Blogger field trip: San Antonio Botanical Garden

A monarch and honeybee share space on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora)

Twelve Austin garden bloggers caravaned to San Antonio on Saturday to visit San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Antique Rose Emporium, with a stop along the way at Madrone Nursery in San Marcos, a native-plant nursery open by appointment only. I had a great time getting to know new bloggers and seeing the sights with those who have become old friends.

San Antonio is an hour and a half south of Austin and shares a similar climate and geography. However, its gardens always seem much more tropical than ours.

I wonder if it’s really that much warmer there in the winter and whether they get more rainfall in the summer. Or maybe it’s simply the aesthetic of what they choose to plant, as Austinites can grow many tropicals as well.

Speaking of big and bold tropical plants, like these orange canna lilies, check out this terrifyingly large praying mantis. It’s part of the Big Bugs exhibit on display through January 3rd. A few years ago, Big Bugs came to the Wildflower Center in Austin; click for my pics.

The garden is located in what I think of as Old San Antonio, the lush, green oasis near the center of town, where the Alamo, the Riverwalk, the zoo, and other gardens can be found. This detail of a formal fountain (turned off, sadly, like all the others due to watering restrictions during the ongoing drought) reminds me of the city’s Spanish missions.

Red hibiscus

Succulents in a simple clay pot

A series of wisteria-draped arbors creates a shady tunnel near the entrance to the garden. I’d love to see this in bloom one day.

Firecracker fern or a penstemon? I’m not sure. Update: Consensus is a penstemon of some sort, perhaps firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii).

Here it is again (on the left), with cigar plant (Cuphea ignea), Gulf muhly grass, and a columnar cactus. What a unique grouping!

We all rushed over to snap pics of a flock of sparrows noshing on grass seeds.

I noticed a lot of chartreuse paired with dark purple or “black” foliage. I think this is duranta in front and purple heart spilling over a wall in back.

Wow, check out this black beautyberry (Callicarpa acuminata). I love the dark wine-colored berries of this variety.

Appropriately named butterfly Clerodendrum (Rotheca myricoides ‘Ugandense’).

What passes for fall color in central Texas appeared to advantage along a small lake. The bald cypresses were turning rusty orange.

Another look

The Japanese garden is smaller than Austin’s Taniguchi Garden at Zilker Botanical Garden, and the pond is dry due to the watering restrictions (were there no fish?). But this expressive vignette of a yellowing Japanese maple and stone lantern caught my eye.

The woven fence that surrounds the garden is beautiful.

Elsewhere in the garden, another Japanese maple in a pot gives a little fall color.

Of course, cacti are perhaps better suited to San Antonio’s climate than Japanese maples, and the garden showcases plenty of them, including this non-native columnar giant.

Looking at this image on my computer, I noticed the bee impaled on one of the spines. I wonder how that happened.

How I love ‘Ruby Crystals’ grass (Melinis nerviglumis).

It grows only about 2 feet tall and is reputed to be drought-tolerant and a heavy reseeder. But I had three little ones in my old garden in full sun that struggled and never did much. Maybe I’ll try it again one day.

Texas sotols shimmer and capture the light.

I’m not sure what kind of cactus this is, but the yellow fruit caught my eye.

They look like miniature pineapples, don’t they?

Yucca leaves

Tender succulents and cacti as well as tropical plants are displayed in several conservatories.


The botanical garden showcases a number of beautiful palms.

Garden sculpture

In one conservatory I noticed this lovely red euphorbia flower.

Persian shield’s gorgeous purple-and-silver foliage adds rich color to a shady garden. This is an annual in Austin.

Like ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, white spiderwort provides an airy, bright border for a shade garden.

Aloes were in bloom in the Old-Fashioned Garden. Aloes are old-fashioned? Funny, they have such a contemporary vibe in Austin.

Tithonia is a favorite of the migrating monarchs.

After seeing the botanical garden we headed over to the Antique Rose Emporium (click for my post about it), where this picture was taken. From left to right, front to back: Jenny of Rock Rose, Laura of Some Like It Hot, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, Caroline of The Shovel-Ready Garden, Meredith of Great Stems, Eleanor of Garden of E, Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil, MSS of Zanthan Gardens, Rachel of In Bloom, Amy of Go Away, I’m Gardening!, and myself right here at Digging. Not pictured: Jenny of Morning Glories in Round Rock, who had to leave early. Thanks, everyone, for coming along and making it such a fun outing!

If you’re curious about last year’s blogger field trip to Peckerwood Garden, click here. And if you’d like more of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, click for my post about a late-summer visit in 2007.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

El Jardin Encantador: Lucinda Hutson’s garden

Ooh la la, Lucinda! Local author and designer Lucinda Hutson, she of the purple cottage in central Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood, welcomes you into her garden with open arms, offers of cuttings, and an exuberance for giving a tour. “Y’all, look at this!” she calls as she leads you through gateways and into hidden gardens. And, “Ta-da! Look what I did here!” She’s totally charming, her enthusiasm contagious.

By chance, I ran into Lucinda in Cheryl’s garden last weekend, and she invited me over for a fall tour. I was delighted to accept and brought along Jenny of Rock Rose, who was visiting my garden yesterday.

I’d last seen Lucinda’s garden in April 2008, when the plants were small with new spring growth. How different to see her beautiful garden in the blowsy glory of fall.

She’d been too busy all summer and too discouraged by the heat and drought to do much gardening, she told us. “God took care of the garden this year.” Well, no wonder it looks so great.

An unknown rose with a lovely fragrance

Lucinda is known for her extravagantly decorated yet intimate Day of the Dead parties.

So I expected to see her home and garden decked out for the post-Halloween, celebratory Mexican holiday. But she didn’t have the energy for it this year, she told us. Still, her garden displays quite a few skeletons and pumpkins.

The yellow spikes of Salvia madrensis attracted our attention.

It’s lovely, don’t you think?

Lucinda converted her long driveway to garden long ago (she’s been gardening here for more than 30 years), and she built a wall across it to create privacy and division of space. A tall arbor draped with blue sky vine and a beautiful metal gate make an enticing entry.

Blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) blooms in the fall and dies back in the winter. Lucinda told us there’s a ‘Don Juan’ rose under here that comes back to life after the sky vine dies back, producing red roses around Valentine’s Day.

A tequila, or blue, agave (A. tequilana) grows by the arbor.

On top of the wall (not pictured) an American agave grows in a planting pocket, and two pups have pushed their way out between the stones.

Entering the back garden…

…you look down a long flagstone path to a glimpse of purple shed (formerly a detached garage).

Immediately on the left is a small sitting area by a mermaid grotto built into the wall.

Along the path, an orange brugmansia echoes the warm colors of the house.

Mermaids and fish are a recurring theme in Lucinda’s “Texican” garden, as she calls it.

A fish pot and another mermaid

This beautiful stepping stone is set amid colored glass in the flagstone path.

Another look at the brugmansia

A Queen’s wreath vine, AKA coral vine (Antigonon leptopus), engulfs another arbor between a greenhouse on the left and the house on the right, creating a tunnel that leads to a vegetable garden. Jenny and Lucinda take in the view.

The purple garden shed has a mosaic-tile eave. Lucinda’s garden is full of creative detail like this. On the left, the vegetable garden has gone to seed at the end of the summer.

A colorful collection of children’s chairs from Mexico hang on the wall of the house, which is painted golden yellow back here. Lucinda is fearless with paint, and her home and garden structures pulse with festive color.

A playful bathtub shrine

Despite our recent cooler weather, many tropicals were still blooming, like this hibiscus.

The trick to making a small garden feel larger is to divide it into “rooms,” as Lucinda has done. This garden gate reading El Jardin Encantador (The Enchanting Garden) leads to a deck at the rear of the house, a detached home office, a “tequila cantina,” and an outdoor shower. The garden just keeps going.

Colorful potted crotons line a pink wall.

This is the side wall of the purple shed shown earlier. I love how Lucinda uses all sides of her house and shed for walls in her various garden rooms, even painting them different colors.

Detail of the cantina-like roofing along the back eave of the house

Patrick’s abutilon

At the very end of the garden, a tequila bottle tree is mulched with corks and edged with more bottles. A metal señor enjoys a swig of tequila too.

An outdoor shower provides a place to clean up after working in the garden.

After an hour or so, it was time to go. Back through the garden to the sky vine arbor…

…and another look at the vine’s beautiful blue flowers, and then we said goodbye.

Thank you so much, Lucinda, for the tour, the plants, and your warm hospitality!

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Inside Austin Gardens Tour 2009: Best of the rest

Pull up a chair in Randy Case’s eclectic garden

I’ve shown you three of the six wonderful gardens on last Saturday’s Inside Austin Gardens tour. Time constraints and harsh midday sunlight kept me from taking as many pictures in the other three gardens, but they were lovely too. Today I’ll show you the features that grabbed me in each one.

Randy Case’s east Austin garden showcases a variety of bold, beautiful plants. I admired this Aloe ‘Pink Perfection,’ which looks a lot like my Aloe striata.

I could hardly tear my eyes away from this Queen Victoria agave (A. victoriae-reginae), a small, slow-growing agave whose mature form resembles an artichoke.

I caught up with Randy, who blogs at Horselips’s Horse Sense, on his back patio, where he was fielding numerous questions and generously offering seeds from his plants to anyone who expressed an interest. I want to point out his patio in particular for its generous proportions. Constructed simply of decomposed granite, the patio bows out from the rear of his house, seamlessly connecting with the rear elevation, and flows into the yard to take up between one-third and one-half of the depth of the garden.

It’s easy to make patios and other hardscaping too small, especially when you love plants and want to leave lots of room for them. But Randy’s large patio illustrates that bigger is better. I bet it seemed enormous when he was laying out the design on his lawn, but it looks just right now, with plenty of room for a table and chairs and space to move around them or just stand and talk—perfectly illustrating the lesson that it’s better to have a generous hardscape than a meager one. It gives definition to the entire garden and invites people out into it. Plus, from a green standpoint, you don’t have to water hardscaping, as opposed to a big, endless lawn.

In the garden of Lindy McGinnis in the Rollingwood neighborhood of southwest Austin, a beautiful heartleaf hibiscus (Hibiscus martianus) blooming in the front garden reminded me that I’ve been wanting to try this plant. Native to warmer parts of Texas, it’s hardy only to 20 degrees, making it perhaps a bit tender for Austin but safe in a warm microclimate.

Like other gardeners on the tour, Lindy is using cattle panel wire creatively in her garden to construct three-sided trellises. I love this idea. Cattle panel is fairly inexpensive and so versatile. It can be purchased at Callahan’s General Store in Austin, but the trick, unless you have a pickup truck, is getting it home; it comes in 10-ft. lengths that are 6-ft. tall. When you get it home you can cut it with bolt cutters to the dimensions you want. Lindy uses plastic zip ties to hold her three-sided towers together and spray-paints them in fun colors. I expect she’s anchored them to the ground somehow.

Here’s a taller orange one supporting a climbing vine. I may make a few of these to support my ‘Senorita Rosalita’ cleomes, which are susceptible to splitting.

In Jessica Winslow’s west-central Austin hillside garden, a meditation house decorated with colorful prayer flags anchors one side of the garden and enjoys a view. When I was there it was filling up with visitors who had gathered for one of the master gardeners’ talks. But for the homeowners I expect it serves as a contemplative retreat. I thought it was lovely.

I had a wonderful time visiting all the gardens on this tour. My thanks to each homeowner for generously opening their garden gates and sharing their creativity with us.

This being Austin, home of a billion garden bloggers, I did make time during the tour for lunch at Thistle Cafe (tasty!) with three of them: Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, Robin of Getting Grounded, and MSS of Zanthan Gardens, who were touring together. And I ran into several others while touring the gardens: Vertie of Vert, Vicki of Playin’ Outside, Jenny of Rock Rose, and Annie of The Transplantable Rose. I know others were touring also, but we missed each other. What a great gardening—and blogging—town this is!

For a look back at my visit to the garden of Eleanor Pratt, plus links to my other posts about the tour, click here.

For other bloggers’ perspectives on the tour:
Jenny of Rock Rose
Meredith of Great Stems
MSS of Zanthan Gardens
Linda of Patchwork Garden

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.