Color-blended garden retreat of designer Barbara Katz: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


Opening the summer issue of Country Gardens magazine a few days ago, I felt an immediate jolt of recognition at seeing, on pages 10-13, one of the gardens we toured during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling. It’s the garden of Bethesda, Maryland, designer Barbara Katz, one of the first private gardens we toured and one of my favorites.


Barbara’s front flower garden, a deep curving border around a small oval lawn, is a traffic-stopper — or at least a stopper of 50 eager garden bloggers. But just wait until you see the back garden!


But before we head to the back, let’s explore the front. My eye went straight to variegated yuccas (‘Bright Edge’?), their lemon-yellow stripes echoed by yellow yarrow, yellow-and-white lantana, and tawny Mexican feathergrass (I think) — a combo that would be at home in Austin.


A curving stone walk leads past shrub plantings to a front porch with red Adirondack rockers…


…and two plant stands with eye-catching succulent combos.


A variegated spineless prickly pear and Agave desmettiana fill one planter.


In the other, a spiny euphorbia stands tall with a paddle plant and Portulacaria afra (thanks for the ID, Diana!).


There was much to see out here, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out on the back garden, so I headed along the side-yard path. No throw-away space here but rather a golden shade garden with hostas, sedge, and a redbud tree (maybe ‘Hearts of Gold’). Dark-green shrubs in the background make the golds pop.


Foliage detail


A few blogger friends stopped here to admire the plant combos too, including Gail, Tracy, and Jennifer.


Entering the back garden, where a generous stone patio bridges house and garden…


…you’re led to a small pond and waterfall…


…that stair-steps down from the top of a 12-foot slope, where a gazebo roof entices you to climb up and explore.


What an oasis…


…and not just for goldfish.


Barbara told us that she’d created this garden for clients who later decided to move. Spontaneously, she and her husband purchased the home in order to acquire the garden. She laughingly told us that in this way she was able to get a professionally designed garden — her own — without having to pay for it.


I doubt she ever sits down in her garden, but this comfortable seating area in the shade of a tall tree is inviting.


Barbara pays careful attention to color combinations, both flowers and foliage. One side of the back garden is planted with an orange, white, and purple color scheme.


Caramel-tinged heuchera, New Zealand sedge, and an orangey peach echinacea. Update: Barbara kindly identified the sparkly white flower as a catmint (Calamintha ‘White Cloud’).


Rusty orange coleus matches a rusty orange planter.


Even the garden art plays into the color scheme.


The other side of the garden features yellow, pink, blue, and maroon plants.


Which is your favorite?


Purple-leaved loropetalum and a purple-pink daylily


Now let’s climb the steps up the slope…


…stopping to admire the falling stream, which looks completely natural…


…and beautiful planters on the steps.


I enjoyed Barbara’s playful garden art, like this lizard seemingly sunning himself on a boulder…


…and this “bottle fly.”


You enter the upper garden via a perfect circle of emerald lawn, a calm counterpoint to the lush garden beds. Behind the pink hydrangeas on the far side of the circle (near owner/designer Barbara in the orange tank top)…


…a path leads to a nearly hidden stone patio and bench. Here are Garden Design publisher Jim Peterson and his wife, Val, chatting with Barbara’s husband.


Tucked amid the hydrangea blossoms, a woman’s face peeks out.


A more-traveled path beckons across the top of the slope…


…leading to a woodsy gazebo.


From here you enjoy a view of the house and lower patio and an upper pond with a bubbling fountain.


This plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) stands tall in a pot near the gazebo (see the gazebo picture, above), so pretty against a burgundy Japanese maple.


Stokes’ aster ‘Klaus Jelitto’ in full bloom alongside a shady birdbath. On her Facebook page, Barbara recently wrote that the aster is “still going strong after 22 years in the exact same spot, with zero maintenance.”


A closeup


A lilac-and-blue lacecap hydrangea harmonizes…


…as do these cute little plants growing in the cracks of a mossy stone path — rose campion?


Looking back to the circular lawn — what a stunning space!


There’s not an inch of this garden that didn’t wow me. I’m thrilled to have been able to visit.

Up next: Scenes from Brookside Gardens and a Patrick Dougherty twig sculpture. For a look back at the whimsical woodland garden of Ellen Ash, click here.

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

Book Giveaway! I’m giving away a copy of a fun new book, Potted, that’ll inspire you to DIY your own uniquely cool garden planters for porch, patio, or deck. Just leave a comment on my giveaway blog post to enter (click the link and comment there), and good luck! The giveaway ends Friday, July 14, 2017.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors 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.

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

Casa Mariposa, Virginia winery, & Merrifield Garden Center: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling

Casa Mariposa

With a garden called Casa Mariposa, you know it’s going to be welcoming to butterflies — and, as it turns out, all pollinators. Tammy Schmitt, head planner of this year’s Garden Bloggers Fling, bravely included her suburban D.C.-area garden on the tour. I say bravely because planning a Fling requires a LOT of time and effort, which only ratchets up in the weeks just before the event. To find time to tidy and fluff one’s own garden in preparation for 100 visitors, all the while making sure everything else is running smoothly, is impressive. I suspect Tammy does not sleep.


Tammy welcomes not just pollinators but human visitors with a whimsical, ribbon-like arbor over her back gate. I didn’t stop to see how she made this, so I’m hoping she’ll chime in on the comments and let us know. Update: Tammy shared her DIY method with me:

“It’s four threaded rods with couplers at the end that fit into an elbow joint that form the ‘Suburban Gothic’ arch. One end of each rod is sunk into the ground about a foot. The lightweight plastic tubing provides more surface area for the vines to cling to, as does the dead wood from the invasive honeysuckle whose roots I dug out after cutting the main stem. Hops and cup and saucer vine are climbing each side. It should be covered by the end of July. This is my own crazy design to solve the problem of ‘I want an arbor but don’t have any room.'”


You walk through into a floral exuberance of coneflowers, daylilies, verbena, zinnias, and more — anything that a butterfly, bee, or other pollinator might find attractive.


See?


Of course, these flowers attract the human eye too.


And gnomes! I think this pretty flower is Rudbeckia ‘Solar Eclipse’ — correction ‘Denver Daisy’. It definitely has wow power.

Stone Tower Winery


On this day, we were bused into northern Virginia’s rolling wine and horse country, and we stopped at a local winery for a catered lunch. Stone Tower Winery sits on a hilltop overlooking fields of grapes and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the hazy distance.


A group of Austin bloggers posed here for a photo: first-time Flinger Cat of The Whimsical Gardener, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, yours truly, and Laura of Wills Family Acres.


Turning around to face the winery, you can see how busy it was, with lots of lunching and wine tasting happening on multiple patios. Bloggers here include new friend Diana Stoll of Garden With Diana and Houstonian Shawn Schlachter of Ravenscourt Gardens, plus Laura, Diana, and Cat.


It was an appealing spot for selfies, even unintentionally goofy ones (thanks, Cat).


I like this one of Diana and Cat relaxing on the bus en route to our next destination.

Merrifield Garden Center


One of those destinations was Merrifield Garden Center in Gainesville, Virginia, which generously put out this delicious spread for us. How nice!


The place is enormous, with lots of garden decor and gift items, like these cactus-themed botanical pillows…


…and charming sun ornaments by Elizabeth Keith Designs (not blazing-hot Death Stars by any stretch), not to mention more plants than you can shake a stick at. After we’d noshed and made our purchases, we were back on the buses and ready for more gardens.

Up next: The beautifully delineated garden rooms of designer Scott Brinitzer. For a look back at the colorful and plant-rich garden of Viginia designer Linda Hostetler, click here.

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, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors 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.

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

Life is beautiful at Moroccan-inspired Tanglewild Gardens


As we roll toward summer here in Austin, this gardener begins to fantasize about decamping for cooler climes, like the Pacific Northwest, a gardener’s paradise. So it was surprising and enlightening to hear Skottie O’Mahony and Jeff Breitenstein, longtime Seattle residents who are now cultivating an exotic, ambitious garden in North Austin, explain why they moved to Central Texas three years ago:

“We needed to move to a warmer and less rainy climate,” they said, and Austin’s long, hot summer (combined with regular watering) jump-starts their tropical-esque garden each spring, encouraging early, lush growth. The couple also hybridizes daylilies — they’re currently growing more than 1,000 cultivars — and they can establish new plants from seed much faster here than in Seattle. So there you go — sometimes the Death Star can be your friend!


When I visited Tanglewild Gardens last weekend with a couple of friends, Skottie and Jeff hospitably invited us into their home, a 1971 split-level that they’ve transformed inside and out with Moroccan-influenced furnishings and decor, and out through the back door onto an expansive, comfortably furnished porch.


White stucco walls and black trim, a tiled roof, and oversized Moroccan lanterns create an exotic mood, even under cloudy skies threatening rain. The porch roof is clad in old cedar boards that Jeff and Skottie repurposed when they tore out an existing fence to build their garden walls. They used the fence boards on their living room ceiling as well, to wonderful effect — and as Skottie pointed out, less waste went into the landfill.


The swimming pool and back porch came with the house, but the white stuccoed walls are their addition, for Moroccan-style enclosure and privacy and to create distinct garden rooms.


String lights traverse the courtyard for evening enjoyment of the garden. Windows in the walls that extend outward from the house are inset with Moroccan-inspired, laser-cut metal panels, allowing air flow and a hint of the gardens beyond.


Antique doors in the walls create beautiful focal points and invite you to explore the rest of the garden. A mirror at the far end of the pool cleverly creates the illusion of another doorway.


Vernonia flower. Skottie says that in Seattle, when you drop something on the ground it grows, but in Texas you’re lucky if half of what you plant survives. Gardening here has been a learning curve, he admits.


Two enormous Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora), native trees with wisteria-like flowers in spring, were here when they bought the house. Not realizing what they were, they almost cut them down until an arborist convinced them otherwise. The ghost lanterns are Halloween decorations that Jeff liked so much he decided to leave them out year-round.


A tiki bar in the pool courtyard is adorned with a flowering desert rose (Adenium obesum) and, in the smaller pot, a Texas touch — ball moss, our native tillandsia.


More desert roses adorn a tray table next to an intricately carved teak doorway.


Let’s step through…


…into the Moon Garden, which is filled with pale-leaved and fragrant, white-flowering plants for evening enjoyment.


A tall, black-painted fence lets the pale plants shine. Tall, shaggy-trunked palms add height and structure, and a tiered fountain anchors a sitting area with benches.


A white-flowering vitex and moonshine-yellow cannas glow in low light.


Three carved figures — Thai rice goddesses — adorn the rear fence.


Beautiful artwork


Another Moroccan doorway beckons here. They had the walls constructed to fit the wooden doorways they’d collected from antique dealers.


Looking back toward the rice goddess figures


Moving on, this part of the garden, just below the pool courtyard, is densely shaded by live oaks, and tropical-looking rice paper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) grows abundantly.


Looking back up toward the pool courtyard


Heading away from the house, you come to their daylily breeding beds, all carefully labeled in raised wooden planters. A garage and shed, which the couple transformed with Thai-style accents like carved wooden panels, tiled roofs, and cedar-board skirting, enclose the space.


More daylily beds plus a cedar-skirted greenhouse


Inside the greenhouse grow flats of coleus cuttings, which they plan to plant once the daylilies are done, to fill the gaps with foliage color.


Walking to the back of their lot, an area they planted just last year, you get the feeling that the garden is even larger than its 1.7 acres. Water is abundant. They have a well, a spring, and a stretch of Tar Branch Creek (visible at lower-right), which sold them on the property. Eager for more gardening space, they left behind a tiny garden in Seattle, a plot the size of their current swimming pool area.


Another porch is visible off the back of the garage.


An upside-down tree, seeming to scuttle like Thing in the Addams Family, makes a sculptural focal point for the far end of the garden. Jeff explained that the tiny iron star affixed to it denotes a special tree in their garden and is one of five they’ve given a badge of honor. When I pointed out that they’ve adopted the Texas state symbol like natives, he laughingly said they were glad to have Texas stars now, to keep up with their Vancouver friends who adorn their gardens with Canadian maple leaves.


Here’s a surprising sight in their garden, one that they inherited with the property: a sword poking right through an old tree! Texcalibur, they’ve dubbed it. It looks as if it was placed years ago in a crotch of the tree or hacked into its trunk, and the tree grew around it, sealing it inside its widening trunk. Or is it a trick, I wondered, with two halves of a sword stuck on either side of a limb to look like it goes through?

Curious to know more, I searched online later to see if anyone had written about a sword in a tree in North Austin and found an article by Mike Cox, complete with a legend about Spanish explorers and hidden gold. In the 2011 article, an unidentified Austinite in his 70s is quoted as saying he saw what looked like an old Spanish sword in a tree near Walnut Creek in the late 1940s, when he was in the 7th or 8th grade. There’s also a Reddit thread that mentions rumors of a sword in a tree, although no one seemed to know exactly where it was.

And now Skottie and Jeff have lucked onto it. Putting aside the improbability that it’s actually a Spanish sword from the 1700s, it’s still got to be pretty old if it was already embedded in the tree back in the 1940s. When I shared the legend with Skottie, he said, “That is wild about the sword tale. Don’t I wish there was gold back there. Mostly what we find while digging is burnt foil and glass. I think the sword points to the former owner’s garbage burning area.” So much for legends, but still, what an interesting thing to find on your property. And imagine the tall tales you could spin yourself!


The real treasure to be found here, of course, is the garden that Jeff and Skottie are making, an exotic eden that evokes Morocco and Thailand with a Texas twist.


Vita pulchra est, Latin for Life is beautiful, is spelled out on their garden shed, and indeed it is. Thanks for the tour, Skottie and Jeff!


Local readers, if you’d like to see their garden yourself, you can this weekend. Tanglewild Gardens is one of four gardens on the Austin Daylily Society’s free tour this Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. You might also like to follow the Facebook page for Tanglewild Gardens.

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

The Austin Daylily Society will host a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tanglewild Gardens and Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Calling all pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors 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.

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

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