Evening garden design musings

Dusk is falling more softly as summer wanes, and the lingering evening glow is inviting, even if Austin is still hot and dry. Here are a few random shots from a recent walk-around at dusk. (The rest are in my post about foliage gardening apologies.)

This view emphasizes the arcs and circles that dominate the back garden design. The curvy swimming pool and two small, circular patios at each end were installed by the previous owners. I’ve continued to build on those curves with the stock-tank pond, sunburst paving, and stucco walls. Even the round pot fountain and boxwood balls emphasize the circular theme.

The limestone retaining walls along the back of the house (on the right) were also inherited from the previous owners, and they echo the curves of the pool. The new stucco walls repeat the curves, with modern flair, on the back side of the pool.

The commercial-grade string lights are from the Light Bulb Shop on Burnet Road. I love the soft glow they put out — perfect for parties! Hint: you can buy them online as well as in the store. We had ours wired into an outdoor light switch.

Looking in the other direction, toward the stock-tank pond and back deck. The gravel path leads uphill to the front garden.

Let’s check in on a passalong plant from Reuben Muñoz at Rancho Reubidoux while we’re here. Pilo (Pilosocereus pachycladus; do I have another named plant?) survived the spring deluge and has put on an inch or two of growth. Looking good!

My agave with the deadliest bite, the ‘Sharkskin’, is growing well too. It doesn’t mind heat or drought. I wish I felt the same way. But hey, it’s September, and fall is coming.


All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Foliage gardening apologies: do you do it?

At least once or twice a month I find myself trying to explain my garden to politely interested non-gardeners. A couple of days ago the smiling inquiry was from a new doctor. Upon learning that I liked to garden, she asked the standard question, “What do you grow: vegetables or flowers?”

Well, neither, actually. But instead of trying to explain that I love the design aspect of gardening, and that I choose most of my plants for evergreen structure, foliage texture and form, grassy or fuzzy deer-resistance, and sturdy drought-resistance, I usually offer a pseudo-apology that goes something like this: I have a shady garden, so there really aren’t many flowers, mostly shrubs and grasses. Also I like agaves. This often elicits an Oh, I can’t handle cactus!

When a new friend, or a friend of a friend, learns that I’m a gardener and asks for a tour, I find myself making excuses even as I’m leading them through the gate: it’s not what you might expect, it’s mostly evergreen, I don’t have many flowers.

Am I the only foliage gardener who does this? In a world of showy flower gardens and practical edible gardens, do you ever find yourself feeling shy about your ornamental foliage garden, like an introvert at a party full of extroverts?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy flowers and eagerly anticipate seasonal shows from plants like rain lilies (pictured), oxblood lilies, garlic chives, and Texas bluebonnet. I also value flowers like sweet almond verbena for their fragrance, and those that attract pollinators and hummingbirds.

But flowers aren’t why I garden. I garden to create views that look good all year, with strong bones and interesting foliage. I garden to make enticing destinations out of open space. I garden to create a journey.

Anything else is icing on the cake.

And yet the apologist in me is always ready when that question arises: What do you grow: flowers or food? To be sure, it’s not a question that fellow gardeners or readers of Digging ask. It’s strictly a non-gardener’s question, which tells me that foliage gardening is not on the radar for most people.

In the popular conception of “gardener,” you either fuss over flowers or toil over tomatoes. What about fawning over foliage? Or digging design?

How about you? If you consider yourself a foliage gardener, do you ever find yourself tongue-tied when a stranger asks you about your garden? Or do you apologize for your garden in any other way, even though you may be perfectly happy with it yourself?

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

The Gardener of Good and Evil makes my garden look good

Water visually cools Pam’s back garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

Although she claims both a halo and a pitchfork in her blog name, Lori Daul of The Gardener of Good and Evil is purely a force for good — or at least that’s what I believe after seeing how beautifully she photographed my garden.

The repetition of plants and paving draw the eye to Pam’s stock tank pond. Photo by Lori Daul.

Lori came over one recent morning to take promotional shots for the Inside Austin Gardens tour on October 17. She’s on the tour’s organizing committee, and, as I mentioned earlier this week, my garden will be one of the stops on the tour. See “Oh, Deer!” on the Inside Austin Gardens website.

A stone fish stays cool in the stock tank pond. Photo by Lori Daul.

Lori kindly gave me permission to repost her images, and I’m including her captions too. She captured the garden from quite a few new perspectives I haven’t exploited myself. Regular readers will notice there’s not one photo of Moby or a long shot of the garden shed or the steel-pipe planter out front — in other words, none of my own standby shots. Her photos help me to see my garden afresh!

Pam’s DIY stock tank pond anchors the back garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

I’ll let Lori’s images and captions speak for themselves, like a tour guide, with some follow-up comments from me. Like this: if you’re interested in making your own stock-tank pond, I’ve written a 3-part series to show you how it’s done.

A gazing ball gives a wider perspective of the back garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

This is an homage to East Side Patch garden, where I first saw a gazing ball cradled quirkily by a cedar stump.

An insect hotel adds a pop of bright color and a creative habitat to the front garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

The tuteur and “bee bungalow” are from TerraTrellis.

Some rustic texture in the front garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

The little metal wrens are from The Natural Gardener. I just screwed them onto my cedar bench. Other bird species are available too.

‘Margaritaville’ yuccas punctuate a sedge front lawn. Photo by Lori Daul.

The sedge is Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa). Here’s a post about planting the sedge lawn.

Color echoes in the front garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

That’s a ‘Green Goblet’ agave underplanted with woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata).

Garlic chives begin to unfold in front of a ‘Vertigo’ fountain grass. Photo by Lori Daul.

Spiky and soft contrast in this pairing of bamboo muhly, dyckia, and pink skullcap. Photo by Lori Daul.

It’s actually white skullcap (the foliage is identical, and blooms were sparse). The dyckia are ‘Burgundy Ice’, a cold-tolerant cultivar.

An “octotillo” bottle tree contrasts with the bright orange of Mexican honeysuckle and orange pots. Photo by Lori Daul.

Here’s a post about the ocotillo bottle tree, which Bob Pool made for me.

Blues upon blues. Photo by Lori Daul.

A low-water grouping on the back porch. Photo by Lori Daul.

Fish swim through a potted Sticks-On-Fire cactus. Photo by Lori Daul.

I totally copied this from Debra Lee Baldwin, who posted a photo of her own wine-charm fish on Gardening Gone Wild.

Succulents spill from a DIY cinderblock planter wall. Photo by Lori Daul.

Want to make your own cinderblock wall planter?

A colorful pot echoes the shape of its cactus. Photo by Lori Daul.

A cheerful gnome keeps an eye on the back garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

Blue bottles contrast with the bold yellow ‘Color Guard’ yucca. Photo by Lori Daul.

A tiny potted surprise. Photo by Lori Daul.

Color and form echoes in the back garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

A fun surprise in a pot of feathergrass, chili pequin, and manfreda. Photo by Lori Daul.

Mexican honeysuckle contrasts with the deep purple of a ‘Vertigo’ fountain grass. Photo by Lori Daul.

The hanging Circle Pot is from Potted, one of my favorite out-of-town garden shops.

A feathery arm of Mexican weeping bamboo softens a planting of Mexican honeysuckle. Photo by Lori Daul.

An intriguing low-water combo of sedge and Purple Heart. Photo by Lori Daul.

This was not on purpose. I tried to eradicate the aggressive purple heart before planting the Texas sedge, but we all know how that goes. For now I’m trying to keep a happy balance, which means yanking out handfuls of the purple heart whenever I get a chance.

Twist-leaf yucca and ghost plant make a great low-water grouping in a shady corner of the garden. Photo by Lori Daul.

Native nolina pairs with native Barbados cherry in a semievergreen combo. Photo by Lori Daul.

This Texas nolina has lived in this pot for 12 years (click and scroll down to 5th photo for an early picture). I brought it with me from my former garden, and it’s slowly grown to beautiful proportions, its spaghetti-like leaves cascading to the ground. The Barbados cherry is the dwarf variety, Malpighia glabra ‘Nana’.

Yucca rostrata shimmers against a deep blue backdrop. Photo by Lori Daul.

My thanks to Lori for making my garden look so good, even in the dead of summer, and for allowing me to share her photos! Visit the tour website to check out the other gardens that will be on the tour. There’s a lot to see!

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.