Autumn stroll around Lady Bird Lake

Autumn rarely sets our trees aflame here in central Texas, and this year’s fall color looks to be more of a dud than usual. But still, you can find a few russet tinges if you squint, especially in the coppery needles of bald cypresses around Lady Bird Lake.

My family and I walked the 3-mile loop between MoPac and the Pfluger Bridge over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Well, they ran and I meandered with Cosmo, taking lots of photos along the way. I love walking here when the weather cools off.

On this gray day, it wasn’t very crowded, which was nice.

Virginia creeper climbing a bald cypress is putting on a mini fall show of its own.

Bald cypress roots, drinking deeply

The cypresses line the hike-and-bike trail like a giant’s hallway.

Yes, I will apparently even take photos of a public restroom if the design is interesting.

The Trail Foundation has really upped its game in the design of public toilets along the trail.

The Heron Creek restrooms, designed by Mell Lawrence Architects, look like monk cowls made of raw steel and board-formed concrete.

Moving on

Turtles! I’m familiar with the red-eared slider, perching below the other two. But what kind of turtle is at the top of the branch? A soft-shell?

Almost at the turning point: the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge

A spiral ramp leads up to the bridge on the north side of the lake, but let’s pause in the Pfluger Circle, designed by Austin’s own Christy Ten Eyck, before we go up. With limestone-block benches around the circle, surrounded by Anacacho orchid trees, palmettos, and other native plants, it functions like a large council ring, one of my favorite design motifs.

Here’s a nice article about council rings, although — surprise! — the author used one of my photos without asking or even linking back to my site, which I wish people wouldn’t do. Respecting copyright (is it yours? If not, ask before using) is easy to do — and the right thing to do.

My rant over, let’s go up the ramp cloaked in fig ivy. Yes, it does seem as if we’re walking backwards, doesn’t it?

Looking down on the circle from the top of the ramp

My daughter is checking her phone down there.

A wider view captures a glimpse of the state capitol in the distance.

Beachy, curvy, wooden side-walls line a portion of the bridge.

Along the main part of the bridge, steel rails allow for views of the water.

Graffiti on the train bridge: Ninja Style Kung Fu Grip, reads one, which I’m sure the guy needed as he hung from the bridge to spray-paint. Never Give Up, reads another with Pac-Man outrunning killer ghosts.

Greening up the bridge are several raised garden beds maintained by volunteers. A couple were a bit anemic, but this one totally rocked.

Well done, Joan McGaffigan!

Back on the trail on the south side of the lake, this bench offers a nice overlook of the historic Lamar Boulevard Bridge — and an Austin-style re-creation of the bridge scene from Manhattan.

Where the trail diverts along Barton Creek for half a mile or so, I stopped on the wooden pedestrian bridge to watch kayakers…

…and paddleboarders.

Looks like fun

A little more fall color

And more orangey bald cypress

I sat in this spot for a little while, admiring the turquoise water of spring-fed Barton Creek and the orange needles and knobby “knees” of a solitary bald cypress.

Kayakers paddled up the creek…

…and, after a bit, paddled back toward the lake.

So peaceful

Nearby, the steel gazebo at Lou Neff Point offers a nice vista of downtown…

…between the trees.

Firecracker fern was still in full bloom, with a sulphur butterfly nectaring there.

Check out those yellow eyes!

Yuccas, agaves, and native flowering perennials and trees grow in terraced beds on the hillside here.

Beautiful yuccas, like exploding fireworks

Regular trail denizen Woode Wood was serenading passers-by.

A little gold adds to the subtle fall color along the trail.

Near the end of my loop, as I crossed the MoPac Pedestrian Bridge, I noticed that an old Live a Great Story sticker continues to hang on. I took a similar picture of this sticker, with a paddleboarder below, a couple of years ago, when we were having a much more colorful autumn (click for the fall glory).

Downtown beyond the trees

Yes, Austin is pretty wonderful!

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

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Want to know how I got started as a garden writer? Read page 16 of On the QT, the newsletter for GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. I’m honored to be featured in an article by Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens!

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!

What’s hot in garden design — or about to be? I interviewed designers and retailers across the U.S. to find out! Natural dye gardens, hyperlocalism, dwarf shrubs, haute houseplants, sustainability tech, color blocking, and more — check out my 2017 Trends article for Garden Design and see if anything surprises you.

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

Dogwood enchantment and a wild windstorm at Winterthur Gardens

The Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania has been calling my name since 2008, when I passed through during a family road trip and fell in love with the rolling, wooded countryside, its charming villages and Revolutionary War history, and numerous estate gardens that make it a garden traveler’s dream vacation. Last week my friend Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden and I took a 6-day trip to the region, and we visited the three most-famous estate gardens, arriving at each one at opening and staying until closing.

We started with Winterthur (pronounced winter-tour), located in the town of the same name in Delaware. Because I’d heard that Winterthur’s big show is early to mid-spring, with bulbs, azaleas, and flowering trees, I expected mostly green vistas during our early June visit. But I was happily surprised by dogwoods in bridal-dress bloom throughout the gardens.

Visitors to Winterthur also enjoy majestic trees (including a nice pinetum), meadow vistas, winding woodland paths, a playful children’s garden, and intimate seating areas for relaxation or contemplation.

Formal design elements — like this circular lawn anchored by a massive old pine, with a low wall making a sort of council ring about the space — balance the wild-seeming woods and meadows that make up most of the 60-acre garden, which itself is part of a 1,000-acre preserve.

Ferns as far as the eye can see

We chose the outer paths first, hoping to see those before the rain arrived, which threatened from dark clouds. From the wooded seclusion of the pinetum, the garden opens into a formal boxwood and yew garden with a large armillary in the center. A meadow vista with a swoop-roofed pavilion beckoned in the distance.

I had to admire this massive wedge of golden foliage as we left the outer path and headed into the meadow. Toto, we’re not in Kansas Austin anymore.

Ahead, a vista of white-flowered beauty! Enormous dogwoods, frosted with layers of creamy white flowers, made an irresistible scene.

We walked on, exclaiming over each tree, walking among them with hands stretched to stroke the cascade of blossoms, stopping in the shade of their canopies and looking up at the starry white flowers.

It was beautiful, and while the dark clouds overhead gave us pause, we didn’t turn back, not even when we heard a single siren go off in the distance. One rising and falling wail, like a tornado warning back home — we looked around, saw plenty of blue sky along with the dark clouds, noticed no one else hurrying for shelter, and decided to quickly see the rest of the white garden before heading in.

Just one more turn among the dreamy white trees

And mock orange

And deutzia (I think)

The dogwoods’ white petals looked even prettier against the increasingly threatening sky.

Yes, it was really time to head for shelter.

We didn’t make it. We hurried out of the open meadow and plunged into a woodland garden — the Enchanted Woods children’s garden, as we later realized — and as soon as we were well under those towering old trees, rain began needling our faces. Worse, straight-line winds roared through the treetops above, thrashing the canopy with an alarming noise that made us fear a tornado was imminent. I popped out my umbrella to protect my camera, but instantly the wind yanked it inside-out.

The only thing to do was run for it. But we didn’t know exactly where we were, or how far away shelter was, and as we began to run, a giant tree limb crashed down and splintered on the path a dozen yards ahead. All around us was the noise of falling limbs and roaring wind. It was terrifying. We ran back the other direction, toward a small restroom we’d passed on the way into the woods, but I suddenly was convinced I wouldn’t make it there before a big branch fell on me. I darted toward a teak bench along the path, crouched beside it, and, ridiculously, lifted one end to shelter my head from falling branches.

Bless her heart, Diana, who was well ahead of me, turned back to find me — probably expecting to find me pinned under a tree — and found me squatting under a bench instead. She yanked me up, and we blindly ran a different way and found a stone hut in the Enchanted Woods. Dashing under its thatched roof, we collapsed, panting, on the floor. We were speechless.

A few minutes later we heard a truck and a voice shouting, “How many are you?” A staff member had driven her small pickup truck up the paved path by the hut. “Two,” we yelled, and ran back out in the storm to squeeze into her one remaining seat. Diana contorted herself so I could squeeze in underneath her. I was halfway in when a branch crashed down beside me, whacking me on the head and arm. I didn’t even look to see how big it was. I shoved myself in, slammed the door, and prayed that no tree would come down on us as we drove to the museum building. Thankfully, we made it. If the woman in the truck reads this, I want her to know how grateful I am that she risked the falling limbs to get us.

Breathless, we waited out the storm in the museum building, our hair dripping, me drying my camera with a scarf. When we’d recovered, we stayed inside for an hour to do the house tour. Later, out in the garden again, we saw downed limbs and even a big tree (above). We also saw downed trees on the drive home and at Longwood and Chanticleer in the days to come.

We soon had a semi-hysterical belly laugh over my bench hidey-hole. Diana wanted me to reenact it for a photo, but knowing it’s etched in both our memories is quite enough for me.

One thing is for sure: we didn’t ignore two other weather sirens that went off later that afternoon, taking immediate shelter both times, including in an old bath house with a curlicued gate.

Still, nothing can keep a garden lover down, and we thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the day. A little history: Winterthur was built by the du Pont family, who fled post-Revolutionary France, got rich in America making gunpowder, and founded the chemical company that bears the family name. Henry Francis du Pont, great-great-grandson of the French émigrés, studied horticulture in college and eventually made the estate’s gardens and his furniture and art collections his life’s work. He opened Winterthur to the public in 1951.

The gardens surrounding the mansion are adorned with classical statuary…

…but the gardens themselves range from naturalistic woodland…

…to formal reflecting pool.

Despite the storm, it was a beautiful day in the garden.

I’d love to see it again one day in early spring.

I was excited, too, to see my book for sale in the gift shop. Thanks for carrying it, Winterthur!

I’ll close with a Japanese maple I photographed in the morning, with the sun breaking through the clouds and lighting up the russet leaves.

Up next: Winterthur’s Enchanted Woods, a truly enchanting children’s garden designed by W. Gary Smith, who also created the family garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

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!

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

Blowsy autumn beauty at Rollingwood Waterwise Garden

Last Saturday, a drizzly, cool day, I returned to the West Austin neighborhood of Rollingwood to see how the waterwise garden at city hall had fared over the summer. Designed by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, the garden was installed two years ago. Following an initial harsh winter and now an unusually wet year, it’s really filling in. Ornamental grasses like Muhlenbergia ‘Pink Flamingos’ and Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) are showy in the rain garden, a shallow basin designed to hold runoff and give it time to soak into the soil.

For a fun comparison, here’s the same view in April of this year. Before the grasses grew tall, you can see the contours of the rain garden.

‘Pink Flamingos’ muhly on the left, and Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘White Cloud’ on the right

Planted high on gravelly berms, golden barrel cactus and other dry-loving plants look happy. ‘Strawberry Fields’ gomphrena adds dots of fiery color.

In the hell strip (a term coined by the designer, Lauren Springer Ogden), flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) wends around a spineless prickly pear and a pretty yucca with white-edged leaves. I didn’t see a plant tag nearby; anyone know the ID? Update: It’s Yucca constricta.

Whale’s Tongue agave, low grasses, and a cheery groundcover of four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa) Thymophylla (formerly Dyssodia) pentachaeta.

A gravelly berm near the city hall entrance is smothered in more four-nerve daisies Thymophylla pentachaeta.

Aloes cluster, starfish-like, around a boulder.

I really love this spiraling council ring of limestone blocks, with stacked limestone pieces to fill in the gaps. ‘Green Gem’ boxwood topiaries enhance the circular theme and add evergreen color.

Located under the shade of live oaks, this part of the garden is, I believe, known as Council Oaks.

A wider view

Looking in the other direction across the garden

‘Green Goblet’ agave (I think), one of my favorites

That dusty, blue-green coloring at its base is lovely.

A rugged limestone stair leads up a slope at one end of the garden. A unique mix of agaves, columbines, ferns, tradescantia, sedum, salvia, grasses, lantana, and yucca grow here. Pacific chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum pacificum) flowers at the base of the slope.

Looking across the rain garden, in all its feathery fall glory

White-blooming autumn sage (Salvia greggii) brightens the hell strip. Pink autumn sage and bamboo muhly are visible in the background.

This is eye-catching: ‘San Carlos’ firecracker fern (Russelia coccinea ‘San Carlos’). Shazam!

Rollingwood’s residents were far-sighted in bringing this sustainable garden to fruition, and (even smarter) budgeting for its continuing care by a design team that fearlessly experiments with tough yet beautiful native and adapted plants. It’ll be fun to watch this garden continue to evolve. I imagine it will inspire many other lawn-gone gardens around the neighborhood.

I do wish, however, that the garden had its own website, or at least a dedicated webpage on the City of Rollingwood’s site. I can find very little information about the garden online, except from outside sources like the Statesman, Central Texas Gardener, neighborhood resident Deb at Austin Agrodolce, and my own post about the garden last spring. I’d love to be able to read about the garden’s origin (how the idea arose, and how funds were raised, which will be useful for other groups looking to do something similar); how the design was developed (from the designers’ perspective, including special challenges that were overcome); a detailed and updated plant list organized by section of the garden, or by sun/shade conditions; and a monthly update on maintenance (to provide real-life info about what a garden like this requires and what to do at certain times of the year). Such information would extend the reach of this garden, which is hidden deep within the winding roads of Rollingwood, and turn it into a teaching garden for the whole city, region, and even the world.

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