Hill Country style in Sitio-designed garden of architect Duke Garwood

A month ago I visited a Rollingwood garden designed by landscape architect Curt Arnette of Sitio Design. It’s owned by the architect of the contemporary Hill Country-style home, Duke Garwood, whom I also had the pleasure of meeting.

Let’s start in back, where a limestone patio bordered with shaggy zoysia turf flows out to a resort-worthy swimming pool. A palm- and Yucca rostrata-studded garden steps up around the pool and creates an enticing view from inside.

In the foreground, a circular stone fire pit filled with fire-safe blue glass stands ready to warm chilly evenings. I love the meadowy (unmown), ‘Emerald’ zoysia grass edging the patio.

Fan-like giant hesperaloe grows along the foundation, underplanted with cascading silver ponyfoot.

The pool’s edge is beautifully constructed of cut limestone, while limestone boulders hold the slope behind the pool and form the naturalistic waterfall, as well as a diving rock at right.

Gorgeous stonework

Beyond the pool, massive boulders terrace the slope and create planting beds for palms, yuccas, firebush, golden thryallis, and coral bean, which combine to create a tropicalesque look.

Yucca rostrata in the foreground, with pomegranate and coral bean

Natural stone supports the curved and notched waterfall wall, and extends underwater like limestone at natural springs all around Austin.

One last wide shot

Now let’s tour the front garden. Water figures prominently here too, leading visitors along the front walk via a rill that traverses a series of limestone walls. To the right of the limestone walk, whale’s tongue agaves and tufts of Berkeley sedge fill in gaps among flat-topped boulders.

The walls also create a safety rail of sorts, blocking a steep drop-off behind them, and the tops function as planters.

Red yucca and silver ponyfoot thrive up top.

Pipes jut from the golden limestone upper walls and spill water into the pale limestone troughs below. The water flows along the rill…

…and into a galvanized-steel sluice, which pours into a cylindrical pond that evokes an old stone cistern. Bristly heads of Yucca rostrata peek up from the slope behind the rill and pond.

I believe that’s bigfoot water clover (Marsilea macropoda) encircling one side of the pond.

Along the front walk, ‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama grass…

…and orange narrowleaf zinnia thrive in hot, sunny conditions.

The cut-limestone paving of the front walk is fitted around natural boulders.

Just past the circular pool, a stair leads down to a landing, and from there down to the garage. Another stair off that landing leads up to Duke’s home office (at left).

The limestone stair with natural boulders holding a planting bed of palmetto and Berkeley sedge. Contained by the paving (and maybe a sunken barrier too?), horsetail reed grows vertically against the house at the top of the steps.

Texas palmetto and firebush

Steel sluice fountain, as seen from the steps

The garage and driveway sit at the bottom of the slope, with a row of bamboo muhly at left. To orient yourself, the limestone wall-fountain runs along the front walk behind the yuccas at top-right.

It’s woodsy and more natural looking here. Morning glory twines charmingly up a native juniper. Nandina grows below. (Although beautiful and tough, nandina is an invasive plant in our greenbelts and toxic to birds, and so it’s one of the few plants I recommend eradicating.)

I believe Curt told me that Duke designed this cool contemporary steel fence and gate. That’ll never rot!

It’s always a pleasure to see a beautiful house and garden so well integrated. My thanks to Duke for giving me a tour of his home too!

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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.

Japanese Garden and garden art at Hillwood Estate: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling

I almost missed the Japanese Garden, my favorite part of Washington, D.C.’s Hillwood Estate. It was hot and muggy on the first full day of touring during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling, and after exploring for about 45 minutes I retreated to the gift shop to cool off.

There, a fellow blogger mentioned the Japanese garden as being particularly fine, and I realized I’d missed it altogether. That wouldn’t do! Back out I went to find it.

And there it is, hidden in plain sight alongside an open lawn, a leafy screen of clipped shrubs, burgundy Japanese maples, and weeping willows promising both shade and a gorgeous tapestry of foliage.

Water is a playful element in this Japanese-style garden, as Hillwood describes it. Spouting arcs of water appear to leap alongside a wiggly “floating” path of carved steppers resembling millstones.

A path like this just begs to be crossed — with a little thrill — and so I did.

Pagoda sculpture with colorful foliage

Roofed gate

A pretty waterfall tumbles through boulder-strewn ledges from the top of the garden.

Arching bridges cross a green lily pond…

…accompanied by more arcing spouts of water.

Stone lantern

Another view, with the pagoda in the distance

Foliage is the star of this garden, with rich colors and texture. Waterlilies add a dash of floral ornamentation.

As I exited the garden I stopped to admire a rusty-leaved, artfully contorted Japanese maple with a (surprising because not on-theme) St. Francis statue tucked amid boulders at its feet. Simply lovely.

Speaking of sculptural garden ornament, Hillwood’s gardens are studded with classical pieces, like this charming faun with cymbals…

…another faun with a horn…

…and even a sphinx whose female half resembles a kerchiefed and corseted 18th-century dame!

Regally at ease alongside the expansive Lunar Lawn, this stone lion marked the spot where we Flingers were to have our group photo taken.

Arraying ourselves on the steps of the Hillwood Mansion, we stood as still as statues for this picture taken by Wendy Niemi Kremer. Want to know who all these bloggers are? Check out the Capital Region Fling attendees page, organized by state — and by country for the handful of international Flingers.

Next I explored the French parterre, a formal garden designed to be enjoyed from an upper-story window of the house. Hidden behind ivy-covered walls, Diana the Huntress with her hound stands as focal point at the end of a limestone rill that connects to a central pool.

Scroll-like swirls of clipped boxwood grow in four symmetrical beds divided by gravel paths.

A pretty container combo

Next I found the rose garden, which is also the final resting place of the estate’s founder, art collector and heiress to the Post cereal empire Marjorie Merriweather Post.

The cutting garden was a favorite of many of the garden bloggers…

…perhaps because it felt more attainable than the grand formal gardens.

And it was very nice.

But the Japanese garden remains my favorite.

Up next: My final post about the 2017 Fling featuring Willowsford Farm, plus a sneak peek at next year’s Fling. For a look back at Brookside Gardens and a Patrick Dougherty twig sculpture in Reston, 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.

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.

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

Evening photo shoot at The Huntington Gardens: GWA Pasadena

The Huntington gardens near Los Angeles have, for years, been on my wish list of botanical gardens to visit. So I was thrilled to see an afternoon visit and after-hours photoshoot offered on the itinerary of the Garden Writers Association symposium on September 20.

Unfortunately, it was surface-of-the-sun hot that day, 103 F (39.4 C). By my mid-afternoon arrival, I realized, to my dismay, that I was completely uninterested in touring the much-anticipated Huntington under the glare of an unforgiving Death Star. Chagrined, I hid out in the gift shop for an hour. Lest you think this a travesty, I assure you that the Huntington’s is the most incredible garden gift shop I’ve ever been in. How I wish I’d taken photos to show you. But I simply browsed in A/C-contented bliss.

As the sun dipped toward the horizon, however, I realized that I needed to suck it up and get out there. I mean, this was the Huntington! And so as the early-bird GWAers were straggling back, sweat-stained and flushed, to the gift shop and an after-hours bar (courtesy of the good folks at the Huntington), I finally ventured forth, prepared to melt for the beauty of the gardens.

And beautiful they are. As described by GWA, the Huntington was “[o]riginally the private estate of railroad magnate Henry Huntington (1850-1927), with a grand Beaux Arts mansion as its centerpiece….[T]he research and cultural institution houses world-class collections, including Gainsborough’s famous portrait of The Blue Boy, a Gutenberg Bible, and a 15th-century illuminated manuscript of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Surrounding the estate are 120 acres of breathtaking grounds that showcase more than 15,000 different kinds of plants in a dozen specialized gardens.”

I did not see any of the indoor masterpieces. The garden was my sole focus. As it closed to regular visitors at 4:30 pm, those of us with GWA badges were allowed to stay on until 7 pm, giving the photographers among us a chance to shoot the garden in the kinder light of late afternoon and early evening.

Palm and Desert Gardens

I headed straight for the famous Desert Garden, figuring the afternoon light would be good filtering through spiny plants, and passing through the dramatic Palm Garden along the way.

The sun was still intense when I reached the Desert Garden, but as I’d hoped, it was incandescing the cactus.

As with the Lotusland cactus garden, it was like visiting a strange planet. At 10 acres and with 2,000 species of succulents and cactus, the Desert Garden is worthy of hours of poking around (pun intended). But amid the rocky beds and asphalt paving, the heat was like standing next to an open oven, and I ended up spending only about 45 minutes here.

Still, I saw many beautiful plants, like these blue echeverias creeping among black lava rock.

And aeoniums so black they looked scorched by the heat.

Otherworldly tree aloe

And barrel cactus in brilliant flower

High in this floss silk tree’s branches, a flock of green parrots chattered amiably.

Nearby, golden barrel cactus clustered in extravagant masses.

I’d never seen so many barrels, not even at Desert Botanical Garden.

I didn’t even know they grew this way, clustered one upon another in great, spiny mounds.

They littered the path edges like beach balls after a pool party, and each wore a golden halo in the afternoon light.

Lily Ponds

Seeking shade, I happened next upon the Lily Ponds garden. I could hardly imagine a more different experience from the radiating heat and dynamic plant arrangements in the Desert Garden.

Here, the mood was serene, green, and cool, thanks to a tranquil pond and stands of rustling bamboo.

I rested there a while before heading into the sun again, crossing a large lawn with a temple-like folly. What a mood shift, from one garden to the next!

Subtropical and Australian Gardens

Glancing at the map I decided to see the Australian Garden next, and I passed the Subtropical Garden along a path facing directly into the ferocious setting sun. This made for great lighting effects on plants like white-flowering sea squill (Drimia maritima) growing under live oaks…

…and bottlebrush, as I neared the Australian Garden.

But by the time I got there, I was cooked, and the garden didn’t look particularly shady, so I just kept trudging toward a towering wall of bamboo that promised coolness and relief.

Japanese Garden

Ahh, a leafy green wall tall enough to block the sun! The narrow entry from this direction might be easy to miss, were it not for the foo dogs (stone lions) guarding the path.


I entered the Japanese Garden through a mysterious bamboo forest of swaying culms and rustling leaves.

Climbing steadily uphill, I came to a paved courtyard with a collection of bonsai displayed on wooden stands.

Montezuma cypress in miniature

And olive

Next I strolled through a meditative Zen courtyard, with raked white gravel, boulder islands, and cloud-pruned trees.

A grand stair, zigzagging along one side, exits the Zen garden, and from here I entered the main garden.

Completed in 1912, the tranquil Japanese Garden includes a tall, arching moon bridge and reflecting pond. It was growing lovelier by the minute as the hateful sun sank behind the trees.

Intimate vignettes, like this tsukubai fountain…

…and carved figure near a tumbling stream, made for delightful discoveries along the winding hillside path.

Chinese Garden

As the terrain leveled out, I came upon the Chinese Garden, enclosed along one side by an undulating, tile-roofed white wall.

Known as Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, the Chinese Garden opened to the public in 2008 — a century after the Japanese Garden.

Having twice visited the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, I knew to expect covered walkways leading to a series of paved courtyards with intricate details.

What I didn’t anticipate was being completely alone with the garden. It was all mine.

The light was soft as dusk came on.

A beautiful detail

Pebble mosaic courtyard — and banana trees by the moon gate?

The teahouse was closed for the day, but I admired the woodwork…

…and rested on its terrace, which overlooks a picturesque lake. The building that resembles a boat, at center, is part of a phase two addition to the garden, currently under construction.

Along the opposite side of the lake, a pavilion known as Terrace of the Jade Mirror shelters amid weeping willows.

Moon gates invite you through it.

Another pebble mosaic path and a carved stone bridge lead on. Note the limestone rocks arrayed along the edges — similar to the holey limestone we have here in central Texas.

Pavilion of the Three Friends comes into view here, with a fine view of the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.

And the three friends? According to Chinese tradition, bamboo, pine, and plum are considered the three friends of winter for the pine and bamboo’s evergreen foliage and the plum’s early spring flowers. Together, explains the Huntington’s website, they symbolize fortitude, integrity, and resilience.

One last look. The Chinese Garden surprised me by turning out to be my favorite part of the Huntington gardens, in part, no doubt, due to the perfect golden hour during which I visited.

North Vista and Camellia Garden

The light was still sweet as I made my way through the Camellia Garden via the North Vista, a vast lawn anchored at one end by this baroque fountain adorned with carved fish and shells. The website explains, “The Italian fountain had been brought to England in the early 18th century and remained there until it was purchased by Henry Huntington in 1915. It was shipped from New York in 48 boxes that filled an entire railway car. Oddly enough, the fountain arrived without assembly instructions and with a few extra pieces. It eventually was installed five years after the completion of the main house (ca. 1916).”

The lawn is lined with 18th-century sculpted figures, camellias, and palms, and at the opposite end sits the former home of Henry and Arabella Huntington, which today houses part of their art collection.

I’m sure this garden sees most of its traffic in winter, when the camellias bloom, but it’s lovely in its summer greens too — although that lawn no doubt requires a lot of water to remain so green. The tall, skinny palms lend a distinctly California vibe to all the classicism.

California and Celebration Gardens

As the sun set and the staff prepared to close up, I straggled back, blissed out, toward the entrance, passing through the Mediterranean-style Celebration Garden, which is part of the water-wise California Garden. A shallow rill descends along a series of terraces formally planted with lavender, grasses, kangaroo paws, and other dry-adapted plants.

Red kangaroo paws looks especially pretty against cool-blue yuccas.

I would imitate this in a heartbeat if kangaroo paws tolerated Austin’s humid summer climate.

The grasses looked great too.

I love this combo, although I recognize only the yellow-flowering yarrow. Anyone know what the purple flowers are (update: looks like Scaevola aemula; thanks, Lara!), and is that a euphorbia at lower right?

Closer to the entrance, the garden loses its formality with casually inviting seating areas tucked amid billowing grasses.

The Huntington truly is an amazing collection of plants beautifully designed. I’m so glad I had a chance to explore it after-hours, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this very long recap.

Gift Shop

Part of my hideout time in the gift shop was spent autographing copies of my book Lawn Gone!, which I spotted prominently displayed as soon as I walked in the door.

How exciting! My thanks to the Huntington for carrying it and for treating us at GWA to a very special after-hours visit.

That wraps up my series of Los Angeles-area garden tours. Click through for a look back at the beautiful Volk Garden, which has a borrowed view of the Huntington. You’ll find links back to my other L.A. garden posts at the end of each post you follow.

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