

Potted patio where succulents rule


Shaded by a big live oak, our back patio stays relatively cool, even on hot days. That shade also makes it a good spot for a variety of potted plants, especially succulents that prefer bright shade in our blistering climate.


Agave parryi var. truncata is one of my favorite small agaves, with those striking black spines and round blue leaves. It cozies up in a galvanized tub with a Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa) and Artemisia stelleriana ‘Quicksilver’.


Another blue beauty, but much bigger, is my new whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), which replaced Moby after he bloomed last year. Skirted by silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), it’s a cool, silvery vision of agave loveliness.


‘Macho Mocha’ mangave and datura grow in the lower level, adding some green along with a glass gazing ball.


For fun — a Tentacle Wall. Wiggly-legged pots from Tentacle Arts hold wavy-armed Xerographica tillandsias spring through fall; in winter they live indoors. Metal octopuses add a few more tentacles to the mix.


Steps leading up the back door host a colorful array of pots containing purple oxalis along with more succulents.


And of course the cinderblock succulent wall is here too. (Here’s how I made it, including how I kept the soil from falling out of the holes — everyone asks!)


So how about you? Are you into potted plants on your patio?

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

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors 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.

The whimsical woodland garden of Ellen Ash: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


Although the tree-shaded entrance to this Great Falls, Virginia, garden was elegant and restrained, I knew the owner would be a gardener with a sense of humor. How? Because at the driveway’s end I spotted, atop a pilaster, a statue wearing actual sunglasses. It was the first sign of a playfulness with garden art on display throughout Ellen Ash’s 2-acre garden.


The bus I was on, during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling, was running a little late, and other bloggers were already exploring the back garden’s extensive paths. I had the serene front garden nearly to myself. It must be a riot of color in spring, when the now-quiet azaleas, rhododendrons, and flowering trees are in bloom. Following this intriguing stone-and-moss path…


…I entered the enormous back garden, which, near the house, slopes gently down to a swimming pool and a swooping, mod pool house and patio.


A closer look at that fabulous pool house and large swimming pool. You could throw some big pool parties here!


In the garden between the house and pool, a small pond shaded by a parasol-like Japanese maple is home to a school of flashy goldfish…


…protected from raccoons and herons, I imagine, by a panel of crisscrossed wire laid on the water’s surface.


At one corner of the house I spotted this aluminum chaise in the shape of a lounging, space-age woman — a futuristic odalisque? A crossroads-style sign points toward cities that perhaps have special significance to the owner.


But to my mind, here’s where the garden really starts: with a sweeping, curvy lawn bordered by a stone strolling path and wood’s-edge garden beds.


From the lawn path, mossy woodland trails wind under the trees in all directions, offering a boggling number of choices to the visiting blogger with limited time to see everything.


At every turn, Ellen’s whimsical garden art coaxes a smile or a laugh.


She has a special affinity for cats, which appeared in all guises throughout the garden.


One-of-a-kind found-art pieces…


…or kitschy flamingos — Ellen doesn’t discriminate with her garden art and clearly is having fun with all of it.


One of the most stunning pieces of art in her garden is this stone moon gate, which welcomes visitors from along a back stretch of the driveway. It perfectly frames a focal-point statue, which draws the eye across a mossy glade as you enter.


Looking through from the other side


I was fascinated by all the beautiful mossy paths, and wondered about their fragility while walking along them.


Most, however, were laid with large stepping stones…


…or a combination of cut stones and brick…


…or even footprint-shaped steppers!


One path led to a stone monolith fountain in a small clearing…


…with benches placed around a circular cut-stone patio around the fountain. Flat, gray beach pebbles neatly skirt the fountain and “flow” along the edge of the patio like seeping water.


I heard that Ellen does almost all of the gardening herself, which is impressive considering the size of the place. I really enjoyed wandering the paths and discovering the surprises, like this cloud of blue hydrangeas, and fun garden art along the way.

Up next: The harmonious garden retreat of designer Barbara Katz. For a look back at the natural log and twig art of designer Debbie Friedman’s garden, click here.

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

Book Giveaway! I’m giving away a copy of a fun new book, Potted, that’ll inspire you to DIY your own uniquely cool garden planters for porch, patio, or deck. Just leave a comment on my giveaway blog post to enter (click the link and comment there), and good luck! The giveaway ends Friday, July 14, 2017.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors 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.

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