Turning a neighborhood median strip into a garden


A few years ago I toured Colleen Jamison’s beautiful garden in central-west Austin, and a few days ago I had the pleasure of a revisit. It is still wonderful! But here’s what wowed me before I even stepped foot in her garden: a median strip down the middle of her street that she’s transformed, little by little, into a garden for her neighbors and passersby to enjoy.


Wow, just look at this lovely space, with staggered benches inviting one to rest under an allée of crepe myrtles. Colleen says she started planting the median years ago to block an unwelcome view of trucks parked directly across the street from her house. And then she just kept expanding it.


As you’d expect, the median lacks a water source for irrigation, so Colleen chose tough, mostly native plants that can thrive without regular watering once they’re established, like Mexican feathergrass and crepe myrtle, shown here, as well as retama, Texas mountain laurel, iris, blue mistflower, prickly pear, and agave. (Note: she does water new plants by hand until they’re established.)

Colleen’s eye for design is evident in the repetition and massing of relatively few species of plants, which also makes maintenance easier, and in the way she breaks up the bowling-alley effect of a long, narrow space by zigzagging benches along the length and creating a focal-point mound of blue mistflower in the center of the path.


The blue mistflower mound marks the end of the crepe myrtle allée and the start of a retama allée.


Turning around and looking back toward the middle, you get to enjoy the effect all over again.


So inviting! And so well maintained too.


The allée pathway widens in the midsection of the median to embrace both sides of the street, inviting access.


Directly across from Colleen’s garden, the median is more densely planted in cottage-garden style — the better to hide those trucks! Actually, the trucks may be long gone now, but this was the earliest section she planted, and it’s lush with Texas mountain laurel, prickly pear, iris, and agave. A metal sunflower makes a cheerful accent.


From the median, here’s the charming view of Colleen’s house and front garden. What a gift she’s given to the neighborhood with her own garden and the median garden.


For fun, here are a couple more images from Colleen’s garden, including a ruffled kalanchoe in a mint-green vase…


…and this peaceful side-yard garden with a classical fountain, a pillow-strewn bench for comfortable lounging, and masses of pretty shade-garden plants.

Don’t you wish you were Colleen’s neighbor?

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

Mark your calendar for the Inside Austin Gardens Tour on May 6, sponsored by Travis County Master Gardeners. This fun garden tour occurs every 18 months and features a mix of homegrown gardens “for gardeners, by gardeners,” as their tagline says.

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. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

Talking waterwise gardens, blogging & more on Still Growing Podcast


Have a seat at the kitchen table, and let’s have a chat! At least, that’s how it felt to be interviewed last week by Jennifer Ebeling, host of the popular Still Growing Podcast, for an episode about making water-saving gardens that airs today.


Jennifer Ebeling, host of Still Growing Podcast and blogger at 6ftmama (courtesy of Still Growing)

Jennifer and I weren’t really sitting at the table over a cup of coffee — she broadcasts out of Minnesota and I’m in Texas — but her personable, in-depth questions made for a casual, fun conversation with her about, oh, everything: my recent book The Water-Saving Garden; blogging; my family; how the Garden Bloggers Fling got started (hosted this year in Washington DC/Northern VA; register today!); and goodness knows what else.


Listen to my interview on Still Growing here. If you want to zip right to it, my interview starts at the 18:35-minute mark.


And just for fun, here are a few succulent dishes — very waterwise! — I’m enjoying right now. These do need freeze protection, even in my zone 8b garden, but I put them back outside in between our occasional freezes, and they brighten up the patio.


Also, you might have noticed that I got a little behind on my book review posts this week, but I have three more books to share with you very soon — reviews of Gardenista, Hummingbird Plants of the Southwest, and The Cocktail Hour Garden, so stay tuned! For a look back at my recent reviews of Texas Month-by-Month Gardening, Photographing Austin, San Antonio & the Texas Hill Country, and The Garden Bible, just click on the links.

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 first talk with Scott Ogden 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.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Come hear my talk at the Wildflower Center on 2/25

On Saturday, February 25, I’ll be speaking at the day-long Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) Spring Symposium at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

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. Get inspired by before-and-after photos of native-plant gardens and and creative design ideas for water-conserving gardens!

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!

Here’s the official info from the NPSOT website:

Registration includes entrance to the gardens and a boxed lunch. Pricing will be $55/person, or $50/members of the Society or Wildflower Center. Check-in on the day of the event begins at 8 am and the first speaker will start at 8:45. There will be five presentations:

Reflections on Water. Tom Spencer, best known as the host of Central Texas Gardener, is also director of Texas Living Waters Project. “A general and philosophical reflection on conserving water resources and cultivating a kind of rootedness where we as humans accept our personal responsibility to heal, steward and protect our environment.”

Integrating Native Plants in a High Use, Urban Area. Beth Carroll, project director of The Trail Foundation, will talk about using native plants on the hike-and-bike trails around Lady Bird Lake. “See how one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the U.S. is utilizing native plants in an urban, high-use, naturalized setting; specifically examining the intersection of human users and the needs of a healthy native plant ecosystem in the context of a riparian environment.”

Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens. Pam Penick, Austin-based blogger at Digging and author of Lawn Gone! and The Water-Saving Garden. Pam will have a book signing following her presentation. “A fresh look at creating water-wise home gardens that don’t sacrifice beauty. Get inspired by before-and-after photos of native-plant gardens and Pam’s creative design ideas for water-conserving gardens.”

Texan by Nature. Erin O’Neil Franz, executive director, will present an overview of the Texan By Nature organization. “A united effort of Texas citizens, property owners, and businesses who share a passion for the conservation of sustainable native landscapes, recognizing the tangible benefits of our natural resources for the health and prosperity of our people and land.”

Native Edible Plants: A Taste of Place. Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Wildflower Center. “Research and strong public interest of wild and native edibles are timely today, as it relates to health, history and culture giving humans our sense of place and taste.”

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.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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