Read This: Cultivating Garden Style

Cultivating Garden Style

Style, which is about expressing yourself and your unique taste, applies as much to making gardens as to fashion or interior design. Most gardeners naturally prioritize plants when making a garden, but who doesn’t also enjoy accessorizing his or her outdoor spaces with color, furnishings, and accessories like pots, cushions and pillows, and lighting?

In her new book, Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired Ideas and Practical Advice to Unleash Your Garden Personality, Rochelle Greayer, the blogger behind the well-known Studio ‘g’, has fun categorizing gardens with a stylist’s eye. Like a friend who’s good with design, she’s here to help you pinpoint the style your garden leans toward, so you can enhance it, or, if you feel your garden lacks style, help you figure out what you like. The book is essentially a collection of 23 garden mood boards: images of gardens, products, and plants but also works of art, actors in costume, and travel scenes — i.e., anything that evokes a particular mood or style. To use a more contemporary example, mentioned by the author herself, reading the book is like exploring a designer’s Pinterest boards. Stylistically, it also reminds me of HGTV Magazine: visually dynamic, a bit busy at times, and ideal for digesting over short stretches, like your lunch break.


I enjoyed Greayer’s creative and evocative names for the various garden styles she explores. You’ll find Enchanted Bohemian, Tropical Noir, Low Country Shaman, Forest Temple, Playful Pop, and Homegrown Rock ‘N’ Roll, to name a few. Each chapter — each mood board — starts off with an image-dominated, four-page spread outlining the style and the motifs typically used to illustrate it.


Over the next two pages you’re given ideas for accessories to bring the style into your garden, accompanied by pithy descriptions of variations on the style.


Suitable plants are suggested in the next two-page spread.


Then you get a “garden story,” a virtual tour of a real garden that illustrates the style. This section impressed me the most, no matter which garden style I was reading about. Greayer’s ability to find beautiful images of far-flung gardens, and to write about them and their owners as if she knows them personally — well, this is not easy, folks. I don’t know whether she travels widely herself to pull off this feat or if she has a gift for making a stranger’s garden seem intimately familiar, but it’s one of the things I admire about her blog and this book.


Each chapter concludes with two pages of practical information: design tips, how-to projects, horticultural information, and the like. Here Greayer shares a mishmash of handy info about everything from choosing outdoor fabric to firescaping to making your own light fixtures. Newbies will learn some useful gardening information, and DIYers will rejoice over new projects to try.

At 323 pages, the book is packed with colorful photos (including one of mine, from a garden I toured in Austin), accompanied by Greayer’s breezy, conversational text. In spirit it reminds me of Judy Kameon’s Gardens Are for Living, which I reviewed last summer. If your garden is as much for people as for plants, you’ll enjoy reading Cultivating Garden Style to find your favorite style.

Disclosure: Timber Press sent me a copy of the book for review. I reviewed it at my own discretion and without any compensation. This post, as with everything at Digging, is my own personal opinion.

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

posted in Books, Decor, Design

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.