Autumn stroll around Lady Bird Lake


Autumn rarely sets our trees aflame here in central Texas, and this year’s fall color looks to be more of a dud than usual. But still, you can find a few russet tinges if you squint, especially in the coppery needles of bald cypresses around Lady Bird Lake.


My family and I walked the 3-mile loop between MoPac and the Pfluger Bridge over the Thanksgiving holiday.


Well, they ran and I meandered with Cosmo, taking lots of photos along the way. I love walking here when the weather cools off.


On this gray day, it wasn’t very crowded, which was nice.


Virginia creeper climbing a bald cypress is putting on a mini fall show of its own.


Bald cypress roots, drinking deeply


The cypresses line the hike-and-bike trail like a giant’s hallway.


Yes, I will apparently even take photos of a public restroom if the design is interesting.


The Trail Foundation has really upped its game in the design of public toilets along the trail.


The Heron Creek restrooms, designed by Mell Lawrence Architects, look like monk cowls made of raw steel and board-formed concrete.


Moving on


Turtles! I’m familiar with the red-eared slider, perching below the other two. But what kind of turtle is at the top of the branch? A soft-shell?


Almost at the turning point: the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge


A spiral ramp leads up to the bridge on the north side of the lake, but let’s pause in the Pfluger Circle, designed by Austin’s own Christy Ten Eyck, before we go up. With limestone-block benches around the circle, surrounded by Anacacho orchid trees, palmettos, and other native plants, it functions like a large council ring, one of my favorite design motifs.

Here’s a nice article about council rings, although — surprise! — the author used one of my photos without asking or even linking back to my site, which I wish people wouldn’t do. Respecting copyright (is it yours? If not, ask before using) is easy to do — and the right thing to do.


My rant over, let’s go up the ramp cloaked in fig ivy. Yes, it does seem as if we’re walking backwards, doesn’t it?


Looking down on the circle from the top of the ramp


My daughter is checking her phone down there.


A wider view captures a glimpse of the state capitol in the distance.


Beachy, curvy, wooden side-walls line a portion of the bridge.


Along the main part of the bridge, steel rails allow for views of the water.


Graffiti on the train bridge: Ninja Style Kung Fu Grip, reads one, which I’m sure the guy needed as he hung from the bridge to spray-paint. Never Give Up, reads another with Pac-Man outrunning killer ghosts.


Greening up the bridge are several raised garden beds maintained by volunteers. A couple were a bit anemic, but this one totally rocked.


Well done, Joan McGaffigan!


Back on the trail on the south side of the lake, this bench offers a nice overlook of the historic Lamar Boulevard Bridge — and an Austin-style re-creation of the bridge scene from Manhattan.


Where the trail diverts along Barton Creek for half a mile or so, I stopped on the wooden pedestrian bridge to watch kayakers…


…and paddleboarders.


Looks like fun


A little more fall color


And more orangey bald cypress


I sat in this spot for a little while, admiring the turquoise water of spring-fed Barton Creek and the orange needles and knobby “knees” of a solitary bald cypress.


Kayakers paddled up the creek…


…and, after a bit, paddled back toward the lake.


So peaceful


Nearby, the steel gazebo at Lou Neff Point offers a nice vista of downtown…


…between the trees.


Firecracker fern was still in full bloom, with a sulphur butterfly nectaring there.


Check out those yellow eyes!


Yuccas, agaves, and native flowering perennials and trees grow in terraced beds on the hillside here.


Beautiful yuccas, like exploding fireworks


Regular trail denizen Woode Wood was serenading passers-by.


A little gold adds to the subtle fall color along the trail.


Near the end of my loop, as I crossed the MoPac Pedestrian Bridge, I noticed that an old Live a Great Story sticker continues to hang on. I took a similar picture of this sticker, with a paddleboarder below, a couple of years ago, when we were having a much more colorful autumn (click for the fall glory).


Downtown beyond the trees


Yes, Austin is pretty wonderful!

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.

Visit to Quinta Mazatlan, birding, and Planta Nativa Festival


Texas is a big state, and living in the center of it means that whichever direction you travel, it’s a long drive to the state line. Last weekend, that meant a 5-hour drive to the Rio Grande Valley, where Texas shares a border with Mexico. My destination? Quinta Mazatlan, a city-owned nature and birding center on the grounds of a 1930s Spanish Revival-style estate, where I’d been invited to give the keynote presentation at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa Festival on October 22.


My husband and I drove down on Friday and arrived in time for an early-evening stroll around the grounds. I’d never been to the Valley before (which is not actually a valley but a flat river delta), and I imagined a lusher, rainier climate than Austin’s, with citrus orchards as far as the eye could see. However, while temps are nearly tropical (zone 9b), McAllen is surprisingly dry, with 22 inches of annual rainfall — 11 fewer inches than Austin receives.


The gardens at Quinta bristle with rustling palm leaves, including native Texas palmetto (Sabal mexicana) and imported L.A.-style Mexican fan palms (Washington robusta).


Cacti mingle easily with the palms and other xeric plants.


A dozen or so bronze animal sculptures appear throughout the gardens, including this bird-osaurus sort of creature on a twiggy rebar stand.


The actual birds we encountered were exotic to our eyes, with exotic-sounding names as well, like the chachalaca, a chicken-sized bird that darted around at ground level like a roadrunner, occasionally fluttering into low trees.


Tame and seemingly ready for a handout, the chachalaca may be the center’s mascot.


In an hour’s stroll, we saw many other species as well, including a beautiful yellow-bellied bird called the great kiskadee and circling flocks of whistling ducks, whose whistle-like cries could be heard overhead.


We sat for a while in this boulder-seat amphitheater facing a shallow pond, where birds came to drink as the sun went down.


We didn’t see any of these critters during our stroll, but we kept an eye out, just in case.


I’d love to see a horny toad one day, the state reptile of Texas.


Heron sculpture at a pond


Around back of the main house, we found a charming dance space under the outstretched limbs of a large tree. A wooden stage stands ready for the band, with string lights overhead to illuminate the sandy dance floor.


Entering a gated arch, with tall palms adding Hollywood glamor overhead…


…we found ourselves in a walled courtyard with pergola-shaded seating.


Cantera stone columns support a tile-and-beam ceiling. An in-ground water feature bisects part of the courtyard. This space would be filled with festival guests the following evening.


Bougainvillea clambering along a wall


Another gated arch led to a lawn set up with chairs for my talk. The next day, a big LED screen and stage were set up.


These Spanish-style gates are so inviting.


At the front of the house, an old stone fountain has been converted into a planter filled with succulents and bird of paradise, the latter appropriate for a center that’s a magnet for bird watchers during the big spring and fall migrations.


The Valley is on the migratory flight path for many species, making it a birder’s paradise at certain times of the year. Inside, a board shows what species are currently visiting the grounds.


I was also delighted to see several lovely displays of my books set up in the gift shop!


How nice!


Lots of wonderful gift items were displayed throughout the shop, and we didn’t leave empty handed.


Exploring the mansion, we found South Texas native plants lining the main hall, ready for the next day’s plant sale.


An agave tapestry


The next evening, I headed back to Quinta Mazatlan for a pre-talk book signing while festival attendees shopped for plants, bid on art…


…and enjoyed food and drinks under softly glowing strings lights in the courtyard.


Just before 8 pm, drummers moved out to the stage and began tapping a booty-moving rhythm.


It worked like a charm. People followed the music and took their seats. Some couldn’t resist the beat and were soon dancing in front of the stage.


It was the most festive group I’d ever spoken to, with a velvety sky overhead, an occasional bat swooping silently on the hunt, and a happy crowd interested in new ideas for gardening with less water, more native plants, more wildlife, and more beauty!


I met many interesting people passionate about the native ecology of South Texas while I was there, not least these women who organized Planta Nativa: Carol Goolsby, Environment Education Supervisor at Quinta; Colleen Hook, manager of Quinta Mazatlan; and Betty Perez, owner of Perez Ranch Nursery. (I neglected to get a photo during the festival, but I have this one from a speaking event in San Antonio last spring, which they attended.) Huge thanks to them and other members of the board for hosting me.


I came home with memories of a new and interesting place, new connections made, and even some beautiful homegrown limes — evidence of those citrus orchards I expected! — given to me by a lovely woman named Chris. Thanks to all who came!

Up next: Sightseeing along the Rio Grande, where a hand-pulled ferry still operates today.

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

I’ll be speaking at the Antique Rose Emporium Fall Festival 2016 in Brenham, Texas, on Saturday, November 5th, 1:30-2:30 pm. Come on out to the Antique Rose Emporium’s beautiful gardens for a day of speakers and fun! My talk, with plenty of eye-candy photos, is called “Hold the Hose! How to Design a Water-Saving Garden that Wows.” Meet me afterward at the book-signing table!

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.

Urban meadow and security landscaping at Austin forensics center and police station


How many police stations have landscaping like this? I spotted this raised meadow while driving through East Austin recently and slammed on the brakes to get a better look.


From the street — 812 Springdale Road, in the Govalle neighborhood — you see this along one side of the property: rolling berms with a rusty steel edge resembling rounded waves.


To the left of the berms is the raised meadow, laid out in a contemporary pattern that radiates outward in concentric arcs.


When you walk into the space, it becomes more maze-like, with paths that turn back on themselves as you search for the center.


You have to work your way there…


…where you find built-in benches…


…overlooking what must once have been an intentional water feature but is now just a stagnant, icky pool that’s probably breeding mosquitoes. Maintenance is always crucial to a garden’s survival, and this one seems to be getting just a mow-and-blow treatment these days.


But still, it’s a cool design. I was intrigued!


What’s this unique landscaping doing outside a police substation and forensics center? I went online to find out and learned that the facility was constructed in 2004 with a friendly face for the surrounding neighborhood (you’d never know there was a blood-spatter analysis room and a firing range inside), replacing an older police station surrounded by a blight of security fencing.


Instead of ugly fencing, security from vehicular attack (car bombs? ramming?) is now achieved through defensive landscaping — the rolling berms and elevated, steel-edged meadow.

As TAG International, the design team, explains:

“Security was a major design priority, with the goal of achieving a high level of threat resistance without projecting an unwelcoming image. Many passive security strategies were utilized to deliver heightened security without diminishing the center’s friendly presence in the neighborhood….Landscape features were also designed to protect the facility through the utilization of berms as further vehicle impediments.”


As it happens, this is more than just an updated version of a moated castle.


The landscaping is also a public arts project — and the elevated meadow of native plants is arranged in a fingerprint design as a tribute to the investigative work performed at the police station and forensics center. Cool, huh?

According to the public art directory at NowPlayingAustin, the project is titled “Elevated Prairie”:

“To complement the function of the facility, this earthwork consists of a simple labyrinth in the shape of a fingerprint, composed of low, steel-walled planters landscaped with native Texas grasses. At the center of the ‘fingerprint’ is a small fountain, surrounded by a seating area. Beyond the central planters is an area of low, rolling berms, which echo the fingerprint pattern and radiate across the remaining common lawn areas of the site. Medium: Steel planters, fountain, earth berms, and native landscaping”


Here’s another look at the street view — definitely eye-catching!


The native-plant meadow, while degraded through lack of real gardening attention, is still attractive thanks to the strong bones of the design and regular mowing. Although the planters are overrun with weeds, some of the original native plants are still blooming, like mealy blue sage, attracting butterflies and bees.


Native plants also make up the more traditionally designed foundation plantings around the facility, including bur oak, American beautyberry, and dwarf yaupon. While a bit overclipped, these are holding up well, proving that native shrubs and trees — just like non-native shrubs and trees — are easier to maintain than more gardener-needy perennials, annuals, and ornamental grasses, wonderful as those are.

Do you know of any other defensive landscaping efforts in your city? I’m intrigued by this, and it’s so much more attractive than concrete bollards, a row of boulders, and other typical security landscaping measures.

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

I’ll be speaking at the Antique Rose Emporium Fall Festival 2016 in Brenham, Texas, on Saturday, November 5th, 1:30-2:30 pm. Come on out to the Antique Rose Emporium’s beautiful gardens for a day of speakers and fun! My talk, with plenty of eye-candy photos, is called “Hold the Hose! How to Design a Water-Saving Garden that Wows.” Meet me afterward at the book-signing table!

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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