October evening stroll on South Congress Avenue

I had dinner on Austin’s iconic South Congress Avenue on Wednesday evening and afterward took a leisurely stroll to people-watch and window-shop. Honky-tonk music from Guero’s Oak Garden filled the cool evening air, people were smiling, and the street had a festive yet laid-back vibe that made me fall in love with Austin all over again.

Tesoros had closed for the day…

…but Dia de los Muertos skeletons were having a party in the shop window. A bony fellow played the guitar while a skinny gal in a red dress danced and a skeleton cherub hovered overhead.

Colorfully painted skulls with flower eyes and leafy adornment illustrate the celebratory nature of Dia de los Muertos, so unlike Halloween’s horror of death.

Speaking of Halloween, costume shop Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds was doing a brisk business.

In a nearby clothing shop, I spotted this hilarious t-shirt…

…and crayon-bright dino planters filled with succulents — fun!

Outside, super-sized succulents — agaves and yuccas — grow in street planters.

Live oaks offer shade to strolling tourists and locals, as always a mix of hipsters, cowboys, students, hippies, and techies. Look all the way down the street and squint, and you’ll see the buildings of downtown and the Texas Capitol building.

Guero’s Oak Garden was pulling people in with cold beer, tacos, and live music by Ted Roddy.

Listeners sit on wooden benches beneath live oaks, with string lights glowing overhead. Notice the Austin City Lemons parking sign. Yes, that is a lemon-shaped food truck at the left.

This guy on a horse — a regular on South Congress — was parked nearby, checking it all out.

Speaking of cowboys, Allens Boots is the place to get your boots. As I walked by the closed-up shop, I wondered about the pair of boots sitting out on the sidewalk.

From old Austin to new Austin — the South Congress Hotel, a hip new boutique hotel, is open for business where the food-trailer park used to be.

Its landscaping caught my eye, like this horizontal rebar trellis and Corten planter at the entrance. The friendly valets invited me to have a look at the hotel lobby and bar, which I did. It was the definition of Austin cool, and I plan to go back and get pictures of its courtyard garden sometime.

Along the street frontage, white-trunked Texas persimmons grow amid concrete strips, which remind me somewhat of a High Line detail. Christine Ten Eyck, Austin’s premiere landscape architect of sustainable gardens, did the design.

And check out this shaggy vertical planting of Texas-tough groundcovers like Mexican feathergrass, firecracker fern, and purple heart! Sorry for the poor quality of the photo; I only had my cell phone, and it was dark.

I’ll have to go back and see this in the daytime. I’m also curious to see how it holds up long-term, especially during the summer.

Although displaced by South Congress Hotel’s construction, Hey Cupcake! has set up a sweet little trailer park of its own just down the street.

And that’s my snapshot of SoCo, on the eve of Halloween 2015. Old and new, it still has plenty of charm. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the 6-minute documentary about neon sign artist Evan Voyles, who makes all these iconic signs, you’ll enjoy this little slice of Austin charm.

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

Formal axes, xeric plants in the Barrett Garden: GWA Pasadena

The second private garden I toured during the Garden Writers Association symposium in Pasadena, California, last month turned out to be my favorite. Owned by Ann and Olin Barrett, the garden’s formal layout with cross axes and focal points is made California friendly and contemporary with bold, xeric plants.

The largest portion of the garden contains a lap pool set in a (surprisingly green) lawn. The pool leads the eye to an arched grape arbor behind a lattice-style fence. Palms and other trees create a lush, green “borrowed view.”

Along the fence, a deep bed of bold, dry-loving plants like sotol, agave, and aloe make an eye-catching border that requires little water.

Sotol was in bloom.

A Dr. Seussian tree aloe (Aloe barberae) is underplanted with wine-colored aeoniums, if I’ve IDd them correctly.

Looking through the doorway of the lattice fence and the grape arbor, your eye is drawn to a lion’s-head tiered fountain.

The spacious, grape-shaded arbor shelters a table and chairs, and the fountain adds a welcome feeling of coolness.

White oleander offers visual cooling as well.

Handsome brick columns, which support the arbor, are wrapped in lathe painted to match the fence.

Turning around and looking across the length of the lap pool, you see a couple of chaise longues under a feathery tree, an open-air pool house, and a long, narrow pond aligned on a cross axis with the pool.

Here’s another view of the formal pond, as seen from the garden entrance. Planted with water lilies, canna, papyrus, and reeds, it runs perpendicular to, and crosses, the lap pool.

A stone sculpture anchors the far end of the pond. A mirrored “doorway” creates the illusion that the garden continues beyond the wall.

Square parterres with topiary shrubs add to the formal structure. Pale gravel floors this garden room.

The same view as seen from the paver-and-grass patio at the end of the lap pool. White brugmansia blossoms hang overhead.

The brugmansia nestles romantically alongside the open-air pool house. High arched doorways and comfortable seating create an inviting destination.

A comically drooping aloe jazzes up a classic scene of ivied brick and a spherical finial.

Nearby, a jade-green pot elevates a matching fan aloe (Kumara plicatilis).

A nearly secluded path leads around the house to another part of the garden, which feels like tropical Mexico thanks to banana trees and palms.

A collection of terracotta faces adorns the stucco wall.

Through the gate…

…a tiered lion’s-head fountain like the one under the grape arbor splashes softly.

Now you enter a small garden room whose focal point is a multi-level brick-and-tile spa framed by evergreen shrubs and a pergola of brick columns and wooden arches.

The rear windows of the house look out on this view. It all feels completely secluded.

A small lawn is formally shaped and edged with brick and a stained-concrete walk.

A collection of terracotta pots along the back steps display a variety of dry-loving plants.

A small glazed dinosaur with his hands in the air (like he don’t care?) was the only whimsical detail I noticed in the entire garden.

An elegant roofed terrace offers a beautiful place to lounge the day away. Surrounded by lush greenery and tropical plants, it reminds me of outdoor salas in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Up next: The hedged garden rooms of the Volk Garden. For a look back at the tropical-flowery Conlon Garden, click here.

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

Garden decor lust sparks desperate question: where is Austin’s Potted?

I first visited Potted, the stylishly playful Los Angeles garden shop co-owned by Mary Gray and Annette Gutierrez, two years ago, while passing through town on the way to Santa Barbara and Lotusland. Since that first visit, I’ve ordered from their online store and received gifts from it myself (my sister and I traded Potted gifts for a while), and I’ve made a nuisance of myself asking the owners to open a satellite store here in Austin.

Last month, during a whirlwind of garden touring across L.A. — generously facilitated by Annette, who also invited us to visit her personal garden — my friend Diana and I popped into Potted for an all-too-brief shopping spree after grabbing lunch at a sandwich place across the street.

Potted is a garden shop for people who want to decorate their garden, porch, or patio with color, retro-contemporary style, and a sense of humor and delight. There’s no ticky-tacky fairy stuff here, no painted metal animals trucked in by the ark-load from Mexico, no ceilings dripping with tinkling Woodstock wind chimes. There’s not a drop of preciousness, and yet it’s not pretentious either — not unless you consider squid-legged pots or colorful ceramic gnomes standing at attention pretentious.

What it is is cool, colorful, and fun. And it’s displayed beautifully, which I really think is half the appeal of any retail shop and so often overlooked in cluttered, dusty nursery/garden shop displays.

There’s nothing here I wouldn’t love to have in my home or garden, or that wouldn’t fit into many a funky-hip Austin bungalow garden, contemporary patio garden, or urban loft. Which begs the question: why don’t we have something like this in Austin? Portland has it with Digs Inside and Out. San Francisco with Flora Grubb Gardens. Dallas with Redenta’s Garden. We’re missing out, Austin.

Thinking of starting a fresh-modern boutique garden shop? My top picks for your sales line would include Fermob furniture, Loll seating, Pot Inc. Hover Dishes and other containers, Steel Life planters, Esther pottery, tentacle pots by artist Diana Moulds, Mike Cone pots, Rick van Dyke pottery, Moss Rocks!, Boxhill garden decor, and Potted’s own Circle Pots, City Planters, Orbit Planters, and tile tables, if they’d allow it. Did I miss anything?

And no, I’m not interested in getting into retail myself. But I could be a new Austin garden shop’s biggest fan!

Until then, long-distance travel and the limited online selection at places like Potted will have to sustain me. Love ya, Potted!

I bought several items while I was there, including this surprising find: a skinny box made from a Texas license plate, which I punched holes in and planted up when I got home. Texas style via L.A.

Up next: My Garden Writers Association garden tours begin, starting with the romantic-formal Conlon Garden in Pasadena. For a look back at Big Red Sun garden shop in Venice, click here.

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