Blue fantasy in the garden of Linda Hostetler: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


I saw some truly wonderful gardens during the Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling last week, and one of my favorites was that of landscape designer Linda Hostetler in The Plains, Virginia. From the street you admire a handsome farmhouse-style home at the end of a wide, curving lawn hugged by lush mixed borders accented by burgundy Japanese maples.


There’s much to see here, but like everyone else, I hustled into the side-yard path, eager to see everything before we had to get back on the bus.


I paused to admire this shade-loving combo of ferns, heuchera, and sedge, framed by a pretty groundcover.


The path leads to a comfortable stone patio in the side yard, which overlooks a froggy pond. White hanging lanterns, concrete ornaments, and variegated and white-flowering plants brighten and set a serene mood in this shady space. Beyond the dining table…


…two chairs offer a spot for quieter conversation.


From the patio, you look on a charming pond freshened by a stair-stepping waterfall nestled into a heavily planted slope.


I spotted several frogs floating lazily in the pond…


…seemingly as content as this napping sprite.


An opaque glass orb pairs with creamy variegated grasses, ferns, and hostas to light up the shade.


Adding rustic charm at one end of the patio is a barn-like shed adorned with hanging pots, pieces of wrought iron, a birdhouse…


…and old tiller blades resembling flowers or suns.


It would have been easy to miss this back door framed by arching tree branches, but I’m glad I didn’t. It was a pretty, understated moment.


From here, the garden gets louder — in a fun way! You step down into the rear garden, a much more colorful and playful space in which cobalt blue takes center stage.


Blue umbrellas scattered here and there shade blue-painted chairs and tables. Blue pillows soften a stone bench cleverly built into a retaining wall.


Hot pinks, reds and maroons, and chartreuse yellows add even more joyful jolts of color.


Linda found these steel orbs at HomeGoods and spray-painted them blue, yellow, and orange.


The entry path curls into a yellow-brick-road-style spiral inset in a small lawn. Exploratory paths lead off in various directions, marked by blue arbors.


Here are Judy and Jason of Garden in a City. Low boxwood hedges curve along this narrow path, drawing you in.


Stone steps lead up to a hidden patio tucked under a blue umbrella.


Deeper in the garden, a blue gazebo holds court in a clearing. As you get closer you see a blue birdcage hanging in the center, with something unusual inside.


A captive agave!


Taking another path through a blue arbor…


…you discover a sunny pond flush with waterlilies. The pond is fed by a stream that winds its way across the garden, crossed by occasional wooden bridges. In the foreground, a potted cordyline echoes wine-red Japanese maples.


I adore Linda’s garden art, including these metal cattails near the pond — simple pieces of steel pipe welded to slender rods.


Linda’s garden art is also created through plants, like this fire-pit seating area, with flames evoked by the form and color of plants.


Croton provides tongues of yellow and red flame, and a small cypress (I think) adds a twisty, fire-like shape in the center. So clever!


Nearby, a carved elfin face is tucked into a piece of mossy weathered wood.


The mossy limbs give this small piece of art, which might easily have been overlooked, greater presence.


Here’s new Flinger Jen McGuinness of Frau Zinnie taking a picture, her hat echoing the crocosmia behind her.


Jen has such a great smile and is just as friendly as she looks. Meeting other bloggers is a big part of why I enjoy going to the Fling each year.


Along the stream, hostas, Japanese forest grass, and other plants create a green tapestry.


In a back corner, nearly hidden by mahonia and hydrangea, I spied that most Southern form of folk art: a blue bottle tree.


There is not a bad view in the entire garden.


Color echoes and contrasting forms make for satisfying views at every turn.


We had nearly an hour to explore, but I could easily have spent another hour or two wandering the paths.


Here’s Gryphon Corphus, a regular Flinger from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, who is always photogenic as she strolls barefoot and floral-dressed through the gardens.


I leave you with one last vignette from Linda’s garden: a heuchera perfectly echoing the blue hue of its glazed pot, set in a clipped, evergreen spiral…


…harmonizing with purple coneflowers and lilac hydrangeas.

Up next: Casa Mariposa, our host Tammy Schmitt’s garden, plus a few stops along the way. For a look back at an English-style garden of rural elegance in Middleburg, Virginia, 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.
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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.

Bald cypress creek, beer patios, & other comforts in Comfort, Texas


For our 27th wedding anniversary last weekend, my husband and I enjoyed a weekend away in Comfort, Texas, a tiny Hill Country town two hours southwest of Austin. After reading about the stylishly rustic charms of Camp Comfort in seemingly every regional magazine (Tribeza, Southern Living, Texas Monthly), I’d booked us a room for two nights over Memorial Day weekend.


Camp Comfort is an utterly charming B&B, built motel-style in what was formerly a 2-lane bowling alley and social hall dating to 1860, plus several freestanding cabins.


A row of 4 rooms occupies what used to be the bowling alley, and the cabins cluster at the far end…


…overlooking a scenic view of Cypress Creek.


The restored social hall contains a servery for help-yourself breakfast, free cookies all day, and plentiful seating…


…each table adorned with a bouquet of fluffy cotton stems.


A couch and chairs at one end is flanked by a triangular shelf stacked with board games for old-school entertainment.


The owners constructed the shelves, and for that matter the guest rooms’ floors, walls, and doors, from wood salvaged from the bowling alley.


The place seems tailor-made to be rented out in full by wedding parties, and one such newlywed couple had written their thanks to the owners on a roll of paper towels by the door.


The rooms and cabins surround a spacious gravel courtyard outfitted for lounging and parties with a fire pit, orange Loll chairs, a grilling and dining area under a vine-shaded arbor…


…and a band stage.


We stayed in room #3.


Inside, a photo of the social hall pre-transformation hung over the bed. Cushy, teal swivel chairs in front of a TV, a small kitchen, a desk, and a spacious bathroom with a soaker tub made up the lovely retreat.


The view from our room


The Texas flag painted on the back of a neighbor’s shed


We spent a lovely evening around the fire our first night, sipping champagne and talking with another couple from San Antonio who were celebrating a birthday.


We met Phil, who owns the place with his wife, and who did all the restoration and construction work himself, with his wife as the designer. He encouraged us to go for a swim in the creek behind the camp, and on the second day we did.


Cypress Creek is beautiful.


Towering bald cypresses line the creek like columns in a cathedral made by Mother Nature.


In the clear, green water we could see fish guarding their nests, cleared-out circles on the creekbed.


Aside from the fish, we had it all to ourselves, no one else around.


We waded into the chilly water alongside cypress toes, careful not to disturb the fish nests…


…and paddled among the trees to the swimming hole, which Phil had told us was 10 feet deep. It was magical.


The first night we enjoyed an excellent pizza at Comfort Pizza, where you have to call in advance to reserve your pizza dough. They only make so much each day, and if they run out you’re out of luck. One pizza is plenty for two, especially with a Greek side salad, which was also tasty. We washed it all down with Shiner Bock, a local beer. (I also highly recommend High’s Cafe for lunch, particularly the Veggie-licious with hummus instead of cream cheese, and 814 A Texas Bistro for dinner; be sure to make reservations.)


After dinner we strolled along High Street, Comfort’s quiet main street lined with well-preserved historic buildings occupied by a boutique hotel, antique stores, an art gallery, a yarn shop, and a refreshingly different elephant shop. Not a single T-shirt/postcard/fudge shop did I see.


Charming old homes and guest houses line the street as well, including one whose front fence was awash with garlands of hot-pink queen’s wreath vine, also known as coral vine (Antigonon leptopus).


I’d thought queen’s wreath bloomed only in late summer/early fall, so I was surprised to see it in full bloom in early summer.


A few tendrils had entwined into a green heart at the front gate, and we pretended it was just for our anniversary.


At Miss Giddy’s gift shop and nursery across the street from the pizza place, a garden of container-planted, colorful zinnias…


…was guarded by a friendly, sunflower-faced scarecrow.


A towering, dried agave bloom stalk stood in another part of the garden, its branches holding a collection of white birdhouses.


The road back to Camp Comfort took us by a pasture with grazing longhorns.


Back at our B&B, we enjoyed one more sunset along Cypress Creek.


What a beautiful place!

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 pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

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.

Life is beautiful at Moroccan-inspired Tanglewild Gardens


As we roll toward summer here in Austin, this gardener begins to fantasize about decamping for cooler climes, like the Pacific Northwest, a gardener’s paradise. So it was surprising and enlightening to hear Skottie O’Mahony and Jeff Breitenstein, longtime Seattle residents who are now cultivating an exotic, ambitious garden in North Austin, explain why they moved to Central Texas three years ago:

“We needed to move to a warmer and less rainy climate,” they said, and Austin’s long, hot summer (combined with regular watering) jump-starts their tropical-esque garden each spring, encouraging early, lush growth. The couple also hybridizes daylilies — they’re currently growing more than 1,000 cultivars — and they can establish new plants from seed much faster here than in Seattle. So there you go — sometimes the Death Star can be your friend!


When I visited Tanglewild Gardens last weekend with a couple of friends, Skottie and Jeff hospitably invited us into their home, a 1971 split-level that they’ve transformed inside and out with Moroccan-influenced furnishings and decor, and out through the back door onto an expansive, comfortably furnished porch.


White stucco walls and black trim, a tiled roof, and oversized Moroccan lanterns create an exotic mood, even under cloudy skies threatening rain. The porch roof is clad in old cedar boards that Jeff and Skottie repurposed when they tore out an existing fence to build their garden walls. They used the fence boards on their living room ceiling as well, to wonderful effect — and as Skottie pointed out, less waste went into the landfill.


The swimming pool and back porch came with the house, but the white stuccoed walls are their addition, for Moroccan-style enclosure and privacy and to create distinct garden rooms.


String lights traverse the courtyard for evening enjoyment of the garden. Windows in the walls that extend outward from the house are inset with Moroccan-inspired, laser-cut metal panels, allowing air flow and a hint of the gardens beyond.


Antique doors in the walls create beautiful focal points and invite you to explore the rest of the garden. A mirror at the far end of the pool cleverly creates the illusion of another doorway.


Vernonia flower. Skottie says that in Seattle, when you drop something on the ground it grows, but in Texas you’re lucky if half of what you plant survives. Gardening here has been a learning curve, he admits.


Two enormous Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora), native trees with wisteria-like flowers in spring, were here when they bought the house. Not realizing what they were, they almost cut them down until an arborist convinced them otherwise. The ghost lanterns are Halloween decorations that Jeff liked so much he decided to leave them out year-round.


A tiki bar in the pool courtyard is adorned with a flowering desert rose (Adenium obesum) and, in the smaller pot, a Texas touch — ball moss, our native tillandsia.


More desert roses adorn a tray table next to an intricately carved teak doorway.


Let’s step through…


…into the Moon Garden, which is filled with pale-leaved and fragrant, white-flowering plants for evening enjoyment.


A tall, black-painted fence lets the pale plants shine. Tall, shaggy-trunked palms add height and structure, and a tiered fountain anchors a sitting area with benches.


A white-flowering vitex and moonshine-yellow cannas glow in low light.


Three carved figures — Thai rice goddesses — adorn the rear fence.


Beautiful artwork


Another Moroccan doorway beckons here. They had the walls constructed to fit the wooden doorways they’d collected from antique dealers.


Looking back toward the rice goddess figures


Moving on, this part of the garden, just below the pool courtyard, is densely shaded by live oaks, and tropical-looking rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) grows abundantly.


Looking back up toward the pool courtyard


Heading away from the house, you come to their daylily breeding beds, all carefully labeled in raised wooden planters. A garage and shed, which the couple transformed with Thai-style accents like carved wooden panels, tiled roofs, and cedar-board skirting, enclose the space.


More daylily beds plus a cedar-skirted greenhouse


Inside the greenhouse grow flats of coleus cuttings, which they plan to plant once the daylilies are done, to fill the gaps with foliage color.


Walking to the back of their lot, an area they planted just last year, you get the feeling that the garden is even larger than its 1.7 acres. Water is abundant. They have a well, a spring, and a stretch of Tar Branch Creek (visible at lower-right), which sold them on the property. Eager for more gardening space, they left behind a tiny garden in Seattle, a plot the size of their current swimming pool area.


Another porch is visible off the back of the garage.


An upside-down tree, seeming to scuttle like Thing in the Addams Family, makes a sculptural focal point for the far end of the garden. Jeff explained that the tiny iron star affixed to it denotes a special tree in their garden and is one of five they’ve given a badge of honor. When I pointed out that they’ve adopted the Texas state symbol like natives, he laughingly said they were glad to have Texas stars now, to keep up with their Vancouver friends who adorn their gardens with Canadian maple leaves.


Here’s a surprising sight in their garden, one that they inherited with the property: a sword poking right through an old tree! Texcalibur, they’ve dubbed it. It looks as if it was placed years ago in a crotch of the tree or hacked into its trunk, and the tree grew around it, sealing it inside its widening trunk. Or is it a trick, I wondered, with two halves of a sword stuck on either side of a limb to look like it goes through?

Curious to know more, I searched online later to see if anyone had written about a sword in a tree in North Austin and found an article by Mike Cox, complete with a legend about Spanish explorers and hidden gold. In the 2011 article, an unidentified Austinite in his 70s is quoted as saying he saw what looked like an old Spanish sword in a tree near Walnut Creek in the late 1940s, when he was in the 7th or 8th grade. There’s also a Reddit thread that mentions rumors of a sword in a tree, although no one seemed to know exactly where it was.

And now Skottie and Jeff have lucked onto it. Putting aside the improbability that it’s actually a Spanish sword from the 1700s, it’s still got to be pretty old if it was already embedded in the tree back in the 1940s. When I shared the legend with Skottie, he said, “That is wild about the sword tale. Don’t I wish there was gold back there. Mostly what we find while digging is burnt foil and glass. I think the sword points to the former owner’s garbage burning area.” So much for legends, but still, what an interesting thing to find on your property. And imagine the tall tales you could spin yourself!


The real treasure to be found here, of course, is the garden that Jeff and Skottie are making, an exotic eden that evokes Morocco and Thailand with a Texas twist.


Vita pulchra est, Latin for Life is beautiful, is spelled out on their garden shed, and indeed it is. Thanks for the tour, Skottie and Jeff!


Local readers, if you’d like to see their garden yourself, you can this weekend. Tanglewild Gardens is one of four gardens on the Austin Daylily Society’s free tour this Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. You might also like to follow the Facebook page for Tanglewild Gardens.

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 Tanglewild Gardens and Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Calling all pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

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.

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