Houston Open Days Tour 2014: West Lane Garden


The West Lane Garden, one of six private gardens on tour during the Garden Conservancy-sponsored Houston Open Days on March 29, is a showcase of contemporary design, which nicely complements the low-slung, renovated, mid-century modern house it frames.

Organized around straight-line axes, with garden views that carry through the house, the grounds open with a crepe myrtle bosque, a formally spaced arrangement of trees, often floored in gravel, that hearkens back to French Renaissance gardens. Restrained, formal gardens can leave me cold, but one thing I’ve learned from the Houston Open Days tours over the years is that I love a bosque. (I went gaga over this bosque in 2012.) I’m always reminded of a Parisian park, where chicly attired people-watchers lounge in slatted cafe chairs, a dogeared book in one hand, a cigarette in the other.

And I don’t even like cigarettes.

Clearly a bosque triggers a romantic travel association for me. Anchoring the center of this one is a cylindrical fountain, water bubbling up from the center. Behind lies a loose hedge of snowy, white-flowering azaleas.


A low, curving wall along the right side of the lawn…


…leads the eye to a straight path hedged on either side by azaleas, pink and fucshia on one side, white on the other, all of which were in full bloom that last weekend in March.


Along the azalea path, a view of a sculptural sphere set on the lawn echoes the white of the azaleas.


As the path runs alongside the house, the narrow space, overlooked by interior windows, is given a focal point with another large sculpture. A cattle-panel trellis framed in steel is planted with star jasmine for screening the house next door and providing an evergreen backdrop.


At the back of the house, the path leads to a small covered patio adjoining a bedroom. From the patio, a path of rectangular concrete pavers leads directly to a swimming pool. The eye continues to travel across the pool to a granite, crescent-shaped sculpture backed by a hedge. A double-line of bamboo muhly grasses to the right of the pool softens the space…


…and creates an eye-catching, chartreuse backdrop for the pool as viewed from this angle.


Stepping back and looking to the right, a clean-lined gravel courtyard appears, tucked into a U-shaped area at the rear of the house. A single tree, off-center, spreads its canopy over the courtyard.


Along the other side of the house, a brick wall hiding a utility area (I assume) sports a pretty, diamond-shaped trellis pattern of star jasmine.


A narrow side strip is transformed into a dining patio with the help of a slatted arbor. Wonderful shadow play!


In a shady bed near the street, a simple planting of white azaleas and blue delphiniums adds spring color.


A last look at the bosque, with its own appealing shadow play from the trees.

Up next: The jungle-sculpture garden (over-the-top fun!) at 3965 Del Monte Drive. For a look back at the cool, collected West 11th Place Garden in the Museum District, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Drive-By Gardens: No-lawn flower garden at Houston Heights bungalow


We’d cruised down Peddie Street in the Houston Heights neighborhood to find the riotously colorful house and garden that locals had urged us to see. But Peddie offers a two-for-one special, and when we spotted this pretty garden across the street from the first one, we got twice as much eye candy.


The khaki-colored bungalow is more restrained than the red cottage across the street, and its garden is more disciplined. And yet it’s still wildly colorful, with hotter hues by the street and cooler colors near the house. Since hot colors attract the eye and cool colors recede into the distance, the effect is to make the front walk look longer than it really is.


A little internet sleuthing reveals that the owner is a garden designer, David Morello of David Morello Garden Enterprises. I like the structure he’s created with low boxwood hedges at the front porch…


…and on each side of the front walk near the street — evergreen “bones” that support the garden through less-flowery seasons.


The public sidewalk setback is vast on this street, basically dividing the front yards in half. Between the street and the sidewalk, the owner widened his flagstone walk with a circle about 8 feet in diameter, creating a welcoming landing that attracts the eye and helps avoid a bowling-alley effect.

On Google Earth, the picture of this house shows a very different yard: no garden, just overgrown trees and lawn between the street and sidewalk, and a tall hedge along the public walk hiding the house and immediate front yard from view. Clearly this is a relatively new garden. The owner opened up the yard by taking out the streetside trees and the hedge and gave it a friendly welcome with the new stone walk. He planted low hedges for structure and plenty of flowers for traffic-stopping color…


…and he laid a small, rectangular patio under a magnolia, providing a place to sit and enjoy the garden. Texas Black gravel paves the arrow-straight pathways through the garden. Strong lines give order to the profusion of flowering plants.


I love that the owner planted Texas wildflowers like these bluebonnets amid his cottage favorites.


Springtime in Texas


I also admired the way the gravel path flows right into the gravel driveway, for a cohesive look. Stone edging helps keep gravel out of the beds.


The cocoa-colored garage blends into the background, allowing the evergreen plants along the driveway to be the stars. Enormous sago palms and variegated pittosporum are low maintenance and green up the space.


I really enjoyed this garden and also the dynamic between the two Peddie Street gardens — both exuberantly flowery, but executed in very different styles. What nice views they’ve created for each other!

For a look back at the colorful cottage garden at 605 Peddie, just across the street from this one, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Interview with Luci Baines Johnson about Wildflower Center’s new Family Garden


Water feature with streams, pond, rocks, and grotto in the new children’s garden

Some of you already know this story. In early 2000, while visiting the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center with my baby daughter and 3-year-old son, I unexpectedly met Lady Bird and her daughter Luci Baines Johnson at the newly constructed Hill Country Stream, into which my son was enthusiastically chunking rocks he’d plucked from the stream’s edge. Though starstruck to see Lady Bird in her namesake garden, I was also red-faced at being caught in a bad parenting moment. At her brand-new stream, no less! Lady Bird graciously pretended not to have seen and merely inquired about the children’s ages, exclaimed over the baby, and asked whether we were enjoying the garden.

My kids at the Wildflower Center in 2001

The kids and I loved our Wildflower Center visits over the years, and from their toddlerhood through middle-school years we came to know the garden well — and even learned not to chunk rocks there. But I would have given up my babysitter’s phone number to have access to a garden designed especially for children, where they were invited to get wet and dirty, to explore and climb on things, to make-believe. Of course we did all that in our own back yard, at playgrounds, and along greenbelt creeks (where chunking rocks into the water is a compulsion for little boys), but a dedicated children’s garden that encourages nature exploration would have been a special treat.

Me & my daughter, Wildflower Center 2001


Artistic rendering of the new Family Garden at the Wildflower Center. Image courtesy of W. Gary Smith

Therefore I confess to being a little envious of today’s young parents, who soon will be able to explore with their children the new Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Wildflower Center, which is scheduled to open in May. Designed by acclaimed landscape architect W. Gary Smith, the garden’s play features include a stumpery (fanciful tree stumps), a hedge maze, a stream and pond with a hand pump and buckets nearby, a grotto hidden behind a waterfall, giant birds’ nests with wooden eggs, a spiral wall, and a 1-acre lawn (buffalograss to be eventually overseeded with Habiturf) for running, playing tag, flying kites, or whatever else kids dream up.


A young visitor explores the new water feature.

Senior director Damon Waitt says the Family Garden will be “the garden of yes” for children, with staff “play leaders” on hand to redirect any unsafe activity. One thing you won’t find in the garden are signs explaining what things are and suggesting ways to play with them. Young visitors will be entrusted with exploring in their own fashion and playing creatively in any way that interests them. Adults will be welcomed into the garden as well. In fact, outdoor exercise equipment will be provided so that adults can improve their own fitness while the kids play, if they’re not busy exploring the grotto, maze, and stumpery themselves.

Luci Baines Johnson with husband Ian Turpin. Photo courtesy of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Recently I was invited to attend a press preview of the still-under-construction garden and interview Lady Bird’s daughter Luci, who along with her husband gave the lead gift to establish the garden. Following is our email conversation, interspersed with sneak-peek images from the garden.

PP: In what ways will the children’s garden be a place where kids can cut loose from the traditional garden no-no’s: no picking, no climbing, no stepping?
LBJ: The Family Garden is designed to connect children and families to the natural world. The garden offers more than a dozen interactive features, including a small cave kids can climb inside, porous limestone pedestals for adding water to a creek, giant birds’ nests, a metamorphosis maze, a spiraling wall inlaid with mosaics, and much more.


Giant birds’ nests

LBJ: I took my granddaughter Annie to the Family Garden, and she had a delightful time exploring. You come with preconceived notions of what will be popular, and then you watch folks discovering nature in this really magical spot, and you realize that there are experiences that make your heart sing that you hadn’t anticipated. My hope is that our Family Garden will be a place where families go to play and discover. It’s about learning through discovery instead of formal instruction, and we hope it gives them a sense of excitement.


Spiral wall with Fibonacci number sequence tiled in

PP: How will the children’s garden differ from a nice playground? What makes it a complementary part of the Wildflower Center?
LBJ: What the Family Garden means to the Wildflower Center and Austin is transformation. Every time a children’s garden has been added to a botanical garden throughout the country, memberships explode. The Wildflower Center is on the cutting edge of sustainability, [its focus] the health of the environment. Future generations will come here to discover the wonder and importance of nature.


Upside-down juniper trunks will be part of the Stumpery.

PP: I grew up running around in the woods, wading in streams, and maybe you had that kind of childhood freedom too. But today so few kids, at least in the city, enjoy that level of freedom and exploration. What do you hope today’s indoor-oriented kids will get out of this garden?
LBJ: Mother’s love for the natural world came out of her being born in a rural community and having her mother die when she was five years old. She spent a lot of her early years out in the woods of East Texas. Plants, shrubs, and trees became her instructors and friends. Today our society is much more urban, and children are not outside discovering this world through nature. Nature deficit disorder is a reality.

I believe that the Family Garden will be a magical spot in the Wildflower Center, a place where all ages will enjoy coming. People in Austin love being outside, being in nature. The Family Garden speaks to the child in all of us.##


Covered pavilion and future rain garden

Note: The public grand opening of the Family Garden will be on May 4, and will include food carts, music, and fun activities. If you’re a member of the Wildflower Center (and you should be), you can attend a members’ preview on May 3.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.