Dry-garden lushness: Linda Peterson’s San Antonio garden


Rooftop view of the walled courtyard and front garden. Not a blade of lawn grass anywhere, nor is it missed.

Seeing one of my new favorite gardens requires an hour-and-a-half road trip to San Antonio, but it’s worth every trafficky mile. Linda Peterson, whose dreamy garden I visited last September, invited a few friends over for tea after the San Antonio Watersaver Tour, and I was delighted to be included. Seeing Linda and her beautiful garden again in a different season, plus sitting down to a delicious high tea served by her charming daughters? Yes, please!

Courtyard Garden


Linda’s gray-green stucco home wraps around a large courtyard garden thanks to walls painted the same color. Linda and her husband built their home toward the rear of the property in order to preserve several sprawling, magnificent live oaks. The walls provide back-yard-style enclosure and privacy, and a generous stone patio and curving paths create seating areas and lead you through the space.


Linda led us up to her home’s flat roof via a spiral staircase so we could take in a bird’s-eye view. The perspective allows full appreciation of Linda’s planting style: massed groundcovers and shrubs, carefully pruned to show off their architectural forms. For example, the soap aloes (Aloe maculata) blooming at lower left are kept tidy by pulling out pups (baby aloes) from around their spiny leaves, leaving star-shaped solitary plants massed in a winding “aloe river.”


Panning right, you see a table and chairs in front of a focal-point fireplace, with wood stacked in niches on each side.


Back at ground level by the front door, a pair of metal rhinos greets visitors. Against the green walls of the house, the coral flowers of the soap aloes stand out nicely. The chartreuse groundcover in front may be Mexican sedum.


Agave weberi and prickly pear add year-round structure around a pot-style fountain.


Turning around, here’s what you see as you enter the courtyard.


Real and faux cacti mingle in a bed along the wall.


Succulent wreath on the fireplace


The long view from the fireplace seating. Don’t you just want to lie in that hammock all day?


And now we’ve circled back around to the rhinos. The swoosh of gray river stones is a nice touch, don’t you think? It looks like a stream the animals are about to cross.


Another view of the soap aloes, plus a wavy-armed variegated American agave


Linda collects metal and stone animals to adorn her home and garden. I don’t remember seeing this little armadillo last time I visited.


Linda is disciplined with her color choices, sticking with soft gray-green, ivory, and lavender with occasional pops of yellow. This purplish pink bougainvillea was, perhaps, the brightest hue in her garden.


It grows atop the arbor, offering cheery welcome to visitors.

Front Garden, Right of Front Walk


Winding paths lead both left and right into the front garden from the main walk. Turning to the right, a flagstone path widens into a small patio with a simple wooden bench, perfect for stopping to take in the view. Feathery bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) hides the next-door driveway, and a low cluster of lantana blooms frothily.


Most lantanas have hot-colored flowers: orange, red, gold. These have white-and-pale-yellow flowers that fit nicely into Linda’s restrained color scheme.


Another view. Notice how the gray-green flagstone harmonizes with the house/wall color and the cool colors overall. Details like these give Linda’s garden cohesiveness.


A wider view from the end of the path reveals a mass planting of foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), whose foliage echoes the form of a nearby agave.


Three culvert-pipe planters along the foundation of the house elevate a collection of palms.

Front Garden, Left of Front Walk


Heading left from the front walk takes you past a large agave, flowering society garlic, and more foxtail fern.


Where the undulating arms of a live oak have been preserved via cut-outs in the stucco wall, a rustic picnic table provides a spot to pause and enjoy the scene.


Looking back toward the front walk and arbor, you see more soap aloes blooming. Linda has a lot of different plants, but she also repeats clusters of plants to great effect.


Continuing along the path, a silvery cassia (Senna phyllodinea) blooms in perhaps the sunniest part of Linda’s garden.


A closeup of the cassia flowers and flat, curled seedpods


And one more view of the silvery cassia, balanced with a large, architectural agave


Tucked among the plants, a stone crocodile planter filled with succulents grins like the cat who ate the canary.


A mystery plant with rich purple flowers. Anyone able to ID it? It’s cupflower, or Nierembergia scoparia ‘Purple Robe’. (Thanks, Gretchen, and Linda for confirming.)


One advantage of a gravel garden — Linda’s entire garden is mulched with tan pea gravel — is that it allows you to have open spaces, like the desert. Agaves and other dry-loving plants look very natural in a garden mulched with rock, and open space does too, allowing you to use fewer plants, if you wish. (In contrast, open spaces in a wood-mulched garden never look quite natural.)


Our native golden leadball (Leucaena retusa) displays its yellow pom-pom flowers alongside the driveway.


The flowers are eye-catching.


Another cluster of soap aloes, along with a nicely pruned prickly pear


Variegated American agaves catch shafts of light and seem to glow.

Rear & Side Garden


Alongside the driveway, a potted Arabian lilac (Vitex trifolia ‘Purpurea’) flashes leaves that are gray-green on top and lavender underneath. Potted drought-tolerant plants are a smart choice for a difficult spot with rocky or tree-rooty soil.


A back deck transitions between the house and the rear garden. I love Linda’s treatment of the deck skirting: sturdy wire (the same as on the trellis above) cloaked with fig ivy, which closely follows the wire’s grid pattern. At ground level, a swath of variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’) makes an easy-care groundcover that lights up the shade.


Here’s the view from the deck: a perforated metal lantern hanging from a tree, and a triangular faux-bois birdbath below. A Texas redbud effectively screens neighboring houses from view. Linda also strategically hangs pots of asparagus fern from the wire trellis to block undesirable views.


Back at ground level, a pruned-up hedge of variegated pittosporum turns these sometimes unwieldy shrubs into graceful small trees. Linda treats a number of her shrubs and woody perennials this way, including Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) and rosemary, to great effect. It allows for air movement and visual openness, she explains. Foxtail fern adds feathery texture below.


An umbrella-shaded pair of rockers offers a pleasant spot to sit. Clumping bamboo softens the wooden privacy fence and provides extra privacy from neighboring houses.


The screen of bamboo continues, planted atop a curving berm that softens the back corner. More foxtail fern adds evergreen, fringey texture.


Even a work area at the back of the house is brightened with special touches, like green bottles upended on bamboo poles stuck in pots of ferns and (I think) agapanthus Neomarica caerulea ‘Regina’ (see lcp’s comment below).


On a back terrace, succulents are displayed in pots glazed blue and brown.

Thank you, Linda — and daughters Demi and Sam — for a very special afternoon! Click here to read about my visit to Linda’s garden last September, and here for Rock Rose’s post about the garden and tea party.

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, time TBA. Learn more about water-saving gardening during my talk at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. Get a signed copy of my book after the talk. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

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!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

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

Wildflower season, owlets, and native plant sale at Wildflower Center


When the universe offers a weekend of perfect weather, don’t squander it. Central Texans, if you’re looking for something to do outside this weekend, head on over to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Their spring native-plant sale is being held both Saturday and Sunday, so you can shop for treasures for your garden. Plus you’ll see plenty of wildflowers and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the great horned owl chicks in the entry garden.


I dropped in for a quick visit on Thursday morning and found the meadows of spring wildflowers — the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush — transitioning to summery yellows.


Prickly pear and Engelmann’s daisy (I think)


The bluebonnets may be past peak, but they’re still pretty, and you should find plenty to enjoy.


The main reason I went, however, was for the great horned owlets. Every year a great horned owl nests behind a sotol planted high in a wall niche in the entry garden. I missed mama owl on this visit, but I did get a good look at one of the two fuzzy chicks. And it got a good look at me too.


A guy taking pictures told me he saw mama owl deliver breakfast earlier that morning — a dark-feathered bird, probably a grackle or pigeon. Now and then, as I watched, they seemed to tear at what remained of the carcass.


The pond garden offers attractions other than owls, of course. Like this gorgeous magenta iris.


And ruffly purple irises by the spillway in the wall.


Kids are always drawn to water, and these young visitors were no exception.


In a sunny meadow, pink penstemons stood erect among spring-green grasses and a Lindheimer muhly just putting out new growth.


Fly your pink flags, penstemon!


A quick glance at the spiraling cistern tower in the main courtyard


Columbines with their comet tails, held aloft on delicate stems


More penstemon, with a patch of bluebonnets in the background


Along the shady Hill Country stream, a dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) seems to lift a hand in greeting.


Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) and Texas bluebonnets in stock-tank planters lean together for an embrace in the central Display Garden. These were pretty, but I have to say I thought this area looked a little unloved. A stock-tank pond was listing to one side, and many of the beds seemed a bit paltry. But then again, the Display Garden has never been my favorite part of the gardens. I keep hoping something great will go in here one day.


Aside from that one complaint, I enjoyed my visit and the wildflowers, and I encourage you to put aside your weekend to-do list and get on out there to enjoy it too.

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

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!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

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

Wildflower drive through the Texas Hill Country


Yesterday, under drizzly skies, my mother and I hit the road on a wildflower safari through the Hill Country west of Austin. I try to see the wildflowers at peak every year if we have a decent show (winter rains are the key), and this year it’s about two weeks earlier than usual, thanks to an unusually warm winter.


Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) and Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) have stained the roadsides blue and red along U.S. Highways 183 and 29, between Bertram and Llano.


Where I could pull over safely, I stopped to take pictures, crouching low to shoot across the flowers and capture the rugged hills in the distance.


Texas is the land of pickup trucks, and it’s easy to get a shot of one zooming past the flowers.


Cedar-post and barbed-wire fencing makes an iconic backdrop as well.


Live oaks clothed in spring greens and spiny prickly pear add rugged architecture to a wildflower meadow.


The paintbrush is as bright as the construction signs in the distance.


Pretty!


The paintbrush is definitely having a banner year.


But we saw good patches of bluebonnets too.


Along one roadside, I spotted a few white-and-pale-blue bluebonnets.


More Indian paintbrush


A wider view


From Llano we headed south down Highway 16 and detoured a few miles west so Mom could see Enchanted Rock, an exposed pink-granite dome. For scale, note the car near the bottom of the photo.


As Enchanted Rock’s website explains:

One billion years ago, this granite was part of a large pool of magma, or hot liquid rock, perhaps seven miles below the earth’s surface. It pushed up into the rock above in places, then cooled and hardened very slowly, turning into granite. Over time, the surface rock and soil wore away. Those pushed-up areas are the domes you see in the park: Enchanted Rock, Little Dome, Turkey Peak and others.


See the people at the very top? According to the website, “Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level, and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- or 40-story building.”

I’ve been to the top a few times over the years, although it’s been a while.


Heading back down Highway 16, we soon turned off again on the Willow City Loop, a public road through ruggedly scenic private land, and a popular bike route and wildflower-peeping drive. Plentiful signs warn visitors not to trespass or even park along the road. But on a drizzly Tuesday, traffic was light, and I was able to park the car a few times and stand in the road to take photos.


The loop is a winding, 2-lane paved road — i.e., bikeable — but dirt roads like this one lead off to ranch homes hidden in the hills.


Newly leafed-out mesquites stand among bluebonnets and white prickly poppies.


Along much of the loop, you’re driving through unfenced private land where cattle graze freely. Cattle guards keep them from escaping, but you do have to watch the road for cows.


This one gave us a long look.


We saw a few fields of yellow daisies and majestic live oaks.


I don’t have an ID for this one. Maybe golden groundsel?


This yellow farmhouse enjoys a front yard of bluebonnets, paintbrush, and prickly pear.


One of the most charming scenes is along a ranch property whose fence posts are topped with upside-down cowboy boots.


Boots of every size and color adorn the posts for a quarter-mile.


KE is, I believe, the name of the ranch.


Looks like a place to kick up your heels, doesn’t it?


If you get close to a large patch of bluebonnets, you discover they have a honey-sweet fragrance. I got as close as I could without stepping in them — a Texas etiquette no-no. Plus you might find fire ants or a rattlesnake in there.


The rugged beauty of a Hill Country view is always a treat, but especially in wildflower season. If you’re thinking of going, I’d say you have another week to catch the bluebonnets.

Update: For more wildflower pics — lots and lots of poppies — from a visit to Wildseed Farms on our way home, click here.

For my past wildflower safaris, click these links:
An Easter wildflower safari, April 2015
Wildflower safari in the Hill Country, April 2010
Texas wildflower Bloom Day, April 2010

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come meet me at Zilker Garden Festival, Austin, TX, April 2 & 3
Get your gardening mojo on at Zilker Garden Festival! I’ll be at the brand-new Author Booth both days this weekend between 10 am and 2 pm (near the main building entrance), and I’ll be selling signed copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! ($20 each). Zilker Garden Festival is the garden’s only fundraiser (and it needs our support) and offers all-day entertainment, vendor shopping, plant sales, demonstrations, live music, a beer garden and food vendors, children’s activities, a garden train, a flower show, and a docent-led tour of lovely Zilker Botanical Garden. Don’t miss it!

Join me for lunch downtown at Holy Grounds coffee shop and cafe on Wednesday, April 6, at noon. As part of their Coffee with the Author series, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me and host a Q&A with the audience — i.e., y’all — and afterward I’ll sign copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!. I hope to see you there for this intimate, lunchtime event. Holy Grounds is located in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street in downtown Austin. You can park in the surface lot in front of St. David’s main doors.

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!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

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

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