Inspired landscape architecture at Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale


While touring low-water gardens in Phoenix and nearby Scottsdale, Arizona, in early April with my friend Noelle Johnson, aka AZ Plant Lady, we stopped at Cavalliere Park. Constructed in 2012, the park is a model of sustainability and is a 3-star SITES-certified project.

Aside from all that, I really liked the look of the place. The angular roof of a long shade structure, which shelters restrooms and a playground, is tilted up and down to mirror the jagged mountains in the distance.


Rusty steel on the roof and rock-filled gabion walls echo the colors of the surrounding rugged landscape. Native plants were chosen for their ability to survive on their own in harsh desert conditions. A play lawn that’s part of the playscape area is artificial turf, which never needs watering. All of the materials were chosen with the goal of requiring less maintenance, thereby reducing long-term costs. You can read more about that on the Sustainable Sites Initiative website.


Two existing mesquite trees in the parking area were saved with the help of a steel-edged island that preserves the original grade around their root zones. This circular island bed is the beautiful focal point of the parking lot.


Native saguaro cactus, yuccas, and flowering perennials fill the understory.


Gabion retaining walls line stormwater retention ponds, and concrete benches with modern lines are positioned for views of the basketball courts and distant mountains. A trio of steel plates with cut-out windows caught my eye. How I wish I’d walked over to see what view is framed when you look through all three at once.

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

Hippos, bottle art sculpture, and a free-spirited garden journey with Donna and Mike Fowler


Could the official mascot of Hutto, Texas, possibly be anything other than a hippo? The Hutto Hippos. Nope, it’s perfect.

Located 30 miles northeast of Austin, the formerly sleepy hamlet of Hutto is growing as quickly as a hippopotamus in a lake full of duckweed. But the town still has a friendly, everyone-knows-everyone vibe, and its most congenial hosts have to be former mayor and found-object sculptor Mike Fowler and his wife and chief gardener, Donna Fowler. They own a beautiful, hundred-year-old home on three large lots that they’ve turned into an art-filled garden. Last Tuesday, Mike and Donna welcomed a group of Austin bloggers, shown posing here with the Fowlers’ parade-worthy hippomobile.


The tour begins under the shade of a large catalpa tree, which provides the roof of a garden room where Mike reads the newspaper.


In its shade, an iron birdbath elevates blue-green sedum against a glossy-leaved star jasmine screen, heavily scented in springtime.


Peeking out from under the low-hanging fringe of catalpa leaves, you see a sunny, xeric border along a wooden fence, with striking plants like yucca, hesperaloe, allium, purple heart, and ornamental grasses.


One of Mike’s glass sculptures, a pregnant woman with arms outstretched and face tipped to the sky, welcomes visitors. She was built in honor of Mike’s niece when she was expecting twins.


A Texas-themed garden and patio for entertaining features a massing of red yucca and accents of limestone boulders.


“The stars at night are big and bright” — bump bump bump BUMP — deep in the heart of Texas!


Open gates invite you to explore ahead, but other doorways beckon as well, and we turned the other way…


…and entered the vegetable and tepee garden. A “garden club” of glass-bottle ladies stand in rows alongside a magnificent, Chihuly-esque bottle tree — all Mike’s creations.


A wide view


The smiling garden club ladies are actually hose guards made of rebar and salvaged bottles and dishes. Mike made them at Donna’s behest in order to keep her hose from tearing up her plants as she watered.


With hats tied with ribbon and beaded necklaces, they are dressed for a tea party.


A mockingbird was enjoying a colorful perch atop the bottle tree.


Their son Luke erected the tepee at the far end of the garden.


Trellis poles make mini-tepees to echo the real deal.


Mike’s “Fork in the Road” piece stands along a path to the tepee.


Donna asked if we wanted to be smudged and invited us into the tepee. We huddled in a circle around a central pit filled with candles, which she lit and used to singe a handful of fragrant herbs.


As smoke wafted up from the singed herbs, she waved them before each of us in turn, chanting a blessing for our eyes to be open to the beauty of the world, our hearts to be filled, and more. I was charmed.


Just outside the tepee, hollyhocks and cornflower were in bloom in a bed thickly mulched with decomposed granite.


Allium seedheads


Another of Mike’s glass sculptures


A former mayor and longtime public servant, Mike nurtures a streak of black political humor in his artwork, including in this piece titled “Blockhead and Council: Poor Decisions and Wasteful Spending.” The blockhead is devouring money while ants representing council members crawl through his body.


In the crown atop its head, a mockingbird built a nest last season.


Exiting the vegetable garden, you see another of Mike’s pieces, the punny “Fish Sticks” swimming through a bed of iris.


There’s a whole school of them.


A meditation garden anchored by an altar-like central bed is the next garden room you pass through.


Trellises shaped like gothic church windows edge a small lawn next to the “altar.”


A stacked-stone sculpture sits atop a river of sparkling, recycled glass, which actually conceals a French drain.


A white garden fronts the large studio/office structure behind the main house. Mike’s dad, a fine-art sculptor, created several pieces that now reside here, including the mother-and-child piece at left.


I enjoyed the shadows of the palms against the house.


It was fun to look up through palm branches too.


More of Mike’s humorous, glass-bottle art


In a hot, sunny border, Donna combined Mexican feathergrass and red salvia with charming but aggressive (like mint, she said) butter-and-eggs, also known as yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris).


I loved it with the yellow-hued feathergrass.


Around back of the house, on either side of the driveway, two hippos stand at attention, one painted like the U.S. flag…


…the other as the Texas flag.


The Fowlers have christened the narrow garden along the side of their house as Hippo Valley, and it is chock full of hippos. This is one of a trio peeking out of a bed of blanketflower.


Here’s another swimming through a pool of recycled glass. There were many more to be discovered among exuberant plantings.


A fence is given eye-level interest with grandfather’s pipe (Callisia fragrans) cuttings in old bottles wired to metal trellises.


Is this where Donna roots cuttings, I wonder?


Blue and green bottles are put into service as path edging.


White yarrow offers country charm against a wooden fence.


Another of Mike’s father’s sculptures


Looking back at the path winding through Hippo Valley, you see a large cistern that collects rainwater off the roof.


A turquoise assortment of bottles adorns another of Mike’s bottle sculptures.


And an empty fence corner is dressed up with sedums and other easy-care plants in a tiered arrangement of terracotta planters.


One more look at the hilarious hippomobile, whose right eye can be made to wink via a lever inside.


The backside — lifelike down to the brushy tail


Mike and Donna are generous and gracious hosts, sharing stories, blessings, and the beauty and humor of their garden with us. My thanks to both of them for a wonderful visit! If you’d like to see more of their garden, watch their recent interview on Central Texas Gardener.


And here’s our group enjoying the garden. From left to right: honorary blogger Tom Ellison (whose garden I recently toured), Ally of Garden Ally, Bob of Central Texas Gardening, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, me, Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil, and Cat of The Whimsical Gardener.

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

Cottage garden magic and art in sculptor Tom Ellison’s garden


In the one-more-reason-to-blog category, you meet the nicest people. A couple of years ago, while I was cruising the aisles at Barton Springs Nursery, Tom Ellison introduced himself as a Digging reader. We stayed in touch, and recently he let me know he’d started a website, Ellison Sculpture Garden, with information about his art and his garden — not a blog, exactly, but a conversation opener for sure. I promptly took advantage of the opener to invite myself over for a visit, and Tom graciously agreed.


Located in West Austin’s beautiful, tree-shaded Tarrytown neighborhood, where original bungalows and ranch homes like Tom’s are being replaced by lot-filling new houses, Tom’s expansive garden is a cottage delight filled with old-fashioned favorites like canna, daylilies, four o’clocks, iris, and rose of Sharon.


Enclosed by an open-lattice, Asian-influenced fence of his own construction…


…and neighbor-friendly gate…


…and with inviting garden “rooms” that open one after another on a path around the house…


…and accented with his sculptures made of found objects, Tom’s garden is a delight to explore.


Tom is active in the Austin Daylily Society — which coincidentally is holding its annual daylily show and sale this Saturday, May 24, at Zilker Botanical Gardens — and quite a few varieties were blooming or in bud during my visit, including ‘Grey Witch’.


Four o’clocks, with Tom’s Spire One sculpture


Cerise cannas stand out with tropical brilliance against the cream stone of the house.


And near the front steps, a thoughtful frog adds a humorous note to an urn-style birdbath backed by boxwood.


I admired the seedheads on this Gladiolus tristis, which extend its season of interest.


A closer look


An open gate in a low, metal fence invites you into the next garden room, whose centerpiece is a raised pond filled with lotus. A gravel path leads around the pond on the right; on the left it delivers you to a small, shaded patio.


The morning light illuminated orange canna and dyckia blooms and highlighted the chartreuse foliage of sedum, sedge, and iris.


Beautiful composition


At right, the pond’s “headwaters” burble up amid boulders and river rock. A metal heron snags a goldfish for breakfast.


A toothy dyckia in a white pot makes a pretty focal point, especially in bloom.


Investigating the narrow path around the pond I found cheery daylilies…


…and a pretty, textured pot situated in a garden bed as a focal point.


Here’s a view of the heron and the pond from the other side. Just behind the green parasols of lotus, a bistro table and chairs are visible on the side patio.


Heading around for a closer look, I stopped to admire potted orange zinnias…


…and I enjoyed a new view of the lotus. These will bloom later in the summer, and what a show they must put on.


On the left side, the elevated pond spills into a small, rocky pool.


Nearby, the first rose of Sharon of the season had just opened. The large shrub was absolutely covered in buds.


Buddha contemplates the foxtail fern.


A path leads from the pond through the narrow side yard along the house, where Tom constructed yet another beautiful water feature: a meandering stream.


It gurgles past a fairy garden that Tom’s grandchildren enjoy…


…and whispers under a wooden bridge adorned with red pots of foxtail fern.


Tom repurposed old doors into a Mexican-style garden gate to the street (his garden occupies a corner lot and has gates leading to both streets).


The stream ends just past an intimate flagstone patio on which a pair of Adirondacks invites you to sit and enjoy the garden.


Potted plants add color, height, and seasonal interest.


The path continues along the back of the house, past Tom’s workshop and carport, and into a tiny back garden that Tom uses to showcase a number of his sculptural pieces, including these bottle light-catchers, a folk-art guitar, and colorful bowling balls set on pedestals. Bold foliage plants add to the drama of this shady, art-adorned space.


Grandpa’s Wrenches echoes the tiered structure of the bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) blooming behind it.


Tom’s garden is a delight to explore, especially as his beloved daylilies come into bloom. I really liked his beautifully arranged garden rooms, each inviting you in and rewarding you with vignettes of plants, water, and art. Thank you, Tom, for sharing your garden with me!

If you’d like to see more of Tom’s garden, watch a 2007 interview with him on Central Texas Gardener and visit his website, where you can also browse his sculptures for sale. And remember, if you like daylilies as much as Tom does, be sure to attend the Austin Daylily Society’s annual show and sale this Saturday, 1 to 4 pm, at Zilker Botanical Gardens. The event is free, although there is a small parking fee at the garden.

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