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.

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.

Nonirrigated native plant garden of Lee Clippard is a foliage lover’s dream


Earlier this month I visited the East Austin garden of Lee Clippard, blogger at The Grackle, and his partner, John. The first fall rains had just arrived, following a relatively mild summer, so their foliage-centric garden of native plants was looking lush and green. I’d never have guessed, if Lee hadn’t told me, that he didn’t once irrigate his garden all summer, aside from a one-time spot watering of a wilting American beautyberry just off the front porch.


Smart plant choices make the no-water garden possible, although of course even these drought-tolerant natives must have water to get established. Once established though, the plants are on their own. Lee chucks the ones that don’t thrive and adds more of those that do.


You might recognize Lee’s garden from my book, Lawn Gone!; I profiled his garden in an early chapter. Lee screened the front garden with shade-tolerant foliage plants like palms, loquat, and Turk’s cap to give privacy and a sense of enclosure to a small gravel patio and to create green views from their windows.


Streetside, all that textural foliage makes for a secret-garden effect. What’s on the other side?


Entering the front garden you see a rectangular gravel patio edged with chopped limestone. A patio set used to sit here, but now there’s just a simple, wooden bench, very Zen.


A triangular stone sculpture sits in a soft patch of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) along one corner of the patio, framed by loquat and paleleaf yucca (Yucca pallida).


It’s a serene, inviting space framed by sedge and yuccas, with leafy shrubs along the perimeter screening the street from view. The stone path at right makes a friendly path for the mailman to cut through from the neighbor’s yard.


Lee gardens with a goal of attracting wildlife, with flowering prairie plants like coneflower where he has more sun along the driveway, and plenty of roosting and nesting places for birds, insects, and other beneficial wildlife.


He lets plants stand after they go to seed in order to provide food for birds. A large spineless prickly pear adds structure to this “wilder” section of the garden.


Around back, a wood-slat arbor and gate invite you into the back garden. Spanning the gap between house and detached garage, the arbor offers shade from the Death Star and enclosure for their dog. A lovely cut-stone path set in gravel draws the eye and foot into the space.


To the right, on the wall of the garage, a trough fountain with a small copper spout pours a thin stream of water that seems to cool the sizzle of a hot day.


Ahead, a grilling station is set up near the back door, which leads to the kitchen. Hanging from a corner of the eave, a rain chain directs rainwater, when it comes, to a bowl filled with colorful, egg-shaped river rocks.


Native horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), considered a weed by some, provides a low-maintenance, no-water groundcover.


I think Lee made these concrete bowls, which he uses as succulent planters and to hold pretty river rocks.


The stone path makes a right-angle turn behind the garage, leading to a gravel patio and, farther along, to an herb garden. Here at the corner, terracotta pots of cactus and succulents attract the eye…


…and soften the base of four cedar posts that support a “ceiling” of string lights around the gravel patio.


Lee and John inherited the mortared-brick Celtic knot with the house, but they enlarged the patio space around it to make more room for entertaining. It’s a beautiful focal point for their patio.


They made the 8-foot-long wooden bench themselves. It’s backed by a fringe of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).


Red, recycled-plastic Adirondacks add hot color.


The purple berries of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) add plenty of rich color too.


Enjoy them while you can, before the mockingbirds find them!


The back of the garage is a place for Lee to showcase his potted-plant collection. He and John also use the wall (hung with a sheet, I assume) for showing outdoor movies with friends.


An insect hotel hangs from the corner of the house, part of Lee’s effort to attract bees and other beneficial bugs.


Behind the garage, Lee and John made a small, raised-bed herb garden. Anchoring the space is a signpost pointing to places that have special meaning to them. Wooden chaise lounges offer a place to catch a little sun, and a wooden-slat screen hides a view of the neighbor’s yard. In front of the screen, a tufted lawnette of Texas sedge (Carex texensis) makes an emerald groundcover.


We live in a big country, don’t we? A thousand miles, at least, whether you head for the East Coast or the West.


Pomegranates are ripening.


And lantana is blooming — more fall color that attracts butterflies.


And here’s another look at the Texas sedge lawnette.


I love that quilted look.


A metal grackle is a reminder that this is the home of The Grackle blog. If you haven’t ever read it, do. Lee’s posts are always thoughtful and beautifully photographed, with good information about wildlife and native-plant gardening and Tex-Zen design.

My thanks to Lee and John for sharing their inspiring waterwise garden with me again. Readers, if this has whetted your appetite for more, click for my spring 2012 visit to Lee’s garden. Also, see Lee and John discuss the design of their garden on Central Texas Gardener.

This is my October post for Foliage Follow-Up. I’d love to know what lovely leaves are making you happy in your October garden (or one you’ve visited). Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage plants their due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post (sharing link love!). If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

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