Fair grounds at Fareground food hall in downtown Austin


Twice last week I visited buzzed-about Fareground food hall on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, killing time before shows at the Paramount Theater. I’ve yet to see Fareground in the daytime, but at night the softly lit landscaping and plaza sure are enticing. (The stairs and outer plaza seating could actually use a little more light, for safety and usability.)

Looking down into the sunken plaza from street level, you view a hillside planted with Texas dwarf palmetto, sedge, and other low-maintenance, shade-tolerant natives. Stairs and a zigzagging ramp lead you toward a perforated white arbor sheltering a few dining tables.


The shade arbor floats over the outdoor dining area like a paper airplane wing. Daniel Woodroffe of Studio DWG, the landscape architect for the project, commented on one of my Instagram pics that the shade structure is called Nimbus.


Nearby, in the center of the plaza, stands a light sculpture consisting of 12 tall rods, which Daniel called Cloudscape. He said it “atomizes water into actual clouds that are choreographed into a show with light.” According to Studio DWG’s website, “Cloudscape, the iconic water feature at the center of the project, is powered by AC-condensation harvested from the tower.” Both times I visited, Cloudscape only shifted color slightly, from violet to purple, with no cloud-like formations that I could detect. Does it happen at certain times, I wonder? I’d like to see it.


Being a garden geek, I didn’t take a single picture inside the beautiful food hall itself. But I admired the contemporary seating options in the plaza and on the hillside, where turquoise Acapulco wire chairs are gathered around portable round-top tables. The lawn is faux, which is a smart choice for this dry-shade hillside that will see tons of foot traffic and butt lounging.


A wintry tree — a redbud, by the looks of it — awaits spring’s greening touch.


But overall the grounds look green and lush, in spite of our unusually cold winter. On the chilly nights when I visited, only a few hardy diners were sitting on the patio. Everyone else was packed into the indoor seating. But soon enough Fareground’s plaza and hillside lawn will be filled with happily noshing Austinites and visitors.

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 garden bloggers! You’re invited to register for the annual Garden Bloggers Fling tour and meetup, which will be held in Austin this May 3rd-6th! 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 © 2006-2018 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Edibles, green roof, and playground at Mueller Community Gardens & Gaines Park


We spent Thanksgiving in the mixed-use, urban-infill, sustainably-designed Mueller neighborhood in east Austin, where my in-laws hosted us in their lovely new home. As always when we visit, I’m impressed by the park spaces and community amenities available to Mueller residents, and I fantasize about moving into one of the charming, cheerfully painted homes. I’d have to drastically downsize my garden, however, as the lots are tiny.


For many people (and I can imagine being one of them in the not-too-distant future), plentiful parks and green spaces compensate for a small home lot, with less to personally maintain. At Mueller, one of these is a new community garden with 132 plots that give residents a place to grow food organically in a shared space.


The community garden is located in newly opened John Gaines Park, our family’s post-feast-stroll destination. I stopped to take a few pictures while the kids headed for the playground.


Shaded work tables


Eggplant — someone’s planning to make ratatouille, maybe?


Punny garden decor


Most of the plots look well tended.


More charming houses in the distance


Across a field, the old Mueller Airport control tower still stands, decorated for the season with a lighted Noel. I love that they saved the 60s-era tower when the airport was torn down and redeveloped. (Mueller Airport, Austin’s old in-town airport, was shuttered in 1999, replaced by our current airport, Austin Bergstrom, on the southeast side of town). I’ve heard that eventually a mixed-use condo-retail development will be built around it.


John Gaines Park contains not just the community garden but also a playground and public pool, where I spotted this clean-lined restroom with a green roof of very dry-loving plants and a runoff-cleansing bioswale garden at ground level with water-loving plants like horsetail reed and dwarf palmetto.


Prickly pear and red yucca on the green roof look great against a bright blue sky. According to an article in Wildflower magazine, the 1200-square-foot roof is irrigated only with harvested rainwater.


The play spaces at the park include a large lawn (where we played football and frisbee), swings, an arched climbing structure with bark-cushioned fall zone, and — something I’ve never before seen at a park — steep berms carpeted in artificial turf, with concrete culverts running through them, making fun hiding and crawl spaces for small children.


The berms were a hit with kids and adults, who lounged on them, climbed on them, and ran up them with their dogs. Natural-grass berms would never stand up to that sort of use in our hot, semi-dry climate, of course, so artificial turf seems like a smart choice for this application. It will be interesting to see how well it holds up over time.

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

Want to know how I got started as a garden writer? Read page 16 of On the QT, the newsletter for GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. I’m honored to be featured in an article by Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens!

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!

What’s hot in garden design — or about to be? I interviewed designers and retailers across the U.S. to find out! Natural dye gardens, hyperlocalism, dwarf shrubs, haute houseplants, sustainability tech, color blocking, and more — check out my 2017 Trends article for Garden Design and see if anything surprises you.

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

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