Heather’s Xericstyle garden in San Antonio


Last week I roadtripped south with a few friends to see the gardens of our San Antonio blogger friends, Heather Ginsburg of Xericstyle and Shirley Fox of Rock-Oak-Deer, plus Shirley’s neighbor and gardening friend Melody. I posted about Shirley’s garden here. Today I’ll show you Heather’s garden.


Heather boldly ripped out her entire front lawn when she moved into her suburban ranch house a few years ago. A Canadian transplant, she had a lot to learn about gardening in hot, dry, south-central Texas, but she’s a quick study and soon filled her garden with native grasses; agaves, yuccas, and prickly pear for structure; and flowering perennials for color and to attract wildlife.


As she experimented with lawn alternatives that can survive with only enough supplemental water to get them established, she started a blog called Xericstyle and won over lots of followers with her enthusiasm and her fresh, modern take on the xeriscape garden.


Along with the garden overhaul, Heather and her husband did a lot of work on their house to modernize it, including giving their front porch a facelift with fresh colors and accessories like these mod chairs and zigzag-patterned, orange-and-white pillows. That frothy, silver-green groundcover is ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia.


Terracotta pots filled with sotol, prickly pear, and golden barrel cactus add to the orange color scheme.


The side view


Heather orange-creamsicled her front door, and an orange Circle Pot trailing a Rapunzel-like succulent adds more bold color. And how about this for a fun surprise: Heather hung a string of glass votive holders on the front door…


…and planted them with succulents too!


Butternut squash-colored paint on the brick siding combines well with a grayish orange pumpkin.


A detail on the fence to her back garden


While many of Heather’s potted plants are one-plant-per-pot, like this yellow firecracker fern…


…she’s not afraid of creating combos like this cactus, feathergrass, and silver ponyfoot mash-up.


Heather ripped out all the lawn in back as well, replacing it with a large decomposed-granite patio by the back door that flows into the side yard, creating a sense of openness and room for several seating areas. She broke up the expanse with an island of perennials and potted herbs, accented with a orange-painted bamboo tuteur.

To the left, just out of frame, is an area Heather has been experimenting with, trying to find a lawn alternative that will stand up to kids’ play plus not require regular watering. Frogfruit was a partial success, but a large section suffered this summer in full sun without supplemental water. Heather continues to experiment, and one of the things I love about her blog is how she candidly details these plant trials.


A Mexican Fiesta flag string adds fun color across the back porch. That’s Cat of The Whimsical Gardener snapping me snapping her. I think we have a series of pictures like this. Just beyond Cat you can see a red bench and chairs around a fire pit.


Around the corner of the house are two picnic tables for gatherings of family and friends. A Day of the Dead skull is the centerpiece on one table.


A closer look shows that it’s also a succulent planter.


Hanging on the fence are repurposed exhaust pipes that Heather and her husband turned into succulent and cactus planters.


Heather always has a big, beautiful smile on her face, and she only looks serious here because I caught her explaining something (probably something about worms!). I adore her sense of style, especially that skirt. Thank you, Heather, for taking time off work to give us a tour of your lovely, xeric-style garden! For more, you really don’t want to miss Heather’s star turn on Central Texas Gardener. Her enthusiasm for tough native and adapted plants (and worms!) is contagious; you’ll love it.


Heather and Shirley, plus Rambling Wren, are the only San Antonio garden bloggers I know of, despite the fact that San Antonio is considerably larger than Austin. I wonder why that is? San Antonio is a beautiful city, with more colonial history and old-Mexico influence than you see in Austin. It’s also a particularly adept city at conserving water. In fact, the City of Austin has modeled some of its conservation efforts after San Antonio’s successes. I think Alamo City gardeners have a lot to teach about gardening in drought and heat, and I’d love to see more gardeners there start blogging to share their successes and experiments, and to give interested readers an intimate picture of gardening in central-south Texas.

Up next: Melody’s lushly planted San Antonio oasis of passalong plants framed by rustic cedar arbors and stucco-and-stone structures. For a look back at Shirley Fox’s Hill Country-style garden, also in San Antonio, click here.

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

Visiting a San Antonio garden with rocks, oaks, and deer


Ahh, I’m back and enjoying our mellow Texas fall after a garden-visiting weekend in New York City, and guess what I’ve been doing since I got back? Yep! Visiting more gardens.

Last Friday a few friends and I headed south to San Antonio to visit the gardens of two Alamo City bloggers and a gardening friend. I’ll give you our visits in reverse order, starting with Shirley Fox’s garden, known on her blog by its challenging features: Rock-Oak-Deer.


Shirley organized our visit and still made time to show us her garden as well. This was my second visit; I first saw Shirley’s garden in summer 2013 (click for my post). This iron bedstead, planted as a garden bed (wink), is new since then, and I think it fits perfectly with the rustic Hill Country style Shirley has cultivated. Plus it’s just fun.


In a pot, Shirley has corralled a clump of variegated St. Augustine. Yes, just like the popular lawn grass, only with stripes!


Her Circle Garden was in full, meadowy bloom thanks to a collection of grasses mixed with flowering annuals and perennials.


And there’s Shirley in the orange blouse, her own camera at the ready.


I collect metal spheres in my own garden, so it was fun to spot a few in Shirley’s as well. I like how she’s given this one some prominence by displaying it atop a pot.


Looking at the Circle Garden from the other direction, you get a better sense of all the grasses. That’s pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia) in the left corner, one of my new favorites since Michael at Plano Prairie Garden introduced me to it.


The tall wire fence along the side of her garden keeps deer out, giving Shirley space to grow particularly deer-tasty plants. She and her husband built the cedar-arbor gate.


Here’s another new, dynamic feature since I was last here: a crevice garden planted with yuccas, agaves, and cactus.


In the dappled light under live oaks, Shirley grows shade-tolerant plants and succulents in pots.


The fireplace wall along her back deck is a nice spot to display potted plants and garden decor.


I was intrigued by this fuzzy-leaved tradescantia.


A new screened porch is the biggest addition since I was last here. Shirley and her husband constructed it themselves at one end of their shady deck so they can enjoy being outdoors even during our buggy summer spring, summer, and fall.


It’s spacious inside, with an accent wall made of painted corrugated-metal roofing asphalt roofing panels. (Thanks for the correction, Shirley!)


The front-yard gravel garden — notice not one shred of thirsty lawn — was looking good with a mix of cool blues, golden yellows, and emerald greens, all foliage-based color.


Small boulders and Mexican-style terracotta pots add to the south-central Texas look.


A purple prickly pear looks especially lovely next to a pockmarked limestone boulder.


And I had to stop and admire Shirley’s large ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia), a little sunburned by the Death Star but still looking very content with room to spread its flukes.

Thanks, Shirley, for opening your garden to us and for organizing a fun day of garden-visiting in San Antonio!

Up next: Xericstyle Heather’s lawn-gone, family-friendly garden.

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

The High Line park in NYC, a skyline promenade, part 2


At the end of Part 1 of my post about visiting the High Line in New York City last weekend, we’d just entered Chelsea Market Passage. After the dimness of the passageway, you exit into bright sunlight on the aptly named Sun Deck.


Wooden lounge chairs resembling stacked pallets are surely the most popular seats on the High Line.


If someone stands up, a passerby darts over to snag a seat.


Some of the chairs have wheels that roll along rails, allowing you to cozy up to your neighbor.


A water feature across the path puddles water on the paving edge. A bog garden makes use of the overflow.


Sparrows were enjoying baths here when we passed by.


Nice views of the Hudson River can be glimpsed from benches and lounge chairs on the Sun Deck.


Bistro tables offer additional places to relax and enjoy the view.


While peak fall color was still a week or two away, we saw some reds and yellows on the High Line, in addition to the golden grasses.


‘Sinonome’ toad lily was in full bloom…


…as were asters and persicaria.


In the early 1900s, grand ocean liners docked at Pier 54. Today it’s used for concerts and other public events.


Just south of 13th Street you pass under the Standard Hotel.


Once again, a dim passageway segues into an open, brilliantly lit plaza and the Washington Grasslands. Earlier in the year, when the grasses are still small, the Grasslands look like this — very different, with rail lines visible amid the plants.


Farther along, you can see rail lines even amid the lush growth of late-season.


I love how the plants seem to have sprung up on their own in the rail bed — all a carefully planned illusion.


Moving on, with mellow fall color showing on either side of the path.


Turning around for a look at the Standard, I remembered reading that occasionally hotel guests give peepshow views to park-strollers below. Our view was entirely G-rated, however.


At the southern end of the High Line, you enter the Gansevoort Woodland.


The silvery trunks of gray birches gleam as they appear to spring from the railroad tracks.


A metal sculpture rises from the tracks as well.


Now we’d reached the end of the High Line, so we got off and took the subway to the 9/11 Memorial, which I’ll share with you soon. Afterward, we made our way back to Gansevoort Street and scored an outdoor table at Bubby’s, a cafe my friend Rebecca Sweet had recommended and which is overlooked by the High Line. We enjoyed a delicious early dinner and stayed to people watch for a while before walking back up the High Line stairs.


Now the light was low in the west, and the grasses and fading perennials had a golden glow.


I noticed a perfect color echo between the Hudson River and these blue shutters.


Plank paving with “colonizing” Mexican feathergrass


Back at the Tenth Avenue Amphitheater, we saw that the traffic-watching crowd had grown. Everyone wanted to pose for a photo in front of the windows overlooking the street.


These two women “sat” against the window, which created an illusion of sitting in midair, and which must have provided an interesting rear view for pedestrians below.


We stood on the path above, leaning against the railing, and watched two artists drawing the same architectural scene.


The people-watching here was excellent, not only on the bleachers below but on the main path as people passed us. While my daughter watched the artists with rapt attention, I turned around and watched the throngs of people passing by. Young and old, fashionable and casual, tourists and locals, every nationality you might think of — as they passed I looked each person in the face, and they looked back. It was so different from the streets below, where everyone puts on blank stares as they rush by. It was a High Line connection.


Moving on, I admired this narrow planting bed with heuchera and sedge mulched with charcoal gravel.


A pretty combo


Surrounding buildings were bathed in afternoon light.


The Lawn was in shadow though.


A drummer had set up on one of the benches, and his rhythms made for a good walking beat, if you were in a hurry. We sat down to listen for a while.


By this time the streets were in shadow, with only the tops of buildings still glowing.


It was getting late, after a full day on the High Line and surrounding areas.


As the sun dipped toward the river we made our way along the rail path on the northern end.


Here we saw not just peel-up benches but peel-up tables too.


Children were playing in the Pershing Square Beams, where the underlying steel beams of the High Line have been exposed and coated in silicone for safety. Here, children are allowed to do all the things they want to do in other parts of the park but can’t, like climb and balance and jump and explore grassy planting beds up close.


An underground passage leads to a “gopher hole,” where kids can pop up to get a prairie dog’s view.


The northern end of the High Line is a curving arc with views open to the Hudson River and across a rail yard where commuter trains are stored between rush hours.

I neglected to take a picture of the rail yard, which is too bad because that industrial view will be long gone by the time I return to New York. The planned Hudson Yards redevelopment project will build a floating foundation over the trains and stack skyscrapers, parks, and a public plaza atop it. It’s a massive private development project that will transform the skyline, and the High Line will be right there alongside it.

For now, though, it’s a serene, less crowded part of the park. The gardens here are meant to look even more like the self-seeded wildscape amid the rails that people worked so hard to save.


What a loss had they not. And what a triumph of imaginative reuse the High Line turned out to be.

Up next: My visit to Wave Hill, a public estate garden in the Bronx overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades. For a look back at Part 1 of my High Line visit, click here.

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