English garden in Virginia horse country: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


Attending Garden Bloggers Fling is always a whirlwind of garden touring and socializing with other bloggers. I come home with ideas bouncing around in my head, as well as a sense of new connections made and friendships renewed — not to mention hundreds of photos to sort through and share here at Digging.

This year’s Capital Region Fling was hosted in the Washington, D.C. area (including Maryland and northern Virginia) by the indefatigable Tammy Schmitt of Casa Mariposa. I’m going to share the gardens in reverse order, starting with a rural estate garden near Middleburg, Virginia — the last private garden we visited, and a vision of English-country relaxed elegance.


The estate consists of 180 acres, if I recall correctly, and a historic home dating to 1790 — which boggled my mind. That’s ancient for a young country like the U.S. As we walked up the drive, we first passed a fenced vegetable garden (top photo) and a handsome black-stained barn.


This is horse country, as Tammy told us, although if horses live here I didn’t see any.


The home itself is well proportioned and inviting, and the owner welcomed us here and gave us a little history of the place. She and her husband bought the property not long after they married in the 1970s. When she decided to make a garden, she traveled to England to visit and study as many gardens as she could before starting her own.


As you enter the left side yard, you pass a white stucco garden shed with a standing-seam roof and classical wall fountain framed by twin trellises, clipped boxwood, and bronze heuchera.


And then the back-yard lawn opens before you, flowing out from a raised terrace off the back of the house. The house overlooks a long perennial border (not visible here), past which rolling green fields spread out to a wooded horizon. Walking toward the white arbor at left…


…you enter a formal side garden with boxwood-lined gravel paths.


A birdbath acts as a focal point along one path, with white hydrangeas blooming beyond.


At the end of the path, two hare ornaments face each other atop a low stone wall…


…one of several charming animal figures I spotted in the garden.


The path curves around a flowering white hydrangea to a sunny border anchored by a semicircular pond.


Its formal edge softened with a line of variegated grasses and geranium, the pond contains lotus, waterlilies, and other water lovers.


A banjo-playing frog adds a humorous note.


For humans who love getting wet, a swimming pool beckons, with a row of chaises and striped towels that echo the orange and gray patio stones. Fence-lined fields stretch off in the distance.


A tilted verdigris urn cemented into the patio spills water into the pool.


Past the pool, a sunny parterre garden is backed by a picturesque, hip-roofed garden shed.


At its center, pink sweet peas clamber over a rooster statue.


The shed is nestled amid shrubs and perennials.


As the lot slopes gently downhill, the garden steps down into a sunken lawn framed on one side by a stone wall and row of trees.


Chinese Chippendale-style chairs make conversation areas at each corner of the wall.


Atop the wall, a bronze fox slinks past.


A stone birdbath with carved koi adorns another part of the wall.


A pair of weeping trees guards a white gate leading out to the horse fields.


Purple drumstick alliums stand tall in a sunny perennial border.


Bees were busy at their work here.


Hydrangeas, however, were the stars of the early summer garden. Here a white hydrangea overhangs a blue lacecap, with cleome filling in below.


Heading back through the white arbor toward the house (note the compass carved into the stone paver)…


…I stopped to admire more alliums in a long mixed border of perennials, shrubs, and trees.


A stone path cuts through the border, under arching tree limbs, to an inviting black gate overlooking sun-washed fields.


A pastoral view


What a treat it was to visit this beautiful, English-style rural garden in northern Virginia’s horse country.

Up next: The colorful garden of designer Linda Hostetler.

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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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Bald cypress creek, beer patios, & other comforts in Comfort, Texas


For our 27th wedding anniversary last weekend, my husband and I enjoyed a weekend away in Comfort, Texas, a tiny Hill Country town two hours southwest of Austin. After reading about the stylishly rustic charms of Camp Comfort in seemingly every regional magazine (Tribeza, Southern Living, Texas Monthly), I’d booked us a room for two nights over Memorial Day weekend.


Camp Comfort is an utterly charming B&B, built motel-style in what was formerly a 2-lane bowling alley and social hall dating to 1860, plus several freestanding cabins.


A row of 4 rooms occupies what used to be the bowling alley, and the cabins cluster at the far end…


…overlooking a scenic view of Cypress Creek.


The restored social hall contains a servery for help-yourself breakfast, free cookies all day, and plentiful seating…


…each table adorned with a bouquet of fluffy cotton stems.


A couch and chairs at one end is flanked by a triangular shelf stacked with board games for old-school entertainment.


The owners constructed the shelves, and for that matter the guest rooms’ floors, walls, and doors, from wood salvaged from the bowling alley.


The place seems tailor-made to be rented out in full by wedding parties, and one such newlywed couple had written their thanks to the owners on a roll of paper towels by the door.


The rooms and cabins surround a spacious gravel courtyard outfitted for lounging and parties with a fire pit, orange Loll chairs, a grilling and dining area under a vine-shaded arbor…


…and a band stage.


We stayed in room #3.


Inside, a photo of the social hall pre-transformation hung over the bed. Cushy, teal swivel chairs in front of a TV, a small kitchen, a desk, and a spacious bathroom with a soaker tub made up the lovely retreat.


The view from our room


The Texas flag painted on the back of a neighbor’s shed


We spent a lovely evening around the fire our first night, sipping champagne and talking with another couple from San Antonio who were celebrating a birthday.


We met Phil, who owns the place with his wife, and who did all the restoration and construction work himself, with his wife as the designer. He encouraged us to go for a swim in the creek behind the camp, and on the second day we did.


Cypress Creek is beautiful.


Towering bald cypresses line the creek like columns in a cathedral made by Mother Nature.


In the clear, green water we could see fish guarding their nests, cleared-out circles on the creekbed.


Aside from the fish, we had it all to ourselves, no one else around.


We waded into the chilly water alongside cypress toes, careful not to disturb the fish nests…


…and paddled among the trees to the swimming hole, which Phil had told us was 10 feet deep. It was magical.


The first night we enjoyed an excellent pizza at Comfort Pizza, where you have to call in advance to reserve your pizza dough. They only make so much each day, and if they run out you’re out of luck. One pizza is plenty for two, especially with a Greek side salad, which was also tasty. We washed it all down with Shiner Bock, a local beer. (I also highly recommend High’s Cafe for lunch, particularly the Veggie-licious with hummus instead of cream cheese, and 814 A Texas Bistro for dinner; be sure to make reservations.)


After dinner we strolled along High Street, Comfort’s quiet main street lined with well-preserved historic buildings occupied by a boutique hotel, antique stores, an art gallery, a yarn shop, and a refreshingly different elephant shop. Not a single T-shirt/postcard/fudge shop did I see.


Charming old homes and guest houses line the street as well, including one whose front fence was awash with garlands of hot-pink queen’s wreath vine, also known as coral vine (Antigonon leptopus).


I’d thought queen’s wreath bloomed only in late summer/early fall, so I was surprised to see it in full bloom in early summer.


A few tendrils had entwined into a green heart at the front gate, and we pretended it was just for our anniversary.


At Miss Giddy’s gift shop and nursery across the street from the pizza place, a garden of container-planted, colorful zinnias…


…was guarded by a friendly, sunflower-faced scarecrow.


A towering, dried agave bloom stalk stood in another part of the garden, its branches holding a collection of white birdhouses.


The road back to Camp Comfort took us by a pasture with grazing longhorns.


Back at our B&B, we enjoyed one more sunset along Cypress Creek.


What a beautiful place!

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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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Calling all pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Early summer flowers brighten my Texas garden


I didn’t realize how many white flowers I’m growing until I photographed what’s blooming this week. Let’s start with pale pavonia, aka Brazilian rock rose (Pavonia hastata). I love the tissuey white flower with a maroon eye and veins.


I grew a moonflower vine (Ipomoea alba), one of my old favorites, from seed this year, and it’s growing up a cattle-panel trellis on the deck, reaching for the sun. The plate-sized flowers are delightfully fragrant when they open in the evening.


Well, OK, this magnolia isn’t in my garden but a neighbor’s, but I’m enjoying the flowers on my walks. I don’t actually love the trees themselves here in Austin because they always look a bit dry and chlorotic in our alkaline, relatively shallow soils. But the enormous, creamy white flowers of Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) are something to behold and to smell — so gorgeous and lemony fragrant.


They remind me of my childhood in South Carolina, where magnolias grow better than in Austin thanks to acidic soil and higher rainfall.


One last white flower in my garden right now is the white variety of pink skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens ‘White’), such a tidy, pretty native plant for bright shade. The ivory flowers stand out against a steel-pipe planter and dark-leaved ‘Burgundy Ice’ dyckias.


Purple flowers are abundant too, starting with summer-blooming vitex (Vitex agnus-castus), which I keep shrub-sized through regular pruning and cutting to the ground every February.


‘Peter’s Purple’ bee balm (Monarda fistulosa ‘Peter’s Purple’) is putting on a big show right now, getting plenty of attention from visitors and bees.


And heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata), a spring-blooming native, is almost done. Here’s a picture from a week or two ago, at peak bloom.


And why not — I’ll throw in a big, blue rose of a plant, my neighbor’s whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), surrounded by red autumn sage (Salvia greggii), part of a curb-side garden I planted for her to blend with my own. These are tried-and-true plants for sun or morning sun/afternoon shade.

So what’s blooming in your garden right now that you really love?

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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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

The Austin Daylily Society will host a free garden tour on Sunday, May 28, from 10 am to 2 pm. Four private gardens featuring lots of daylilies will be open to the public, including Tanglewild Gardens and Tom Ellison’s lovely Tarrytown garden.

Calling all pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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