Read This: Outstanding American Gardens

Nothing teaches you more about good garden design than visiting as many gardens as you can. The Garden Conservancy helps by coordinating public tours, called Open Days, of hundreds of private gardens across the U.S. each year. If you’re lucky enough to live in a region with a regular Open Day tour, or are willing to travel, the tours are well worth your money and time. I regularly attend Austin’s biennial tour and travel for Houston’s and Dallas’s tours when I can.

Now you can pore over photographs from 50 gardens that have been part of Open Days during the past 25 years. Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration: 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy, published late last year (and rather clunkily titled), offers eye-candy sampling of private gardens across the country. Edited by Page Dickey and glowingly photographed by Marion Brenner, the book offers a one-page write-up and a few tantalizing images of each garden. While I might have wished for more in-depth coverage of fewer gardens, the format makes for an enjoyable perusal of a variety of lovely spaces.


Hollister House Garden, Washington, Connecticut. Photo by Marion Brenner

The lion’s share of Open Days tours are held in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, where the Garden Conservancy has always had a strong presence. So it’s not too surprising that Outstanding American Gardens features far more temperate-climate gardens — like the gorgeous Connecticut garden pictured above — than those from the hot and humid South or hot and dry Southwest, the two regions my hometown of Austin straddles.


Stiteler Garden, Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Marion Brenner

Still, my fellow hot-climate gardeners will find 11 gardens from the lower Lower 48 to read about, including the Steve Martino-designed Stiteler Garden, pictured above, which I had the pleasure of visiting in April 2014.


Peckerwood Garden, Hempstead, Texas. Photo by Marion Brenner

You’ll also find Texas’s own Peckerwood Garden, one of a select group of gardens that the Garden Conservancy is working to preserve. I’ve made several visits to Peckerwood over the years. (Coincidentally, I’ve also visited the Berkeley garden of sculptor Marcia Donahue, who created the ceramic bamboo pictured above.)


Ruth Bancroft Garden, Walnut Creek, California. Photo by Marion Brenner

If you’re looking for design inspiration for spring, or just looking to pass the time this winter until the next Open Days tour, you’ll enjoy Outstanding American Gardens. It’s heartening to see so many fine gardens whose owners have shared them with the public over the last quarter-century, helping to build and sustain America’s gardening culture.

Photos courtesy of the Garden Conservancy
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Upcoming Events and News

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Hold the Hose! Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

Have you watched my zippy new book trailer?

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

posted in Books, Design

Modern porch decor on Tribeza’s Interiors Tour


I’ve been on garden tours, and I’ve been on home architecture tours, but I’d never been on an interiors tour until last Saturday. My friend Cat of The Whimsical Gardener and I toured seven homes on Tribeza’s Interiors Tour, and I swooned over all the bold wallpaper, cozy black bedrooms, and modern lighting.

Being garden geeks, at each house we peeked out the windows at the back yards, hoping to see fabulous gardens to go with the beautiful interiors. While nicely landscaped, not one had a gardener’s garden — and yet there were some wonderful gardeny touches on designer Katie Kime‘s screened porch, like these pastel, geometric hanging pots filled with succulent sprigs.


They look like something Los Angeles garden designer Dustin Gimbel would create from cast concrete.


Kime’s porch also had this: a fabulous, oversized moss mosaic, framed under glass like a work of art. I saw it as a dried-plant alternative to trendy — and high-maintenance — vertical gardens.


A closer look. How would you make this? By gluing mosses and other dried plants to some sort of backer board? What would you use that wouldn’t warp outside or be too heavy?

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

Read This: The Cultivated Wild: Gardens and Landscapes by Raymond Jungles


Were a name and profession ever more perfectly matched than those of Raymond Jungles? Like San Francisco nursery owner Flora Grubb and — I kid you not — Austin urologist and vasectomy practitioner Dr. Richard (Dick) Chopp, Miami-based landscape architect Jungles was surely destined to do what he does. Designing plant-rich, tropical and subtropical gardens that bring nature right up to the windows and front door — and even up on the rooftops of high rises and into the plazas of busy shopping districts — Jungles layers native plants into modernist gardens, eschewing minimalism for bold, lushly planted retreats.

Just before Thanksgiving I purchased his third and latest monograph, The Cultivated Wild: Gardens and Landscapes by Raymond Jungles (2015). It tantalizes with 200 pages of eye-candy photos of trickling limestone grottoes, palm-fringed hideaways, and curvaceous swimming pools echoing the sparkling blue sea. Beneath canopies of paddle-like banana leaves and rustling palms, jewel-toned bromeliads stud the understory, smooth-skinned agaves cluster like supersized green flowers, and hummocks of native grasses add pillowy softness. Plants clearly are no afterthought for this landscape architect. They figure prominently in his gardens. So does water. Jungles turns his gardens into watery music boxes, with dripping fountains, lapping pools, and sheeting cascades. Native stone — often, pocked limestone called oolite — grounds his gardens, emerging from the verdant undergrowth like ancient ruins.

The book features 21 gardens, mostly in and around Miami but also in the Bahamas; the West Indies; Monterrey, Mexico; and, surprisingly, New York Botanical Garden and Montana. These include residential gardens, high-rise rooftop gardens, commercial and resort landscaping, and a botanical garden exhibition. Each project is showcased with 10-12 pages of photos and explanatory captions, plus a one-page introduction about site challenges and how the garden is physically experienced. One or two conceptual drawings by Jungles himself are also included for each garden, which are meant to illustrate his creative process. Unfortunately, I found them difficult to decipher, perhaps because they are reproduced at too small a scale for the page. As a layperson, rather than a student of landscape architecture, I would rather have had more photos or descriptive text.

The photos are mouthwatering, with varied views and a nice mix of long shots and close-ups, and the text does a good job of setting the scene, although it’s littered with distracting landscape architecture jargon like “view sheds” and the “programming” of a garden. That quibble aside, the book is a terrific introduction to the gardens of Raymond Jungles for new fans like myself. I first encountered his work when I visited Naples Botanical Garden in Florida, and I’d love to see more. Spring break in Miami, anyone?

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

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