Agave and cactus splendor in the garden of Matt Shreves


For Foliage Follow-Up this month, I’m taking you on a tour of Matt Shreves’s garden near Lake Travis. A succulent and cactus lover (check out his spikealicious Instagram page), Matt has turned an ordinary yard into a tapestry of foliage texture, color, and bold form.


Let’s start out front, where he’s terraced a sloping entry garden to create multiple levels for planting. A spiky assortment of agaves, beaked yucca, and palms, softened with masses of Mexican feathergrass, salvias, skullcap, and blue oat grass blue fescue (which I’ve never seen in Austin), creates a colorful welcome.


A small patio with colorful Adirondacks sits at the top level, a perfect spot from which to admire the garden.


With those blue fescues, it reminds me of a California garden, although the whale’s tongue agaves, beaked yucca, pink skullcap, and feathergrass are all perfectly at home here in Austin.


At the end of the driveway, a massive golden barrel cactus and other potted succulents await their forever home.


Palms bookend the garden, accenting the Spanish-style house.


Climbing the steps to the front door, let’s pause to admire the little patio. Plants fill every available space, including the steps to a pair of French doors, where chartreuse-leaved annuals fill baskets hanging from the porch lights.


By the front door, purple-tinged ghost plant spills out of a turquoise pot, with a golden ‘Joe Hoak’ agave glowing in the background.


A closer look at that gorgeous ‘Joe Hoak’, with plumbago just starting to bloom alongside it.


Another pretty succulent pot by the door


Passing through Matt’s house, you enter the back yard to this focal-point scene: a mounded rock garden bristling with agaves, columnar cacti, and barrel cacti, with frothing silver ponyfoot spilling over the rocks. An Austin sign — the same one I have on my own blue wall — reminds you that you’re in Central Texas, not Palm Springs.


A side view


Neatly groomed agaves and cactus in silvery green, powder blue, and moonshine yellow


The long rock garden undulates along a stone wall, set off by a small lawn in front. At one end of the yard, a fire pit patio invites relaxation under a live oak draped with string lights.


A perfect spot to enjoy the garden in the evening


Another view from the back porch


Looking back at the porch, where a red wall contrasts with turquoise chairs


Old man cactus and beaked yucca are charismatic flora for a dry garden.


Beautiful blue-green agave leaves outlined by black teeth and spines. Notice the ghostly leaf imprints on the leaves, from when they were still furled.


A small porch at the other end of the garden is home to an assortment of small potted succulents.


Two rows of tiny potted succulents adorn a hanging metal shelf.


Heading back to the back porch…


…you see a rustic wooden buffet that Matt has styled with an eye-catching collection of potted plants, a Mexican mirror, and faux water buffalo horns.


Two lower shelves contain beautiful arrangements that are deceptively simple. A section of tree trunk seems planted with succulents, but actually the plants remain in their nursery pots, tilted to look as if they’re growing in the hollowed out trunk. On the bottom shelf, another branch (or driftwood) disguises the nursery pots of more succulents, and a narrow metal tray holds others.


I caught a hazy portrait of Matt in the mirror as I photographed the fascinating arrangement on top of the buffet.


A red toolbox and small wooden box, with their lids thrown open, make fun cachepots.


Earth-toned living stones (Lithops) cluster amid matching gravel in a terracotta pot — a striking display.


Matt has a great eye for arranging his collection of interesting and unusual plants, and for foliage form and texture, his garden really shines. Thanks for the garden tour, Matt!

This is my May post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is happening in your garden this month — or one you’ve visited? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

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

The Austin Daylily Society will host a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers 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.

Read This: 101 Organic Gardening Hacks, The Spirit of Stone, and The Cocktail Hour Garden


A raft of gardening books has piled up on my desk this spring. I’m tempted to lash the whole stack into a raft and paddle to a deserted island, where I’ll have time to read them all (if only that wouldn’t make them soggily unreadable). If you’re looking for some good gardening books to kick back with this summer, here are three I’ve recently enjoyed and recommend.

101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden, by Shawna Coronado, Cool Springs Press (January 1, 2017)

Shawna Coronado, a Chicago-based speaker and blogger on gardening and wellness, applies the trendy idea of “hacking” — creatively using something in a way it wasn’t necessarily intended — to gardening and outdoor decorating in this appealing, well-illustrated book. From organizing seed packets in a photo album to building a garden tower out of leftover plastic pots to making your own seed-starter soil, Coronado offers up a variety of clever gardening practices that DIYers, thrifters, and eco- and cost-conscious gardeners will especially enjoy. On a visit to Austin, she even spotted a hack in my collection of steel-pipe and tractor-rim planters in my entry garden and included it on page 115.

Many of the featured hacks are classic gardening solutions from a time when people were thriftier and more inclined to reuse household scraps — i.e., grandmotherly garden practices like using old pantyhose as plant ties. But that’s not to say they aren’t still clever and thrifty gardening solutions for today. In our age of buy-new, buy-specialized, it’s refreshing to remind ourselves, as this charming book does, that gardening need not be a rarefied, costly endeavor, and that gardening — an inherently creative act — lends itself to creative solutions.

The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden
by Jan Johnson, St. Lynn’s Press (February 15, 2017)

Jan Johnsen, a New York-based designer, instructor at New York Botanical Garden, and blogger at Serenity in the Garden, “has a soft spot for hard rock.” In The Spirit of Stone, her fourth book, she indulges her love for stone with poetic musings about its ageless presence in a garden, its practicality and grace as a building material, and even the cultural lore that has been ascribed to certain kinds of rock, like standing stones, Chinese scholars’ stones, and Native American split rocks. Stone’s “unique appeal,” she writes, “lies in its ability to be many things, from a solitary garden feature to an artful wall or a quiet gravel ‘sea.'”

As Johnsen points out, stone forms the bones of most gardens, from paths and patios to steps and walls, and she shares design and construction tips for using it. Artistic stonework — rock gardens, crevice gardens, Zen gravel gardens, dry streams, pebble mosaics, and stone “waterfalls” — is also described with how-to instruction. Lastly, plants that play especially well with stone by growing in crevices, cascading over walls, or brightening shady rock gardens are suggested with useful design advice. If you weren’t already sold on incorporating stone into your garden, this book’s inspiring images and eloquent descriptions will convince you.

The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining
by C.L. Fornari, St. Lynn’s Press (March 1, 2016)

Radio-show host, speaker, and author C.L. Fornari wants you to put down your cell phone and laptop and go sit outside as the sun sets on the workday. Preferably with a cocktail in hand. Reclaiming the phrase “the green hour” from 19th-century France, an era of absinthe happy hours, Fornari playfully uses it to denote a cocktail hour spent amid natural greenery — our gardens — and makes the case for a return to the quieter pleasures of watching sunsets, inhaling the fragrance of night-blooming flowers, and watching sphinx moths and fireflies.

It’s funny-sad that we need such a reminder to put aside our electronic diversions for a brief hour out-of-doors. But the fact is, we do. A Nielsen Company audience report last summer revealed that Americans spend 10-1/2 hours per day staring at screens. Subtract from a 24-hour day one’s working hours (which may involve a screen), commute time, a few errands, and a decent night’s sleep, and, well, there’s not much left over.

In urging us to set aside at least one green hour per day, Fornari is, of course, preaching to the choir for those most likely to buy her book — we who already enjoy gardening (and cocktails!). But she does so with lighthearted humor and a sense of fun, evoking party imagery while dispensing design advice — What does a particular plant bring to the party? she asks — not to mention a sprinkling of cocktail recipes throughout the book. She walks the reader through the creation of a garden best enjoyed at the end of the day, with flowers that glow at dusk, sweet scents to enjoy at twilight, soft garden lighting, and other sensual aspects of the garden that might be overlooked by those focusing only on daytime visual enjoyment.

If you’re looking for an excuse to slow down and reconnect with nature — whether meditatively solo or socially with friends and family — you’ll find plenty of ideas to incorporate into your garden and your lifestyle. For me, the book served best as a reminder that gardens are meant to be enjoyed, not just worked in, and I resolved to spend more time sitting in mine, and inviting friends to join me in that noble endeavor more often. Cocktails are being shaken. Chair cushions are being fluffed. Here’s to the green hour!

Disclosure: All three books were sent to me for review by their publishers, and I know Shawna Coronado and C.L. Fornari professionally. I reviewed each book at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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

The Austin Daylily Society will host a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers 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.

Let’s take a walk around the garden


Live oak leaf and pollen season is finally over, and the patios are clean again, hallelujah! This calls for a spring garden stroll, so let’s go.


I’ve been playing with a squid theme on one wall of the upper patio. A couple of tentacle pots from Tentacle Arts contain squid-like Tillandsia xerographica, accompanied by a few metal squids and a ceramic succulent that looks like an anemone. I recently moved a table over here to display some potted plants.


In Moby’s old spot, a new whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) is getting established. Grow, agave, grow! Behind it, the succulent wall has had a spring refresh and is looking good again.


A barbed-wire star gives a Texas twist to one of my new pie-pan succulent planters. A faded star outline on the fence shows where I used to have a different piece of garden art. Apparently I have a fondness for stars as well as squids.


I’ve also refreshed or tidied up the winter-weary pots on the porch steps.


Walking around back by the pool, you can see the soap aloes (A. maculata) in bloom.


I adore these showy, candelabra-like flowers, and so do the bees and hummingbirds.


The pond garden, with winter-bleached bamboo muhly (Muhlenberia dumosa) starting to green up again behind a curved line of ‘Color Guard’ yuccas. ‘Winter Gem’ boxwood balls anchor the “doorways.”


Opposite the yuccas, a curved line of blue-green heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) plays off the shed colors.


In a few more weeks, it’ll start blooming.


We gave the deck a refresh this spring, which included redoing the stairs. Once narrow, rickety, and squeezed onto the left side of the deck, we had them extended from the outer edge and widened to a generous 8 feet for better access to the garden. To make room for the new stairs, I had to dig up and move a few plants, but I like the simpler look. We also replaced the deck rail’s old, jail-like, vertical balusters with galvanized welded wire and the old lattice skirting with horizontal boards. Let’s walk up…


…and view the pond from the deck. The Louisiana iris is still blooming in the pond, adding a spot of rich color amid all the greens.


Walking up the side-yard path, you pass the Yucca rostrata, one of my favorite plants that’s really grown over the past couple of years. The pomegranate is blooming beside it. Beyond is ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress, which I’ve had to limb up for walking under it.


Up the path and looking back, here’s the opposite view. The upright vertical shrub on the right is ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly, and the little tree on the left, just past the blue pot, is weeping redbud ‘Traveller’.


Outside the gate, in the front yard, a Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) holds court by a bench. The golden shrub just visible in front is ‘Eureka Gold’ dwarf yaupon.


It colors up beautifully in spring but then goes green summer through winter.


Moving around to the front garden, the Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa) lawn is greening up with warmer weather. It doesn’t exactly turn brown in winter, but it definitely takes on a tawnier hue during the cooler months. On the edge, Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) is blooming. Wouldn’t that ‘Eureka Gold’ yaupon look pretty beside it? I’ll have to give that some thought. Paleleaf yucca (Y. pallida) looks good with it too.


The ‘Green Goblet’ agave near the driveway is recovering from antlering damage from the deer last fall, and putting on new growth.


And along the front of the house, in the shade of live oaks and a Japanese maple, native river ferns (Thelypteris kunthii) create a cool, lush look along a dry stream.

Thanks for coming along with me on this garden stroll! Are you changing up anything for spring in your garden?

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

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers 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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