Exploring Mueller’s Southwest Greenway, public art, and Texas Farmers’ Market


A week ago, my dad and I popped over to east Austin’s Mueller neighborhood for a springtime stroll around the Southwest Greenway. They have some pretty big spiders in those parts!


I love this sculpture, Arachnophilia by Houston artist Dixie Friend Gay, which stands 23 feet tall and straddles the walking trail. Her belly is full of green and blue glass gazing balls! Gigantic agaves add a living sculptural element alongside the trail.


Texas redbuds were in full bloom, and I had to stop and admire each one.


The trail skirts a small lake in the center of the park…


…where we spotted a great blue heron and a few white egrets fishing or frogging, plus lots of ducks.


The Southwest Greenway was planted with native grasses and other Texas prairie plants in partnership with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. In late winter, tawny grasses predominate. But flowering trees are already coloring the prairie landscape, and soon wildflowers will steal the show. In the distance you can see two sculptures by Austin artist Chris Levack, Wigwam on the left and Pollen Grain on the right.


Here’s a closer view of Wigwam, with curving beds of prairie grasses and perennials at its feet.


With mass plantings of native trees and perennials, the Greenway shows how to use native plants in a contemporary way.


I like this tiny formal lawn too, which leads to a bench secluded by native shrubs, ornamental trees, and grasses.


Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) shows off golden, sweet-scented flowers at this time of year.


The spiny, gray-green leaves are pretty too.


Ah, but the early spring glory of flowering redbuds and Mexican plums!


A closeup of Texas redbuds in bloom. Why, I wonder, aren’t they called pinkbuds?


Mueller is a planned community built on the site of Austin’s old Mueller Airport, and some of the original airport structures have been preserved, like this old hangar. Dad and I were happy to stumble on the Texas Farmers’ Market in full swing here, which operates every Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm.


Vendors were selling vegetables, honey, sauces, bread, and more.


And since it was just a few days before Mardi Gras, a band decked out in tie-dye, purple, and beads, the Mighty Pelicans, were playing zydeco and blues. It was a party!


As we headed back to our car, we couldn’t help noticing a bunch of kids on a playing field wearing clear plastic bubbles. They’d run at each other and rebound hilariously. One kid got stuck upside-down and had to be righted with help from his coach.


I later learned it’s called bubble soccer. Who knew?


Near the science-based playspace for kids called Thinkery , we encountered another delightful public sculpture, Lake Nessie.


The glass-tiled sea serpent was created by Arachnophilia artist Dixie Friend Gay.

I love all the public art at Mueller, and the generous park spaces. It’s a fun place for a Sunday stroll.

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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.

New galvanized wall planters hold succulent cuttings


Spring fever has hit! For me, that manifests as refreshing my many pots of succulents, some of which have been inside all winter, others huddled against the house, and others (too big to move) left to weather as they will. If they took a winter hit, I’m not afraid to rip them out and start over. After all, succulents last a long growing season here in Austin, and it’s worth it to buy a few new 4-inch pots each spring to freshen up winter-weary containers.

Even more fun, I’ve been creating new containers with cuttings from winter-hardy succulents that needed a trim, tucking in a few new plants and decorative accents. Kitschy, fairy-garden flamingos stalking through a succulent jungle? Heck, yeah!


But let’s start with the planter. I found three galvanized wall planters at Target a couple of weeks ago, lying forlornly on a back-corner shelf before all the other spring garden stuff came out for display. I’d seen these online and coveted them, but they weren’t available for shipping, and Target’s website indicated there were only a few left in stock at various stores. So I wasn’t expecting to find them, but then I did! At only $8.99 each, I snapped up all three. (And no, I’m not getting paid to promote these. I just like them.) They look like deep-dish pizza pans to me.


The pots didn’t have drainage holes, so I used a hammer and nail to punch a few holes in the bottom of each one. Then I filled them up with cactus/succulent potting soil (you can buy it by the bag at most nurseries), tucked in a few cuttings from my succulents (let them harden off a few days after you cut them, before planting, to avoid rot), topped them with a thin layer of small gravel, and voila! So. Easy.


The copper-and-glass sun and the flamingos came from The Natural Gardener‘s gift shop. Anything can work for an artful or playful accent, though. Maybe a plastic dinosaur? A small Buddha figurine? A vertical piece of driftwood?


Succulents can easily be pulled out and refreshed with new cuttings when they grow too big or get leggy. In our hot climate, be sure to place them in dappled shade or morning sun only. Afternoon sun can fry them.


Here’s where I hung them, over my new galvanized potting bench, also from Target, which I assembled and placed in my side yard. After years of potting over a low table, I’m loving having this taller potting station, and my back is thanking me too. I’ve stashed potting supplies in a couple of galvanized pails with lids, and I’ll be rotating plants and pots through here all spring.

In fact, I’m going outside right now to do a few more pot refreshers. Spring feverrrrrr!

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.

Read This: Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest


After screech owls, hummingbirds are my favorite garden visitors. Zipping around in jewel-toned splendor, these tiny birds with pugnacious personalities are a joy to watch. One of my favorite gardening moments occurred when I was watering some new salvias I’d planted, and suddenly heard a deep thrumming sound, almost a growl. With a jolt, I wondered if an unfriendly dog was coming toward me, and I looked up. A thrill of delight! A hummingbird was hovering just a couple of feet in front of me, face-to-face, its wings fluttering so fast they were only a blur. Apparently deciding I was safe, it darted to a flower and took a quick sip. The salvias were barely in the ground and already they’d attracted a beautiful hummer. It was a magical moment.

If you live in the southwestern U.S. and want to attract hummingbirds to your own yard — or amp up the number of visitors — you’ll be interested in a book I just read. Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest by Marcy Scott (Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2015) appealingly and practically explains how to entice these delightful birds with nectar-filled plants that thrive in the arid Southwest and with design tips for creating appropriate habitat.


Black-chinned hummingbird. Photograph by Dale and Marian Zimmerman.

Scott, a botanist, former wildlife rehabilitator, and garden consultant in Las Cruces, New Mexico, opens with profiles of nine hummingbird species that frequent the U.S. Southwest, an enormous region ranging from Southern California, through Arizona and New Mexico, to the Texas Hill Country and Austin (just barely). Northern Mexico and the southern edges of Utah and Colorado are included too. Beautiful photos of the birds at rest are accompanied by Scott’s engaging descriptions of each bird’s nectaring and nesting plant preferences, feeding and courtship behavior, and migratory range.

Thoughtfully, Scott also covers the dangers posed by proximity to humans, which we need to be cognizant of when we’re enticing them into our yards: domestic cats, windows, improperly maintained feeders, and insect sprays on our plants. I learned that some hummingbird species prefer to nectar on plants at ground level, making them more vulnerable to cat predation.


Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis). Photograph by Lisa Mandelkern.

The meat of the book, in Chapter 5, is a detailed plant guide for attracting hummingbirds to your garden. Scott descriptively profiles 120 plants, including each plant’s significance to hummingbirds; its native range, habitat, and appearance; and how to grow it. A full-page color photo (close-ups, for the most part) accompanies each plant profile.

Desert gardeners from West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona will, I think, find this book most useful. Those in Central Texas, like me, will learn that a number of the featured birds don’t typically travel this far east, and many of the recommended desert plant aren’t suitable for our steamy summer climate. That said, I counted at least 27 plants that work very well for us here and will certainly make your garden more appealing to hummingbirds.


Batface cuphea (Cuphea llavea). Photography by Wynn Anderson.

Whether you’re primarily a birder or a gardener, the book is guaranteed to make you more appreciative of hummingbirds and aware of how our gardening practices (or lack thereof) impact these vulnerable little travelers. As Scott eloquently reminds us:

“[E]ven a tiny oasis of habitat offering flowering plants that provide nectar can mean the difference between life and death to a migrating hummingbird — particularly when crossing broad expanses of mostly barren desert….To spiritual people through the ages, the hummingbird has signified joy, and indeed that is what they bring us. We can make an effort to encourage their favored plants in our gardens so that they might continue to grace us with their magic…”

Disclosure: Rio Nuevo Publishers sent me a copy of Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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

2/25/17: Come to my talk at the Wildflower Center. I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. My talk is called “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” and it’s about creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. The symposium is open to the public. Click here for registration. I’ll be offering signed copies of my books, The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!, after my talk ($20 each; tax is included). I hope to see you there!

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.

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