Hillside Swansea gardens: Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling

For 8 years I’ve been fortunate to attend the annual Garden Bloggers Fling, a 3-day international garden blogger meet-up and city-wide garden tour, organized each year by volunteer bloggers from the host city. This year, in early June, Toronto’s garden bloggers hosted the Fling, led by sisters Helen and Sarah Battersby (Toronto Gardens), Lorraine Flanigan (City Gardening), and Veronica Sliva (A Gardener’s World).

I’ll show you my favorites in a series of posts, starting with a trio of gardens in the hilly Swansea neighborhood, which overlooks High Park‘s scenic Grenadier Pond.

Garden #1


A stone house seemingly straight out of a fairy tale stands high in Garden #1, with a whimsical wrought-iron railing created by artist Wojtek Biczysko, a friend of the owners.


The small gravel entry garden contains a seating area and this glorious red Japanese maple. But the big reveal comes in the back garden.


As you enter, you realize you’re standing atop a steep hillside overlooking the pond. A stone terrace off the back of the house is bounded by more creative metalwork by Biczysko, who was actually on hand to answer any questions we had.


The railing resembles living reeds, referencing the pond below.


To the right of the terrace, a gravel patio edged with sculptural tree trunks holds a small fire pit and a kinetic sculpture — also by Biczysko, I think — made of long, crinkled metal strips.


It makes a sort of scrim amid the trees.


Behind the terrace, the garden plunges down a steep hillside terraced with a quarry’s worth of stone. A narrow stair winds its way down.


Lush vegetation fills all the planting crevices. Imagine the challenge of gardening in these steep spaces!


About halfway down, a flagstone path leads along a level stretch with terraced beds on one side and glimpses of the pond on the other.


Another work of Biczysko’s hangs from a tree here: upside-down metal flowers (I believe he said they were lotuses) strung individually for screen-like effect.


The path leads down to the pond, where a second fire pit awaits.


The fire pit, with Adirondacks and rustic stump seating. This space felt Swedish to me, or at least how I imagine a summer place in Sweden to be.


My eye was drawn, however, to a metal sculpture of a leafy pattern colored in with brilliant cobalt. Gail of Clay and Limestone takes a closer look.


That’s when we realized that the metal panel with leaf cutouts is simply backed with painted plywood to add that pop of color.


I’m totally going to try something like this in my garden. You could even change out the background color to suit the season or your mood.

Garden #2


The next garden along the street was this Tudor tucked behind a richly planted front garden.


A pot of nasturtiums picks up the red of a Japanese maple by the door.


Amid a shade garden of golden yews and hostas, a painted metal bird adds a whimsical note.


Following a side path through the front garden, you reach a wooden screen and wrought-iron gate offering peek-a-boo views into the back garden. A dining patio shaded by a yellow umbrella…


…is framed by a small lawn and lush, leafy garden.


Pat Webster of Site & Insight was working the scene too. Pat is a Quebec blogger, first-time Flinger, and talented photographer. Check out her blog for beautiful pictures and thoughtful writing about artful design.


Below the lawn, a sunken, circular stone patio overlooks Grenadier Pond. That’s Andrea of Grow Where You’re Planted on the left and Laurin and Shawn of Ravenscourt Gardens on the right, fellow Texans all. I’m afraid I can’t recall who the man in the yellow shirt is. The man in the yellow shirt is the garden’s designer, Steven Aikenhead. (Thanks for the info, Helen.)


Colorful geraniums (Pelargonium) brighten the edge of the patio.


Looking outward, here is the lovely view. A gazebo at the lower level makes an appealing destination.


Wooden wind chimes hang from a tree.


The stacked stone steps into the lower garden are beautifully crafted, twisting and turning down the steep hillside.


The gazebo offers a shady spot to admire the picturesque pond for a few moments before climbing back up.

Garden #3


The third garden, on a corner lot bordered by two streets, does not enjoy an overlook of the pond and must create its own views. This large flowering viburnum enticed me over.


A classic scene, including a boxwood parterre and a garden arbor, presented itself in the back garden. The boxwood had taken a hit during last winter’s severe cold and was still showing browned foliage. We saw similar evergreen damage all over town during the Fling. I felt for the gardeners, who I was sure had fretted over it. But as we know, the show must go on.


A long deck along one side of the garden overlooks the parterre. At the end, a charming shed terminates the view and stretches into the garden via a columned arbor.


A retaining wall is dressed up with a planted fountain.


A bench anchors the far end of the garden, tucked amid borders of lush foliage.


Andrea admiring a variegated hosta in a row of alliums


A massive rhododendron was blooming in the long border. I like the way it harmonizes with the burgundy Japanese maple in the back corner.

Coming up next: A visit to the home garden of floral designer and micro-farmer Sarah Nixon of My Luscious Backyard.

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

Art and design intrigue in the garden of Syd Teague


Once a month the Austin garden bloggers gather at one of our gardens to socialize, talk plants and design, and do a plant swap. Last Saturday we met up in Rock Rose/Jenny Stocker’s garden, which despite a recent hailstorm and torrential rains was absolutely beautiful. But we were treated to a two-for-one this time because Jenny had arranged for us to visit her neighbor Syd Teague’s inspiring garden.


Located in the Barton Creek neighborhood just southwest of downtown, Syd’s garden stands out with eclectic, art-filled personality, a diverse plant palette, and a gardener’s garden vibe — the best kind of garden to explore. Syd is well traveled, and her art and decor reflect the places she’s been. Starting at the front porch, a fierce, you-shall-not-pass samurai sculpture guards an Indonesian-style bench with a Western-style leather pillow. No matchy-matchy decor here. It’s delightfully eclectic.


The front door gives you a taste of Morocco, with a filigree hanging lantern and a carved door surround with shutter-like outer doors. The sign on the door says Come In.


Walking around the side of the house, I stopped to admire an imposing, dark-stained gate and color-matched chocolate mimosa (Albizia julibrissin). I had no idea this would grow here.


Stone walls display art of all kinds, like this terracotta face…


…and this laser-cut metal sculpture. And check out the lively pattern of stone blocks in the wall.


Along a soft-terracotta wall, a metal trellis holds potted cacti in terracotta pots.


Like many of us living in Flash Flood Alley (central Texas’s nickname), Syd has had her share of runoff and drainage problems. To handle heavy downpours and water flowing in from uphill neighbors, a generously proportioned dry stream leads around the side of the house and into the back garden.


Stone bridges cross the rocky streambed at various points, and pathways venture into a sunny garden of flowering perennials, roses, canna, native daisies, and more, with agaves and yuccas adding spiky, architecture.


A curving row of ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) catches your eye at the edge of an extended gravel wash along the dry stream. Roses and canna add stoplight-red color at left and right, with ‘Peter’s Purple’ bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) in the foreground.


Another view from the back terrace shows how the agaves act as a focal point. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) blooms in the foreground amid grassy bicolor iris (Dietes bicolor).


Looking back along the path, I see that Syd likes red as much as I do. A hot combo of coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), dwarf crepe myrtle, and barberry catches your eye on the right.


Here’s our group a little ahead of me, with Caroline of The Shovel-Ready Garden giving me a big smile.


Syd, in the turquoise shirt, was clearly leading a great tour that was capturing everyone’s attention. I wish I could have heard everything she was saying, but I was exploring at a snail’s pace. A delighted snail.


Aha — another blogger off on her own, Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil


Another view of the bicolor iris and agaves


A sago palm in a dark pot makes a focal point…


…that draws you along a path from the back terrace into the garden.


A grilling station shaded by an arbor is on the right. Pines are uncommon in Austin because of our alkaline soil, but this Italian stone pine (Pinus pine) looks happy.


I love this blue-themed cactus planter. Beautiful arrangements like these are placed throughout the garden. This may be a Rick Van Dyke pot.


Syd uses multiples for greater effect, like these twin Queen Victoria agaves in cobalt pots…


…five Talavera frogs climbing a wall…


…and an impressive collection of cactus in terracotta pots topped with M&M-like colorful glass beads.


I like the shadow play of this fan-shaped arbor over a patio tucked between the rear of the house and a privacy-giving stone wall along the property line.


More pretty pots adorn the porch.


A big bunny ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys)


On the far side of the garden, lush perennials give way to a desert garden filled with a spiky assortment of agave, yucca, sotol, and barrel cactus. Jenny mentioned that Syd is from Arizona, and it looks like she’s imported a little bit of Arizona to Austin.


These dry-loving plants are planted on rocky berms for drainage. A wide flagstone path winds its way through the long, sunny garden toward the back of the lot. One of the agaves is flowering dramatically, with a bloom spike about 15 feet tall.


Columnar Argentine saguaro (Trichocereus terscheckii) is not common in Austin, but you see it from time to time. It’s such a striking plant.


Syd knows how to create enticing views no matter what kind of plants she’s growing.


Metal cacti, coyotes, and other desert creatures appear throughout the dry garden. I like how this wavy-leaved prickly pear is leaning on the metal saguaro like an old friend.


Looking back down the path toward the house, I spot Wendy of The Rabid Gardener, our group’s newest member. It was so nice to meet her in person.


This prickly pear is more than 6 feet tall and about 8 feet wide — a big boy!


As you leave the dry garden, there’s one last desert-style container to send you off.


Squid agave, prickly pear, and Agave lophantha — very nice, even with a little speckling on the lophantha’s leaves from the recent hailstorm.


The path leads up into a woodsy shade garden that’s green and serene with shrubs and groundcovers. A flowering yucca leans over the path.


A colorful surprise awaits as you leave the shade garden: an orange and blue fiesta of pots, a frilly bench, and even a birdhouse.


Here’s a fun focal-point idea: a painted stucco-wall backdrop to a pot in a contrasting color. A sago palm or dioon makes an elegant effect in a vase-like cobalt pot, and it really pops against the freestanding orange wall.


Now we’re facing the back of the house, near where we entered the back garden. The dry stream, as you can see, gets very broad here. It must carry a lot of water. I bet it saw some action last week, during the Memorial Day flooding that hit Austin. Crepe myrtles and bicolor iris are planted in a conga line along the streambed.


Another gravel wash sits just upslope from the dry stream. Perhaps it captures water flowing down the hill? Notice that this very large garden contains no lawn — at all. There’s also no swimming pool or other water-intensive feature. Just a beautifully designed garden and smart drainage solutions.


It was a treat to visit Syd’s garden. My thanks to her for giving us a tour, and to Jenny for arranging the visit!

To see Jenny’s post about Syd’s garden last summer, click here.

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

Farewell visit to James David’s Austin garden, part 2


A grand limestone staircase bisected by a rill leads from the back of the house to a large pond in the lower garden.

Yesterday I showed you around the upper level of James David’s magnificent garden, which I visited in late March and which is currently for sale as the owners prepare to relocate to Santa Fe. Today let’s take the paths that lead down into the ravine behind the house and back up to the detached studio.


Behind the house a large cistern collects rainwater from the roof and seems to spill surplus water into a stone trough. In actuality, I think this must be an illusion because otherwise the water would soon run dry — even though our current rainy spring might suggest otherwise. I’d guess the rainwater is actually stored for use on Gary’s vegetable garden, visible in the background. This running faucet must be plumbed via a hidden pipe, creating the illusion that the cistern is the source of a long water passage through the back garden.


The water reappears a few steps below, spilling from a hidden stone channel into a small, stone-edged pool.


A wider view shows glossy holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum) doing a good air plant impression by sprouting from gaps in the wall.


A collection of fossils and pretty stones adorns a corner of the wall.


From the pool, water flows below ground into a simple metal pipe, which spills into a stone trough that’s been repaired with board-formed concrete. A second, smaller trough accepts an overflow stream. These troughs, with their musical splashing, sit next to the dining patio shown yesterday.


Underground the water goes again, and then it reappears at the top of the most dramatic feature of the garden: a grand limestone staircase bisected by a rill that runs a trickle of water all the way to the rectangular pond at the bottom of the stair. Behind the pond, an off-center stone stair leads up to a lap pool. Another path leads to a large greenhouse.


Here’s the view from behind the pond, looking back at the grand staircase and the house. ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon hollies once lined each side of the stair, creating a vertical screen, but these days it’s edged with boxwood.


Detouring to the right, let’s follow a path that leads up the side of the garden, past a low retaining wall beautifully made of various materials, including urbanite (broken concrete) on top.


Variegated agaves behind the wall


And a chicken coop!


Turning around, let’s head back down to the lower garden. Ahead is the large pond, and beyond that are pollarded Mexican sycamores.


Hardscape in this garden is masterfully crafted and enticing. You want to explore every curving stair, cross every bridge, investigate every long path framed by arbors and shrubs. But there’s also an element of danger to many of the walks, which universally lack handrails. They imply, you will be mindful of where you put your feet. I find it delightfully adventurous. But you definitely don’t want to get so distracted by the plants or the views that you fall backwards off a wall.


Now we’ve found the swimming pool, which sits well above the pond. Flowering shrubs and trees screen one side…


…while the other is open and offers a lovely view of the pond garden.


I was smitten by this flowering tree at the end of the pool: jack tree (Sinojackia xylocarpa), which James said he got from Forestfarm online nursery. They don’t seem to have it in stock now, but I see that it’s also grown by Texas grower Greenleaf.


The flowers dangle like white parachutes, reminiscent of those on white potato vine.


Stone stairs by the greenhouse are used to display potted agaves and other succulents.


Beautiful, but mind your ankles.


They are such camera hogs. They know they look good from every angle.


Potted cacti line a long limestone shelf along the front of the greenhouse.


A few tropicals, like this clivia, add colorful flowers to the mix.


Looking back toward the house you see the grand staircase and, closer, a wooden bridge that crosses a dry stream and wet-weather garden. The Mexican sycamores (Platanus mexicana) are planted in a grid, their pollarded canopies creating an umbrella effect.


Crossing the bridge, which is lined on one side with more potted plants, you get another view of the sycamores and their white and green mottled trunks.


A stone stair by the greenhouse descends to the dry creek.


I’m sure the dry creek has seen a lot of action this spring.


On the left, another view of the pond


Pulling back a little, you can appreciate the lushness of the garden, with purple flowers of Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) in the foreground. Now imagine that we’ve crossed the wooden bridge again, walked behind the greenhouse, and followed a decomposed-granite path that leads to the right…


…and to the newest section of the garden: a semi-wild meadow garden behind the award-winning concrete studio. A ruler-straight path leads the eye and foot between stone pedestals topped with cornucopia-like urns, across a metal bridge, and up some steps to a concrete wall that supports a contemporary pond (shown below). Notice the concrete balcony jutting out from the topmost window? I’ll share a picture from that vantage point in a moment.


A topiaried oak. James told me he’s not afraid to try topiary on any kind of plant.


Looking back, I find this view through the columns very romantic.


I liked this grassy, white-flowered plant, whose fleshy leaves reminded me of bulbine, but I can’t remember the name. Update: It’s St. Bernard’s lily (Anthericum liliago). Thanks, Diana, for the ID!


Native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) was blooming too.


As you climb the stairs up to the studio, you come to an asymmetrical, concrete-edged pond. Here’s an overhead view from the studio balcony. What looks like a metal bridge from this angle…


…is actually a gabion wall that supports a metal pipe spilling water into the pond. A dry garden planted with Argentine saguaro and other xeric plants offers a contrast between wet and dry.


Koi live in the pond and came running swimming when Gary pulled out the fish food.


The view across the gabion wall and pond to the cornucopia urns and meadow garden


To the left of the pond, the dry garden continues, with Yucca rostrata and a pruned-up Chinese photinia (Photinia serrulata), if I recall correctly. James is a big fan of this photinia, though not of the overused red-tip variety.


More steps lead up to the studio. This is the view from the walk connecting studio and house.


The studio


A porch at the studio door holds a trio of potted plants. I like the circle motif of the tabletops and rear pot.


Ice plant in vivid bloom


James and Gary’s dog Alice made herself comfortable on the porch’s wooden bench.


I somehow neglected to take a photo of James while he was showing me around. But I’m grateful to him and to Gary for inviting me into their beautiful home and garden again. Visiting their garden has always been the highlight of the Open Days tour, and I’ll miss it. But who knows — maybe it’ll be on tour again one day with new owners at the helm. I hope so, and I’m sure James and Gary do too. Until then, I wish them bon voyage and happy garden-making in their new home.

For a look back at part 1 of my garden visit, click here.

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