Lively formality in the garden of Deborah Hornickel


If you admired the beautiful details of James David’s grand Rollingwood garden, which I had the privilege of visiting last spring, you may have wondered what a smaller, more economically built garden of his might look like. And I’m here to show you, thanks to James’s longtime friend, Deborah Hornickel, who kindly let me photograph her Bryker Woods garden last week.

Deborah’s garden is 24 years old, and she attributes to James “all of the credit for the design of my garden starting back in 1991.” I first visited her garden in 2006 and again in 2010 during the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tour, on which her garden will again be included this October.

From the street to the front porch, a double line of round and teardrop-shaped boxwood topiaries marches along a narrow limestone walk, giving formal structure and a strong leading line for the eye to follow. But the formal symmetry is subverted to the right and left thanks to towering sunflowers, layers of small trees (desert willow and pruned-up loropetalum), and a large, strappy yucca or nolina.


Halfway down the walk, a side path leads left through clipped boxwood to a bench hidden near the shrub-screened property line.


By the porch, pink crinums are finishing up while a dark-leaved canna offers a rich color echo.


Looking back along the front walk, the widely spaced topiaries lead your eye firmly but playfully to the street — and a neighbor’s perfectly positioned tree. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they put in a complementary garden at the base of that tree? (Sometimes one can only dream of gardening neighbors.)


Deborah’s porch is enticing, with a pair of narrow pots overflowing with silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) and a stainless steel bench displaying a collection of potted cacti and succulents. A green-black door contrasts with the pale celery green of the house.


Terracotta pots unify the collection.


More pots sit along the walk by the porch.


On the shady, east-facing porch, a mantel-like limestone table holds hurricane candles and a striking begonia.


A concrete walk runs along the front porch from the driveway, and Deborah has made a focal point at the end to terminate the view: a tall, terracotta pot filled with Jewels of Opar.


The driveway doubles as a path to the rear garden and offers a view of the porch across a plane of clipped boxwood.


Specimen plants are tucked in here and there, like this Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and variegated American agave.


It’s not often I get to say this, but I love the view between the side of the house and the pea-graveled driveway. A russet-and-green-leaved Japanese maple is color-echoed by oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) with faded blossoms. The detached garage, which functions as an open carport, looks to be painted the same charcoal-green as the front door.


Let’s stop to admire the Japanese maple and oakleaf hydrangea combo. The maple is underplanted with prostrate yew, also known as Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’), whose shiny, deep-green needles offer a pleasing contrast. I really need to plant this slow-growing, shade-loving, deer-resistant evergreen in my own garden.


Looking back toward the front garden


The long view down the driveway reveals a row of pruned-up ‘Blue Ice’ Arizona cypress trees. Click through to my 2006 visit to Deborah’s garden for a view of these trees before they were pruned up. They are lovely trees, and although the lower limbs had to be pruned up to allow passage, the scaly trunks and blue-green needles overhead create a woodsy Colorado vibe. I like the mix of loose and clipped shrubs beneath them too.


To access the back garden, you pass through the carport/garage, which is also Deborah’s potting shed, and enter a comfortably furnished covered porch.


Deborah is very selective with regard to garden adornment. Each piece counts and is never crowded by another.


She likes a few quirky touches as well, like this skull planter.


The porch commands a view of the entire back garden: fire-pit patio, buffet table, and pond on the left; Bradford pear allee in the middle; and rectangular lawn on the right.


The patchwork-paver patio is Deborah’s latest addition. Jackson Broussard of Sprout and James David worked together on the patio design, Deborah told me.


It reminds me of Tait Moring’s patchwork path.


Four chairs cluster around a circular steel table. When the lid comes off, it doubles as a fire pit. The fire pit is Jackson’s design, and you can see more of his work in my post about a Rollingwood garden he designed.


A circular boxwood hedge once enclosed a stock-tank pond. But when it eventually corroded Deborah replaced it with a simple bird bath. Notice the strong line of clipped boxwood along the edge of the gravel patio. It “holds back” a shrub bed approximately 10 feet wide along the property line, which makes a buffering green wall around the garden’s living spaces.


A wider view


A limestone-slab table by the umbrella holds a couple of potted plants and a bowl of shells. Perhaps it gets put to use during parties.


Seashells and slag glass make a pretty combo.


Deborah’s back porch. I love her house colors. The window in the dark wall looks into the garage/potting shed.


A gravelly planting bed sits just off the porch, containing a crepe myrtle and an assortment of potted plants.


Echeverias in an oval pot resemble water lilies floating in a pond. The metal dachshund is a boot scraper.


The main hallway of the garden is an allee of Bradford pears espaliered on a rebar framework into a long tunnel. This axis is aligned with the back door of the house, creating a strong indoor-outdoor connection.


But before we walk down it, let’s look right to another seating area behind the garage. Wire panels atop steel poles make a sheltering trellis over the space. A frameless mirror mimics a window and reflects candlelight at night. A grill occupies the outer edge.


Candelabras hang over the table for nighttime enjoyment.


There are also lights — cafe-style string lights — running the length of the pear allee. A potted cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea) on a stone plinth terminates the view.


Deborah says this beautiful plant (not actually a palm) requires protection from winter freezes. The grassy plants on either side, which have speckled, narrow leaves, may be Aspidistra minutiflora ‘Leopard’.


The right side of the garden is devoted to a cool, green lawn, anchored by a simple, chalky urn atop a cylindrical pedestal. Clipped boxwood lines this side as well, with a deep shrub border along the property line.


Looking left, you see a glimpse of the rebar structure that helped train the pears when they were young and supple. A blue bench is positioned in the shade for a view of a pond.


Looking back toward the house


This contemporary, poured-concrete pond was built as a replacement for the original stock-tank pond. The tall plant is Thalia dealbata.


I believe that’s ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) behind it. A long steel pipe extends from the boxwood hedge to pour a recirculating stream of water into the pond…


…where water lilies bloom and colorful fish swim.


From the back you see how the pipe is supported.


I am smitten with this pond and the surrounding plants. There’s a sense of openness, but subtropical lushness too.


Deborah has been generous in sharing her garden with Austin over the years, putting it on tour many times. Of James David, her friend who’s helped her with the design for a quarter-century, Deborah says simply, “He is the most talented and creative mind I have ever known, and I am beyond fortunate to have had his assistance.”

My thanks to Deborah for sharing her gorgeous garden with me once again! If you’d like to see it too, it’ll be on tour through Garden Conservancy Open Days on October 17. But I do hope you’ll also save room on your tour schedule that day to see my own garden (very different from Deborah’s) and the other gardeners’ gardens on the Inside Austin Gardens Tour — yep, on the same day.

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.

Before and after: 6 years making a garden


Bluesy garden: our upper patio, just off the living room and master bedroom

It’s always eye-opening to see how much a garden has evolved by comparing before and after images. We moved into our current home in October 2008, and I started tinkering with a few beds right away, planting old favorites dug up from my former garden, and simply observing other areas to see what I had. As anyone knows who’s made a garden, it’s a process that takes years, especially if you frequently revise plantings, as I do.

I didn’t draw out a plan for this garden, even though I recommend it and did one for my former garden. Instead I worked on one area at a time, tackling whatever demanded my immediate attention and saving up for bigger projects along the way. The garden is and always will be a work in progress, but 6-1/2 years is long enough to see changes taking shape and plants maturing.

Just a few days after moving in, I wrote an introductory post about our new home. I’m reposting those “before” pictures here, followed by “after” pics I took yesterday morning from the same perspective. I offer the contrast not to show “improvements” but simply to illustrate the process of making it my own. After all, taste is subjective, and the serene, green, easy-care “before” garden not only enticed us to buy this house but may be preferable to many people over my densely planted, spiky style. I’m grateful for the garden we inherited and am enjoying putting my own stamp on it for as long as we’re its caretakers.


Before: The front entry of our 1971 ranch right after we moved in 6-1/2 years ago


After: We added architectural interest to the facade and the low, steeply pitched roof with a gabled porch roof addition. Poured-concrete slabs in an offset pattern replaced the narrow, down-sloping, tiled front walk, eliminating a step in the process. The lawn and foundation shrubs at left are gone, switched out for a water-thrifty gravel garden. The old aluminum windows are refreshed with new, efficient double panes, and we took down the shutters for a more contemporary look. New paint and updated porch lights complete the refresh. The aging roof, which was patched when the porch roof was altered, is next on our list.


Before: Pretty but traditional-style landscaping and a lawn showing signs of drought stress


After: My containerized spikefest, with ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo replacing a redbud in the back corner


Before: A species Japanese maple, which I immediately fell in love with but worried would need too much water


After: Not to worry — the Japanese maple has thrived in the shade on the north side of the house, and all I’ve had to do is prune it for shape. A dry stream channeling water away from the foundation runs between the maple and the native river ferns in the foreground. I also had the back fence moved toward the front corner of the house.


Before: The island bed in the center of the circular drive was cloaked in creeping jasmine and purple lantana.


After: Today a xeric garden of yuccas, euphorbias, grasses, and other drought-tolerant plants grows there. A stepping-stone path runs across the berm (hidden by plants in this view) for access.


Before: In back, the swimming pool and private, tree-shaded lot was one of the selling points of the house for us, as our children were the perfect ages to enjoy it.


After: The large gum bumelia tree behind the pool died in the drought, opening up the area to more sun. I added painted stucco walls last fall for structure and color.


Before: Limestone retaining walls near the pool offered gardening space off the back of the house. I was eyeing this bed from day one for the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave I’d brought from my former garden.


After: Today Moby is happily growing in that spot and at least twice as big as he was when I moved him. I added terracing to the bed and removed the grass below it to expand the garden. The ocotillo bottle tree replaced a more stylized version last summer.


Before: A cluster of live oaks at the bottom of the garden was set off with edging of casually stacked limestone.


After: Today Mexican honeysuckle grows under the trees, and one of the new stucco walls adds structure in front.


Before: Looking up-slope along the west side of the property. A red-tip photinia hedge along a chain-link fence screened the neighbor’s pool from ours.


After: For more privacy, we had a fence constructed in front of the hedge. I removed the lawn on this side of the yard and replaced it with garden beds and a terraced, gravel path (like this path, which I laid on the other side of the yard).


Before: Behind the pool, slabs of exposed limestone make a natural floor. A shaggy bed of liriope and purple heart edged the back of the pool.


After: The limestone hasn’t changed a bit, although I have to beat back the purple heart, which wants to take over. (The standing water is from the previous night’s heavy rain.) The stucco walls and stacked-stone retaining wall behind the pool are new. I’ve planted ‘Blonde Ambition’ grama and Texas sedge in place of the liriope, which died away during the drought.


Before: I was pleased to discover a Mexican buckeye in the garden. Cast-iron plant was welcome too.


After: The buckeye has continued to mature, and my main job is pruning once a year for shape. The cast-iron plant is still there as well, behind a large, potted Texas nolina parked on one of the limestone slabs as a focal point along the lower-garden path. Dwarf Barbados cherries make a low hedge at right.


Before: Looking across the swimming pool toward the back of the house, where terraced limestone walls hold narrow garden beds. At first I worried that I’d have to remove the large Texas persimmon, which was encroaching on the house.


After: Regular pruning has allowed the persimmon to remain, and I enjoy its white-gray bark and graceful, leaning form. Aside from the persimmon and a crepe myrtle (at right), every single plant here has been replaced. From this angle it doesn’t seem like a significant bed. But it’s crucial to the experience of exploring the garden because the main path runs between this wall and the pool.


Before: A lengthwise view along the terraced bed shows a ‘Dortmund’ rose on a cedar-post support, which was nice.


After: But the rose bloomed only for a short time, and the rest of the year it was not very attractive. So I removed it and planted up the area with bold, variegated foliage plants, like ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, ‘Bright Edge’ yucca, and ‘Color Guard’ yucca. A stock-tank planter that was a small container pond in my former garden was turned into a planter for height here. Two blue pots bring extra height and color.


Before: I liked the large, fuchsia-flowering crepe myrtle near the back deck. The white-trunked Texas persimmon is just behind it.


After: I widened the bed around the crepe myrtle and installed a disappearing fountain with a shallow basin to entice birds.


Before: We inherited a nice deck off the back of the house, with lattice screening at the base.


After: I soon widened the planting bed at its base. At first it was a trial spot for various plants, but over time I simplified and massed the plants for impact. We also restained the deck and lattice screening dark gray.


Before: I loved the limestone slabs jutting from the lawn here and there, although I worried that it meant the garden would be rocky and hard to dig.


After: Happily, the soil is fairly deep except right around the boulders, so digging hasn’t been a problem. I made a garden around these boulders and incorporated the flatter stones on the left into a terraced timber-and-gravel path. We pushed back the fence, visible at top-left in the “before” photo, to the front of the house to get more privacy and gardening space in back.


Before: Another boulder, shaped like a turtle head, jutted out of the concrete pool patio. A stepping-stone path led from the pool to the deck steps.


After: Here’s a wider view of the same area. The turtle-head rock is in the foreground. I laid a flagstone path in place of the stepping stones. And at right, in one of the earliest parts of the garden, I installed an 8-foot diameter stock-tank pond and laid a sawn-stone path in a sunburst shape around it. This is one of my favorite parts of the garden, and the circular pond and surrounding sunburst path look especially nice from the elevated deck.


Before: I admired the coyote fence along the back property line. Shaggy cedar posts were wired to an old chain-link fence for privacy and a woodsy look that harmonized with the greenbelt beyond the fence.


After: A few of the cedar posts have rotted, but most are hanging in there. We’ll definitely replace them as needed to retain this look. Other noticeable changes include the stucco walls and the loss of the gum bumelia tree.


Before: I liked the wide, decomposed-granite path in the lower garden.


After: But under all those trees it quickly grew overgrown with oak sprouts and ligustrum seedlings and was buried in leaf litter. So I mulched over the path for a more natural look and ran a stepping-stone path instead. I also removed the pineapple guavas that were planted along the back fence. They suffered in the drought and also from lack of sunlight. Various plants have taken their place.


Before: Looking up toward the pool patio from the lower garden path. A rock-strewn, narrow, grassy slope provided trip-hazard access to the lower garden.


After: Initially I used found rocks in the garden to build steps between the lower garden and the pool. But last fall I was able to redo the steps with large boulders while having the stucco walls built.


Before: Another limestone expanse between the lawn and the lower garden


After: The limestone’s still there (at right), but the lawn is long gone.

There were other parts of the move-in garden I didn’t show in that introductory 2008 post because they weren’t particularly interesting — just large areas of lawn. But I worked on those too over the years and today enjoy gardens where there used to be just grass. Here’s a quick run-through.


This is one of the more recent parts of the garden: the east side path and garden. I started out with a decomposed-granite path and garden beds for grassy, deer-resistant plants. More recently I had the lattice fence built for a sense of enclosure.


Earlier this spring I made mirrored trellises to add depth to the long, blank wall of the garage, staining them to match the new-stained fence.


Looking lengthwise across the front yard, the dominant feature is a Berkeley sedge lawn. A giant hesperaloe anchors one end near a cluster of live oaks. A broad, curving path of decomposed granite leads through the front garden.


The same view in reverse, from the driveway looking toward the lattice fence. The meadowy sedge lawn at right needs much less water than a traditional lawn and mowing only once or twice a year.


Closer to the house, I had a limestone retaining wall built to tame a slippery slope on a natural berm alongside the driveway and foundation. It gave the house room to breathe and opened up space for additional pathways through the garden.


On the west side of the garden, I took out all but one small, semicircular patch of lawn and planted a deer-resistant garden of irises, grasses, dyckia, sotol, and yucca.


Finally, as you enter the back garden on the west side, you pass through a work/storage space and then come to the upper patio, along one edge of which I built this cinderblock wall planter filled with succulents.

I’m kind of tired now as I think back through all these garden projects, and my wallet feels a lot lighter. But it’s more rewarding than buying clothes, jewelry, or a car, so what can I say? I love to make gardens! I hope you’ve enjoyed the retrospective. As you busily make your own garden, remember to take photos and document the process so you can look back and see all you’ve accomplished.

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