Going waterwise at Rollingwood City Hall


Putting their money where their mouth is, more and more cities that urge citizens to reduce their water usage are replacing thirsty lawns around courthouses and city halls with xeric landscaping. Rollingwood, a tiny city of around 500 homes just three miles from downtown and surrounded by greater Austin, is setting a fine example with its new City Hall Waterwise Garden at 403 Nixon Drive, installed in autumn 2013.


Not every city has the wherewithal to get the famous Ogdens — part-time Austin residents Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden of Plant-Driven Design — to design it, however. Hired by the city, which received $16,000 in donations from residents (about half of the total design and installation cost, according to the Statesman), the Ogdens collaborated with local designer Patrick Kirwin to create a low-water, no-lawn, deer-resistant garden that offers a beautiful example to neighbors trying to cut back on their own water use.


In this era of native-plant appreciation and, sometimes, rigidity, it’s worth noting that the garden is not strictly a native-plant garden. The Ogdens use many natives in their designs, but they are first and foremost plant lovers who use plants from all over the world. The key to using non-natives successfully, as Scott has explained, is to choose plants from climates that are similar to our own. Well-adapted plants add diversity, which is especially welcome in gardens overrun with deer (which often results in a severely restricted plant palette) and to those who crave a little variety in plant choice.


TexasDeb, a Rollingwood resident and blogger at Austin Agrodolce, alerted me to the new garden about a year ago and suggested I visit. Last week, when the bluebonnets were in full bloom, I stopped by and enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the spring-blooming garden. While still quite young, the garden is filling in quickly and should be showy this fall with ‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly and other grasses, salvias, lantana, mistflower, and beautyberry.


The garden harvests rainwater not just with cisterns connected to gutters but with earth-sculpting. A wide, shallow basin in front of the galvanized cistern collects excess water and holds it, giving it time to soak into the soil. Plants that appreciate a little extra water and can handle seasonal flooding are planted in the basin, like grasses, crinum lily, and Mexican summersweet (Clethra pringlei). Dry-loving plants are kept outside of the basin or on the fast-draining rim.


The entire garden is mulched with angular gravel, which wildflowers like poppy love as much as agaves.


Chopped limestone edging sets off the main gravel path, but for secondary paths the gravel flows sans edging from beds to paths, for a unified look. Plant density, subtle berming, and extra-wide paths help people see where they should be walking and keeps them out of the plants.


This seating spiral — a unique take on a council ring — is a cool feature.


Equal parts seating, garden architecture, and art, it’s constructed simply of large limestone blocks, with corners filled with cairns of stacked, flat stones. Five ‘Green Gem’ boxwood balls add evergreen rhythm around the perimeter.


A “lawn” of ‘Scott’s Turf’ sedge (Carex retroflexa), which you can find at Barton Springs Nursery, is filling in under the shade of a large live oak.


The sunny side was abloom, during my visit, with native and adapted wildflowers, which add fast-growing color amid slower but ultimately architectural plants like agave, sotol, yucca, prickly pear, and barrel cactus.


I think this is Agave salmiana, with gray globemallow and Texas bluebonnets.


‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) and bluebonnets — a pretty combo


Wildflower, cactus, and succulent tapestry


Blues, purples, and silvers keep the spring color scheme on the cool side.


Datura and…what is this purple-flowering perennial? Update: It’s Newe Ya’ar sage (Salvia officinalis x S. fruticosa). Thanks for the ID, Linda Lehmusvirta!


A close-up


The bees liked it.


Byzantine gladiolus


Cute cacti


A pink-flowering bauhinia blooms by one of the two large cisterns.


On a rocky hillside, Dioon angustifolium adds a prehistoric vibe.


Pink oxalis — perhaps not planted; it grows wild in my garden — flowers at the dioons’ feet.


Feathery leaves of dioon


From the top of the steps up the hillside, you get a nice view of the sunny side of the garden. Yes, that’s the city hall building — a former residential house, from the looks of it.


Anacacho orchid tree, supported (or protected from deer antlering) by a tepee of cedar posts


Congratulations to the residents of Rollingwood for funding and otherwise supporting the creation of this beautiful water-saving garden. What a great example for other cities to follow.

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

Read This: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

For an area so small, at least by Texas standards — only 790 square miles — the Cotswolds region of southern England is home to an astonishing number of enormous manors and elaborate gardens, each worthy of an episode of Downton Abbey.

In Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds: A Personal Tour of 20 Private Gardens by Cotswolds resident Victoria Summerley, with photographs by Hugo Rittson-Thomas, you get an insider’s view of 20 estate gardens, at least one still owned by descendants of the first owners (from the year 1600!), others rehabbed by new owners interested in bringing history back to life.

And what a lot of history there is. Many of these gardens — or at least the houses — are a couple hundred years old or more.


The disruptions of World War II caused many of these properties to fall into disrepair, and as new owners have focused their attention and wealth to restore them, the expenses and concerns of the modern era mean that the gardens are maintained differently than in years past. As the author points out, where a dozen gardeners might once have been employed, now two or three must suffice. (And oh my, they must be kept busy.) Sustainability and green-gardening practices are also more valued by today’s owners, notes Summerley.


While I’ve never been to the Cotswolds, I’ve had the pleasure of touring American gardens with the author, who’s a regular at the annual Garden Bloggers Fling. A retired newspaper editor and a charming tour companion, Victoria is a keen gardener herself and blogs about her own garden at Tales from Awkward Hill.


Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds is an enjoyable read for anyone fantasizing about a garden tour of England (me!) or who loves the romance of gardens cascading with roses and edged in box or yew. Rittson-Thomas’s gorgeous, evocative photos capture many of the scenes described so well by the author. And even though these gardens are stratospherically out of reach of the ordinary person, there are many design lessons to be learned by perusing the photos, such as the power of creating sight lines, focal points, and garden “rooms” and making the most of borrowed views.


The “secret gardens” aspect of the title may have you conjuring Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. However, these aren’t walled, hidden gardens like Mary Lennox unlocked but rather private gardens open to the public seasonally, or perhaps just once or twice a year. Six of the 20 gardens are not open to the public at all, and so in that sense they are certainly secret.

However secret or open they may be, it’s a treat to be walked through these magnificent gardens by an engaging local writer with a sharp eye for design, and to learn about the passions that fuel the gardens’ current caretakers.

Photographs copyright © Hugo Rittson-Thomas 2015

Disclosure: Quarto Publishing Group USA sent me a copy of Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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

posted in Books, Design

Classical beauty with a modern edge in Sprout’s Rollingwood Garden


I’ve been fortunate this spring to visit a number of new-to-me gardens. One of my favorites is this one, the creation of talented landscape architect Jackson Broussard of Sprout. Located in the Rollingwood neighborhood, the garden is a refresh of an existing garden that, according to Jackson, had plenty of cottage color but not much structure or interest once the flowers faded.


To provide structure and year-round appeal, Jackson carved out space for a dining patio in the heart of the garden. Low limestone walls define the space and offer extra seating as well as a place to display potted plants (see top picture). In the center, a farmhouse table and chairs invite relaxation and al fresco dining. The space is roofed with an arbor of four Bradford pears espaliered to a metal frame — reminiscent of Deborah Hornickel’s Bradford pear arbor. Jackson explained that the ornamental pear’s flexible limbs and fast growth make it well suited to espalier.

The double line of trees, walls, and long table lead the eye straight to an overscaled terracotta urn elevated on a circular plinth and framed by a striking cluster of powder-blue Yucca rostrata. It’s a stunning composition.


The structure and openness of the dining patio — amid a lushly planted garden — draws the eye wherever you stand. Here’s the view from the back gate, looking across a tapestry-style shade garden.


And a little closer, with roses in the foreground


Those yuccas, though! They’re like blue fireworks exploding above blooming aloes and poppies. The brick wall at the end of the path separates the garden from the pool patio behind the house. The seclusion creates a secret-garden mood.


Entering the garden from the gate by the house, the urn is the focal point.


Throughout the flowering perennials and annuals, evergreens like blue nolina (Nolina nelsonii) add structure and beauty that doesn’t fade away in winter.


More blue nolinas mingling with poppies, roses, and iris. Italian cypresses add vertical punctuation.


Poppies along the path


And looking the other direction


A metal raven holds a colored stone in its beak atop a round pedestal, with blue nolina leaves in the foreground.


Flowering roses add romance and spring color.


Curving along the back of the garden, the path is edged with pink phlox and false foxglove penstemon (I think) Chinese foxglove (Rehmannia elata). A clipped boxwood in a terracotta pot makes a classical accent.


A close-up of the false foxglove penstemon Chinese foxglove


The main path bisects the garden, with the shade tapestry and pear-arbor patio on the left and the sunny flower garden on the right.


The shade garden is spectacular, with a lushness usually reserved for more-temperate climates. Red amaryllis blazes in the foreground.


Shades of green, with a pop of red, and a killer focal point


Dwarf Japanese maple, persicaria, and leopard plant make up the tapestry of foliage in the shade garden, with amaryllis sprinkled throughout, some in bud and some in flower.


The back gate offers a sneak peek of the garden inside.

My thanks to the owners and to Jackson Broussard of Sprout for allowing me to visit and share this beautiful garden with you!

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