Festive orange and red berries adorn evergreen sumac


Every year I renew my fan-club membership for evergreen sumac (Rhus virens), a fine native shrub or small tree. What’s not to love? It sports handsome, shiny, nearly evergreen leaves, grows in sun or shade, attracts bees in late summer with sprays of tiny, white flowers, and decks itself out in winter with fuzzy, orange and red berries. Plus, once established it never needs watering, although an occasional deep soak will help it grow faster.


Birds feast on the berries, so planting evergreen sumac is a good way to attract them in winter.


I planted this one as a one-gallon several years ago, and it’s just now getting some height and putting on berries. In the background you can see a large evergreen sumac, which we were fortunate to inherit with the house. In past winters I’ve observed a screech owl roosting in it, camouflaging itself amid the leaves. Now that we’re approaching nesting season for screeches again, I’m always scanning the trees and bushes for a fierce, little face and bark-colored body. It won’t be long.

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

Leaf peeping and Living a Great Story at Lady Bird Lake


After sightseeing and shopping on vibrant South Congress Avenue on Sunday, yesterday my dad and stepmother joined me for a post-lunch, 3-mile walk around Lady Bird Lake. Rusty orange bald cypress, golden cedar elm, and fiery red crepe myrtles have set the shore ablaze. This is as good as it gets in Austin, folks, so if you can spare an hour or two, go! — don’t miss it.


Washed clean by a cold front that had slipped in overnight, the sky was a blue dome and the perfect backdrop to the hundreds of majestic bald cypresses lining the shore.


Barton Creek, where it flows into Lady Bird Lake, was looking a bit muddy — and very full — following the heavy rain on Saturday.


Turtles were sunbathing on fallen logs, as turtles do.


Native cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) is one of my favorite shade trees, partly for its beautiful and reliable fall color.


This year, right now, they are just spectacular.


Crepe myrtles, so ubiquitous in Austin that I almost don’t notice them in riotous bloom in the summer, are now on fire with red foliage, renewing my admiration.


Crossing the lake on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, we enjoyed views of the trees and new condos popping up like mushrooms north of the river. I realize I’ve called this body of water both a lake and a river, but that’s what it is and how Austinites talk about it. The Colorado River was dammed decades ago for flood control, and the resulting constant-level lake, which still looks like a river and has a current, was called Town Lake until 2007, when it was renamed in honor of Lady Bird Johnson. We use it as a point of reference — is something north or south of the river? — and longtime residents often still call it Town Lake. Lady Bird Lake (and nearby Barton Springs, which feeds into the lake) is the heart of Austin.


A flock of the state bird of Texas is visible downtown (the crane — haha). Graffiti artists have been busy on the railroad trestle.


Exiting the Pfluger Bridge via the spiral ramp, you see a native-plant garden designed by Christine Ten Eyck (click for a tour of Ten Eyck’s personal garden). I like how she expanded the concrete sidewalk with a circle of decomposed granite surrounded by limestone-block benches. On a smaller scale, this would be a great treatment for a residential front walk.


Heading back now on the north side of the lake…


…I spotted the historic Lamar Boulevard Bridge through the trees.


More beautiful leaves


Arbor-shaded views beckoned us to stop and just look.


To our right, a duck was preparing for a swim. That water’s got to be getting chilly!


In a berry-laden possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua), a mockingbird — our true state bird — was feasting on them as if they were popcorn at the movies.


I hope all these healthy runners were appreciating the foliage and the views as much as we were on our leisurely stroll.


Native bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) lines the banks like cathedral columns.


Inspired by natural bald cypress allees, Austinite Tom Spencer planted a double line of bald cypress in his former garden. It was lovely.


Novice scullers were being coached on how to row. Look at that dog at the front of the coach’s boat — he appears very attentive, doesn’t he?


Other visitors were keeping the benches warm.


What a lovely spot for a chat.


Bald cypress and dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor). Though called dwarf, these native palmettos can still reach 10 feet tall. They are very slow growing, however.


Crossing the lake one last time under MoPac Expressway, I stopped to admire a gold, orange, and green tapestry — very 1970s, now I think about it.


Downtown buildings peek up behind the trees.


A swan and egret were enjoying this spot too.


Turning to face west, away from the city, I watched a paddleboarder work his way upstream. This is where I photographed slackliners balancing high above the water on another beautiful autumn day.


Days like this make you happy to be alive, living your own great story.

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

Visit to Wave Hill, a Hudson River estate garden in New York City


I traveled to New York City with my daughter on October 10 to see public gardens. On Saturday, our first full day in New York, a chilly rain didn’t keep us from visiting Wave Hill, a 28-acre estate garden in the Bronx with a million-dollar view of the Hudson River and the Palisades, sheer cliffs of exposed, vertically striated stone on the opposite shore.

Wave Hill had a succession of owners and a few famous tenants between its construction in 1843 and 1960, when it was deeded to the City of New York. Mark Twain leased the place from 1901 to 1903, and as a boy Theodore Roosevelt summered here with his family. Two houses and a conservatory remain today, along with gardens acclaimed for their horticultural artistry.


We took the train for the 30-minute ride from midtown out to the Bronx, and from there a Wave Hill shuttle took us to the garden. Away from the bustle of the streets of Manhattan, we found ourselves in a serene oasis, with the soft dripping of rain and birdsong in our ears instead of honking horns and whooshing subways. You enter to views of a sweeping lawn leading to a long, vine-draped pergola. The river and Palisades view just beyond was partly obscured by mist.


Let’s save the pergola garden and turn right toward the simply named Flower Garden, a formally arranged garden of exuberant, colorful plant combos, surrounded by a Chippendale-style cedar fence and arbors.


Tall grasses partly screen the view as you enter.


Blackberry lily, tall verbena, and blanketflower add to the fall scene.


Pink cosmos threads through the grasses.


A wide brick walk runs through the center of the garden, with rustic cedar arbors and benches bookending the space. An impressive conservatory overlooks the garden.


Turning around, you can see the river and Palisades through a window in the arbor.


Paralleling the brick walk is a narrow stone path along the perimeter. Chartreuse plants glow even on this misty morning.


Glancing over the fence you see the lawn, with pairs of the famous Wave Hill chairs inviting you to sit and enjoy the view — on drier days, anyway.


Looking across the center of the garden, you see the conservatory framed by four fastigiate trees in pots. The bronze mound in the center is oxalis.


Yes, oxalis! I tried to part the foliage in order to discover how the mound was created: tiered containers, or mounded soil, or just a monstrous single plant? (Couldn’t be!) But it was raining pretty steadily by now, and I couldn’t juggle camera, camera bag, and umbrella well enough to look. It remains a mystery.


Looking to the far end of the garden you see the other arbor. Evergreen shrubs add year-round structure.


Turning around, here’s the opposite view.


I enjoyed this rich, purple foliage accented by orange and peach sunset hues.


Bold dahlias stole the show.


Red berries on a yellowing, potted tree make a pretty fall scene too.


Peach dahlias complement the bronze oxalis mound.


It’s such a textural garden, invitingly touchable, with sophisticated color combos.


We took a quick peek inside the conservatory, but aside from a few tables of succulents it wasn’t that interesting. So let’s go back to the pergola overlooking the Hudson.


Packed with potted plants and hung with vines, the pergola is essentially a container garden on steroids.


My daughter, investigating a plant or a fallen leaf from the shelter of her umbrella


Tearing my eyes away from the pergola garden, I paused to admire the mist-shrouded view from a handsome stone balustrade.


A double stair leads to the lawn below…


…and to the Elliptical Garden, formerly the site of a swimming pool.


Twin golden pots mark the entry to this small garden.


Concrete benches offer contemplative places to rest.


I love the melancholy, going-to-seed splendor of the autumn garden.


There are wooded trails to explore below the Elliptical Garden, but they were muddy and overhung with dripping foliage, so we headed back to the balustrade stairs and the pergola.


Summer’s zinnias were still hanging on.


Ivy was hanging too.


Back in the main gardens I admired the fall color in this scene: burgundy foliage and purple beautyberries.


We liked this cheerful vegetable garden too, planted along a vine-swagged, golden-yellow fence in the Paisley Bed, so named for its comma shape. The Paisley Bed is redone every year to new effect, so you won’t see the same design twice.

The Flower Garden and pergola views were gorgeous, but the best was yet to come. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Wave Hill visit, which includes the dramatic Monocot Garden and pond, Mediterranean-style Dry Garden, and windswept Wild Garden.

For a look back at my 2-part tour of the High Line, click here.

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