Palms and dinosaurs at McKee Botanical Garden


Two weeks ago, in mid-March, the family and I drove to Orlando for spring break. Before heading home, we stopped in Vero Beach, Florida, for a day at the shore and to visit McKee Botanical Garden. Yes, those are dinosaurs in the garden. Roar of the Dinosaur, featuring the life-sized creations of Guy Darrough, are displayed throughout the garden through May 1. Fun for the kids, no doubt, but I found them distracting. Still, I’d just enjoyed Orlando’s theme parks, so why not?


Happily, there’s plenty to see other than dinosaurs. This small public garden is a resurrected fragment of an 80-acre garden park that attracted droves of tourists from the 1930s through the 1960s. Operated by Waldo Sexton, an eccentric builder and nurseryman, and Arthur McKee, a Cleveland industrialist, McKee Jungle Gardens was famous for a “cathedral” of 300 royal palms, an extensive orchid collection, waterlilies, monkeys, and an alligator, Ole Mac. (The dinosaurs would likely have fit right in.) Disney World stole away its tourism base, however, and the garden was closed in 1976. Developers tore out most of the garden to build condos and a golf course.


Today, thanks to the efforts of locals and a land trust, 18 acres of the garden have been restored, showcasing palms, bromeliads, waterlilies, and other native subtropical and tropical plants.


The place does look a bit Jurassic, doesn’t it?


Richly colored bromeliads glowed in the sunlight during our late-morning visit. In the background, Spanish moss hangs from a tall, spreading oak.


A fallen tree trunk, arched at the edge of a pond, hosted an artful display of bromeliads and other plants.


Powdery blue culms of a beautiful Bambusa chungi


The silky plumes of this tall, grass-like plant caught my eye as well. Anyone know what it is? It’s tiger grass (Thysanolaena maxima). Thanks, Max!


Or this long-stemmed cluster of pink flowers — some sort of begonia?


Another temporary exhibit on display in the garden is a large-scale “stickwork” by artist Patrick Dougherty. Dubbed The Royals and sited amid the remaining royal palms, it’s like an oversized playhouse made of pliable willow branches, many of which showed signs of green-leaved regrowth. Dougherty’s fantastical stick structures last only until weather and time bring them down.


One of Waldo Sexton’s creations is The Hall of Giants, a 2-story wooden clubhouse that resembles something the Swiss Family Robinson would have constructed. A ruin after 20 years of abandonment when the garden shut down, it’s been restored to man-cave glory thanks to a grant from Florida’s Division of Historic Resources.


Sexton’s old bell collection is displayed along the porch eaves.


Inside it’s all elk-lodge timbers and iron lanterns. The crowning feature is a gleaming, 38-foot banquet table made from a single slab of Philippine mahogany. What a tree it must have come from!


Just outside, Sexton’s enormous Spanish Kitchen has also been restored, with room to grill 100 steaks at a time, according to garden lore. Those guys must have had some kind of parties here back in the day. Today the hall and outdoor kitchen are rented out for weddings and other events.


McKee Garden is small enough to see in about an hour, and even though I’m not especially into tropical plants, I enjoyed our visit.


It gave me a sense of Florida’s history, the costs of its rapid development, and the commitment of today’s residents to restoring some of what was lost.

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

TODAY AT NOON: Join me for Coffee with the Author at noon, April 6, at Holy Grounds
KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me about water-saving gardening and host a Q&A with the audience — which I hope will include YOU. Afterward I’ll sign copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!. I hope to see you there for this intimate, lunchtime event. Holy Grounds coffee shop is located in downtown Austin in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street. You can park in the surface lot in front of St. David’s main doors.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Dreamy blues and a few surprises in the garden of Lori Daul


When a gardener urges you to come over to see something in bloom, you know you better say yes. Lori Daul of The Gardener of Good and Evil tempted me into a quick visit last Saturday — not with an apple but with “the last of the daffodils.” Of course, I found a lot more than daffodils to swoon over while I was there, including her always-wonderful collection of potted plants, surrounded by the feathery foliage of California poppies, which were just beginning to open.


Lori’s garden is a study in blue. She painted her ordinary wood privacy fence midnight blue a few years ago, transforming it into a rich backdrop for the greens and yellows of her garden. Blue-painted furniture and blue glazed pots continue the color scheme, which echoes her house color.


When I first visited her garden, back in 2010, it was a sunnier space that Lori had filled with roses. By 2013 (click for pics), as trees shaded her garden and drought took its toll, Lori had begun trading out roses for structural agaves, which add welcome architectural interest to her densely planted borders.


Although Lori has a great eye for foliage compositions, flowers still have a large place in her garden, like these columbines. An aloe bloom spike stands tall in their midst, nearly ready to open.


The same garden bed, from a different perspective. The purple-pink flowers are prairie spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis).


A serpentine lawn serves as a broad path through the back garden. The surrounding blue walls and fencing harmonize with all the greens. In the center of the space, a feathery mesquite (sadly in decline) is a living bottle tree adorned with a handful of turquoise and cobalt bottles.


In the deep, curvy borders around the fence line, Lori elevates many of her agaves in containers, including this whale’s tongue (Agave ovatifolia), to give them more presence.


A variegated American agave (Agave americana ‘Variegata’) adds a little zip with yellow stripes. In the background, you can see Lori’s new contemporary fence — painted blue, of course — which she’s completed on one side of the garden.


Orange bulbine flowers at the base of the mesquite, next to a water pan that I assume Lori puts out for wildlife — or her cat, Killer. Killer?? Well, after all, this is the garden of good and evil.


The gate into Lori’s back garden wows at this time of year with flowering ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine (Bignonia capreolata ‘Tangerine Beauty’) contrasting with the deep-blue paint. Lori encourages the crossvine to drape across the gate, which seems not to impede the gate’s function, as we opened and closed it with no trouble.


The center of the gate is filled with mesh fencing, allowing peek-a-boo views and breezes.


Lori’s sense of humor appears in her containers (she has a collection of half-face pots) and garden art, like this coiled concrete rattlesnake set into the paving of a small front patio, not far from her front door. Mexican beach pebbles laid on edge evoke the rattles on its tail.


Near the front porch, another water pan sits next to a swath of ‘Chocolate Chip’ ajuga in full bloom. In the elevated bed, I think that’s Beschorneria yuccoides ‘Flamingo Glow’ next to a holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum). I wish I’d asked Lori about her beschorneria. It’s a beautiful plant.

But then, so is everything in her Garden of Good and Evil. Thanks for sharing it with me again, Lori. It’s funny that I forgot to take a single picture of the tempting daffodils!

I welcome your comments. If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come meet me at Zilker Garden Festival, Austin, TX, April 2 & 3
Get your gardening mojo on at Zilker Garden Festival! I’ll be at the brand-new Author Booth both days this weekend between 10 am and 2 pm (near the main building entrance), and I’ll be selling signed copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! ($20 each). Zilker Garden Festival is the garden’s only fundraiser (and it needs our support) and offers all-day entertainment, vendor shopping, plant sales, demonstrations, live music, a beer garden and food vendors, children’s activities, a garden train, a flower show, and a docent-led tour of lovely Zilker Botanical Garden. Don’t miss it!

Join me for lunch downtown at Holy Grounds coffee shop and cafe on Wednesday, April 6, at noon. As part of their Coffee with the Author series, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton will interview me and host a Q&A with the audience — i.e., y’all — and afterward I’ll sign copies of The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone!. I hope to see you there for this intimate, lunchtime event. Holy Grounds is located in the main building of St. David’s Episcopal Church at 301 East 8th Street in downtown Austin. You can park in the surface lot in front of St. David’s main doors.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Spring visit to Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery

A few days ago I visited my favorite North Austin nursery, Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery, which is actually located in Cedar Park, just northwest of Austin. As the name implies, HCWG carries pond plants, fish, fountains, pond equipment, and other water-garden supplies. But over the past few years they’ve also really grown their regular nursery offerings, including a nice selection of native and adapted perennials, woody lilies (agaves, sotols, yuccas, etc.), and trees.

Weeping redbuds (Cercis canadensis var. texensis ‘Traveller’) in full bloom were flying out the door while I was there, and no wonder. Isn’t it a gorgeous small tree? I bought one from Vivero Growers last spring, and while mine is still small it’s blooming beautifully right now. A HCWG employee told me she planted one 10 years ago in a hot, dry spot in her garden, and now it’s 12 feet tall by 10 feet wide and needs hardly any supplemental water. That’s a lot taller than my preliminary online research indicated, but when I ran home with her words ringing in my head and took a look, I decided there’s room if mine gets that large. Bring it, ‘Traveller’.


Here’s another beauty


Texas mountain laurels (Sophora secundiflora) are blooming like crazy too, especially the big ones planted in their display gardens.


Thanks to Nathan, HCWG’s staff horticulturist, you’ll always find cool succulents and cacti here. If you’re a risk-taker and have a taste for the unusual, you can even try Marfa-style ocotillo, which I see at right in this image.


I noticed quite a few Civano Nursery plants for sale, which was a fun surprise. I visited Civano Nursery in Tucson a couple of years ago. HCWG must be seeking out desert species to give Central Texas gardeners more options for their dry gardens. Watch the hardiness zone though; some of these need winter protection in our climate.


The pots and plants at HCWG are always temptingly arranged, and the display gardens will make you want to add pergolas and fire-pit seating in your own garden.


I like these wine-colored pots, especially paired with sunny native four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa).


But I bought a blue pot for myself.


I was sorely tempted by these blue square trellises, a welcome contemporary alternative to the traditional fan-style or scrolled trellises available at the box stores.


More blues and a fun-in-the-sun, mosaic-tile bench


I’ve had vines on the brain lately, so I stopped to admire this morning glory…


…and native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)…


…and Lady Banks rose. It’s not really a vine, but it grows like one, only bigger. You’ve been warned.


Australian native kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos) — oh, how I want them to grow here. Has anyone reading this had any luck keeping them alive during our steamy summers?


I love those fuzzy flowers.


Over the years I’ve done a lot of birthday and Mother’s Day shopping at HCWG. They always have fun garden decor, like these metal flowers…


…and stone owls…


…and even bonsai.


If you want to add a fountain or pond to your garden, there’s no place better. I bought my disappearing fountain here, as well as the supplies, fish, and plants for my stock-tank pond.


This large raised pond will be afloat with gigantic Victoria amazonica water lily leaves in a couple of months.


Tower-style fountains create a focal point for now.


A tiered fountain is a classic choice for a Spanish courtyard or Mediterranean-style garden.


Or forget the pump and just add succulents for a dripping illusion!


Succulents are so handsome, no matter where you plant them.


Don’t forget evergreen shrubs for forming the backbone of your garden.


You don’t see a lot of pines in Central Texas because our soil is alkaline, not acidic, so I was drawn to these ‘Majestic Beauty’ black pines. They look gorgeous with the black pots and would be lovely in a Japanese-style garden.


The nursery operates out of two houses on the property, one of which also functions as a gift shop. You’ll find helpful employees and a great selection of plants, not to mention events and classes throughout the year (but no online links to those, for some reason). Go in May and June to admire their water lilies.

I welcome your comments! If you’re reading this in an email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment link at the end of each post.

_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Enter to win a free copy of The Water-Saving Garden this week at Gardening Gone Wild. Or go ahead and order one for yourself, and if you win the giveaway you’ll have a perfect gardener’s gift. :)

Read an excerpt from my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, at Garden Design: “Create the Illusion of Water with Plants: How to use grasses, trees, groundcovers and other plants to evoke water in a dry garden.” Check it out, and let me know if you try any of these creative design ideas.

Do you review? Have you read The Water-Saving Garden? If you liked it or found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

Come meet me at Zilker Garden Festival, Austin, TX, April 2 & 3
Come see me at Zilker Fest between 10 am and 2 pm, on both Saturday and Sunday, at the Author Booth (near the main building entrance), where I’ll be signing and selling my books ($20 each). Zilker Fest offers all-day entertainment, vendor shopping, plant sales, demonstrations, live music, a beer garden and food vendors, children’s activities, a garden train, a flower show, and a docent-led tour of lovely Zilker Botanical Garden. Click here for full details.

I’m on Instagram as pamdigging. See you there!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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