Modern porch decor on Tribeza’s Interiors Tour


I’ve been on garden tours, and I’ve been on home architecture tours, but I’d never been on an interiors tour until last Saturday. My friend Cat of The Whimsical Gardener and I toured seven homes on Tribeza’s Interiors Tour, and I swooned over all the bold wallpaper, cozy black bedrooms, and modern lighting.

Being garden geeks, at each house we peeked out the windows at the back yards, hoping to see fabulous gardens to go with the beautiful interiors. While nicely landscaped, not one had a gardener’s garden — and yet there were some wonderful gardeny touches on designer Katie Kime‘s screened porch, like these pastel, geometric hanging pots filled with succulent sprigs.


They look like something Los Angeles garden designer Dustin Gimbel would create from cast concrete.


Kime’s porch also had this: a fabulous, oversized moss mosaic, framed under glass like a work of art. I saw it as a dried-plant alternative to trendy — and high-maintenance — vertical gardens.


A closer look. How would you make this? By gluing mosses and other dried plants to some sort of backer board? What would you use that wouldn’t warp outside or be too heavy?

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

Bottle trees, a Southern tradition that brightens the garden

Writer and teacher Paula Panich visited my garden a few weeks ago, and if I hadn’t already known she was from California by way of Connecticut — i.e., not a Southerner — she gave it away when she asked what was the story with the blue bottles displayed on rebar stakes.

“The bottle tree?” I asked, then launched into the history of this Southern tradition: how African slaves brought the practice to the South (a tradition that goes back even further, to ancient Egypt, according to Southern garden-culture expert Felder Rushing); how blue bottles were believed to trap evil spirits and keep them out of the house; how bottle trees as folk art spread throughout the South and beyond.

Today bottle trees in all their glorious variations are ubiquitous in Southern gardens, especially those with cottage-garden flair, being an easy way to add affordable sculpture and color. Blue bottles are most commonly used, but I see plenty of green, amber, and clear glass too. They jut from dead tree trunks, perch on nails hammered into branches, cap rebar or plastic stakes poked into the dirt, bristle from raw or painted wooden posts, and brighten metal “trees” purchased from garden shops.

Southerners today still call a certain shade of blue “haint blue” (“haint” comes from the word “haunt,” an evil spirit). Paula rightly pointed out that in the desert Southwest, in cities like Santa Fe and Taos, people paint window frames and doors blue for the same reason: a folkloric superstition that it keeps out bad spirits.

To banish any winter dreariness — at least for my Northern Hemisphere readers — let’s revisit some of my favorite bottle trees found in gardens in Texas and beyond (click the links for more pictures from each garden), starting with the multicolored bottle tree pictured above. It’s one of many charming ornaments in the display gardens at Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas.


This flower-shaped bottle tree makes a colorful focal point in the Hutto garden of Donna and Mike Fowler.


Carriage screws support an assortment of blue bottles on an arching mesquite branch in Lori Daul’s Austin garden.


A bottle tree in Vicki Blachman’s garden in Pflugerville holds insect hotels and Lucky Buddha beer bottles.


This bottle tree was part of a temporary folk art exhibit at the Wildflower Center in 2010.


Lucinda Hutson’s cantina garden in central Austin celebrates all things tequila, as evidenced by her tequila-bottle tree mulched with corks.


In the garden of Ann and Robin Matthews in southwest Austin, a blue bottle tree wrapped in colored lights anchors a circle-shaped vegetable garden.


Their next-door neighbor, Donnis Doyle, put a similar bottle tree out front to greet her guests.


At the Asheville, North Carolina, Garden Bloggers Fling, I visited Christopher Mello’s garden and saw a bottle tree that upped the ante with blue paint, bottles, and lights.


Occasionally I’ll encounter a bottle tree outside the South, like this version at Bella Madrona garden in Portland, Oregon. Chunks of cobalt glass emerge from the folds of a massive tree trunk — like the pig’s teeth in the wych elm of E. M. Forster’s Howards End.


In my own garden (and in my former garden as well), I’ve made a stylized bottle tree from a cedar post and regularly spaced lag screws. It reminded me of an agave bloom spike.


Photo by Lori Daul of The Gardener of Good and Evil

Not long ago, however, I was ready for a change and commissioned a rebar “ocotillo tree” from local metalworker Bob Pool. Looking out my office window, I enjoy it most in the afternoons, when the bottles glow with captured light.

So how about you? Have you ever seen a bottle tree, or do you have one of your own? I’d love to hear your bottle tree stories!

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Upcoming Events and News

Hold the Hose! Join me for my kick-off garden talk for my new book, The Water-Saving Garden, on February 27, at 10 am, at The Natural Gardener nursery in southwest Austin. My talk is called “Hold the Hose! How to Make Your Garden Water Thrifty and Beautiful,” and it’s free to the public. Afterward I’ll have books available for purchase and will be glad to autograph one for you! Dress for the weather, as the talk will be held in the big tent outside.

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

Christmas in Mexico at Lucinda Hutson’s home and garden


Lucinda Hutson‘s purple cottage in the Rosedale neighborhood of central Austin is a wonderland of Mexican folk art, colorful furnishings, and brightly painted walls. I had the pleasure of re-visiting last Friday, and brought along new friend Paula Panich, a Los Angeles writer and teacher of garden writing.


Lucinda’s Day of the Dead parties and decor are legendary, but her Christmas decorating is equally charming and rooted in Mexican culture.


Atop her dining table, a carved and painted Joseph leads a haloed (but surprisingly flat-stomached) Mary on a donkey, alongside a small, curlicued tree adorned with colorful glass ornaments…


…like this sombrero-wearing señora and pinata donkey…


…and sash-draped señor.


Even Lucinda’s lampshade is decorated with a cheeky assortment of ornaments: a golden tequila bottle, an angel-winged man clutching a bottle, a smiling red devil, the Virgin Mary, and, in back, a margarita glass.


On a sideboard stands a glazed-clay Our Lady of Guadalupe, surrounded by cherubs — one of Lucinda’s prize pieces.


A closer look reveals agave-painted glasses arrayed at her feet, along with evergreen branches and candles. Garden, tequila, and Mexican folk art — three of Lucinda’s interests in one lovely arrangement.


Our Lady appears in Lucinda’s garden as well. Here she’s a tile mosaic in an altar made from a blue-painted bathtub.


Echoes of Gustav Klimt?


Here, a carven Our Lady adorns a rustic writing cottage behind the house, seeming to bless all who enter.


In the tradition of Mexican folk gardens, other religious figures are given homemade altars as well, like this St. Anthony framed by an old wheelbarrow tray.


A tiled picture of St. Francis and his birds brightens the fence behind a raised bed of vegetables and edible flowers. A fork flower and half-buried dishes continue the edible theme.


In her Grotto Garden, instead of saints and madonnas Lucinda favors mermaids and sea creatures. A cast-iron mermaid poses against a turquoise-painted fence under an arbor draped with shells. Strands of blue and white capiz shells and strings of tiny mirrors add sea-like sparkle.


Here is Lucinda’s writing cottage, accessed via a large back deck that always looks party-ready.


A frilly, blue-painted chair and blue and orange glass lanterns add color and an invitation to linger.


Two art tiles — a dancing woman…


…and a hand with a heart — stand out against the dark wood siding.


Turning around you take in the full force of Lucinda’s fearless love of color. Rich purple paint turns what might have been the boring wall of a detached garage into a focal-point display space. A homemade buffet/altar of stacked benches covered in floral oilcloth gives Lucinda room to stage food, drinks, or her Day of the Dead decorations.


A wider view shows how Lucinda has adorned the eave of her house with a slatted awning of wood, giving it tropical flair.


Because our first hard freeze is running late this year, blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) still blooms with abandon on a peaked arbor. That’s Lucinda in black, talking with Paula.


Colorful peppers soak up the sunshine in the front garden.


Lucinda’s purple cottage reminds me of the house in American Gothic, but all loosened up and ready to party! Gold-flowering cosmos towers over the entry walk.


A visit to Lucinda’s wouldn’t be complete without stopping by her La Lucinda Cantina, a tequila bar under a cedar arbor at the very back of the garden.


Inside is where she keeps the good stuff, though, on an altar devoted to tequila, from its origins in the agave harvest to tequila-sipping cups.


Lucinda’s fascination with Mexico and its national liquor led her to write ¡Viva Tequila!: Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures. Published in 2013, it’s a gorgeous ode to tequila, filled with personal photos and stories from Lucinda’s 40 years of travel through Mexico, cooking and drink recipes, and tequila party-hosting ideas. Through her story-telling and photos, Lucinda opens a window onto Mexican culture, and she’ll have you thirsting to try her recipes. I think the book would make a great gift for the mixologist or tequila enthusiast on your list and anyone who loves the color and spice of Mexico. Lucinda mentioned that it also makes a fun and unique groomsman gift, especially if accompanied by a nice bottle of tequila and a couple of glasses. (I like how she thinks outside the box to market her book!) Spring wedding-planning, anyone?

Thanks, Lucinda, for sharing your colorful home and garden with me again! Readers, if you’d like to see more of Lucinda’s garden, here are my other posts about it:

Lucinda Hutson’s purple cottage, cantina garden, and Viva Tequila!, April 2013
Lucinda Hutson’s Easter-egg colorful garden, April 2012
Enchanted evening in Lucinda Hutson’s cantina garden, April 2011
El Jardin Encantador: Lucinda Hutson’s garden, October 2009
Lucinda Hutson’s enchanting garden, April 2008

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

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