Christmas in Mexico at Lucinda Hutson’s home and garden

Lucinda Hutson‘s purple cottage in the Rosedale neighborhood of central Austin is a wonderland of Mexican folk art, colorful furnishings, and brightly painted walls. I had the pleasure of re-visiting last Friday, and brought along new friend Paula Panich, a Los Angeles writer and teacher of garden writing.

Lucinda’s Day of the Dead parties and decor are legendary, but her Christmas decorating is equally charming and rooted in Mexican culture.

Atop her dining table, a carved and painted Joseph leads a haloed (but surprisingly flat-stomached) Mary on a donkey, alongside a small, curlicued tree adorned with colorful glass ornaments…

…like this sombrero-wearing señora and pinata donkey…

…and sash-draped señor.

Even Lucinda’s lampshade is decorated with a cheeky assortment of ornaments: a golden tequila bottle, an angel-winged man clutching a bottle, a smiling red devil, the Virgin Mary, and, in back, a margarita glass.

On a sideboard stands a glazed-clay Our Lady of Guadalupe, surrounded by cherubs — one of Lucinda’s prize pieces.

A closer look reveals agave-painted glasses arrayed at her feet, along with evergreen branches and candles. Garden, tequila, and Mexican folk art — three of Lucinda’s interests in one lovely arrangement.

Our Lady appears in Lucinda’s garden as well. Here she’s a tile mosaic in an altar made from a blue-painted bathtub.

Echoes of Gustav Klimt?

Here, a carven Our Lady adorns a rustic writing cottage behind the house, seeming to bless all who enter.

In the tradition of Mexican folk gardens, other religious figures are given homemade altars as well, like this St. Anthony framed by an old wheelbarrow tray.

A tiled picture of St. Francis and his birds brightens the fence behind a raised bed of vegetables and edible flowers. A fork flower and half-buried dishes continue the edible theme.

In her Grotto Garden, instead of saints and madonnas Lucinda favors mermaids and sea creatures. A cast-iron mermaid poses against a turquoise-painted fence under an arbor draped with shells. Strands of blue and white capiz shells and strings of tiny mirrors add sea-like sparkle.

Here is Lucinda’s writing cottage, accessed via a large back deck that always looks party-ready.

A frilly, blue-painted chair and blue and orange glass lanterns add color and an invitation to linger.

Two art tiles — a dancing woman…

…and a hand with a heart — stand out against the dark wood siding.

Turning around you take in the full force of Lucinda’s fearless love of color. Rich purple paint turns what might have been the boring wall of a detached garage into a focal-point display space. A homemade buffet/altar of stacked benches covered in floral oilcloth gives Lucinda room to stage food, drinks, or her Day of the Dead decorations.

A wider view shows how Lucinda has adorned the eave of her house with a slatted awning of wood, giving it tropical flair.

Because our first hard freeze is running late this year, blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) still blooms with abandon on a peaked arbor. That’s Lucinda in black, talking with Paula.

Colorful peppers soak up the sunshine in the front garden.

Lucinda’s purple cottage reminds me of the house in American Gothic, but all loosened up and ready to party! Gold-flowering cosmos towers over the entry walk.

A visit to Lucinda’s wouldn’t be complete without stopping by her La Lucinda Cantina, a tequila bar under a cedar arbor at the very back of the garden.

Inside is where she keeps the good stuff, though, on an altar devoted to tequila, from its origins in the agave harvest to tequila-sipping cups.

Lucinda’s fascination with Mexico and its national liquor led her to write ¡Viva Tequila!: Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures. Published in 2013, it’s a gorgeous ode to tequila, filled with personal photos and stories from Lucinda’s 40 years of travel through Mexico, cooking and drink recipes, and tequila party-hosting ideas. Through her story-telling and photos, Lucinda opens a window onto Mexican culture, and she’ll have you thirsting to try her recipes. I think the book would make a great gift for the mixologist or tequila enthusiast on your list and anyone who loves the color and spice of Mexico. Lucinda mentioned that it also makes a fun and unique groomsman gift, especially if accompanied by a nice bottle of tequila and a couple of glasses. (I like how she thinks outside the box to market her book!) Spring wedding-planning, anyone?

Thanks, Lucinda, for sharing your colorful home and garden with me again! Readers, if you’d like to see more of Lucinda’s garden, here are my other posts about it:

Lucinda Hutson’s purple cottage, cantina garden, and Viva Tequila!, April 2013
Lucinda Hutson’s Easter-egg colorful garden, April 2012
Enchanted evening in Lucinda Hutson’s cantina garden, April 2011
El Jardin Encantador: Lucinda Hutson’s garden, October 2009
Lucinda Hutson’s enchanting garden, April 2008

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Decked and swinging at the Wildflower Center

The weather has been so beautiful lately — Austin’s payoff for making it through another summer. Last Sunday, the whole family joined me for an afternoon stroll at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, one of my very favorite places. Right now it’s a mix of fall color and Christmas decorations, one of those quirks of Austin’s cooler season, which compresses fall, winter, and spring between October and April.

The garden is decked out for Luminations this Saturday and Sunday, a holiday tradition I highly recommend. (Here are my pics from last year.) This year the staff has upped their game, with red and green Christmas balls adorning the spiny arms of agaves in the Family Garden.

Arizona cypresses, which last year glowed with simple white lights, this year sport colorful Christmas balls too, for daytime and nighttime enjoyment.

Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) makes a perfect outdoor Christmas tree, complete with fir-like fragrance.

Nearby, a gray-trunked Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) seems to shelter a handsome buck, one of the many bronze animal sculptures placed throughout the Family Garden, by sculptor David C. Iles.

A spiral wall for kids to play on, tiled with numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, always catches my eye.

The flowers depicted in this section are Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), one of several plants with spiraling features planted nearby.

Here’s some of that fall color I mentioned: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) turning orangey red on the aqueduct along the entry walk.

It harmonizes nicely with the warm stone of the pillars.

We walked all the way out along the Texas Arboretum trail, a relatively new section of the gardens. My son goes tree-hugger with a live oak, as David, my husband, looks on.

Daughter was perched in the low branches like a bird. In case you’re wondering, we don’t normally climb trees (or any other plant) at public gardens. But it seems to be encouraged with this particular tree, which at some point fell over while remaining rooted and alive. A well-kept mulched path leads to it and encircles it, inviting you to sit on its horizontal trunk and clamber up.

Nearby, my favorite part of the arboretum is even more tree-interactive. A picturesque glade of mighty live oaks is hung with an assortment of swings: swinging armchairs, swinging benches, board swings, spinning disc swings, and even a few child swings with safety bars.

We tried them all out (except the baby swings), gliding and spinning and pushing for nearly an hour.

It was so much fun!

And even a little zen.

We climbed the big viewing tower before we left, and I stopped to admire this possumhaw (Ilex decidua) in full berry. When the leaves drop it’ll be even more stunning.

Here’s one more picture of the festive agaves to remind you of Luminations this weekend. It’s a fun holiday activity for the whole family. Go early to see the gardens before it gets completely dark, or go later to avoid the kiddie crowd. Either way, it’ll give you a warm glow!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Smart, water-saving landscaping at UT’s Belo Center

On a chilly, rainy Saturday in mid-November — a quiet traffic day — I headed to the University of Texas campus and actually found street parking at the Belo Center for New Media, whose landscaping I’ve wanted to see ever since landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck told me about the innovative design.

Formerly a parking lot, the street-front property at the corner of Dean Keeton and Guadalupe is now, thanks to Ten Eyck’s design, a water-conserving, native-plant garden surrounding a small lawn and plaza with multiple seating areas and a performance space.

A solitary paleleaf yucca (Y. pallida) planted in a soil pocket adorns a concrete table.

Opened in 2012, the garden is LEED Gold certified. Near the street, poured-in-place concrete benches furnish a spacious sunken patio, which is buffered by a wide planting bed filled with native hollies and grasses…

…as pictured here from the street.

A few steps up, the lawn offers green space for students to lounge when the weather is warmer and drier. Humble honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), formally planted as an allee along the length of the lawn, offers filtered shade in summer. Instead of the usual river-rock mulch or blower-scoured earth, native skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens) makes a pretty groundcover under the trees.

Using all natives in an urban, semi-formal setting is unusual. But the most impressive aspect of the design is a water-collection system that harnesses rainfall and air-conditioning condensate from the building, which is then used to water the garden. No city-treated water is used on this garden. None. Zip. Instead, the condensate water is filtered through a biofiltration fountain that runs, rill-like, through the garden on a perpendicular axis with the building. Here’s where it starts, planted with grassy bog plants, which help cleanse pollutants out of the water.

The water sheets down a spillway as it enters the sunken patio garden.

A bridge of perforated metal allows foot passage across the stream, where, surprisingly, a few water-loving shrubs add height amid the flow.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). (Thanks for the ID, Michael.)

The water feature terminates in a rectangle of chunky river rock near the street, where the water drains underground to be recycled into the watering system or, I’m guessing, stored until needed.

The garden is planted naturalistically along the street. But closer to the building, natives are planted in linear masses, like this row of Yucca pallida

…and, behind the yuccas, flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), which blooms orange-red all summer but is done now. Red-berried possumhaw hollies (Ilex decidua), rhythmically planted between the two, add height and will eventually screen the street.

You could easily copy this combo for a traditional foundation planting using low-water native plants, so long as you have full sun and good drainage. The possumhaws like a little water in the summer, but the yucca and flame acanthus are supremely drought tolerant, and the acanthus can even be hedged, if you like a formal look.

Leaving the plaza and walking around the building reveals a nice swath of ‘Brakelights’ hesperaloe planted atop a retaining wall. I bet this is stunning in summer, with dozens and dozens of red flowers held on long wands above mounding foliage.

In back, a row of enormous cisterns hold rainwater collected from the roof. I’d love to have one of these at my house!

Streetside again, on the other side of the plaza, a block planting of Wheeler sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) is simple and effective in the (typically dry) planting strip between sidewalk and street.

More Yucca pallida paired with sedge (Carex texensis?) carpets the ground at the side entrance. The handsome, gray trunks of Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) offer a native substitute for the ubiquitous crepe myrtle, without the summer flowers, of course.

Nolina, either Lindheimer’s (Nolina lindheimeriana) or Texas (Nolina texana), is a little tall for the sign bed. Perhaps Texas sedge or skullcap would be a better choice? I do, however, love the fossil-pocked limestone used for the retaining wall.

It’s exciting to see a water-saving garden like this in a campus setting, adding plenty of Texas character and wildlife habitat in an urban area. Traditional lawn and shrubbery have got nothing on this. The fact that it requires no drinking water or well water to maintain makes it even better.

For additional reading, check out desert designer David Cristiani’s post at It’s a Dry Heat, from his visit earlier this summer. Also, several of the hyperlinks early in this post will lead you to published articles about the garden.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.