New shade sails and other garden goodness


We’ve always wanted shade for our deck, which is one of the few spots in our yard not overhung by live oaks. Facing south, it gets blasted by the Death Star all day long, and even our kitchen table overlooking the deck gets unpleasantly toasty by midafternoon.

A solution has proven tricky. The back of our 1970s ranch sports an unlovely variety of rooflines, making it difficult (and expensive) to build a pergola or attach an awning for sun relief.


Shade sails to the rescue! We’d thought about installing shade sails over the years but couldn’t find a local pro who’d take on a smaller residential project like ours. (Shade sails are popular in Austin in commercial or schoolyard settings, where they are used to shade playgrounds, sport courts, and restaurant patios.) We looked into ordering a sail from Coolaroo and hanging it ourselves, but so many DIY sails end up looking like loose, flappy tarps, and we weren’t confident in our ability to anchor it so that a strong wind wouldn’t rip it off our house — or rip a fascia board with it.


Happily, I finally found a professional installer right at the time we were refinishing our deck. Greg at Mueller Highlife custom ordered and installed two shade sails for us, one floating over the other, which function as a modern awning for our windows and back door and partially shade the deck.

For full shading, I could have ordered a larger rectangular sail, but I was determined not to block our view of the tree canopy, which we enjoy from our kitchen/dining windows. So we sacrificed on maximizing shade in return for an unobstructed view from indoors, and I’m happy with the compromise. And Greg did a great job, so give him a call if you need a sail for your yard.


Garden-wise, I’m enjoying all the beauty of late spring, including the beautiful flowering of a potted cactus.


It’s always incredible to me that spiny, seemingly inhospitable cacti can put forth these luscious blossoms.


The stock-tank pond is always a source of pleasure during the warmer seasons.


In Moby’s old spot, the new whale’s tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia) is settled in, with silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) and pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) filling in around it. In the lower terrace, ‘Macho Mocha’ manfreda, ‘Frazzle Dazzle’ dyckia, and a volunteer datura are ready for summer’s impending heat.


Moby 2 and pineapple sage


From the upper patio, here’s the succulent-filled cinderblock wall.


And the tentacle wall is coming along with the addition of a blue, beaded cephalopod from my friend Linda in San Antonio (to the right of the chartreuse pot).


Out front, ‘Green Goblet’ agave is recovering from deer-antlering damage in a bed of woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata), with a mullein’s yellow flower spike echoing the yellow blooms of Jerusalem sage in the distance.


I hope you’ll be enjoying your garden too this weekend!

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

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. 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.

RH Austin rooftop garden showcases contemporary outdoor furniture


Three weeks after its grand opening, I climbed the glittering, mirrored grand staircase at the 62,000-square-foot mansion known as RH Austin (Restoration Hardware, rebranded), one of the anchor stores in the new Northside section of The Domain shopping center in north Austin. After a cursory inspection of the posh but oppressively muted gray, black, and white interiors displayed on the lower three floors (y’all know I adore color; they have fabulous light fixtures though!), I reached my intended destination: the 4th-floor rooftop garden terrace, 11,000 square feet of modern patio furniture and accessories beautifully displayed in outdoor rooms accented with artfully potted succulents, mosses, agaves, yuccas, olive trees, and even native cenizo.


It’s a wow-inducing space, a green roof with party-ready cushy seating, statement-making outdoor chandeliers, fountains, and gas firepits.


Arbors and fabric canopies provide a sense of enclosure and shade, making for comfortable browsing even on a warm day. Although they’re for display only, I coveted these swagged, retractable canopies for our baking hot deck. Shade is essential in Texas, and so few quality options are available to homeowners making their own gardens. (Installers in Austin, let me know if you do these! Leave a comment below.)


Scrumptious bowls of succulents and other plants adorned tables throughout the terrace. I asked one of the managers about the plants, and he told me they’re not really for sale, although for the right price…maybe. But generally, he said, the plants are there to enhance the furniture displays and make the place seem like a real patio garden, not just a bunch of furniture, plus they offer design inspiration.


Even sans price tags, I bet they’ll get a lot of people wanting to buy their containers. They’re beautiful.


Wouldn’t you like this to be your “home away”?


I love that circular fire table.


Olive trees and yuccas in pots offer greenery and symmetry.


Another lovely succulent bowl


And a shallow trough planted with moss. I don’t see how this could hold up under the Death Star here in Texas. But maybe in the shade…if you mist it every day?


Notice that RH’s restrained color palette — gray, tan, white, and black — is all that’s offered for outdoor furnishings too. But I don’t mind it in a garden setting, where it feels restful and modern and blends with silver-hued plants like cenizo.


Good outdoor lighting is often overlooked in a garden (including, sadly, my own), but RH has that covered too. Check out these 1970s-reminiscent basketweave-style chandeliers.


You’d need to use them in a covered space so they’d last, but I bet they make a cozy, shadow-casting light.


I’d love to see them glowing at night.


One more look


Another beautifully styled seating area, with potted olives, cenizo, sedum, and other succulents adding living color.


A tire-shaped white bowl displays a froth of green sedum.


I like this zinc fountain too, with enough spillage to mask street noise. Just fill it up, plug it in, and voila.


Agave in a bowl of what looks like weathered tropical hardwoood — great texture.


Candy-colored succulents in another wooden bowl


Contemporary dining tables and chairs that look like they’d be at home indoors, sheltered by retractable fabric awnings


At the center of the green roof, a sunny space is anchored by four gray sectional sofas shaded by giant white umbrellas. Long rectangular fire tables provide a place to set a drink or warm your toes on a chilly evening.


Another view, with Koosh ball-shaped Yucca rostrata shimmering above square black pots.


One last look at the rooftop garden


RH Austin has a couple of ground-level garden terraces too, with more of a courtyard feel thanks to high walls.


All of their outdoor spaces offer plenty of inspiration, especially for gardeners who love modern or contemporary classic style…and who have deep pockets.

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

Austinites and native-plant shoppers, I’ll be at the member’s day Fall Plant Sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 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!

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.

Visit to Big Red Sun garden shop in Venice


Named after a Lucinda Williams song (so of course I like it), Big Red Sun shuttered its cool boutique nursery in East Austin years ago. After briefly reopening in a new location, under new management, it closed again, and now Big Red Sun in Austin is strictly a design studio. The original owner, meanwhile, moved to Venice, California, and set up shop there, and so it felt like an Austin homecoming of sorts when I stopped by during my whirlwind L.A. weekend last month.


Located just a couple of blocks from the ocean, it has a beachy vibe that the Austin shop never had, although the sign is the same.


The shop itself looks like an old house painted ocean blue and made welcoming with beachy-modern front-porch style.


Calandrinia spectabilis


I love this Corten planter box over the front door, filled with cascading succulents.


A metal mesh gate opens to reveal an alley of plant tables alongside the building.


Red and white shade sails pair with the blue building in an Americana color scheme.


In the back yard, pottery is showcased along with planted succulent dishes.


How about a vintage-style red glider softened with a striped Mexican blanket?


More pottery


A few large specimens must have outgrown their pots and are part of the landscaping now.


A seascape succulent dish with small white gravel standing in for dune sand


On the back porch, a shell planter dripping with string-of-pearls and a starfish, “framed” by an empty picture frame. A fun display, no?


A similar idea, but Texas-style


Indoors, plenty of “smalls,” or gift items, fill the shelves, along with art-filled books.


Bouquets of flowers in artful photographs adorned the walls — part of a “Diana” series, which I found appropriate since Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden was with me.


Outside again, I lusted after this sturdy metal birdbath-style planter.


Though our visit was very brief, it was fun to see Big Red Sun again, California style.

Up next: An even briefer dash into the fabulous Potted garden shop in Los Feliz. For a look back at the terraced garden of The Folly Bowl, click here.

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

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