Spring stroll at the Wildflower Center


After speaking at the Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium, held at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center last Saturday (and a big thank-you to the organizers and wonderful audience members!), I strolled the gardens with my dad, who was visiting from North Carolina. The early spring show is underway, with Mexican plums and Texas redbuds playing a starring role this week.


You always know when a Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) is blooming because it scents the air with a spicy fragrance, attracting bees and other pollinators.


I miss this cotton-flowered native tree, which I used to grow in my old garden. I like the underplanting of charming golden groundsel too.


A closer look at the golden groundsel (Packera obovata) — like drops of sunshine.


Nearby, the Family Garden was pretty quiet, although a few adults were exploring the play features…


…like the stumpery, where big tree trunks offer balance-beam fun. Bundled branches stand like a chorus line of winter-bare trees.


Sweet-scented Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) climbs a trellis on a limestone wall.


Its golden trumpets glow against a blue sky.


Heading toward the observation tower, I spotted a sword-leaved Harvard agave (Agave havardiana) sending up a bloom spike resembling an oversized asparagus spear.


Dad and I climbed the tower and admired its spiraling stone top from Robb’s Roost, a small rooftop garden halfway up.


We were rewarded with a lovely view of native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) in bloom.


A wider view reveals the handsome, rusty-steel trellis it’s growing on.


Heading back into the tower, here’s a peek at the domed brick roof.


Throughout the garden, Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), our state’s most stunning, spring-blooming tree, is still in glorious bloom, but our unseasonable heat is quickly fading the flowers. Go enjoy some deep whiffs of grape Kool-Aid fragrance now, while you can.


I did!


Last year’s faded foliage, like cinnamon-colored bushy bluestem grasses (Andropogon glomeratus), still stand. But spring blossoms of Mexican plum and other plants are bringing spring freshness back to the garden.

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

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. The upcoming talk with James deGrey David has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

All material © 2006-2017 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.
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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.

RH Austin rooftop garden showcases contemporary outdoor furniture


Three weeks after its grand opening, I climbed the glittering, mirrored grand staircase at the 62,000-square-foot mansion known as RH Austin (Restoration Hardware, rebranded), one of the anchor stores in the new Northside section of The Domain shopping center in north Austin. After a cursory inspection of the posh but oppressively muted gray, black, and white interiors displayed on the lower three floors (y’all know I adore color; they have fabulous light fixtures though!), I reached my intended destination: the 4th-floor rooftop garden terrace, 11,000 square feet of modern patio furniture and accessories beautifully displayed in outdoor rooms accented with artfully potted succulents, mosses, agaves, yuccas, olive trees, and even native cenizo.


It’s a wow-inducing space, a green roof with party-ready cushy seating, statement-making outdoor chandeliers, fountains, and gas firepits.


Arbors and fabric canopies provide a sense of enclosure and shade, making for comfortable browsing even on a warm day. Although they’re for display only, I coveted these swagged, retractable canopies for our baking hot deck. Shade is essential in Texas, and so few quality options are available to homeowners making their own gardens. (Installers in Austin, let me know if you do these! Leave a comment below.)


Scrumptious bowls of succulents and other plants adorned tables throughout the terrace. I asked one of the managers about the plants, and he told me they’re not really for sale, although for the right price…maybe. But generally, he said, the plants are there to enhance the furniture displays and make the place seem like a real patio garden, not just a bunch of furniture, plus they offer design inspiration.


Even sans price tags, I bet they’ll get a lot of people wanting to buy their containers. They’re beautiful.


Wouldn’t you like this to be your “home away”?


I love that circular fire table.


Olive trees and yuccas in pots offer greenery and symmetry.


Another lovely succulent bowl


And a shallow trough planted with moss. I don’t see how this could hold up under the Death Star here in Texas. But maybe in the shade…if you mist it every day?


Notice that RH’s restrained color palette — gray, tan, white, and black — is all that’s offered for outdoor furnishings too. But I don’t mind it in a garden setting, where it feels restful and modern and blends with silver-hued plants like cenizo.


Good outdoor lighting is often overlooked in a garden (including, sadly, my own), but RH has that covered too. Check out these 1970s-reminiscent basketweave-style chandeliers.


You’d need to use them in a covered space so they’d last, but I bet they make a cozy, shadow-casting light.


I’d love to see them glowing at night.


One more look


Another beautifully styled seating area, with potted olives, cenizo, sedum, and other succulents adding living color.


A tire-shaped white bowl displays a froth of green sedum.


I like this zinc fountain too, with enough spillage to mask street noise. Just fill it up, plug it in, and voila.


Agave in a bowl of what looks like weathered tropical hardwoood — great texture.


Candy-colored succulents in another wooden bowl


Contemporary dining tables and chairs that look like they’d be at home indoors, sheltered by retractable fabric awnings


At the center of the green roof, a sunny space is anchored by four gray sectional sofas shaded by giant white umbrellas. Long rectangular fire tables provide a place to set a drink or warm your toes on a chilly evening.


Another view, with Koosh ball-shaped Yucca rostrata shimmering above square black pots.


One last look at the rooftop garden


RH Austin has a couple of ground-level garden terraces too, with more of a courtyard feel thanks to high walls.


All of their outdoor spaces offer plenty of inspiration, especially for gardeners who love modern or contemporary classic style…and who have deep pockets.

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

Austinites and native-plant shoppers, I’ll be at the member’s day Fall Plant Sale at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Friday, October 14. I’ll be signing books from 1 to 3 pm in the Wild Ideas gift shop. Even if you’re not a member, of course you can still come on out and see the gardens and stop in at Wild Ideas. I hope to see you there!

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets are on sale at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

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!

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

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