Hill Country style and a downtown view in the garden of Ruthie Burrus


I see a lot of gardens on public tours, which I enjoy tremendously. But being invited for a private tour of a new-to-me garden is a special treat, especially if the garden happens to belong to an avid gardener making the most of a beautiful, hilltop site overlooking downtown Austin. Such is the garden of Ruthie Burrus, a reader of Digging who recently dangled a fall garden visit in front of my nose, which I snapped up like a trout.


Ruthie’s home sits at the top of a long, sloping driveway, and you approach through a rustic, Hill Country-style garden. Large limestone stepping stones lead past a deep foundation bed filled with salvia and roses and accented by powder-blue ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agaves (A. ovatifolia).


A large trough filled with water sits at the curve of the path, aligned with the front door.


Water dribbles down one corner of the trough onto a holey piece of limestone, making a hollow trickling sound, and then disappears into an underground basin to be recirculated. Maidenhair and other ferns grow at the base of the trough, enjoying the moist environment.


The view across the entry garden. Pink roses add romance to the front walk.


A pair of ‘Little Ollie’ dwarf olives planted in — what else? — olive jars dresses up the front porch.


The entry garden is partially enclosed by a wing made to look like a Fredericksburg-style Sunday house. I didn’t know what a Sunday house was, so Ruthie explained that the German farmers who settled the Hill Country built small houses in town, which they stayed in when they came to town to attend church.


Stepping through the house and out onto the back porch, the skyline of Austin seems almost close enough to touch. Framed by live oaks and a lawn that leads to the edge of steep drop-off, the view is stunning — and what most people notice instead of the garden, Ruthie told me. It would be hard for any garden to compete with that view…


…and wisely Ruthie keeps the garden clean and simple here. A sleek swimming pool accessed by geometric pavers of Lueders limestone lets the view take center stage.


But off to the side, Ruthie cuts loose with a naturalistic, fall-blooming garden of Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), and Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris). Concrete orbs with scooped-out seats make a charming contrast to the squares and rectangles of the paving and pool.


Ruthie likes snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis), which blooms purple in spring, as a groundcover amid the salvias and asters.


The long view across the pool reveals string lights, which I believe Ruthie told me were temporary for a party they were preparing for.


The view back toward the house — such an inviting space.


The modern arrangement of the limestone paving is interesting. The pavers at right seem to float off from the main patio.


The covered porch with a fireplace offers a cozy spot for a chilly day, although it was the opposite of chilly on the day I visited.


A second, open-sided porch offers an outdoor dining spot. Notice the rain chains coming off the corners of the roof?


They channel rainwater into underground pipes that feed two large cisterns on the property. Runoff is collected from various points along the roof of the house, allowing for a lot of rainwater storage.


Beautiful dining table and succulent planter


From the dining porch my favorite feature of the garden comes into view: Ruthie’s gardening haus.


Ruthie told me that it’s constructed from stones collected on the property during the house’s construction. She searched high and low to find the weathered metal roofing.


A ‘Peggy Martin’ rose, also known as the Katrina rose (please click to read its moving story if you don’t know it), arches over the doors. Lavender and santolina fill raised stone beds the line the walk.


The arched doors inspired the whole thing, Ruthie told me. She found the weathered blue doors in a local French antique shop and had the shed constructed around them.


It’s an utterly charming garden shed from every angle. Behind it sits the smaller of the two cisterns.


Looking back you see the dining porch and, at right, a pizza oven.


White ‘Ducher’ roses must glow during evening cookouts.


In front, planted in a large iron cauldron, is a Mr. Ripple agave surrounded by purple-blooming ice plant, a lovely combo.


A wooly opuntia in a textural container on a low wall just begs to be stroked. Did I? Yes, I did.


Ruthie has a flair for creating interesting containers.


Walking back around to the driveway you see the bigger cistern, which holds 10,000 gallons. A pump allows Ruthie to irrigate with it for as long as the water lasts.


Just over its shoulder is a sliver of a view of Lake Austin.


More salvias line the driveway, and an island bed’s dry soil is filled with agaves, giant hesperaloe, blackfoot daisy, Mexican feathergrass, and artemisia on one side…


…and with blue mistflower and what looks like ‘Green Goblet’ agave on the other.


Mexican bush sage was in full flower.


Native rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) was blooming too.


In a shady area I noticed this unusual combo: a red billbergia and grassy Texas nolina (Nolina texana).


As I made my way down the driveway and through the gate I had to take a parting photo of Ruthie’s colorful streetside garden, filled with lantana, native daisies, agave, and even cholla. It’s a wonderful welcome that tells any visitor that a Texas gardener lives here.

Thank you, Ruthie, for sharing your beautiful garden with me!

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

Heather’s Xericstyle garden in San Antonio


Last week I roadtripped south with a few friends to see the gardens of our San Antonio blogger friends, Heather Ginsburg of Xericstyle and Shirley Fox of Rock-Oak-Deer, plus Shirley’s neighbor and gardening friend Melody. I posted about Shirley’s garden here. Today I’ll show you Heather’s garden.


Heather boldly ripped out her entire front lawn when she moved into her suburban ranch house a few years ago. A Canadian transplant, she had a lot to learn about gardening in hot, dry, south-central Texas, but she’s a quick study and soon filled her garden with native grasses; agaves, yuccas, and prickly pear for structure; and flowering perennials for color and to attract wildlife.


As she experimented with lawn alternatives that can survive with only enough supplemental water to get them established, she started a blog called Xericstyle and won over lots of followers with her enthusiasm and her fresh, modern take on the xeriscape garden.


Along with the garden overhaul, Heather and her husband did a lot of work on their house to modernize it, including giving their front porch a facelift with fresh colors and accessories like these mod chairs and zigzag-patterned, orange-and-white pillows. That frothy, silver-green groundcover is ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia.


Terracotta pots filled with sotol, prickly pear, and golden barrel cactus add to the orange color scheme.


The side view


Heather orange-creamsicled her front door, and an orange Circle Pot trailing a Rapunzel-like succulent adds more bold color. And how about this for a fun surprise: Heather hung a string of glass votive holders on the front door…


…and planted them with succulents too!


Butternut squash-colored paint on the brick siding combines well with a grayish orange pumpkin.


A detail on the fence to her back garden


While many of Heather’s potted plants are one-plant-per-pot, like this yellow firecracker fern…


…she’s not afraid of creating combos like this cactus, feathergrass, and silver ponyfoot mash-up.


Heather ripped out all the lawn in back as well, replacing it with a large decomposed-granite patio by the back door that flows into the side yard, creating a sense of openness and room for several seating areas. She broke up the expanse with an island of perennials and potted herbs, accented with a orange-painted bamboo tuteur.

To the left, just out of frame, is an area Heather has been experimenting with, trying to find a lawn alternative that will stand up to kids’ play plus not require regular watering. Frogfruit was a partial success, but a large section suffered this summer in full sun without supplemental water. Heather continues to experiment, and one of the things I love about her blog is how she candidly details these plant trials.


A Mexican Fiesta flag string adds fun color across the back porch. That’s Cat of The Whimsical Gardener snapping me snapping her. I think we have a series of pictures like this. Just beyond Cat you can see a red bench and chairs around a fire pit.


Around the corner of the house are two picnic tables for gatherings of family and friends. A Day of the Dead skull is the centerpiece on one table.


A closer look shows that it’s also a succulent planter.


Hanging on the fence are repurposed exhaust pipes that Heather and her husband turned into succulent and cactus planters.


Heather always has a big, beautiful smile on her face, and she only looks serious here because I caught her explaining something (probably something about worms!). I adore her sense of style, especially that skirt. Thank you, Heather, for taking time off work to give us a tour of your lovely, xeric-style garden! For more, you really don’t want to miss Heather’s star turn on Central Texas Gardener. Her enthusiasm for tough native and adapted plants (and worms!) is contagious; you’ll love it.


Heather and Shirley, plus Rambling Wren, are the only San Antonio garden bloggers I know of, despite the fact that San Antonio is considerably larger than Austin. I wonder why that is? San Antonio is a beautiful city, with more colonial history and old-Mexico influence than you see in Austin. It’s also a particularly adept city at conserving water. In fact, the City of Austin has modeled some of its conservation efforts after San Antonio’s successes. I think Alamo City gardeners have a lot to teach about gardening in drought and heat, and I’d love to see more gardeners there start blogging to share their successes and experiments, and to give interested readers an intimate picture of gardening in central-south Texas.

Up next: Melody’s lushly planted San Antonio oasis of passalong plants framed by rustic cedar arbors and stucco-and-stone structures. For a look back at Shirley Fox’s Hill Country-style garden, also in San Antonio, click here.

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

Nonirrigated native plant garden of Lee Clippard is a foliage lover’s dream


Earlier this month I visited the East Austin garden of Lee Clippard, blogger at The Grackle, and his partner, John. The first fall rains had just arrived, following a relatively mild summer, so their foliage-centric garden of native plants was looking lush and green. I’d never have guessed, if Lee hadn’t told me, that he didn’t once irrigate his garden all summer, aside from a one-time spot watering of a wilting American beautyberry just off the front porch.


Smart plant choices make the no-water garden possible, although of course even these drought-tolerant natives must have water to get established. Once established though, the plants are on their own. Lee chucks the ones that don’t thrive and adds more of those that do.


You might recognize Lee’s garden from my book, Lawn Gone!; I profiled his garden in an early chapter. Lee screened the front garden with shade-tolerant foliage plants like palms, loquat, and Turk’s cap to give privacy and a sense of enclosure to a small gravel patio and to create green views from their windows.


Streetside, all that textural foliage makes for a secret-garden effect. What’s on the other side?


Entering the front garden you see a rectangular gravel patio edged with chopped limestone. A patio set used to sit here, but now there’s just a simple, wooden bench, very Zen.


A triangular stone sculpture sits in a soft patch of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) along one corner of the patio, framed by loquat and paleleaf yucca (Yucca pallida).


It’s a serene, inviting space framed by sedge and yuccas, with leafy shrubs along the perimeter screening the street from view. The stone path at right makes a friendly path for the mailman to cut through from the neighbor’s yard.


Lee gardens with a goal of attracting wildlife, with flowering prairie plants like coneflower where he has more sun along the driveway, and plenty of roosting and nesting places for birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife.


He lets plants stand after they go to seed in order to provide food for birds. A large spineless prickly pear adds structure to this “wilder” section of the garden.


Around back, a wood-slat arbor and gate invite you into the back garden. Spanning the gap between house and detached garage, the arbor offers shade from the Death Star and enclosure for their dog. A lovely cut-stone path set in gravel draws the eye and foot into the space.


To the right, on the wall of the garage, a trough fountain with a small copper spout pours a thin stream of water that seems to cool the sizzle of a hot day.


Ahead, a grilling station is set up near the back door, which leads to the kitchen. Hanging from a corner of the eave, a rain chain directs rainwater, when it comes, to a bowl filled with colorful, egg-shaped river rocks.


Native horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), considered a weed by some, provides a low-maintenance, no-water groundcover.


I think Lee made these concrete bowls, which he uses as succulent planters and to hold pretty river rocks.


The stone path makes a right-angle turn behind the garage, leading to a gravel patio and, farther along, to an herb garden. Here at the corner, terracotta pots of cactus and succulents attract the eye…


…and soften the base of four cedar posts that support a “ceiling” of string lights around the gravel patio.


Lee and John inherited the mortared-brick Celtic knot with the house, but they enlarged the patio space around it to make more room for entertaining. It’s a beautiful focal point for their patio.


They made the 8-foot-long wooden bench themselves. It’s backed by a fringe of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).


Red, recycled-plastic Adirondacks add hot color.


The purple berries of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) add plenty of rich color too.


Enjoy them while you can, before the mockingbirds find them!


The back of the garage is a place for Lee to showcase his potted-plant collection. He and John also use the wall (hung with a sheet, I assume) for showing outdoor movies with friends.


An insect hotel hangs from the corner of the house, part of Lee’s effort to attract bees and other beneficial bugs.


Behind the garage, Lee and John made a small, raised-bed herb garden. Anchoring the space is a signpost pointing to places that have special meaning to them. Wooden chaise lounges offer a place to catch a little sun, and a wooden-slat screen hides a view of the neighbor’s yard. In front of the screen, a tufted lawnette of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) makes an emerald groundcover.


We live in a big country, don’t we? A thousand miles, at least, whether you head for the East Coast or the West.


Pomegranates are ripening.


And lantana is blooming — more fall color that attracts butterflies.


And here’s another look at the Texas sedge lawnette.


I love that quilted look.


A metal grackle is a reminder that this is the home of The Grackle blog. If you haven’t ever read it, do. Lee’s posts are always thoughtful and beautifully photographed, with good information about wildlife and native-plant gardening and Tex-Zen design.

My thanks to Lee and John for sharing their inspiring waterwise garden with me again. Readers, if this has whetted your appetite for more, click for my spring 2012 visit to Lee’s garden. Also, see Lee and John discuss the design of their garden on Central Texas Gardener.

This is my October post for Foliage Follow-Up. I’d love to know what lovely leaves are making you happy in your October garden (or one you’ve visited). Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage plants their due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

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