A grand limestone staircase bisected by a rill leads from the back of the house to a large pond in the lower garden.
Yesterday I showed you around the upper level of James David’s magnificent garden, which I visited in late March and which is currently for sale as the owners prepare to relocate to Santa Fe. Today let’s take the paths that lead down into the ravine behind the house and back up to the detached studio.
Behind the house a large cistern collects rainwater from the roof and seems to spill surplus water into a stone trough. In actuality, I think this must be an illusion because otherwise the water would soon run dry — even though our current rainy spring might suggest otherwise. I’d guess the rainwater is actually stored for use on Gary’s vegetable garden, visible in the background. This running faucet must be plumbed via a hidden pipe, creating the illusion that the cistern is the source of a long water passage through the back garden.
The water reappears a few steps below, spilling from a hidden stone channel into a small, stone-edged pool.
A wider view shows glossy holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum) doing a good air plant impression by sprouting from gaps in the wall.
A collection of fossils and pretty stones adorns a corner of the wall.
From the pool, water flows below ground into a simple metal pipe, which spills into a stone trough that’s been repaired with board-formed concrete. A second, smaller trough accepts an overflow stream. These troughs, with their musical splashing, sit next to the dining patio shown yesterday.
Underground the water goes again, and then it reappears at the top of the most dramatic feature of the garden: a grand limestone staircase bisected by a rill that runs a trickle of water all the way to the rectangular pond at the bottom of the stair. Behind the pond, an off-center stone stair leads up to a lap pool. Another path leads to a large greenhouse.
Here’s the view from behind the pond, looking back at the grand staircase and the house. ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon hollies once lined each side of the stair, creating a vertical screen, but these days it’s edged with boxwood.
Detouring to the right, let’s follow a path that leads up the side of the garden, past a low retaining wall beautifully made of various materials, including urbanite (broken concrete) on top.
Variegated agaves behind the wall
And a chicken coop!
Turning around, let’s head back down to the lower garden. Ahead is the large pond, and beyond that are pollarded Mexican sycamores.
Hardscape in this garden is masterfully crafted and enticing. You want to explore every curving stair, cross every bridge, investigate every long path framed by arbors and shrubs. But there’s also an element of danger to many of the walks, which universally lack handrails. They imply, you will be mindful of where you put your feet. I find it delightfully adventurous. But you definitely don’t want to get so distracted by the plants or the views that you fall backwards off a wall.
Now we’ve found the swimming pool, which sits well above the pond. Flowering shrubs and trees screen one side…
…while the other is open and offers a lovely view of the pond garden.
I was smitten by this flowering tree at the end of the pool: jack tree (Sinojackia xylocarpa), which James said he got from Forestfarm online nursery. They don’t seem to have it in stock now, but I see that it’s also grown by Texas grower Greenleaf.
The flowers dangle like white parachutes, reminiscent of those on white potato vine.
Stone stairs by the greenhouse are used to display potted agaves and other succulents.
Beautiful, but mind your ankles.
They are such camera hogs. They know they look good from every angle.
Potted cacti line a long limestone shelf along the front of the greenhouse.
A few tropicals, like this clivia, add colorful flowers to the mix.
Looking back toward the house you see the grand staircase and, closer, a wooden bridge that crosses a dry stream and wet-weather garden. The Mexican sycamores (Platanus mexicana) are planted in a grid, their pollarded canopies creating an umbrella effect.
Crossing the bridge, which is lined on one side with more potted plants, you get another view of the sycamores and their white and green mottled trunks.
A stone stair by the greenhouse descends to the dry creek.
I’m sure the dry creek has seen a lot of action this spring.
On the left, another view of the pond
Pulling back a little, you can appreciate the lushness of the garden, with purple flowers of Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) in the foreground. Now imagine that we’ve crossed the wooden bridge again, walked behind the greenhouse, and followed a decomposed-granite path that leads to the right…
…and to the newest section of the garden: a semi-wild meadow garden behind the award-winning concrete studio. A ruler-straight path leads the eye and foot between stone pedestals topped with cornucopia-like urns, across a metal bridge, and up some steps to a concrete wall that supports a contemporary pond (shown below). Notice the concrete balcony jutting out from the topmost window? I’ll share a picture from that vantage point in a moment.
A topiaried oak. James told me he’s not afraid to try topiary on any kind of plant.
Looking back, I find this view through the columns very romantic.
I liked this grassy, white-flowered plant, whose fleshy leaves reminded me of bulbine, but I can’t remember the name.
Update: It’s St. Bernard’s lily (Anthericum liliago). Thanks, Diana, for the ID! Update 4/16: It’s actually Asphodelus fistulosus (see discussion in comments, below).
Asphodelus fistulosus, or onionweed
Native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) was blooming too.
As you climb the stairs up to the studio, you come to an asymmetrical, concrete-edged pond. Here’s an overhead view from the studio balcony. What looks like a metal bridge from this angle…
…is actually a gabion wall that supports a metal pipe spilling water into the pond. A dry garden planted with Argentine saguaro and other xeric plants offers a contrast between wet and dry.
Koi live in the pond and came
running swimming when Gary pulled out the fish food.
The view across the gabion wall and pond to the cornucopia urns and meadow garden
To the left of the pond, the dry garden continues, with Yucca rostrata and a pruned-up Chinese photinia (Photinia serrulata), if I recall correctly. James is a big fan of this photinia, though not of the overused red-tip variety.
More steps lead up to the studio. This is the view from the walk connecting studio and house.
A porch at the studio door holds a trio of potted plants. I like the circle motif of the tabletops and rear pot.
Ice plant in vivid bloom
James and Gary’s dog Alice made herself comfortable on the porch’s wooden bench.
I somehow neglected to take a photo of James while he was showing me around. But I’m grateful to him and to Gary for inviting me into their beautiful home and garden again. Visiting their garden has always been the highlight of the Open Days tour, and I’ll miss it. But who knows — maybe it’ll be on tour again one day with new owners at the helm. I hope so, and I’m sure James and Gary do too. Until then, I wish them bon voyage and happy garden-making in their new home.
For a look back at part 1 of my garden visit, click here.
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