Houston Open Days Tour 2014: West Lane Garden

The West Lane Garden, one of six private gardens on tour during the Garden Conservancy-sponsored Houston Open Days on March 29, is a showcase of contemporary design, which nicely complements the low-slung, renovated, mid-century modern house it frames.

Organized around straight-line axes, with garden views that carry through the house, the grounds open with a crepe myrtle bosque, a formally spaced arrangement of trees, often floored in gravel, that hearkens back to French Renaissance gardens. Restrained, formal gardens can leave me cold, but one thing I’ve learned from the Houston Open Days tours over the years is that I love a bosque. (I went gaga over this bosque in 2012.) I’m always reminded of a Parisian park, where chicly attired people-watchers lounge in slatted cafe chairs, a dogeared book in one hand, a cigarette in the other.

And I don’t even like cigarettes.

Clearly a bosque triggers a romantic travel association for me. Anchoring the center of this one is a cylindrical fountain, water bubbling up from the center. Behind lies a loose hedge of snowy, white-flowering azaleas.

A low, curving wall along the right side of the lawn…

…leads the eye to a straight path hedged on either side by azaleas, pink and fucshia on one side, white on the other, all of which were in full bloom that last weekend in March.

Along the azalea path, a view of a sculptural sphere set on the lawn echoes the white of the azaleas.

As the path runs alongside the house, the narrow space, overlooked by interior windows, is given a focal point with another large sculpture. A cattle-panel trellis framed in steel is planted with star jasmine for screening the house next door and providing an evergreen backdrop.

At the back of the house, the path leads to a small covered patio adjoining a bedroom. From the patio, a path of rectangular concrete pavers leads directly to a swimming pool. The eye continues to travel across the pool to a granite, crescent-shaped sculpture backed by a hedge. A double-line of bamboo muhly grasses to the right of the pool softens the space…

…and creates an eye-catching, chartreuse backdrop for the pool as viewed from this angle.

Stepping back and looking to the right, a clean-lined gravel courtyard appears, tucked into a U-shaped area at the rear of the house. A single tree, off-center, spreads its canopy over the courtyard.

Along the other side of the house, a brick wall hiding a utility area (I assume) sports a pretty, diamond-shaped trellis pattern of star jasmine.

A narrow side strip is transformed into a dining patio with the help of a slatted arbor. Wonderful shadow play!

In a shady bed near the street, a simple planting of white azaleas and blue delphiniums adds spring color.

A last look at the bosque, with its own appealing shadow play from the trees.

Up next: The jungle-sculpture garden (over-the-top fun!) at 3965 Del Monte Drive. For a look back at the cool, collected West 11th Place Garden in the Museum District, click here.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Houston Open Days Tour 2014: West 11th Place Garden

Houston has one of the earliest Garden Conservancy-sponsored Open Days tours in the country. This year it was held on March 29, after a cold, drawn-out winter (by Texas standards) that saw two 20-degree dips even in subtropical Houston. I wondered how Houston would pull off a garden tour so early, when gardens in Austin were still looking sleepy. But my friend and fellow blogger Diana and I hit the road anyway, 2.5 hours southeast to Houston, eager to kick off spring with a tour.

Six private gardens were on tour, and as on Houston’s 2012 Open Days tour they were mostly estate-style, lawn-and-azalea gardens that would be particularly appealing to landscape architecture students because of their restrained plant palettes and emphasis on space and a seamless connection between house and garden. They were not gardeners’ gardens.

They were of course lovely spaces, with expansive terracing, tastefully planted borders, beautiful swimming pools, and expensive sculpture. While I enjoyed them, I still long to see more variety on a tour, though I appreciate the difficulty any organizer has in finding homeowner-gardeners willing to open their personal spaces to the ogling public. For that reason, I always applaud tour organizers — volunteers usually — for all their hard work and thank those willing to share their gardens.

I plan to show four of the tour gardens this week, starting with this classic space in the posh Museum District.

The boxwood and lawn of the entry court segues into a pool patio with a narrow border of potted boxwood and colorful annuals and perennials.

The flat, metal-sided building visible just over the fig ivy-covered wall is the Contemporary Arts Museum. What a location for art lovers!

Clipped boxwood in terracotta pots are underplanted with annuals.

The border is planted with golden-hued sedum and ‘Kaleidoscope’ abelia (I think), offset by silvery ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia.

Up next: The strikingly contemporary West Lane Garden.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Visit to Thompson+Hanson nursery and Tiny Boxwoods cafe

Can you travel to another city to see gardens without visiting a local nursery? Yes, but why in the world would you? While Diana and I were in Houston last Saturday for the Open Days tour (pics coming soon), we stopped for lunch at Tiny Boxwoods cafe, which is operated by and located on the beautiful grounds of boutique nursery and elegant garden shop Thompson+Hanson.

Thompson+Hanson’s reminds me of now-closed Gardens in Austin. As with Gardens, T+H’s primary business is a design-build landscape architecture firm (which, I was surprised to learn, has an office in Austin too). Their retail nursery, located on Alabama Street, invites you in through a massive arbor topped with what appears to be a rainwater-collection tank. It’s playfully adorned with a collection of sparkly disco balls.

I’m a little infatuated by the idea of disco balls in the garden now.

This is central Houston, mind you — land of urban infill, no zoning, and less parking, but look at the spaciousness of this nursery!

And the classic elegance of its structures and decor

Perfuming the air, a white wisteria is carefully trained along an arbor by the garden shop’s doors.

Elegant pots of flowering plants occupy tables set up throughout the nursery, along with classic or tastefully whimsical garden art and decor.

Everything is beautifully displayed.

The nursery grounds feel surprisingly large for inner Houston, but with a limited selection of plants this is not a nursery for all your gardening needs. It’s where you go to “freshen things up” or add a striking focal point or make your front porch the envy of the neighborhood.

All the plants I saw were healthy and happy — not inexpensive, mind you, but well cared for and temptingly beautiful, like this flowering broom.

Their pot selection is simply stunning…

…with planted examples on display to purchase or just jump-start your own creativity.

There is even a small succulent table…

…and this striking potted aloe for sale.

I’m not sure what this structure is for — maybe classes, maybe parties? The grounds are rentable for weddings and other events.

A gift from my sister, I have a couple of smaller grapevine balls like these.

I noticed a nest-building house finch was treating them like a Home Depot.

More nursery views, with burgundy-leaved Japanese maples standing out amid the fresh greens

What a backdrop the Japanese maple makes for this Quadricolor agave.


This orange-spined potted cactus is pretty cute too.

Potted herbs

And potted, pettable moss

I was quite taken with this fiberglass, faux-concrete star but couldn’t bring myself to splurge on it.

Three sizes included this small one on the brick terrace, artfully surrounded by fallen wisteria petals.

Perfect for the Sissinghurst-inspired white garden

Adirondacks by the door invite lounging. Two women were sitting here with glasses of wine when I first walked by. Now that’s the way to garden shop!

Inside, cool elegance and friendly salespeople

Table settings for garden parties…

…playful decor…

…timeless ornament…

…and pretty faux flowers.

At the other end of the nursery from the garden shop, an inviting lawn surrounded by cafe seating had attracted casual Saturday brunchers, some with small children and smaller dogs, and a line stretched out the door for the upscale cafe Tiny Boxwoods.

Diana and I dithered about it but then got in line. We envied the lucky loungers with their mimosas on the patio on this perfect day.

We feared no one would ever leave so that we could get a seat.

But at last we got through the line, ordered our salad and sandwich, and even found a table indoors by the window. Each table was set with a tiny boxwood, naturally.

Lunch was delicious — totally worth the wait. Although I mostly window shopped, I enjoyed this place. It’s an elegant fantasy, as the Open Days tour gardens were, but it’s fun to dream. And you can enjoy a nice lunch on a beautiful terrace while you’re at it.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.