Last week I had the pleasure of visiting a new garden, that of Mireille Engel, a French-speaking Swiss native turned Texan and longtime gardener, whose garden helper, Kathy Christian, introduced me and gave me a tour. Located in the Cuernavaca neighborhood and perched on the edge of the Hill Country, Mireille’s garden surrounds a horseshoe-shaped compound of two houses connected by a breezeway that she shares with her daughter and son-in-law, the architects who designed this unique home.
Sustainably constructed of straw bales, the stuccoed house is bisected by a stone buttress wall, which stretches into the front and back gardens. It was inspired partly by the architecture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Kathy told me.
An arched opening at the base permits views through the wall and is filled, moat-like, with a pond that extends on either side. (See top photo for a side view.)
The lily-filled pond is fed by a tall, stacked-stone waterfall built into the uphill slope, attracting birds and other wildlife with its steady dripping. In the xeric beds along the slope, large agaves and ornamental grasses provide structure and movement.
Kathy explained that dozens of junipers (known locally as cedars) were recently removed from the front garden, and a new native-plant garden designed by Christine Ten Eyck is filling in. Where the junipers once crowded out everything else, now a diverse assortment of natives attracts pollinators and birds and was showing some late-spring color from wildflowers like pink evening primrose. The garden was supplied with an irrigation system to get it established, but the goal is for it to be self-sustaining in a few years.
If you could leap over the roof, you could follow the line of the buttress wall through the house and into the back garden, where it extends into the landscape with a gutter running down the center. It must be a delight to see water spilling down like a waterfall when it rains.
The collection of water is key to this green-built home’s design, actually. The metal roof slopes to the back of the house (pictured here), and gutters collect rainwater and send it via underground pipes to an enormous cistern behind the swimming pool, at the low end of the property. After being filtered and cleaned, the rainwater is reused for drinking, showering, and other indoor use. In fact, the home has no access to city water at all. All of its water is provided by rainwater collection and one small well. Considering there is a swimming pool to keep filled, that’s pretty impressive!
Behind the pool stretches a lovely Hill Country view. The rainwater-collection cistern keeps a low profile in the foreground, its concrete cover painted with a yin-yang design. I don’t remember how many gallons it holds, but it must be a lot. Overlooking the scene towers a female figure, a sculpture called “Rosetta Welcomes the Sun.”
Rosetta is one of several Bobby Bacon metal sculptures that Mireille has collected, and it’s monumental, around 20 feet tall.
Mireille delights in garden art, which is thoughtfully placed throughout the garden. I particularly like this oversized bouquet of metal-and-glass flowers alongside the house. Bluebonnets, ‘May Night’ salvia, and purple heart echo the blue glass of the flowers.
Mexican feathergrass tosses its blond tresses below the vase.
In the lush center of the garden, tough cottage favorites like iris, roses, and fruit trees mingle with natives like Anacacho orchid tree and square-bud primrose.
Grass paths wind through large planting beds.
Along the driveway, toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum) and prickly pear add architectural form and rarely, if ever, need watering.
Colorfully painted walls remind me of the Mediterranean or Mexico…
…giving the garden a hint of tropical retreat.
A terracotta goat pot and yellow wall say Mexico.
But oil rig wall art says Texas!
Metal roadrunner, with a clay lizard in its beak
I adore this spotted manfreda…
…and this creamy rose…
…and the raspberry paint on Mireille’s porch wall.
But the pièce de résistance is her yellow-tiled outdoor shower, complete with a jewel-toned ceramic lizard, whose open jaws helpfully hold the soap!
It’s the creation of ceramist Claudia Reese, a local artist whose work Mireille collects.
What a delightful and unique garden to explore, filled with art, interesting architecture, and native and waterwise plants. My thanks to Mireille for sharing it with me and to Kathy for the introduction and the tour!
All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.