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?

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

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.

Next Garden Spark talk is my own, includes book and garden tour

After hosting two other speakers this spring (Scott Ogden and James David), I’ve decided to offer a talk of my own for my fledgling Garden Spark series. On May 18, I’ll present “Water-Saving Gardens That Wow,” which will also include a signed copy of The Water-Saving Garden and a pre-talk guided tour of my garden.

Update 4/3/17: ***THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT. If you’d like to hear about future Garden Spark talks, please get on the mailing list. Send me an email and let me know you’d like to be added.***

“The recent Texas drought taught us that conserving water in our landscapes is crucially important. But that doesn’t mean our gardening options are limited to cacti and rocks! I’ll talk about design techniques that make the most of natural rainfall and simple ways to conserve water in your garden. I’ll also inspire you to create outdoor spaces that are so beautiful and inviting, it’s hard to believe they are water thrifty.”

Speaker bio: Pam Penick is author of The Water-Saving Garden: How to Grow a Gorgeous Garden with a Lot Less Water and the bestselling Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard. She’s a contributor to such magazines as Garden Design, Country Gardens, and Wildflower, and her photographs have appeared in many books and magazines. On her award-winning blog, Digging, she offers an inspirational mash-up of garden tours, design tips, posts about drought-tolerant plants, and plenty of examples of water-saving gardens. She lives, gardens, and shakes her fist at the plant-noshing deer in Austin.

After the talk, I’ll have light refreshments to enjoy.

What: Garden talk by Pam Penick, “Water-Saving Gardens That Wow,” including a signed copy of her book The Water-Saving Garden and a pre-talk guided tour of Pam’s garden

When: Thursday, May 18, 2017, 7:30-8:30 pm. Pre-talk garden tour begins at 6:30 pm.

Where: Private home in northwest Austin (zip 78759)

How to attend: Send me an email requesting an invitation, and I’ll send you the link to the event page. By the way, email-list subscribers (just ask, and I’ll add you) get advance notification of these limited-attendance events.

Please note: Ticket sales are final. If the event doesn’t fill or is cancelled due to any unforeseen reason, full refunds will be given.

Garden Spark is a speaker series on garden design, open by invitation and hosted in my home. Admission goes entirely to compensate our excellent speakers.

To hear about future Garden Spark talks, send me an email and let me know you’d like to be added to the email list. Talks are limited-attendance, and invitations are sent first to those on the email list. If any spots remain, talks are announced publicly on Digging.

What is Garden Spark?

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 top-notch design speakers out of my home, and I’m calling it Garden Spark!

Garden Spark talks are for anyone with an interest in gardening, garden design, and learning from design experts. You won’t find anything else like this in Austin! I know because I’m always looking for garden presentations geared to avid and experienced gardeners, by well-known designers and authors, and they just don’t come around that often.

Hosting at home keeps down expenses and creates a fun, intimate experience for a small number of guests: just 30 people. To attract excellent speakers I’m paying them a fair speaker fee, raised through ticket sales. For the cost of a movie, drinks, and popcorn, you can enjoy seeing a great garden speaker in a cozy, personal setting. I expect to host 3 to 4 talks per year.

Speakers will be announced on the Garden Spark page as well as in blog posts. Subscribe to Digging to have my blog posts delivered to your inbox. And if you join the Garden Spark email list, you’ll get advance notice of upcoming talks (and I’ll never share or sell your email address).

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.

Garden Spark design talk with James deGrey David, and you’re invited!

Update 2/8/17: ***THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT. If you’d like to hear about future Garden Spark talks, please get on the mailing list. Send me an email and let me know you’d like to be added to the email list.***


Garden of James deGrey David and Gary Peese

I’m pleased to announce the second Garden Spark talk of 2017: Austin landscape architect James deGrey David will present “Looking at Gardens: A Personal View” on March 30th. And you’re invited!


Photo courtesy of James deGrey David

Looking at Gardens: A Personal View

“I like clarity in a garden. I don’t want my eye to wander and get too far ahead. I want it to be clear what I am looking at. Hardscape (paths, patios, terraces, walls, arbors, and other built features) is a key element in leading the eye through a garden. From the moment you step out of a car and onto a path, you are analyzing the home and garden. First impressions matter not only for your guests but most importantly for yourself. I’ll discuss how to build your garden into an exciting progression of spaces that lead you in and out of your home.

Each garden is unique, influenced by climate, soils, shade and shadow, and exposure to light. Hardscape materials can provide a stage for plants and plantings. Outdoor seating and dining areas, pools and water features, and lighting will be interwoven into ideas of garden design. This will all come together as a series of interrelated possibilities for your home and garden.”

Speaker bio: Landscape architect James deGrey David, of David/Peese Design, chaired the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program for many years and founded Gardens, a boutique nursery and home-goods shop in Austin (closed in 2010). An avid plant collector, James and his partner, Gary Peese, have created a masterwork garden in the Rollingwood neighborhood, which they’ve regularly shared with the public on Open Days tours. After three decades of tending their acclaimed home and garden, the couple are in the process of relocating to Santa Fe.

After the talk, I’ll have light refreshments to enjoy while you meet James.

What: Garden talk by landscape architect James deGrey David: “Looking at Gardens: A Personal View”

When: Thursday, March 30th, 7:30-8:30 pm, with a meet-and-greet until 9 pm

Where: Private home in northwest Austin (zip 78759)

Update 2/8/17: ***THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT. If you’d like to hear about future Garden Spark talks, please get on the mailing list. Send me an email and let me know you’d like to be added to the email list.***

Please note: Ticket sales are final. If the event doesn’t fill or is cancelled due to any unforeseen reason, full refunds will be given.

What is Garden Spark?

Garden Spark is a nonprofit speaker series on garden design, open by invitation and hosted in my home in northwest Austin. 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 launched Garden Spark in January 2017. Join the Garden Spark email list for invitations delivered to your inbox 24 hours in advance of public announcements; simply click the link and ask to be added.

Garden Spark talks are for anyone with an interest in gardening, garden design, and learning from design experts. You won’t find anything else like this in Austin! I know because I’m always looking for garden presentations geared to avid and experienced gardeners, by well-known designers and authors, and they just don’t come around that often.

Hosting at home keeps down expenses and creates a fun, intimate experience for a small number of guests: just 30 people. To attract excellent speakers I’m paying them a fair speaker fee, raised through ticket sales. For the cost of a movie, drinks, and popcorn, you can enjoy seeing a great garden speaker in a cozy, personal setting. Admission goes entirely to compensate our excellent speakers.

I expect to host 3 to 4 talks per year. James David’s talk will be the 2nd talk this year, with one more tentatively scheduled for mid-October 2017. Details to be announced later this year.

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

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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