Sedgey front garden and xeriscape terrace


For one West Austin homeowner, this is the view from her front door: an undulating, rhythmic front walk of poured-concrete pavers wending through a meadowy swath of Berkeley sedge, soap aloes, and purple heart, with a scrim of yaupon hollies shielding the view of the street. A traditional lawn? No way — who wants to mow?


Here’s the street view at the other end. The left edge of the property is naturalistic under some large live oaks, although a collection of spiky heat-lovers gets some breathing room in a gravelly bed along the path’s edge.


A cluster of Yucca rostrata adds drama (and screening) at the curb. I think that’s ‘Little Ollie’ dwarf olive underfoot.


Whale’s tongue agave and purple heart combines a velvety blue-green with rich eggplant.


Farther up the path it grows shady, and Texas palmetto appears among the Berkeley sedge.


Yaupon berry adds a pop of red in fall and winter.


In the home stretch to the front door, the paver path straightens out, cruising past foxtail fern and sago palm on the left. A concrete wall creates a psychological separation between the public side of the front garden and the more-private entry space. Another wall, barely visible at far-right…


…screens the garage and parking area along the driveway from view of the front door. Here on the door side of the wall, a low-maintenance shade garden contains Berkeley sedge, mahonia, palmetto, and purple heart.


That wall extends straight out into the garden, lowering to knee height as it pulls away from the house. An arching, glossy green sago palm stands alongside.


Low-maintenance evergreens fill in under a big live oak. (I should know this one but need help on the ID.)


On the driveway side of the wall, a rain chain funnels roof runoff into a storm or French drain. Low-care and shade-tolerant Chinese mahonia, variegated flax lily, and palmetto combine with a Japanese maple and bamboo muhly to soften the contemporary design.


The owner installed three light towers near the front door. It would be cool to see these lit up at night.


This fence along the driveway caught my eye. It appears to be made of painted PVC pipes and somehow reminds me of a musical score. Or maybe a downtown skyline. Every other pipe is cut to a set height, but the other pipes are staggered to create up-and-down patterns.


Another section, with a gate to the back yard, shows a more rhythmic pattern.


Believe it or not, this custom fence runs all the way around the back garden. The standard lawn is shrunken to a broad path, with a band of sedge and bamboo muhly grasses along the fence. A gravel-and-steel stair leads past an elevated terrace (which I’ll come back to)…


…to a sloping back yard. A rain garden of Berkeley sedge occupies a wide swale below the house, ready to soak up runoff. Beneath the home’s expansive roofline, a dry gravel garden with whale’s tongue agaves occupies the rain shadow.


There’s still plenty of room left for lawn under a spreading live oak.


Let’s head back up the steps to that elevated terrace.


The terrace is essentially a rooftop garden, with Yucca rostrata, Mexican mint marigold, whale’s tongue agave, and purple heart.


A curved metal rail offers a canyon view. The open space was designed for patio seating, the landscape architect told me. Can you guess who he is?


If you guessed Curt Arnette of Sitio Design, you are right! He’s created another striking and lovely garden for a lucky Austinite. My thanks to the homeowner for allowing me to share her garden with you.

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

Calling all garden bloggers! You’re invited to register for the annual Garden Bloggers Fling tour and meetup, which will be held in Austin next May 3-6, 2018! Click this link for information about registering, and you can see our itinerary here. Space is limited, so don’t delay. The 2018 Fling will be the event’s 10th anniversary, which started in Austin in 2008.

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.

Talking waterwise gardens, blogging & more on Still Growing Podcast


Have a seat at the kitchen table, and let’s have a chat! At least, that’s how it felt to be interviewed last week by Jennifer Ebeling, host of the popular Still Growing Podcast, for an episode about making water-saving gardens that airs today.


Jennifer Ebeling, host of Still Growing Podcast and blogger at 6ftmama (courtesy of Still Growing)

Jennifer and I weren’t really sitting at the table over a cup of coffee — she broadcasts out of Minnesota and I’m in Texas — but her personable, in-depth questions made for a casual, fun conversation with her about, oh, everything: my recent book The Water-Saving Garden; blogging; my family; how the Garden Bloggers Fling got started (hosted this year in Washington DC/Northern VA; register today!); and goodness knows what else.


Listen to my interview on Still Growing here. If you want to zip right to it, my interview starts at the 18:35-minute mark.


And just for fun, here are a few succulent dishes — very waterwise! — I’m enjoying right now. These do need freeze protection, even in my zone 8b garden, but I put them back outside in between our occasional freezes, and they brighten up the patio.


Also, you might have noticed that I got a little behind on my book review posts this week, but I have three more books to share with you very soon — reviews of Gardenista, Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest, and The Cocktail Hour Garden, so stay tuned! For a look back at my recent reviews of Texas Month-by-Month Gardening, Photographing Austin, San Antonio & the Texas Hill Country, and The Garden Bible, just click on the links.

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

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

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. The first talk with Scott Ogden has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Bugs and butterflies at the Wildflower Center, part 2


Continuing our garden stroll through Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (here’s part 1 of my visit), let’s enter the Family Garden, where paving by the restrooms and shade pavilion is softened with rain gardens planted with water-appreciating native plants.


A rain garden, Texas-style, planted with mistflower, giant coneflower, dwarf palmetto, and bald cypress in front of the shade pavilion


A galvanized metal cistern collects water off the pavilion’s roof.


American beautyberry, Turk’s cap, and inland sea oats make a nice combo for shade or part-shade.


Dry-loving plants occupy sunnier beds, where steely blue agaves color-echo Arizona cypresses.


Along a decomposed-granite path, Arizona cypress makes a silvery blue and aromatic screen, with blue wheeler’s sotol, tawny Mexican feathergrass, and pink-flowering autumn sage in front.


Water is for play here too. After all, what kid doesn’t like to splash in or pour water from a bucket? Eight holey limestone boulders sit at “headwaters” of little creeks that merge into a larger stream. A hand pump stands nearby with a stack of plastic buckets that kids can fill with water and pour over rocks, or into the stream, or over their heads if they’re fast enough, before mom or dad can stop them.


Looking downstream


The stream flows toward a rock wall, over which a waterfall dramatically spills. Behind the waterfall is a cave you can explore, with an opening that invites views through the scrim of water.


A spiral wall, perfect for balancing on, is decorated with tile mosaics of the Fibonacci number sequence and native plants with spirals…


…like Turk’s cap.


Liatris leans against it. That’s probably Gulf muhly grass next to it.


Every plant I looked at closely seemed to have a buggy visitor enjoying it also, like this praying mantis.


And this grasshopper…


…which was hanging out in the Turk’s cap.


A wider view shows, in the background, a child-sized tunnel that leads to the waterfall.


Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), another native plant suitable for rain gardens, has fascinating spherical flowers.


Honeybees were enjoying them.


Check out that full pollen basket on her leg!


Nearby, a golden leadball tree (Leucaena retusa) sports spherical flowers of mustard yellow.


A maze with hedged walls of native plants has been slow to fill in. Dwarf yaupon hollies, for example, are notoriously slow growers.


For a “before” picture, here’s how it looked, newly planted, two years ago. Since then, some of the native hedge shrubs have been replaced with different, faster-growing options. The inner circle of cenizo is now planted with Carolina jessamine vine (I think) trained on sandwiched trellises of wire fencing. Scroll back up one picture for another look.


A hedge of dwarf Barbados cherry has filled out nicely!


Squatting at the center of the maze, a fun frog sculpture with glassy eyes…


…offers an opportunity for a reflected selfie.


The big Habiturf play lawn was empty except for a coyote sculpture on this cloudy morning.


Looking across a mass of goldenrod, here’s the view from the other side.


Mistflower in full bloom is clearly irresistible to queen butterflies.


Lovely even with a tattered wing


That’s all for now. For a look back at Part 1 of my visit, click here.

By the way, I’ll be at the Wildflower Center’s member’s day Fall Plant Sale on Friday, October 14. I’ll be signing books from 1 to 3 pm in the Wild Ideas gift shop. Even if you’re not a member, of course you can still come on out and see the gardens and stop in at Wild Ideas. I hope to see you there!

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

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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