Drive-By Gardens: No-lawn front yard with sedge groundcover


Driving through Austin’s North University neighborhood yesterday I spotted this charming Spanish-style bungalow. Instead of lawn, its postage stamp-sized front garden is filled with drought-tolerant ornamental grasses, golden barrel cactus, silver ponyfoot, and agave. A few red roses add pops of vivid color. Most eye-catching of all, the wide hell strip (portion of yard between sidewalk and street) is entirely swathed in sedge, probably Berkeley (Carex divulsa) or Texas sedge (C. texensis).


With three live oaks planted amid the sedge, this south-facing garden will be in shade in 5-10 years. The sedge won’t mind. The sun-loving ornamental grasses and roses will need to be subbed out for shade-lovers. That’s the nature of a garden, of course, and shade is highly desired during Austin’s summers. Until then, the owners have a beautiful, sunny garden that won’t demand much water.

My only quibble is that the ornamental grasses in front of the porch have been cut to the ground prematurely. Most grasses are fall-blooming and come into their glory late in the year; they should be left standing until February and then cut to the ground in preparation for spring growth. Update: The lovely owners, Kevin Pruitt and Eileen Gill, left a comment (#12, below) to explain that the grasses grew large and became a tripping hazard for guests, so they cut them back early for safety reasons. It sounds like they may remove a few grasses to keep the walkway clear in the future. Also, they kindly shared the name of the designer, John Davis.


The right side of the garden has been given a more open treatment, with a beautiful ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia) holding court amid river rock and decomposed granite. A dry stream, not visible in these pictures, keeps runoff from trenching through the gravel during heavy rains.


Gold and silver Christmas balls adorn the agave’s spines in honor of the season. Behind it, a fig is turning golden. Austin’s late autumn color always runs into Christmas decor in this way. Happy holidays, y’all!

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

Drive-By Gardens: South Congress Avenue in Austin


This drive-by is really a walk-by. I was on South Congress Avenue on Sunday afternoon, the center of the funky-hip Austin universe, enjoying a blue-sky, 80-degree day with my family. Fall, winter, and spring days like this are what sustain me through Austin’s broiling summers.


When my face was not tipped up to the mellow sunshine, I was simply trying to take in all the action on the street, which included picture-perfect views of the state capitol, a string band playing on the street corner, throngs of people strolling along the street, unique shops with doors flung open…


…and even a couple guys riding horses down the busy street. Where in the world did they ride in from? They tied up their horses at Doc’s and went in for a drink and later rode back up the street.


Lots of businesses along the street have containers full of agaves and other architectural plants, but some have enough space for actual gardens, like this eye-catching combo outside TOMS, a shoe store/coffee shop. A silver agave holds court with full-skirted Berkeley sedge cascading down the slope around it. Turk’s cap and a silver-white cenizo add height along the top of the slope. I don’t recognize the plant on the right, but is that basil at the bottom?


Across the street, at the minimalist-Zen Hotel San Jose, a hip boutique hotel…


…the surrounding gardens wow, especially as they are tucked into slivers of planting space along the sidewalk and parking area. Here giant hesperaloe’s sword-like leaves create drama above a waterfall of silver ponyfoot.


Streetside, mottled crepe myrtle trunks rise from grassy beds of Aztec grass and rain lily in bloom after Saturday’s downpour. I saw so much more on S. Congress and wish I’d taken more pictures…


…but I want to jump to nearby South Lamar for a moment and show you a new outdoor garden area at Mockingbird Domestics. Mockingbird has always carried a few pots and succulents, but now they’ve dedicated an outdoor patio to the garden, with furniture, mod steel chimineas, steel planters (tempting!), concrete pots…


…and a metal jackalope, which I fell in love with a little bit. This garden patio could be really awesome if they spruce it up and do the same enticing merchandising that they do inside. Maybe they’ll take some inspiration from my favorite L.A. garden shop, Potted, but with a Texas twist.


Back to South Congress, and this eye-catching mural on the side of TOMS’s shop. I want to give thanks to you, dear reader, for being here — for reading and commenting and making up this virtual gardening club that I’m so happy to be a part of. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

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

Blazing red wall


I threw a coat of paint on two of my new stucco walls before the cold blew in on Tuesday, and holy smokes — the Dunn-Edwards ‘Hot Jazz’ red on the curved wall sizzles my eyeballs. It definitely picks up every bit of red in my garden, from salvia blossoms to my red Circle Pot to the Austin sign on the back fence to the umbrella on the deck. Am I this bold?


Maybe a warm pumpkin/terracotta would be better to tie in with the tiles along the rim of the pool (see next picture). I don’t want to end up with UT burnt-orange walls though, even if I do live in Austin.


On the taller, middle wall I’m trying out a khaki green. I originally planned to paint the tall wall the bolder color and the curved walls khaki-green. But because my Adirondacks by the other curved wall are a gray-green, I realized I needed a contrast, plus I wanted more color. If I paint the curved walls terracotta, maybe the middle wall should go blue-gray to play off the pool tiles? Any Dunn-Edwards color experts out there?

Decisions, decisions. Also, am I the only person who has to see something fully painted before knowing if it’s right or wrong?

Update: I’m imagining a warm terracotta for the curved wall and cobalt for the taller wall, inspired by Floramagoria in Portland. Their light is very different from our light, and I suspect the deep blue would fade under the Death Star. Still, it might work. What do you think?

UPDATE 11/17/14: I’ve got a new post up about choosing colors for my walls; click through if you’re interested.

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