Out and about in Houston: Public art and an artful home


Houston doesn’t always get a lot of love, especially from Austinites who invoke it as a negative example of soulless sprawl and traffic. True, Houston is a sprawling major city with congested highways (although I swear Austin may be its equal in traffic jams). But in-town you’ll find vibrant neighborhoods of historic and modern homes, terrific restaurants, international diversity, one of the best universities in the country, and world-class art museums. I may be biased, having spent my college years there and having a sister who lives there, but I embrace the tongue-in-cheek slogan that’s popped up in the Bayou City in recent years: “It’s OK to love Houston.”


Monumental Barn Owl by Geoffrey Dashwood

My daughter, a friend of hers, and I recently visited Houston and spent a fun-filled Saturday seeing public art at the Cullen Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the live oak-shaded Rice University campus. Since my sister and I attended Rice in the 1980s, the campus has added a number of modern sculptures and other works of art…


…like this one by Barcelona artist Jaume Plensa, titled Mirror.


“The figures are modeled in letters from eight alphabets – Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin and Russian,” the Rice website explains. “The artist considers this dialogue and interaction as central to learning, and more importantly to understanding, between people and cultures.”

Last year, my sister and sister-in-law showed us another example of Plensa’s work along Buffalo Bayou. I enjoyed seeing more of his work on campus.


The Rice campus itself, founded in 1912, is filled with beautiful examples of neo-Byzantine architecture. A more recently constructed building, Duncan Hall, which houses the Computational Engineering department, is always worth a look during a tour of Rice because of its kaleidoscopic painted ceiling.


The iconic 45°, 90°, 180° sculptures — the girls are standing on 180°, with the Campanile (bell tower) looming behind them — were installed the year before I entered Rice (i.e., quite a few years ago). Three pink granite monoliths in the Engineering Quad represent 45-, 90-, and 180-degree angles. 180° was a popular spot to hang out, sneak a beer, make out, and be photographed when I was a student, and there’s no reason to think anything’s changed. (The other two slabs, at slanted and vertical angles, are harder to climb.)


Another distinctive horizontal structure on campus is the luminous Twilight Epiphany, a Skyspace by James Turrell. I wrote about this Skyspace last fall, so click for full details and morning-light photos. This time, we were keen to experience the twilight show, which is more popular, so we made reservations.


Taking photographs during the light show is prohibited (although I don’t see why, so long as you don’t use a flash), but here are a couple I took while we were waiting for it to start. The white-walled space and benches are inside the grassy pyramid seen in the previous photo. There’s also a row of benches on a second level just under the floating roof.


The white roof with a central square cutout is washed with a slow-changing sequence of colored light, which changes your perception of the sky as the sun sets or rises. It’s a meditative experience to sit there for 40 minutes, gazing upward as the sky seems to pulse with energy. It can be a bit dizzying and make you feel like a tiny creature inside an Easter sugar egg — or at least that’s how it seems to me.

Austinites, there’s a Skyspace right here on the UT campus too, and although it’s smaller and less dramatic than the one on the Rice campus, it’s definitely worth a visit.


Another transcendent Turrell work can be experienced at the Museum of Fine Arts, a tunnel passage called The Light Inside. As with Twilight Epiphany, you don’t merely view the work. You step inside it. The art is light somehow made physical.

As you enter the tunnel, the vanishing-point black flooring is echoed by a black ceiling, with fog-like color suffusing the space on each side. Are there walls? You can’t really tell as you’re walking through. Space just seems to drop off along the edge of the black walkway, melting into a void of rich color. It’s mildly disorienting, as if you might accidentally fall off the edge into space. The color changes every 15 minutes or so, an attendant told me. I wish we’d stayed longer to experience each color. Next time!


I can’t end my recap of Houston art without showing off the artful beauty that my sister and sister-in-law have brought into their own home via new wallpaper and wainscoting. This is their dining room paper — gorgeous!


And here’s their mudroom, with a colorful Chinese dragon motif. And to think I used to disdain all wallpaper (after removing layers of dated paper in numerous houses over the years). Now I love it, and the bolder the better.


As you can see from my own foyer!


Their dogs are pretty adorable too. Here’s Layla, in a portrait taken by my daughter.


And here’s Sammy, stretched out like Cleopatra on the living room sofa. Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your photo, and thanks, Sis and SIL, for a wonderful Houston visit!

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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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.

Wildflower season, owlets, and native plant sale at Wildflower Center


When the universe offers a weekend of perfect weather, don’t squander it. Central Texans, if you’re looking for something to do outside this weekend, head on over to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Their spring native-plant sale is being held both Saturday and Sunday, so you can shop for treasures for your garden. Plus you’ll see plenty of wildflowers and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the great horned owl chicks in the entry garden.


I dropped in for a quick visit on Thursday morning and found the meadows of spring wildflowers — the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush — transitioning to summery yellows.


Prickly pear and Engelmann’s daisy (I think)


The bluebonnets may be past peak, but they’re still pretty, and you should find plenty to enjoy.


The main reason I went, however, was for the great horned owlets. Every year a great horned owl nests behind a sotol planted high in a wall niche in the entry garden. I missed mama owl on this visit, but I did get a good look at one of the two fuzzy chicks. And it got a good look at me too.


A guy taking pictures told me he saw mama owl deliver breakfast earlier that morning — a dark-feathered bird, probably a grackle or pigeon. Now and then, as I watched, they seemed to tear at what remained of the carcass.


The pond garden offers attractions other than owls, of course. Like this gorgeous magenta iris.


And ruffly purple irises by the spillway in the wall.


Kids are always drawn to water, and these young visitors were no exception.


In a sunny meadow, pink penstemons stood erect among spring-green grasses and a Lindheimer muhly just putting out new growth.


Fly your pink flags, penstemon!


A quick glance at the spiraling cistern tower in the main courtyard


Columbines with their comet tails, held aloft on delicate stems


More penstemon, with a patch of bluebonnets in the background


Along the shady Hill Country stream, a dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) seems to lift a hand in greeting.


Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) and Texas bluebonnets in stock-tank planters lean together for an embrace in the central Display Garden. These were pretty, but I have to say I thought this area looked a little unloved. A stock-tank pond was listing to one side, and many of the beds seemed a bit paltry. But then again, the Display Garden has never been my favorite part of the gardens. I keep hoping something great will go in here one day.


Aside from that one complaint, I enjoyed my visit and the wildflowers, and I encourage you to put aside your weekend to-do list and get on out there to enjoy it too.

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

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!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

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

Lone screech owl and other creature features


Every day, through the open window, I hear the thin cries of cedar waxwings as they strafe the back yard, flying from ligustrums to yaupons in the greenbelt behind our house to polish off the late-season berries. With their sleek, tan feathers and robbers’ masks, they are among my favorite bird visitors.


Now that the weather’s warm, Texas spiny lizards have been sunning themselves on the brick chimney. I spotted these two as I was reaching to change (belatedly) our outside clock for daylight saving time.


The big one moved up the wall into the sunniest spot and posed for me. These skittish lizards have such interesting, scaly skin.


But our most surprising visitor over the past week is seen here. Where? Just under the eave, sitting atop the junction box for the string lights. See it?

We’d just gotten home from our spring break road trip, and we’d been up and down the back steps checking on the garden and the pool. On my third pass, I caught a glimpse of something gray under the eave and immediately thought, wasp nest. I froze and looked up, and that’s when I realized we’d been walking not two feet away from a tiny screech owl.


I softly called to the family to come look, and then I went inside to get my camera. He (or she) calmly held his ground, watching warily but not seeming alarmed as we gathered at a respectful distance to look and take photos.


He looks a bit quizzical, doesn’t he? Like, What are YOU doing here after a week of peace and quiet?


It looks like a cozy spot, but I wondered why he was here and not in the owl box. I could only hope that this was a male, standing guard as his mate nested in the owl box. We’d not seen any activity in the box before our trip, although by this time of year we normally have. In fact, I’d begun to think that we wouldn’t have a nesting owl this year.

After dusk, the owl flew off while none of us was looking, probably to hunt. I kept an eye on the owl box, hoping to see the male fly in with food for a nesting mate. But I saw nothing, and we’ve had no more owl sightings since last weekend. I’m still hopeful, however, that we just have a very shy nesting pair. Time will tell.


What else is going on in the garden? Dyckia ‘Burgundy Ice’ is blooming.


Fuzzy, yellow flowers staggered along tall bloom spikes are opening one by one.


On the front porch, the succulent dish is wildly overgrown. I need to take cuttings of these plants and replant the whole dish. And yet I do kind of like the shaggy look, so I keep procrastinating. Below it, a foxtail fern in a tall pot seems to be reaching out with tentacle-like fronds.


In other happenings, I was surprised and pleased to see The Water-Saving Garden featured in the spring 2016 issue of The Designer, the publication of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD).


Check it out — click here to read the digital issue, and look on page 17. My thanks to Bay Area designer Rebecca Sweet for her complimentary quote and to editor Katie Elzer-Peters for including my book.

If you love garden design, consider subscribing to The Designer. It’s free, and you don’t need to be a designer or a member of APLD to enjoy it. APLD members write all the articles, and in this issue you’ll find topics ranging from ways to use hedges to patio projects to photos of the home gardens of designers from Toronto to Nebraska to Arizona.

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come meet me at Zilker Garden Festival, Austin, TX, April 2 & 3
Get your gardening mojo on at Zilker Garden Festival! I’ll be at the brand-new Author Booth on both days between 10 am and 2 pm (near the main building entrance), and I’ll have copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! for purchase ($20 each), if you’d like a signed copy for yourself or for a gift. Zilker Garden Festival is the garden’s biggest fundraiser (and it needs our support) and offers all-day entertainment, vendor shopping, plant sales, demonstrations, live music, a beer garden and food vendors, children’s activities, a garden train, a flower show, and a docent-led tour of lovely Zilker Botanical Garden. Don’t miss it!

Join me for lunch downtown at Holy Grounds coffee shop and cafe on Wednesday, April 6, at noon. As part of their Coffee with the Author series, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me and host a Q&A with the audience — i.e., y’all — and afterward I’ll sign copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!. I hope to see you there for this intimate, lunchtime event. Holy Grounds is located in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street in downtown Austin. You can park in the surface lot in front of St. David’s main doors.

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!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

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

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