Turning a neighborhood median strip into a garden


A few years ago I toured Colleen Jamison’s beautiful garden in central-west Austin, and a few days ago I had the pleasure of a revisit. It is still wonderful! But here’s what wowed me before I even stepped foot in her garden: a median strip down the middle of her street that she’s transformed, little by little, into a garden for her neighbors and passersby to enjoy.


Wow, just look at this lovely space, with staggered benches inviting one to rest under an allée of crepe myrtles. Colleen says she started planting the median years ago to block an unwelcome view of trucks parked directly across the street from her house. And then she just kept expanding it.


As you’d expect, the median lacks a water source for irrigation, so Colleen chose tough, mostly native plants that can thrive without regular watering once they’re established, like Mexican feathergrass and crepe myrtle, shown here, as well as retama, Texas mountain laurel, iris, blue mistflower, prickly pear, and agave. (Note: she does water new plants by hand until they’re established.)

Colleen’s eye for design is evident in the repetition and massing of relatively few species of plants, which also makes maintenance easier, and in the way she breaks up the bowling-alley effect of a long, narrow space by zigzagging benches along the length and creating a focal-point mound of blue mistflower in the center of the path.


The blue mistflower mound marks the end of the crepe myrtle allée and the start of a retama allée.


Turning around and looking back toward the middle, you get to enjoy the effect all over again.


So inviting! And so well maintained too.


The allée pathway widens in the midsection of the median to embrace both sides of the street, inviting access.


Directly across from Colleen’s garden, the median is more densely planted in cottage-garden style — the better to hide those trucks! Actually, the trucks may be long gone now, but this was the earliest section she planted, and it’s lush with Texas mountain laurel, prickly pear, iris, and agave. A metal sunflower makes a cheerful accent.


From the median, here’s the charming view of Colleen’s house and front garden. What a gift she’s given to the neighborhood with her own garden and the median garden.


For fun, here are a couple more images from Colleen’s garden, including a ruffled kalanchoe in a mint-green vase…


…and this peaceful side-yard garden with a classical fountain, a pillow-strewn bench for comfortable lounging, and masses of pretty shade-garden plants.

Don’t you wish you were Colleen’s neighbor?

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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.

Autumn stroll around Lady Bird Lake


Autumn rarely sets our trees aflame here in central Texas, and this year’s fall color looks to be more of a dud than usual. But still, you can find a few russet tinges if you squint, especially in the coppery needles of bald cypresses around Lady Bird Lake.


My family and I walked the 3-mile loop between MoPac and the Pfluger Bridge over the Thanksgiving holiday.


Well, they ran and I meandered with Cosmo, taking lots of photos along the way. I love walking here when the weather cools off.


On this gray day, it wasn’t very crowded, which was nice.


Virginia creeper climbing a bald cypress is putting on a mini fall show of its own.


Bald cypress roots, drinking deeply


The cypresses line the hike-and-bike trail like a giant’s hallway.


Yes, I will apparently even take photos of a public restroom if the design is interesting.


The Trail Foundation has really upped its game in the design of public toilets along the trail.


The Heron Creek restrooms, designed by Mell Lawrence Architects, look like monk cowls made of raw steel and board-formed concrete.


Moving on


Turtles! I’m familiar with the red-eared slider, perching below the other two. But what kind of turtle is at the top of the branch? A soft-shell?


Almost at the turning point: the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge


A spiral ramp leads up to the bridge on the north side of the lake, but let’s pause in the Pfluger Circle, designed by Austin’s own Christy Ten Eyck, before we go up. With limestone-block benches around the circle, surrounded by Anacacho orchid trees, palmettos, and other native plants, it functions like a large council ring, one of my favorite design motifs.

Here’s a nice article about council rings, although — surprise! — the author used one of my photos without asking or even linking back to my site, which I wish people wouldn’t do. Respecting copyright (is it yours? If not, ask before using) is easy to do — and the right thing to do.


My rant over, let’s go up the ramp cloaked in fig ivy. Yes, it does seem as if we’re walking backwards, doesn’t it?


Looking down on the circle from the top of the ramp


My daughter is checking her phone down there.


A wider view captures a glimpse of the state capitol in the distance.


Beachy, curvy, wooden side-walls line a portion of the bridge.


Along the main part of the bridge, steel rails allow for views of the water.


Graffiti on the train bridge: Ninja Style Kung Fu Grip, reads one, which I’m sure the guy needed as he hung from the bridge to spray-paint. Never Give Up, reads another with Pac-Man outrunning killer ghosts.


Greening up the bridge are several raised garden beds maintained by volunteers. A couple were a bit anemic, but this one totally rocked.


Well done, Joan McGaffigan!


Back on the trail on the south side of the lake, this bench offers a nice overlook of the historic Lamar Boulevard Bridge — and an Austin-style re-creation of the bridge scene from Manhattan.


Where the trail diverts along Barton Creek for half a mile or so, I stopped on the wooden pedestrian bridge to watch kayakers…


…and paddleboarders.


Looks like fun


A little more fall color


And more orangey bald cypress


I sat in this spot for a little while, admiring the turquoise water of spring-fed Barton Creek and the orange needles and knobby “knees” of a solitary bald cypress.


Kayakers paddled up the creek…


…and, after a bit, paddled back toward the lake.


So peaceful


Nearby, the steel gazebo at Lou Neff Point offers a nice vista of downtown…


…between the trees.


Firecracker fern was still in full bloom, with a sulphur butterfly nectaring there.


Check out those yellow eyes!


Yuccas, agaves, and native flowering perennials and trees grow in terraced beds on the hillside here.


Beautiful yuccas, like exploding fireworks


Regular trail denizen Woode Wood was serenading passers-by.


A little gold adds to the subtle fall color along the trail.


Near the end of my loop, as I crossed the MoPac Pedestrian Bridge, I noticed that an old Live a Great Story sticker continues to hang on. I took a similar picture of this sticker, with a paddleboarder below, a couple of years ago, when we were having a much more colorful autumn (click for the fall glory).


Downtown beyond the trees


Yes, Austin is pretty wonderful!

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.
_______________________

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.

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.
_______________________

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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